How I Name My Characters

Kathy NickersonOctober 7th, 2018mercyNo Comments

 

From the acknowledgements page of The Marvel House: Thanks to Ada Jewel for naming my characters. You launched the story on that car ride.

 

Naming the characters in a novel is quite similar to naming one’s children. The task is huge. What if you tell everyone her name will be Clementine, and then she is born and she looks exactly like an Alexandra instead? And, you’ve been calling her Clementine all these months. You hand-painted the giant “C” for her nursery and even pre-signed a few Christmas cards with all three of your names.

In a novel, of course, the writer can theoretically change a character’s name at any time. Except, you can’t. It is exactly the same thing. In a historical novel I’ve been writing for decades, I tried to change my little shepherd boy from Jonas to Reuben. It isn’t working. I trip over the name every time I read a section. I’m going back to Jonas.

All that to say, I’m thrilled when something comes together. During the brewing days of my new novel, The Marvel House, I gave lots of thought to names. I didn’t have the story clear in my mind yet, but I suspected names and their meanings would become important. (I was correct.) So, on one long trip with a carload of granddaughters, I asked for suggestions of character names just to pass the time.

Ada Jewel snatched up my phone and started recording the ideas. By the time we stopped for lunch, every character in this novel had exactly the right name. (Plus, we have a few left over for other books.)

A couple of years ago, those names were just blips on a screen. Today, they are so dear to me I might include Aspen or Quinn on my Christmas list before I remember they live only in my imagination. And, I hope, in yours.

You can meet Aspen, The Mighty Quinn, and the rest of the Marvel family by ordering here or by catching me at one of the upcoming events. Watch my Facebook page for details.

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Best Words from a Husband

Kathy NickersonOctober 1st, 2018family, Marriage3 Comments

 

Last week, I went shopping for a black skirt and a pair of slacks. If you know me, you are aware this is a form of self-inflicted torture. I shall admit up front that I failed. Mostly because I got lost in the Christmas aisles at Hobby Lobby and used up all my time. However, I am determined to try again this week.

I did get something of great value from the trip, however. Better than the perfect skirt or a bargain on tinsel, I got the best words from any husband ever. These would be the best words from the husband of a supermodel. They are especially best from the husband of a grandmother who is trying to age gratefully, but who is failing in a few areas.

As I pulled into the parking lot at the department store, my phone dinged, and I found this text:

While you are shopping for clothes today, keep in mind when you look in the mirror you are looking at the woman I love. That woman is the most attractive woman I know. 

Yes, I swooned.  Now you understand, Dear Reader, why I am dedicating my newest novel to Wendell:

My husband, lover, partner, and friend.

Thanks for choosing me every day since 1973.

To celebrate such love, and to set a mood for this month’s soon-coming release of The Marvel House, here is a song from the famous duo of Ryan & Charity Long.

 

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The Best Way to Celebrate Fall

Kathy NickersonSeptember 24th, 2018mercy2 Comments

 

So, this is my favorite way to celebrate fall: Release a new novel! Today – the official cover reveal for The Marvel House, coming in October. Thanks to the wonderful Becky West for providing the original cover art. And, of course, to the amazing Anna Swartzentruber of ScribblesandScribes.com for turning the painting into this cozy cover.

It was great fun to write this story about the quirky Madge DuPree and her attempt to become a nanny/housekeeper for the Marvel family. (Not the superheroes. Just a dad, a mom, four daughters, and the family divorce lawyer.)

I mixed in a little Narnia, a bit of Peter Pan, and – most important – a good dose of the Glory Circle sisters. If you haven’t met these church ladies yet, I suggest you buy or borrow a copy of Thirty Days to Glory, which is book one in the series. If you hurry, you can read it before The Marvel House comes out.

Stay tuned for more details about where and when you can find the book. One more thing, dear reader. Thank you for all the encouragement along this journey.

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Even When I’m Old …

Kathy NickersonAugust 30th, 2018mercyNo Comments

My hubs with his sappy mama a few years ago.

 

Several years ago, I tagged along one day when my doctor-husband made rounds at the community nursing home. Things were pretty normal, and slightly unsettling, as they always are when one encounters advanced age and infirmity. In one room, a sweet saint greeted us from the bed where she spent her nights and days.

“Doc,” she said, “Why am I still here? I’ve asked the Lord and asked the Lord to take me home. I’m no good to anybody. I can’t do a thing but lay here.”

My wise husband looked around the sparse room and then out the window. School buses were pulling up across the street at the local high school. “Well,” he said to his patient, “you can still pray, can’t you?”

She could.

“Some of those kids probably don’t have anyone else praying for them. Maybe that’s why you’re still here.”

His response became a seed in my imagination. The seed eventually sprouted into a book series called The Glory Circle Sisters. The church ladies in these books are well-described in this portion of the psalms.

“They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green.” Psalm 92:14

I’ve made it my goal since then to lead a sappy life. To lay up more treasures in Heaven than on earth. And to tell stories that encourage the sap in readers. The first book in the Glory Circle series is currently getting a face-lift in the form of a new cover. Watch for that reveal in a few days. Then, coming in October is Book #4, The Marvel House, which features the very sappy Madge Dupree.

On this Labor Day weekend, we will celebrate the contributions of workers to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. (According to the US Labor Dept..) Let’s also celebrate the contributions of those who labor from more restricted life circumstances. Let’s remember the saints who pray.

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A Back-to-School Blunder

Kathy NickersonAugust 14th, 2018mercyNo Comments

Once upon a time, my husband and I made a serious mistake. We told our elementary school daughters that we would never again move until after they graduated from high school. We made that foolish promise one July. By May we were packing boxes. *sigh*

Our little girls had attended five schools in five years. I know how awful that sounds, but we weren’t vagabonds. The final years of Wendell’s medical training just happened to coincide with the first years of their education. Training required lots of moving.

Serenity took this final move the hardest. She is an August baby, so she had started kindergarten at the tender edge of her fifth year. (Our state has since rolled back enrollment to summer birthdays. Wise move.) Fifth grade had been emotionally difficult for her. She told us the work was not too hard, but she simply didn’t feel like a fifth-grader. The struggle lasted most of the year, and I often regret that we didn’t pull her out for a year of home-schooling.

Instead, we moved again. #ParentFail #NewJob #ManyTears

Early in the new school year, Serenity climbed to the top of something called “the spider” on the playground. An ornery little boy reached up and stole her shoe. He refused to give it back for several, irritating minutes.

So, do you know what Serenity did?

She married him.

Well, ten years later, after lots of middle-school and teenaged angst. But, I’m pretty sure she loved him from that day forward.

(That will teach a boy to steal a shoe. Now he has to buy them for her.)

And what did I do to help Felicity and Serenity cope? I started writing a book about a little girl whose parents uprooted the family to follow a dream. The Secret of Serendipity ended up being my third novel. Much like Michael and Serenity’s romance, it needed time to grow. The book was finally released when we had granddaughters entering middle school.

If you know a girl struggling with change this school year, maybe The Secret of Serendipity could help. I know your prayers will.

 

 

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Life Between Two Glasses

Kathy NickersonAugust 6th, 2018mercy2 Comments

 

I am definitely a glass-half-full kinda lady. In fact, I’ve been known to go fetch more iced tea if the glass appears to be dropping below the line. I can almost always find a reason to be happy or hopeful, even in hard times. A few things do ripple my daily optimism, though.

Seasons of transition are the worst. We once heard a preacher describe it this way:

Transition is like being the water that someone is pouring from one glass to another. 

Oh, yeah, Brother. I get that. You are up at the top of the arc being all cool and clear. You know exactly how it felt in the glass you left, and you have hope for how it will feel in the glass on the other side. But, right now, you are just hanging up here in the air. Anything could happen.

My hubs and I are the water between a few glasses these days. That happens when you reach a certain age. Our favorite doctor retired. So did our ophthalmologist. The restaurant next door is closing. Medicare is just around the corner. Rural medicine is changing faster than we can absorb, and our staff is changing with it.

So, what is the quivering water to do? I’ll tell you:

Be still and know that I am God. 

The Bible may not be a source of answers and solace for you. (Feel free to email me if it isn’t. I’d love to chat.) For me, the Bible truly is the living, breathing, eternal Word of God. When I recall those eight, small words, everything settles into place. It doesn’t matter how long the pouring lasts, I know we will be safe. Even if we splash a bit, things will work out in the end.

Because, He holds both glasses in His hands.

And, He is good.

 

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What’s My Job?

Kathy NickersonJuly 24th, 2018family, happy endings, mercy6 Comments

 

I frequently forget what my job is in life. Every few weeks, I decide my job is to become a traditional grandmother who stays home, bakes cookies, and magically lives in two different cities at the same time so I can be available for every grandchild.

That is not my job.

When I see someone struggling – wrecking their friendships, stressing their marriage, unsettling their kids – I think it is my job to fix things. To point them to a better way.

But, that is not my job.

Occasionally, I think it is my job to tweet something so pithy and brilliant that it will silence all the shouting and name-calling and chaos on social media.

Thank goodness, that is not my job.

It turns out, even in the enormous pressure and amazing opportunities of life, my job is still quite simple:

To do right, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. (Micah 6:8 NLT)

All the other things might fit into those words. Baking cookies, attending school plays, speaking truth to a friend, writing something world-changing. If so, it won’t be because those were my jobs. It will be because I’m walking humbly with my God, and He gave me the nudge.

The difference is subtle. But, it takes off all the pressure.

 

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Of Politics and Peppermints

Kathy NickersonJuly 15th, 2018mercyNo Comments

Several decades ago, I waddled into a voting booth at the local library to cast my first vote in a state election. My labor pains had started hours before the polls opened, but I insisted we wait until I had a chance to vote. It was a risky move, since this was our second child, which should go faster than the first.

(Yes, I had married and given birth before I was even old enough to vote. Don’t judge me. The threshold was twenty-one in those days. Boys went to war at eighteen.)

I hadn’t been interested in politics before. But a cattle rancher named Jerry Litton had come out of small-town Missouri to take on the corrupt political establishment of our day. It was America’s bicentennial year, and patriotism was popular for the first time since the Viet Nam War.

Despite my labor pains, I was determined to mark my ballot for the man who raised Charolais cattle, shook hands with small children, and somehow personified our hopes for the future. Both my husband and my mother suggested I forgo duty to country in favor of making it to the hospital on time. The blue-haired ladies handing out ballots seemed to agree. They rushed me through the process of marking an “x” beside the name of a man whose platform and party I no longer recall.

We made it to the hospital a full two hours before our perfect daughter arrived. Just before daylight, a nurse roused me and slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. As she jabbed the thermometer under my tongue, she said, “Sure was too bad about Jerry Litton, wasn’t it?

“Oh, did he lose?”

She whipped off the cuff and scribbled on a pad. “No, he won. But on the way to the victory party his plane crashed. Killed him and his whole family. What a shame.” She rescued the thermometer before it snapped between my teeth and then breezed out the door, leaving me alone in the dark with my after-birth pains and the horror that washed over me.

I had felt this terror before, but it took a few minutes for me to remember when. And, when I remembered, I could barely  separate my eight-year-old self from the self who had just given birth.

•••

Mrs. Lowery had interrupted my second-grade birthday party that day. She came from her classroom and whispered something to our teacher. Then, they both stepped around the corner. They weren’t completely hidden, though. I could see them crying.

Mrs. Lowery was well-known for her ability to solve any crisis by dabbing away tears with her hanky and then producing a peppermint from her desk drawer. No peppermint could fix what she told us once she gained control of her tears. President Kennedy had been killed.

The universe seemed to spin dangerously close to the edge of control. I could not imagine what would happen. Would our enemies declare war since we didn’t have a president to protect us? Would the killer be hiding outside in the bushes after school? Unreasonable fear consumed me back in the 1960’s. And it threatened again on that August night of the late seventies.

I’m not sure who I cried for during those next hours – the Litton family, or myself, or the great American hopes which had died on a rural airstrip. Although I was politically ignorant and spiritually immature, I had given my best for the hope of a cause which had now disappeared.

But, of course, my hope was in the wrong thing.

It was right to vote. Even to sacrifice by voting through pain. Lots of people have endured much worse to make our voting possible. It is right to campaign, to argue, to defend, to stand up for what we believe. It is vital that we hope, work, and pray for a better future on this earth.

Yet, when all the votes have been counted and all the noise turns to other news, we will be left with the same thing we had back in 1976. Fallible human beings doing what they can to keep our boat afloat.

Do not despair at the thought, Dear Reader. For we are also left with something much better. It is an amazing truth recorded for us centuries ago by the One who holds all power. I did not yet know these words during the dark days after President Kennedy’s death. I didn’t know them immediately after Jerry Litton. Yet I experienced them in a reality I couldn’t explain.

“When the earth and all its inhabitants shake, I am the One who steadies its pillars.” Psalm 75:3 Holman Christian Standard

We were steadied. We were held. And we will be so again and again.

So, what shall we do? Well, let’s educate ourselves  in this primary season. Go online and look up state and local elections. Read an area newspaper. Find out what people stand for or against. Check their track record in lif.. And then, go vote. Even if it is inconvenient for you.

Once you’ve done all that, take a deep breath and sit down with the people you love. Enjoy a meal. Pop a peppermint. Talk of pleasant things. Because the earth will not shake off its foundation, no matter who loses or wins.

 

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How I Handle Cable News

Kathy NickersonJuly 2nd, 2018mercy2 Comments

Our fifteen year old granddaughter, Claire, is spending a few days with us. One morning, when Grandpa flipped on Fox & Friends, Claire said, “Is the news on twenty-four hours a day? Don’t those people ever sleep?”

We cracked up, of course. Out here in the country, we rely on satellite television. Claire’s family uses more selective surfing of channels in the city. They don’t have cable news. She made me think, though. Sometimes I consider unplugging all the news sources in my life, because they are such a downer.

Today, though, I read this quote from Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen:

“A real spiritual life does exactly the opposite: it makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response.” Henri Nouwen (from James Emery White on Church & Culture.)

A free and fearless response.

Is that what happens when I hear about school shootings, immigration issues, and general shouting among  political parties? No. Not at all. My first response is, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” But, I don’t actually want Him to come back until everyone who is lost has a chance to be found. Instead of unplugging, I want to plug into the power of the Holy Spirit and figure out a new reaction to trouble.

So, today, our church started a new Bible reading plan. And one of the first selections was this:

He [Jesus] is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17, HCSB

Ah, there it is. The free and fearless response. He is before all things. All things. And, He holds all things together.

That includes nations, people groups, clans, families, and my own little circle of the world. He really does “hold the whole world in His hands.” No matter how gloomy life looks in the future, I plan to reach for that response.

Want to join me?

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What to do when Your Groove is Gone

Kathy NickersonJune 27th, 2018family1 Comment

Blame Summer – 

Nothing can throw off the personal and household groove like summer-lack-of-schedules. I’d call it the Summer Schedule, but we all know you can’t call something a schedule when it tosses ballgames, play dates, and late nights on the calendar at will. We don’t even have children in our house anymore, yet we sometimes get the feeling that we are on a strange planet.

This summer, our groove got lost because we decided to rearrange The Whole House. As in, turning the guest bedroom into a den. Which means emptying closets and finding new places for things in a house that is already too full. It’s been fun. I especially love the corner where I stacked forty-four years worth of loose pictures and old frames. And slides. (Not the kind you wear on your feet.) That mountain is tilting all kinds of directions in our bedroom right now. But, I am resolved that not a single shoe box shall go under a bed until I have SORTED the things.

So, what to do when everything seems as out of control as a toddler after six hours at the zoo? Here is my solution for finding my groove. (Nothing to do with Stella. Well, almost nothing.)

  1. Give yourself permission. To make sandwiches for supper. To do ten minutes on the treadmill instead of thirty. To eat homemade ice cream at the fair.
  2. Stay in the moment. Tune into your kid when she walks up to bat, and forget the laundry multiplying like loaves and fishes at home.
  3. Use shortcuts. Take those six loads of towels to the coin laundry. While they spin, read that book you meant to take to the beach.
  4. Keep perspective. Summer is short. Childhoods evaporate like puddles in July. This too shall pass. Quickly.
  5. Love the puddin’ out of your spouse. This happens to be the best marriage advice I ever received. I’m inserting it here, because everything in the world and beyond gets better when you take this piece of advice.

Now, your turn. Tell me how you stay sane during summer breaks or other seasons of structured chaos.

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