Recession Brings “grace”

IMG_20130514_183310_506Five years ago, as I was working at Scottsdale PD’s Crime lab as a fingerprint technician, I went part-time to help care for my terminally ill father in Colorado. I figured I could return to full-time within a year or two.–The “recession” changed all that. After my father passed away, I found myself with some extra time on my hands and a desire to pursue some old dreams. I enrolled at Scottsdale Community College and began honing my (at that point) “latent” writing skills. These new skills and the inflamed desire to write are what brought about my first fiction novel “grace.”
“grace” is a novel set in southern Oregon that follows four friends’ lives and is threaded with the overarching theme of undeserved forgiveness. It contains tragedy and murder, life and death, good and evil, as well as triumph, love and second chances.

PLEASE COME AND JOIN IN THE CELEBRATION OF GRACE AT A FREE COMMUNITY EVENT!
JUNE 1ST AT ASU’S SKYSONG CONVERGENCE ROOM (SE corner of McDowell Rd and Scottsdale Rd)
Enjoy a free continental breakfast and hear a reading from “grace”
A book signing and Raffle will follow.
Event is FROM 10 AM TO NOON
(for more info check details at AZCentral.com, Phoenix New Times.com and on the events page at K-LOVE.com)
“grace” will be available at the event ($15.20 for SC, $33.75 HC and $5.00 for the e-book) and also at Amazon.com and other online retailers.

FREE WATER-SKIING!

free waterskiing
My college roommate left the university paper on the counter for me to read. Was she trying to get rid of me for the summer? I read on:

“Water ski instructors needed for Camp Vega, an all-girls summer camp in Maine.”

Hmmm. I grab up the paper. My attention is now focused. Both my parents were competition water-skiers. My family grew up waterskiing throughout the summer in Colorado. Now, with the both my sister and I away at college, the competition ski boat was sold and we only sporadically, recreationally skied behind the old blue outboard boat we cleverly named “Bluie.”

“Four Competition Ski Nautiques. Ski all summer and be a part of molding young ladies lives. Must be able to instruct all levels of skiers and to safely pull skiers through the slalom course.”

No problem.

So I made the call. Throughout the phone interview and job details I heard, “Free waterskiing. Free waterskiing. Blah-de-blah-de-blah-blah.” Something about being a camp counselor, getting free meals and something about $800 for the summer plus $2oo for travel, and then I heard it again, “Free waterskiing all summer.”

I was in. I sold my sister on it too. Both of us were hired to be Water-ski Instructors and looked forward to a wonderful summer of free waterskiing in Maine!!
I should have paid closer attention in my geography class– Maine is that state all the way up there by Canada; with all the cold temperatures and a plethora of chilly lakes.

I should have paid closer attention in math class– $1,000 for the whole summer: June, July and August. Adding in the camp counselor part of the job, this was a 24/7 position. Break that down hourly and we’re talking about $0.37/hour. In 1991, you couldn’t even buy a Snickers bar for that.

Did I also mention it was run by a retired cop? He ran the place with an iron fist, keeping all in fear and ensuring the campers were safe and had the time of their lives. (As if being sued by the campers’ wealthy parents wasn’t enough fear!)

It was beyond exhausting. Days being tossed on the lake all day long with young girls whose ages ranged from six years old through to fifteen years old and at every level of aptitude. Some girls had never been in a lake while others were already competition slalom skiers. After a marathon day filled with that, I was assigned to “Saco;” a bunk filled with fifteen angst driven twelve and thirteen year olds mostly at this camp so their affluent parents could travel all summer.

Originally my bunk had four counselors assigned. Two quit before all the attention-starved campers arrived. Lucky them. Their positions were never filled.

Did I mention all that free waterskiing I did? No? I think I skied twice. I chose days where the water was warm enough so that I wouldn’t have to report to the nurse’s station for hypothermia and then I was already so exhausted from all the other duties, I could only summon two or three passes through the course.

Yet, I still have so many fond memories of that time. The trip across country with my sister will forever be re-told as the adventures grow through each telling; how we almost died when we ended up in the wrong part of Chicago, how we got stuck spending the night in a cockroach infested single-wide hotel in Pennsylvania, and the story of the lake spider (the size of Connecticut!) crawling up my sister during a ski staff meeting.

Heidi, my remaining co-counselor, became instant friends by sharing a bond forged in the “trenches of Saco.”

I (reluctantly) fell in love with all the girls by summer’s end. Tears stung my eyes watching Sarah who belted out the leading role in Sound of Music. I was hoarse from screaming encouragement at Ashley who scored the winning goal against the rival soccer team. And Jill, my very favorite camper, successfully skied the whole slalom course in the final water ski competition. On, and on and on the achievements and growth that happened over one summer. Until just a few years ago, I still maintained contact with some of those campers. Saying good-bye was one of the most emotional days of my life …

It was the toughest job of my life on many levels: physically, emotionally, financially…

Until now.

This writing thing is brutal.

I just received my first review on Amazon.com. It wasn’t very uplifting. It is from a family member.<br />
Don’t get me wrong, I am so very grateful for all who have spent the money and took the time to read my first novel “grace.” So grateful. And I am grateful for those who will take the time to write a review and to be very honest about it. So grateful.

Author Kristen Lamb summed it up for me in one of her blogs titled “HOW BOXING CAN MAKE US BETTER WRITERS—LESSON ONE.” She writes, “Think of this job like boxing. We’re in the ring. Outside (and even internal) critics are going to seek to gut-punch and knock the wind out of us. Their objective is to drop us to our knees and make us give up.”

The world out there is rough. Family has always been my “soft place to land.” I didn’t see this one coming.

Just like the end of that summer watching my favorite camper Jill’s face, eyes puffed and red from all our crying and hugging good-bye, as the yellow school bus shuttled her out of my reach and back to her parents on August 30, 1991.

Gut-punch.

On my knees, trying to catch my breath.

I think about the time it took for me to finish “grace.” The hours I spent writing, re-writing, editing, then re-writing, then re-rewriting, and revising and re-revising. Then more edits and more re-writes. The writing courses, the writing critique sessions, the weekends spent at my computer from sun-up to sun-down. Add it all up and I am not even close to a Snickers bar.

I’ll never forget the wise words of one of my upper division Creative Writing Professors. He said, “If you’re doing this writing thing to make the ‘big bucks’ you should get out now. It’s the rare occasion when a writer makes lots of money, but that is never why you become a writer. You do it because you love writing.” He went on to cite all these (now dead and now famous) authors who were penniless.

I didn’t write “grace” or any of the stuff I write to “make the big bucks.” I don’t write to become even remotely “famous.” I write because I have to. I write to honor the dream that God placed in my heart many years ago to be a writer. I wrote “grace” because I truly felt God nudging me, time after time, to put it out there.

Did my abilities get in the way of His message? Possibly.

I put a little bit of everything in “grace:” love, betrayal, murder, a football story, a boy with his dog, death and new life, and all in a beautiful location. A little bit of everything and hoping to appeal to everyone with the underlying message that true grace is available to everyone. My mistake is thinking that everyone will accept grace.

Determined to not give up, I arise from my knees.

That review aside, God’s message is still golden. His message is grace. Not my character in the book. The term grace has been described as “undeserved forgiveness.” Lots of people have problems with the idea of something they don’t have to work for–something free–something given to them when they don’t feel they deserve it.

I don’t blame them. I will be the first to yell, “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE WATERSKIING!”

And what Jesus did for us—the underserved forgiveness that He accomplished for us by doing what He did on the cross—it doesn’t cost us a thing. But don’t, for one second, think that it didn’t come at a price. It cost Him dearly.

As discouragement pricks at my eyes and my exhaustion from working long hours at these other “real jobs” so that I can have these other “free hours” to spend on writing and trying to honor what sparks God has put in my life to write about, I grit my teeth and remember another lesson I learned along the way–

It was another “not-so-kind” review from a former class-mate that I took too personally. I recall sharing my feelings with a third party who was also taking the course. His words got me through, “You didn’t write this for her anyhow.”

You got that right.

When I set out to complete “grace,” I decided that if it made an impact on just ONE person, then all the hours, all the late nights and early mornings, all the money I threw at it and the heart I put into it would be worth it.

As I tuck in my chin and raise my gloves, I prepare my armor for another day. I take heart in all the positive words of encouragement, the prayers, and the kindness of those who have supported me along the way and who continue to remind me of the Truth –I don’t write for reviews. I write to point the world to something greater than me and I do it to try to honor the “free” gift I have been given.

So grateful.

Behind the cover of “grace”

The RiverOne of my favorite stories about my first fiction novel “grace” is about the cover. I had completed the manuscript and was struggling through the cover images for it.  A few years prior, I moved to the Scottsdale condo community where I currently reside. All my neighbors and community pointed out that I was closest neighbor to Heidi Rosner, the artist.  I knew nothing about her except that she was very well liked in the community and was an artist.

For the record, I don’t believe in coincidences and I am a somewhat private person. Yet, God kept nagging at me to talk with her about the cover.  Up to this point, we had only brief conversations and interaction as she spends much of her time at her other home in California and I was working three jobs at the time. Nonetheless, opportunities kept presenting this one particular day when I should have asked her, but I chickened out.

I was returning from getting my mail and Heidi approached me!  We began a light conversation: “What have you been up to?” “Not too much.  You?”  blah-de-blah–I mentioned to her I was self-publishing a book in the near future and sure enough, the chance came up for me to ask her what medium of art she worked with. When she told me she was a painter mostly focusing on landscapes and florals, I was urged to question her if she would be interested about doing a book cover.

“Well, tell me about your book.” Heidi asked.

I stammered on about the southern Oregon setting, the four friends that it centers around and their struggles with life, death, forgiveness, faith, etc.

“So what’s it called?” She asks.

“Grace,” and when I answered with this, I was not expecting her response.  Her lips quivered, jaw clenched and tears filled her eyes. “Are you okay?” I was stupified. What had I said???

“Julie, I have been feeling my mom’s presence with me today.  Really.  All day just feeling her talking with me.  She passed away just a few weeks ago. I recently returned from her funeral. Her name was Grace.” (this is a paraphrase but pretty darn accurate!)

Now it was my turn to have the lips quiver, eyes fill with tears, etc.

And that was how “the Heidi Rosner” agreed to do the cover of “grace” with her amazing painting of THE RIVER.

PLEASE COME AND JOIN IN THE “CELEBRATION OF GRACE” AT A FREE COMMUNITY EVENT!
JUNE 1ST AT ASU’S SKYSONG CONVERGENCE ROOM (SE corner of McDowell Rd and Scottsdale Rd)
Enjoy a free continental breakfast and hear a reading from “grace”
A book signing and Raffle will follow.
Event is FROM 10 AM TO NOON
(for more info check details at AZCentral.com, Phoenix New Times.com and on the events page at K-LOVE.com)
“grace” will be available at the event ($15.20 for SC, $33.75 HC and $5.00 for the e-book) and also at Amazon.com and other online retailers.