Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Talented, Tenacious Friend



Portage la Prairie’s own Karen Gross has written a book. 

Launched on November 14, Sacrificed to Vanity tells the tale of 17-year-old Tracy Wilson and her high school nemesis, Calista Dubois. This work of fiction explores deep issues like teen pregnancy, abortion and tough choices, loss and grief, and redemption and rebirth. It follows the lives of two very different girls from two very different worlds, who find that they need to learn the same life lessons.

Writing an entire book and publishing it is an accomplishment to be celebrated, for anyone. That Karen has managed the feat seems downright heroic.

Karen was just 34 when, as a teacher and mother of two daughters, her body stopped cooperating.

I have always been a hypochondriac, so it was hard to get my family doctors to take me seriously when I knew something was systemically wrong,” Karen says. “I felt exhausted all the time, I couldn’t keep up the exercise routine I had been doing for years, and I kept getting repetitive strain injuries that would not heal. The pain kept spreading, and it seemed to be in my joints, so the first serious condition diagnosed was rheumatoid arthritis.”

But two years of arthritis medication just kept making it worse. 

“I was sent to three rheumatologists, two neurologists, a sleep specialist, a pain specialist, a bunch of other
specialists and ‘ologists,’ and I was ready to see a psychologist. I asked my doctor if constant pain could cause insanity. I was only half joking.” 

When Karen was finally sent to the Movement Disorder Clinic in Winnipeg, the neurologist there made the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in about ten minutes. She was 39 years old.

Karen’s had to give up much. She would feel overjoyed to be able to do some formerly dreaded chores, like exercise and housework, again. Other things that were always a joy are becoming increasingly difficult. An avid reader, it now takes Karen weeks to finish a novel due to an inability to concentrate. Her once fast typing speed has slowed to a crawl and can be accomplished only during a couple of “good” hours during the day. “The most frequently used key on my keyboard is the ‘delete’ key,” she says. 

And speech is growing more challenging.

When asked what role living with PD has played in Karen’s faith, she said “faith gives me the ability to see a bigger picture. At the beginning, I wished people would stop asking if they could pray over me. I always felt they would expect me to be healed when they opened their eyes. I didn’t want to disappoint them. I know some people thought I didn’t have enough faith for healing, and I would definitely include myself in that category.

“This is still a tough one for me. I’ve had atheists ask me why I am not healed, if I believe in God. I can give the right ‘Christian’ answers, but I would like to know, too. Maybe God can make better use of me broken than whole.”

In his song, Unstoppable, Rascal Flatts sings,
“You find your faith has been lost and shaken
You take back what’s been taken
Get on your knees and dig down deep
You can do what you think is impossible.” 

And so, while most of us can easily fire off an email in minutes, Karen plods through with a tremendous display of fortitude and faith. Through her pain, loss, and frustration, she is using her God-given writing talent to influence the world around her, accomplishing what one might think impossible. Congratulations, Karen! 

Sacrificed to Vanity is available locally from Heritage Books or can be ordered online from Amazon.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to Talk to Smart Women (and a cover reveal!)



This month, I enjoyed the privilege of speaking to our local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women. They asked me to talk about my journey as a writer, which I’m always happy to do—even if feeling somewhat intimidated by the fact that I’ve never earned a degree and even the continuing education certificate I acquired didn’t occur until I was in my fifties. What could I possibly say to these smart women? Would they all be wearing grad gowns and mortarboards? Would I need to learn some high-falutin’ words before they could understand me? Should I make some up?

But then I learned that “any woman who supports the goals of CFUW” qualifies for membership, and that their goals include fostering education and lifelong learning and advocating for women’s equality and human rights. Among their local projects are a scholarship fund for deserving female high school grads and support of our local women’s shelter. Nothing I can’t get behind.

So I shared the things I’ve learned through writing and answered their intelligent questions as best I could. Since much of what I’ve learned is transferable to every area of life, I thought I’d share a little of what I told them here and you can apply it wherever it fits.

You don’t find the time, you make it.
I’ve heard many people say “I’m going to write a book some day when I have the time.” Good luck with that. We’re all given 24 hours a day and if something is really important to you, you’ll somehow make time for it. Two ways I made time for writing? Leaving a full-time job for a part-time one, and not having TV in our home.

Nothing worth having comes easy.
Two guests sit at a dinner. When the first reveals that he is a writer, the other says “I’m a surgeon, but I plan to write after I retire.” To which the writer replies, “What a coincidence! I plan to do surgery after I retire.”
Writing is hard work. Few, if any, write the next great novel without a ton of research, rewriting and revising. It doesn’t happen overnight. Even after my manuscript was contracted for publication, it went through three revisions, and it had been revised many times prior to that.

Perseverance and tenacity are a must.
Author Louis L’Amour said, “If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”

I have found this especially true in cranking out a weekly column for the past five years. Deadlines arrive relentlessly, and the words never simply flow. They must be primed, often with words that will later be deleted.

Humility makes you strong in the long run.
Most writers take several years and receive hundreds of rejections before their first manuscript is accepted for publication. I began my first novel, The Silver Suitcase, in January of 2009 and it will be published in January of 2016. Along the way, I’ve learned that rejection and criticism hurt. But both of these, when done constructively and honestly, can teach you more than any book or course. Rather than wallow in despair, take these suggestions to heart and do something about it. Never stop being teachable.

Passion trumps all.
Some folks assume that writing is a great way to become rich, but I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon. Robert Benchley said, “The freelance writer is someone who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”

I write from a need to express myself, but also to use a gift given me by my Creator. I want to please him with what I write.

What gift has God given you? How do these lessons apply?

My first novel releases from Waterfall Press January 26, 2016!


Friday, November 13, 2015

A Glimpse Backstage



Around the same time as Arsenic and Old Lace made its debut in New York, Disney came out with the animated movie, Pinocchio. My favorite song from that soundtrack is “An Actor’s Life for Me.” The villain, Honest John, sings it to tempt the wooden boy into a caravan with these words:

“Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee
An actor’s life for me!
Hi-Diddle-Dee-Doo, you sleep ‘til after two
You promenade with a big cigar
You tour the world in a private car
You dine on chicken and caviar
An actor’s life for me!”

Well, Pinocchio, I can’t say that’s been my experience exactly. 

As I write this, I’m sitting backstage at the William Glesby Centre. It’s an all-day technical rehearsal for Arsenic and Old Lace, which generally means a lot of sitting around and waiting, especially for those of us with smaller parts. But such is the price of stardom.

The set is almost complete. It’s the first time we’ve worked with the walls and doors, the lights, sound effects, and microphones. 

10:30 a.m. The cast members not currently on stage are enjoying the comfortable new furniture the Prairie Players recently purchased for the “green room.” Most stay engaged with some kind of electronic device. One is calmly reading. Some are pacing, still working on lines, or having their hair done, like me. Occasionally we make too much noise and get shushed by the stage manager, Myrna.

11:00. I’m summoned from the dressing room with my hair half done for a sound check. With a cast of 14, the check takes a long time. Something’s wrong with my mike, so they find me another and once it’s working, I return to my hairdresser, Maureen.

12:00. We’re in Act II and I’m testing out a pair of slippery bedroom slippers that look like the 1939 era. When I get in a tussle with the villain, (played by Tyrone Taylor) I lose one of the slippers—which is funny, but a little unnerving. After Tyrone throws me down the cellar stairs, he remains in character, grabs the slipper, and tosses it down the stairs after me. I put it back on. When I return to the stage through the cellar door and dash for my fiancĂ© (played by Kevin Hamm), into whose arms I am supposed to run, the slippers lose their grip on me and I nearly body slam poor Kevin right out the door. This is followed by a fit of giggles and I’m very glad this isn’t the actual show. We’ll find different slippers.

12:30 p.m. I am between scenes, so I find the salad I brought wedged under one of the bright make-up lights in the dressing room. The container feels warm. Uh oh. Good thing I didn’t bring ice cream.

1:00 p.m. It seems this play has been going on forever.

1:30 p.m. We finally reach the end and Stephanie walks us through the plan for our curtain call. It takes three tries, but we finally do it to her satisfaction. Preston Meier, who appears only in the first 15 minutes of the play, must wait around each night so he can take his bow with us. I can only imagine the mischief he’ll get into while he waits.

2:00 p.m. We run through the entire play without stopping. We’re to consider it “a show” which means we plow through no matter what happens. 

After curtain call, each of us is assigned a job for closing night. No hired help here! After taking our final bows, we’ll all need to pitch in to get our set down, furniture, props and costumes put away or carted off to wherever they belong.

4:30 p.m. We go our separate ways until tomorrow, tired but happy.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Did she or didn't she?



I know some folks think we should be content with the hair colour God gave us, but that ship sailed years ago. When I first started experimenting with my mousy hair in Grade Ten, my dad said, “If God wanted you to have blond hair, you’d have been born with it.” 

To that I replied, “If God wanted me to go around naked, I’d have been born that way.”

I was such a treat to raise.

Having red hair has been on my bucket list for years. After all, so many terrific redheads have graced our world. If you want to be known for comedy, red hair is a splendid idea. As a kid, I faithfully watched Red Skelton on a black and white TV. If his name hadn’t been “Red,” I’d have never known the source of his talent.

And who’s funnier than Lucille Ball or Carol Burnette or Conan O’Brien?

Important people in history who had red hair include Esau and King David from the Bible, Eric the Red, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Queen Elizabeth I of England. And speaking of royals, what about Prince Harry? Did you know Mark Twain, Sir Winston Churchill, and Vladimir Lenin all sported red hair?

In the music world, who could forget Geri Halliwell (a.k.a. Ginger Spice), Bernadette Peters, and Willie Nelson? Or one of my favorite artists, Vincent Van Gogh? 

The list of red-headed movie stars is inexhaustible, including Lindsay Lohan, Kate Winslet, and Nicole Kidman. 

In sports, we have Rusty Staub, Brian Campbell, and Heather Moyse. I had to Google those because … well… sports, shmorts.

Let’s not forget our favorite fictional characters like Little Orphan Annie and Charlie Brown’s little red-haired girl and Anne of Green Gables (“Red hair is my lifelong sorrow.”)

There’s something mysteriously attractive about a red-haired woman, isn’t there? Lucille Ball said, “Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.”

My reason for wanting red hair is not to be famous or to have some man fall in love with me, madly or otherwise. I just want to try it. Will it bring out the green flecks in my eyes which romance novelists always describe but which I’ve never actually seen on anyone, let alone myself? Will my personality change? Will I suddenly develop a quick temper? Will people call me “Carrots” or “Ginger” or “Woody Woodpecker?” Will I become as smart as my red-haired friend Gayle or as beautiful as her daughters Alison and Veronica, or as witty as my writing buddy, Michael? Will I need to start avoiding the sun?

I've been chicken to try it, but time is marching on. I knew if I waited too much longer, I might end up looking like Endora, the meddling mother-in-law from Bewitched.

But wait. There’s a play coming up. Elaine Harper, the character I portray, does not necessarily have red hair, but she certainly could. And if I dyed my hair red and it looked ridiculous, I could say “it’s just for a play.”

Right? 

And besides, it’s only hair. 

Right?

Get your ticket now for the Prairie Players’ production of Arsenic and Old Lace at the William Glesby Centre November 11, 12, 13, and 14. The first two nights are the play only and the last two are dinner theatre. Call 204-239-4848 or stop by the Glesby Centre for tickets or more information. You can also buy tickets online at www.glesbycentre.com

Did it!