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Actually, two people have officially already won copies of Lie Lay Lain. Judy and Sharon, check your email for your official notice.

The rest of you, there’s still time to enter to win a copy over on Goodreads. That contest is running until April 27th.

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11It’s official: my second novel, Lie Lay Lain, is out in the world today. The book is about a special events planner who witnesses a hit-and-run, and makes an impossible promise, a church secretary who turns her life upside down to make a lie true, a paramedic whose whole life is a lie, and a child no one will admit is missing. In short, it’s about so much that I find myself practically rewriting the book every time I try to describe what it’s about.

In honor of its release, I’m giving away a few copies.

First of all, if you drop by Goodreads, you can enter to win one of two copies. You just have to click to enter by April 27th.

If you’re not into Goodreads, you can enter to win right here. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, and I’ll choose two winners at random on April 8th. If you’re not sure what to comment, I’m taking questions about what it’s really like to be a church secretary.

*I hope that Lie Lay Lain will turn out to be my sophomoric effort from a strictly numerical standpoint, as my second book, and not in the sense of ill-informed or lacking maturity.

 

I grew up in a small town, one where almost everyone went to church. From the mayor to my eighth grade English teacher to the sad, old, homeless drunk we called Uncle Stanley. In fact, the only person I knew who never went to church was my granddad, who was living proof that there are atheists in foxholes. With the exception of my granddad, my whole family went to church, twice every Sunday, and most Wednesday nights. Whether we wanted to or not. No one in my family was particularly devout, and outside of church we did not pay much lip service to God or the Bible. The only meal we prayed at was Sunday dinner, and then only if eaten at home. In our world view, only “odd birds” prayed in restaurants. In more ways than one, church was less a religious institution and more of a social club.

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11It’s that ethos that informs much of Lie Lay Lain, my second novel, which will be released on April 1. By chance, when I started writing the book, I was working as a church secretary. Not through any great religious zeal, or any notion that working for a church was a higher calling. I needed a job, they needed a secretary, and I was savvy and polite enough to keep my own opinions on religion to myself. There’s no doubt, however, that the book absorbed some of my experiences and observations as a church secretary.

The primary observation that soaked into Lie Lay Lain and its characters is that people who go to church are regular people. I knew that from my childhood, but after 20 years of adulthood, in which I stayed far away from church and religion, I had started to believe the messages about Christians that are so often promoted in the media. The primary message is that Christians are wholesome, inspirational people who obey the Bible and rise above the bad things that happen to them. The message is rarely that Christians are just regular people. When we look at the books and the movies that are promoted as Christian entertainment, so often the product being offered is sanitized. Remove the swear words, the sex, any suggestion at all that Christians are inclined to misbehave just as often as non-Christians. The industries that produce these products sweep the dirt of humanity under the rug and declare their products safe for Christian consumption. Consistent with Christian values.

On the reverse, you can’t help but notice that when a movie or book is proffered as a mainstream entertainment product, spiritual and religious elements are stripped away. Tell me, how often do you read a mainstream book or see a mainstream movie or TV show in which the characters go to church, and it’s not for a wedding or a funeral? If you believe in the mainstream message, average people don’t go to church. They don’t pray. They don’t have crises of faith. Despite this message, we know they do. We know people of all walks of life, who are not puritanical or devout or zealous, yet who value their religion. One of my raunchiest, most irreverently funny friends goes to church every week. She wears a set of rings with Bible verses on them.

As I start to see reactions from readers to Lie Lay Lain, I hear echoes of the responses that I got from agents and editors when I first started looking for a home for the book. People are puzzled to find a book in which mundane life intersects with religious life. More than a few people suggested that I’d find it a lot easier to sell the book if I could strip out either the divine or the profane. If you took out the sex and the swearing, you could sell this as Christian fiction. Or more ominously, If you took out all the church stuff, you’d have a better chance at selling this. A book that has both—sincere prayer and enthusiastic fornication—is an alien concept to many people.

This fact leads me to wonder about how far we’ve gone to segregate things into their “appropriate” niche. If a novel has Christians in it, it must be Christian fiction. You’ll find the same trend repeated throughout your average bookstore. If a novel has a person of color on the cover, it must be African-American fiction. Shelve it over there. If a novel is about gay people, put it over in the LGBTQ section.

The reason behind this pernicious niching is marketing. If we shelve the books in their niche areas, we can help people find the exact kind of books they are most interested in reading, thereby selling more books. It seems to me that in many ways we are walling up certain books and movies into their own entertainment ghettos, and that’s a bad thing. If a reader has to ferret out the tiny African-American section of their local bookstore to even have a chance of stumbling over a novel about people of color, that narrows their view of the world. If all the books you can find about Christians are Christian Fiction, you’re going to develop a skewed perspective about what it means to be Christian.

What I’m saying is, Let’s start seeing other people. Take a chance on something outside your niche. Take a risk with something that doesn’t fit neatly into a box.

I have a guest post up on my publisher’s blog about that old gem Based on a True Story. How much truth is required for a story to qualify? And what does it even mean?

Also, the offer still stands. If you purchase an advance copy of Lie Lay Lain direct from Stairway Press in December, I will personally send you a guaranteed homemade (but not necessarily guaranteed pretty) holiday card and a signed book plate.

Stairway-Press-2013-Holiday-Promo-AD

I have never sent a holiday card in my life. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Or Chanukah. Or Kwanzaa. As a result of my holiday abstention, I have never sent holiday cards.

But this year, just for you, I am sending holiday cards. My publisher, Stairway Press, is running a promotion during December that allows you to order a book and receive a personal holiday card from certain authors on their list. For whatever crazy reason, I’ve agreed to take part and send my very first holiday cards. The purchase can be for you or for someone else, but I will personally be sending holiday cards to anyone who purchases a copy of Last Will or an advance copy of Lie Lay Lain from my publisher’s website. Other participating authors are shown here.

Stairway-Press-2013-Holiday-Promo-AD

If you’re interested in getting a book and a card for yourself or for some other reader near and dear to you, just pop over to the Stairway Press book store page. And then use care when checking your mail…

I always struggle with what to do to commemorate Veterans Day. I’ve never understood the whole “big sale” concept as a fitting way to honor military veterans, but I often feel anger and frustration when I attend the more traditional Veterans Day events. As a society, we like veterans neatly wrapped up in faded photographs (in the case of those who have died) or in crisp, but somehow archaic uniforms. We want to see them at parades and speeches and the openings of war memorials. We do not like to see them in mugshots or sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. Yet a disproportionate number of veterans become homeless or end up in prison.

This dilemma returns to me today, because I just received the final full cover for Lie Lay Lain. I had seen the front cover, but the back cover came as a surprise to me. There in shadow is the image of a paramedic. All of which has what to do with Veterans Day?

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11

Beyond my two point of view characters, Jennifer and Olivia, the third main character of the book is Rindell James, a paramedic and a Marine Corps veteran. The character developed out of me asking the question we all ought to ask ourselves: what becomes of our veterans?

In Lie Lay Lain, Rindell is still carrying the baggage of two tours of duty in Iraq, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a drug addiction that was born out of a combat injury. Throughout much of the book he is just a few missteps away from homelessness or tumbling back into drug use. These elements of his character are not things I cherry picked or over-dramatized to heighten tension in the novel. They are part of the everyday lives of many veterans. You don’t have to go far or look hard to find veterans who are suffering from combat injuries or PTSD, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Combat injuries can lead to lifelong pain and in the pursuit of relief, many veterans become addicted to a variety of drugs. The psychological wounds of combat can also lead to self-medication with legal and illegal drugs, as well as alcohol. Combine pain, stress, addiction, and emotional troubles, and it’s not surprising that veterans disproportionately become homeless, unemployed, or incarcerated.

What is surprising is America’s somewhat cavalier attitude toward the lifelong fallout of going to war. People seem eager to thank veterans for their service, and they occasionally want to buy dinner for them, or contribute to adapting a home for a disabled vet. We do not, however, seem to have a united front on the absolute necessity of providing all veterans with the services necessary to keep them healthy and contributing members of our society.

Instead of thinking about veterans on one special day a year, we need to think about them more often, and more openly discuss the obstacles they face. We can do this by being more involved with local veterans groups, by being informed about veterans issues, or by communicating to our elected officials that veterans are important to us.

Oy. It’s been one of those months. Finishing edits on Lie Lay Lain. Having my job at work changed. Dog knee surgery. An endless series of bad hair days. (You would be amazed how much time I waste trying to get a comb through my hair.)

Today, I finally stole five minutes at work (shh) to pull my randomly selected winners for my book giveaway. Signed copies of Last Will are going to J.E., who inherited a match safe, which may or may not have sunk on a banana boat in 1914, and to Steph, who inherited her babushka’s babushka. I’ve sent off emails to the winners, and the books will be in the mail as soon as I hear back.

In other news, the cover for Lie Lay Lain has been finalized! It has been a process, not least of which because the book isn’t easy to sum up in words, let alone imagery. And that’s allowing for the conversion rate of 1,000 word/picture. After trying and discarding a number of ideas from the very patient people at Stairway Press, I started trolling the internet for the perfect image. Deviantart.com is a treasure trove. I found a photograph there, and the photographer (Jimmy Fashner) was willing to license his picture for the book cover. A whole lot of back-and-forthing with Stairway Press later, and we have a cover we all like.

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11

About the book…

Jennifer has a great job and a go-getter fiancé. She’s on track for success, until she witnesses a fatal hit-and-run. Mistaking Jennifer for someone else, the dying victim extracts an impossible promise. Jennifer’s fiancé wants her to forget the whole incident, but when she closes her eyes, she can still see the bloody face of the woman who asked for her help.

Olivia is in a rut. Burdened with caring for her brain-damaged brother and already feeling like a spinster at 27, she’s desperate to escape. In a moment of weakness, she tells a lie that draws an unsuspecting paramedic into her life. As she struggles to expiate the lie, a horrible act of violence will test her resolve to be honest.

Where Jennifer’s promise and Olivia’s lie intersect, their lives begin to unravel.

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