10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust”

10. It Showed Up in My Head

I tend to look back and have some insight into why I chose to write a book. In the drafting phase, though, I’m far less aware, less conscious. People, situations and issues just show up in my imagination.

They’re kind of irresistible – beckoning me like an open door to a walled garden.

The other nine reasons I wrote this book are all good reasons, but I don’t think many novelists just crank out books for logical reasons.

There are many logical reasons not to write a novel – they take a super long time, they’re hard to get published and even with healthy sales, you wouldn’t want to calculate your hourly pay. Probably about as much as someone who knit a scarf getting eight bucks for it at a craft show.  

We kind of do it for love – we knitters and novelists and artists of all kinds. Many of us feel like that’s what we were made to do and that’s the gift we can give people.

To have someone enjoy it – that’s compensation too.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust” cont.

9. Not All Christians are Mean, Stupid or Sappy…

I watched a fantastic movie last night, “The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society”, but one of its characters made me flinch with a familiar irritation.

She was a Christian who read her Bible all the time. She was also mean, judgemental, self-righteous, prim, petty and vindictive – basically the antithesis of how Jesus acted. You just don’t often see a sane, appealing Christian character who can speak in whole sentences on mainstream media produced this century.

Often people who follow Jesus are depicted as villains or fools, on screen and in contemporary books.

I just finished writing a novel, “Someone They Can Trust,” that depicts real people who say they’re following Jesus, and almost all of them are really following Jesus. They’re likable, authentic and say amusing things. They show how a relationship with God is fleshed out in real situations.

I’m not saying there aren’t some ignorant and hateful people who say they’re Christians. I just know from experience that there are many mature and loving people in our churches. That’s important for everyone to know. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust”:

8. We Have to Live with Alzeimer’s

Alzheimer’s Disease is a public health problem of staggering proportions, and a personal tragedy for a good chunk of our population. (Around six million people have it in the United States.)

Even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic, increasing poverty, unemployment, and a childcare crisis – the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is a loud call to band together and live more communally. Dementia can wreck a family. It’s that hard to deal with.

There is a character in my manuscript, “Someone They Can Trust” who has Alzheimer’s, and the story shows how a loving community can make life livable for the victims of the disease and for their caregivers.

One of three protagonists in the book is the main caregiver for her beloved Grandmother, who is found to have Alzheimer’s early in the story.

The character’s journey is not only about a descent from a devout and useful life; it’s a story about life going on and being full of graceful, sweet moments even in the midst of the disease. Those are what we can learn to create for each other.

That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust”

7. God Likes Good Art

God is obviously a good designer, as the varied gorgeousness of Earth testifies.

I’m assuming God also likes good art to be part of our worship gatherings, since his instructions to the Hebrews for building their first temple were specific to the last detail and He had artisans in mind to do the work.

In my latest manuscript, “Someone They Can Trust”, one of the main characters is an artist, and her love for God is both inspired by beauty, and returned with skillful, beautiful painting.

Another character is a worship minister who uses the arts to the best of his ability in planning powerful worship experiences. He also uses the arts as a way of reaching out to the community with invitations to a fabulous gathering, based on something I saw Charlie and Ruth Jones do in Greensboro, N.C. a few years ago. (https://www.joyfulcommunity.com/grub)

Every month they opened their downtown home to 20 to 30 people for a wonderful meal, followed by an open stage for local artists.. I had never seen a more diverse group of people enjoying themselves together more.

My theater company, “Friends of the Groom” joined them, performed some sketches, and were delighted and renewed by the great food, spoken word and music.

Good art and hospitality are a powerful combination. I wanted to show how they build strong community. That’s why I wrote this book.

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10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone They Can Trust”:

6. I Really Like These Characters

Sometimes you get so attached to characters that you just can’t confine them to one book. Two of the three protagonists in “Someone They Can Trust”, my latest novel manuscript, first showed up in short stories in my collection, “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”.

Matt was a funny, talented, self- deprecating music minister who pulled off a bizarre but successful Christmas concert in, “The Best Christmas Concert Ever”. Janice was an attractive woman recovering from a wrenching divorce, the departure of her grown children, and a difficult mother needing care in “The Painting”. I just had to see what was going to happen next for these people I liked so much! The third lead character in the novel, Maya, has not appeared in any other book, but has lived in my head for a few decades. I have no idea where she came from!

All three of them are my favorites. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone They Can Trust”:

4. Diverse Churches Needed

In the novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust”, black people and white people go to church together, pray together and study the Bible together. This should not be a big deal, given that the Bible presents a vision of God’s kingdom welcoming every single people group, but the U.S.A. has an abysmal record regarding racial equity, and our churches are mostly segregated.

The black church has been a place of refuge and safety for generations of African Americans, so it’s understandable if they want their churches to stay segregated. There are many reasons why white churches are segregated – they may reflect the reality of all-white surroundings, they may not know how to go about being welcoming to people of color even if they want to, or they may contain outright racists. Or all of the above.

Despite these wrenching realities, the bigger reality is that God’s Spirit of love is always working to break down barriers of race, class, age, belief and education. This novel shows a church allowing that to happen. We need to be able to replicate churches that are safe for people of color, which are also attended by white people. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone They Can Trust”:

3. Church, We Have a Problem

The novel I recently finished, “Someone They Can Trust”, takes place in a church a lot like mine, in a neighborhood a lot like mine. Because the setting will be familiar to some readers, I want to make one thing really clear – the abusive pastor in this novel is radically different from any pastor I have ever had in any church I’ve ever been to. I have only ever known pastors who are kind, decent, respectful and morally above reproach.

So if anyone reads an excerpt and recognizes my setting, please don’t think I’m talking about any of its pastors!

The fictional pastor in the book, is a compilation character who emerged from several alarming stories I heard from friends. Unfortunately these kinds of stories keep emerging in national media, and holding abusive leaders accountable doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for our churches. If we can’t discipline our leaders in a biblical way, we have a problem on our hands – that’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone You Can Trust”:

2. God Heals People, Really

A psychologist in my writer’s group read some passages in my latest manuscript and said, “This is the first book I’ve ever read that has a passage incorporating prayer for inner healing.” There aren’t too many novels that incorporate healing prayer of any kind, at least not that I’ve found. Leif Enger’s  “Peace Like a River” is one luminous exception, and years ago I read a novel by Agnes Sanford, a well-known leader of the Anglican charismatic movement in the mid 20th century, but it was a pretty bad fiction (her non-fiction books are wonderful).

So here goes me giving it a shot in “Someone You Can Trust”.

Through prayers, I have seen God straighten out a bent spine, reverse a spina bifida diagnosis, melt away a brain tumor, and salvage someone’s fading sight. I have experienced prayer for mental and emotional issues that substantially reduced my symptoms of depression and anxiety, and gave me courage to realign myself in messed up relationships. I’m convinced that God wants to heal us. Many people assume that illness is caused by God, or that God is indifferent to it. My experiences have turned such theology upside down. That’s why I wrote this book.

Christmas Short Story

This is the second installment of one of twelve short stories from “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”, available from Amazon.  Half of all the profits from this book are donated to 3Cs Nursery School. To read the story from the beginning, click here, then come back to this post to continue….

The last time Charise had seen her cousin, Tanya had been running barefoot through Grandma’s garden into the night, none too steady on her feet. Charise had been in college, Tanya was a junior in high school and Charise had taken her to a party in Clifton.

Charise, in a calculation she would never have made sober, had decided to bring Tanya back to Grandma’s, where she had been living since her parents kicked her out. She wanted to introduce Tanya to cocaine in a safe place, and had figured that Grandma and Grandpa would be asleep on the second floor, too far away to hear anything. They had tiptoed giggling through the house, more loudly than they realized, and gone through the French doors in the dining room onto the back patio. On a glass table under the porch light, Charise made two wobbly lines of powder.

They were poised over it with straws in hand when a shadow fell across them. Grandma stood there in the doorway in a white robe and turban, silent and flint-eyed as the angel of death.

Finally, with no visible movement, she hissed at Charise. “How dare you bring that filth into my house! How dare you drag this girl into the same evil you’ve fallen into!” Her voice rose to a shriek and her trembling became visible – “How dare you!”

Tanya leapt out of her chair, grabbed her stiletto heels and took off barefoot through the yard, apparently preferring to risk the wrath at home rather than stay for Grandma’s. Grandma, still screaming, “How dare you!” swiped the table with her arm and the cocaine disappeared into terrycloth and thin air. She finished the swipe with a shove that nearly knocked Charise over. She was too stunned to react. Grandma had never even given her a mild spanking.

While Charise was still in shock, Grandma grabbed her purse and took off through the dining room. Charise sprang after her like a tiger – there was $200 and more cocaine in the purse.

“No more!” Grandma was crying, as she wove around the dining room table – “No more. This ends tonight.”

She picked up a phone and dialed three numbers. Charise grabbed at the purse. Grandma dropped the phone to hang onto the purse, and the two of them struggled there by the kitchen door. The women picking cotton smiled down on them, until Charise, wrenching the bag away from her grandmother, scraped the purse’s buckle right into the picture, dragging it across the face of one woman and the upper body of another, piercing through a smile and a heart and a bag of fluffy cotton. Grandma sank to the ground, sobbing. Charise ran up to her room, grabbed her stash of weed, a bigger bag, threw in some clothes and shoes and ran out of the house, beating Grandpa, who was now running toward her from the dining room, to the front door. She ran south all the way downtown to the bus station, and took a bus to Nashville just after dawn.

The whole scene played again, as she stared at Tanya’s note, and the guilt washed over her in waves that made her clench her teeth. She had never seen Grandpa again – he had died two months later. She had been so wasted at the funeral she could barely remember it. Damon had driven her up, steered her through it and driven her back to Nashville all in the same day.

How had she let another year go by with no contact with her Grandma? Grandma had written and invited her to Easter and to Thanksgiving and to Christmas, but she had been too ashamed and afraid to go home. Now it was too late.

She wanted a drink. Screw recovery. She looked in every cabinet but there was nothing on the property. She grabbed her keys and headed north toward the Kroger. On her way, just before the intersection where Grandma’s church was, she saw a lit-up old house at the front of a hospital property. She could see people through the window. She remembered hearing it was used for twelve step meetings.

She passed it, but when she got to Grandma’s church she pulled into the parking lot. She sat in the empty lot, breathing heavily. Then she looked at the church entrance and saw Grandma, in a ray of light, walking through one of the doors, wearing a hat, like she used to at Easter. Grandma looked over her shoulder at Charise and lifted her eyebrows. “OK,” said Charise, to no one but the dark night. “I’ll go back to the meeting.”

***

The meeting had, as they say, restored her to sanity. The next day was Sunday. She went to church. It was the closest she could come to being with her grandma. She was not, however, ready to face up to Grandma’s friends, so she sat in the back row and planned to slip out during the final song.

She was surprised when an older man who had been sitting near her came out after her, and called to her. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you but I thought I might have recognized you from a picture and I wondered if you might be a relative of Olivia Anderson.”

That got her attention. She watched him approach, hoping he wasn’t a pastor. He might be. He was an older white man, kind and well spoken, with friendly blue eyes and a smile.

“I’m sorry. My name is Bill Grant, and I’m a friend of Olivia’s.” He offered his hand. “I’m Charise Anderson, her granddaughter.” “Ah! I’m so glad to meet you. I was out of town the day of the funeral so I haven’t had a chance to meet her family. I’m so sorry for your loss. She was such a good person. I would even say a great person.”

“Yes.” She wondered how well he knew Grandma. Well enough to know what a screw up her grandaughter was?

“I don’t want to intrude,” he said, more tentative in her silence. “But here’s the thing – I knew your grandma from the Historical Society as well as church here, and I helped her find out as much as possible about her house. I thought that whoever lived here next – maybe they would like to hear what I know, and I could show you some files I gave her…”

“That’s very kind of you,” she mustered, relaxing a little. “I would like that.”

He smiled. “That house is a treasure. It was built in the 1850s by a Quaker named Zachary Strang. He was an abolitionist. But I’m sure you know the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad?”

Her eyes widened. “I had no idea.”

“Oh yes. I thought your Grandma would have told you. It has quite a heritage. Strang used to pick up runaway slaves in a wagon that had a false bottom. He’d hide them in the wagon and put crops on top and bring them up the road to the house. Then after they’d eaten and rested, he’d smuggle them up to the next safe house. You may be wondering why they were still running in a free state, but the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it legal for owners to pursue people into free states and recapture them, so they couldn’t really be free till they got to Canada…”

He talked on, swept up in his own narrative. Charise already knew about the Fugitive Slave Act. She’d written a paper on it before she’d dropped out of college. But she had no idea the house had been an actual hiding place. Grandma must have only found out recently…

“ …I guess you don’t know about the little room they found, then?”

“What?”

“Yes – a few months ago. We’re pretty sure it was one of the places people hid when strangers were seen coming up Hamilton Pike. You see, there was a warning system. Homeowners further down the road, and students from the Ladies’ College and the Farmers’ College, would keep a lookout and send messages to the safe houses. Then they’d hide slaves in basements or attics or sheds when the owners came looking. Your Granma was sorting things in the attic and she uncovered a false wall that could be slid sideways in the attic, and there was a little room back there with blankets and books…it was so exciting!” His enthusiasm was hard to resist. Charise asked, “You wouldn’t have time to show me now, would you?
***

Mr Grant shifted the wall panel, enough for them to squeeze into the dormer space. There was an ancient curtain on the window, its small flowers almost faded out. Covered in plastic, there were old brown wool blankets, a Bible, a book of fairy tales and two history volumes. Grandma, always orderly, had laminated a page of writing and placed it on top of the blankets.

It read, “These things were discovered in September of 2014 by Olivia Anderson, along with Mr Bill Grant, a fellow member of the Pleasant Hill Historical Society. He has heard a second hand account of a letter written during the Civil War. The writer said that Pleasant Hill had become too well known to be a safe stop for runaways, so the little room in the Strang attic had been retired. We have not been able to find the letter. But we have found these blankets, this Bible dated 1846, and these other old books. It is my prayer that this house will always be a refuge for those in need of safety, comfort and beauty.”

Charise read the note over and over, unmoving. Mr. Grant shifted awkwardly.

Finally he said, “She asked me, the last time I saw her, to make sure her grandchildren kept all our files, everything we gathered about the house. Can I ask you on her behalf to keep these things, and all the papers downstairs? They were very important to her.”

“I can promise that much.”
***

After he left, she sat on the small back stairs of the house, the ones servants used to use. It was where she went to be alone as a child. Now, her mind was pierced with images of those runaways, hurriedly being smuggled up these stairs – ragged, wide-eyed people smelling of sweat and fear. She followed the images up the stairs, back to the little room. She sat on the floor facing the dormer window, which looked down on the garden. She re-read Grandma’s note.

“A refuge,” she whispered. Then louder, to the empty space, to the whole precious house and garden and all the people who had sheltered there, she admitted, “I need a refuge. I’ve been a slave and I need a refuge.”
***

This story will be continued in the next post…

Christmas Short Story

This is the beginning of one  of twelve short stories from my book, “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”, available from Amazon.  Half of all the profits from this book are donated to 3Cs Nursery School. It’s set in College Hill, a Cincinnati neighborhood, so it has an added appeal to locals. This redemptive story, “The Refuge” draws on our neighborhood’s fascinating history as a stop on the Underground Railroad: 

     No one had told Charise that her grandmother had died. The funeral was over by the time she heard. A lawyer had sent her a letter requesting that she contact him concerning the estate of the deceased Olivia Anderson. She had stared at the paper until her hand began to shake. Then she drank a bottle of her boyfriend’s Red Stag and slept
hard.

final cover That had been a relapse; she had actually been sober for over two months when the letter arrived. When she emerged from her stupor, it was to her boyfriend, Damon,
grinning down at her. He picked up the almost empty whiskey bottle, took the last swig and said, “I knew pretty soon you’d be giving up on that sobriety crap.”

Two days later, Charise stood in the front yard of her grandmother’s Cincinnati property, shivering in her leather jacket, wishing she had brought up a winter coat from Nashville. She had packed in a hurry, while Damon was out so he could not talk her into taking him with her.

She had wanted to be alone, but now she wondered. Standing in front of the glorious old house in the quiet and the cold, she wondered if the loneliness might do her in. It was a grand Victorian frame house, built in the 1850s, recently painted a bright yellow with white trim and green shutters.

That had been Grandpa’s last big job before his stroke. He had painted first floor trim while the grandkids got on tall ladders to paint the rest. Why, Charise wondered, why hadn’t they inherited the house instead of her – those cousins who were always there, always helping?

She was reluctant to call her family until she met with the lawyer. She would just have to wait, for three days. That was the earliest the lawyer could schedule her to go over the will. She hoped anxiously that there might be a note for her, something personal from her grandmother. In the meantime, she would go through the house, plan what to do with its contents and find a realtor to put up the place for sale.

She zipped her jacket, cold but reluctant to go into the house. She had bare feet in high-heeled sandals, skin tight crop pants, a silk shirt and the inadequate jacket. Her bracelets and necklaces were like ice on her skin. She never thought of being comfortable any more, only of looking hot. It was the uniform of the life she had chosen. Damon liked a good looking woman. That was the first thing he’d told her. He walked into the club where she was sitting with some friends, surveyed the room, saw her, walked straight to her and said, “You are by far the best looking woman in this place. You might be the best looking woman I’ve ever seen, and I keep my eyes open.”

He’d bought drinks for her and her large group of friends and took them all back to his place, dazzling them with his black swimming pool, his collection of African art and his limitless supply of Cinderella weed. A week later she’d moved in with him.

She walked a winding path to the center of the garden. Even in December it was beautiful, with the pond and the statue of a little girl holding a basket, smiling bravely into the wind. Dead leaves whisked across the path in front of her, stirring up memories. She saw Grandpa on the porch, rocking back and forth in the white chair, staring into the woods as he sucked on the pipe his wife would not let him smoke in the house. She saw her cousin leaning on a carved porch pillar, wiping his face on his shirt, drinking a pop after mowing. She saw Grandma on the other side of the pond, gathering an armload of lavender to dry and make into sachets for the drawers.

A strange little cry escaped her throat. It was out before she knew it was coming – despair at how memory brought the past alive, then left you bereft. This empty yard was what seemed surreal. Grandma and Grandpa both gone, and Charise estranged from the whole family…. This was a bad idea, coming up here early and alone. How did she think she could stay in this place, alone?

She thought about the bar down the street that had live music on the weekends. She would go down there, just for dinner. Just for company. Tears spilled over her cheeks, running mascara. When Grandma was done in the garden, she used to call Charise and say, “Come in with me, baby. Keep me company in the kitchen.” Charise could see her on the steps right now, scooping a loose, strong arm toward her. “Now Baby. It’s time.”
I’ve done too many drugs, Charise thought. Her brain had floated in and out of delusion too many times, so now memories turned into ghosts that seemed real. With a great effort of will, tears still flowing, she got her suitcase out of her car and went into the house. Once inside she expected more hauntings that would tear her heart with remorse. She deserved that. But being back in the entry, seeing the hallstand draped with familiar hats, and the grand curving staircase, she felt welcomed, she felt home. Her courage rose. She would not go to the bar. She would get groceries, come back here and face the music, let all the memories whack her in undulled sobriety.

She put down the suitcase and ran her fingers over the floral picture carved into the newel post of the stair railing; she had etched it on paper as a little girl, rubbing with the side of a brown crayon. She looked into the first room on the right, the office where Grandma did her paperwork and needlework. She had liked to look out the front window on her garden as she worked.

Charise looked into the work basket, remembering knitting lessons. There was a half- finished scarf still on two needles. It was not like Grandma to stop in the middle of a row. Maybe she was knitting when she had the heart attack… Charise dug her fingers into the scarf, tears now running down her neck. She found a tissue, blew her nose, and walked into the dining room. She stood in the big room, always light-filled, looking at the rich scarlet walls hung with quilts, local art and historical scenes of Pleasant Hill. What a legacy. The thought crept up on her – this is mine. She said it out loud, low, to the empty table and chairs, ‘This is mine.’ She smiled at the sweet fantasy of it – of keeping this heavenly house.

But not for long. Damon had crunched the numbers. She had no income. Even though the house was paid for, it was still far too much for her to keep up with taxes, utility bills and maintenance costs. She knew that even with a good job it was too much for one person.

“It’s a money pit, babe,” Damon had said, emphatically. “Don’t you be letting family talk you into trying to hang on. You call me if you start to feel the squeeze. I’ll straighten them out…”

Charise shuddered. Something had kept her from even giving him the address. She forced her eyes to the largest painting in the room, the one Grandpa said would never let them forget where they came from. It was a romanticized picture of black people working in a cotton field. Women in bright dresses and turbans smiled as they bent over the plants, a few in the foreground laughed as they balanced full baskets on their heads. Grandpa had said to Charise, “They might look happy, but those baskets are heavy and that sun burns. You do not want to spend your days doing that kind of work. That’s why our families came up here.”

Now she looked at the bottom right of the picture, expecting a gash, or at least an ugly line. It looked fine. She had to squint from inches away to see the slightest line showing that the canvas had been repaired. She realized that she had been holding her breath, and released it in a big relieved sigh. She went into the adjoining kitchen. If the heart of her childhood could be located in one place, this would be it, right here helping Grandma chop food, reading her recipes, listening to her stories. Charise had lived in an apartment nearby with her mom and dad, but here with Grandma and Grandpa was where she always wanted to be.

Back then, Grandma had been the cook for the house’s owner, a remarkably kind woman who welcomed Olivia’s grandchildren any time. Grandpa had worked first shift at a factory, then done a few chores at the house in the evenings and all day Saturday. The owner had no children, and when she had died, she had preferred to leave the house to this faithful couple who had lived with her for years, than to some distant relative. Charise’s grandparents had been stunned. Their parents had been poor farmers in Alabama, and suddenly they found themselves owning a mansion on six acres, along with all its contents.Even years after it happened, Grandma would pause at her work of chopping or mixing or scrubbing, look around and say, “I still can’t believe it’s ours. It’s like I got to go to heaven early.”

Charise noticed a note on the counter. It was in her cousin Tanya’s round, loopy hand. “Welcome back to Cincinnati. Your mom said you were coming up sometime this week. I left you some soup in the freezer and cornbread like Grandma used to make.” Charise shook her head, astounded at this kindness. After how she had treated the family, she was afraid that no one would want to speak to her, let alone Tanya.

This story will be continued in the next post…