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.
Title for my upcoming novel, Joy After Noon
Initially, the idea behind my title was that my protagonist Joy’s life has been lonely (and joy has been elusive) since her parents died when she was sixteen, and she has about given up on finding love when she meets Ray. She comes into his ready-made family and, for a time, this seems like a mistake to her. However, in the afternoon of her life, she finds love and joy.
When does the afternoon of life begin? Joy is much younger than I am, but she’s never been in a serious romantic relationship before, and she no longer expects one to happen when she meets Ray. She does not consider herself particularly desirable or even attractive, and she’s thrilled that Ray finds her beautiful. Doubts emerge, though, after the honeymoon, and soon she begins to question his real motives in marrying her.
Yet, I think the concept goes deeper than this, and the afternoon of life does not begin at a particular age, or even stage of life. In the novel, Ray has been pursuing career success and material acquisitions, and experiences a significant change of direction. Some fairly disastrous events in his workplace precipitate the change in Ray—events that threaten not only his financial stability but the core of who he is. Even Ray’s teenage daughters experience significant change, as they are forced to think about issues of life and death.
Carl Jung says: “The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.” Jung goes on to describe the afternoon of life as the time when we begin to shift away from the ego being the dominant force in our life moving toward a life journey that has real meaning. I also like the following quote: In the afternoon of your life, you don’t do life. You do what resonates with the callings of your soul. Follow the link below for an interesting interview on the subject with Dr. Wayne Dyer: https://www.positivelypositive.com/2013/06/28/the-afternoon-of-your-life/
No Time to Read! In Today’s Shifting Landscape: Why Bother With Books? For the Young & Young at Heart
Technology has turned the world upside down. I used to believe that when I got older, I would be wiser and more knowledgeable and the young might even turn to me for guidance. Instead, the older I get, the harder it is to keep up with the advances. I have to look to my children for help. “What is Snapchat?” I ask; or “How do you share a picture from Instagram to Facebook?”
A friend of mine told me that when she got her cable installed for her television, she wanted to block certain channels from viewing by her kids. She couldn’t figure out how to do it, so what did she do? She asked her kids to block the channels from themselves!
But do these technologically savvy youngsters read books for pleasure? Do they know who Louisa May Alcott was or what Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote? Have they read Emily Bronte or Mark Twain? And it is not just kids who bury their (our) noses too often in their computers or smart phones. I am not saying it’s all bad. But we only have so many hours in a lifetime. Whereas we once spent our leisure time reading books, I wonder how many of those hours are now spent scrolling through the latest posts on Facebook or Instagram or some other social medium.
It would be a tremendous shame if our youth ceased to read for entertainment, for enlightenment. I think the best books are not the ones that tell us how to think or behave, but the ones that leave us with questions. I recently read a post from a reader who said that Gone with the Wind disturbed her for a long time because of its ending. I thought back to the first time I read it. I stumbled across the novel on the shelves of our local library and, believe it or not, I had never heard of it. I was engrossed. And, yes, I too was disturbed by the ending. But would we have remembered it as well or as long if Scarlett had fallen into Rhett’s arms in the finale? Instead, we have to wonder if she’s getting what she deserves, and to question what will happen tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.
Books open doors in a way that nothing else can. They allow us to draw our own pictures of the setting and characters, rather than relying on the director or actors as in a movie. They expand our vocabulary, not because we look words up in the dictionary but because we learn from context as we encounter those same words again and again. When you are engaged in the story, you probably don’t want to take time to look words up even on your smart phone. And, honestly, you don’t need to!
Many of my favorite books can be categorized as young adult or even children’s books. But when I was in those age groups, I remember reading and cherishing many adult novels. Don’t limit yourselves to one genre or one reading level, or you might miss some true treasures.
Finally, I still believe we can learn a lot from our elders. Several years ago I had two women in a college class I was teaching who were mother and daughter. Both led busy lives. By the end of the course it became clear that the mother would earn one of the highest grades in the class, while the daughter was likely to fail. The mother confided to me that she had learned to snatch every available moment—while baking something in the oven, while drying a load of laundry, etc.—to read a paragraph or two of her text. I don’t know if her daughter ever learned that lesson, but it has certainly stayed with me over the years. If I have a longish drive or an appointment—hair salon, dentist, doctor’s office, whatever—you’ll rarely catch me without a book or an audio book!
Besides the Bible, can you name a book that has made a difference in your life?
Last week at the library I found a novel I hadn’t read by one of my favorite feel-good authors: Maeve Binchy. I thought I’d read all of hers; and since she passed away, there would be no more new ones. Perhaps I’d read this one, I thought, and simply forgotten that I had. But as I began to read and discovered I had not, my delight reminded me of my pleasure as a child when a new Nancy Drew book landed on a shelf in the local bookstore. One of the things I appreciate about Maeve Binchy is the way, like Jan Karon and William Faulkner, she creates a community and brings its residents to vivid life.
As I outgrew Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew, I turned to Beany Malone books and Betsy-Tacy books. Along the way I fell in love with The Secret Garden, Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and everything Louisa May Alcott wrote.
I cannot remember how old I was when I read The Caine Mutiny (maybe 8th grade) and Herman Wouk became my favorite author. The Caine Mutiny fascinated me with Wouk’s portrayal of real, flawed but likable characters, each with his own manner of speaking. There were no beautiful heroines or handsome heroes, no good guys or bad guys. You could recognize a character by his dialogue even if Wouk didn’t identify him. Wow! I also marveled at the variability of Wouk’s work: Marjorie Morningstar, Herbie Bookbinder, and Winds of War, to name a few. I have other favorites whose novels are far more similar to one another, and thus readily identified with their creator, than those of Wouk. Maeve Binchy falls into this category, as does Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Caine Mutiny was my favorite novel of all time until I encountered Crime and Punishment as required reading in 9th grade. Thus began my love affair with Russian authors: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak and Chekhov. From the Russian novels, I discovered that “not being able to put it down” was not the highest praise, in my opinion, for a book. It took me the best part of an entire summer to finish Dr. Zhivago, and I treasured it!
In college, I met my husband, and we both read Henry James. I loved his writing, while my husband thought The American was one of the worst books ever written. I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby in college too, all of which I still cherish and he doesn’t.
I have so many favorites I’m bound to leave out many. I’m going to tackle them in broad, loose categories of my own design. Being southern myself, I’m drawn to southern writers and settings: To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, the stories and novels of William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, William Gay, Larry Brown, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Donna Tartt, Lee Smith and Alice Walker.
Some of the writers I admire are so far above my talent and ability, I don’t claim them even as influences, though perhaps they are at a subconscious level. Among my favorites are authors that I think of as more commercially successful but still incredibly talented and often lauded. These include: Anita Shreve (my daughter once told me that her writing reminded her of mine, and I was thrilled), Toni Morrison, Daphne du Maurier, Richard Russo, Margaret Atwood (she defies categorization), Anne Tyler, Ian McEwan, Barbara Kingsolver, Wally Lamb, Jeffery Eugenides, Elizabeth Berg. Some of my favorites focus on particular ethnicities. These include: Lisa See, Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Khaled Hosseini.
From time to time I like to read some variation of science fiction/fantasy, particularly Margaret Atwood (she’s worth mentioning again), Madelaine l ’Engle, C. S. Lewis (although I much prefer his non-fiction), Isaac Asimov and Nevil Shute. And should I admit it? I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games.
Finally I’ve always had a fondness for coming-of-age novels, and I discovered the Anne of Green Gables series (and Emily of New Moon) as an adult. Last year I visited L. M. Montgomery’s home in Prince Edward Island to see for myself the landscapes she described so beautifully.
I may not always tell you, but I hope you always know.
I love the way:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. John 4:23-24
I was brought up in the church, and some of my earliest memories are of the little country church I attended as a small child with my parents and grandparents. I remember wondering if Jesus was present in the flesh behind the painting of him that stood above the baptistery. So you might think that my journey to faith would have been an uneventful one. This is not the case.
When I was eight, two of my friends and I went down the aisle to confess Christ during a revival meeting. I was baptized at that time. However, by the age of twelve, I had my first crisis of faith.
Both of my grandfathers had died by then, in their early sixties, leaving our family truncated. I didn’t understand why, and I couldn’t seem to resist wondering and asking. I saw others who suffered loss and seemed to accept it as God’s will without being troubled by doubts and questions. Why couldn’t I?
My paternal grandmother had a difficult time herself, and suffered a nervous breakdown when my grandfather became ill. This same grandmother had a strong faith, however, and eventually pulled through onto more solid footing. She was a big admirer of Billy Graham. I wrote Mr. Graham a letter expressing my own doubts, which I couldn’t find the courage to express in my church. That letter lay unmailed in the top drawer of my dresser for many years.
In college I studied pre-medicine for the first three years before changing majors. There I met my husband, who was studying wildlife biology though he switched to pre-veterinary medicine. He had his own struggles with faith, having a brother who was severely damaged by forceps at birth, resulting in cerebral palsy.
This brother-in-law, Terry, who died this year, could not feed himself, speak, or control his bladder or muscles. My husband always said he was probably the smartest one in the family. Yet, at his funeral, I realized that many people believed him to be mentally retarded, which was far from the truth. It had always pained me to see Terry strive to communicate using the best sounds and facial expressions at his disposal, knowing how frustrating it must be for him; and it pained me even more to think how often he’d been misunderstood over the course of his life on this earth. I could only imagine how hard it was for my husband.
By the time my husband was in veterinary school, my faith was weak. I went to church, but I struggled to believe. I was troubled by things I heard in the pulpit as well as things I read in scripture. I wondered how God could punish people in societies where they had never heard of Christ. I wondered how God could smile upon some denominations, as these early ministers seemed to believe, and deny others access to the pearly gates. I wondered why believing was so important to God, and why belief was so easy for some and so troublesome for me.
I initiated a conversation with the minister at my church in Columbus, Ohio, telling him my doubts. I longed for him to convince me, to help me, to work with me. But he never followed up on that conversation.
We moved to Indiana, and I sought the help of a minister there. He told me that there were other reasons for attending church besides faith—that many people attended church for social or business reasons. I did not want to attend church for those reasons. I wanted to believe!
While we were in Indiana, I experienced the miracle of childbirth. I was enchanted by the perfection of my daughter, and I felt closer to my creator (and hers) than I had in a long time. Before her first birthday, we moved back home to Kentucky. She and I began to attend a small country church, and the congregation, minister, and elders there were warm and welcoming.
When I was pregnant with our second child, we moved again, this time to Clarksville, Tennessee. The church I joined here, of which I’m still a member, had two ministers at this time, both named Mike: Mike Anglin (pulpit minister) and Mike Moore (education minister).
I learned a lot from both of these wonderful men. I learned that faith is not equivalent to belief, that faith is an active concept. I began to realize that I had been seeking God all my life and that, so long as I did not give up on Him, He would not give up on me. When Mike left, our current minister came to our congregation. I’ve learned a lot over the years from Geoffrey Sikes also. One of the messages I’ve heard him say repeatedly is that when it comes to the difficult questions that have troubled me so often, God will decide and God makes no mistakes.
With my four-year-old daughter and baby son in tow, I confessed Christ again on a weekday. Mike Anglin listened to my confession, and baptized me into Christ for the second time. God has blessed me richly, and I pray almost daily for him to strengthen my faith. I pray that I can understand the things I need to understand, and accept the things I cannot. He is so patient with me, and he keeps answering my prayers, though not always in the way I’m hoping for and not always as quickly as I’d like. But I believe He knows better than I do what I truly need, and when and how to meet those needs.
Narrative Nonfiction about Two Special Guys
by Debra Coleman Jeter
Since I published The Ticket in May 2015, I’ve had several people who discovered my earlier book, “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor. Interestingly, the feedback I’ve received recently about “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor has been at least as enthusiastic (and maybe even more) than that about The Ticket.
For those of you familiar with Catherine Marshall’s novel Christy or with the two-season CBS television series based on that novel, “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor should feel like an old friend. For those of you not familiar with Christy, consider “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor an introduction to something you are bound to love.
I remember the day my son Clay was invited to audition for a television show called Christy. I did not make the connection, though I had read Christy years earlier. Then he was invited for a call-back in Townsend, Tennessee. It was there we first realized Kellie Martin (star of Life Goes On) had been cast as Christy; she was there that day, and Clay recognized her. Then I had a chance to read a section of the script, and I recognized the story, to my delight.
If you haven’t read Christy, you should. It is simply wonderful. If you love it, or if you are interested in true tales about child actors (my son Clay), or about growing up during the Great Depression (my dad Cliff Coleman), I suspect you’ll love “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor. You can buy it on Amazon in paperback, hardback, or Kindle. It is also available through Barnes & Noble in their Nook format. To learn more, check out my webpage at www.DebraColemanJeter.com. I would love to hear your reaction, and /or see your review on Amazon or Goodreads.
For those of you who have already read “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor and shared your reaction, you have made my day more than once. To everyone reading my blog: Thank you, and Happy New Year!