Saturday, October 7, 2017

Seven Wings to Glory

I don't normally review books in my blog posts, but every now and then, a book will come along whose characters are so richly-developed that they capture you from the beginning, so this time I felt I needed to share it. 

In Kathleen Rodgers’ first book, Johnnie Come Lately, Johnnie Kitchen’s life unfolds on the pages, flaws and all. But Mrs. Rodgers weaves the story so well, that instead of judging her, I found Johnnie’s openness and honesty so endearing, it made me love her just as she was.

 In Seven Wings to Glory, I once again found myself under the spell of Mrs. Rodgers’ excellent writing skills. This story deals with the topic of racial issues in the past and present of the little town of Portion, Texas. Johnnie’s troubled mother is back in town. Will Johnnie get past the feelings of abandonment and deceit from her childhood and learn to love her mother again, or will she let those feelings simmer and come to a boil like the crockpot of pinto beans on her kitchen counter?

And how will she handle the racial hatred that threatens her own family’s safety?

I think my favorite part of Seven Wings to Glory is the way Mrs. Rodgers portrays Johnnie as a military mom. Her love for her children is intrinsic and unwavering, and as her son goes off to a war zone, she lives in constant fear of a black car appearing in her driveway bearing bad news.

The characters were so real; the story line so authentic, I found myself frantically worried that, (1) Victoria, Johnnie’s mother was going to try yet another suicide attempt, (2) that her friend Whit was going to be targeted for her skin color,  and (3) that her kitchen window would be bearing the load of a gold star rather than the blue one presented to her upon her son Cade’s deployment.

Please have a box of tissues handy when you read this; not that the book is filled with sadness only, but that it is filled with all the trials and joys that go along with our humanness and our ability to laugh and cry over them at the same time. Thank you, Kathleen Rodgers, for bringing about all these emotions in us that verify that we’ve just read an outstanding book!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tender Hearts

Have you ever had one of those "being in the right place at the right time" moments? I experienced one of those today when I met someone who left her footprints indelibly stamped across my heart. She is a soon-to-be sixteen-year-old girl and I saw her at the hair salon while I waited my turn for my hairdresser. She was dressed in a chic black and white sundress with shoes that matched. Her blonde hair was shiny clean and in a mid-length stylish cut. Fingernails and toenails were polished a vibrant pink to go along with her pink-tinted lip gloss, and her pink purse was hiked upon her shoulder. My first thought was that she should be walking down a runway working for a modeling agency; she was that striking. She gave me a big smile when I walked in so I initiated a conversation with her, telling her how pretty she looked. An animated conversation ensued and I was impressed at how easily she talked to an older woman. 

She's a little nervous about starting high school this year because it's a different school and she worries about making new friends. She tells me about her gymnastics classes but laments that she'd rather be taking piano lessons. It's her passion, she says. But it's apparent she has more than one passion; another is theater. In a recent school play, she played Maria, Julie Andrews' role in The Sound of Music. I shared with her that my granddaughter is also involved in school plays but works behind the scenes. She was familiar with that role and said, "Oh yes! A play can't go on without the set designers and lighting crew. I love the behind-the-scenes people." Is there anything she doesn't love, I wondered. Her goal is to be a Broadway actress, she says, and I told her that with her personality, talent, and enthusiasm she could be anything she wanted to be. I asked her name because I want to make sure to watch for it on a Broadway billboard someday. She laughed and said that her name is Brady.

I asked if she was waiting for a haircut and she said, no, she was waiting for her best friend who was getting her hair trimmed. I asked if her best friend was her age and she told me no, it was her teacher; the one who had taught her all three years of middle school. She then shared with me that she'd cried when she graduated from middle school this year and she was really going to miss her teacher and her friends. I was sitting there marveling at what a wonderful teacher she must have that would take time during her summer vacation to spend with one of her students. It takes a special kind of teacher to do that, but most teachers in that field are indeed special people. You see, Brady is a high-functioning Down syndrome child. She is also the most delightful young lady I've ever met. 

I learned a valuable lesson in the twenty minutes I chatted with Brady and I'll share what I learned. Don't ever hide behind your phone in a waiting room texting messages and reading Facebook posts. Don't read a magazine when there are interesting people all around you to talk to. You may miss an opportunity to meet someone like Brady who will make you realize that the world is a better place because of the person you just met! And you may, like me, walk out of that waiting room with a much more tender heart than when you walked in.

Go Brady! I predict that you will have a good and happy life and I hope to see you on Broadway some day!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Book Release for September!

Agatha, owner of Park Place’s newest Bed and Breakfast is enjoying a refreshing glass of sweet tea and a plate of cookies with one of her guests this afternoon. It’s hotter than the 4th of July, but a wisp of a breeze is stirring under the shade of the large oak tree where they sit and enjoy each other’s company. Agatha is quite the character in my soon-to-be-released book, Miss Marple’s B & B. Her husband Charlie, dead going on two years now seems to be playing games from the grave. The old adage of “you can’t take it with you” doesn’t seem to hold true in this tale of the missing fortune. Regretfully when Charlie dies, his fortune disappears and Agatha is left nearly penniless with nothing to fall back on except the beautiful Victorian home that’s been in her family for four generations. Turning it into an Inn may be the best decision Agatha has made in her entire life. In fact, it may be the only decision she’s made in her entire life since she’s led a fairytale existence going straight from a controlling family into a marriage with an older man who has made sure she has the best things in life. Join Agatha for tea. She’ll soon reveal her story of how a leap of faith brings about a change so profound it will change her life forever. "The rest of the story" is due to be released in September. Watch for it!

But for now, she wishes all of you a Happy Independence Day weekend!

Glenda Manus, Author

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Getting inside the head of your characters

When I’m in the beginning stages of writing a book, I work really hard to get inside the heads and into the homes of my characters. When I’m doing mundane things like washing dishes, making the bed, or going outside to water my flowers, I use those quiet moments to get to know them. I’ll say to myself, now what would Agatha be doing right now, this very minute?

She lives in a large Victorian house at the end of West Main Street in Park Place. I’ve sketched the floorplan of her home. I’ve walked with her through the library, the living room and up the massive stairway that leads to the four bedrooms she’s going to be letting out to the guests of the Bed and Breakfast she’s just opened. I’ve watched her read books by the light of the lamp beside her bed, and I’ve enjoyed hot tea with her guests while they sit beside the fireplace and chat.
I’ve created a front porch with rockers and painted her porch ceiling blue. I’ve marveled at the turret tower with the circular walls on the left side of the house that reaches toward the clouds, and I’ve looked from the outside in as the upstairs guests gather there in the little circular drawing room to look out upon Main Street as the shoppers pass by during the day and ooh and ahh over the Christmas lights as they’re turned on at dusk.

 Agatha’s front porch is surrounded by boxwoods and there’s a walkway leading to the sidewalk, with street lamps on each side. She has lots of shade trees, a separate 2-car garage, and an old carriage house on the right side of the house. You can look down from one of the second-floor bedrooms and see her English Garden and the exquisite statues and water fountain imported from Italy that anchor it. Beyond that, you can see the blueberry orchard where she gathers the berries to make her jams and jellies.

When I go outside in my own backyard, I see the lush green of Spring, but I have no trouble getting into Agatha’s shoes and following her into her own English Garden right smack in the middle of winter. I know that her husband, the avid gardener, died two years ago and the garden is in a state of disrepair. Winter tufts of brown grass and a small mulberry seedling are growing up between the flagstone squares, trying not to disturb the serene setting. The pump on the fountain quit working shortly after Charlie died and the water that’s left in the bowl by a recent rain is colored a murky brown from the leaves that have fallen from the trees. Agatha breathes a heavy sigh as she looks at what has become of Charlie’s garden. She can only do so much, she thinks, still a little angry at him for dying. Then a new thought enters her mind. A gardener, when Spring comes she will hire a gardener! Why had she not thought of that before?

And where does my character go from there? I make it up as I go along, but wait, I just had another thought.  Agatha is only sixty years old. She’s not dead yet! As she thinks about the gardener she will hire, she decides he must be easy on the eyes. Be careful, Agatha. Don't go there. We're writing a nice clean book.

See how quickly our imaginations can lead us off track? But the amazing thing is that we can merge our minds with our characters and a book is written. I still don't understand how. And we know we had to be a little bit crazy in the first place to have ever wanted to write a book because, by the end of the story, we've begun to act a whole lot like our character, good or bad!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Mountains, Molehills and Miracles

Sitting out on the beach always inspires me to write, which is why in my beach bag of necessities, I always carry a pen and notebook. If I’m having a problem with writer’s block, the beach atmosphere suddenly clears it. If I’m seeking answers to a difficult situation, I usually find that the salt air and fresh sunshine make those difficulties seem less significant.

On our most recent trip there, I had the beach all to myself; not a soul was in sight, so it was inspiration without distraction, a rare thing indeed!

With every swell of a wave, then the subsequent crash that follows, I’m reminded of the mountains out of molehills I’ve made during my lifetime, and of the insignificance of those baby mountains that usually work themselves out with or without my interference. But God’s interference can work out even the worst of my molehills. How do we seek God’s interference? It’s a simple word with big consequences: prayer.

I believe that God has a plan for us, but Jesus’ words also give me a promise. A promise that He can change His plan if I sincerely petition Him to do so, not always in the exact way we ask, but who I am to say what's best? We've all experienced miracles in one way or another. I have experienced a few myself and they’ve always been the result of prayer. I’m trying to learn, through faith, to expect mountains of goodness and not to resign myself to molehills of pettiness. It's not always easy; those molehills can drag me down in an instant, without warning....until I remember to whom I belong.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Writing though Grief

I'll admit to it. I'm grieving for a country I've always been proud to be a part of. Being patriotic is part of who I am. It was instilled in me by my parents, especially my father who made sure we were all schooled daily on national and international current events. He would sit down nightly and read the day's newspaper, sometimes reading it aloud and sometimes just conveying his feelings on a subject that he'd read. Much like my mother, who would read and comment on the Bible research she was studying while preparing for the Sunday School class she taught. Our home education was steeped in God and Country.

I grew up Methodist and there was nothing luke-warm about our Sunday morning sermons. I attended other denominations when I spent weekends with cousins or other friends and got the same dose of worship and praise in their churches. We were all in this together, some just a little more structured than others. I also remember the day that Jesus reached down personally and touched my heart, making it His forever.

Daddy was all about the little people. Being a farmer, he knew what it was like to have good years and bad. He knew what it was about to be on the receiving end and what it was like to be on the giving end. I was also born privileged, but not in the way people speak of privilege now; privileged that in spite of being born and raised in the rural South, there was no racial hatred taught in our home, and for that, I'll be forever grateful.

I was also taught to respect the office of the President of the United States of America, somewhere along the line shortened to POTUS, which sounds like a rather disrespectful term if you ask me.  But if you didn't like a president, you just sucked it up and waited for the next four years, but you still were taught to respect the president. The only time I remember my father truly grieving over a presidential election was when Richard Nixon was voted in for a second term, and we all know how that played out. He was sick for days. I know he would be sick if he were alive today. Instead though, he is basking in God's everlasting sunshine in a place that knows no physical or emotional pain.

I am a Christian writer, and for this entire process of election, I'm ashamed that I've remained quiet about my feelings on Donald Trump. The few times I've alluded to my feelings in written word, I've done so gracefully as not to offend other Christians out there who somehow think this vile man is the answer to the world's problems. I stood by in shock as I watched people defend this man's actions, some of the most un-Christian like actions I've ever witnessed in not only a presidential candidate, but in a person in general. One who believes in the idolatry of money; of pride and ego; of self-aggrandizement. I heard the issues brought up, and I too have struggled with some of the issues, but still I could not even look at this man and not get a sense of revulsion that made me literally sick to my stomach. It was an emotion straight from my heart and soul; a place where the Holy Spirit resides in me.

We've studied Isaiah recently and all I keep thinking about and wondering, is God hardening hearts so that we as a nation are not seeing things clearly? We are told in scripture that he hardens the hearts of unbelievers (look what he did to Pharaoh), but what about believers? And if so, whose hearts have been hardened? I feel mine has been softened as I've prayed and gained clarity in the months leading up to the election, but does the other side feel the same? And as a Christian, why are my gut feelings so much different from those of other Christians. It's so troubling to me - maybe something I will never understand.

I hope and pray that our next president, (excuse me if I can't yet say his name) will not be like King Ahaz of Isaiah's day - too stubborn to listen to the advice of God's prophet and too quick to side with the wrong rulers. If so, we are all in trouble.

I do know that I need my space right now. I need time to grieve. I hope and pray that my friends and family who voted differently will understand if I can't see or talk to them right now. I thought I could move on faster than this, but it has taken its toll.

As I finish writing this as a healing process, I want to encourage my friends who are also grieving for our nation. God is sovereign. He is the ultimate ruler. I don't think he is rejoicing in our choice of leaders, but He has given us hope. There is the hope found in Isaiah, a Messianic hope where we can imagine all of creation is healed and restored, a place where we can live in peace.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Saga of the Lost Phone

This blog has run the gambit. It has had many identities over the years, but for good reason. My interests have changed, therefore my writing has followed suit. It's been about retirement, sharing bits of wisdom, day trips to small Southern towns, tablescaping, flea market adventures and much more. Recently I changed it to reporting small happenings and gossip in the small town of Park Place, the place of my books, a fictional Van Wyck, but the lost phone saga is not fiction and I'm sure it will never be replicated. Here it is.

My youngest daughter, a fellow democrat, is on vacation with some friends in Mexico waiting for the wall to be built so she won't have to come back home. Just kidding, but probably more serious than we know. But of course, she wants her family to join her, one of which I'm feeding and carpooling while she's gone.

Gen is fourteen, going on fifteen. I'm also carpooling the children of a neighbor, who is also in said Mexico waiting for the same wall. One of them is Gregory, Genevieve's age.  Monday, on the way home from picking them up at school, I told Gen that she had a physical therapy appointment and when she acted like she doubted it, I whipped out my phone to show her the email message from her mom, like, uh, grandmas make these things up. I was driving and that's the last time I saw my phone. Having not charged it the night before, I only had about 20% charge left, and everybody knows when it says that, it means it's going to leave you high and dry.

After I delivered Gregory home, I brought Gen back to my house for a few minutes before we left for the appointment. When we got back in the car, I noticed I didn't have my phone. We tried ringing it inside and outside the house, but no luck. It had to be in the house or the car, right? So we went on to the appointment. I would find it when I got home.

Searched everywhere, called it time and again. It was ringing but we couldn't hear it. So at this point, I decided I would be smart like my smart phone is supposed to be, so I logged into my iTunes account and asked it to Locate my Phone. The message it gave told me it wasn't charged. So much for smart.  I've worried about that six-hundred dollar phone more than you should ever worry about a material thing, but I do love my phone! It's also new. 
Meanwhile I got out my old iPhone and charged it up, thinking I may have to resurrect it and switch back to it. Last night I decided to give the Locate My Phone feature one more try. Yay! It looked like it was working this time and zeroing in on a spot on the corner of Steele Hill and VW Road on  the map right before my eyes. My house, it must be here! Then I heard a ping and was so happy until I looked around and found the pinging coming from my old phone that I had just charged. The read-out said "found phone" and that phone wasn't even lost! I went back to the Apple site and tried to pull up my new phone, but it only shows that I own the old phone. I may or may not have remembered to register the new phone on Apple when I got it. Ouch. But I had the box it came in! Yay! It had the serial number on it, so I tried to register it thinking there still might be hope and it would still have a charge since I hadn't used it. I think positive, usually. But aack! Once again, no luck. After the serial number, it wanted an agreement number from the agreement papers where I bought it. Oh, did I ever tell you how unorganized I am? Probably not and I couldn't find it.
So-o-o, this morning I went to Comporium where I purchased the phone and just knew they would have a copy of the agreement number. Wrong! But I don't think she was looking hard. She had a very hard time following along with my story, and she had a neat desk, looked very organized and looked at me sort of condescending, like I was supposed to know to keep those sorts of things.
I came home all blue, rejected and dejected from Comporium. When I pulled in the driveway, Henry walked out of the house to meet me. My phone had been found! He was excited too, because of the six-hundred dollars I'm sure. Where, I asked, feeling a little elated for the first time in two days, actually three days if you count Monday.
It was at the high school and had been turned in by a boy who found it in his book bag.
My thoughts went to Gregory! But how?
Can't you just see this in slow motion. 
Genevieve in front seat, Gregory in back seat.
Book bag on floor. 
Gregory opens book bag to get out his own phone, leaves it open. 
Genevieve has my phone, reads email and lays phone on console.
Brakes applied.
Out of all the places phone could go, it tumbles into book bag.
Gregory closes book bag and gets out of car.
Book bag is left by back door away from hearing ears as we try calling it.
It stays in dark book bag overnight and all next day because there was no school because of election day; then overnight again.
Gregory takes book bag to school this morning, opens it. Hey, what's this phone doing in here?
Takes to office. Smart lady in office charges it and calls the last number called.
Voila! I have my phone back. I did feel slightly unpopular when I checked my messages. Not a single one.
I can sometimes go days without using my phone, but with my daughter in Mexico waiting for the wall to be built and thinking that Gen would need me to put on my superwoman cape to run to her rescue at sometime or another, I went a little crazy with the lost phone. Can you tell?

But the really, really fun part is when I picked up Gregory today at school. I told him I'd found my phone. He said, where did you find it? I said, here at the high school. Some boy found it in his book bag. He turned to me with a look of shock on his face and said in his cute little British accent, "that was me!" Kids! You gotta love 'em!

At least this was a short story and not a book.
The end.