If you've read many of my books, it might not come as a surprise that I write long stories. So I was trying to write this short novella for a Christmas collection and having a heck of a time. The first attempt, I was about 3/4 of the way through and it was 15,000 words over the max words. Go figure.
I cut it up, tried again and still found the story climbing up to novel length. I was ready to just back out of the collection, bemoaning that I don't do short stories. I was frustrated over wasting so much time on a dumb story anyway. Twice I'd written it only to toss nearly everything.
It was just a story. Who cared if I participated in that collection or not. Just a dumb ol' story that was eating away at my time. I had missed the deadline. I couldn't meet the word count. Time to throw in that proverbial towel... or manuscript. Whatever.
Read my story Candy Lane Sweet Shop in the A Sweet Noel romance novella collection. It's a continuation of the Madison Creek books and I'm sure you're going to love these quirky characters.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
Sorrow clamped its thick hand around her throat, threatening to strangle her.
There's a major problem with that line of thinking. And if you find yourself tripping along that trail, I implore you to stop in your tracks. Freeze right there. Take a deep breath. Gather in your rampant, raging, emotions. And stop listening to the enemy's lies.
Truth is, bad things happen. And being good doesn't shelter you from the storms in this life. It rains on the wheat and the weeds. Being good, or seeking perfection is like trying to catch the wind. I'm sorry, but we were created to be human, we were given free will to make choices. We will, and do, make bad choices.
But God has that covered. No matter what calamity smacks us upside our silly heads, God has a provision in place. Jesus said so himself: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
That last part... Are you not much more valuable than they? God see's value in us. He loves us. And He is good. So as C.S. Lewis says-
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:9
It's realizing that God in his infinite love, extended grace to his children and in return, when we lovingly give our lives back to him, we are washed clean and have a inner desire to show with our lives how much we value that grace and adoration he bestows on us.
In that little clip above I shared from my book Snow Belle, Haley had her big dreams and was charging full force to make them happen. I've been there. I have. I've made a decision on something I wanted to make happen and I ran full speed after it, only to end up tripping and falling on my face. A wasted year. Wasted money on something I was never meant to do in the first place. I could have bemoaned my bad luck, but deep down I knew what happened. I let go of my Guardian's hand. I picked my own path, never consulting God and asking what He had for me.
As Haley ends up finding out as the series progresses, God had bigger and better Grand Ideas in store for her. How can I write that? Because I've lived that. Once I stopped running, dropped my sword and shield and turned to face my Heavenly Father, my good and loving Father, I realized he had been hanging on to a big package for me; something even better than I could have imagined.
Don't be fooled, my friends. God loves you. He has a path established for each and every one of you. Not because he thinks your good or because you can do fabulous stuff. No. Because He loves you and wants good things for you. Open your eyes and see His goodness. It's all around us. If we'll only open our spirits to His promises.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
“Lord, when I feel that what I'm doing is insignificant and unimportant, help me to remember that everything I do is significant and important in your eyes, because you love me and you put me here, and no one else can do what I am doing in exactly the way I do it.”
― Brennan Manning, Souvenirs of Solitude: Finding Rest in Abba's Embrace
Don't forget that Raining Fools is still available for the special introductory price of $1.99 until November 1st. Here's a little bit about the next story in this fun sweet romance series.
Bekka Winters hung up the phone. Ethan, her brother, needed her help filming a music video for his new music production studio. She stared at her already packed bags. Why not? She’d just graduated from college and didn’t exactly have a job to go to. Besides, a music video might look good on her resume when she looked for real work.
Stephen Gaines couldn’t believe Ethan had called him after their last blow up. They’d been music partners once. Stephen had ruined that. It was his expertise to wreck relationships especially those he had with women. Fortunately, Ethan didn’t know about him and Bekka. She was the one woman that had broken through to the deep parts of his heart. If only… how many times had he said that in the past? A fresh start is just what he needed.
Bekka’s mind bubbled with ideas for Ethan’s studio. Not to mention she couldn’t wait to see Ethan and Haley, the woman who’d captured her brother’s heart. But when she pulled into the drive and saw the familiar fancy car that Stephen drove, her heart dropped. There was no way she’d let him back into her life.
One of the first songs I learned, and many other children will learn, was Jesus Loves Me. My mom used to tell people that whenever I'd get in trouble, I'd start singing about how Jesus loved me and she'd be hard put to punish me. She said I sang it all the time, and my grandparents testified to that fact.
I was only a toddler at the time, but there's something profound about a child clinging to that very basic fact and belting it out when the situation became dire.
When I was in trouble: Jesus loved me.
When I was alone: Jesus loved me.
What I was playing: Jesus loved me.
Even when I was up to mischief, he still loved me.
I think I understand why Jesus told his disciples that unless they became like a child, they would never be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven. The older I get, the more I understand what he meant.
As we age, the world plagues us with lies about us, doubts about our abilities, fears of the unknown, and conflicting facts about right and wrong. As I've grown, I've found I tend to loose fact of that one simple truth: Yes, Jesus love me. YES, Jesus loves me. Yes!!! Jesus loves me because that's what the Bible tells me is so.
In my stories, I've gotten a bit of flack over how my characters dumbly leave the path time and again. I might not be able to defend myself on the reviewers sites, but I can here. Let me ask, just a general question to those of you who are reading this... Have you always stayed right on course? Have you never made bad decisions? Have you never doubted where you were going or sought for an easier way?
I know for a fact I can not answer yes to any of those questions. I've gone off course too many times to count. I've let fear rule my steps instead of God's word. And I've often sought the easier way rather than the true way. I forgot that basic, simple truth I knew when I was just a toddler: That Jesus loves me and he has me. The Bible is full of promises that God has my life in his hands when I hand it over to him.
So yeah, I'm going to write stupid characters who do humanly stupid things. I firmly believe that since God created us to be human, when he could have created us to be anything else, He honestly doesn't mind when when we act the part. Our humanness, our dumb decisions, our miserable mistakes and our troubled thoughts are what creates a basic need for Him. In all our humanness, he's able to pull us in and cover us in his arms of grace.
From a recent reviewer:"What I also love about the books is the realism among the characters. They are flawed, yet hidden inside of them are great strengths that even the enemy fears! This story truly teaches us that wherever (we) are in our "journeys" called life, when we trust in the One who guides us and remain on "the Path", no matter the trials, we will reap the rewards at the end, and meet our King face to face!"
“Jesus loves me! This I know,
Jesus Loves Me didn't start off as a song. It started nearly 450 years ago as part of a story. But the scene that this song or poem was in, resonated so deeply with people that William Batchelder Bradbury turned it into a hymn. And today, these profound verses remain with us.
Through all that, He loves us... if we'll let Him. If we'll only believe that. As I child I truly did believe that. Wholeheartedly. As an adult, I have to fight to keep that child-like faith that despite life's difficulties, despite my mistakes, that promise still remains true.
Whether you read my fantasy or romance stories, I hope that message comes through loud and clear. No matter what, you are loved. No matter what.
I'm leaving a couple of videos for you. Words that spoke to my heart and continue to speak and uplift my spirit. If you have time, take a listen.
Blessings and Peace and remember to be kind of one another.
Soon as we returned home, the two of us would race out the back door and into the yard where we'd find a shady spot and begin our fall into the imaginary worlds these figurines opened the doors to.
Looking back, I'm amazed at how the hours zoomed by. I'd lose all sense of where I was at, except for the urban sounds of cars passing by our house, or birds chattering in the tree above where we hankered over our little characters. Occasionally a roar or sounds of blasting bombs came from my cousin as he wrecked havoc on his little people.
From me, nothing. I usually worked quietly and methodically as I collected twigs and rocks to build my little animals shelters. Grass was yanked out of the dirt to form little roads or cover a hiding place for a fox family. As I worked, I decided where they fit into the scheme of things. Stories formed for each of them. Nothing I ever wrote down. This was before I started trying to capture the tales that were always swirling around in my head. But by time I finished building my little world, I would have come up with where the black bear had come from and why he was in that particular spot.
And about the time I was done creating that little world, it would be time to go in for supper. My cousin would have usually already grown bored with his army men who'd been blown all over the yard and hung from the lower branches of the tree. I, on the other hand, would collect my little figures, return them to the bag and be okay with it.
Why? Because creating the world was what I really found the most fun.
I sometimes think that the reason I love not only writing series, as well as reading them, is I love falling into a new world. I still enjoy building worlds, such as the world of Alburnium. (Pictured above) Everyone has a place, and each place has it's own history. It's own story. I might not write it down, but that information is floating around in my subconscious.
Many Rivers was established by a small band of Kingdom people who wanted to provide a place of refuge for those traveling along the White Path. There's a town that over looks a valley of farms and rivers and small ponds. It's a safe place, a place of refreshing, a place of healing if you need Marya's Healer services. I can picture in my mind the grand Meeting Hall with it's white stone walls and sprawling wings where people come to trade goods, hear stories about King Shaydon, or read about the world in the library.
Over the past nine years, since the idea for Illuminated first hit me, I've enjoyed quietly and methodically creating the world of Alburnium. At first, I mapped it out as I followed Alyra along on her first journey. My early maps were penciled in sketches, kind of like the one pictured below of a new world in the making. (More on that in a minute).
I'm sure every writer goes about building their worlds differently. I read that J.R. Tolkien took years to develop his, all the way down to creating a new language. I have nothing on him. But I find it kind of funny, as I look back on my childhood, that this little thing has always been with me. I wonder, when we watch our own kids play, if somehow we might get a glimpse of how they might one day fit into this big wide world. Or maybe, if we are wondering where we fit in, that if we look back, perhaps there might be little clues in the games we played while growing up.
As I said earlier, I'm in the process of creating a new world. Not a fantasy one as in the White Road books. This little world is contemporary and surrounded by real places. I visited them earlier this summer when we took a trip up to Michigan. With each lakeside town we stopped at, another piece of my own little pretend world fell into place.
Below, you can see my early sketching of Madison Creek's layout. Each number represents a business or shop owned by a particular person with a story behind them. Mallory's diner, owned by Mallory Carson, a single girl, a little wild but a hard worker. Flirty, compassionate and tough. Across the street is Beaty's Automotive, owned by the brothers Bob and Bill. Bill is quirky and kind of funny. He's also single as is his more serious, business minded older brother Bob who just had a major break-up with his long time girlfriend.
Stories: People, Places. Communities. Worlds. I think I know why I find it all so intriguing....
And I think, deep down, that's why I love the world building so much. Deep down, there's a yearning to belong, to be part of something bigger and greater than myself. And I think this is something, a thread if you will, that tends to run through all my stories. That joining together for the common good, casting aside your differences and personal needs and working together to build something substantial in this world. And in turn, finding where you belong and where you are most effective in this life.
There's so many forces trying to divide us. Don't you think?
I love my church. It's probably one of the greatest basis for my belief that there's safety in numbers. You know? It's not the teaching. Most I've heard before or can get by reading my Bible. No, it's more than that. It's the community of a variety of personalities, and preferences, all banding together to build a sanctuary for people to find shelter, to find provision, to find healing from the big bad world. The more we band together for the common good, for building up the Kingdom of God, here on earth, the stronger we become.
That's why lies behind all those books in the White Road Chronicles, the friends going out and telling others about King Shaydon's plan to defeat the cruel fake King Darnel.
That's why I see building up in my Madison Creek stories... a town on the brink of demise begins to band together and rebuild. And they do it by pulling together and helping each other out.
My heart sings when I think of seeing this play out in reality. I see it in my church. I see it other places, too. But I want to see more. And it starts with kindness. If you want to build a better world, start with simple kindness.
One small act at a time. None of us can save the world. We're not meant to. But we can each do little things to make it a better place.
In my sketch above, there's still a lot of blank area. I intend to fill it in with each story I write in Madison Creek. I love world building. I love the idea that we can take something broken, on the verge of death, and revive it. And we can. We can do that... if we take a notion.
Don't you think?
Before I go, I want to mention one more thing, and that's a sale that's going on this week. If you've not ventured into the world of Alburnium, here's your chance to try out the first two books for only $2. Oh, and if you are a fantasy lover, be sure to check out the Virtual FantasyCon week going on. Lot's of fun stuff going on there.
Blessings and Peace
Be kind to each other.
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.
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