Today, I watched the first part of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. This particular production featured Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn as the iconic Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow. If you're not familiar with this musical, it's a big story with timely issues dotted with glorious R&H music.
The second Kelli O'Hara opened her mouth, these effortless, beautiful notes came out, and I thought to myself, "How does she do that?" Now, I'm a performer. I've been singing and acting in community theatre shows for many years. But I've had to "fight" for it. First, I had to learn how to sing. I'm not talking about studying vocal music at a prestigious conservatory. I'm talking about learning basics like pitch, tone, not crawling under a chair when singing in front of others.
As a freshman in high school, I auditioned for a variety show at our school. I will never forget singing The Sound of Music. I knew the song. I'd watched the movie every year on TV as a kid. But when I stood up on the stage in front of the teachers (who I would soon grow to admire and adore!), I had some ultra awesome vibrato happening from my knees knocking together. Seriously, I was shaking so hard, my voice quavered and sounded terrible.
I spent my high school years backstage, all the while longing to be out front. Choir helped me grow, as did my indignation. I was one of five senior girls in a singing group my last year of high school. They decided to perform a quartet for our senior talent show...and I was left out. Because of that, I signed up for a solo. They ended up dropping from the show, but I went for it.
I chose theatre as a career, so I studied stage management in college. While I performed in a few friends' director projects, I mostly stayed behind the scenes. After I graduated, I went to work for Disneyland. I considered auditioning for one of the shows, but I was told I'd have to quit as a stage manager before I could. I lost my nerve and kept my job. I did a few community gigs here and there, but I didn't really get into the performing side of it until after I had my children and started singing solos for church as a pastor's wife. I fell in with an awesome community group, comprised mostly of high school students and one amazing leader, who helped me grow as a performer and a playwright.
Sadly, we moved away, but I found another wonderful group to perform with. And even after all this time, it takes quite an effort for me to put together a monologue and a song for auditions. I love and trust the people I perform with, but I lose all confidence when I stand before them in the audition setting. Thankfully, they are gracious and understanding. (I'm in rehearsals for R&H's Cinderella as the Queen!)
So what does all this have to do with Miss O'Hara? I'm sure she had to "fight" to make it to where she is today. But as I watched her...and again, the word effortless suits her so well...I realized that everything I love doing is a struggle. I love to sing, but it's not easy. I'm fearful I'll hit a sour note and everyone will think I'm a fraud. I love to write, but I haven't been able to get an agent or a contract with a reputable publisher. And although I've self-published several books, I'm fearful someone will call me out...again, as a fraud.
And all this tells me that I need to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of me. I need to embrace who I am--as a performer, as a writer, as a person--and just be who God created me to be. I've proved myself over and over again. I don't wish to be prideful or cocky, but I do wish to be confident that "He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) My talents are a reflection of His glory. Nothing to be ashamed of, as long as He gets the credit.
I'm grateful for the fight. It keeps me humble. And His approval is all I need.
Another Christmas has come and gone. Last year, my son figured out the Santa secret. We spent Christmas night in tears, grieving a bit of his childhood. He promised to help create the magic for his sisters, and he did a terrific job with that! Although Mom failed miserably...
My heart wasn't in it this year. Don't get me wrong...I love Christmas. It's my favorite time of year! The lights, the music, the joy and laughter. I love every moment up to Christmas Eve, then I get super sad. Because I know the world will go back to normal on December 26th.
And because my heart wasn't in it, I dropped the ball on shopping. I was waiting for my vacation to kick in...but this year, it fell on the 21st, so there was not much time. So last night, as I tucked my boy into bed, I apologized for not having "more". He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said, "Mom, we have plenty. There's lots of presents. We're happy." Those words made me cry. My expectations weren't fulfilled, and I was placing that onto him. When I found out his expectations were fulfilled, that took the pressure off.
There weren't lots of presents. I cap my kids at three each. (Okay, five, because I get them a separate Christmas Eve gift...usually pajamas...and a Santa gift.) We not only have Christmas, but we have birthdays, too. So this time of year is rough. And even though I promise myself every year that I'm going to save and budget for this time, it always falls through. And yet another fail...I bought only two presents for my boy. He's at that age where he doesn't really want toys, but he doesn't want clothes, either. I miscalculated what I had for him. I burst into tears, but he was forgiving and kind. What a good kid I have. (Kids. They are all amazing.)
So I'm trying to refocus and hold onto what Christmas is really about. I'm looking past the lights to see the Star of Bethlehem. I'm straining to hear the angels' voices beyond the songs. I'm trying to imagine the joy on the faces of the shepherds who learned the Savior of the world was born just up the road from them and the laughter they shared afterward, thinking about how it all came to be. And I'm finding contentment and peace to replace my sorrow and grief.
I gave myself the gift of another published book this year. And I spent a quiet morning updating and cleaning up my website while my kids played together and had tons of fun with the few things they got. And we're anticipating a trip together. Although there is joy and excitement in those things, none of them can match the beautiful gift of Jesus that we celebrate on this day. While Christmas Day may be over, Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving. His grace, mercy, peace, kindness, and love flow freely. And I am grateful.
Happy birthday, Jesus.
This has been a long time coming, and I'm so excited to announce that the first book in my Star Sailors series is now available!
This story was inspired by songs of the rockin' band Styx. And there are more books to come!
This is a little different from other books I've written. There are more adult scenarios and even a bit of language. Nothing over the top, but this series isn't as family-friendly as my previous work. This doesn't come out of any kind of heart change in me personally. It's simply because the main character is a bit rougher, given his background and circumstances.
With no further ado...here's the description:
As a kid, Jimmy “the Snake” Kendrick flees his broken home and discovers a life of pleasure as part of the Renegades, a galactic gang operated by corrupt law enforcement. But when an assassination attempt goes wrong, he is arrested and lands in a rigorous prison mine where he is stripped of his identity and self-worth. After his ten years are up, he’s hired by BellStar Lines, a fleet of space cruise ships, where he's given only menial jobs and tasks. On board the flagship Corona, he finds every opportunity he can to escape his wretched life, but before long, a compromising position with a female passenger threatens his freedom. He'll be forced to change his ways...or end up back in prison.
I can't wait for you to meet Jameson and his crew. Come sail away!
Get your paperback copy here or read it on Kindle by clicking here. And if you do read it, would you be so kind as to leave a review on Amazon? I'd love to know what you think!
It's on a street corner in the little town of Palmer Lake, Colorado. I had never seen it before, although I'm sure we've driven that way a number of times. But on one of our trips to Denver using the quiet and scenic Highway 105 instead of the overcrowded I-25, I spotted it.
Sure, it doesn't mean much to you. But I was in the midst of writing a story, and one of the main characters names is Aurelia. I chose it because it was unusual. Beautiful. Who knew it belonged to a street in a tiny mountain town?
This kind of thing happens to me frequently. It has since I started writing. I often ask myself, "Did you use that name because you had been seeing it?" Usually the answer is no. I see it after the fact.
Another instance occurred when we went to get pizza at one of our favorite local spots. Splashed across their front windows is the name Jameson, who just happens to be Aurelia's counterpart. Granted, the place is a bar and they are advertising the whiskey by that name...but still it was neat to see. And I named him that long before I noticed the windows.
I may be reading more into it than is really there, but I always take it as a sign from God that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I find delight and pleasure in seeing my characters names on signs. I suppose it's just meant to be.
This past year, my girls and I saw The Greatest Showman in the theater ten times. Not a normal occurrence. That's a lot of money to shell out for a movie, but I wanted to let Hollywood know that there are those of us who appreciate a family-friendly movie such as that. I'm very familiar with PT Barnum and all the "bad" things he did, but on the surface, this movie is beautiful and worth taking in.
I listened to the soundtrack this morning with my girls as I took them to school. I'm the type that likes to roll my windows down and blast the music. Share it with the world. Usually it's Styx, but today I was in the GS mood. The song Come Alive came up. The lyrics that struck me were:
"Go and light your light, Let it burn so bright."
While I would love to "go and light my light," I'm feeling a little stuck. I have a good job. I live in a decent house. I have amazing kids. Financially, we're always behind. (I know...maybe if we hadn't gone to see that movie TEN times, right? Trust me, that's not the issue...) And because of that as well as some other factors, I'm blocked in by walls that don't allow me to "light my light". The roof of these confines is inches above my head and sucking all the oxygen from the room. So there is no light. Only darkness.
I try to find flickers. I live in a completely different universe, writing books very few people read. I perform musical theatre with a small troupe of talented people. But I have to wonder if my light is extinguished. If I'm trying to revive a flame that has gone out.
Long ago, I read a Danielle Steel novel. I don't even remember the title, but I remember a passage.
"We all lead boring, ordinary, mundane existences, and now and then a bird of paradise comes along, and we all get scared. It scares us because we're not like that, Our feathers aren't brilliantly hued in red and green, we're brown and gray, and seeing that bird of paradise makes us feel ugly, or as through in some way we've failed. Some of us love to watch that bird, and we dream that one day we might be birds of paradise too...others of us have to shoot at the bird...or at least frighten it away."
That passage meant a lot to me as a young, single just-out-of-college girl who dreamed of having a boyfriend. I was doing some amazing, bird-of-paradise type things, but I was ridiculously lonely and needed to make myself feel better in some way. I still have some of those red and green feathers, but they are neatly tucked away under my brown and gray. Just like hiding in the dark. So I can't be seen or noticed.
More lyrics caught my ear from the song The Other Side.
"But you would finally live a little
The freedom to dream. Doesn't that sound delightful? I think I've lost that. I sure wish I had a PT Barnum who believed in what I have to offer. Someone who could give me the platform to shine with all that is in me.
Now, I'm not writing this to make you feel sorry for me. I write for my own therapy. To process things I need to work through. And it's been a while since I've blogged, so I thought this might make a good topic to re-launch. I want to get unstuck. And I'll figure out a way. I always do. This is the start, right?
Well, here it is...Book #7! I am proud to introduce the first book in the Time Spinners series, a middle grade (young readers) time travel story. I wrote it for my son a while back, and it was time to bring it to light.
While hiding from the school bully, thirteen-year-old Sam Miller finds a time-bending watch and is caught up in a battle for history between the Time Spinners and the evil Revisionist.
When Sam touches the watch face, he’s transported to 2025 Scotland, where he meets Decker, Ben, and Andi—the Time Spinners. Their mission is to stop the Revisionist who steals historical artifacts and scatters them across time, thereby changing the future. Once an object has been out of linear time for twelve hours, history changes. The Revisionist’s most recent heist involves a portal generator from Ben’s time of 2025. He intends to deliver the generator to Hannibal in 218 BC, helping the ancient general win the Second Punic War and bring down Rome. In joining the Time Spinners, Sam winds up in a race against time and a quest to save the universe.
You can get ebook or paperback editions. Or both! Click here for ebook, and here for a printed copy. Thanks for supporting an author!!
A couple years ago, I started watching the show Freaks and Geeks on Netflix. I'm a child of the seventies. I love my BeeGees and Barry Manilow and a slew of others from that era. Freaks and Geeks fed and fueled that love. The pilot episode featured a song I had heard probably a million times, but never really paid much attention to...Come Sail Away. I liked it on the show, so I gave it a listen. Pretty good. So I bought their greatest hits CD at Walmart.
How had I never really paid attention to this band?!
Since then, that's all that's been in my CD player in my car. (Yes, I still have one of those.) And I got to see them in concert over the summer, along with REO Speedwagon and Don Felder (from the Eagles). I purchased tickets for the nosebleed section, but won two through a web-based contest. My son and I got to sit twenty rows from the stage. What an experience!!
The songs have opened up a whole new world for me and started telling me a story that I knew I had to share. So for a little over a year and a half, I've been developing and working on a new series I've titled Star Sailors. My main character, Jameson Kendrick, transforms from a terrible member of the Renegade gang to the owner and operator of a fleet of space passenger liners. There's a lot more to it than that, but that's the gist. It's basically Star Trek meets The Love Boat. (You may laugh, but it's awesome.) The first one, of course, will be dedicated to the source of inspiration...my beloved Styx.
I celebrated a birthday several days ago. As we were coming home from the festivities, I had a rather exciting notification on Facebook. I had asked a question on Styx's fan page, and Lawrence Gowan, keyboardist extraordinaire, replied by video. What an extraordinary present! The video is below. Definitely worth watching...even just for Gowan's amazing playing.
Rock on, y'all.
My youngest child is obsessed with McDonald's. She's tried to convince me that she loves the food, but my mama sense knows better. She really just wants the toy. Every time our family goes out to eat, she refuses to enjoy the restaurant food along with us. She wants McD's. And I cave because I don't want to fight the battle. At least she's eating, right?
Yeah, I know. Ba da ba bad mom.
Today, though, was a special treat. I was going to my big girl's school to have lunch with her. (Although I had the wrong schedule, so my timing was off...but that's another story.) Her choice? Of course. McDonald's. I couldn't bring myself to eat there, so I packed a salad before heading off to the drive-thru.
Now...my child's obsession means many trips through the drive-thru lanes. I've become familiar with some of the regular workers. One of them is a sweet German lady who is missing some teeth. She always has a smile and a quippy little saying for me. We love her.
The smile wasn't there today. Instead, when she saw me, her shoulders slumped and her face fell. She looked sad and tired. She told me her husband is ill, that he has a pacemaker and he's not well. She said she's scared for him and for herself.
I promised to pray. I even took hold of her hand before driving off...kind of a hand hug. The best one can do in a crowded drive-thru. I don't know her, but in that moment, I felt so close.
As I headed to my girl's school, I prayed for this couple. Then the ugly human side of me bubbled to the surface. I started thinking about the people who approach me to tell me their problems. Me. Just one of the millions of people on this earth who may look like she has it all together, but I really, really don't. In fact, I'm a total mess. Why would anyone want to come to me? And then God spoke these words into my heart:
"They're not coming to you. They're coming because they see Jesus in you."
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not claiming any greatness. But He reminded me that His love reaches through me (and you) to others. Through a shy smile. Through a kind word. Through a gentle hug. 1 John 4:19 tells us, "We love because he first loved us."
That thought blew me away. That God might be able to use this craziness named Ashley to give others peace just by allowing them to unload their troubles. And all I have to do is listen and love (even though my heart may want to fix). All I have to do is be open and willing. And in doing so, I'm sharing God with others who truly need Him.
I hope you'll join me in praying for this sweet lady and her beloved husband. And I hope you'll be encouraged the next time someone comes to you with their problems. They aren't coming to you...they're coming because they see Jesus in you.
Be the light, people.
Wow! Five years ago today, Asylum was released for the very first time. I can't believe it! So much has happened since then...and here, I am, six books later. Isn't that crazy?
I'll never forget that moment in July of 2012, when I read my name as the grand prize winner of the WestBow Press/Munce writers' contest. Someone actually considered my story worthwhile! What a feeling!
It's been quite the ride to get from that point to where I am now. I've also been given a strong dose of reality. From dealing with a vanity press (who traditionally published my book, but still tried to suck me into their "package deals". Um...no.) to contracting with a super unprofessional small press (that is thankfully now defunct, saving other writers from heartache) to venturing into self-publishing... I wouldn't trade it for anything. Well, except a twenty book contract with a major house and corresponding movie deals. But that's where the dose of reality comes in.
While I have a handful of dedicated and loyal fans, I've learned that I really write for my own enjoyment. I love exploring the worlds in my head. I love learning the ins and outs of the characters that live there. And the stories...while I may not have a movie deal, I can see them all in my head on the big screen. It's just my job to translate that to paper (or the computer as the case may be).
I'm proud of Asylum and its five years. I released an updated version under my own imprint a couple years ago. If you haven't read it, I recommend it! It's a face-paced medical sci-fi thriller. Grab it from Amazon today by clicking here.
A while back, my Twitter feed was trending #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter. I had to jump on that one! We hear things all the time that drive us crazy, but truly...only other writers understand.
1. "You know, I've been thinking about writing a book..."
ANSWER: Great. Awesome. Do it.
2. "It can't be that hard."
ANSWER: (after much laughter) Wait.
3. "So, I've written a book/story/memoir/fill-in-the-blank. Would you mind looking at it for me?"
ANSWER: You're my friend, so I'll try to be kind, but my time is very limited as it is. While I would love to read your stuff and give you knowledgeable feedback, unless you pay me, I just can't.
4. "You're a writer. Wow. You're like a millionaire, right?."
ANSWER: (again, much laughter)
5. "I have a friend who wrote a book in five days. She got an agent like that *snap*, and a publisher picked it up right away."
ANSWER: Go away before I kick you.
6. "Where do you get all those ideas?"
ANSWER: Honestly, I don't know. Characters pop into my head, and they won't leave me alone until I write their story.
7. "How do you find the time to write with all the other stuff you have to do?"
ANSWER: It's my passion. I find the time.
8. "Can I have a free copy of your book?"
ANSWER: While I'm honored you want to read my work, this helps pay my bills. It's my intellectual property, blood, sweat, tears, and all the other cliches you want to throw in there. If you give me a free doctor's appointment, legal representation, dance lesson, etc...perhaps we'll talk.
9. "It must be exciting to see your books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble."
ANSWER: It must be! I don't know. I self-publish and B&N won't touch self-published books.
10. "When does the movie come out?"
There's a lot that goes into writing a book. Time, thought, heart, and so much more. If you want to support an author, buy their book. Write a review. Encourage them. We are artists, and we need the love. We appreciate our fans because without you, our work is meaningless. You breathe life into who we are. So keep reading!
Award-winning sci-fi author * Christ follower, wife, and mom * broadcast content producer. And yes, I am a real duchess. http://amzn.to/2eLTlH3