Recently I received this e-mail:

I enjoyed the books I read in this series (5,6,7) but was somewhat perplexed by some of the characters in the book, Emily’s character in particular.  I was struggling with the concept of church going, prayers to God for direction, protection, etc. while still having a sexual relationship out of wedlock.  I am a Christian…believe God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin as well as the sin of others, that Jesus was without sin and died in my place, was raised from the grave, and sits on the right hand of the Father so even though it wasn’t stated for fact in the books I read that Emily was a believer, the book suggested a relationship with God.  Believers do sin and have to ask for forgiveness but certainly should not be ‘living in sin.”  So as I said I was perplexed with the story line that had no problem with sex outside of marriage.
Thought I should at least share my concern.
Sincerely,
Your Reader

I responded, after much thought and  chatting with my assistant, Bobbye, who keeps herself busy (more than)  as mom-to-four, romantic mystery author, and pastor’s wife, amongst about a bazillion other things. Here was my reply:

Dear Reader:

Great to hear from you, and I think you’ve nailed one of the themes of the book. Can an imperfect person believe and still sin? I think the answer is yes, that is a normal condition with a multitude of sins, not just “living in sin”. 😉 I didn’t try to write Emily perfectly, just authentically, which means having flaws consistent with her upbringing and experiences. If I wrote Christian fiction, I would have left Emily in a different place in her personal development, but I don’t, so I left it to the imagination of each reader to figure out where her growth will take her next.

Thanks for writing!
Pamela

After our talk, Bobbye asked if she could guest post on this topic, and I loved the idea, so, I want to share her interpretation on this question, from a bigger perspective than just my novels, to include all the novels from SkipJack Publishing, my publisher. She rocked it, so here you go!


By Bobbye Marrs, romantic mystery author and publishing assistant at SkipJack Publishing

SkipJack Publishing is a small, indie-focused publishing company.  We may be small, but we have huge expectations. Our authors are professionals with award-winning masterpieces. The types of books we publish are “novels for adults that are not inconsistent with a life of faith—whatever that faith may be, and however questioning.”  Wow—that’s a mouthful. Recently a reader showed concern for one of our main characters who appears to be a Christian, but displays behavior not traditionally Christian. This incongruity of choosing a lifestyle that some would consider sinful, but also praying and appearing to have a relationship with God, was cause for confusion.

So where does this “faith—whatever that faith may be” come in to the writing process for our SkipJack authors? If you were hoping that because I’m a pastor’s wife that I’m the in-house expert theologian, you are in for disappointment. But I hope I can give some insight as a reader into the characters of the What Doesn’t Kill You series, and those from Whippoorwill Hollow as well as  the characters from Pennies from Burger Heaven that sleep beneath the Warrior Angel statue.

It really boils down to one thing: Authenticity.  When you read the pages of these books you’ll find people struggling with addiction, dealing with broken relationships, behaving in ways that might not be considered polite. And that’s authentic. To take those things out would be to write a sci-fi novel about a utopian society (which sounds interesting, but not what we publish). Or to include them and resolve them consistent with the highest aspirations of the Christian faith would be Christian fiction (and that’s not what we publish either).

If I were to meet some of these characters in real life—Katie with her “sloppy drinking habits,” or Emily who lives with “smoldering and mysterious” Jack, or Michele who has a hard time controlling her language, or Copper who’s seen more than any kid should, or Wallace and Ethan, the homosexual couple from the Emily and Michele books—what would my reaction be?  How would I treat them?  I hope I’d be a nice person. I sincerely pray I wouldn’t be a jerk. I’d like to think I’d be my authentic self, too—BTW, that’s someone with “a past,” someone with flaws, and someone always in need of an extra measure of grace.

I’ve thought about Emily’s specific situation, which Pamela’s reader referred to as “living in sin.” Let’s be super clear here and identify the actual issue here is sex outside of marriage. Wow, that’s can of worms if I ever saw one, but it is an issue at the foundation of the Christian faith. In the course of my adult life I’ve had many friends and loved ones in Emily’s situation; specifically, people who were Christians but lived a life not necessarily consistent with the values they professed. What have I done? I’ve smiled. I’ve hugged. I’ve welcomed people into my home. I’ve hoped that I’ve been a blessing to those around me. Maybe that’s just part of getting the plank out of my own eye before I worry about the splinter in someone else’s. I try to be totally authentic in real life, and I want that in the characters I read about, too.  As a reader I love to get to “peek behind the curtain” and see the emotional turmoil in a character’s life.  It’s rewarding to travel with them along their character arc.

We write fiction here at SkipJack, but that doesn’t necessarily mean fake. SkipJack books are not faith-based books, but our writers understand that within the human heart is a place made for faith. And just like in real life, that faith takes on a lot of different forms. For many of our characters their religious upbringing or their experience in church or their search for life’s meaning is what makes them deeper than just the page they’re written on.

So if you see characters whose actions don’t always match up to what they may profess to believe, take a look around the real world, or even in your own mirror. I’ll bet you’ll see some real people just like that.

Bobbye

Bobbye Marrs is a supermom extraordinaire with currently 5 jobs, 4 teenagers, 2 dogs, and a husband crazy enough to be a pastor.  When she’s not working or Bobbyelearning some new hobby like the HAM radio, she is trying to be a romantic mystery writer. Look for her book, I Am My Beloved’s to debut this spring.  In the meantime, she started a t-shirt business to support her writing habit at www.greetingsfrommarrs.com.

Small towns rock.

One week ago today my peace was briefly rattled when I learned a creeper’s been stalking me. I’d felt “vulnerable” and “watched” for a few months and ignored evidence, my gut, and our animals.

(Subscribers, I’ve embedded several videos, and I don’t think you’ll be able to view them unless you go out to the web for this post. One is a tour of the stalker issue, another is an exploration of emotional impact, and one is of donkey noses {donkey noses!!!}).

Now I have neighbors texting to check on me when they see the deputy cruising our dirt road checking on me who is in turn texting our handyman to check on me, then stopping to check in with me personally and remarking to us how good for me it is that he hears all the shots firing as those same neighbors target practice with the loudest guns they own. I have a husband who spent his week investigating, installing cameras, setting up security, giving me back my peace and *sleep*, and who I know would do anything to protect me, physically and emotionally. He even emptied my gun and did dry run practice where I had to unholster, whirl/draw, and shoot repeatedly as he rushed me from close range. Neither of us enjoyed it, but it helped.

With my trusty Judge on my hip and my big horse to let me know if something’s out there.

Lots of checking, lots of encouragement, prayers, and advice, lots of good folks ready to discourage people traipsing over their properties to come see me. I’ve had ups and downs, but knowledge is power and leads to action and resolve, and strangely I feel safer today than I did before this creeper made the mistake of opening our door and coming in our house.

Thanks, Nowheresville, peeps.

Meanwhile this week, I turned Bombshell into my content editor, I am back on track, and Nowheresville life is good. But I still prefer drama in novels over in my real life.

Love y’all.

p.s. recent funnies:

Rat snake running from dogs. Yuck!

Thanks to Linda and David Z of the Burton Bulletin for this hometown Nowheresville interview:


Now, on to the story behind the story . . .

Despite over a year of conversations about the plot and characters in the Emily books, it was on the eve of drafting Heaven to Betsy that game-changing inspiration struck. I discovered a terrorist group operating in West Texas, my childhood stomping grounds. As a potential plot river, it was timely (in light of terrorism in the name of religious beliefs occurring around the U.S.: Boston, Chattanooga, and others). But it is different from those. This is a domestic terrorist group of U.S. citizens which bases its judgments and actions on Christian beliefs, not Muslim ones. Think Westboro Baptist Church. I’m not going to name the group, because its name doesn’t matter. All terrorism is terrorism. All these groups are, to me, using religious interpretations to make judgments upon which they base actions.

Now, I’m no religious scholar, but I am quite familiar with Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged, and I was taught that Judgment was the job of a higher power. I admire evangelists who seek to convert through education and legal, nonviolent, nondestructive persuasion to make the world a better place and save souls, even in situations where I may not share their beliefs.

I despise terrorist acts.

I despise them even more when they’re happening in the community where I grew up, in the name of the religion practiced by myself and so many wonderful people there who are living positive lives of positive acts and positive intentions. I do not appreciate a terrorist group using my faith as the justification for their bad acts.

(I know Muslims who feel this way, and I feel sure most people would feel this way about any affiliation of theirs where a splinter group misuses their name and beliefs.)

So, as a result of me discovering this group, the Mighty is His Word of Emily’s world was born, an Army for God, willing to do things that the God I know doesn’t sanction.

Honestly, it felt goooooood to write about them.  To let the story find its way to me, to feel the tentacles of all the story lines weaving themselves around this cult, to untangle them carefully at the climax and slip Emily, Jack, and Betsy from their grasp. To give them an ending I felt was just for the fictional version. I loved writing about the compound, the Hodges, and Emily’s indoctrination. [My real favorite in this book, though, was Phil’s mother. Writing that scene was a highlight for me.]

As usual, I won’t spoil the plot for you, but I will add that since I centered this novel more in West Texas and less in New Mexico, I honed in on the Hopi Native Americans for the story’s “magical realism” and sought Emily’s maturation through her reliance on her spirit animal.

I also began to explore something deeply fascinating to me, that I see as a future for the Laura books: equine therapy (equitherapy or hippotherapy) for children.

It occurs to me that in writing about this cult I am, in a way, judging their judging. I’ll have to ponder on how I feel about that for awhile 😉

Before I go, I want to offer each of you a chance at free codes for the just released audiobook box set of The Katie & Annalise Romantic Mysteries from my What Doesn’t Kill You Series (Books 1-3).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Email subscribers may have to visit the post on my website to participate)

My best,

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p.s. We had a great time in Alaska at the Alaska Writers Guild annual conference. I taught a workshop, a breakout session, and participated on the Q&A Panel, and Eric led a critique circle. We met awesome writers, and we were enchanted with Anchorage.

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Paneling with an agent, an Alaskan indie author, and a NYT bestseller-turned-Thomas & Mercer (Amazon) author. Fun!

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Dinner at the lovely home of author Jim Misko and his wife Patty with a view of the Chugach mountains.

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My sweet husband, who had flowers sent ahead to our hotel room.

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Celebrating a fun, successful trip (and a win by the Texas Aggies over Arkansas) with fried halibut at F Street Station.

First, check out this interview with David Alan Binder that posted this week. He had me when he wrote to me and said he’d interviewed Craig Johnson (author of the Longmire books, who lives near our Snowheresville abode). I think it turned out pretty well, what do you think? https://sites.google.com/site/dalanbinder/blog/pamelafaganhutchinsinterviewwithdavidalanbinder


Now, the “content” for today:

I love getting email from readers. Here’s one I got last week.

Yes, I have most of your books. What fun… now about that casserole…happen to have that recipe? Could you please share?


The thing is, I get that one a lot. I mention that stupid casserole in Going for Kona and in Hot Flashes and Half Ironmans. So here’s my answer to her:
Dear awesome reader:
Ah, the decadent tater tot casserole. Every time I give out this recipe I “make it up.” Someday I’ll be smart and put it in a cute file and send it. Or on my website. Hey, I should copy and paste this into a file. Wow, it’s Monday 😉
I use a deep pyrex dish with a liberal dousing of non-stick spray and pre-heat to 350. You could use a shallow dish. It matters not.
Brown 1/2 pound hamburger meat, and add spices of choice. When I’m doing this for grownups, that means I first brown onions and garlic, then decide if I’m feeling New Mexico green chile-ish (small can, pre-chopped) or Mexcian-cumin-ish (2 T) or just Southern-salt-and-pepper to taste-ish (see why there’s no recipe????). Drain.
Put a generous layer of frozen tater tots in your dish. Layer meat. Pour a can of cream of chicken soup over the meat. Cut back to 1/2 if you’re not into the Southern rich-and-creamy thing. Use cream of mushroom if you’re feeling savory. The goal is that the soup and juices from meat seep down into the tater tots as they cook, don’t worry, you don’t end up with a nasty canned soup layer. However, if this wigs you out, stir it up in the meat before you add it. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for half an hour. Remove foil, add grated cheese. I use 2 cups. I like a blend of cheddar and colby jack. You do what rocks your socks. Put back in oven until the cheese melts and is bubbly or browned, your choice. I put it in for 10 minutes personally, or whenever the smoke alarm reminds me that I forgot to set the timer.
Keep reading, it’s good for the soul.

There now, I’ve done it. Next time I get this e-mail, I’m just sending a link!
Great news: I finished the Bombshell revisions and they’re off with beta readers and then to content editing. We’re on target for early August release!
Have a great weekend,
p.s.

Here’s a few glimpses into our wonderful life, from Nowheresville:

Nearing the end of Bombshell!

Eric captioned this: Pamela Fagan Hutchins doing FaceBook with the horses when she is supposed to be writing 🙂. Feathers is cooping a picture of Katniss, who thinks the picture makes her butt look big. I prefer to think of it as giving the horses an advance read of Bombshell.

Texas Draft Horse and Mule Association trail ride in Somerville, TX. We’re on the far right since Coco the Percheron didn’t want Feathers and Katniss anywhere near her 😉 Note the beautiful wildflowers!

Where to start? Earth to Emily was an accident. I had thrown out a few clients that Emily and Jack were working on when drafting Heaven to Betsy, the first Emily romantic mystery. I picked up the story of good-guy-in-a-bad situation and imagined it back to its inception, which required it to crossover the other storylines, in this case, Jack, the love interest, and Emily’s family life. As I sit here typing, it defies my own imagination where my husband and story partner Eric and I came up with it. 😀 Just kidding, sort of.

In the second book featuring Emily, I wanted to figure out what happened to her father. From there it wasn’t a stretch that I wanted his path to intersect with Jack’s and create a rift between Jack and Emily. I needed a murder to start the book—it’s a mystery after all—and it had to relate to the father storyline and the good-guy-in-a-bad-situation client plight.Pretty soon we realized that meant we would be crossing state lines with “goods” in commerce, thus we’d need to involve trucking or railroads, and trucking fit best. We needed to incorporate Betsy, Jack’s family, Judith, Emily’s mom, Wallace, Nadine, Mickey, Laura, Jarhead, Melinda, and Clyde. We had baggage to resolve with Collin and Tamara. I wanted to set up future Ava novels with an appearance by her.  I wanted to test Emily’s heart for children, to see how far she’d go to help kids in need, even at risk to her relationships with Jack, Wallace, and Betsy. I had to figure out the magical realism (or what I think of as practical or everyday magic) element. And we needed a big ending with Emily using her brains, brawn, and special skills to save the day.

As usual, I was having trouble putting the elements all together at first. It’s always such a big wish list, and in the beginning feels insurmountable. It’s funny, though. When I think back on writing Earth to Emily, I don’t remember fretting about the plot or Emily’s personal journey. The one thing that resonates with me, that brings a smile to my face, is the Native American “magical realism” element. That was the piece that, when I figured it out, pulled the book together.

But it wasn’t easy. The Mountain Spirit Dancers in Heaven to Betsy were a no brainer. I loved them, and I loved how the Mescalero Apache used them to teach each generation with humor—and not a little fear—about those things that could harm them. By using them in the first Emily book, I felt like I had exhausted the very best of the Mescalero Apache mythology, though, and panicked on where to go from there.

I dug deeper, which is hard when you’re looking into a culture without a written history, except as recorded by people outside the culture. I mean, think about it. The whole point of Mountain Spirit Dancers is to teach in lieu of a written history. The dancers existed to pass on the learnings of history to the young. So my entire research was based on the interpretation of non-Apaches, which gives me the oogies. But it was all I had.

Imagine that, in our world of instant gratification, of knowledge via the Internet at our fingertips. We’ve become so far removed from passing our history down verbally. By song. By dancers. By poems. By stories. They didn’t have the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery seriesfor goodness sakes!!

But I digress.

I dug deeper, and I found the Mescalero Apaches’ incarnation of foreboding and evil. Not the devil, more like a Grim Reaper, if you will. For them, the Owl, sometimes called the Owl Man, embodied these things. The Mountain Spirit Dancers taught the children that the Owl Man would sometime eat children. And when I read  about this, it was like a bomb went off in my head.

From there, the story unfolded neatly with the Owl/Owl Man as the glue that symbolically held it all together.

I am interested: how many of you caught the Owl “drops” throughout the novel, and if you did, what did they mean to you? Do you find the “magical realism” in books like Earth to Emily a plus, a negative, or neutral?

By the way, I’ve always loved owls. We have little ones in the trees behind our Nowheresville house most evenings, and there’s a huge barn owl that lurks overhead all day in the loft window of my friend Lisa’s barn in Snowheresville. Owls rock. But after writing E2E, they spook me a little more than they used to.

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p.s. Enjoy some memories from our last week in Snowheresville 2016 summer.

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No saddle, no bridle, no problem with my Katniss.

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Feathers getting in the trailer to head to Nowheresville.

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Maybe my favorite picture of us from the summer, up at Circle Park.

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Eric and his giant friend Feathers, a tri-color paint Shire/Gypsy Vanner draft cross.

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My beautiful Percheron/paint cross mare, Katniss.

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I feel short in this picture, but I want to point out that Eric is standing on a higher rock.

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Hiking with my awesome parents.

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A quick visit from my brother AKA the inspiration for Collin in my novels.

 

I wrote about the overall inspiration for writing the Emily novels in my last post. I want to focus in a little more closely now on each one, because I had a lot of fun with these books. And Heaven to Betsy is special to me because it was my first national contest win for fiction.

So here’s the truth: I wanted to throw Emily back into her conservative hometown, after she’d moved away and become more moderate. Almost every element of the plot was written to show this hot seat she found herself in, where she questioned everything she was taught growing up, at the same time as she slowly came to appreciate some of it again. Her mother and Melinda Stafford most exemplified what she railed against. With her mother, at least, Emily eventually comes around.

Delicious (to me) irony: the original copyeditor for this book (a woman in her 20s) scolded me like I was a child for being politically incorrect and insensitive to every single non-white, non-Christian, non-American I wrote into the book. She did NOT shame me for stereotyping conservatives. Yet the one group that I stereotyped most blatantly was conservatives; largely white, straight, American, and Christian. LOL. I guess it’s okay to stereotype if goes against a group she doesn’t like??

But that brings up a few things that are important to me, so rather than tell you more about why I wrote the plot I did (which is that—in addition to the things I wrote about in the last post—I was fascinated by the issues around immigration, especially in border states, at the time this book is set):

1. Why did I let myself generalize more with conservatives, and paint them at times more negatively?

Because we are in Emily’s point of view, and she is questioning her past as she observes the bad behavior of certain people in her present.

2. Why did I occasionally lean toward political incorrectness with Emily’s observations of the world around her?

BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN AUTHENTICITY. PERIOD. Did I mention we are in Emily’s point of view? She has to think like a woman brought up in the time and place she was raised in (Amarillo with a rodeo cowboy father, and educated at Texas Tech), something I have great familiarity with.

Personal side note: I have spent most of my career working within organizations on creating and maintaining respectful workplaces. I have facilitated diversity training for twenty years. I have conducted thousands of interviews in harassment and discrimination investigations. My brother called me a femi-Nazi decades ago, before that copyeditor was even born. I believe in equality and respect. I believe some of my choices, actions, and stands helped pave the way for her and other women. And I believe she was wrong about Heaven to Betsy, as did her boss, who did the manuscript consult on this book and stood by it when I let s/him know about the copyeditor’s input.

I also believe I can impact ever so slightly how people view the world if I create the right characters and story (Please understand I don’t believe I can save the world with a romantic mystery, only impact it ever so slightly, one reader at a time). But only if I as a writer create authenticity. I can’t create a perfect world by rewriting it inauthentically. If, because of who they are, one of my characters will think about gender, national origin, religious, and race representation in, for example, their book or movie recommendations, then I make sure that I portray them doing just that. If my characters won’t give a crap about whether any female or GLBTQ or non-white writers or directors are represented in their  list, then I portray them in that way. I don’t balance out the recommendations that character gives because of MY need to right societal injustices or inequities. I don’t use my characters to set an example for humankind. Instead, I want them to reflect accurately humankind in their place, experiences, and time.

Does this make sense??? I hope so.

So I may have characters behaving or thinking “insensitively” at times. I think if you take a step back from the words on the individual pages of a novel like Heaven to Betsy, though, you’ll see a broader theme emerge that is one about creating a kinder world where we care more about each other. At least that is what I see and what I intended. IMHO it is in the jagged, ugly beauty of authenticity that we achieve this every now and then as authors.

3. Why does Emily behave so recklessly with regard to her pregnancy and future reproductive abilities?

BECAUSE SHE IS EMILY. SHE IS DEFINED BY HER RECKLESSNESS, by her lack of self-love, by feeling she is of no real value to anyone. She is at a point in her life where she takes chances, ignores risks, and—because she has not faced reproductive challenges—doesn’t yet realize both how much she wants a child and how fragile a woman’s ability to conceive and bear one can be.

She isn’t you, even if she ALMOST could be.

And that’s critical for readers to understand about fiction. The characters are meant to be someone other than you.

To me, good fiction is about a character who doesn’t do what we would do, yet, for reasons of his or her own, their choices are possible and just within the realm of belief, within a set of circumstances that are possible but not probable. It’s life re-imagined, not life just like we’d do it. So Emily (and my other characters) sometimes make choices I wouldn’t or that you wouldn’t. I’ve come to accept that, even when I’m disappointed in them, LOL. I didn’t like Katie’s behavior in Saving Grace, for instance. But she is her, not me. I just wrote her anyway. Same thing with some of Emily’s choices. And don’t get me started about Michele 🙂

[So to anyone out there who might have found it painful to read about Emily in Heaven to Betsy: I get it. Just like life, fiction can be hard. There are books I’ve closed, because they hit so painfully close to home (my home) that I didn’t want to experience it again in the pages. I’ve kept reading those authors, most of the time, just not those books. I encourage you to do the same. You are in control of what you let in, and what you push out. I don’t avoid topics to create safe zones because you aren’t forced to be inside the pages of my novel; you have to create your own perfect space, and there’s no easier place to do it than within a book. Shut it. Delete it from your ereader. Throw it in the crapper, for goodness sakes. And move on. I promise, there are no hard feelings.]

These, my friends, are the issues I struggled with as I wrote Heaven to Betsy. They are the story behind the creation of this story, if you will. And ultimately they led to it winning the USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction for 2015. <3 <3 <3

And it brought me to an awesome new copyeditor who swooped in to finish it with me, as well as the next three novels I’ve written. Rhonda Erb, you are the bomb, and I appreciate the heck out of you.

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Well, y’all liked it so much last month that I’m doing it again, and doubling down.

I’ve teamed up with more than 45 fantastic romantic women’s fiction authors AND more than 45 fantastic female sleuth authors for two separate giveaways, to give away a huge collection of novels to 2 lucky winners in each contest, PLUS a Kindle Fire to the Grand Prize winner in each as well!

Hold up! Really?

Yes, really. Two contests. Ninety novels and two Kindle Fires.

You can win my novel Going for Kona in the women’s fiction contest and my novel Heaven to Betsy in the female sleuth contest, plus books from authors like Liz AdairAngie Fox and Dianne Harman, .

Enter the women’s fiction giveaway by clicking here: bit.ly/rom-women-fic

Enter the giveaway by clicking here: bit.ly/women-sleuth-myst

And why not enter both?

Good luck, and enjoy!

p.s. Don’t forget:

  • You can get cool stuff like #TeamPetey  and #NotFiringOnAllSyllables merchandise, HERE.

  • Subscribe to my newsletter to get your free WDKY prequel mystery novella Act One ebook, HERE.
  • I am halfway through the rewrite of Bombshell, my 10th WDKY romantic mystery, and so far my story partner loves it. I can feel Ava and her unique view of her world coming more alive every day. It goes off for manuscript critiques within the next two weeks. Biting my nails! Can’t wait to get it out there to you guys.
  • When I’m writing, I write. Brain on, game on. Some days I wake up with poems or lyrics in my head. Do you do this?
    • Here’s one that sounds like Ava:

Day slipping
Mind flipping
Take a breath girl
Stop your tripping

Getcha outside
Lose your wifi
Grab your mojo
And let your soul fly

  • To view videos, you may have to visit this post on my website.

Taking a break with Ms Kitty Kat turns into something unexpected and wonderful.

Is this a sign from Michele when I’m writing Ava? Believe it or not, it came on the day Michele got a shout out in Bombshell. I believe.

Eric sings onstage with me for the first time ever (karaoke fun) and he’s GREAT!!

Want to read all the ebooks you can consume in one month, for free? Kind of like a Netflix binge, but for ebooks? Well, here you go:

One of the subscription sites that carries my novels, BookMate, is offering a month free if you create a login, choose Saving Grace (even if you’ve already read it) at https://bookmate.com/books/TSggk6SX, then enter the PFHUTCHINS coupon code (all caps) at your user icon before you check out. Simple, generous, and Squeetastic!

Thank you, (Book)Mate!

p.s. Snowheresville was lovely, and a peaceful place to finish the first draft of Bombshell, as I channeled the islands and my inner Ava, mon.

44 degrees but sunny and warm on the “lee” side of our cabin. We came for snow and cold, which we would have gotten all winter until this week. Massive thaw a few days ago. And, yes, a boatload of snow expected the week after we leave. Well, at least I get to work outside!

Working with Katniss the day before we left (it was colder in TX than here in WY!!!). I miss my girl! This exercise is about connecting with the horse that shows up before you hop on, even if one or both of you has the I won’ts or I can’ts. Good advice for a WRITER as well. Warm up, test where you’re at, and then do the work that best matches you that day.

Our neighbor plowed one side of our driveway. Eric decided to experiment with the other. The snow won. Eric had a tough day: left his black leather jacket in TX, his laptop in the long term parking shuttle, his glasses at the checkin counter, his Valentine’s Day card for me in his office, and his flannel PJs in the closet at home. But all is well that ends well!

Our gas company delivers based on a usage projection model. Somehow, our usage wasn’t modeling. No gas was delivered. Luckily, they accepted all blame and delivered free after hours, b/c it was dang cold inside!! I’m wearing two coats with my scarf, gloves, and hat. 

Meanwhile, #TeamPetey chilled out in College Station as a temporary Aggie with our youngest and her cat Loki. I think he loses his dog card for this picture!

Most of you have read the Emily books in the What Doesn’t Kill You mystery series. You learned about the story behind them in a series of posts:

The Emily novels introduced Laura, who appears as well in the recently released WDKY prequel novella Act One. Laura is a champion quarterhorse-racing jockey who lives on the Wrong Turn Ranch in New Mexico with her husband Mickey. She’s a native of Wyoming, a U of Wyo dropout to pursue her racing passion, and a new foster-pending-adoption mother to Farrah, a Syrian refugee whose painful past in foster care inspires Laura to pursue a degree in therapy, certify in equine therapy, retire from racing, and open an aftercare center for survivors of human trafficking on the ranch, specifically survivors of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

As I wrote the Emily novels and later began work on Laura’s stories, my heart moved closer and closer to the need to learn more about the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the USA. Up until that point, I’d explored it through the lens of immigration, and I wanted to see how this evil really manifested itself in our communities. In my community.

Enter Hope Rising Ministries, half an hour from our Nowheresville, TX home. They offered a 4-day certification program called Hands That Heal, to train people who want to work with survivors of CSEC. The things I learned there blew my mind and opened my heart in ways I can’t describe in words (and I’m a words girl, y’all). I’ll tell you what most impressed me is that while the program is faith-based, it isn’t church-y. It’s about loving survivors as you find them. Period. The whole program in fact could be summed up in that one word: LOVE.

The impact of CSEC on our country chilled me to the bone. It was far more evil and pervasive than I’d even imagined it for my novels, and it was in my small towns. Your small towns. Our home communities. Not just impacting illegal immigrants (who are terribly at risk because of their off-the-grid status); the majority of the victims in the US are US citizens.

Yes, the things I learned are horrifying, and they are inspiring and impacting my Laura novels. Even more, they are changing my life. I now volunteer with Hope Rising, I’m getting certified in equine therapy, and I’m using my TTT (time, talents, and treasure) on CSEC, through Hope Rising.

If you have a heart for this issue, your help is needed. Things you can do, right now, if so:

  1. Pray
  2. Learn and Share (recommended: Roadmap to Redemption, Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir)
  3. Get Certified
  4. Volunteer
  5. Donate silent auction items and/or money for the March 25, 2017 Hope Rising 2nd Annual Boots N Bows and Ride for Hope. I can’t attend, so we’re donating a few packages including home stays at our Nowheresville, TX and Snowheresville, WY properties and a deluxe reader collection of my books and assorted book-related funsies.
  6. Chip away at their wish list
  7. Become an equine sponsor
  8. Become an ongoing partner of Hope Rising

{About Hope Rising: Hope Rising at the Meadows Ranch is a faith-based aftercare program that offers outpatient and short term stays (6 week intensive outpost program) to adults and (coming soon) family-style foster living for girls that include therapies that are experiential in nature and are proven to accelerate stability in trauma victims. We use equine therapy, art therapy and discipleship character building to bring the trauma victim out of survival mode and into self-awareness and emotion regulation as well as help them with developing healthy interpersonal skills. Contact the inspirational, loving, and stronger-than-steel Sherri Clement, 832-779-2190, 

Thanks for tuning in, you guys, for this crisis which has inspired my heart, my passion, and my Laura novels, which will launch, BTW, starting in 2019 (Ava gets her turn first! Look for Bombshell Summer 2017.).

Life, imitating art, imitating life. Crazy.

p.s. Don’t forget:

  • You can get cool stuff like #TeamPetey  and #NotFiringOnAllSyllables merchandise, HERE.
  • Subscribe to my newsletter to get your free WDKY prequel mystery novella Act One ebook, HERE.
  • When I’m writing, I write. Brain on, game on. Some days I wake up with poems or lyrics in my head. Do you do this? One morning’s Snowheresville, Wyoming insomnia was thanks to moon shadows on snow, a magical sight words can never do justice.

Moon Shadows

Inky black moon shadow
Overflows on ghost snow
Blackens, drips, pools

Rorschach glimpse quickening
Shape shifts bear to hawk wing
Lightens, flows, cools

Sunrise robs moon’s remains
White paged spirits domain
Unseen, churns, fuels

Night vows a swift return

This started as a short caption to the picture below, at the end of my mother-in-law’s recent visit. Once I started expressing myself, though, all this came pouring out. I shared it with my husband, who surprised me by asking me to publish it. So here it goes . . . thoughts on aging, specifically, on our parents aging.

Imagine a woman who knows she enjoys this soft friendly dog who likes to get in cars, even though she can’t remember its name or gender (you can bet she never blanks out when it comes to #TeamPetey, ha!), but that’s okay because she doesn’t always remember who our kids’ parents are, just that she loves all of them, and us. Emotional memory is powerful like that, seeming to outlast even memories of youth and jingles and nursery rhymes and the re-discovered joy of playing with sticks and leaves when she sits outside and of fiddling with trash from the console of the car (ignoring someone directly talking to her by name in her wonder over an empty Gu package), until eventually those all leak away, too.

But not yet for her. She is still very aware she likes to ride with the sun on her face and that she prefers to do it with a hat (which was confiscated on the day of this picture when she’d filled it full of foul armadillo shell pieces and stinky deer bones to ask what they were), so our ORV/Razr was a lovely surprise every day. And horses. Every day she became braver and more in love with horses and was elated to learn we had some! At the end of two weeks she had an epiphany, that once she had a horse (two in fact) and it was a beautiful moment for her, and bittersweet for us as she wondered if there was ever a way to see a picture of the horse again (there is, her son included Peanut Butter in a slide show a few years ago, one she used play incessantly on her computer, running through the hundreds of images and cherishing the memories they evoked, while they were still clear to her).

Imagine, if you dare, imagine the courage it takes to face each new day like this, with most current things new and scary again, like 50 First Dates, but without Adam Sandler’s helpful video for Drew Barrymore’s character to get you up to speed. Imagine the leap of faith and trust every morning, the pretending and hoping no one notices. We helped her keep a diary each day, although it was a) mostly oh-so-slowly dictated by us to her to write down because she couldn’t recall her day and b) augmented by us before she left to make sure the things she enjoyed all made it in. We pasted in and captioned pictures. Each day she read haltingly from the beginning all the way through before she would attempt the current day, and each time, she expressed shock (and asked the same questions about) the things in it. Even on the plane ride home, Eric once again took her through it over and over. I doubt she’ll open it again unless someone picks it up and shows it to her—the near past is *past* (bits and pieces come in and out of focus) and she doesn’t notice much around her unless someone gets her specifically onto something—but maybe I’m wrong.

(This hits home for me very poignantly, given my memory and speech struggles of the past year and a half.)

On the last night of her visit, we reminded her she’d spent a few weeks in St. Croix before she came to visit us. “I did? When? I really did?” she asked, and burst into tears. The anxiety of traveling home, even with Eric, was crippling and in those moments she blurts out anything. Like, “how can I be sure I won’t starve while I’m here?” Or “I don’t know why no one believes I didn’t go on a church mission to Haiti last year, even the people at church don’t believe me, which is so embarrassing, because I DID (She didn’t, sadly).” Or “but I can’t wear these socks they have holes, and no I didn’t bring other black ones and they have to be black and no I can’t borrow yours” until Eric becomes the parent and has to say firmly, “Mom, I’m putting these socks and shoes on your feet right now and then we’re getting in the car,” because there’s a plane to catch, and no time for the senior-to-toddler moment. It’s when she is talking to your son’s new fiancee who she has only met once before and saying, “But I don’t understand why they won’t let me live here, I would cook and clean and help out and wouldn’t be any trouble, I promise. Why doesn’t anyone *want* me?”

And what is left in those moments is the holding of hands, the sudden smiles, letting her sing the nursery rhymes and agreeing that yes it is amazing she can remember the words to so many, the knowing you can make it happier and easier, for a time, and accepting that you can’t turn back the clock and restore her ability to remember. But you can remember. You can remember all the things she forgot, like the times it was your hand she held and your nursery rhymes she listened to, your socks she put on your struggling feet, and your tears she wiped away. You can remember it all for her, as your kids will for you someday.

Aging is not for sissies, I tell you, not for sissies at all.

p.s. I’ll update you more on this later, but I’ve begun working with Hope Rising Ministries, for rescue/recovery of victims of human trafficking. Honestly, my characters Emily and Laura inspired me to do it. If you are interested in learning more or being part of helping survivors through prayer, donations, or volunteerism, won’t you check out Hope Rising? It would mean a lot to me, and to the exploited in our world.

Just had to let you guys know that you can now access “Cool Stuff” from the menus across the top of my website, which includes everything in the photo above and more coming soon. My faves: my husband in his new tee, the #TeamPetey line, including dog sweaters, and the v-neck women’s Not Firing On All Syllables tee.

I recommend a size-up for the pet shirts. This is Petey in 25-40 lbs. He is a barrel-chested bruiser, but only 30 lbs, and we couldn’t have gotten any more of him in it with a crow bar.

For the women’s tees, I normally buy a medium, but honestly next time I’ll go with an XL on these. I like things loose. Just not a clingy clothes kind of woman. They have every color under the rainbow and the cut is super cute. They also offer a round neckline.

I got the bag in black 🙂 I’ll probably end up with one in khaki too.

For some reason, the men’s choices run large even though women and dog’s run small. 🙂 Doesn’t Eric look awesome? Georgia with the photobomb!

Let me know your favorites.

p.s. Personal updates of the week:

Video of Eric holding his mother’s hand and taking her to pet Feathers. Priceless. https://www.facebook.com/hutchins.eric/posts/10210527557758282

My favorite picture of my mother-in-law’s visit.

Got bucked off last week, but it was my fault. Kitty has forgiven me, and I braided her hair, after I popped 800 mg ibuprofen.

Today, I have a fun surprise  to share with you. I’ve teamed up with 50+ fantastic  authors to give away a huge collection of mysteries with humor to one lucky winner!  You can win my novel Saving Grace, plus books from authors like Jana DeLeon and Deborah Coonts. One lucky grand prize winner will win a Kindle Fire as well!

Enter the giveaway by clicking here:  https://www.booksweeps.com/enter-win-50-mysteries-humor/. Entries are accepted through February 6, 2017.
Good luck, and enjoy! 

Getting water to feed the horses with this adorable ranch hand one minute, trudging to my tent and getting sexy with Ava the next. Ah, the life.

A few years ago, I wrote three novels about a late-blooming woman named Katie Connell. Some time later, they were published, and the reaction to these books and their characters surprised the heck out of me. The question I was asked most frequently was, “When will you write another Katie novel?”

I’d left Katie in a good place at the end of her 3rd star-turn in Finding Harmony. I was excited about the interest in her, and I suggested to my then-editor and then-and-still-husband-and-story-partner Eric that I write more Katies. Both of them voted NO, with no equivocation. I was terrified that if I left Katie and moved on to another protagonist, readers wouldn’t come along with me. Meghan and Eric both argued for the integrity of Katie’s journey/story/character development.

My gut told me they were right.

By then, I’d already written Going for Kona, which was anchored by Katie’s law school friend Michele. I brought Katie and Nick into the story as well.

The question, then, was what was next. I didn’t want to start with a new character. I wanted to stay in the world I had created. If I wasn’t going to focus on Katie anymore, I had to choose between Michele and my other characters, Emily and Ava. I wanted to wait to write more about Michele. She’s my most personal character. The one most like me and my life. She needed space in the timeline of my books to heal. That left Emily and Ava.

And I’m going to be totally honest: I wrote about Emily first because Ava terrifies me!!!

Emily has become popular now in her own right. I’ve introduced new female characters, two of whom are slated for what is now known as the What Doesn’t Kill You series: Laura (introduced in the Emily novels) and Maggie (introduced in Fighting for Anna). As with any author of multiple protagonists, I find people who are #TeamKatie, #TeamMichele, or #TeamEmily, and that’s totally cool. But meanwhile people have been asking for more AVA.

Ugh, Ava. Oversexed Ava. Non-monogamous Ava. To write her without dealing with these truths of her personality and life would be inauthentic, yet these are the two of the qualities I am least comfortable exploring. I’m just not a Fifty Shades of Gray type of author or reader, even though I don’t think I’m a Pollyanna. I just have personal preferences as to what I enjoy exploring in fiction.

So I’ve wrestled with how to write Ava’s point of view for the last few years. She should have been easier, since she’s based on my best friend from St. Croix, Natalie. The translation from person to page, though, is not a straight line. I played with Ava in Earth to Emily. I experimented with her in my novella, Act One. It was harder than I’d expected. Then I launched into her 1st story (already discussed and outlined over the previous year with Eric) last fall, only to find myself struggling with my own health issues and putting the manuscript down for a few months.

I was relieved to stop. *Sigh*

I picked it up against last week. I’m 80 pages into it. In the first 70 pages, I managed to channel Ava without having to confront her sexuality with direct behavior. Heck, the only times I’ve written sex scenes, they were love scenes, and I could turn to experiences I am familiar with. Not with Ava, not in her life at the time I am writing about. Love has nothing to do with the scenes I need to write.

Finally, that moment came when to continue to keep Ava out of this sexual situation was no longer possible, if I was going to be true to her point of view.

So I trudged up to my writing tent in my knee high snake boots and some really attractive gray yoga pants that ended at the top of my boots. I’d jammed a straw cowboy hat on over my wet hair and thrown on a t-shirt promoting tiny Burton, Texas. Our two draft cross horses were munching sweet alfalfa from a round bale, eying me and lazily swishing their tails. Three dogs dug their sleeping spots and settled at my feet in a cloud of dust.

I didn’t look like a woman about to get her sexy on, that was for sure, and I didn’t feel like one either.

I closed my eyes and pictured Ava. Within seconds, I am on St. Marcos, at a party on the patio of a gorgeous home, the silky night air caressing my skin, the stars winking at me from above. In this scene Ava’s the date of a wealthy, mysterious man (just her type!) who’s a partner in the business she’s just gone to work with. There’s been a murder, maybe two. Someone is stalking her, or maybe not. Not everything seems kosher with her new employer, or maybe it is. She’s struggling as a single mom and only child of aging parents. And, she’s trying to convince herself that she’s not in love with another man who she’s just dumped (spoiler: think Earth to Emily). So she’s throwing herself into a new relationship, or, relationships—this is Ava, after all. The evening unfolds, ripe with sinister elements, suspense, and night blooming jasmine, and suddenly I can see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and touch it, as if I’m Ava instead of Pamela. She makes choices, says things, does things, that I have no experience with, yet they flow from my fingertips as if it’s all happening around me and to me, because of me. And I don’t even have the grace to blush.

When I finished the scene, I looked up. The horses have come to the fence nearest me. They’re watching me, curious. I wonder if they’d sensed my departure from my body, the temporary takeover staged by Ava. They’re empathic like that, and after a few moments, they resumed eating, and I realized, yes, they probably knew better than I what just happened.

Time and many, many more words will tell whether or not this scene will stay in the book as is or whether it will get a substantial toning down or be cut altogether. Maybe we’ll close the door and not be a voyeur to Ava’s private life. Sometimes as a writer, though, it’s not about what makes the final cut, but about writing it true, understanding your character, and letting the chips fall where they may later.

Yesterday, I wrote Ava true. And I think I need a cold shower 😉

So before the end of 2017, you’ll get a chance to judge for yourself. Ava is pretty lovable, and she’s got me cheering for her. #TeamAva #Bombshell #WhatDoesntKillYou #9

p.s. Don’t worry, dear readers. As with all my oh-so-flawed and hopefully-authentic characters, they’re on a personal journey, struggling to find their best selves. Ava is a sensual woman. But like all of us, she has a story, a past, and reasons for who she is and who she wants to be. She will always be sensual. She just may stop sabotaging her own relationships, start respecting herself more, and allow herself to be loved—if not in this novel, certainly that’s what I hope for her by the end of her 3-book run. You’ll find out when i do <3

 

Last Friday I received a UPS delivery. The box was heavy. I wasn’t expecting anything.

“What’s in there?” my 19-year old asked.

“What’d you order?” my savvy husband said.

“I don’t know. Or if I did I don’t remember.” That’s my usual answer, and a sadly truthful one :-).

I ripped it open and shook out the contents. Seven paperbacks tumbled onto the kitchen tabletop.

“There goes Ava,” Eric said, but he was smiling.

“You bought yourself more books?” Susanne was incredulous. She—and Eric—get tired of seeing my nose in a book, or hearing my audiobooks playing as I work around the house.

Truly, if I’m not playing with furry creatures or writing, I’m reading. I consider it part of my job. I’m not going to lie: I love to read. I love the escape of stories, the passage of time in another world. I love the perfection of a moment when I finish a book and shout, “Well done!” But I read very critically these days, and I’m just as likely to discuss with Eric in the hot tub my disappointment, my frustration, or downright irritation with a book that misses the mark by a whisker or a full beard. I read to learn how other writers sound, how they plot, how they structure their books, how they pace. Their dialog. Their setting. Their description and characterization. I do it for my own writing, and I do it as a paid manuscript consultant.

Yes, I buy a lot of books. Here’s what my Kindle and Audible screens look like right this second:

(See anything you like?)

But, to my delight, I hadn’t bought myself the books in my UPS package. These were assignments, entries for me to judge for the RITA award contest, the (IMHO) most prestigious US award for romance and romantic books. I don’t usually choose a straight-up romance when I read, because I’m studying thriller/suspense/mystery elements. But who doesn’t enjoy a good love story now and then? And seven of them for me to judge? Right when I need to get into the mind of my most sensual character, Ava?

Pinch me. It really is my job. On this rainy day, I have that to look forward to, after I spend a few hours cavorting in the sun with Ava on St. Marcos.

p.s. This week’s poem is called “Wyoming Horses.” For context, you should know it barely rains in Wyoming. It snows, but that’s a dry cold. Well, we moved our Wyoming horses to winter in Texas, and dang if we didn’t discover that rain, rain, is a different thang!!!!

 

Assault of raindrops on snow horses.

Spinning, jumping, skidding, snorting.

Wide-eyed, HELP US.

Led to shed.

Softening.

THANK YOU, ALMOST DEAD.

 

Happy Friday the 13th, y’all. A few important things.

  1. I’m feeling decent for the first time in a long time. Hallelujah!
  2. As a result, I shot 9 online courses for the SkipJack School, for writers (I am so sick of my own voice). They’re not all released yet, but you can still see what we’ve got already, HERE: http://skipjackpublishing.teachable.com.
  3. We’ve enjoyed some weather in the teens in Nowheresville, but still managed a few half day trail rides with the big hooved ones. Pics below, along with a few randoms 🙂
  4. I’ve adored having our youngest home for a few weeks, but she leaves after this weekend. I’ll miss her so, and I’ll be so glad she’s gone, an enigma in a riddle in a paradox, ha.
  5. Thus, it’s time for me to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.

The plan is for me to figure out Ava and create 3 Ava books, then return to 1 last Michele (which is partially written and unnamed at this time) before I move on to Laura and Maggie, with a few ensemble novellas along the way. I’m about 4 chapters into my first Ava book (working titles of her books are Bombshell, Stunner, and Knockout), and so far Bombshell is a disaster, but somehow I will find Ava’s voice and my way. I have faith. I could use prayers and positive energy this month though as I try to kickstart that part of my brain, and host my mother-in-law. Are these things mutually exclusive??? I hope not!

I tested out my writing tent, which is now a writing lean-to since it has a tin roof (thanks, honey!), and warmed up with poetry. I am not a poet, but I wrote about what I could see, sad over the death of a friend, and what came out felt right, felt like a precursor to re-immersing myself in the WDKY world. I called it “Texas Winter.”

Ropy vine in cedar,

wind tossed,

tangled,

swinging.

Morning glory echo,

wild and

fragile,

clinging.

Turquoise-yellow butterfly,

time-ripped,

bravely

winging.

Spring is not a promise.

I also wrote a ridiculously long love letter about my horse on Facebook, which is another sign that I’m in the starting gate, about to write.

Facebook post as writing prompt/meme, LOL. If I’d just written a chapter of Bombshell instead of that post, right? But it doesn’t work that way for me. Think of this as stretching for the brain.

Meanwhile the audiobook of Fighting for Anna came out, narrated (fantastically) by Natalie Gray. You can get it on Amazon, Audible, or Apple. Hardbacks on BarnesandNoble.com, and e-books and paperbacks everywhere. Reviews greatly appreciated.

2017. Let’s do this.

p.s. If you want to get your hands on my mystery novella, Act One, the only way to do it is to subscribe to my monthly newsletter, as this novella is exclusive (and free) to subscribers.

World’s most expensive dog bed.

Country life. 🙂

If you’ve read Fighting for Anna (and if not, why???), you’ll know why this find in the forest was so amazing!

With my best girl, Katniss.

And with my best guy <3

Another anniversary with the world’s greatest husband, and, of course, a head band!

If you’ve followed me very long, you’ve probably realized I’m pretty Type A. I’ve been accused of being intense, over-structured, and the Energizer Bunny, notwithstanding these last six months of getting less done, which you can read about HERE if you must 😉

I am a huge believer in outlining, character studies, writing-from-once-upon-a-time-until-the-end, and one-pass revision. So one day when I was out walking the dogs and had my digital recorder in hand, I pressed record and starting talking. But not just any talk. I talked my way through a twenty thousand-word novella, a prequel to the What Doesn’t Kill You series. Without any outlines. Without any character studies. Without any planning at all. I had no idea what I was going to say or what I would be saying it about.

And it felt freeing. It felt right, for right then.

It was my second foray into digitally recording my drafts, so I was better at that part at least. Still, as I talked my way through it, I ran into obstacles. I hadn’t written Ava, Laura, or Maggie points of view yet. I waffled back and forth between first and third person, past and present tense, simplicity and complexity, accent and diction, as I experimented on the fly with my women. I struggled as I wrote a mystery without knowing who the bad guy would be, and what red herrings and clues to drop.

When I got the first draft back in written form, it was a hot mess. I could totally see why outlining first was my usual methodology!! And guess what I ended up having to do? Write character studies on the new women, who I thought I knew well from their supporting roles in earlier novels, but of course, it turned out, that wasn’t nearly enough to put them in the drivers’ seats. Possibly because it was only 20% as long as my novels, I found revising the plot line easier than I’d expected. I had fun re-immersing myself in characters whose minds I hadn’t dived into for awhile.

And I discovered a big surprise: my beta readers loved Laura and Maggie! They already knew they enjoyed the other protagonists (Katie, Emily, Michele, and Ava), because they’d gotten to know them very well. Their notes and comments about the new women were immensely gratifying.

The story behind the story of Act One, thus, is that this old dog is learning a couple of new tricks, turning over new leaves. And to keep it with cliches, I put the cart before the horse, and what didn’t kill me made me stronger 😉 Also, I found out I could write something shorter than a novel and pull off a complete mystery.

It was liberating . . . and I can’t wait to get back to OUTLINING my next novel, write after I finish my CHARACTER STUDIES!!!!

p.s. If you want to get your hands on Act One, the only way to do it is to subscribe to my monthly newsletter, as this novella is exclusive (and free) to subscribers.

I love catching up with the What Doesn’t Kill You women and imagining where their paths will take them next! Here’s their 2017 resolutions:

Katie

Plan a reunion with my best girls.

Emily

Got accepted to Texas Tech law school, so I guess decide whether to become the oldest day student in the class of 2018.

Michele

Prepare for my big role as maid of honor in Papa’s wedding!

Ava

Party like a rock star. Kiss my man under the mistletoe.

Laura

Quit worrying about what other people think. Study less. Hug Mickey and Farrah more.

Maggie

Smile in the checkout line even though every gossip rag in the rack has a “Where Are They Now” story about washed up stars featuring me on the cover.

 

Happy 2017, y’all!

This is the week of the year where I usually post the Hutchins Christmas letter, but I didn’t actually write one this year. In fact, I haven’t written much of anything since May. One reason is that it’s a lot of work managing employees who are administering the programs for my books. We launched three this year: Hell to PayFighting for Anna, and Act One. The second reason is that I have been producing online courses for the SkipJack Publishing school for authors; that knocks out time I didn’t have. The third is that buying a house in Snowheresville, WY and a couple of enormous horses were a time-consuming and highly enjoyable distraction. The fourth is that I’ve had  a run of writers block and thus wrote anything and everything except new material. The fifth is that we hosted a paleo Thanksgiving for fifteen people, six dogs, and two cats. The sixth is that I traveled multiple times with Eric and he with me on our respective work trips.

The seventh is the big one. I’ve been sick. Sick in a way that started when I had my hysterectomy and horrible reaction to anesthesia in 2015 and worsened considerably in August of 2016. I’ve written about it before, so if you care, you can read it there. I don’t want to repeat it. No one was able to diagnose why the hysterectomy affected me so horribly. Lots of theories were knocked about. Thyroid imbalance. A stroke. Unexplainable reaction to the anesthesia. Nothing was confirmed and I tried lots of natural remedies (for memory), but it’s been affecting me all this time, so much so that I doubted my ability to ever write again. I have terrible short term memory. That’s not true. I have terrible memory altogether. Since my anesthesia reaction, I didn’t think I could knock out 300+ pages and hold the threads of story and characterization together. Truth be told, it was much, much harder on these last three books. But it wasn’t insurmountable. It just took more time and more help (especially encouragement and understanding) from Eric. I found it much less taxing and scary to hike, ride, and cook: things requiring less focus through my fog.

Beginning in August, I noticed that my memory issues, lack of motivation, and inflammation/pain (and some other symptoms I don’t feel comfortable writing about here) were joined by a crippling anxiety and complete lack of emotional bandwidth. Since then, there have been whole weeks I didn’t write for no other reason than my inability to deal with the anxiety. Racing heartbeat. Endless loop thought patterns. Paranoia and irrational thought. I wracked my brain for what had changed. I started experimenting with ways to fix myself and finally locked in on changing my multivitamin. I also backed off on my thyroid meds, which increased my all-over body pain. The anxiety eased. I accidentally took the multi-vitamin again. My anxiety sky-rocketed. I got off them. A week later I was feeling a little better, although I realized that over a few months my immune system had gone to heck, and, come to think of it, my allergies were worse.

I went to my doctor’s office. I’m a big believer in integrative, natural medicine (as is my physician father). I’ve written about my past successes with it HERE and HERE. Last year, after my symptoms started post-hysterectomy-anesthesia, they’d noticed my homocysteine had doubled. They put me on active folate and tri-K. This year when I came back and told them about my reaction to the multivitamins and other systems, they tested me for MTHFR, a gene mutation that they felt explained my overreaction to anesthesia and inability to recover from it. My allergies and cruddy immune system. My inability to handle wheat and dairy. We learned my multivitamin had folic acid in it, which is basically poison to someone with MTHFR mutation. And we learned that, yep, indeed I did have the MTHFR mutation. They also said that because of this stockpiling of “poisons” and the prevalence of many other environmental toxins (that impact all of us), I should undertake not just MTHFR protocol, but also a comprehensive detox program. They warned me I would feel worse before I felt better (they were right, and that’s where I am right now, unfortunately).

So I’ve been detoxing in accordance with the protocol at MTHFR.net, where you can read all about what MTHFR is and how to get tested and treated for it. I won’t bore you with the details, other than an exciting picture of me in a portable infrared sauna. They’re funny looking, but they’re supposed to work, and I’ll try anything. Sure, I feel a little angry now that I’ve learned how easy it would have been for my anesthesiologist to ask a few more questions so he wouldn’t accidentally poison me with something it has taken my body 1.5 years and counting to get rid of. But I’m grateful beyond measure it didn’t kill me, and now for answers and a program that gives me hope.

It’s too early to celebrate, but I’m feeling pretty merry, and hopeful. Hope is the important thing.

So what I plan to do this Christmas is breathe. Continue to recover. Believe. And not pressure myself to write, at least not yet. Eric and I are going to play with our dogs, ride our big horses, and embark on a yaupon eradication program at Nowheresville.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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Everyone that subscribes to my e-newsletter is a winner today and gets an EXCLUSIVE What Doesn’t Kill You e-book, the first chapter of which you can read below (teaser! teaser!). But before you begin, we have two special winners of the Fighting for Anna butterfly pendants/charms out of 750 entrants: Jo and Pat. Congratulations!

Now, on to Act One.

Act One (What Doesn’t Kill You, Prequel): An Ensemble Mystery Novella

pre·quel  

(prē′kwəl)

noun

A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative takes place before that of a preexisting work in the same series.

en·sem·ble

(ŏn-sŏm′bəl)

Noun

A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect.

no·vel·la

(nō-vĕl′ə)

Noun

A short story with a compact and pointed plot.

~ OCTOBER 2007 ~

Five years before Saving Grace (What Doesn’t Kill You, #1): A Katie Romantic Mystery

AVA BUTLER

Maggie teases her brunette hair with its chunky blonde streaks into a bigger rat’s nest. She leans in a nose length from the mirror, eyes unfocused and crossing, then hefts an industrial-sized can of Aqua Net and blasts her roots. Instant stink. Her ballast shifts, and she loses her balance, stealing a quick glance every which way, not realizing I see her bobble from where I stand behind a rolling costume rod. When she’s steady-ish, she flips her hair over and bends at the waist. I get an eyeful of ripped fishnet hose under her miniskirt and learn two things I wish I didn’t know: she doesn’t wear panties, and she shaves her girlie parts. She starts spraying again like she’s wielding Raid and her hair’s full of jack spaniards, but this time she clutches the wooden ledge in front of her.

The woman is a Grade A drunk, and when she isn’t drunk, she’s high. The bitch of it is she’s drop-dead gorgeous and has more talent than anyone in this dime-store-turned-murder-mystery-dinner-theater. Including me, because Jah hates me. Or God, as they say here in Wack-o, Texas, aka hell.

“Careful,” I say. “You’ll break your head.” I keep my voice light and use my pretend-helpful tone.

Maggie stands up quickly, swaying, looking for me, not fooled even three sheets to the wind. She tells me she thinks I’m number one with a middle finger salute from her left hand. “Diva,” she says in a hiss.

Maybe she’s right, but it takes one to know one. “Watch you’self. You fangs showing.” I play up my island accent and drop the continental diction I normally use here in the states. “Yanking,” we call it on St. Marcos, where I’m from, as in “talk like a damn Yankee.”

From behind me, the director—if you can give such a hoo-ha title to the cat herder in charge of It Happened One Weekend in Waco—scolds me. “Ava! Leave Maggie alone. We need her at her best tonight. It’s a sold-out crowd.”

The director’s always talking down to me. I’ve been stuffing cash in a pillowcase for a move back home, and I’m so close I can taste fresh island mango on my lips. I’d followed a no-count sumbitch named Zach from NYU to Vail to here, where he suddenly ups his game to a pill-popping, trailer-park-ho-banging, credit-card-stealing, bank-account-hacking loser who’s about to feel the long arm of the law.

I swallow the tone I’d like to use. “Yah, mon,” I say to the director, and I curtsy.

Lizbeth, as in no-E-no-A-because-I’m-not-Elizabeth, gazes at me, her expression vacant. Then her eyes shift, and she gets a load of Maggie. Her face sours, lips puckering. She turns back to me, and her tone is pure pain. “I was going to have Maggie take the lead tonight since Julianna called in sick, but”—she shakes her head—“I don’t think that’s gonna work. Can you take the role?”

Before I can answer, Maggie staggers forward. “That’s bullshit!” Her words are full-on slur. “I’m the first understudy.”

First understudy? What does she think this is, Broadway? I rake the crappy dressing room with a quick glance. Plywood walls with exposed wiring. Cracked linoleum squares on the floor. Bare lightbulbs dangling overhead. It’s dingy and low rent, and I almost gag on the stench of cigarettes, body odor, and old garbage underneath the Aqua Net. Ah, but how the mighty have fallen. Maggie used to be a bona fide rock star, Texana folk version, on the cover of Texas Monthly not even that long ago. She looks like a younger, hotter version of Shania Twain and sings like a folksier Natalie Maines. I hear tell she plays every instrument better than her band. Sometimes it’s her licks on their tracks. Yep, she was on an express train to Nashville and the big time, until she got kicked out of every festival she was booked to play at in the last year. Scuttlebutt is her band members up and quit on her, as did her manager, her agent, and her record label. Maggie’s sunk down with us bottom-feeders now. But she has to pay for that expensive Jack and coke habit somehow.

I ignore her and to Lizbeth say, “Irie,” the island version of “It’s all good.”

Lizbeth raises an over-tweezed set of eyebrows. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

It’s better than a yes, because if I kill it tonight, I might steal Julianna’s part out from under her. That could mean a big fat raise and put me a few weeks closer to the Promised Land.

From across the room, I hear another cast member and her boyfriend shouting at each other. It’s Becky, a mousy thing, but nice and not catty and stabby like Maggie. A secret admirer had sent her a huge bouquet of long-stemmed red roses earlier, and her man’s none too happy about it.

She yells, “I’ve got a show, Randall. Get over it, and get out of here!”

Lizbeth doesn’t allow anyone but cast backstage before a show, so I know Lizbeth is upset about Maggie being wrecked, since she doesn’t notice Randall. I keep a straight face as I watch Randall leaving in a huff from the corner of my eye. I didn’t know Becky had it in her.

The director goes on, speaking to me, but she’s eying Maggie. “Becky will cover your part, Ava. I’ll go tell her now.”

Lizbeth walks over to Becky, but stops short. A pale-skinned woman in sodden clothes, her freckles the color of her dripping hair, is rifling through the costumes, her face hidden. But everybody knows who she is. She tried out for my part, and she still can’t quite accept that I got it instead of her. The woman needs some Prozac.

“Cast only—you know the rules. You’ll have to leave now, Sandra,” Lizbeth says, putting a hand on her shoulder.

The space between all her freckles turns bright red. Sandra nods and scurries out the way Randall had a few moments before. She leaves little puddles behind her. It’s supposed to rain like a sumbitch out there tonight. Must be already.

Just as Sandra’s leaving, Maggie starts throwing a tantrum like a spoiled teenage girl, tossing her hair over her shoulder, fussing some more with her makeup, and muttering snotty and loud enough for everyone backstage to hear. “Nobody in the audience is going to buy some no-count black karaoke singer from the Islands playing a Baylor sorority girl.”

The room descends into an awkward silence, which I break with a sweet smile, Yankin’ in my best Texas drawl. “Chi-O, Chi-O, it’s off to bed we go.” I smooth my hair, which is shaved nearly to my scalp.

That brings the house down, or the back of it, anyway.

I skip off to change my costume and put on the blonde high-ponytail wig. I’ve always looked damn fine in red and yellow.

 

To continue reading, click HERE and subscribe to my monthly newsletter via email. This novella e-book is an exclusive gift to subscribers.

MWAH!!!

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We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to let you know that I’M IN AMSTERDAM!! It was a popup work trip for my husband Eric, and I had enough miles to tag along. So, instead of writing a post today, here’s a few happy pictures from a grateful Thanksgiving.

And NEXT WEEK you’ll get the first chapter of Act One (and subscribers will get the entire exclusive free novella!!).

Blessings!

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Thanksgiving in Nowheresville. We forgot to take pictures on Thanksgiving, so we missed Thomas and his girlfriend. And somehow Clark Kent and Allie evaded pictures (by not hot tubbing or riding horses). Rats!

 

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Eric with our niece, enjoying the cool side of the swim spa.

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Our youngest, Susanne, with our niece.

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My brother sweet talking Katniss.

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Even Feathers is smiling! And that’s after everyone in the house took a turn riding him, sometimes two at a time.

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Just us girls hot tubbing.

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My mother and her lookalike granddaughter.

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Our niece, displeased that something so unladylike came out the back end of my beautiful girl horse!

 

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The french braids I did in my nieces’s hair.