What If?: Writing Suspense

I have an imagination that seems to be suited for suspense. Maybe it comes from being the youngest child in my family and having to sort out when my bigger siblings were joke-threatening, or when they really meant it.

Disclaimer: I love my brothers and sisters and our sibling disagreements never amounted to more than squabbles. Nothing serious.

For example, when I annoyed my older sister too much, she’d say, “You’re going to get it.”

And I’d say, “Yeah? Well, what are you gonna do to me?”

“Just wait and see.”

She’d make a sudden move toward me—which might start as a wrestle to the floor, followed by an awful tickling session—and I’d squeal and run away.

My older brother left me with worse angst. The kind that comes from not having things fully explained. For a child too young for much abstract thought, my brother’s stories about the horrors of getting a cavity and having a “giant drill” blasting away inside my mouth sent me running to my dad for confirmation. Naturally, I’d pictured the dentist wielding a jackhammer.

And then there was the other story he told me about giant ants who ate people. This was loosely based on a newspaper article about swarms of giant ants attacking villagers in the Amazon. But I didn’t know where the Amazon jungle was when I was five. And my brother didn’t bother to explain that “giant” might have been one inch long, not six feet long. He joked about the ants coming up from my grandmother’s kitchen cabinets to get us at night. I was really scared of cabinets for several years.

Like earlier generations of children fed a nightly story-time of Grimm’s fairy tales, I learned to fear the dark, and what’s around the corner or inside certain cabinets, and to wonder if that horse in the pasture down the road is really just a horse, or an enchanted prince.

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Suspense—whether I’m writing a scene or a chapter or an entire novel— is all about unanswered questions. Now that I’m not wondering about the tall tales my brothers and sisters told me, here are the suspenseful questions I mused about this week. (I particularly like number 5)

  1. Is that religious gal I met at the bookstore for real? What’s behind her smile? Am I a new friend to her, or a potential cult follower?
  2. Do I know my friends well enough to trust them with a secret that means life or death for me?
  3. What if I woke up to find my family has disappeared and everyone insisted I never had a family?
  4. What if my husband were a foreign agent and he only told me this on his deathbed? But he left me with a post office key.
  5. What if anyone you were touching could not die? What if the wrong sort of people found out about your gift? What if they kidnapped you?

 

Do you like to read suspense? Some people read for escape. Is that why you read? What did you wonder about this week?

 

 

 

Above My Pay-Grade

“I gotta tell you, I’m not techy.” Imagine me screaming these words and you get the picture…or the audio.

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My publisher wants me to build my newsletter list. Simple for her. Not so simple for me.

My stomach is in knots, my head hurts, and my eyes are starting to blur.

I’m getting used to an email distribution system. The system instructions say:

“Type the recipient name here.”

Okay, but what about all the other names?”

“Drag this block over here…or wherever you want it.”

But it won’t stay where I put it.

“Upload a photo.” Ugh, it’s too big. How do I resize it?

“You have some text that needs to be removed.”

I go to remove it. “Are you sure you want to delete this text?”

“Cause once you do it, you’ll never ever, ever, ever, ever get it back. So ARE YOU SURE?”

Okay, it’s my first newsletter, so I hope my recipients are going to be understanding, even though I probably put the wrong names at the top of the letter.

Forgive me. I’ll do better next time.

This experience reminds me to show people grace. Just as I would want others to overlook my mistakes and perhaps give me an encouraging word. I’m trying to improve, and I’ll bet you are, too.

It’s good to learn new things. It teaches us humility!

 

 

 

We Love Our Readers Sweepstakes

 

FRONT Havens Flight

Hello Readers!

Several of the authors of Write Integrity Press (me included) are giving one lucky entry of the We Love Our Readers Sweepstakes a free Kindle or a 100 dollar Amazon Gift Card.

The Sweepstakes runs now through September 28th.

To enter, here’s the link:

sweepstakes

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

Tiny, But Powerful

I turned off the news yesterday.

Not gonna watch it for awhile. It’s too distressing. It’s not the tragic stories themselves. It’s that every news media outlet spins the latest occurrences to reflect its own biases. Drives me crazy.

On a personal level, I do the same thing. I wish I could turn off my own tongue, too. My mind is filled with judgments, prejudices, criticisms, harsh words, or snarky comebacks. And my tongue practically pants to articulate those negative thoughts to anyone who will listen.

It’s not that I don’t also have some lovely thoughts, too. Those slip off my tongue like rain from our backyard big-leaf maple, nurturing the shrubs and flowers below.

May I alway rain this way!

Last week, Bruce and I stayed in the Seattle Marriott by the water. The scenes outside our windows thrilled me. To the west I viewed long ferries carrying cars and people to and from Bainbridge Island. To the south, towering office buildings, piers, restaurants, the Ferris Wheel, and beyond, magnificent Mount Rainier. Below, bustling car and pedestrian traffic moved along Alaskan Way.

Out in the sound, a gigantic cargo ship was being escorted south into the Harbor by a tug boat. Bruce and I watched for nearly a half hour, entranced by how such a tiny ship could pull the black behemoth, loaded with box cars. I imagined that the weight disparity between the two boats would be staggering. Yet, the cargo ship submitted to the leading of this tiny boat.

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Then, of course, the verses from James popped into my mind:
“Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body…No man can tame the tongue.” (James 3:4-7 NIV Bible)

In the world of boat and harbors,  a tiny tug boat is a good thing.

But in the heart and mind of a woman who sincerely wants to bless people, my tiny tongue leads me where I don’t want to go.

My tongue expresses the real thoughts and intentions of my heart. It mocks my occasionally self-satisfied state, those days when I think I’ve got it all under control.

“Aha, you super-Christian. You think you’re so mature and godly. Well, if you’re so good, how come you just said what you said?”

And I recognize again, that I simply lean into wrong-doing as easily as a dog to a fire hydrant.

It’s a comfort to know I’m not a lone in my struggle to tame my errant tongue. I think that’s why the Apostle Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Col. 3:15)

My goal is to sideline my negative speech with words such as these:

  • “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Col. 3:16)
  • “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:6)
  • “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” (Psalm 34:1)
  • “Whoever of you lives life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34: 12-14)

What are your favorite verses on the subject?

Youth and Age: Better With God

I’ve been reading through the book of Ecclesiastes. What a great book.

The poetry is amazing. I love the author’s metaphors in chapter 12 for the aging process (something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately).

How about this?:

“When the keepers of the house tremble and the the strong men stoop.” Yes, at the age of 63 I’m beginning to understand this. It annoys me that I can’t bounce up the stairs like I used to. It bothers me that my back hurts after an hour of yard work.

My dad had been a strong, capable Army Air Corps pilot during World War two. But the years (here he is at the age of 92 at our daughter’s wedding) stole his vitality.

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“When men rise up at the sound of birds.” Yep, I awake at about 4:30. I remember my grandmother getting up at the crack of dawn, and I wondered, how does she do that?

“When men are afraid of heights.” As a child, I used to climb trees and perform gymnastic feats. Now, my balance isn’t as good as it used to be, and I worry that I’ll trip and fall down my own steps (like I did last year and almost broke my knees.)

Here’s me, going carefully down the steps near Lake Evergreen, CO. Bruce is holding Little Kira’s hand. I’m gripping the handrail.

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Age continues to surprise me. With every new ache or strain, I have to remind myself, “Oh, yes, you’re an older woman now.”

I bristle at the thought. In my mind I’m still 22, even though the mirror and the camera shock me with their harsh reality.

But I wouldn’t go back to that age. Even though I was in the thick of performing in shows, singing concerts and recitals, learning opera roles, finishing up my music degree, with wattage to burn at both ends of the day, I wouldn’t go back.

At that age, I hardly gave God a nod. Life was too much about me all the time.

I had a vague feeling that I was missing out spiritually, but I couldn’t jump off the merry-go-round. It was going too fast.

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Ecclesiastes says, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come…”

Oh, how well the author understood our frailty, our brief days of vitality.

Thank God, He intervened and communicated this message to me: Don’t waste your years only thinking about acquiring wealth, knowledge, degrees, fame. It only lasts a very short time.

Let Me order your days. Then what I call you to do will be something that will last beyond your brief time on earth.

Youth and age: better with God.

Where’d That Come From?

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“Where’d you ever come up with the idea for your book?”

I get asked that question at least once a week.

Why would a sweet little old lady write about an evil, delusional man who thinks he has met the re-incarnation of the girl he loved, but murdered?

My answer: I came up with my story idea years and years ago after I read a news article about a teenaged girl who had been abducted by a crazy guy, and taken into the wilderness.

At the time, I was about the same age as this girl, and I kept thinking, “What would I do if this happened to me? How would I survive? Would I be able to keep my wits about me even if I were terrified?

Gradually, over the years, a suspenseful but adventurous story began to percolate through my mind. Bits of my own experiences, scary imaginings, dark dreams, things I have read, suspenseful movies I’ve seen: these all contributed to the formulation of Haven’s Flight.

Can you imagine being lost in the densely forested Cascade Mountains, being injured, running from a man with murder on his mind? He’s got all the odds in his favor. He knows the woods, he’s an expert hunter and tracker, he’s big and strong, and he never seems to tire.

But Haven has more in her favor than she thinks.

She’s got a big, strong God who has promised never to leave her or forsake her.

Find out more about Haven here:

Have you ever doubted God’s ability, or willingness to come to your rescue?

Remember this: “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him.” (Psalm 91:14, 15)

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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