April 1, 2020
For those of you who know me well—and even those of you who don’t—my background as a CPA and accounting professor may seem entirely at odds with my desire to write fiction. I’ve decided to bring the two sides of my brain together in my next project, “The Accountants.”
Since returning home from New Zealand, I’ve been refining my “One-Year Plan to Write a Novel” into a “One-Year Plan to Write a Screenplay.” Now, upon finishing a draft of a revised plan, I’ve begun to apply the plan to a new television pilot and series. I don’t expect “The Accountants” to resemble either the short or the feature film called “The Accountant.” But I do hope mine will be entertaining—sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and sometimes enlightening. I suppose that’s my hope for all my fiction.
March 30, 2020
We are in the throes of the Corona (COVID-19) virus. When I say “we,” I don’t mean myself or my family but the world, and particularly, for me, the U.S. Of course, it affects us all, whether or not we have the virus ourselves. Certainly it could (and most likely will) get worse before it gets better. This morning, as I went for a walk around the neighborhood, I had the eerie feeling that I was living an episode of the Twilight Zone.
I imagine most writers are addressing this issue in their work or journals. Or, perhaps, like me, they’ve been too stunned to tackle the topic. Today I thought I’d shake off the “wait and see” attitude that prevents me from putting anything in writing at this point.
My husband and I had planned a number of trips this year. I should say “I” had planned an unprecedented amount of travel. Having just retired at the beginning of 2019 from teaching, I told myself that we should travel to parts of the world we’d never seen and do so before our health might prevent us. So I scheduled trips to Japan, Peru (Machu Picchu), and the south of France, in addition to our usual annual trip to New Zealand. By nature a bit of a risk taker and a lot of a cheapskate, I bought airfare, hotels, etc. mostly through Expedia (which packages various airlines) and mostly noncancellable and nonrefundable.
We were scheduled to leave for Los Angeles on February 18, spend a couple of nights with our son Clay there, then leave for New Zealand on February 20. By February 18, the virus was already causing serious problems in China and starting to spread into Singapore and Korea. Because we had scheduled layovers in Singapore on our way from Auckland to Japan (on March 22) and Korea on our way home (April 1), we knew we would mostly likely cancel our trip to Japan by the time we arrived in Auckland.
However, we thought travel to Auckland would be safe—and, so far as we can tell—it was. Shortly after arriving in New Zealand, we attempted to cancel our flights to and from Japan without success. A few days after we returned to the U.S. (March 22), Auckland went into “shut down” mode.
During our month in Auckland, the virus began to spread into and throughout the U.S. Life in Auckland was almost, though not quite, business as normal. I conducted a Ph.D. seminar with students in the room, though several others asked if they could receive a taping of the seminar instead of attending in person. People bunched together in bars, on beaches, in restaurants, and streams of students bumped against one another when a fire alarm sent us outside.
When I spoke with family in the U.S.—my sister, my son, my daughter, my parents—the reports of people wearing gloves and self-isolating even though they had no symptoms and no diagnosis—seemed like overkill. Appointments were being cancelled, others debated (was it safe for my mom to have her hair cut one last time?) At first I couldn’t quite take it all seriously, could hardly believe my ears.
By the time we left Auckland on March 22, we knew the virus was indeed serious. Where would it end? What would we find when we arrived in the U.S.? Should we wear masks on the plane even though reports indicate the masks aren’t helpful? Would we be able to buy toilet tissue or hand sanitizer?
We’re here now. We feel safe much of the time. But we are saddened to hear how many people in the world, in the nation, in our state, even in our city, have contracted the virus. When will it end?
My morning walk, despite the absence of people stirring, wasn’t without splendor. Flowers and trees are budding and bursting into full bloom. Spring surges into our world, oblivious to this threat to our health. Let’s enjoy the beauty around us and, yes, let our hearts sing.
In novels and movies, you often see people who risk everything -- their freedom, their families, their lives -- in the pursuit of wealth. People are willing to steal, kill, etc. for it. When I read or watch these works, I typically think, "How foolish! I'm so thankful that's not me", or even "I would never do that." Yet I also think how much of my own life -- (how many minutes of the day or days of the year) is consumed thinking in some fashion about money. But would wealth really bring an alleviation of problems, or create new ones? I wrote The Ticket to explore how the sudden acquisition of wealth might affect a family struggling to get by.
My parents were children during the Depression, and they knew what it was like to have very little in the way of material things. Yet they never look back on that time as being anything other than blessed. Still they are very careful with money. I got to thinking about how easy it is for people of our generation to get obsessed with wealth and the things it can buy. People sometimes risk their families, their freedom, even their lives in its pursuit. But would it really bring happiness? I wanted to explore this issue. I pray about having success with various things I’ve worked on, (if it’s God’s will), and this is the one where some success seems to be happening…so far at least.
There are actually two important messages. One is that wealth might not bring all the good things we sometimes envision and might create more problems than it solves. The second message is to treasure the moments with your loved ones; we never know how long we will have them in our lives.
The Ticket deals with some tough, realistic issues. The situation referred to in one controversial scene—where a sexual predator makes advances to Tray—is one that arises all too often, and I think it’s important for young women or boys who might face something like this in their lives to know that it’s not their fault. They are not alone. They should not feel ashamed. Ideally, I’d like for my book to open a dialogue within families about how to handle such a situation should it arise.
I don’t mean to give the impression that only bad things happen to Tray in The Ticket, or that the controversial scene lies at the heart of the novel. The Ticket is about a family that wins the lottery. While the win itself doesn’t provide the happiness they long for, good does come to Tray in various ways. A new girl at school turns out to be Tray’s dear friend. A boy she has a crush on begins to pay her some attention. Her relationship with her dad is strengthened. And, little by little, Tray becomes a more confident young woman who believes in her ability to survive the tough things that sometimes come our way in life.
Song of Sugar Sands
Sugar Sands Book Two
Set in the late 1970s, SONG OF SUGAR SANDS is chronologically the first novel in the Sugar Sands series. The protagonists, Peter and Acadia, appeared as minor characters in JOY AFTER NOON, which was Sugar Sands Book One (set in the early 1980s). The two novels stand alone and can be read in either sequence. I wrote SONG OF SUGAR SANDS first, but published JOY AFTER NOON first.
SONG OF SUGAR SANDS is a novel about—in the words of William Faulkner—the human heart in conflict with itself. Who hasn’t, at least occasionally, struggled with doubts about her faith in God or about God’s personal interest in her life? Acadia Powers’ faith wavers at an early age as she observes her parents behaving in a manner she views as hypocritical. She has about given up on God when, in college, she meets and falls for Peter O’Neil, a student with a commitment to sharing his faith.
SONG OF SUGAR SANDS is the story of their romance and the first rocky year of marriage. It is a love story, but also the story of Acadia’s struggle to come to terms with issues of faith. College student Acadia Powers is a late bloomer who is just learning to enjoy her newfound attractiveness to the opposite sex when she and Peter O’Neil meet at a college party. In that first meeting, Acadia discovers Peter's interest in spreading his beliefs, but believes she can cure him of what she views as an unhealthy obsession. She knows herself to be entirely the wrong sort of person to even think of marrying a would-be preacher.
Nonetheless, Peter’s faith in Acadia proves almost as unshakable as his faith in God; and, after much debate, she agrees to marry him. After graduation and a simple wedding ceremony, they enjoy a brief honeymoon before moving to Sugar Sands, Alabama, where Peter has accepted his first preaching assignment, and Acadia takes a job teaching high school.
Acadia’s misgivings about herself in the role of a minister’s wife resurface as the challenges facing the couple begin to mount. First, one of her students attempts suicide after confiding her problems in Acadia. Then, when Beatrice Wood—the woman who has helped Acadia to survive this far—reveals that she has terminal cancer, Acadia almost quits. She must learn that her strength doesn’t come from herself, or from Beatrice.
Throughout Acadia is haunted by the memory of certain things she did before meeting Peter, things she has never confided in him. Acadia’s sense of identity is threatened as she first strives to be who Peter wants her to be, and later, for a time, who the church members want. As she loses sight of who God wants her to be, she questions who she is, where she’s going, and whether there is hope for her or for her marriage. Eventually she begins to identify with the blind man, whose sight is restored and recorded in Mark 8. When she confesses the sins that have haunted her, with her confession comes the beginning of hope. Still her vision is clouded. Like the blind man in Mark 8, Acadia learns to see clearly in stages rather than all at once.
Praise for Sugar Sands Book One:
Sometimes the situation seems perfect, but underneath lie secrets and time bombs ready to explode. Apart from the wonderful characterization, the quickly increasing pace of the plot, and the introspection, there are a scattering of lovely insights in the story.
--Laura Hogg, Author (A.K.A. Lara MacGregor)
Five stars. I look forward to getting my hands on the next installment from the Sugar Sands series. I cannot wait to see what happens next.
--Amy Booksy, Blogger
Prepare yourself for a roller coaster of emotions in this one.
--Andi’s Book Reviews
This was a thought-provoking, heart-stopping read. The family dynamics portrayed in this book were handled realistically yet respectfully … seeing how easily miscommunication can destroy a relationship.
--Sharing Links and Wisdom, Blog
Whether you're a daughter, wife, step-mother, housewife, professional or any combination, Debra Coleman Jeter has created a character you'll embrace.
--Jane Wells, writer
I enjoy looking at issues from multiple angles so I'm drawn to multiple points-of-view (POV) as a writer. There are three points-of-view from which I tell the story of Joy After Noon. Here are some facts about each of the main characters, including these three (all female) plus one important male character.
Joy is a college professor who has never been seriously in love … until she meets the gorgeous widower Ray Jenkins, single parent to two teenage girls. Joy doubts her own attractiveness, but Ray makes her feel beautiful inside and out. When the girls try to undermine her role in the household, she resolves to make her marriage work, one way or another.
Ray, seemingly successful banker, finds himself facing ethical dilemmas as his associates negotiate a dubious merger and then try to hide the undesirable financial consequences. Too caught up in his business concerns, he fails to keep sight of what’s going on at home, both with his daughters and with his new wife.
Marianne has aspired all her life to please her demanding perfectionist mother, even after that mother’s death. She cannot live up to her own standards of perfectionism, either as a ballerina or as a cheerleader longing for popularity. She views her new step-mother as anything but perfect. What can her dad possibly see in Joy?
Jenny, the younger daughter, knows she could never come near to the example set by Marianne, so why try? At least she has a friend—the charming, quirky, outspoken, too old-for-her-years Claudia. Jenny can’t help fantasizing about Claudia’s bad-boy, charming brother Alex. From shoplifting to lying to drugs, Jenny follows Claudia’s lead from one escapade to another … until one night, thing get out of hand. Way out.
We all have mood swings but …
Do Writers Have More?
As a writer, I alternate between two types of extreme moods: periods when I’m excited about a project and the way my sentences seem to flow, and others when I read what I’ve written and find it disappointing and lame. From Ernest Hemingway to Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf, there’s a long history of writers and other artists who suffer bouts of depression. Is there a good reason for this, or does depression defy reason?
As a reader, I similarly alternate between extremes, which seem heightened when I think of myself as a writer. There are times when I’m reading something that is so well written and so captivating that I wonder how I could ever imagine I could hold my own in a world with such talented writers. Then there are times when I can’t seem to find a single book to read that grabs and holds my attention. I don’t know if my novel will do this for you, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I know I have much to learn about my craft, and most of the time I’m hopeful that I can grow as a writer. I know, though, that it’s more important to grow in generosity and kindness, as a human being and a Christian.
Looking for a good book? I’d love it if you’d be willing to try mine. Joy After Noon is the first novel in my new Sugar Sands series. To learn more, visit one (or more) of these websites featuring my novel the next couple of weeks:
April 29: Romance Novel Giveaways
April 30: Fabulous and Brunette
May 1: BooksChatter
May 1: Hearts and Scribbles
May 2: Christine Young
May 3: All the Ups and Downs
May 6: Readeropolis
May 7: All Things Romance
May 7: Nickie's Views and Interviews
May 8: Wendi Zwaduk - Romance to Make Your Heart Race
May 9: Stormy Nights Reviewing and Bloggin'
May 10: A Chick Who Reads
May 13: Our Town Book Reviews
May 14: Candrel's Crafts, Cooks, and Characters
May 15: So Many Books
May 16: Straight From the Library
May 17: Locks, Hooks and Books
When Your Past Looms Longer than Your Future
Debra Coleman Jeter
When my grandfather lay dying of pancreatic cancer, he remarked that he could remember his entire life in the space of a few minutes. But could he really? Of course not, but I don’t doubt that all he could remember just then took only a few minutes. Granted, he was only sixty, younger than I am now. Years later, my aunt, who died of lung cancer at about the same age, made a similar statement the last time I saw her. “Our life here really is just a vapor,” she said. I believe she was quoting James 4:14:
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. ESV
Last night my husband and I watched a television show in which a man kept re-watching videos of his late wife and of their life together. I commented that though we have loads of photos, we have very few videos of ourselves, which might be for the best.
If you’re blessed, as I am, to have spouse, parents, and children and grandchildren still in your life, we should be so thankful. If we have lost loved ones, we should cherish the memory of having had them in our life.
Yet, I believe God wants us to live in the present. Remember when David grieved his dying child and pleaded with God to spare him? When the child died, however, he dressed and ate and moved forward. When questioned, David said: “…But now that the baby is dead, why should I fast? I can’t bring him back to life. Someday I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” 2 Samuel 12: 23 NCV
I know moving forward is not that easy. Perhaps my greatest fear is of the loss of my loved ones, and particularly at an age that feels premature to me, when they have not lived as long as I hope they will. But we cannot fully live our lives as we should if we’re too busy looking back or dreading what lies ahead.
I sit and look out this morning at a calm silvery sea with the sunlight peeking through the clouds, and I think what a glorious world we live in and what a blessing today truly is. As we read in Psalm 118: 24: This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (NKJV).
Is There a Troll in Your Life?
Debra Coleman Jeter
On the evening of my book launch for Joy After Noon, a one-star review appeared on my Amazon page. Because it was the only review and had appeared so quickly, it caught my attention at once. I read:
Total waste of time. “Wish I could recommend this book; but it was a waste of time to read. Author needs to consider another line of work.”
I lay awake that night, unsettled by a head full of swirling thoughts. Was I so horrible a writer as to deserve a review of this nature? I knew, of course, that not everyone would love my books. I’d read some pretty harsh reviews of books by other authors I admired, books I cherished. So I was prepared for criticism. But not for abuse. Did I have an enemy; and if so, who? The review felt too personal to be from a stranger. As a teacher for over twenty years, I’d given more than a few poor grades. Could the review be from a former student?
When I posted a statement on my launch website (seeking other reviews to balance this one), I was introduced to a new term. New to me, that is, but not to those more savvy in the ways of the internet. Troll. An internet troll.
This led me to do a bit more investigating, and here’s what I found:
I discovered that internet trolls often review products or books they have not even tried. They trash the creative efforts of others without giving them a fair chance.
In my case, the troll/reviewer identified herself on Feb. 28, 2019, when the review was initially posted, as “Marie.” My new novel had only been made available a day or so before, and Amazon takes up to 48 hours to approve a new review. Not a verified purchaser, she subsequently changed her name twice in the first week of March, first to Joan and then to Sammie. I found a similar review from the same “Marie” (subsequently showing up as Sammie) on my first novel, The Ticket: one star review with the heading “Save time, and toss it!”
Then, on the same day that Joan became Sammie, I discovered that my nonfiction book “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson” had just received a new one-star review in March of 2019 from the same reviewer though the book was published 13 years earlier: “Blah … you will be glad you didn’t buy it.” Because this book had not been rated often (only 4 reviews, all 5 star), the 1-star review from Sammie dropped my average from 5 to 2.5 because Amazon weights recent reviews more heavily than older ones.
If she really dislikes my books so much, why would she keep reading them—and rush to obtain a copy of Joy After Noon as soon as it came out (although Amazon doesn’t list her as a verified purchaser)? I have no idea who she is or why she has singled me out.
Having submitted countless academic papers over the years and having received my fair share of rejection letters, I believed I’d grown a thick skin. I have advised junior faculty I mentored on multiple occasions not to have thin skin when submitting their research to journals. Yet, here I was, lying awake over a sentence or two dashed out by someone who, most likely, had never seen—much less read—my books.
As frustrating as this is for the writer or seller or artist, I also have to wonder what experiences in the trolls’ past motivates them to do such a thing—to waste precious moments of life that could be spent in a hundred more productive ways in an effort to get a reaction or cause pain. In the end, you have to feel sorry for the troll.
Online Book Launch: JOY AFTER NOON
I’m no expert on this topic, not by a long shot. Still, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned in case it might be useful to someone planning a book launch.
First, things can happen fast, so it pays to be prepared. Organize as much as possible before the event. Try to anticipate some of the questions likely to arise. For example, what’s the book about? Where did the idea originate? How did you design, or choose, your cover? What’s the underlying message or theme? If you can write a brief paragraph to answer some of these, you can copy and paste it into the comments during the launch to save typing and time. You should advise participants to hit the “refresh” button frequently during the launch or they will miss many of the comments—and do this yourself.
I created a series of questions that relate to the book but do not require participants to have read it yet. Joy After Noon deals with a second marriage for the husband, and the wife feels threatened by the stellar qualities of the deceased first wife. So I posed a question about jealousy. She also has to deal with step-daughters who are in the throes of teenage angst. So I posed a question about our fears for our kids, step-kids, or grandkids. I located images on the internet to accompany each question. Before the launch began, I opened a WORD document with the questions and an images folder, so that I could quickly move back and forth, and paste a question (and accompanying image) if the discussion started to lag or drag.
To encourage participation, I offered a lottery with participants getting entries for their comments. The winner would be announced the following evening to allow individuals unable to attend to read the posts for a full day following the launch and continue to comment.
Alicia Paige Boggs organized the event for me, and she took charge of creating the invitations, sending reminders, and setting up the Facebook party. As I’m not skilled in the arena of social media, this took a lot of pressure off. I was able to invite my Facebook friends simply by clicking a button. When I sent her link to friends not on Facebook, or not in my Facebook account, I wasn’t quite sure how it would work or whether they would be able to see the party. I’d recommend sorting these technical issues out in advance so you know what to tell people who ask.
Above all, relax and have fun! The event is a celebration. Your friends will be so supportive, they will make you feel good about your achievement. Who can ask for more?
My husband and I recently watched the movie, We Bought a Zoo, for the second time. Although I wrote the first draft of my novel, Joy after Noon, before seeing the movie the first time (at least I think I did), one aspect resonated with me this time. Benjamin Mee, the character played by Matt Damon, is grieving the death of his wife. At one point he remarks to Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) that a love like his for his first wife only comes along once in a lifetime. By the end of the movie, Benjamin and Kelly have not exchanged more than a kiss. Still, the question comes to mind: What would it be like to be the second wife to someone who had loved that deeply?
On the one hand, you might think he’s capable of great love and would make a wonderful husband. On the other, you might fear you would never be able to live up to his expectations. How can you compete with a ghost? I have not experienced this situation myself, but some of my readers undoubtedly have. I would love to hear of your experience.
In my novel, Joy is the second wife of a widower. Not a great beauty, Joy lacks self-confidence, especially in the domestic realm. Much of the plot hinges on her failure to express her fears and Ray’s failure to articulate his feelings. Like many men, he assumes she knows how he feels, and she’s not secure enough to tell him that she needs to hear it from his lips.
This type of communication problem isn’t limited to second marriages but extends to many first marriages (or even third) as well. Nor is it limited to one sex or the other. Too often we assume our partner knows our needs, or knows how we feel; and, too often, they do not.
Another complication that often arises in second or third marriages is the relationship between the children and their new step-mother. Ray’s step-daughters resolve to bring Joy down, and for a time their plan seems to be working—until it backfires with dire, unforeseen consequences.