Monday, November 30, 2009

Lots to be thankful for

I don't know about you, but Thanksgiving at the Cleveland Household was fabulous. Six grandchildren (three of them under seven months old) and their parents filled our little log house to the brim. There wasn't a corner left untouched. As we huddle around and step-over each in our little great room/kitchen combo, we laughed, ate, played games and just hung out. I'm sure this scenario was played out in homes all across the country. But, I don't want to take it for granted. As with most families, we've had our hurts and trials throughout this year, and to have us all together, happy and healthy is a blessing I thank God for.

Over the weekend, I did have a chance to check email and received a nice surprise-- a copy of my new book cover! It's gorgeous and exactly what I'd hope it would be. My family huddled around my computer as I beamed with pride as they 'oohed and aahed' at the cover.

I can't wait to share it with you. Today, the book goes to print and by February 2010, it will be launched. An exciting few months are ahead. So stayed tuned.
Blessings all!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh, For The Good Old Days!

Just in case I have any followers, I do apologize to you few for the long absence.

When I arrived back from North Carolina, lots had to be done and I haven't taken the time to report back in. So, here's what's happening...nothing. Well, that's not true. A lot is happening, but it all appears to be happening in s-l-o-w-motion. The book trailer is complete. We're very proud of it and soon I will post it. The manuscript is off to the publisher and now that's a waiting game. It's been six weeks with no word. The book passed their first review and now it is being reviewed by the all important marketing committee... the real folks who decide if a book lives or dies.

Publishing just isn't what it used to be. Gone are the Max Perkins, the infamous editor who held the hands of Hemingway, Faulkner and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to name a few great ones. He'd even personally visit these writers on their home turfs and sit in their living rooms and read their partials. Can you imagine? Oh, wouldn't that be wonderful, to be pursued and sought after by an editor, and then coddled and nurtured by that editor until your 'baby' made its debut. Oh for the good old days.

Today publishing is up for grabs. Big Houses no longer hold the keys to all that sit on the bookshelves. Self-publishing is becoming respectable. E-publishing is on the upswing. Print-on-Demand is making it's mark, and now with an announcement just out by Thomas Nelson, the world's largest Christian publishing house, they have started their own "vanity press" in the form of WestBow Press. You pay them, and they'll publish your book. Used to be a big no-no to do that. Writers have been warned since the Moses scribbled a few notes, not to pay anyone to publish their books. How foolish, it was thought, to prostitute your work in such a manner. If your book was good, a legitimate publisher worth it's ink would pay you for it. Oh, for the good old days.

I don't know when I'll hear from the publisher considering MAN FROM MACEDONIA. But if I don't hear soon, I may be forced to consider the unthinkable--self publishing. In fact, the foundation who started me on this project and has supported me while I've written the book, has now hired a publicist/copy editor, to whip the manuscript into shape if in fact we do have to go the self-publish route. It's not my first choice, but it may be our only choice. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I've just about finished refurbishing my kitchen cabinets, my flower beds have shrivelled from the hard frost, and my next book is simmering on the back burner of my mind.

If you're a writer trying to publish. I'd love to hear your stories and your thoughts on self- publishing. Until then, keep believing in yourself and the gifts you've been entrusted with.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Almost Done!

I got home from my North Carolina editing trip last Wednesday. There simply are not words to describe all that went on. What a wonderful feeling listening to Aaron Johnson read from the manuscript! And then visiting Willard, NC where Aaron grew up was a 'charmed' experience. Thanks, Aaron and Mattie for your graciousness and hospitality.

Well, one more week of polishing and the manuscript, MAN FROM MACEDONIA, will be ready for review by the publisher that has requested it. I brought home a couple of hours of video of Aaron, Willard, and other stuff as well, which we are working into a promotional book trailer. That's going to be way cool!

As this book winds down, my fingers are itching to get started on my next project-- a novel that's been stewing around in my head for a year or more. While working on MAN has been a labor of love, I am looking forward to working on fiction now. It feels so freeing to be able to make it all up and not adhere to all those pesky facts. I'm gonna make up people, locations and events. If I want it cold and rainy one day and sunny the next in my novel, then so be it. Don't have to check with the Almanac to see what the weather was doing back on a certain day in 1960. If I want my character to have a car accident that breaks his left arm and as he rides in an ambulance where he suddenly gets beamed up by aliens for a joy ride in their starcraft, then there it is. No checking if it's true. It's true if I say it's true. Can't wait.

I won't be able to start the new book until sometime late September. First, I've got to get caught up in my real life. I've got kitchen cabinets to finish painting, flower beds to prepare for winter and...well the list goes on. But until then, I get my edits done. I kiss this baby good-bye, and leave it the editors and marketing committee to do their thing. Wish me luck!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Visit to God's Country

Well, my time in Fayetteville has come to an end. Yesterday, our little party traveled to Willard, North Carolina to finishing up filming for the book trailer and some good photo ops. Dennis and Debbie Walsh, the folks who started us on this journey, Aaron and Mattie Johnson, and me.
To hear Aaron tell it, Willard is God’s Country. Back in his day, Willard was a southern, segregated farming community where his parents sharecropped. They worked on the land owned by the family, the white Johnsons, who owned their ancestors as slaves. Today, a smattering of both sets of Johnsons, black and white, still lives there.

We visited the house where Aaron was born. It has electricity and running water now, but it didn’t in 1933. We sat on the weathered-stain back porch of the small schoolhouse he attended until the eight grade. It was a ‘colored’ school back then, with a wood stove for heat and an outhouse. Paint is peeling off the sides of the modest building now as broken windowpanes flash you a toothless-like grin. But for Aaron, this little building it was a shining star of his past.

We visited the segregated graveyard where his parents and most of his siblings are buried. As I walked through this sunny, but hallowed ground, I felt like I had known all these folks. Aaron had told me so many stories about Miss Cassie and Wille Johnson, his parents, his Aunt Annie, his brothers, Tommy, Lennard, RV and James, and his sister, Bertnita—they’re all there. And, finally, we lingered awhile near the trees where his neighbor, Doc Rogers was killed by the Klan. It was a special day.

Today, I fly home weary but filled up with such gratitude for this experience and this opportunity. I can’t wait to introduce you to Aaron through the book, MAN FROM MACEDONIA- a tale of hope. You will be blessed… trust me. But for now, I pack my bags hurriedly and anxiously await the first sight of my hubby, the love of my life to welcome me back home with tight hug. I can’t wait to step back onto Wisconsin soil and the three little acres of South Moon, our home. It’s time to get back to my family and loved ones. I believe I have some grandbabies coming to visit me this weekend and I can’t wait!
Blessings, all!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Today was a Golden Day!

As I sat listening to my friend, Aaron Johnson, read aloud for the first time the book I’ve worked on for three years about his life, tears filled my eyes. The emotion I felt as Aaron spoke the words off the page, took me by surprise. And suddenly, it ceased being my book. Yes, I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing it, researching it, and agonizing over it, but as I heard Aaron’s deep, honey-coated voice read about the events that shaped his life, it became very clear to me that our collaboration was a God-thing.

How else can you explain why a middle-age, white woman from Wisconsin ended up writing the biography of a elderly, black gentleman from North Carolina? We grew up on different planets. Yet, our love for God and our respect for the humans He created melded Aaron and I. And because of God’s grace, our relationship and collaboration has produced something pretty wonderful.

Again, what I’ve written isn’t my story. It never was my story. However, for the last three years it felt like mine. I wrestled with the words like an Amazon warrior. I dissected hours of interviews, stacks of news clippings, and pages and pages of reports. In the end, as the vowels, adjectives, nouns and pronouns settled around me, only the clearest, most meaningful ones were chosen to tell this amazing story of hope and triumph.

I’ve written a story. But my friend, Aaron, lived it. It’s his story. And today as he read it out loud, the words, emotions, and memories all returned back to him, like children who had slipped under the fence for an adventure, only to return home when the porch light came on.

In just a few days, the edits will be complete and Aaron’s story will be ready share. You’re going love this man!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Yep, the book has been completed. It’s all over except for the last bits of edits. This week, I’m in North Carolina sitting with Aaron Johnson as I read to him, line-by-line about his life. Tonight, for three hours, with hard copy in his hands, and computer in mine, I read as he listened and made a few marks on the page. It is so gratifying to finally been at this stage of the book and see the emotion on Aaron’s face as we revisit his childhood and the many people who helped form his foundation.
I have been honored to graciously be allowed into Aaron’s precious memories. And, to be a witness, through Aaron’s stories, of some of the most transforming events in this country in the last sixty years.
I’m a white girl, writing about the Civil Rights Movement, the Ku Klux Klan, The Black Panther’s, lunch counter sit-ins, Martin Luther King, Jr., and The Wilmington Ten.
I’ve never been interested in politics, yet, through the writing of this book, I’ve been introduced to President Ronald Reagan and Governors Terry Sanford, Dan Moore and Jim Martin, as well as Jesse Helms and Charles Colson.
I am not a hero, but through this project, I have met an authentic one and am humbled to call him friend.
This week is going to be very, very sweet, as Aaron and I put the finishing touches on his story. Tomorrow, we edit Section Two. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'm on the last chapter after a three year journey. I can hardly believe it. What else I can hardly believe is how hard it is to get this final chapter done. It's like Satan keeps slapping my hands every time I try to write, or all my weaknesses show up at once when I sit down to get 'er do I smell a snack waiting for me downstairs?...or, I think I need to water the flowers right this very instant...or, my toe hurts, I should nap...or, .... I tell you it is true, the hardest part of writing is in the actual putting butt in chair and doing it. Here, I am in the homestretch and I'm still procrastinating. Go figure.

But, I will prevail. I will finish up this chapter very soon and when I do, they'll be able to hear my victory yell from here to the top of Everest. Of course, just putting the final dot and crossing the final 't' will not a book make. THEN comes some heavy editing and rewriting, but I'm ready for that...bring it on! But the feeling of finally having the whole thing on paper, so to speak, in some kind of order and now only tweaking sounds glorious!

Wish me luck. Say a little prayer for me and cheer me on. I'd love to hear about your writing processes. Let me hear from you.
blessings all...

Sunday, June 21, 2009


This past week, my husband and I spent time at family camp with two of our granddaughters, Paisly (5) and Zella. (2). The four of us became ‘campers’ together and shared a cabin. We pushed the girls’ bunks together so they could feel secure in an environment that hosted eclectic groups of bugs and an occasional mouse. Gary and I slept in another section of our small cabin just under the large screened windows and just above the upper falls. Each night we were sung to sleep by the falls melodious roar and awakened by various birds calling us to our day’s adventures.

I must say, we were in our bliss! Granddaughters, waterfalls, granddaddy long-legs galore, aromatic giant pines and handmade swings abounded. Someone else did the cooking (it don’t get any better than that folks!), and fellowship with some kind and good folks made these four days a Class ‘A’ gift from God.

I brought along my laptop and some research notes, foolishly thinking that while the girls napped, I would be able to get some writing done. After all, only three more chapters to go! And who couldn’t write and feel creative in such a beautiful place?

Didn’t happen!

At nap times, once I got the girls settled into their bunks after a round of made up stories from MeeMee and Papa, I waddled to my own bunk with just enough strength to close my eyes. The fresh air and the constant activity-- from swimming in the creek, to critter races with frogs, ants and other multi-legged creatures, to basketball, to Bible study, to playing in the sand, to water balloon volleyball, to the craft cabin where we glued wooden spools together and anything else that begged to be glued together and decorated with brightly colored feathers, beads and other shiny things-- my brain and body simply couldn’t stay alert or awake long enough to form words on a page.

Nope. Writing didn’t get done. I still have three more chapters to go. But what did happen was … life. Glorious, precious, heart-filling, cup filling, slap-ya-on-your-back joyous life! The memories made with our granddaughters were priceless and will be carried in my heart until the Lord calls me home…and even then, I’m going to show Him pictures of this week when I get there. Writing is very important to me. This writing project, in particular, is very, very important to me. But family will trump my writing every time. It’s a decision I made a long time ago.

So…this coming week, I’ll finally get out my laptop and those notes and get at it. Maybe I’ll knock out a couple of chapters. I can’t wait to get started again. But just know that when I pause, for inspiration, I’ve got two little wooden spools now sitting on my desk, bespeckled with yellow and purple feathers, plastic beads and a miniature clothespin glued on top, that will take me back, just for a moment, to a time I’d wouldn’t have missed for the world.
Blessings, friends.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Okay... I'm trying to contain myself, but knowing I only have four more chapters to write in this book until I'm finished has me standing up and jumping off my desk chair. Four chapters! Can you believe it? This morning I did the edits on the chapter I wrote yesterday and this afternoon, I start Chapter Thirty-Six!!!!!! Yahooooo!

Of course, if you're a writer, you're probably snickering at me. Yeah, I've only got four more chapters to write, but then I'll have about forty to edit, and then when a publisher gets their hands on it, I'll probably have to practically rewrite the whole thing, recheck my facts, and get my photos in order and then edit some more, so you're thinking, don't jump too high on that chair, baby!

Yeah, yeah. I know. But, please let me bask in the fact that I almost have a forty chapter book actually written. Words committed to a page. Chapters actually completed, and with a point. Historical facts corralled and put to good use. A good man's life chronicled on paper. Thousands and thousands of keystrokes that went somewhere. And, finally, I'm on the home stretch. The words are out of me and are on the page.

Four more to go!

Have you ever written on a long project? If so, why don't share your technique from interviewing, to plotting, to organizing notes, to research, to writing. How do you do it? A couple of years ago, I went to the writer's conference at Mount Hermon, CA. A wonderful conference that I high recommend. Anyway, while there I took a class by writer, Jim Denny. He is a collaborative non-fiction author who writes all of Pat William's books. He's also collaborated with Reggie White on his story and several others. During the course of the week, Jim taught me how to organize my project in a way that made it manageable. So, right now on my office wall are six columns of Post-It notes plastered on it. Each column represents a section of the book, and each section has from five to ten sticky notes in a column, each representing a chapter. On the notes is a brief description of what that chapter is about. As I'm writing the book, it has been great to look up at my 'writing wall' to see at a glance where I'm at. At times, I've had to rearrange them, when I've decided to switch a chapter to another section, but that was easily done...since they're only Post-It notes and not stuck on the wall with something like Gorilla Glue--- you know what I'm saying?

Anyway, that's one of my tricks? Care to share one of yours? I'd love to hear from you. Happy writing, friends... and repeat after me...FOUR MORE TO GO! FOUR MORE TO GO!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Hurray! Picture me doing a little happy dance. This morning I completed Section Five of MAN FROM MACEDONIA. Tomorrow, I will begin the Sixth and LAST section of the book. What a journey it has been so far. In June, I will have been working on this book for three years. I can see actually light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I told a writer friend not long ago that if I even hint at writing another biography that she had my permission to slap me silly! Unless of course, George W calls in need of a biographer, or Tom Selleck. Just kidding.

Section Six will reveal the scandal that cost Secretary Johnson his job and his very public resignation. It will contain the chapter that gives the book its title. And, there will be stories of how Aaron crosses paths with Charles Colson with an offer he simply couldn't refuse. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and wrestling with the words that will complete Aaron’s story.
I also discovered something today. I need to quit talking so much. After I did my happy dance, I decided I needed a little break before I continued my afternoon writing schedule. We live out in the country, and the road our house sits on only has about ten houses spackled spaciously along it. It’s a beautiful little, narrow road. It's quiet, and the only traffic on it is the ten folks who live on it. It’s perfect to walk along to take in nature. A herd of bison is fenced along a few acres of the road. It’s not surprising to see deer crossing back and forth at their leisure. Hawks fly over head, and bunnies, pheasant, and an occasional fox sometime keep me company. I have dubbed this stretch of wildflower-bordered road, my Prayer Road. I have walked down this road many times with a prayer on my heart and a burden to unload. I even have been known to pray out loud as I walk. Why not? I may look crazy, like I’m talking to myself, but I know Whose ear I have and He’s listening.

Well today on my Prayer Road, I brought MAN OF MACEDONIA to God and thanked him for the past three years He’s allowed me to write on this project. I thanked Him for Aaron’s life, and for the honor of chronicling his experiences. But then, I did something I haven’t done in a while… I stopped talking and just listened. I have to decide how to approach this last section. It’s the climax of the story… the pay off for the reader. I’m feeling pressure to write it in such a way that honors not only Aaron’s life, but also God’s faithfulness to Aaron and to the rest of us struggling to give God glory in all that we do. And you know what? God whispered. Had I been talking the whole time, I would have missed it.

My challenge to you is to find your own Prayer Road. It may not be a road at all, but some place that beckons you to be still and listen. God just might have something He wants to say… and that you need to hear.

Blessings, friend.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Do you remember how it was when Rock Hudson died from AIDS? Everyone was afraid, confused and rumors on how AIDS was spread abounded. For a few years there, we were chasing our tails as we tried to educate ourselves about this horrific disease.

Back in 1990, the person I'm writing about, Secretary of Corrections Aaron Johnson, had an AIDS crisis of his own. What I mean is, that in his ninety-five prisons, inmates were entering the institutions with full-blown AIDS and no one knew how to treat them or what to do with them. The inmates themselves were shunned by other prisoners, and the administration didn't treat them any better. Dr. Johnson's first exposure to the horror of AIDS came the day he was summoned to the prison cell of a female inmate dying from HIV. She was placed in a cell at the end of a corridor. Dark, wool blankets were thrown over her bars so no one could see in, and when he walked under those blankets into her cell, he found this woman sitting on her stark cot, shriveled, sore-ridden, and comforted only by the two tatter photographs of her young children. It was in September and the woman had been given three months to live, and was begging the Secretary to allow her to spend her last Christmas at home with her children.

You'll have to read the book to see how that story ends, but I tell you this because, I don't know about you, but compared to this, I really don't think I've had to make any real hard decisions-- at least not ones like this. Not ones that affect others' lives in such a personal way. Also, not ones that are fraught with such a combination of emotions, ethics, compassion, and law. How does one make these kinds of decisions? Better yet, how does one make the right decision amidst the clamor of panic and fear? Aaron made his decision from a deep part of himself that belonged to God, and it didn't turn out to be so popular.

Today, let's pray for the strength to do the hard things, the right things...the God-things, even when the world wants us to sit down and simply be quiet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hat Trick

On Tuesday, May 12, 2009 Gary and I became the proud grandparents of twin girls. Kasia and Isamae debuted into this world healthy and beautiful and joined their big sister's Paisly and Zella. Their daddy, Matthew, and mommy, Sarah, are doing well, but since they've brought the girls home, they haven't exactly gotten the best night's rest. The last two morning they've come down the stairs, each carrying a tiny bundle in their arms, and with these lopsided smiles on their tired faces--that beg,"We are blessed way beyond what we ever asked or here Grandmas, please feel free to share in the blessing," as they hand one gorgeous baby to me and other to Grandma Steph, and then sleep-walk back up stairs for about a twenty minute nap.

Ah, babies! Thanks to all who have been praying for the safe delivery of these little ones. I do not take for granted that all deliveries will go as planned. And with this new territory for us, with twins, we simply did not know exactly what to expect. But we did know that the risks were greater for the babies and for their brave mother. Sarah is doing wonderful. She was a trooper, who did all within her power to bring her daughters into this world as safely and healthy as possible. I love this young woman as if she were my own child. As with her other two children, I know these new babies will be in the capable and loving hands of a mother who knows how to sacrifice one's self in the name of love. She will protect them like a momma bear, nurture them from a deep well of wisdom and heart, and train them in all things good. Of course, I have no doubt that my son will be standing right beside her with his quiet strength, his humble spirit and a heart so full of love that between the two of them, these little girls will have no choice but to be happy, well adjusted, and have no excuse to be rebellious teenagers.

Of course, these little twins are just the latest in the Cleveland baby boom. It seems, we've scored a hat trick-- we've been blessed with three new grandchildren within a little over two months. Our cup runneth over. If you've read my blog of late, you all but need to scroll down a few inches and find the smiling picture of newborn grandson, Cormac. His entry into our lives in February brought just as much joy and wonder...especially since he is our first grandson. His parents, our son, Nathan and wife, Erin, have delighted us with this little boy who is so full of charm, I giggle every time I think of him. Erin is a first time mother with an 'old soul' within her. She just seems to know instinctively how to care for this child. I love seeing her with her son as he makes her laugh with his antics and his big eyes and his Buddha belly. Another daughter-in-law who has filled my heart like my own. And watching my first-born with his first born is an experience that God has just added in my life like the cherry on top of a turtle very sweet.

Again, thank you for your prayers. God has been extremely merciful and generous. I can only bow on bended knee and accept these precious, wiggly, soft-skinned gifts with gratitude and awe.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Inspiration Points

I have several 'writing spots' at my house. We live on three acres with a little pond and a little barn. Of course I have my office upstairs overlooking the pond where most of the work takes place. But then, when the mood strikes me, I can be found carting my laptop off to my inspirational points. One is on our front porch on my yellow swing. From there I can see one of my flower gardens and the horses down the road. My next place to settle in to write is my back porch. It's screened in and it's my favorite place to write during a summer rain storm, or late a night as the crickets and bullfrogs converse. Mid-morning, one of my favorite spots to plop down and write is the porch of my garden shed-- which is really the back portion of our barn sectioned off just for me and my pots and dirt and assorted whirly-gigs and the like. The little porch is just a few feet from the pond. I watch swallows dive over the pond scooping up bugs for an early lunch, and hear some kind of fish jump out of the water, also helping himself to a bug feast. I also sometimes just write inside the shed at my potting table... just because. That give me a great view of our neighbors cornfields and barns. And then there's the shade of the 'Dancing Trees', as my granddaughters call them. It's where we can be spotted twirling with glee between the long willowy branches, when we've a mind to. Regular people call them, weeping willows. But for me, Paisly, Harper, and Zella...they're the Dancing Trees. Anyway, under those tree, I have a great view back toward the house, the pond, etc., and write as the branches gently dance around me.

Yesterday, I wrote on the porch of the potting shed for about two hours. Another hard section to write as Secretary Johnson walks into the cell of a woman dying of AIDS. At first, he's afraid to even shake her hand when introduced. But by the time, their time together ends, he hugs hers, prays with her and promises to try his best to get her an emergency parole from the governor, so she can spend the last three months of her life with her young sons. Aaron Johnson is a compassionate man, and his life story will inspire us all to consider all persons holy.

This morning, I write this sitting on my 'girl chair' in my office. It's big and comfy and has great big blue flowers all over I''m thankful for the honor of telling Aaron's story.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Consequences & Redemption

This week was a good writing week. Hardly any distractions. Lots of rainy days. What else to do but write, right?

This week I wrestled with the chapter in my book when Dr. Johnson had to oversee his first state ordered execution. Can you imagine? How it works in North Carolina, most executions are carried out in the early morning hours. The Secretary waits by his phone for the warden to call him and tell him all things are ready. Then the Secretary calls the Governor on a special hotline to tell him things are ready, and the Governor will then give his nod. Then the Secretary calls the warden back to tell him to proceed with the execution. Before those phone calls were made, Aaron was sitting by the hotline to Governor Martin's office hoping it would ring first telling him there had been a stay of execution. The number to this hotline was only known by Governor Martin himself, so when that line rang about midnight, Aaron's spirits jumped. He quickly answered the phone. To his surprise, it wasn't the Governor on the other line. It was someone he didn't know. Someone who should not have had that number. But, what this person told Aaron helped lift the burden of what he had to do. Aaron, to this day, still thinks of that caller as an angel. He also, still doesn't know who that caller was.

This chapter was a tough one to write. It's about people suffering and consequences of actions. It's also about redemption.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Conviction & Courage

As I write this entry, my husband and I are enjoying a little get-away in Door County. This beautiful area of Wisconsin is north of Green Bay and surrounded by Lake Michigan. It’s one of my favorite places to write. Some dear friends of ours own a condo in this Scandinavian settlement and have been very generous loaning it out to their friends in need of some R & R. So here we are nestled in among the pines and birches reading, napping, watching old movies and occasionally working a bit-- I, on my book and my husband on a presentation he has to give next week.

I’m halfway through Chapter 29 and will begin writing Chapter 30 in a couple of days. This next chapter will tells when Aaron Johnson as North Carolina’s Secretary of Correction passes his first Executive Order—one that made the papers and made him the brunt of a lot of jokes. As the state’s Prison Chief, he made it against the rules for his staff to cuss… Yep, that’s right. The Correction’s Secretary decided his staff was to act like professionals and curb their tongues. No more profanity. No more racial slurs. Now we’re not just talking about those sitting at desks interfacing with the public—we’re talking about prison guards too. Everybody from prison directors, to cooks, to guards was expected to clean up their language.

Secretary Johnson’s second Executive order came a few weeks later. He outlawed pornography in his prisons. At least pornography bought on the state’s dime. The world thought this was a hoot. What? Prison guards opting for “fiddle sticks” and prisoners reading Better Homes and Gardens? The press had a field day with this one. But those of faith thought it was courageous. Prison Fellowship founder, Charles Colson once wrote about Aaron, “Did every foul word and every lustful thought disappear from the prisons? Absolutely not. But Aaron Johnson was salt in his world.” [Chuck Colson, Being the Body, pp. 382-83].

Have you ever done anything out of conviction and faith that made the world laugh at you? Chances are not too many of us have, at least not on such a public scale where newspapers picked up on it and plastered it on newsprint for a good laugh. What an example Aaron has been to me. I am honored to be writing about his life. I can’t wait to introduce readers to this man.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Today, I'm trying to get started on Chapter 28 of MAN FROM MACEDONIA. I've been working on this book for almost three years now. It's a book of six sections. I'm on Section Five. This section will have about five chapters in it. I'm half way through this section. My problem? Every time I begin a new chapter, it's like starting all over again. First, I have to get organized. I have to put away all the notes of interviews, research, newspaper articles, etc., from the previous chapter that I have strewn all over my desk. I work these notes over pretty good as I write. By the time I'm finished with a chapter, I can show you book, chapter and verse from where I got what I got. I figure it's a good idea to be able to show your sources if ever challenged. So, I file them away carefully so I can find them again. Sitting beside me, even as I write this, is a roll away file box made of plastic. The top box is full of file folders and interview CDs. The bottom drawer holds my note cards, photos, newsletters, etc., A book in a box.

THEN, when all previous chapter resources are put away. I start digging through the box for all the folders, note, cards, interview transcripts, etc., that I need for the next chapter. Out they come and they will be rearranged a thousand times before this chapter is completed. I also may have to get on Internet and do a little snooping as well before I get started with the actual writing. Believe it or not, it can take a couple of days of prep before I write the first word of the next chapter. That's where I am write now. I've done all the prep. The new resources are at my finger tips. I've been snooping around online and now I need to settle down and actually write. I pose myself in front of the computer. Chapter heading is blaring out at me. My finger poised over the keys and...hey! maybe I should go unload the dishwasher; Or, change my sheets on the bed; Or take a walk and stretch before I write; Or go write my blog...

Get my drift? It is sooo hard to actually write those first words of a new chapter. Why? Beats me. Once I delve in...I'm in....there's no turning back....I'm hooked...I'm flying. Yet, it is so hard to attack those first few words. Funny, huh? Such is the writing process for me. Any other writers out there have quirks in their writing process. If so, I'd love to hear from you.

Well, I must get with it. This next chapter will not write itself. My fingers are poised. I'm that someone at the door?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cormac is here!

Just a brief note today...our fourth grandchild, but FIRST grandson was born this past Thursday. Our son, Nathan and his precious wife, Erin are now proud parents to their first. I can't tell you how sweet it is watching your first born hold HIS first born in his arms. God has been good and gracious. Cormac Michael weighed in at 8.7 lbs and is 21 inches long. Except for a little bout with jaundice, the little tyke seems to be doing well. As I held Cormac in my arms I felt all was right with the world...and the world had a little more hope than it did before. I worry about the world my grandchildren will have to grow up in, but I will hand that over to our Creator. I'll let Him be in charge. I'll pray and ask for His Presence to stand watch over these precious little souls and then I'll trust Him in what He knows best....But for now, as I watch Cormac sleep and I'll simply be humbled by the God who made him so.

Blessings, friends.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I am almost three years into writing a book about someone else. Aaron Johnson is a remarkable man who has had nine lives... at least. And, I've been given the privilege of trying to record all of those lives on paper.

The thing that amazes me most about this process, is the trust that Aaron has had to have in me. I can't imagine doing what he's doing... opening up his life and private thoughts to someone he didn't even know three years ago. Yet, he has and I must tell you, I am the better person for it. Over the many hours Aaron and I have talked he has taken me into some of the darkest places we have on this earth, like the hollow chambers of death row or standing blindfolded surrounded by angry members of the Ku Klux Klan. He has also taken me into the heart of a loving family and shown me the joy a life of faith can bring.

After hundreds of interviews with not only Aaron, but family members, friends, colleagues and even a chat with a death row inmate the framework of Aaron's life has taken form. With over 61,000 words written so far, I'm closing in on the last chapters.

What have I learned about myself during this process? Well... first off, I'm a procrastinator. I will find any excuse I can to NOT start writing for the day. Like...emptying the dishwasher, or making the bed, or answering email. Why writers do this I don't know, but we do. We love to write, but physically taking our bodies and plopping them down in the chair and keeping them there til the job is done takes enormous willpower... so I'm sure I need to make a cup of tea first or maybe walk the dog. Of course I don't have a dog, but if I did I'm sure I'd need to walk him before I got down to business.

Second...I do get down to business. I'm good at it. Once I start working...I'm THERE. I focus. I pace myself. I write. I plot. I get'er done as they say. I'm not afraid of the work or the blank page (I just have a hard time 'facing it' first thing in the morning). I LOVE the process of writing. I love the laboring over just the right words. I thrill at arranging a paragraph that solicits a reaction. I love it all--even the stops and starts.

Third, I've learned just how much I love research. I love digging and following a lead. I love the thrill of discovery of a document or a fact I've been trying to uncover. And finding a photo that has long been forgotten or lost is like winning the lottery. Well, I've never actually won a lottery but I'm sure if I would, I'd do a happy dance and jump up and down and smile real big and be flabbergasted at my good luck.

I've learned more about myself, but I'll save that for another time. Think about it...would you ever do what Aaron is doing and open your life up for all to see? Would you tell everything or just parts? I'd like to hear from you. Until next time....