Interview with Beverly Lewis

Today we're continuing our series of interviews with the faculty members who will attend the upcoming OCCWF writer's conference.

Those of you who attend the conference on April 12 will have the opportunity to meet Beverly Lewis, a New York Times best-selling author and winner of the Christy and numerous other awards. Her books have sold more than 10 million copies.

I'm sure Beverly's many faithful readers will be delighted that we have an interview with her today.

MERRIE: Thank you for joining us here at Alien Dream, Beverly. Can you tell us all a little bit about your new novel, The Forbidden?

BEVERLY: It’s the continuation of “The Courtship of Nellie Fisher” triology, set during the spiritual upheaval of fall/winter 1966 in Pennsylvania Amish Country, when courting couples and close-knit families were torn apart in the rift between the Older Order Amish church and two schisms—one being the New Order Amish, which embraced the assurance of salvation, tractors, and telephones; and the Beachy Amish which allowed electricity, cars, and other modern conveniences. Some of the most fascinating research I’ve ever done for a series.

MERRIE: It sounds like a great book! I've noticed that many of your books deal with the Amish lifestyle, a life quite different from the one most of us live today. Your website says that you receive thousands of heartwarming letters from readers each year. Do you think that there is something missing in our modern lives that these books provide, and if so, what do you think it is?

BEVERLY: Not only are important aspects missing from our modern living—one instance: how society views the Gold Rule, or lack thereof—but the more technologically savvy we become, the more we crave simplicity, tranquility, and even a sense of order. My readers also write to say they connect intimately with my writing style and enjoy the layers of meaning found in my novels. Like reading a nonfiction novel evidently. And since I adore research and used to write on assignment for nonfiction periodicals, this type of novel asnwers part of my own passion, as well.

MERRIE: I like the fact that you are providing readers with something "missing." I think that's a great way for writers to approach their subject matter. I noticed the term “Plain heritage” on your site. Could you describe what that means?

BEVERLY: “Team Mennonite” is my Plain ancestry, which simply means there are Old Order Mennonites in my family who still drive around with horse and buggy, grow untrimmed beards, and all sorts of other interesting and exotic stuff.

MERRIE: That is really interesting. How do you get the ideas for your books?

BEVERLY: I have a vivid memory, as well as a keen imagination. Having grown up right across from Amish farmland, I have more storylines and ideas than I’ll ever live to write. My father, a minister, had many preacher friends among the Amish, so there are lots of stories simmering in my head from having sat at the long, trestle tables in Amish kitchens as a girl. (One Amish preacher’s wife told my young mother—“The more children I have, the less work I have to do…especially if they’re girls!” She said this with a twinkle in her eyes, while six of her daughters “stirred up dinner” and got it out on the table in nothing flat. I, along with my mom, was quite amazed. It was like an assembly line happening before our eyes, with no one telling anyone what to do. They all just knew.)

MERRIE: Beverly, thank you so much for visiting us here at Alien Dream, and for answering our questions today!


And don’t forget, there are still openings available to attend the OCCWF conference. Visit their site at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.


Odd Jobs

Okay. Deep breath. My first meme. Here’s hoping I don’t fall off the edge of the known universe and land, splat, on the cement in some alien’s backyard.

1. Write about the Strangest Job I Ever Had and tell what I learned from it.

2. Link to other "Lessons from Odd Jobs" posts.

3. Tag my post "Lessons from Odd Jobs".

4. Tag other bloggers, in or out of the HC network.

5. Link back to the Lessons from Odd Jobs page and and email this month’s host at “Marcus AT highcallingblogs DOT com”.

I grew up in a blue-collar family in a Midwestern factory town. In my neighborhood, it was understood that when you were done going to school, you simply walked inside one of those cinder block factories and never came out again.

It was the greatest horror story I ever heard. And my father had the oil beneath his fingernails to prove it.

My friends spent dark hours behind machines that never stopped, never broke, never cared about the whole flesh-and-blood dilemma. For a while after high school, I toiled in the factories too. But I couldn’t silence my brain. It was like being in hell.

Stand here, walk there, pick something up, bend down. Now repeat.

Four thousand times.

The funny thing is—in my mind one factory was off-the-chart horrific. In fact, it was so bad that I can’t even remember what we were making. And I only worked there for one day.

One incredibly long, unending day.

It all began, early in the morning, with some man explaining what my job was going to be once I was allowed to cross the threshold and enter the plant. All his instructions have since been erased from my mind. Because I was more focused on what was required to get inside. Earplugs, goggles, gloves, overalls and a gas mask.

I looked and felt like an alien.

To my dismay, a cavernous room waited on the other side of the door, a chasm strikingly similar to Dante’s Inferno. At 7:00 a.m., it was already peopled with faceless drones, unrecognizable behind goggles, gas masks and overalls. Stairs led up and down to nowhere in particular, machines beckoned humans to obeisance. Darkness hung in the air, as if light dared not shine in this place.

And over all of it, there rolled an overwhelming, choking stench. Sulfur. Even the mask I wore couldn’t stop the fumes. My eyes watered. The odor got in my clothes, my hair, my skin. It became part of me. It became my world. It colored the room and the people; it turned everything a hazy yellow ochre.

I couldn’t wait for the day to end, couldn’t wait to peel off the industrial layers and become myself again. In fact, I’m surprised that I didn’t run out the door screaming after an hour. But I will never forget the fact that there were actually people in there, willingly to work in that horrid stench. Willing to drench themselves in something foul every day.

They weren’t in prison. They weren’t wearing shackles. They were there by choice. In a place I couldn’t stand from one minute to the next.

While there was nothing morally wrong with this job, there was something about it that threatened to kill my soul if I stayed.

I guess the moral of the story is the fact that God has a different plan for each one of us. Today I know this is a good thing. Factory work is fine for other people. Back then, it paid well and I had a lot of friends who were more than happy to hang out with a mindless machine all day long. It just wasn’t fine for me. Those same friends would probably think I’m nuts today, laboring over sentences, sometimes spending nearly an hour to find just the right word.

God has a plan for each person. A novel concept. A beautiful concept. And I am so glad that His plan for me didn’t include that horrid factory. Thank you, Lord!

So, here are some other folks who have had odd jobs:
Becky Miller, L.L. Barkat, David Zimmerman.


Surviving Writer's Block

Today we'll be concluding our series of interviews with Brian Bird, Hollywood writer/producer who has, among other things, worked on such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and The Family Man. Brian is going to discuss weighty issues as writer's block and the old character versus plot debate.

MERRIE: Brian, here is a subject that I think every writer, beginning or advanced has struggled with. Should we keep writing and, if so, why? So my question for you is, was there ever a time when you almost quit writing? If so, can you tell us about it and why you decided not to stop?

BRIAN: Late one night, I was in the middle of a script for Touched By An Angel and I was completely lost. I was on deadline, which means it had to be turned in the next morning, and by the way, there is no such thing as “writer’s block” allowed in the world of television. If you don’t deliver, you’re fired. Anyway, I had written myself figuratively into a tributary of the Amazon River and couldn’t find my way back to the main story channel. So I just reached out to God. Actually, it was more than reaching, it was pleading. I began to play all the negative self-talk tapes that we all have… “you are a horrible writer”… “you’re a fraud”… “how did you trick people into thinking you could do this”… etc. I just asked God to rescue me, and the writer in me would like to tell you that words began magically appearing on my computer screen, but that would be fiction. What is true is that I received a very deep impression on my soul. And here is what I heard: “I was a writer, now you be one.” I got chills up and down my spine. I didn’t exactly know what to make of that, but then scripture verses started coming to mind… “God is the author of the universe”…. “Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith”… “in the beginning was the Word.” And it then occurred to me: How did God choose to leave his revelation to us? In a NOVEL. A big, long narrative of history… HIS STORY. And that I was created in the image of the author of the universe, and if that’s true, what a privilege it is for me to carry that creative torch, even in my small human way. And I began typing. And somehow I made it through that long night and turned in a draft of the script that was actually pretty good. And since then, I have not allowed myself the excuse of having “writer’s block.” That’s not to say it’s not always hard work, but I choose to power through it. That’s not to say that whatever flows from the fingertips is all golden. It’s not. But I don’t censor or second guess myself anymore. I go with what seems right, and thankfully, it mostly is.

MERRIE: I don't know about the other writers out there, but I know that I've hit that wall more than once. I love the fact that scripture gave you the courage and the inspiration to finish your script. One more reason why we should spend time memorizing and meditating on God's Word. Here's another question for you: When writing your scripts, which comes first the plot or the character? Is one more important to you than another, and if so, why?

BRIAN: The answer to this age-old question is… YES. In all fiction, whether it be in film or novels, the goal of the author is make his or her audience fall in love with his characters. If you can do that in the first act of a screenplay (or the first several chapters of a novel), the audience will take the journey with you. If you don’t create compelling characters your audience can fall in love with, the party is over before it begins. You may coast your way through the story with cardboard characters, but the audience is probably going to root for you to kill them off before you get to the end of the quest. So the answer to the chicken-and-egg question in storytelling is that good characters create their own plot turns, because the plot turns have everything to do with the journey your characters are on. The only world in which explosions and girls in bikinis serve as good plot turns is in the world of really bad writing. If you need a plot turn in your story, ask your protagonist where he is on his journey, and the plot turn will come to you both.

MERRIE: I absolutely agree. If you don't have good characters, there's no reason to care about the story. I hear that you're going to be teaching at the upcoming OCCWF conference. Can you tell us a few things you hope to discuss in your seminar?

BRIAN: We’re going to discuss the intersection of novels and film and tips for turning books into screenplays. And given my experience of having adapted so many books over the years, I have a feeling that I’m going to be answering a lot of questions from authors who think I’ve destroyed a lot of great books.

MERRIE: Brian,thank you so much for allowing me to interview you! Is there anything else that you would like to say?

BRIAN: God was and is a writer… now you be one.


And don’t forget, there are still openings available to attend the OCCWF conference. Visit their site at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.


Writing for Television

Today we are continuing our interview with Brian Bird, a Hollywood writer/producer who has written and/or produced more than 250 episodes of network television, working on such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and The Family Man. On top of this, he has adapted a dozen novels for film and television.

If you’re joining us for the first time, be sure to check out yesterday’s post.

Today we're going to discuss writing for television and Brian's upcoming movie, Jake's Run.

MERRIE: What’s the best way to pitch an idea for a television series, and is it true that television is only open to new writers if they are young? This is something I’ve heard from people who work in television.

BRIAN: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for the mainstream network and cable business, there is really no good way for a newcomer to break into the world of creating series for television, no matter what your age. It is very much a closed club at that level, reserved for writer-producers who have risen through the ranks on hit television shows. Most of the series that are created each year come from established veterans with strong existing relationships with the buyers at the studios and networks. For instance, in my nearly 25 years writing and producing in Hollywood, I have sold three television pilots, one to ABC, one to NBC and one to Showtime. But none of those series ever made it past the pilot stage. But new writers can break into the television business as I did by forging opportunities for themselves as staff writers on shows, and therein, someday perhaps having the opportunity to pitch and sell their own series. It is incredibly competitive, but not impossible to break in. But a new writer would be better off spending his or her energy on writing good spec scripts of existing shows in order to show what they can do. It is also true that there is rampant ageism in Hollywood . The buyers at the networks are all very young, and there is a bias toward younger writers because the networks believe they can relate more to younger audiences – which is the goal of the advertisers. I still stubbornly hold onto the ideal that a good writer is a good writer, and that a good writer can write anything and make his work relatable to any age group. I’ve yet to be proven wrong in that, but you definitely have to get past a lot of biases built into the business.

MERRIE: Thanks for those tips, Brian. It's good to know that although it is incredibly difficult, it is possible to break into television. Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming movie, Jake’s Run?

BRIAN: Jake’s Run is based on a true story that occurred in Southern Ohio in 2002. Jake Porter, a boy with Fragile X chromosomal syndrome and an IQ of 65, earned a place on his high school football team and in his last game as a senior scored a touchdown as time ran out on the clock. It was an electrifying event that caught the world’s attention and resulted in Jake being presented with and EPSY award on national television for the most inspirational sports moment of the year. Our film starts back at the beginning of that the football season and charts Jake’s journey in his small town as his mother and coach battle for his right to be on the team, and culminates with him getting in the game and scoring the TD. If I could put it in “high-concept” terms, I would say that it is “Rudy meets Rainman.”

MERRIE: I have a feeling this movie is going to be a hit! When will it be released?

BRIAN: We are hoping to go into production on the film May 12, and right now plans call for it to be released by Fox in January of 2009.

MERRIE: Brian, thanks for visiting us here at Alien Dream again.


And don’t forget, there are still openings available to attend the OCCWF conference. Visit their site at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.

Do You Want to be a Screenwriter?

We’re back in the Alien Dream studio for the second part of our interview with Brian Bird, a highly successful Hollywood writer/producer with an impressive list of film credits that include Saving Sarah Cain, The Last Sin Eater and Jake’s Run. If you’re joining us for the first time, be sure to check out yesterday’s post.

Today, among other things, Brian is going to discuss that ever-tricky plot hook called “high concept,” something that’s important in both movies and novels.

MERRIE: Brian, in your opinion, what is the main difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?

BRIAN: The biggest difference in screenplays is that the audience cannot take an omniscient point of view. Unless you have an omniscient narrator whose voice-overs become your tour guide through a film (and this is incredibly difficult to do well), screenwriters have to rely on dialogue and action to carry the story forward. Novels are often very “internal” because the author has the ability to read the minds and hearts of all his characters from God’s point of view without the characters actually having to say anything. In film, the audience has to rely on dialogue and action and “backstory” as revealed creatively through conversations and planted “oracles” in a story. For instance, one character reading a newspaper account of another character and learning something revealing about his/her past. Films, and by extension, screenplays have to be a visual medium. We have to “show” the audience the story rather “tell” it. Screenwriters can also not “cheat” in a screenplay as novelists can do in a novel. A novelist can describe a character as a “lying, cussing, brute of a man,” and not actually have to write any cursing in the dialogue. How is a screenwriter supposed to accomplish that same thing? We have to show it, not just describe it.

MERRIE: Great answer! You just demonstrated several ways screenplays are different from novels. Now, here's a question I struggle with on a daily basis. What is "high concept" and why is it so important in the movie industry?

BRIAN: The term “high concept” refers to a simple, but provocative plot hook which drives a story. High concept films are stories which revolve around big plot devices that are easily described in a sentence. For instance, Indiana Jones can easily be boiled down to: “Treasure hunter races Nazis to find the Holy of Holies.” Die Hard could be described as “The Alamo in a big-city skyscraper.” Under Siege could be described as “Die Hard on a battleship.” Jaws is “Moby Dick with a great-white shark.” Alien is “Jaws in outer space.” The Matrix is “Plato’s Cave with computers.” But high concept stories are not just for Hollywood filmmakers. Many high-concept films come from high-concept novels. For instance, Jurassic Park, from Michael Crichton, a.k.a. “ Disneyland with real dinosaurs.”

MERRIE: What advice would you give to someone who would like to option their novel as a movie? Should they adapt it to a screenplay first?

BRIAN: For authors with a large fan-base—such as Beverly Lewis, Janette Oke and Francine Rivers with whom we’ve been privileged to work—I think the best bet is to reach out to writer-producers in Hollywood who have a track record of making like-minded films. Because of that built-in audience, it’s much easier for those producers to find the money and distribution to get those films made. For authors with smaller audiences, or perhaps loyal niche audiences, it might be advisable to adapt their novels into screenplays themselves. The upside of this is that the screenplay becomes a brand new pieces of creative “real estate” if it works creatively. The downside is the time spent doing that adaptation and the self-training one must do in order to do it effectively. But one warning to novelists who adapt their own books for the screen: a film is not a novel. It’s a completely different creative work. You have to be willing to be brutal on yourself in order to boil down a 300-page “internal” novel into a 120-page “show and tell” screenplay. The challenge is not in knowing what to keep in the screenplay from the novel. The challenge is in knowing what to leave out, and novelists have a very hard time “killing their children.”

MERRIE: Brian, thank you again for visiting Alien Dream and for answering some of the questions I know I've struggled with as a writer. I hope our readers are getting as much out of this as I am.

There is one more point I'd like to make. Brian is one of the many speakers who will attend the upcoming OCCWF writer's conference in Orange County, California. If you've ever wanted the opportunity to speak to a screenwriter, face-to-face, this is the perfect opportunity.

And fortunately, there are still openings available to attend the conference. Visit the OCCWF website at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.



Screenwriting Tips from Brian Bird

In honor of the upcoming OCCWF Writer’s Conference [April 12 in Orange County, California], I’m going to be interviewing some of the faculty members over the next couple of weeks. These are all folks that you will get the opportunity to meet if you attend the conference.

First up, we’re going to get some screenwriting tips from Brian Bird.

Not all writing takes place between the pages of a book. Every television show, play and movie needs a script—even radio commercials rely upon scripts. While the basics of good writing still apply, screenwriting is definitely a different format and requires a unique approach.

Brian is a Hollywood writer-producer with film credits that include Saving Sarah Cain, The Last Sin Eater and Jake’s Run. He has also written and/or produced more than 250 episodes of network television, working on such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and The Family Man. On top of this, he has adapted a dozen novels for film and television.

MERRIE: How did you get your start in the movie/television business?

BRIAN: I had gone to journalism school and had been working for about six years as a newspaper reporter in 1984 when my wife’s uncle, Don Ingalls, pulled me aside and suggested I try writing something for television. Don had been a long time television writer-producer dating back to the westerns of the 1950s and at that time was writing and producing the show, Fantasy Island. He liked some of my newspaper work and handed me a bunch of scripts and suggested a few books on screenwriting and said “go for it.” What I did over the next several months is read as many scripts and books as I could get my hands on and basically taught myself the format and boned up on story structure and character. I wrote what is called a “spec” (sample) episode of Fantasy Island . I turned it over to Don and he said I had a real knack for story and dialogue. He said they couldn’t use the spec episode for legal reasons, but offered me the opportunity of writing a freelance episode. They gave me a notion for a story they had been thinking about, signed me to a contract and once again told me to “go for it.” I took a few weeks of vacation and delivered a 44-page script, “Final Adieu,” and it was produced four weeks later. Don told me if Fantasy Island was picked up for an eighth season by ABC, they were going to bring me on as a story editor -- which is an entry-level staff writer. Unfortunately, the show did not come back for another season, and Don went into semi-retirement after that, so that opportunity sort of ended. Over the next few years, I figured that network writing credit might be my “one cup of coffee” in the big leagues, but my appetite for fiction had been whetted and I kept writing spec scripts. A few years later, I had landed on the writing staff of a sitcom, The Family Man, and have been making my living as a writer-producer in Hollywood ever since.

MERRIE: What advice would you give to someone who would like to sell a screenplay in Hollywood ?

BRIAN: For anyone who already has a confidence in their writing skills, my biggest suggestion is to read, read, read as many produced scripts and screenplays as you can get your hands on. Learn and be inspired. Break them down. See how the writer accomplished what they accomplished. There is this concept in the world of art which is called “Copying the Master.” The best way to describe this is to picture a painting class. The students are sitting at their canvass, and the teacher (master) is at the front of the class, doing what? Painting. And what are the students doing? They are copying the teacher. Following his form and style, but bringing themselves to the canvass in order to get better than the teacher. The take way from this for writers is that we need to copy the masters of screenwriting. It doesn’t mean literally copy them. It means learning from their craft and drawing inspiration from how they nailed their stories, and then applying that to your own work. This obviously applies to all forms of writing, whether it be screenwriting or penning novels. There are also several seminal books that every aspiring screenwriter should read. My two favorites are The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Both of these books are considered bibles of the craft among professional screenwriters.

MERRIE: Brian, I love your comment about "Copying the Master." And I agree, this is a method we all should follow as we seek to perfect our art—whether that art is painting or writing. I think novelists can learn a lot by studying the well-defined three-act structure of great screenplays. Thanks for visiting Alien Dream today.


And don’t forget, there are still openings available to attend the OCCWF conference. Visit their site at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.


In the Details

Sometimes I see God’s presence in broad, arcing brushstrokes. Revivals that leave whole countries breathless, hungry for the holy spirit. Entire lifetimes spent serving the hungry and the homeless and the forgotten. The selfless dedication of a missionary setting off for another continent.

Sometimes I see Him in the small places, the intricate pen and ink details. The prayer of a friend when I’m lost and confused. The smile of a stranger in the tangle of a crowd. The glimpse of an inspirational bumper sticker on the freeway.

Sometimes I see Him in a quiet walk through the woods with a friend; sometimes I hear His voice when I weep.

Sometimes I see Him in a halo of glowing cherry blossoms. Always here, always watching, always near. And most importantly, always God.


Once Upon A Writer's Conference

On Saturday, April 12, 2008, local writers will have the opportunity to attend the 2008 OCCWF Writer's Conference, one of the best Christian writing conferences Orange County has to offer. A full slate of speakers will be on hand, including New York Times best selling author, Beverly Lewis, Dan Benson of NavPress, Andy Meisenheimer of Zondervan, screenwriter Brian Bird and literary agent Chip MacGregor. Authors include Alison Strobel Morrow, Susan Titus Osborn, B.J. Taylor and many more!

Please check the OCCWF website for a list of speakers and topics.

Fifteen workshops will cover writing topics that range from fiction to devotionals to screenplays. Participants who register before the conference will have the opportunity to sign up for one consultation with an author, editor or agent to pitch book ideas, submit article proposals and ask questions.

To register for this event, visit the OCCWF website and click on Conferences.

Fiction FIRST: Only Uni Excerpt

I met Camy Tang last year at Mount Hermon. She was part of the "fun crowd," that wacky group that liked to stay out late and laugh and tell stories, long after the rest of the world had gone to sleep. I'll never forget her sunny personality or her dedication to the craft of writing. As busy as we all were during that conference, she was also maintaining her blog and working on the Genesis competition for ACFW.

So it's only appropriate that one year later I would be featuring one of her books here.

Published by Zondervan, the second book in her Sushi Series is titled Only Uni and is now available.

Here's a little author bio: Camy Tang is a member of FIRST and is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.


Chapter One

Trish Sakai walked through the door and the entire room hushed.

Well, not exactly pin-drop hushed. More like a handful of the several
dozen people in her aunty’s enormous living room paused their
conversations to glance her way. Maybe Trish had simply expected them to laugh
and point.

She shouldn’t have worn white. She’d chosen the Bebe dress from her
closet in a rebellious mood, which abandoned her at her aunt’s doorstep.
Maybe because the explosion of red, orange, or gold outfits made her
head swim.

At least the expert cut of her dress made her rather average figure
curvier and more slender at the same time. She loved how well-tailored
clothes ensured she didn’t have to work as hard to look good.

Trish kicked off her sandals, and they promptly disappeared in the sea
of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon
drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her
hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.

No, that’ll make your hips look huge.

She clenched her hands in front.

Sure, show all the relatives that you’re nervous.

She clasped them loosely at her waist and tried to adopt a regal

“Trish, you okay? You look constipated.”

Her cousin Bobby snickered while she sneered at him. “Oh, you’re so
funny I could puke.”

“May as well do it now before Grandma gets here.”

“She’s not here yet?” Oops, that came out sounding a little too
relieved. She cleared her throat and modulated her voice to less-than-ecstatic
levels. “When’s she coming?”

“Uncle picked her up, but he called Aunty and said Grandma forgot
something, so he had to go back.”

Thank goodness for little favors. “Is Lex here?”

“By the food.”

Where else would she be? Last week, her cousin Lex had mentioned that
her knee surgeon let her go back to playing volleyball three nights a
week and coaching the other two nights, so her metabolism had revved up
again. She would be eating like a horse.

Sometimes Trish could just kill her.

She tugged at her skirt—a little tight tonight. She should’ve had more
self-control than to eat that birthday cake at work. She’d have to run
an extra day this week … maybe.

She bounced like a pinball between relatives. The sharp scent of ginger
grew more pungent as she headed toward the large airy kitchen. Aunty
Sue must have made cold ginger chicken again. Mmmm. The smell mixed with
the tang of black bean sauce (Aunty Rachel’s shrimp?), stir-fried
garlic (any dish Uncle Barry made contained at least two bulbs), and fishy
scallions (probably her cousin Linda’s Chinese-style sea bass).

A three-foot-tall red streak slammed into her and squashed her big toe.

“Ow!” Good thing the kid hadn’t been wearing shoes or she might have
broken her foot. Trish hopped backward and her hand fumbled with a low
side table. Waxed paper and cornstarch slid under her fingers before the
little table fell, dropping the kagami mochi decoration. The sheet of
printed paper, the tangerine, and rubbery-hard mochi dumplings dropped
to the cream-colored carpet. Well, at least the cornstarch covering the
mochi blended in.

The other relatives continued milling around her, oblivious to the
minor desecration to the New Year’s decoration. Thank goodness for small—

A childish gasp made her turn. The human bullet who caused the whole
mess, her little cousin Allison, stood with a hand up to her round lips
that were stained cherry-red, probably from the sherbet punch. Allison
lifted wide brown eyes up to
Trish—hanaokolele-you’re-in-trouble—while the other hand pointed to the mochi on the floor.

Trish didn’t buy it for a second. “Want to help?” She tried to infuse
some leftover Christmas cheer into her voice.

Allison’s disdainful look could have come from a teenager rather than a
seven-year-old. “You made the mess.”

Trish sighed as she bent to pick up the mochi rice dumplings—one large
like a hockey puck, the other slightly smaller—and the shihobeni
paper they’d been sitting on. She wondered if the shihobeni
wouldn’t protect the house from fires this next year since she’d dropped

“Aunty spent so long putting those together.”

Yeah, right. “Is that so?” She laid the paper on the table so it
draped off the edge, then stuck the waxed paper on top. She anchored
them with the larger mochi.

“Since you busted it, does it mean that Aunty won’t have any good luck
this year?”

“It’s just a tradition. The mochi doesn’t really bring prosperity, and
the tangerine only symbolizes the family generations.” Trish tried to
artfully stack the smaller mochi on top of the bottom one, but it
wouldn’t balance and kept dropping back onto the table.

“That’s not what Aunty said.”

“She’s trying to pass on a New Year’s tradition.” The smaller mochi
dropped to the floor again. “One day you’ll have one of these in your own
house.” Trish picked up the mochi. Stupid Japanese New Year tradition.
Last year, she’d glued hers together until Mom found out and brought a
new set to her apartment, sans-glue. Trish wasn’t even Shinto. Neither
was anyone else in her family—most of them were Buddhists—but it was
something they did because their family had always done it.

“No, I’m going to live at home and take care of Mommy.”

Thank goodness, the kid finally switched topics. “That’s wonderful.”
Trish tried to smash the tangerine on top of the teetering stack of
mochi. Nope, not going to fly. “You’re such a good daughter.”

Allison sighed happily. “I am.”

Your ego’s going to be too big for this living room, toots. “Um
… let’s go to the kitchen.” She crammed the tangerine on the mochi
stack, then turned to hustle Allison away before she saw them fall back
down onto the floor.

“Uh, Triiiish?”

She almost ran over the kid, who had whirled around and halted in her
path like a guardian lion. Preventing Trish’s entry into the kitchen.
And blocking the way to the food. She tried to sidestep, but the
other relatives in their conversational clusters, oblivious to her,
hemmed her in on each side.

Allison sidled closer. “Happy New Year!”

“Uh … Happy New Year.” What was she up to? Trish wouldn’t put anything
past her devious little brain.

“We get red envelopes at New Year’s.” Her smile took on a predatory

“Yes, we do.” One tradition she totally didn’t mind. Even the older
cousins like Trish and Lex got some money from the older relatives,
because they weren’t married yet.

Allison beamed. “So did you bring me a red envelope?”

What? Wait a minute. Was she supposed to bring red envelopes for
the younger kids? No, that couldn’t be. “No, only the married people
do that.” And only for the great-cousins, not their first cousins,
right? Or was that great-cousins, too? She couldn’t remember.

Allison’s face darkened to purple. “That’s not true. Aunty gives me a
red envelope and she’s not married.”

“She used to be married. Uncle died.”

“She’s not married now. So you’re supposed to give me a red envelope,

Yeah, right. “If I gave out a red envelope to every cousin and
great-cousin, I’d go bankrupt.”

“You’re lying. I’m going to tell Mommy.” Allison pouted, but her sly
eyes gave her away.

A slow, steady burn crept through her body. This little extortionist
wasn’t going to threaten her, not tonight of all nights.

She crouched down to meet Allison at eye level and forced a smile.
“That’s not very nice. That’s spreading lies.”

Allison bared her teeth in something faintly like a grin.

“It’s not good to be a liar.” Trish smoothed the girl’s red velvet
dress, trimmed in white lace.

“You’re the liar. You said you’re not supposed to give me a red
envelope, and that’s a lie.”

The brat had a one-track mind. “It’s not a lie.”

“Then I’ll ask Mommy.” The grin turned sickeningly sweet.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Trish tweaked one of Allison’s
curling-iron-manufactured corkscrews, standing out amongst the rest of her
straight hair.

“I can do whatever I want.” An ugly streak marred the angelic mask.

“Of course you can.”

Allison blinked.

“But if you do, I’ll tell Grandma that I found her missing jade
bracelet in your bedroom.” Gotcha.

“What were you doing in my bedroom?” Allison’s face matched her dress.

Trish widened her eyes. “Well, you left it open when your mom hosted
the family Christmas party …”

Allison’s lips disappeared in her face, and her nostrils flared.
“You’re lying—”

“And you know Grandma will ask your mommy to search your room.”

Her face whitened.

“So why don’t we forget about this little red envelope thing, hmm?”
Trish straightened the gold heart pendant on Allison’s necklace and gave
her a bland smile.

A long, loud inhale filled Allison’s lungs. For a second, Trish
panicked, worried that she’d scream or something, but the air left her

Trish stood. “See ya.” She muscled her way past the human traffic cone.

She zeroed in on the kitchen counters like a heat-seeking missile.
“Hey, guys.”

Her cousins Venus, Lex, and Jenn turned to greet her.

“You’re even later than Lex.” Venus leaned her
sexy-enough-to-make-Trish-sick curves against a countertop as she crunched on a celery stick.

“Hey!” Lex nudged her with a bony elbow, then spoke to Trish.
“Grandma’s not here yet, but your mom—”

“Trish, there you are.” Mom flittered up. “Did you eat yet? Let me fill
you a plate. Make sure you eat the kuromame for good luck. I
know you don’t like chestnuts and black beans, but just eat one. Did you
want any konbu? Seaweed is very good for you.”

“No, Mom—”

“How about Aunty Eileen’s soup? I’m not sure what’s in it this year,
but it doesn’t look like tripe this time—”

“Mom, I can get my own food.”

“Of course you can, dear.” Mom handed her a mondo-sized plate.

Trish grabbed it, then eyed Venus’s miniscule plate filled sparingly
with meat, fish, and veggies. Aw, phooey. Why did Venus have to always be
watching her hourglass figure—with inhuman self-control over her
calorie intake—making Trish feel dumpy just for eating a potsticker? She
replaced her plate with a smaller one.

Lex had a platter loaded with chicken and lo mein, which she shoveled
into her mouth. “The noodles are good.”

“Why are you eating so much today?”

“Aiden’s got me in intensive training for the volleyball tournament
coming up.”

Trish turned toward the groaning sideboard to hide the pang in her gut
at mention of Lex’s boyfriend. Who had been Trish’s physical therapist.
Aiden hadn’t met Lex yet when Trish had hit on him, but he’d rebuffed
her—rather harshly, she thought—then became Christian and now was
living a happily-ever-after with Lex.

Trish wasn’t jealous at all.

Why did she always seem to chase away the good ones and keep the bad
ones? Story of her life. Her taste in men matched Lex’s horrendous taste
in clothes—Lex wore nothing but ugly, loose workout clothes, while
Trish dated nothing but ugly (well, in character, at least) losers.

Next to her, Jennifer inhaled as if she were in pain. “Grandma’s here.”

“No, not now. This is so not fair. I haven’t eaten yet.”

“It’ll still be here.” Venus’s caustic tone cut through the air at the
same time her hand grabbed Trish’s plate. “Besides, you’re eating too
much fat.”

Trish glared. “I am not fat—”

Venus gave a long-suffering sigh. “I didn’t say you were fat. I said
you’re eating unhealthily.”

“You wouldn’t say that to Lex.” She stabbed a finger at her athletic
cousin, who was shoveling chicken long rice into her mouth.

Lex paused. “She already did.” She slurped up a rice noodle.

Venus rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “All of you eat terribly. You
need to stop putting so much junk into your bodies.”

“I will when Jenn stops giving us to-die-for homemade chocolate
truffles.” Trish traded a high-five with Jenn, their resident culinary genius.

“Besides, chocolate’s good for you.” Lex spoke through a mouthful of
black bean shrimp.

Venus, who seemed to know she was losing the battle, brandished a
celery stick. “You all should eat more fiber—”

Trish snatched at a deep-fried chicken wing and made a face at her.
“It’s low carb.” Although she’d love to indulge in just a little of those
Chinese noodles later when Venus wasn’t looking …

She only had time to take a couple bites before she had to drop the
chicken in a napkin and wipe her fingers. She skirted the edge of the
crowd of relatives who collected around Grandma, wishing her Happy New

Grandma picked up one of Trish’s cousin’s babies and somehow managed to
keep the sticky red film coating his hands from her expensive Chanel
suit. How did Grandma do that? It must be a gift. The same way her
elegant salt-and-pepper ’do never had a hair out of place.

Then Grandma grabbed someone who had been hovering at her shoulder and
thrust him forward.

No. Way.

What was Kazuo doing here?

With Grandma?

Her breath caught as the familiar fluttering started in her ribcage.
No, no, no, no, no. She couldn’t react this way to him again. That’s what
got her in trouble the last time.

Trish grabbed Jenn’s arm and pulled her back toward the kitchen. “I
have to hide.”

Jenn’s brow wrinkled. “Why?”

“That’s Kazuo.”

Jenn’s eyes popped bigger than the moon cakes on the sideboard.
“Really? I never met him.” She twisted her head.

“Don’t look. Hide me.”

Jenn sighed. “Isn’t that a little silly? He’s here for the New Year’s

Trish darted her gaze around the kitchen, through the doorway to the
smaller TV room. “There are over a hundred people here. There’s a good
chance I can avoid him.”

“He probably came to see you.” A dreamy smile lit Jenn’s lips. “How
romantic …”

A mochi-pounding mallet thumped in the pit of Trish’s stomach. Romantic
this was not.

“What’s wrong?” Venus and Lex separated from the crowd to circle around

“That’s Kazuo.”

“Really?” Lex whirled around and started to peer through the doorway
into the front room. “We never met him—”

“Don’t look now! Hide me!”

Venus lifted a sculpted eyebrow. “Oh, come on.”

“How does Grandma know him?” Jennifer’s soothing voice fizzled Venus’s

“She met him when we were dating.”

“Grandma loves Kazuo.” Lex tossed the comment over her shoulder as she
stood at the doorway and strained to see Kazuo past the milling

Venus’s brow wrinkled. “Loves him? Why?”

Trish threw her hands up in the air. “He’s a Japanese national. He
spoke Japanese to her. Of course she’d love him.”

Jennifer chewed her lip. “Grandma’s not racist—”

Venus snorted. “Of course she’s not racist, but she’s certainly

“That’s not a good enough reason. Don’t you think there’s something
fishy about why she wants Trish to get back together with him?”

Venus opened her mouth, but nothing came out. After a moment, she
closed it. “Maybe you’re right.”

Trish flung her arms out. “But I have no idea what that reason is.”

“So is she matchmaking? Now?”

“What better place?” Trish pointed to the piles of food. “Fatten me up
and serve me back to him on a platter.”

Venus rolled her eyes. “Trish—”

“I’m serious. No way am I going to let her do that. Not with
him.” The last man on earth she wanted to see. Well, that wasn’t exactly
true. Her carnal body certainly wanted to see him, even though her brain
and spirit screamed, Run away! Run away!

“Was it that bad a breakup?” Lex looked over her shoulder at them.

Trish squirmed. “I, uh … I don’t think he thinks we’re broken up.”

“What do you mean? It happened six months ago.” Venus’s gaze seemed to
slice right through her.

“Well … I saw him a couple days ago.”

Venus’s eyes flattened. “And …?”

Trish blinked rapidly. “We … got along really well.”

Venus crossed her arms and glared.

How did Venus do that? Trish barely had to open her mouth and Venus
knew when she was lying. “We, um … got along really well.”

Jennifer figured it out first. She gasped so hard, Trish worried she’d
pass out from lack of oxygen.

Venus cast a sharp look at her, then back at Trish. Her mouth sprang
open. “You didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” Lex rejoined the circle and the drama unfolding. She
peered at Jenn and Venus—one frozen in shock, the other white with anger.

Trish’s heart shrank in her chest. She bit her lip and tasted blood.
She couldn’t look at her cousins. She couldn’t even say it.

Venus said it for her. “You slept with him again.”

Lex’s jaw dropped. “Tell me you didn’t.” The hurt in her eyes stabbed
at Trish’s heart like Norman Bates in Psycho.
Well, it was true that Trish’s obsessive relationship with Kazuo had
made her sort of completely and utterly abandon Lex last year when
she tore her ACL. Lex probably felt like Trish was priming to betray
her again. “It was only once. I couldn’t help myself—”

“After everything you told me last year about how you never asked God
about your relationship with Kazuo and now you were free.” Lex’s
eyes grew dark and heavy, and Trish remembered the night Lex had first
torn her ACL. Trish had been too selfish, wanting to spend time with
Kazuo instead of helping Lex home from one of the most devastating things
that had ever happened to her.

“I just couldn’t help myself—” Trish couldn’t seem to say anything

“So is Kazuo more important to you than me, after all?” Lex’s face had
turned into cold, pale marble, making her eyes stand out in their

A sickening ache gnawed in Trish’s stomach. She hunched her shoulders,
feeling the muscles tighten and knot.

Her cousins had always been compassionate whenever she hurt them,
betrayed them, or caused them hassle and stress by the things she did. She
knew she had a tendency to be thoughtless, but she had always counted on
their instant hugs and “That’s okay, Trish, we’ll fix it for you.” But
now she realized—although they forgave her, they were still hurt each
and every time. Maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Where’s Trish?” Grandma’s refined voice managed to carry above the
conversations. “I’m sure she wants to see you.” She was coming closer to
the kitchen.

“I can’t face him.” Trish barely recognized her own voice, as thready
as old cobwebs. “I can’t face Grandma, either.” A tremor rippled through
her body.

Venus’s eyes softened in understanding. “I’ll stall them for you.”

Trish bolted.

Out the other doorway into the living room. She dodged around a few
relatives who were watching sports highlights on the big-screen TV. She
spied the short hallway to Aunty’s bedroom. She could hide. Recoup. Or

She slipped down the hallway and saw the closed door at the end. A
narrow beam of faint light from under it cast a glow over the carpet. Her
heart started to slow.

Maybe she could lie down, pretend she was sick? No, Grandma might
suggest Kazuo take her home.

She could pretend she got a phone call, an emergency at work. Would
Grandma know there weren’t many emergencies with cell biology research on
New Year’s Eve?

The worst part was, Trish hadn’t even gotten to eat yet.

She turned the doorknob, but it stuck. Must be the damp weather. She
applied her shoulder and nudged. The door clicked open. She slipped into
the bedroom.

A couple stood in the dim lamplight, locked in a passionate embrace
straight out of Star magazine. Trish’s heart lodged in her throat.
Doh! Leave now! She whirled.

Wait a minute.

She turned.

The man had dark wavy hair, full and thick. His back was turned to her,
but something about his stance …

The couple sprang apart. Looked at her.


Kissing a woman who wasn’t her mother.

Taken from Only Uni, Copyright © 2008 by
Camy Tang. Used by permission of Zondervan.


One Writer's Journey

The long-awaited trip to Mount Hermon is over. It was wonderful, it was exhausting, it was a journey that I will always remember. Every year is different and precious in its own way. And yet, in the midst of all the excitement--meeting with editors, learning from talented writers, wondering when I'll get a chance to sleep--I've finally realized what is most important.

The people.

I spend so much time, between my day job as an editor and my night job as an aspiring novelist, behind the flat-world screen of a computer, that I sometimes wonder if I'm as fictional as my characters. Let me take that back. I really do think my characters are more real than I am. They have a life. (I am smiling as I write this.) They constantly interact with the rest of the world. I, on the other hand, constantly withdraw from the world in order to create my version of art.

So when I get to meet other writers and editors face-to-face I feel like a kid during recess.

This year I took a few photos of the people who inspire me. There were many more people at the conference that I didn't get to take pictures of, probably because of my closet shyness. That and my secret fear that I'm invisible. But for today, I'll go with the theory that I am, in fact, visible, and that I really did get to meet these people. These wonderful, exciting, talented people.

I miss them already.

The conference began when I met all of my roommates: Catherine Madera, Julie Garmon, and B.J. Taylor. B.J. and I have been in a writer's group together for about five years. We've also attended the Yosemite Writer's Conference, ACW Conference, Orange County Christian Writer's Fellowship conference, and SDSU Writer's Conference together.

This was the first year I served as a mentor for first-timers at Mount Hermon. Rhonda Pringle was one of my "buddies" and we got the opportunity to discuss things like pitches, submissions and critiques.

One of the members of my writer's group, Andrea Verde, attended Mount Hermon for the first time this year.

This was Lindsay Culbert's first writer's conference and we hung out together quite a bit. In between walking in the woods and attending classes, we often chatted in the central lounge. The woman in the background is Tosca Lee.

Everybody needs a best buddy who will make them laugh and who will always understand the perils of invisibility. For me, that buddy is Tracey Higley.

I can't wait until Katie Vorreiter's books get published, because I want the rest of the world to get to meet her. Anybody who can make me laugh in less than a minute deserves an award. Katie, I think I owe you about 600 awards already.

For me, every conference has a handful of super-stars who also happen to be super-nice. John Olson is one of those super-talented, super-great guys. Here he is signing a book for one of my fellow Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers, Carla Stewart.

What would the blogging universe be without fellow bloggers who love science fiction and fantasy? It would be a black, empty void. Lifeless and dull. I met Becky Miller [A Christian Worldview of Fiction] at Mount Hermon last year and we've become close friends since then. But this was the first time I got to meet Marcus Goodyear [The High Calling].

Always one of my favorite people to hang out with, partly because he has a great sense of humor, and partly because he always has the inside scoop on what's going on in the publishing industry, is Steve Laube. Maybe that's why a large group of us gathered every night in the central lounge, laughing and telling stories until long after midnight.

This is only a tiny glimpse of the gathering that formed in central lounge in the evenings. When the normal folk rested, we partied. Among those who often stayed out later than they should were John Olson, Randy Ingermanson and Camy Tang.

Mount Hermon 2008 is over. Mount Hermon 2009 stands on the horizon, masked in shadow, full of promise. It is an event that marks my progress as a writer. I hope that one day I will have the opportunity to be a blessing to beginning writers, just like some of these people have been a blessing to me.

Always and forever, I pray that the journey that leads me up the mountain is also a journey that leads me nearer to the God I love.


Do You Want To Be Published

Do you want to be published?

This is a question writers ask ourselves frequently. More often than we like to admit. Especially if our work hasn't seen the light of the press yet.

Black on white. Somehow it adds validation. I know there's much more to it than that. I think we all carry something inside of us that we want to share with the rest of the world, whether it's the ability to tell stories or the gift of editorial commentary.

And I believe the rest of the world is hungry for those stories.

What can you do to get your work in print and where do you start?

Once again, those are complex questions and there's no easy answer I can give in 50 words or less. But I do know of a fairly new blog that I would highly recommend to those of you who hope to get published.

It's written by Mary DeMuth and it's aptly titled, "So You Wanna Be Published."

Mary asked me to post something from an editor's perspective and today's the day. I wrote about the importance of clips--what are they and why writers need them.

So, if you'd like to know why we editors always pester you poor writers about your clips, check out Mary's new site today.


FIRST Day Fiction: The Restorer's Journey by Sharon Hinck

If you've ever met this lovely young lady, then you know how wonderful she truly is. If you haven't met her, then here's the next best thing: read one of her books. Her characters are just as vibrant as she is. And I have a secret to share: if you like fantasy, this writer is on the cutting edge. Who am I talking about?

Sharon Hinck, of course.

And one of her new books, The Restorer's Journey, is being featured this month. What? You've never read anything by Sharon Hinck?

Well, then this is your day of unexpected blessings. Because I have the first chapter of this book posted below.

But I have to post a warning. If you read this chapter, you're going to want to read more. I know. I'm sorry. I can only give you this much for free. But you can get the book at Amazon.com or you can order it at any bookstore, even if you don't see it on the shelf. Because it might not stay on the shelf very long.

It's that good.

Chapter One - JAKE

My mom was freaking out.

She stared out the dining room window as if major-league monsters were hiding in the darkness beyond the glass. Give me a break. Our neighborhood was as boring as they came. Ridgeview Drive’s square lawns and generic houses held nothing more menacing than basketball hoops and tire swings. Still, Mom’s back was tight, and in the shadowed reflection on the pane, I could see her biting her lip. I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better.

I ducked back into the kitchen and used a wet rag to wipe off the counters. Clumps of flour turned to paste and smeared in gunky white arcs across the surface. I shook the rag over the garbage can, the mess raining down on the other debris we’d swept up. Broken jars of pasta and rice filled the bag. I stomped it down, twist-tied the bag and jogged it out to the trashcan by the garage. Usually, I hated the chore of taking out the trash. Not tonight. Maybe if I erased the signs of our intruders, Mom would relax a little.

So Cameron and Medea dropped a few things when they were looking for supplies. No biggie. Why did my folks have such a problem with those two anyway? They’d been great to me. I trudged back into the house, rubbing my forehead. Wait. That wasn’t right. A shiver snaked through my spine. Never mind. They were probably long gone by now.

“Kitchen’s done.” I carried the broom into the dining room, hoping Mom had finished in there. But she was still hugging her arms and staring out the window.

She turned and looked at the china cabinet, then squeezed her eyes shut as if they were hurting. “Why?” she whispered.

Glass shards jutted from one cabinet door, and the other hung crooked with wood splinters poking out. Broken china covered the floor. Mom and Dad had been collecting those goofy teacups ever since they got married.

I pushed the broom against the edge of the fragments, but the chinking sound made her wince, so I stopped.

Dad strode past with an empty garbage bag from the hall closet and stopped to give my mom a squeeze. He nodded toward me. “Honey, Jake’s alive. Nothing else matters. We all got back safe.” He leaned his head against hers, and I edged toward the kitchen in case they started kissing. For an old married couple, they were a little too free with their public displays of affection. No guy wants to watch his parents act mushy.

But my mom didn’t look like she was in a kissing mood. She pressed her lips together. I had a sneaking suspicion that she was more freaked out about what had happened to my hand than our house. Like when I had cancer as a kid. She’d gotten really stressed about the details of a church fundraiser and cranky about everything that went wrong—stuff that wasn’t even important. It gave her a place to be angry when she was trying to be brave about a bigger problem.

“It’s only a piece of furniture.” Dad was doing his soothing voice. When would he catch on that only made things worse?

“Only a piece of furniture we bought as a wedding gift to each other.” She swiped at some wet spots on her face. “Only twenty years’ worth of poking around garage sales and thrift stores together. Don’t tell me what it’s only! Okay?”

“Okay.” Dad backed away from her prickles.

I made another ineffectual push with the broom. My folks didn’t argue much, but when they did, it grated like a clutch struggling to find third gear. Typical over-responsible firstborn, I wanted to fix it but didn’t know how.

Mom picked up a Delft saucer, smashed beyond repair, and laid the pieces gently into the garbage bag. Dad folded his arms and leaned against the high back of one of the chairs. “I can fix the cabinet. That splintered door will need to be replaced, but the other one just needs new hinges. I can put in new glass.” His eyes always lit up when he talked about a woodworking project. The man loved his tools.

Mom smiled at him. Her tension faded, and she got all moony-eyed, so I ducked into the kitchen just as the doorbell rang. Thank heaven. “Pizza’s here!” I yelled.

Dad paid the delivery guy, and I carried the cartons into the living room. Flopping onto one end of the couch, I pried open the lid. “Hey, who ordered green peppers? Mom, you’ve gotta quit ruining good pizza with veggies.”

That made her laugh. “We’d better save a few pieces for the other kids.” She cleared the Legos off the coffee table and handed me a napkin.

I gladly surrendered the top pizza box, along with its green pepper, and dove into the pepperoni below. “Where is everyone?”

“Karen’s spending the night at Amanda’s—trying out her new driver’s license. Jon and Anne are at Grandma’s. But if they see the pizza boxes when they get home tomorrow . . . ”

I nodded. “Yep. Pure outrage. I can hear it now. ‘It’s not fair. Jake always gets to have extra fun.’” I did a pretty good impression of the rug rats. What would the kids think if they found out what else they had missed? This had been the strangest Saturday the Mitchell family had ever seen.

I popped open a can of Dr. Pepper. My third. Hey, I’d earned some extra caffeine. “So, what do we tell the kids?”

Mom smiled and looked me up and down, probably thinking I was one of the kids. When would it sink in that I was an adult now? I guzzled a third of my pop and set it down with a thump. “We could tell them there was a burglar, but then they’d want to help the police solve the case, and they’d never stop asking questions.”

“Good point.” Mom licked sauce from her finger. “Jon and Anne would break out the detective kit you gave them for Christmas.”

Dad tore a piece of crust from his slice of pepperoni. “If we finish cleaning everything, I don’t think they’ll pay much attention. The cabinet is the only obvious damage. If they ask, we’ll just say it got bumped and fell.”

Dad wanted us to lie? So not like him. Then again, when Kieran told me Dad wasn’t originally from our world, I realized there were a lot of things he’d never been honest about. Now I was part of the family secret, too.

He rested his piece of pizza on the cardboard box and looked at Mom. “Do we need to warn them?”

“Warn them?” She mumbled around a mouth full of melted cheese.

“In case Cameron and Medea come back.” His voice was calm, but I suddenly had a hard time swallowing. Something cold twisted in me when he said their names. The same cold that had numbed my bones when I’d woken up in the attic. Why? They’d taken care of me. No, they’d threatened me. Confusing images warred inside my brain.

“You think they’ll come back?” My baritone went up in pitch, and I quickly took another sip of pop.

Dad didn’t answer for a moment. “It depends on why they came. If they plan to stay in our world, we need to find them—stop them. But my guess is that Cameron wants to return to Lyric with something from our world that he can use there. That means they’ll be back to go through the portal.”

Mom sank deeper into the couch and looked out the living room windows. At the curb, our family van shimmered beneath a streetlight.

They might be out there, too. They could be watching us right this second.

“Maybe we should call the police.” Mom’s voice sounded thin. I’d suggested that earlier. After all, someone had broken in—well, broken out.

Dad snorted. “And tell them what?”

He had a point, but it’s not like there was a rulebook for dealing with visitors from other universes. Unless you attended Star Trek conventions. “So what’s your plan?” I asked.

“I’ll get extra locks tomorrow. Maybe look into an alarm system.” Dad believed every problem could be solved with his Home Depot credit card. He turned to me. “Can you remember more about your conversations with Cameron? What did he ask you about? What did he seem interested in?”

A shudder moved through me, and pain began pulsing behind my eyes.

Mom gave Dad a worried glance, then rested a hand on my arm. “It’s okay, honey. We don’t have to talk about it right now.” She smoothed my hair back from my face.

“No problem.” I brushed her hand away, sprawled back on the couch, and studied the ceiling. “It just seems like it was all a dream.”

“What’s the last thing you remember clearly?” Dad pulled his chair closer and watched me.

“Braide Wood.” I closed my eyes and smiled. “It reminded me of summer camp. And I was so tired of running and hiding in caves. I finally felt safe. Tara fussed over me, and I taught Dustin and Aubrey how to play soccer. It felt like home.”

I struggled to remember the rest. For some reason my memories were tangled up, like the time I had a major fever and took too much Nyquil. Mom and Dad waited.

“I went to see Morsal Plains with Tara. Brutal. The grain was all black and it smelled weird. Tara told me about the attack. How Hazor poisoned it on purpose and how Susan the Restorer led the army to protect Braide Wood.” I squinted my eyes open and looked sideways at my mom. They’d told me she had ridden into battle with a sword. “Unbelievable.”

Even though she was watching me with a worried pinch to her eyes, she smiled. “I know. I lived it, and it’s hard for me to believe.”

“Anyway, I hiked back to Tara’s house, and some guys came to take me to Cameron. He made a big fuss over me. Said it was his job to welcome guests to the clans. Said I’d run into bad company but he’d make it up to me. He gave me something to drink, and there was this lady. She was amazing.” No matter how fuzzy my memories were, Medea was easy to remember. The long curly hair, the sparkling eyes, the dress that clung to all the right places. My cheeks heated. “I can’t remember everything we talked about. She made me feel important, like I wasn’t just some teenage kid. It was . . . ” I sat taller and angled away from my parents, my jaw tightening. “She helped me realize that no one else had ever really understood me. I wanted to become a guardian. I had an important job to do.”

“Jake.” Dad’s voice was sharp, and I flinched. “The woman you met was a Rhusican. They poison minds. Don’t trust everything you’re feeling right now.”

A pulsing ache grabbed the base of my neck. I pressed the heels of my hands against my eyes. Mom’s hand settled on my shoulder, and I stiffened. Weird static was messing with my head.

“Jake, they used you to find the portal. She doesn’t really understand you.” Mom’s voice was quiet and sounded far away. I felt like I was falling away inside myself. She squeezed my shoulder. “Remember my favorite psalm?”

I managed a tight smile. “How could I forget? You made us learn the whole thing one summer. ‘O Lord, you have searched me and you know me…’ blah, blah, blah.”

Despite my smart aleck tone, the words took hold and some of the static in my brain quieted.

“What’s the rest?” Dad pressed me.

What was he trying to prove? That I couldn’t think straight? I could have told him that. I struggled to form the words.

“‘You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.’” Once I got started, I rattled off the verses by rote. In some strange way, the words actually stopped the sensation of falling away inside myself.

“Sounds like there’s someone who understands you a lot better than Cameron and Medea. Remember that.” Dad stood up and tousled my hair. Then he yawned. “Let’s get some sleep.”

Mom didn’t move. She was still watching me. “How’s the hand?”

I rubbed my palm. “Still fine. Weird, huh?” I held it out.

A scar, faint as a white thread, marked the skin where broken glass had cut a deep gash an hour earlier. My lungs tightened. What did it mean?

Dad shook his head. “Come on. Bedtime.”

Mom hesitated, but then stood and gave me a quick kiss on the forehead. “Good night, Jake. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

Oh, great. She sure loved talking. I looked at Dad. His mouth twitched. “I’ll get us signed up for some practice space at the fencing club.”

Good. He hadn’t forgotten his promise. I couldn’t make sense of my trip through the portal, or the sudden-healing thing, but I knew I wanted to learn to use a sword.

My parents gathered up the pizza stuff and carried it to the kitchen, out of sight, but not out of earshot.

“If we hide the portal stones Cameron and Medea won’t be able to go back,” Dad said over the crinkling of a sheet of aluminum foil.

Someone slammed the fridge door shut hard enough to make the salad dressing bottles rattle. “We don’t want them running around our world. They don’t belong here.” Mom sounded tense.

“I know. We have to send them back. But on our terms. Without anything that would hurt the People of the Verses. And what about Jake?”

Silence crackled, and I leaned forward from my spot on the couch.

When Mom refused to answer, Dad spoke again, so quiet I almost couldn’t hear. “We need to keep the portal available in case he’s needed there. But how will we know?”

Needed there? Did he really think . . .?

I waited for them to head back to their bedroom, then slipped down the steps from the kitchen to the basement. Most of the basement was still unfinished – except for my corner bedroom and Dad’s workbench.

I hurried into my room and shut out the world behind me. Tonight everything looked different. The movie posters, the bookshelves, the soccer team trophy. Smaller, foreign, unfamiliar.

I pulled a thumbtack from my bulletin board and scratched it across my thumb. A line of blood appeared, but in a microsecond the tiny scrape healed completely. I had assumed the healing power was some heebie-jeebie thing that Medea had given me, or that had transferred over from my interactions with Kieran.

But now that my head had stopped throbbing, I could put the pieces together. Excitement stronger than caffeine zipped around my nerve endings. My folks thought this was more than a weird effect left over from my travels through the portal. They thought I might be the next Restorer.