Thursday, March 29, 2018

One Moment in Time Makes the Difference


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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know how I got the idea for my first novel? By chance. You know how I met my husband? By total chance. How I got my first reporting job? By chance. All of those, long stories for another day.  Each time, I made a decision that I didn’t realize was a decision. Let alone a life-changing one.
The wonderfully talented Jim Jackson has been thinking about this---for his characters, but also for his own life. Why do we decide what we decide? And do we understand the…

Consequences
          by  James M. Jackson

Not every decision I have made has been a good one.
Every decision I make has consequences. They may be large or small. I may not even be aware of what they are, but they are there.

In real life, consequences don’t necessarily relate well to our expectations of what should happen given our actions. That’s why we say life isn’t fair. Sometimes, it seems that pure chance makes a huge difference, and yet if we look carefully we might see our own hand’s presence.

UU Fellowship, Hunterdon Co, NJ

When I moved to Cincinnati from New Jersey in June 1993, I shopped for a Unitarian Universalist church. This was before Facebook and Google, so my New Jersey minister provided me a list of the four congregations with addresses and ministers’ names. My two objectives were for a congregation that could help ground me in my new location, and I wanted to sing in the choir, something I hadn’t done since college.
The geographically closest to where I lived was First Church. They had a 10:30 service, and being a morning person, I prefer early services, allowing me more of the rest of the day to do whatever else I want. That first Sunday I got turned around driving the confusing Cincinnati streets (no GPS back then) and arrived late for the 10:30 service. I recalled that another UU church was close by and drove to St. John’s in time for their 11:00 service.

My taste for church architecture runs traditional, which St. John’s is not. And while the service was fine, I still wanted to visit the other churches. My second try for First Church was late that summer. Having gotten lost once, I left with a large cushion and arrived early.

 I entered through the door nearest the parking lot and wasn’t sure how to get to the sanctuary. I wandered around the church. Several people saw me, but everyone appeared busy and disinterested in me. I felt uncomfortable and remembered St. John’s was not far away and had the later service. I drove to St. John’s, was met by a greeter, filled out a name tag. I discovered as I read through the order of service that the congregation was dedicating the new hymnals. The service was a congregational sing led by the choir.
St. John's UU Church
Some of the hymns were familiar and I’m a decent sight reader, and I had a great time singing the bass part. Before I could work my way out of the sanctuary, the choir director caught up to me and said a little bird told her I sang bass. Choir rehearsals were Thursday 7-9, and she’d love it if I could come.

A series of seemingly small decisions led me to what became my Cincinnati church home where I met a foxy alto; we’ve been together for twenty-three years and counting. 

My decisions arriving at that place weren’t all good—I should have overcome my shyness and just asked one of the ladies how to get to First Church’s sanctuary—but they did fit with my character and so are understandable.

When we (or our fictional characters) take actions or make decisions against their better judgement, we begin to experience cognitive dissonance. On the way from First Church to St. John’s, I was kicking myself about how lame it was that I couldn’t just ask one of the ladies how to get to the sanctuary. I’ll never know what I missed at First Church. I’ve since met several of their congregants and enjoyed their company.

I’m a pantser and with my novels, I usually find out what issue I’m writing about only after I complete the first draft. 

Turns out that in Empty Promises I was exploring how Seamus McCree, my series protagonist, would react to a series of actions he takes that increasingly conflict with his core values. Like most of us, he self-justifies his decisions, but as they accumulate, they begin to wear him down. Empty Promises is a deeper and darker novel than the others in the series and that carries risks for me.


Some Seamus McCree fans may be upset that he stumbles and for a time loses his moral compass. Those who prefer story resolutions where all the bad guys receive their just desserts will find justice does not always prevail. It is, however, the story I wanted to write—no, that I had to write. I have faith that most readers are bored with do-gooders who can do no wrong and sociopaths who have no conscience. Even with page-turners like Empty Promises, they want to delve deeper into the human condition, provided it has a satisfying conclusion—even if it’s not exactly the one they would have preferred.

How about you, Reds and their fans: have I gone off the deep end, or are you willing to come along for the ride?


HANK: Well, that's a tantalizing question! Jim will be stopping by today to respond to your comments. He’s also giving away a copy of Empty Promises. Just comment to enter!  (And a foxy alto--that's so great! Love to you both.) So Reds and Readers--did you have a big life-changing moment you never could have predicted?



In Empty Promises Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.
Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back the love of his life. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree novels featuring the financial crimes consultant, his family, and friends. The series has been well received by crime fiction readers who like their books darker than cozies and lighter than noir. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the open spaces of Georgia’s Lowcountry. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Here's information about Jim and his books!   

86 comments:

  1. Seamus’s new story sounds quite intriguing, Jim, and I’m looking forward to reading “Empty Promises” . . . .
    Every decision does indeed have a consequence . . . for me, it was a move across the country to California where I met John. The rest, as they say, is history . . . .

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    1. The adventure of Moving to a new location far away does expand the opportunities for life-changing moments.

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    2. What a big moment that must have been! Wow. Elizabeth George calls that "the point where the story narrows"--right?

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  2. The premise of the new book does sound intriguing. While having a series protagonist go darker does carry risks for the existing fan base, readers who want growth from their characters rather simply the same thing over and over will be very willing to go along for the ride an author decides to take them on.

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    1. And I didn't pay you anything to say that, right Jay? :)

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    2. And it's not necessarily darker, too-it could also be deeper. Which I think is what writers who are trying to accept challenges and do better must do! (Forgivethe raggedy thoughts--I'm in the midst of slugging down Dayquil, and my brain is not running on all cylinders)

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    3. No, Jim didn't pay me to say that. Though I guess I could be bought if the price tag included at least 6 zeros. Otherwise, I'm depressingly honest. :) Years of writing CD reviews that got some hilariously negative responses from band members taught me that.

      Hank, sorry to read that you are feeling under the weather. And yes, deeper is just as important as darker. I should've been a bit more descriptive in my response so that was an aspect I mentioned as well.

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  3. Congratulations on the new book, Jim. I don't mind if characters stray a bit along the way, and I don't require things to be tied up in a pretty package in the end. If I am to believe these people exist, and of course I do, then I expect them to be human. All of us have had our moral compasses upended a few times, says she who voted for Nixon. It happens.


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    1. Thanks Ann. Nixon is a great example of everyone being a mixture of dark and light. We have Watergate, etc. but then he's the one who set up the EPA, signed Title IX legislation, ended the draft, etc. But I always worry about people who never read any fiction . . .

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    2. Most people don't read a book after high school or college. MOST people. WTH do they do at night, in bed, in the dark, alone, in the dark.

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    3. You have to wonder about their imagination, you know? That's what's not being fed. Maybe.

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  4. Change carries risks, but predictable can become quite boring--I'm happy to go where the characters lead when I've invested my time in a series I enjoy. Nearly two decades ago, unexpectedly within the space of three months, my parents died, I lost my job of 10 years, sold my house, and moved 'home' to regroup for the summer. At the same time, a brother's wife walked out, leaving him with a one-year-old and a six-week-old baby. I 'helped out'--just for the summer, you know? And here I am now with two grown young men just stepping out into the adult world. Can't wait to catch up with Seamus, Jim!

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    1. Gosh Flora -- you ticked a lot of the "Top 10 Causes of Stress" in such a short time and yet from out of that darkness came great joy. It's a wonderful story.

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    2. Wow, Flora. Talk about challenge. And I love that you fond the good part of your life. SO revealing about you!

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  5. Definitely not off the deep end. What keeps me coming back to a series is the development of the characters. Complexity is what makes them real. Sounds like a book I want to find and read.

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    1. I'm with you Triss. I get bored with the same old thing.

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    2. Agreed! If the people in your books are real--and of course they are---they are not going to stagnate.

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  6. Hey, Jim! Thanks for the serendipity story. I love your series, as you know, and look forward to the new read. I didn't predict that I would leave my day job five years ago (only two years into my five-year plan) to write fiction full time - but I'm wicked glad I did.

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    1. Edith -- and a lot of your fans, including me, are also very glad you made that switch!

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  7. Hi Jim, like you, I write darker than cozies and lighter than noir, and have been told I'm "not allowed to do that." Why not? After fifteen years in Atlanta, we moved our fourteen-year-old north to Cincinnati. Traumatic and life-changing. When she left for college and I started writing, I used the experience.

    Looking forward to your new book.

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    1. Margaret -- my tag line for our kind of novels is "north of cozy and south of noir."

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    2. Which is what real life often is, right?

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  8. Jim, I think your instincts guide you as you write. As for Seamus, what is the point of granting a character a moral compass or core values if they are not challenged? Seamus is human, not infallible, and that's what makes him real and appealing.

    I admire any writer who tries something new or digs more deeply. We spend a lot of time with our stories. Same old, same old is boring for the writer, too. Best of luck with Empty Promises.

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    1. Thanks, Ramona. It is much more interesting to dive deeper into character -- but it isn't easy, is it?

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    2. And if every plot is driven by decisions--you have to offer your character some important ones-and see what they do!o

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  9. I think you have to go off the deep end, or else what's it all about? Or at least that's how I feel with my writing, too.

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    1. I agree Hallie, surfing through life keeps your hair nice and dry, but sure misses out in the interesting stuff.

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    2. It's not only the going off--but it's the swimming and staying afloat afterward ,right?

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  10. Hi, Jim! I'm in favor of however you and Jan got together!

    I met Steve in much the same way, making a split-second--and uncharacteristic--decision that changed the entire course of my life. These events are what I call "rocks in the stream"--they divert the former flow, and create a new path. Every well-lived life has them, don't you think?

    Looking forward to more Seamus!

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    1. Karen -- I love the "rocks in the stream" analogy. Very visual. Thanks.

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    2. exactly! And you look back, and often know exactly where those rocks appeared.

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  11. Jim, I don't know how I've missed Seamus up to now! "North of cozy and south of noir" is pretty much my favorite kind of read. I think I'm going to grab the "boxed set" of your first three books and start there. (Don't worry, I'll make it to the current one.)

    And as others have said, I am fond of series but only when I can see the growth and evolution of the main characters. People who don't grow and change are boring!

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    1. Susan -- I hope you enjoy the stories. BTW, all the Kindle books, including the boxed set, are on sale at 50% off through 4/2/18 to celebrate Empty Promises's publication. :)

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    2. Hank -- here's the link to the series on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Seamus-McCree-5-Book-Series/dp/B078YYRK7R

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  12. Like others, I think you have to go off the deep end and challenge yourself. As long as the character reactions are essentially consistent, readers should understand.

    I think my biggest decision was allowing myself to be fired from a long-time job. I could have fought, but I didn't. That jump-started my writing in a big way.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Mary/Liz -- those unexpected job changes can open up all kinds of new doors when we are receptive to the possibilities.

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    2. Oh, that sounds like a fascinating story! Wow.

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    3. Thanks, Hank. And I'm looking forward to hearing more about that standalone you're working on!

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    4. Oh, thank you! And yeah, I fear you will be hearing quite a bit about it as pub day draws near. :-)

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  13. I went to hear Elizabeth George the other night, and she was talking about his, too. She said she had to decide whether to write a Kinsey Milhone character=who basically doesn't change, and we kind of rely on that. (Miss Marple, Sherlock, Hercule Poirot) . or a character who does change. Which brings on its own challenges.
    But when she made a huge change in one of hr books (no spoilers, but you George fans know what I mean) her readers went CRAZY.

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    1. Yes -- and there's a lot of reader angst expressed when an author kills off a favorite supporting character.

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    2. Both an unchanging character and one that does grow and expand are worth reading, it just matters how the author handles things. I mean I love the Kinsey Millhone series but then I love books where you never know what's coming next for the protagonist.

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  14. We're about to take company to Tybee beach and be back at dinner time when I'll catch up with any comments that come in.

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  15. Hi Jim: I was not familiar with Seamus, will be investigating him now. I have learned from JRW's that men who write are worth reading. A little misanthropic hang up on my part that needed correction. For me, character growth enhances their humanity. I prefer character driven mysteries rather than plot or setting focused ones.

    I become annoyed reading the word for word recounting of part of a character's personality. -- i.e I know Hercule had 'little grey cells' and so on.

    Thirty four years ago, within 90 days, I stopped drinking, began therapy, and came out of the closet. I still wonder about the 'road not taken', but the less traveled road was a soul saver for me.



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    1. Sounds like you bravely chose the right road, Coralee! And you know the story, right? Even Agatha Christie grew weary of Poirot!

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    2. Coralee -- That was a heck of a three months and congratulations for the road taken.

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  16. Jim, such a telling story - both about you and about those churches. I think about this kind of thing whenever I got to a writing or book conference or SinC or MWA meeting--trying to make the people who look like they don't know anyone feel welcome. We've all been there. Congratulations on the new book!

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    1. Yes, indeedy. We have all been there! It takes two seconds to be kind--and possibly change someone's life. Even your own.

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    2. Hallie -- I wish I were better at making others feel welcome in person as you do so well, because I know that feeling of semi-rejection. One of the things I instituted for the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime was a "Newbie" group that I moderate -- a safe place to ask questions and learn the ropes and become integrated with the larger group. Even we extreme introverts can find ways to be welcoming. :)

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  17. When the timing is exactly right, and you are at a place and time that brings good fortune, that is synchronicity. Meant to be!
    Right now in my life I am so content to just be me -- what was all the angst about? The choices and fates got me here.

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    1. SO true! And don't you feel that synchronicity so ofter? Amazing. You just have to be present to see it.

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    2. Terrific you have reached such a great spot -- and we can never quite be sure how much was choice and how much fate.

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  18. I sometimes marvel at the small things that seem to make a huge difference. The friends I've made by being in the right place at the right time or noting the cap they are wearing. I love how God works that way.

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    1. And as Hank says -- it takes only a moment to show a little bit of kindness.

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  19. Every "yes" to something is a "no" to something else. Maturity is realizing you can't have it both ways.

    libbydodd at comcast dot net

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    1. Ah HA! Fascinating way to look at it!

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    2. So true -- and sometimes realizing that by saying "no" to something you can say "yes" to something else is equally important, although sometimes hard to realize.

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  20. Thanks for coming today, Jim! I haven't met Seamus but Empty Promises sounds great. I much prefer characters who have to deal with moral quandaries. Will I miss a lot if I start with Empty Promises, rather than the first in the series?

    At the end of my first summer in grad school, we had to apply for our assistantships for the next year. I had applied to stay in the same area, but at the last minute, for no reason I can come up with, I requested a change to the far end of campus. It was there that I met the young woman who has put up with me for the last 40 years.

    Dear Hank, I hope you're feeling much better soon!

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    1. Thank you, Jim! Sniffle sniffle.

      And see--that's amazing that you requested the change-fascinating!

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    2. Jim -- and even years later we wonder what it was that made us do something that turned out to be so great in ways we could not possibly have known when we changed our mind.

      Some people always like to start with the first in the series and watch the characters grow, and for them I would say there is benefit to doing that with Seamus McCree.

      Each of the books in the series is a standalone story, but I have a suspicion that Empty Promises may not be the best book to first read in the series. Reading Doubtful Relations (the one before Empty Promises) would provide sufficient background so there should be no issues.

      Maybe I'm not giving myself or readers enough credit.

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  21. I am endlessly fascinated by how our decisions, small and large, lead us to the interactions in life that are life changing. In college, I was an English major, but I got it in my head that I wanted to change to elementary education. I checked at the registrar's, but the elementary education classes were full, so I stayed in my English major and ended up being quite happy. If that decision to change majors had happened, my whole life would have been different. As it happened, I was also in secondary education, and while I was at the education building at the beginning of the semester, a fellow English major/friend asked me to wait on her while she finished her business and then she would go to the student center where I was headed. To be honest, I didn't really want to wait and almost told her I'd just meet her there. Well, I did wait and when I was walking across the campus to the student center, my future husband was looking out of one ofs the ROTC building windows and saw us. He knew my friend, but he didn't know me, but he wanted to. So, he asked the friend if she could get my phone number. She did, he called me, and we went out on a date. We've been together ever since, had two great kids and now two wonderful granddaughters. Ah, the decisions we make.

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    1. WOW! Great story. And very sweet. xooo

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    2. Kathy, what a terrific story, and if any one of those things hadn't happened just as it did, the parallel universe would be so different.

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  22. We want our book friends to be real people, errors in judgment and all! It's just boring if there is no conflict going on. I'm not acquainted with Seamus yet but plan to change that soon. As for decisions, mine have been pretty passive. More like they just happen. I met my husband to be on a blind date. His roommate was in a math class with my next door dorm neighbor. He and his 2 roommates needed dates to the football game. So she recruited her roommate and me to be their dates. Future husband called every night to yak and we finally met the day before the game. By the time game day came, we went but for some reason my nextdoor neighbors dumped his roommates as dates so this triple blind date never came off.

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    1. This is incredible--how often does this happen? It seems like-a lot! Not what you'd predict, huh?

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    2. We say "what are the chances" and the math major in me, knowing it actually happened says, "100%!" Thanks for sharing another terrific story.

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  23. Thank goodness you were too shy to ask the church ladies, Jim! You never would have met your foxy Alto! That phrase alone has made my day. Congrats on the new book, and I always think it's more interesting to read about characters who stumble at times. Isn't that what life's all about, after all?

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    1. Isn't it great? Agree, Ingrid. xxx .

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    2. Thanks, Ingrid - and I'm still just about as shy as I was then, except for asking for directions. For some unknown reason, after fifty-plus years of literally wandering in the wilderness, I now have not problems with stopping anyone and asking for directions. Wonders never cease.

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  24. In the mid 80s we were in the ER with a very sick child. We were also on the verge of leaving our traditional church for one with more modern music. However, the ER nurse was from our church and she quickly phoned the minister and soon all of us stood around that child in prayer. Those familiar words brought tears to my eyes and clarity to my thoughts. Our daughter recovered and we stayed firmly rooted in our home church and helped to "modernize" the music program. It was a life-changing moment for sure because it grounded me in faith and love and hope. Interestingly, the ER nurse went on to another church and ended up drifting and uprooted... How easily that could've been me.

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    1. Maggie! You bring tears to my eyes! Xxx

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    2. Wow, Maggie. Such a powerful story on so many levels. Making the change you wanted in a way that was more meaningful and keeping your connections. Just wow.

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  25. On the Elizabeth George thing, I minded losing the character because we readers had been through so much in the previous books to get the couple together. And she was pregnant so the author killed the baby, too. I dropped that series but I've stayed with others that made major changes. I've dropped some series that got really boring, also.

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    1. Fascinating! Next time she’s in town, talk to her about it! She has a wonderfully compelling thought process…

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  26. I did have one of those moments which led directly to my marrying the wrong man! I've wondered and wondered too many times about "what if".

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    1. Oh—that’s the tip of the iceberg.... xxxx

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    2. Well, I have one of those stories, too. Fortunately this more recent version has made me realize that too may have been necessary to get to where I am today.

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  27. Welcome back Jim--i loved this essay! So much of life is serendipity, isn't it? It totally makes sense that this would spill over into our novels. Looking forward to reading your new one.

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    1. Thanks Lucy/Roberta. And thanks to all the Reds for having me back.

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  28. Sorry everyone for not getting back on until nearly 11 pm. Here's the scoop and it relates to what we've been talking about today. On our way back from Tybee Island we ended up in a traffic jam. As it turns out the cause was a fatal three-car crash that occurred about 250 yards ahead of us. One other person was helicoptered out and two more transported by ambulance.

    Because of the fatalities, it was a crime scene, and the Georgia State Police shut down the highway (and only way on and off the island) for four hours. (Since I own a Subaru with high clearance we eventually crossed up and over the median and went back into town for a nice dinner.)

    A minute less time looking at birds at the beach or at lunch and we would have been home on time. Thirty seconds less and we might not have gotten home. So, sorry to have been absent longer than expected, but very glad to finally be home.

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    1. Shivers. So glad you stayed clear of the incident, Jim.

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