Several years ago I started writing posts based on my observations teaching and parenting middle school students. I called this series Middle School Monday and they got a lot of traffic, shares, and comments. Then I got busy and blogging couldn't be a priority. I've decided to start doing these posts again, but I'm doing them as a newsletter. I usually send one or two posts a week. If you want to sign up, you can do that here.
Many years ago I got a bad case of mono. I didn't know I had it and I likely had it for months before being diagnosed. I found out about it only when my body crashed and stopped working.
I would love your help choosing a tagline for an ad. It's for The Missing Heir. One of the main characters is created to be a monster, and his instincts drive him to kill. When he meets Tallie, he starts to resist those instincts, triggering and intense battle inside of himself. He wonders if, being a monster, he can ever be anything else. Even if he resists the impulse, does the fact that he has it make him bad? At any rate, I'm trying to find a good tagline for this ad. I'll use the picture above, although it will be darkened to hide most of his face except his eye, which will glow a little.
Here are a few suggestions. Which do you like? Do you have a better idea?
1. Can a monster stop being a monster?"
2. Is a monster made by his nature or his choices?
3. Does evil define a monster who wants to do good?"
4. If a monster hates being evil, is he still a monster?"
5. Can a sliver of light change a heart full of darkness?"
6. Can a monster choose to be good?"
7. Good vs. evil, light vs. dark, Monster against himself. Who will win?"
I love having giveways and contests. So, I'm starting the new year with a giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card. But to do it, you need to sign up for my newsletter. I won't spam you. I normally send something out every 4-6 weeks, plus letting you know if I have a new release--which I always offer at a discount for my newsletter subscribers.
Once you sign up, I'll send you the details. The link to sign up is here. Cheers!
I am incredibly excited to tell you that my next book just went to the editor. This book for middle school readers is a tale of loyalty, love, sacrifice, and redemption. I'm anxious for you all to read it. I anticipate that it will be ready by mid-January. Pre-order details are below.
A heartless monster. An innocent girl. He holds her life in his paws, but she holds his soul in her hands.
Twelve-year old Tallie knows she shouldn’t break Mother Kyraisa’s rule and summon the lights again. But she does it anyway. When Mother Kyraisa catches Tallie, the ancient nun evacuates the orphanage, ordering it burned immediately. She then crams Tallie into a lead-lined coffin and flees into the desert, whipping the horse the whole way.
With no memories, no heart, or even a name, X is a monster. Fiercest of the Bestials, his predator’s instincts are controlled only by powerful spells binding his life to the Regent’s will. When a flash of apostate magic betrays the hiding place of the late Queen’s daughter, the Regent dispatches X to kill the child—her niece and the long-hidden heir to the throne.
Following the child’s magic, X tracks Tallie to her hiding place. He prepares to kill her, until Tallie surprises him with a sincere request for help.
Tallie’s innocence and trust awaken a small spark of humanity inside X, and he tries to help her. But he remains a monster, bound by instinct and unbreakable oaths. Helping Tallie triggers a ferocious battle, as X fights his primal nature for her life—and his only hope of redemption.
Meanwhile, Tallie grapples with the tragedy of her past and her identity as crown princess. As royal heir, Tallie finds access to immense power—enough to destroy her enemies, but possibly her own soul as well, turning her into a monster far worse than X.
I just finished a blog tour for The Soulstealer's Child. One of the things I was asked to do was put together a dream cast for a hypothetical movie version of the book. That was kind of fun, so I thought I'd include those casting decisions here too. This would be so cool. Come on, Hollywood! Let's do this :)
First up, China Anne McClain as Lucy's best friend, Tiana.
Next, Charlize Theron as Jennifer Carlton. In addition to her elegance, Ms. Theron says a great deal with her eyes. One can easily imagine there is a lot of depth there, more being thought than said.
Daniel Craig as Dr. Ed Carlton. Besides being the right physical appearance, those eyes are piercing, I think. Dr. Carlton is not a man of action in the book, but I think there is an implication that he'd do anything to protect his family, and he is definitely a risk-taker. In that sense, Daniel Craig would definitely be perfect for Dr. Carlton.
One of my favorite characters in the Avengers movie is Black Widow, largely because Scarlett Johansson does such a job playing her with strength, but also a great deal of heaviness and weariness of heart. That combination would be so perfect for world-weary Tanya, strong but broken by life.
Nicholas Gonzales brings the right balance of brains and brawn. He looks he could be a serious bad guy, and do it in a very suave way.
Holland Roden has eyes that are perfect for Lucy. Wide, innocent, but also full of emotion and feeling. You can easily believe that there is a lot underneath, much more than may be first apparent. Also, her hair is perfect.
Josh Hutcherson looks a lot like James to me. The classic good looks, the boy-next-door with just a slight edge perhaps.
One of my very favorite characters is Jose Cordova. One of my favorite actors is Jimmy Smits. I can totally imagine him delivering some of the important lines Jose has.
Another favorite character is Carmen Cordova, and I think Constance Marie would catch her beautifully.
My daughter has had a crush on Liam Hemsworth for forever. There is something about him that would be really great as Kaelis, the loyal, grizzled seraph warrior. Able to be majestic and scruffy, Hemsworth would be perfect.
Several weeks ago, I went to a Diwali celebration, where our hostess lit and placed dozens of lamps outside her house. Earlier this week, the solstice brought us the hope that days would get longer. Tonight, my Jewish friends will light the menorah to celebrate the miracle of light in a dark time, and soon Kwanzaa kinaras will shine as well, reminding celebrants of unity and other beautiful values. My family will be celebrating the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem, whom I believe is the Light of the World. He is certainly the light of my life. Whatever you celebrate, wherever you are, I wish everyone out there light in dark times, and even more, hope that we can each reflect that light to others. Merry Christmas--and Happy Holidays!
Many years ago, I got sick, and I stayed sick for a long time. Not long after I got married and we had our first baby. Little by little, the illness overcame me and I had to stop working. We hoped if I took a week off, I could get better. Then a month. Surely two months, right? Perhaps if I took the entire semester off...At the time we were living in family housing on campus, so I had to keep going to school or we would lose our housing, which was much, much less expensive than anywhere off-campus. I stayed registered but, given my health situation, could not do much. Every semester was cycle of slow failure. It was a grim time for me--and my wife, who in her twenties was suddenly a young mother and a caretaker of an invalid husband. Our two children were too young to know anything was wrong, but we worried enough for the two of them. I was sick and not getting better. There was no end in sight, and truly, no hope.
Doctors had not been able to help--including high-priced specialists in a different part of the country. With increasing desperation, we tried every form of well-intentioned healing we could lay our hands on: herbs, acupuncture, energy healing. Nothing helped. I got worse and worse. Finally, I could only leave the house in a wheelchair.
By Thanksgiving, the semester had progressed far enough that I was clearly and irretrievably behind in school. With perpetual optimism, I registered anew each semester, then, as the semester went on, got behind and had to take "Withdrawals" or "Incompletes," which can quickly become the academic equivalent of a payday loan--you can get hopelessly behind with those. But I had no choice, since our housing was tied to carrying a full-time academic load.
These were the bleakest of bleak days, everything covered with any ashy blanket of despair. All I touched seemed to crumble into dust.
I remember going to my parent's house for Thanksgiving. Most of the day is a blur. One symptom of the illness was cognitive problems--a very real "brain fog." They tried to teach us how to play a fun new game called Phase Ten. I couldn't play; the rules were simply too complex for me to understand. I remember the look on everyone's faces. They thought maybe I was joking when I said I couldn't understand, but I really couldn't. It was terrifying.
One bright spot was my mother's family delivering a large care package to us. We had always been a tight-knit extended family, and their kindness brightened things up. But they couldn't fix what was really wrong, nor could they stem the obvious disaster that was coming for my own little family.
I will tell the rest of the story another time perhaps. But the short version is that a miracle happened: an honest, to goodness, bona fide miracle.
Many years later, I sit here today overwhelmed with goodness of my life. It's quiet here today, just as I like it. Three more children eventually joined those first two. The oldest are all in college, studying and leading productive lives. They are good people who I admire and enjoy spending time with. They are celebrating Thanksgiving today with my parents and siblings in another part of the country. The two children who still live at home are healthy, largely obedient, and delightful. They show great promise of eventually maturing into functional human beings as well.
I finally made it through school and earned three degrees. I am blessed to be able to make a living directing plays and teaching music. I have also been able to write books, which fulfills a childhood dream.
We live in a modest, but very comfortable home. We don't have everything, but we have everything we really need, and then some. I peeled potatoes today while watching some of my beloved old movies. I have a job I love very much. I work long hours, and feel incredibly blessed to be able to do so. Next to my own children, my students are the light of my life. I have been receiving emails today from students and dear former students with whom I have kept in touch They are kind enough to express their love, and of course, the feeling is mutual.
My wife who heroically stuck with me, is my rock. That terrible experience pulled us closer. Today, we are able to enjoy each other, and she is able to volunteer in many different places, sharing her remarkable light and goodness and love with everyone she meets. I think those very taxing early years did something to her. I worried they would break her, but actually, they burnished more brightly her ability to see other people's difficulties and struggles, and her determination to do what she can to help people. Almost twenty-five years together have brought a comfort, warmth, and stability to our lives. However, all that time has not changed the fact that the sparkle in her eyes still makes my heart skip a few beats.
Today, I am deeply thankful for all these things, thankful at a visceral, elemental level. But besides being thankful, I am hopeful. I suppose that is why I am writing this, really. Perhaps someone out there is struggling, full of despair and uncertainty. Or, even worse, full of certainty that things will only get worse. That was certainly what my life looked like at times in the past.
I can't read the future, but I can learn from the past. And everything in the past has taught me is to hope, to look forward with optimism. So, if you are happy today, I rejoice with you. And if you're not, I am sending my best wishes. God isn't dead. Miracles happen. Beauty can come out of ashes. Life can be beautiful. Things can change.
It occurs to me that perhaps having hope is the future tense of being grateful. Rooted in gratitude for the good we enjoy, we look forward more easily with hope.
I've been off social media more and more lately because of work obligations, but also because I'm just tired of the tone. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but I am so discouraged to see people turn so angry with each other, assuming the worst about people they've never met. Or, worse, people they've known for years.
We seem to be losing our ability to be soft and gentle. Then we act as if this is good. I really don't think it is and it concerns me that we speak with pride about various manifestations of this trend.
Everything seems to be a cause for taking offense and proving how terrible our foes are; we seem to truly delight in assuming the worst about each other and then shouting it from the rooftops, often in a way that proves our own intelligence and superior virtue. We are destroying straw men and women with the vigor and alacrity our forbearers used to tame the wilderness and fight the Nazis.
I'm worried that we are quick to define enemies by the way they think, speak, and view the world as opposed to the fact that they do us actual harm. And I'm worried, terrified actually, that we don't care and maybe even think this is good. Because it's not. Not for our souls, not for our families, our friendships, or our country.
The milk of human kindness seems to have curdled lately, including in people I love and admire. I get swept up too. It's so easy. I found myself writing an angry post about an angry post last night. I deleted it when I realized it would add heat but not light, but it worries me how instinctive it was to raise my hackles.
I've blocked and unfollowed like crazy lately and while it's cleaned up negativity in my Facebook feed, it also feels like a loss, a surrender of sorts and makes me sad. I miss those friends, even if I don't miss the anger.
We seem to cherish the hardness of our hearts and souls. We celebrate it in many different ways each day. But I worry that we are not soft and don't even seem to want to be. I've been thinking and worrying about this a lot. I'm not terribly unique in being worried, nor am I particularly eloquent in my expression of that fear.
I don't know what to do about it. I don't know what any one of us can do about it except try harder not to get swept away. We must fight to hold on to what little bits of softness we have left in our hearts and, perhaps most of all, celebrate it when we see it in others.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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