Tag Archives: writing

Jesus Walked Into the Waffle House

Between sexual harassment and racial discrimination, it sometimes seems as if our nation is tearing itself apart at the seams. I wonder if we stopped and looked at the other person’s point of view if we’d see how these things happen—not planned violence or gangs or murder or anything truly evil, but the moments of passion that humans get carried away by. The moments when our failings all add up and someone suffers for it.

I wrote this story in response to several news stories. It might not be popular among those who think every choice they make is the right one, but try to see our world as Jesus, who—according to every Bible story and every preacher—loves us all, would. (For another Jesus story, you could try Jesus Walked Into Planned Parenthood.)

Jesus Walked Into the Waffle House

By Michelle Garren Flye

On the night of the local prom, Jesus walked into the Waffle House. He didn’t want waffles or pancakes. He smelled the frying bacon and shook his head. Hadn’t His Father warned them about that?

He smiled at the hostess, an older white woman who worked the night shift so she could take care of her daughter’s two fatherless children during the day. The hostess didn’t smile back, but Jesus knew it was because the baby had skipped his nap that afternoon and she was simply too tired to smile. As He walked past her, however, her head lifted and she straightened her shoulders. As if she felt a surge of strength to carry on.

He moved peacefully into the dining room where a trucker sipped coffee and thought about his family at home. His wife was pregnant and her father had just gotten sick. The trucker worried that the stress would be too much for her. Jesus laid a hand on the man’s shoulder. “She’ll be all right.” The trucker looked up and nodded. He had faith but sometimes it was sorely tested.

The waitress was taking a break. Her feet hurt. She’d already worked six hours when the manager asked her to work another shift. But she needed the money. She had tuition to pay and no one to help her. She wanted nothing more than to graduate and really get her life in order.

Jesus leaned on the counter beside her. The manager came over. “There’s some prom kids outside. We’re likely to have a rough couple hours of it.” The manager saw prom kids every year at this time. Sometimes drunk or high—and always rough and rude—they often came to the Waffle House for a late night snack after prom. The very thought of them exhausted him. He shook his head and muttered, “Two a.m.? Those kids should be home.”

Jesus knew he couldn’t stop what was going to happen. He could see it now. The manager’s daughter had been raped once and he felt protective of the young waitress who was just trying to make her life better. When the young black man dressed in his prom tux complained about the food to the waitress, the manager would interfere. The black man, who was still young enough to think every choice he made was the right one, would reply, rude and indignant that he had been challenged. The trucker, still worried about his wife, and the hostess, tired and thinking of her daughter and grandchildren, would call the police at the first signs of trouble, long before anyone could calm down and think about what they were doing.

And when the police arrived, a pissed off cop would see a sobbing young white waitress and an angry black boy surrounded by the patrons and employees of the Waffle House, all arguing. And the cop would direct his own anger—born of years of these kinds of nuisance calls—at the boy. The boy whose grandmother was so proud of him for his last report card, and whose teachers had promised he would do great things. The boy who wanted to go to college and get an engineering degree, but who had made a bad choice by smoking a joint behind the gym at the prom and now felt invincible.

Jesus could only watch as the cop proved he wasn’t.

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Writing “those” scenes in the age of #metoo

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Never has writing romance been more of a balancing act than it is now, at least if you want to be sensitive to the #metoo movement and yet still satisfy your readers’ cravings for romantic escapism. Let’s face it, first of all, the day of the alpha hero who demands what he wants from a simpering heroine is—or at least should be—over. Flirting that goes too far is also dangerous ground. And writing one of those scenes—sex, that is—well, that’s harder than ever, and writing good ones has never been easy.

If you take all that away from romance, you don’t have much left—though I admit I wave a cheerful good-bye to the alpha hero. But the rest? What is romance without anticipation, flirting, and, ultimately—because we are human—sex? At our cores, we are animals looking for a mate, and that’s what the whole romance genre is based on.

I struggled with this for a long time. I want to believe I’m a liberated liberal woman, but I believe in love and romance. I believe in the value of finding your soul mate and building a life together. The #metoo movement and the ugly stories I heard about things that have happened to women seeking that same thing made me rethink myself. I looked back at my past work and found a number of mistakes and missteps. How could I call myself a feminist if I wrote this?

I put away one work-in-progress without writing that scene for a few weeks, went back and wrote a very bad, almost robotic one with no feeling in it, and finally, a couple of weeks ago, did what I should have done in the first place. I examined my characters’ motivations, especially the heroine’s. Why did she want to have sex at this particular time, with this particular person? I knew she was going to leave him right after, so why did she decide on him in the first place? Once I had the answers, I wrote probably the best one of “those” scenes I’ve ever written.

My point, I suppose, is that romance is a genre in flux right now. I believe you’ll see fewer alpha heroes making demands and fewer simpering victim heroines. If authors of romance are willing to make a change, I think the genre has an opportunity to make an impact—to take us all on a journey away from the #metoo movement to a world where women and their partners can create a world that is safer for our daughters. And isn’t that a world worth escaping to?

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Lessons of a Favorite Teacher: Like a String of Christmas Lights

pexels-photo-632205.jpegToday I found out that my favorite teacher passed away. Mr. Goins was 75 years old, and I never told him he was my favorite teacher. He was the first to teach me the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of journalism, the first to encourage me to check my sources and back them up, the first to impress upon me that journalism is facts only—my opinion and my point of view do not matter in true journalism.

Mr. Goins was too kind-hearted to be a journalist, but he was the best of the best at teaching it. He led the little band of would-be journalists who made up our high school newspaper The Broadcaster to multiple awards. In fact, it was while attending a ceremony to receive one of these awards that I first stepped foot into Howell Hall of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And I knew I would go there and get my degree in journalism. And I did.

I’m luckier than most. I managed to finagle my way into the job of editor of The Broadcaster during my senior year and I helped found The Purple Fridge, the literary magazine of our high school, which Mr. Goins also agreed to sponsor. So I worked closely with this gentle soul who guided and advised and helped, but never ordered. He never yelled, though once or twice I think we all saw those bushy eyebrows flare over the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore. And sometimes he’d take those glasses off and rub the tear-drop shaped indentations on his nose very wearily.

I’ll never forget going into The Broadcaster office—Mr. Goins’s classroom—after school to ask him a question and find him, more often than not, kicked back in his chair with his feet up on his desk smoking his pipe. He’d drop his feet to the floor and motion for me to take a seat nearby, puff on his pipe and listen, think, and answer. He was never to busy for a student.

I never thanked him for that. I never told him he inspired me to pursue my writing career or that I still remember his journalism lessons like they are Christmas lights strung along the journey of my writing career, lighting my way. But they are. His lessons live on in my life, and I treasure their light. Thank you, Mr. Goins.

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Begin at the Beginning

IMG_5147You know how you have a story to tell sometimes and you can’t figure out where to start? And then some smartass says “Begin at the beginning.” That’s not always easy, is it? Because maybe you start with waking up that morning and then you realize that you were late because you had a hangover and you had a hangover because your best friend from college was in town last night and you met and had drinks, but to begin with she was in town because she’s getting married… Well, maybe you get the idea.

My point is, finding the beginning of a novel is sort of like that. Sometimes you kick off your novel with a great first line. Like I had this awesome first line for my current work-in-progress. At least, I thought it was pretty good. Want to hear it? “I’m doing Dickens.” So I started there and proceeded…and realized pretty soon after that, damn it, that’s not the beginning of the story. It’s actually about a chapter in.

I tried flashbacks and having the characters discuss how they got to the point they were at, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. I would just have to sacrifice that perfect first line.

So now I no longer have the perfect first line. However, I do have what I feel is a pretty good beginning. I thought I might share it with you. This one will be a Christmas romance. It’s tentatively titled Dickens Magic, and may or may not be a part of the Sleight of Hand series. It’s still early, and I’m toying with making it a standalone. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Kate Joiner pulled another tray of hot biscuits from the oven, tossed four into a basket, and hit the bell for the waitress to pick up before turning back to make sure everything was running well in the rest of the kitchen. It was. Like a well-oiled machine. Her well-trained kitchen staff knew the drills perfectly. Even a busy summer brunch rush couldn’t throw them off.

If only her wait staff were as dependable. She frowned at the basket of biscuits still sitting on the counter, picked it up and stalked around the partition ready to scold whichever teenage waitress was neglecting her duties. However, as she rounded the corner, a young girl dressed in jeans and a “Book Marker Café” t-shirt almost ran into her.

“Quinn!” Kate gasped, stumbling backward and catching the girl in the same movement. “What’s the meaning of this? You guys all disappear during the busiest hour—”

She stopped, her eyes narrowing. “Why are you giggling?”

Quinn was undoubtedly laughing, but her eyes wore a more cautious, almost shocked look. As if she were amused but wasn’t sure she really should be. She got control of herself at Kate’s stern look, however, and swallowed hard. “It’s just—the…out there. There’s a woman in her nightgown.”

“Her nightgown?” Kate peered past the girl and her heart collapsed. There was indeed a woman in her nightgown. Alex’s mom. Mrs. Lawrence. One of the most fashionable women in town who seldom ever left her home without lipstick now sat at one of Kate’s front tables in a lace nightgown, her hair unbrushed and no makeup at all on her translucent skin. Kate nearly dropped the biscuits. “Oh my God.”

“We didn’t…know what to do. The other customers are pointing and whispering and some of them are leaving.” Quinn’s voice held no trace of laughter now. Evidently Kate’s reaction had convinced her which side of amusement she needed to come down on.

Kate took a deep breath. “Get the others in line. Take care of the other customers. Pack up orders to go. Give it to them for free if they don’t want to pay. I don’t care. Just, for God’s sake, don’t let anyone else point and laugh at her.” A lump rose in her throat and she swallowed hard. Then she straightened her back and hurried over to Patty Lawrence’s table, thinking the whole way about the mother of her best friend who’d made her chocolate chip cookies and given her rides to play rehearsals with Alex and had, more than once, organized a cast party for them. The sweetness of the memories gave her strength.

“Mrs. Lawrence.” She smiled as she set the biscuits on the table in front of the woman. “It’s so good to see you.”

Mrs. Lawrence looked up, blinked once and then smiled back. “Katie! It’s been ages.” She looked around. “What are you doing here?”

She doesn’t know where she is. She doesn’t know this is my café. Kate struggled for control. “Oh, Mrs. Lawrence. Don’t you remember? I went in on the business with my mother. She runs the book store and I run the café?”

“Oh. Oh, yes. Of course.” Mrs. Lawrence nodded, but she still looked a little befuddled. “Strange, isn’t it? Having books and a café? All…mixed up. Sort of like New York.” She spread her napkin primly over satin lap. “Well, I’ll start with coffee. The biscuits smell wonderful. Did I order them?”

Katie reached across and touched the woman’s hands. “Those are on the house. My specialty, Mrs. Lawrence. Tell me, have you spoken to Alex recently?”

“Oh, he’s so busy with his plays and things on Broadway.” The older woman fluttered her hands as if speaking of her son’s foibles and hobbies and not the Broadway career he’d built for himself. “I keep saying I’m going to go up and see this last one.” She leaned across the table, lowering her voice confidentially. “You know he plays a gay man, don’t you? But he’s not gay.”

“No, he’s not gay.” Katie squeezed her hands gently.

“This is a very nice place you have here, dear. It’s a little drafty, though.” Mrs. Lawrence shivered. “Maybe you could turn up the heat?”

“Turn up the heat?” Katie blinked. It was June and the thermometer was already at seventy-five degrees when she got up that morning. “Um…sure.” Seeing her chance, she half rose. “But maybe I can get you a sweater or something, Mrs. Lawrence. To keep you warm until—”

“A sweater? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m wearing my winter coat.” As she spoke, Mrs. Lawrence looked down and a horrible change came over her face. She looked back at Kate, then back down at her nightgown, covered her face and began to sob quietly. Kate helplessly knelt in front of her, put her arms around the woman and held her. And even as she did so, she thought, Now I have to call Alex.

****

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Poem: The Gift

For absent friends and family.

The Gift

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

it’s a Gift, she said, holding it tight.

why don’t you open it? i replied.

oh no, she laughed, you don’t open it.

 

i studied the golden wrappings,

the shiny, shimmering bow.

what do you do with it then? i said.

 

for answer, she breathed and laughed and cried—

she played and lived as the Gift slowly faded.

but she held it like a treasure the whole time.

 

only then did i see my own Gift bound in gold.

i wondered how i hadn’t noticed it before—

though i’d held it until its light had gone.

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Being a writer

What’s it like to be a writer?

Here’s the truth. Being a writer sucks.

Being a writer is glorious. Being a writer is frustrating. In today’s world, it’s nearly impossible to be successful at being a writer. You spend half your time wishing you were something else.

But it’s not like you choose to be a writer. It’s something you’re born to be, some might say a “calling.” God puts a voice in your head and your heart and it haunts you until you do your best to translate it to the written word. Then you edit and hone and rewrite and, finally, you send it out into the world where it’s mostly ignored when it’s not published with a shiny hardback cover by a huge publisher that sends you on a world book tour with big posters and lots of bling to give away at ever stop.

And yet.

Being a writer is not something you choose, and it’s also not something you can deny. I love being a writer. I love my books that are a part of me and a pale echo of that voice God spoke to me. I know I didn’t get it right because I’m human, but I do my best, and I think I’m getting better at it with every try.

So I keep trying. I keep translating and honing and editing and rewriting. And publishing.

About a month and a half ago I sent one of my books, Movie Magic, out into the world. A few people have read it. One of them was kind enough to review it and tell me he liked it. He’s a fellow writer and a magician I’ve gotten to know through our mutual love of writing and magic. He gave it five stars and a glowing review I’m very proud of.

Tomorrow I begin a review tour. These will be strangers reviewing my book. I personally think Movie Magic is the best book I’ve written so far. I guess I’ll find out if others agree.

Until tomorrow.

 

 

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Buy local: Support independent authors

Studies show that buying local is important to local economies, right? More of the money you spend returns to your own local economy. Did you know buying from an independent local author has the same benefits?

Authors published by large publishing companies get much less of the profits from sales of their books. Therefore, the majority of the money you spend on a bestseller in the bookstore goes national, not local. However, if you buy a book that is independently published or published by a small press, the author gets much more of their proceeds. Therefore, more of that money returns to your local economy, growing local businesses and

True, you may only be able to find independently published books at online retailers, meaning part of your money goes to support those retailers. However, this pales in comparison to the portion of money that goes to traditional publishers. The average traditionally published authors makes, on average, a ten percent royalty, but this is on net profit, so any discounts or overhead are taken out of the proceeds before the author gets a check. So an eight dollar book does not make the author eighty cents per book sold.

By contrast, independently published authors (read self-published here), can make up to a seventy percent royalty on a book. Usually independently published books sold in ebook format online are priced much lower than traditionally published ebooks (mine range from free to $2.99). Paperbacks can be more expensive because, at the moment, they are print-on-demand, which means there are no warehouses full of my books anywhere. I keep a few on hand for promotional purposes, but basically, if you order a physical copy of my book, somewhere a press fires up and prints it off.

It’s kind of cool to think of that.

In truth, though, you as a consumer have the chance to change the way books are made. You can go into a bookstore and suggest that they carry my books. The bookstore could then contact me and we could haggle out a price, which would result in me shipping them a few copies of my books, which would then share brick-and-mortar shelf space with traditionally published books. In most cases, larger chains are less likely to do this than the independent book stores which are, sadly, becoming fewer in number.

Consumers can change that, too.

So, buy local. Chances are good that no matter what subject matter or genre interests you, there’s a local author who’s got it covered. Please feel free to list your favorite independent author’s website in the comments.

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