A Tip for When You Meet an Author

If you read a book you like, and then invite the author for coffee, here’s a tip: Bring a couple of copies to be signed, and then make sure that your nails coordinate with the cover of the book.

Alternatively, if you’re an author, choose a book cover that complements your readers’ unconventional style.

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I live for the times I hear from readers. Meeting them is a hundred times better.

Check out her blog here to read the thoughts and experiences of someone who grew up in a real-life Fellowship culture.

Thanks for a fun coffee date, Lady Adelaide. I really do love your nails.

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“Go Right” in Print!

So how is your Friday? Nothing special here, just growing my collection of my own books thanks very much.

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Up till now, my short stories, Go Right, have been available only as an ebook. But today that all changed. Today my first box of printed books arrived. They’re beautiful.

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The collection is available for pre-order on Amazon, with a release date of December 15.  Just in time for Christmas! Unless, of course, nobody on your list enjoys warm, funny, feel-good stories, in which case I can’t help you out, sorry.

A little peek behind the indie-publishing scene here — I had to set the Amazon price a little higher than I wanted to. Mind you, you’ll get your money’s worth out of the stories. But you can buy it directly from me for a little less, plus get a signed copy. Email me at SaraRobertsJones77 (at) gmail (com).

So. That’s how my Friday is, thanks for asking! Now please go buy my book.

A Little Collection

In a completely self-indulgent blog moment, I’m posting pictures that remind me of my novel.

Writers are always — yea, even obsessively — looking for and collecting characters, settings, and elements from their stories. That means we find pictures of houses, random items, and, ahem, actual people who don’t actually know that they are being collected.

Case in point, I’m a little sad that I missed the chance to get a picture of a young woman in a red jeep the other day. It was a perfect Bekah picture. Unfortunately, the light changed and I had to drive away. Stupid traffic laws.

Anyway, here are a few little things from my Fellowship collection. You do have to have read the novel to appreciate them. (Haven’t read it yet? Click the link to get your copy.)

This unsuspecting couple at a coffee shop became Bekah Richards and Ty Williams. They’re not dead ringers for those characters, but they capture the right spirit. I’m going to pretend that’s iced tea in those glasses, though. Bekah’s is unsweet, of course.

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Another time, at a festival in another town, I came across Rob Branner. (The actual man had a British accent that was just devastating. But I bet Rob’s Southern drawl isn’t too shabby either.)

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Graveyards are a hobby of mine. No, really; my husband and I even walked through one during our honeymoon. I wander through the headstones, noting distinctive names, and wondering about the people’s whose lives have already come and gone.

It was at this cemetery, four or five years ago, that I found the perfect name for my church founder.

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I (reluctantly joined the trend and) color. I particularly enjoy pictures that let me think about the people who live in my head. There’s a marshmallow-roasting scene in The Fellowship, in which Bekah says she likes her marshmallows “burned.” Rob replies that the proper term is “Flambe.” When she eats the black, crispy, gooey marshmallow, Rob remarks, “That’s revolting.”

That line is actually a kind of an inside joke between DJ and me. On one of our early dates, I took him to Dairy Queen, where we both got Blizzards. I spent more time talking than eating, until my Blizzard melted. DJ — who, by the way, still didn’t have my official answer that we were actually a couple so needed to play his cards just right — looked at the brownish sludge in my cup and said, “That’s revolting.”

And I fell hard for that confidence.

In honor of that scene, I gave Bekah (in the red coat) a burned marshmallow. But this isn’t the scene from the book, which takes place in the summer. This is later, after the novel has ended but the characters live on to have marshmallow roasts over a fire pit.

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When I was working on the picture, however, I pointed out the tray in the lower right corner. I thought it was cheese and crackers, but I couldn’t figure out what the cylinders were supposed to be. Sushi?

DJ said, “I think they’re marshmallows, since you’ve got the graham crackers and chocolate…”

And I started laughing. I’d colored the roasting sticks green because I thought they were celery:

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Graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows, and celery… now that’s revolting.

Words of Art

“She had not known the weight, until she felt the freedom.”

Several years ago, I finally got too tired of being good enough. I gave up. I told God, “If you’re so big, you can handle all this yourself. I’m done.” I did the spiritual equivalent of shrugging off my backpack, peeling off my restrictive clothes, crawling into bed, and pulling the covers up over my head.

And God said, “Good. You just rest. I’ll pick all this up. Do you need anything right now? I’ll check in on you.”

As I lay with that blanket over my head, I gradually realized that I could breathe again. It didn’t hurt as much to move. For the first time since I was a teenager, the fear of punishment and God’s wrath receded. The feeling was both exhilarating and painful, like when you flex your fingers after you put down a strap that’s been biting into your hand.

Sometime during that spiritual sabbath, I discovered  JA Photography & Design. Jenn creates and sells letter art, and I was especially caught by this piece:

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I teared up when my print arrived. My faith is a lot wobblier than it was years ago when I knew all the answers. Life is a lot messier. But this word represents the hope that keeps me going.

Deep spiritual moments aside, I just plain love Jenn’s eye for seeing shapes in everyday life and making sense out of them. Since my decorating style is basically, “Hang stuff up on my wall,” art-into-words is pretty much everything I need.

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Is my S upside down? It routinely gets knocked off the wall.

In a shameless plug for this art, let me also add that it’s inexpensive (about $4 per letter) and easy to customize.

Tired of pre-printed signs urging you to “Live, Laugh, Love”? (I am.) Get in touch with Jenn and create one that spells out your name, a personally-inspiring word, or “Live More, Die Less.” *

Or, you know, “grace” — a word I’ve got up on my wall to remind me of the incredible freedom that comes when you finally let God carry the weight.

*”The more you live, the less you die.” That’s a line in the song “Raise the Roof” by Carbon Leaf, the band whose music got me through the final shattering illusions when the “truths” of my teenage years were revealed for certain as a sham.

Are You a Failure? Y/N

The thing about cults and cult-like systems is that, for the most part, they’re really boring.

Most of the indoctrination takes place day by day, through sermons that carefully redefine Scripture, through lectures that reinforce the group’s beliefs, and through long, dull sessions of filling in blanks and regurgitating the right answers.

The question-and-answer exercises are very simplistic, and all designed to condition you to doubt yourself and feel like a failure. You learn to look to your leader for answers, and you’re afraid to leave the group because you know you’ll crash and burn on your own.

A friend from my own Fellowship* recently shared a snapshot of a worksheet we had to fill out as students in the early 90s. As 14 – 18 year olds, we were separated from our parents at weeks-long conferences, awakened early and kept up late, and bombarded all day with lectures and conditioned group responses. Somewhere in the middle of this exhausting, bewildering, and exhilarating experience, they dropped things like this in our laps:

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1. Do you get up early in the morning?

2. Do you get out of bed when you wake up?

3. Are you an “energy-giver” when you get up?

4. Do you decide the night before what to wear the next day?

5. Do you consistently honor a day of rest?

6. Do you make your bed as soon as you get up?

7. Do you have everything in its rightful place?

8. Do you keep your room neat?

9. Are you consistent in your daily Bible reading?

10. Do you have a regular prayer time?

11. Do you regularly memorize Scripture?

12. Do you always wash your hands before meals?

13. Do you practice proper etiquette?

14. Do you sit near the front during a meeting?

15. Do you stand up for your elders?

16. Do you take notes during messages?

17. Do you know how to detect the five types of fools?

18. Do your parents approve of all your friends?

19. Do you fulfill all the promises you make?

20. Do you put yourself to sleep with meditation on Scripture?

*

An outsider could glance over it and say, “Well, there are a lot of great ideas here. Except what does washing your hands have  to do with self-motivation? Just take what’s good and leave the rest.”

An insider knew much better than that.  “No” is not an acceptable answer to any of these questions. Notice that”Sometimes” isn’t even an option. We couldn’t take-and-leave. This wasn’t a mere list of ideas. This was a test, and we were set up to fail it.

Unless you’re educated in the culture that it comes from, you probably still miss how loaded some of these questions are. I could spend a dozen blog posts unpacking these questions.

For instance, “Do you get up early in the morning?” Early rising was a mark of Godliness; sleeping late was, therefore, sinful. The next question, “Do you get out of bed when you wake up?” reinforces the idea that staying in bed is a sign of slothfulness. And there was an entire booklet about the dangers of being slothful. So if you answered “no” to questions 1 & 2, you’re already spiritually defective.

Or how about #14? Sitting in the back of a meeting demonstrated apathy (a sin) or rebelliousness (a major sin).

In order to answer #17, you had to remember the extensivelesson on the Five Types of Fools; so that question actually covered an entirely separate session in itself.

Question #18 weighed about a ton. Your parents had the power of God’s disapproval in your life. If they didn’t like a friend of yours, no matter the reason, the only obedient course of action was to get rid of that friend. Also, “friend” here could stand for “friend of the opposite sex” — someone you liked despite the fact that God expected you to keep your emotions pure until He brought you the one you were to marry. It was a reminder that even your emotions were subject to God/your parents.

The entire list, by the way, is pretty easy to master if you happen to be someone exactly like the Venerated Leader who wrote it — a man who didn’t need much sleep, was an extrovert, found memorization easy, didn’t have any real friends, wore basically the same thing every day, and spent thirty years sexually harassing young women that he invited to work for him. Oh, wait, he forgot to add that item, didn’t he?

Twenty years later, when many of us saw the picture of this list, we felt that same oppression we’d lived under as teenagers. “No wonder,” we said. “No wonder I always felt like a failure. No wonder I worked myself into chronic fatigue. No wonder I broke down at age 20.” This list was just one of many others like it. This was how we knew to please God.

This was our spiritual life, one in which choosing your clothes the night before is just as important as keeping the Sabbath (one of the Ten Commandments). No room for mistakes or personality. Just keep your head down, obey, and pretend you aren’t the complete failure you know you are.

And for the record, I have no idea how washing your hands before every meal made it on this list. That’s stupid.

If you need me, I’ll be lying in bed in my comfortably cluttered room, with no memory of the five types of fools, and resting in the grace of God.

*Bill Gothard, IBLP/ATI