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“This is amazing grace”

Day 6 – Shackles: The Playlist

Laying down your life for a friend. Taking the place of someone who is condemned.

Those are actions from the heart of Christ, and the kind of love that Christians are called to display. In “Shackles,” I presented those concepts in the story of Faustus, the man that I imagined as the jailer who interacted with Paul and Silas from Acts 16. But earlier in the story, Faustus offered to take the place of his slave – his best friend – rather than allow a gross miscarriage of justice. I’m offering an excerpt from that scene below.

The redeeming story of “Shackles” is that Christ offered his life as payment to satisfy the debt of all who call on his name – confessing with our mouth, believing in our hearts.

This is amazing grace.

FROM “SHACKLES” – CHAPTER 22 – MIDNIGHT RUN

Faustus stepped again toward Lucianus. Two more slaves – Lucianus’s jail hands – stepped in front of Faustus.

“My slave did not take these gods,” Faustus insisted. “And you know it. You had them stolen, you had …”\

“Now, wait a moment,” Lucianus said. He stood. “I would not involve myself in such a thing, because just touching those things – those gods – can get a man’s hands chopped off.”

“You are an evil man,” Faustus replied. “Pure evil.”

“You are mistaken, Faustus,” Lucianus said. “I am trying to make things right, and what I see here is your best slave returning idols he had stolen, because he lives with you, and you certainly told him to just undo his deed and all would be forgotten.”

“I’m not listening to this. Let’s go Lutalo,” Faustus ordered.

“Well, not until there’s appropriate payment for this crime, Faustus,” Lucianus added. “I insist, and you being an upstanding man – and so well-respected by Emperor himself – have to appreciate that.”

“These aren’t your idols to protect and it’s not your justice to give,” Faustus replied. “We’re leaving.”

“Oh, but I’m afraid not, Faustus, because, you see …” He directed Pinkus to bring Lutalo to stand next to Faustus. “By about now, if you set others about the task of looking for more ill-gotten gods at your house, they will have found two statues that came from …”

“My house.”

Faustus began to take off his tunic. “I’m going to end you right here!” he shouted.

Lucianus motioned for another slave to bring him something, and the slave placed a scabbard in his hands. Lucianus stepped toward Faustus, carefully held the scabbard by the blade, and offered the handle to Faustus.

“You take this now. Go ahead, Faustus, you’ve wanted to do this for some time, and thrust it into my gut.”

Faustus refused to take the scabbard.

“So you will not end me here,” Lucianus said. “I knew you wouldn’t. You knew you wouldn’t. These gods know you wouldn’t.” He sliced at the air. “So here’s the price I exact. Bring me Lutalo.”

Faustus pushed his way around the other slaves and stepped in front of Lutalo.

“You will take my life, not his.”

“Take your life? Take HIS life?” Lucianus laughed. “I’m only going to lop of one of his hands. Now move aside.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Faustus snarled. He grabbed the handle of the scabbard and wrested it away from Lucianus. Lucianus told the slaves holding Lutalo to let him go.

“You see, I was going to have them bring him over here, hold his arm on one of these stones, and ‘whack’” … Faustus threw up his arms. “But now you have the implement of justice.”

Faustus thrust the scabbard onto the marble surface. “There will be no retribution – no so-called justice – because my friend, my slave did nothing wrong.”

“No, Faustus, there will be justice, because I have six slaves who will tell the magistrates that they saw your slave take these idols.” Lucianus walked smugly back and forth between Faustus and Lutalo. “And there are others – not slaves, but the kind of witnesses that magistrates believe – who will testify the same thing. So, yes, there will be payment and retribution.”

Lucianus picked up the scabbard. He handed it to Faustus. “Here. Kill your slave.”

“If anyone dies it will be me,” Faustus argued. “My life. Not his.”

Lucianus forced himself to laugh.

“What a noble gesture – a man laying down his life for a slave … for,” Lucianus paused, then spun and turned toward Lutalo. “For his friend.”

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“Break Every Chain”

“Shackles: The Playlist,” Song No. 5 …

“A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. Shackles tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.”

“Shackles,” my historical fiction novel-in-editing that tells the simultaneous stories of Paul the apostle and a jailer in Philippi, is set in the year 50 A.D. As I was searching for Roman/Latin names to decide what to name the jailer, I came across “Faustus.” When I learned the name means “Lucky,” I had what I was looking for, because Faustus is anything but lucky. Unlike the stereotypical first century Roman man, whom I usually think of as rough, domineering, even cold, Faustus is incredibly kind, gentle, compassionate, affectionate … Yeah, the traits we don’t commonly associate with men of that culture and that generation.

By any standard, he’s a “good guy.” And not unlike a lot of good guys, he is tormented by secrets and the ever-present fear that his world could come crashing down at any moment.

And then it does.

When that happens, where does a man or woman turn? What good was “being good?”

That’s from the story of Faustus, but no one had more to say about the futility of “being good” than Paul, who at one point genuinely thought that he was doing good by killing Christians. Expectations, rules, guilt and shame are powerful chains. What are the “chains” in your life? Self-sabotage? (See me raising my hand?) Guilt? Overwhelming feelings of inadequacy? Unrealistic expectations of yourself? Of others?

Time to break every chain.

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“Shackles: The Playlist” – Song No. 4 ‘The world at the end of our pointing fingers’

Shackles, historical fiction, 83,000 words, set during the years 34-50 AD.

“A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. Shackles tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.”

Grace.

It was a scandalous concept demonstrated by Christ and the theme of the life, ministry and writings of Paul the apostle. But too often Christians embrace grace for themselves yet hold others up to impossible lists of rules and standards. If I can “be good” enough, obey enough, pray enough, read my Bible enough, share my faith enough, go to church enough … Hmmm. Just when will it be “enough.”

Paul said the cross was “enough.” So why do we insist on saying, “Yes, grace and the cross, but …?”

There’s no “but” or “and.”

Please don’t pull out the line, “Yeah, but a REAL Christian would …” or “But a GOOD Christian would …”

If you have even an inkling of that attitude, soak in “Jesus, Friend of Sinners.” It’s not about “those people.”

It’s about us.

“Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers … Nobody knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded … Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours.”

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“Shackles: The Playlist” – Song No. 3

The synopsis for my unpublished, not-yet-in-editing historical fiction novel, “Shackles,” set during the years 34-50 AD.

“A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. Shackles tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.”

My selection of a playlist continues as I await feedback from a dozen and a half beta readers. Please send me your suggestions for the playlist.

“Oceans (Where feet may fail)” by Hillsong United might be the new anthem for today’s generation of Believers, the same way that “Amazing Grace,” “Rock of Ages” or “The Old Rugged Cross” was the standard for worship songs once upon a time.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters / Your sovereign hand / Will be my guide / Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me / You’ve never failed and You won’t start now …

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Hey, I wrote a book!

Here’s the rest of the cast for the main characters in “Shackles.” Most of the characters from the jailer’s part of the story in Philippi are entirely fictional. Paul’s part of the story, based on the Book of Acts – in particular, Acts 16 – features real characters with whom I carefully took creative liberties.

If anyone has contact info for the director/production team of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, pass it along and let’s get this fantasy project turned into something for the silver screen. (As mentioned previously, I cast Mr. Hanks as Claudius for the Philippi story, but he’s welcome to switch with Christian Bale to play Barnabas if he’d like). Remember, this fantasy cast is based on a fantasy budget. I wanted to find spots for Johnny Depp and Will Smith, but even fantasy budgets have limits. I want to shell out the biggest fantasy bucks possible for the Howard-Hanks team.

And here’s another snippet from “Shackles,” which is now in the hands of 18 or so test readers. Tomorrow: we begin making “Shackles: The Playlist,” so start passing along your favorite Christian, sacred and secular songs that might fit this story.

SHACKLES - CAST 4 pmd

CHAPTER 24 – Telling the world …

Barnabas wondered if Paul had recognized the two men.

“I’ve noticed that many tend to follow us from town to town,” Barnabas said. “But these two. They seem different. Not just curious. It’s hard to explain.”

Paul had a more exact impression.

“I know the tactics,” he said. “I’ve used them.”

Barnabas was puzzled. “Tactics?”

“Plant seeds of division and doubt, find a spark of disagreement or anger, and fan it into flames of hatred.”

“You mean they want to do us harm?”

“Have they approached either of us with questions about our teaching? About Jesus?”

Barnabas agreed. “They’ve had ample opportunity to introduce themselves.”

“Well,” Paul said, patting Barnabas on the shoulder. “Our God is sovereign and in control. Just as He worked when I went throughout Judea, Samaria and Syria planting seeds of doubt and division, looking for sparks of disagreement or anger, then fanning the flames of persecution.”

“So you’re saying they want to do us harm?”

“They’re being very patient,” Paul said. “I’ll even go so far as to say they have support from the high priests in Jerusalem. Very similar method of stirring trouble and hatred. And the cleverest part is they get others to actually get their hands dirty.”

“Dirty?”

“Bloody. They won’t need to pick up stones. They’ll get others to do it.”

 

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Shackles: First the cast, next the playlist

Shackles cast - #3

While a dozen and a half readers consume and ponder the first complete draft of “Shackles,” I’m presenting my personal fantasy cast for the movie version of the book. This creative meandering is entirely dependent on the book actually getting published, someone adapting it for film, and someone else having unlimited funds to afford this brilliant cast.

You’ll meet the rest of the cast of primary characters tomorrow – Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke. I’ve made my selections, but who would you pick to play those icons of the New Testament? After the cast is named, I’ll start announcing my playlist for the motion picture soundtrack. Go ahead and start giving me your suggestions. (Tip: secular music is okay).

Today’s excerpt of “Shackles.”

CHAPTER 8 / PERSECUTOR

“The tide has left our shores, Saul.” Gamaliel stepped to the side. “I’m hearing that many – dozens, perhaps hundreds – of those believers avoided capture and are scattered throughout Judea and even Samaria.”

Saul refused to debate his old teacher. Another member of the council also spoke out.

“That Jesus fellow chose a dozen disciples and then appointed 70 more,” the man said. “Do you know where they are?”

Saul quickly answered. “That 70 number was a myth. More like 10. Most of those derelicts gave up right away when they realized that Jesus wasn’t going to pay them wages, and they wised up after going out into the masses and trying to follow his radical teachings.”

“Are you so sure?” Gamaliel asked.

“What does my teacher know that can help us squelch this apostasy?” Saul replied.

“Have you found those original disciples? I believe they are all still in Jerusalem. All but one. Killed himself, I heard.” Gamaliel scanned the faces of other Pharisees. Many did not return his glance. “The others. In hiding, I’m sure, but still here. And I’ve heard that one of those extra 70, a man named Phillip, has already been to Ethiopia. Preaching about Jesus.”

The Sanhedrin collectively gasped. “That’s neither Judaea nor Samaria,” one man said. “The tide certainly has left our shores.”

“How many?” Saul shouted. “With the high priest’s permission, I will personally hunt them down and bring them back here for justice.”

“Your anger is fueling their cause,” Gamaliel said. “This persecution you have unleashed is actually fulfilling their twisted prophecies about the message of Christ spreading well beyond our borders. Without your persistence and persecution, they would have stayed right here in this city until they had either converted everyone or their little fad had run its course. Or until the Romans tired of the drama and dispatched them on crosses.”

Gamaliel walked away. “You should visit with some of your prisoners who have relatives in Syria.”

“A hundred miles from here?” Paul asked.

Gamaliel turned toward him. “Just a little further than that.” He pointed to the northwest. “Damascus.”

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“Shackles: The Movie” goes to Mayberry

Since I’m working with an unlimited budget to build my fantasy cast for “Shackles: The Movie,” I’m selecting Opie – I mean, Ron Howard – to produce and direct. (You’ll make a lot of money, Mr. Howard. It will be a pleasure working with you). I’m also bringing his buddy Tom Hanks on board and while I have Mr. Hanks playing a bit part portraying Emperor Claudius, he can choose to play Barnabas instead, if he’d like. My Barnabas actor will have to take Claudius if Mr. Hanks prefers Barnabas.

Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine, gets the role of the fictional Lucianus, the antagonist of Faustus, the central character in the story. Emma Stone is Lydia. Welcome aboard. We’ll start production as soon as Mr. Howard, the best director in America, gets back to me. No rush.

Tomorrow: You’ll begin meeting the cast for Paul’s story, featuring the apostle’s old Pharisee teacher. The actor portraying Gamaliel played my all-time favorite television character from a series that ran from 1972 to 1983. Hint: The series finale in February 1983 still ranks as the highest-rated single television broadcast in U.S. history wtih 105 million viewers. Care to guess the series and the character?

Shackles cast - #2

Here’s a short scene from my historical fiction novel “Shackles,” featuring Lydia and Faustus (Eddie Cibrian), just a few hours before Faustus’s world crashes.

From CHAPTER 18 – Stolen gods …

Faustus turned toward Lydia.

“You’ve come to see for yourself the unrest in Philippi?”

“No, I just happened to be coming by with my nieces and I stumbled up on an interesting question,” Lydia said. Faustus craned his neck and leaned back looking for her nieces.

“They’ll be along,” Lydia said. “But I heard someone ask how a god can be stolen or go missing.” She looked at Faustus.

“Is this a riddle?” he said.

“Not at all, just a curious inquiry from someone who acknowledges a God that cannot be stolen or go missing.”

“Your God,” Faustus said.

“Jehovah. My God.”

“I think you mentioned that God, but no others,” Faustus said. “With only one God to keep track of, it would be harder for him to go missing, I suppose. You have but one God to appease. We have hundreds.”

Lydia softened her voice and repeated that no one can steal Jehovah.

“One God,” Faustus said again. “It does make one wonder if your God is alone because He killed all the others in a fit of jealous rage?”

“Oh, my God is a jealous God.” Lydia lowered her head. “Graven images are an abomination to Jehovah.”

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Get to know “Shackles” – a fantasy motion picture cast

I’m a Fantasy Baseball nerd to the nth degree, although I cut back considerably in 2014. I only had 22 teams. With zero champions. Sigh.

I’m applying some of the same strategy to selecting my fantasy cast for “Shackles: The Movie.” (Production note: “Shackles,” an 84,000 word historical fiction novel, is now in the hands of about 18 test readers). My fantasy cast is based on two very fortunate – but also fantasy – facts: I have an unlimited budget (just wait until you see who’s directing and who makes a special guest appearance as Claudius) and no one else is picking a cast, so I have the world of actors and actresses at my disposal.

Shackles cast - #1

“Shackles” is two stories told simultaneously before the paths of Paul the apostle and Faustus the jailer meet. From the story of Faustus the jailer I present the main characters Faustus and his wife, Perpetua, and their best friends (doesn’t go over so well with the townsfolk in Philippi) Lutalo and Nadra, a couple about the same age and the manservant and maidservant (they don’t like the term “slaves”) of Faustus and Perpetua.

Now, a snippet from “Shackles.”

From Chapter 25, subtitled “Shattered Dreams” …

The true story of how they came to own the prized horses was known only to Faustus and Perpetua. His father, Veritas, was dead by the time the wedding came and the arrangement for the marriage had not been completed, nor had the dowry been negotiated. Faustus already had received his inheritance of the family home, household gods, and another property, a vast meadow area just west of Philippi on the River Gangites. He’d been deeded his father’s insulae, the street-front woodworking and chair-weaving workshop in the middle of Philippi.

“What I don’t have is the young goddess Perpetua who is going to share my life and bare my children,” he told Perpetua when the two stole away together to the riverside meadow. She insisted then that Faustus kiss her and complete the marriage contract before the gods, but he made it clear that he would wait until marriage to taste her lips and take her to his bed. Perpetua worried then that another suitor – perhaps even the horrible Lucianus – might make a play for her, and Lucianus’s family had so much property, art and livestock that her father needed provide only a meager dowry. Faustus no longer had standing to ask for a dowry because he was not yet technically the head of the household, which he would be upon the completion of a marriage contract.

Perpetua’s father, Hortensus, was a selfish, rough man who rarely kept his hands to himself and often belittled and demeaned her mother, Quintina. Faustus was the last in his line, with no surviving brother and only two sisters, both of whom were sickly and unmarried.

It was true that Faustus had no standing in the matter. While he could just ask Hortensus for his daughter’s hand, that simply wasn’t the custom. It also was not customary for a man to wed so young. Perpetua at 15 could become part of a large family that might not demand much in the way of a dowry yet would be in position to enrich the lives of her parents as well. Faustus was 17 and had known Perpetua from their earliest days. He was preparing to become a soldier, and soldiers were not supposed to marry, although many did before their 16-year military service was finished. He’d been working for several local farmers and was adept at breaking and training horses. He’d even received payment – little as it was – for services rendered to Hortensus.

Faustus knew that Hortensus despised the horses and did not appreciate their strength, agility and intelligence.

“Bland-brained” was the way Hortensus described the horses. Faustus went along with the description and told other workers that the slowest horses of the bunch – in foot speed and brain power – were Valens and Mirandus. Hortensus had given the horses other names that Faustus was not comfortable repeating in company or in mixed company. Faustus spoke one afternoon with Dimaldi after a day of tending the horses. They leaned against a stall door discussing their futures. Faustus knew that Hortensus was around the corner, listening.

“Have you given up on your girl, Perpetua?” Dimaldi asked.

“I suppose I have,” Faustus said. “And I believe I was the girl’s only hope for a husband, considering her deficits. There’s not a dowry large enough to convince anyone else to take the poor girl off her father’s hands.”

Faustus and Dimaldi continued the exchange without spelling the nature or specifics of the “deficits” that they talked about.

“She won’t bear a child, that’s for sure,” Faustus said. “And I need a wife to keep my line alive. But I’d probably still take the girl off her father’s hands for as little as the gift of those two sluggard horses.”

“That’s too bad,” Dimaldi said. “But the girl will be pretty at least for a while longer. You know, before that illness cripples her feet and clinches her hands.”

Faustus and Dimaldi left and went their separate ways. The next morning, Hortensus arrived at Faustus’s home with slaves walking the horses.

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A little Rowling here, a little Twain there

If you ask a question often enough, you’re bound to eventually get the answer you want.

Today one of the members of the Columbia Missouri Novelists Facebook page posted what could be either the most instructive, inspiring link or the most vanity-laden, time-wasting link.

I Write Like … You paste a sample of your work into a box, click “analyze,” and within seconds you find out your word choice and writing style compares favorably with — which famous author. I quickly yielded to temptation, certain that I could embrace or reject any conclusion.

I encourage you to give it a try.

First I submitted two samples from my current work, “Dixieland,” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month project. Both analyses determined the word choice and style compared favorably with H.P. Lovecraft. That was baffling, because I neither read nor write science fiction or “weird fiction,” the genre that Lovecraft basically birthed. So I copied and pasted another “Dixieland” sample that compared favorably with Stephenie Meyer.

The Twilight Saga? What? Flattering as that was, I have to confess that I also don’t read — and really have zero interest in — paranormal romance, vampires and werewolves, and death-pale young men and women.

So I sought additional analysis. Next to copy-and-paste was a dialogue-heavy scene from “Chasing The Devil,” my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. (Still unfinished, still unpublished). The analysis reported: J.K. Rowling. (Here’s the link if you think I’m fibbing). Again — sorry. I’ve read maybe six pages of the Harry Potter series. Wizards, sorcery, Harry himself — just not my cup ‘o tea.

Or is it? Meyer has made a gazillion bucks with her Twilight series; Rowling has made a trilabilagazillion bucks from Harry Potter. Hmmm?

Let’s try some more. Two selections from “Gone” (2010, NaNoWriMo). Different conclusions but familiar results: Meyer for one, Rowling for the other.

Still not satisfied, I reached into the archives of Jackson’s Journal to one of my favorite blog posts, Aug. 17, 2012, the conclusion of a three-part story of the time I almost drowned in the Gasconade River. Surely this would break the Lovecraft-Meyer-Rowling spell?

I pasted the copy, hit “analyze,” and this time the answer didn’t come right away. I laughed out loud at the conclusion.

“Mark Twain.” Ahhh! A kindred spirit, a fellow journalist.

So I had to check one more time, pasting the copy of a news story from April 2009. (It’s a horribly tragic story if you care to read it). The story was awarded second place for spot news reporting in that year’s Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors annual competition.

The analytic conclusion? “Mark Twain.”

twain and friends

It was a fun exercise in vanity, but more than that, as I perused my unfinished, novel-length works, it was a stark reminder that I have too many unfinished, novel-length works screaming to get out of their desktop folders, out of my noggin and into the hands of readers.

And that’s where any real or imagined similarities with famous authors end. They’ve actually finished a book or two.

Excuse me, then. I have some work to do.

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Real character or mannequin?

What’s the secret?

You know what I mean. Not the secret to your success (although I am interested to hear that, too) or the secret to your grilling technique (again … I am interested). I’m asking, “What’s your secret?”

Answering that is one of the beauties of writing fiction. You need to create a character, name the character, maybe even toss in a clever nickname. You’ve got hair color, hair length, hair type (wavy, straight, maybe no hair), height, body type, blah blah blah. Sure, that’s all important, but I’ve just described a mannequin, an empty form with a name. Add a favorite color. A quirk that you wouldn’t expect. (I sometimes symmetrically arrange the food on my plate; don’t even notice most of the time). Tell me your character’s best time of day: night owl, early bird, mid-day masher? Give me some background: middle child, only child, lost a finger in shop class, maybe a sixth toe? (Super cool!) Adopted? (Adoption and foster kids are a common link in most of what I write).

Now give your character a secret. Something she’s done that no one else (or only your wife/BFF) knows about. Give every character a secret, and suddenly you’ve got depth. Not that you’ll tell-all in your story or novel, but that character will be more real to YOU. And until that happens, the character is nothing but a mannequin on paper.
And who wants to read about a mannequin?

Not every secret needs to be dark or terrible, but there can be plenty of those, too. I once worked with a woman who told me that when she was a kid, she’d climb over the neighbor’s fence and pick an apple or two. The neighbor finally told her parents and she was punished.

So she burned the neighbor’s house down.

Crazy? Made up? There’s never been a moment that I doubted it. Her demeanor, body language, almost nonchalant recounting of the event all testified of a cold heart that probably suffered a great wound as a child – but a cold, dark heart that had no hint of remorse in telling the story the same way someone might say, “I got in trouble because the neighbor told my parents, so I snuck over to his house one night and stomped his marigolds.” Seriously. I remember it like this: “So I burned the SOB’s house down. Are you going out for lunch or eating in the office?”

The story came alive as a defining moment in the childhood of Hannah Abigail Lincoln, the main protagonist in my unfinished work, “Chasing the Devil.”

HERE’S THE EXCERPT

The moment the neighbors drive away, Hannah hopped the fence, emptied a can of lighter fluid on the refinished chest and wardrobe on the patio, and struck a match. The flash caught one of her sleeves on fire. She quickly dropped the can and plunged her arm into a nearby birdbath.

Hannah raced to her bedroom, changed her shirt and soothed the burn with aloe salve, something she knew to do to treat burns. She had experience.

The sirens were faint at first and then louder.

“Hannah, we need to talk,” her mother shouted as she came upstairs. Elizabeth Lincoln stepped into her daughter’s room. Hannah dropped the burned shirt.

“Um, sweety? Did you know the Bentley’s house is on fire?”

Hannah had no response.

“I saw you climbing over that fence.” Her mother paused. “Hannah, did you pick another apple?”

The little girl heard her mother’s admonitions echoing in her mind: Bravery, Hannah. Courage, Hannah. Don’t slouch like a whore, Hannah. Hannah clenched her teeth and stepped toward her mother.

“The Bentleys are just weak,” Hannah said. “Rednecks.”

Elizabeth Lincoln reached out and drew her daughter close.

“Yes, baby doll,” her mother said, giving her a firm hug. “I love you.”

(Ed. note: It’s the only memory Hannah has of her mother’s hug).

PRAYING FOR THE PLANE TO CRASH

Maybe the secret is less sinister. A stand-up sort of guy who, for some reason, once stole his neighbor’s mail. (I’m brainstorming here). A school teacher who, despite cheating in college to earn her bachelor’s degree, has turned out to be quite a teacher and is about to be promoted to principal – or superintendent. A hilarious secret? A shy man eats an entire pie that is about to be presented to the retiring superintendent – or the Queen of England. (“Who ate Her Majesty’s custard pie?”) Maybe not something all that BAD or illegal, but not something you’d want to admit. No matter how many years go by, YOU still remember.

When I was a kid, I had an uncle who flew radio-control, model airplanes. Cool, huh? Not really. I resented that we drove 700 miles to visit my grandparents only to see the neighboring cousins called right away to join us, where they continued to be the center of attention. I visited maybe once a year; they lived right … over … there. (Extend your arm, point your finger … yeah, right over there). Once we were whisked across the pasture to the cousin’s house – a huge home with a lake – where we had a cook-out and obligatory viewing of my uncle flying his radio-control airplane. I actually bowed my head and prayed that the plane would crash.

And it did.

Whew. I feel better. Up to now, only four or five people have heard this confession. Now, if I count Twitter, Facebook, email subscribers and anyone else who stumbles across Jackson’s Journal, that’s another 1,100 people.

Maybe you don’t want to share YOUR secret. But give me some ideas for future and existing characters. C’mon …

What’s the secret?

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