There is never a good time, but now.

For High School graduation, my English teacher dedicated a book to me, “The Voyage Out” by Virginia Woolf because I obsessed about my next move, the way out, and what I would be when I grew up. I craved purpose and wisdom acquired through a process of “adulting:” education, career and relationships.

Life is all of those things, and none of it.

It took me fifty years to submit to life’s message, there is no solution,  no Grown-up Judy Who Understands All. There is no right time, but now.

In January 2017, I started working with Syrian refugees. The election of Donald Trump and the Women’s March rallies flipped a switch inside me. I am activated. My interest in Middle Eastern cross-cultural learning feels like a happy buzz, feeding my perennial interest in belonging, identity building and the concept of home.

It’s not without discouraging moments. Organizing American volunteers is considerably more challenging than meeting Syrian refugees, eating their yummy baklava and sipping wee cups of strong, fragrant coffee. Sometimes I want to throw up my hands because communication seems too hard and refugee needs are often urgent and time-consuming. That is in the moment.

It is Ramadan, a time of gratitude and soul-reflection.  I submit. The threads in my life create a long rug, a runner, a forever-weaving tapestry whether I sleep, despair or march on life. Showing up for the unfolding of this life-driven tapestry is my answer. Whatever my choices in the moment, in the long-term I will be different. Hopefully better. I am never arrived, always off-balance, juggling, always learning.  I surrender. I say yes, and accept that there is never time, nothing is good enough.

There is never a good time, but now.

This post inspired by community Iftar celebrations and  Seth Godin 


Two Uber Drivers Refused To Take Us Into The City. The Third Made Them Look Small.

Really liked this story about courage.


When an Uber driver told me he wasn’t licensed to drive me and my colleague into the city, I thought it strange. Like, he doesn’t have a driver’s license? The admission came mere minutes after a pastor colleague in this western suburb shared with me that she knows many of the Uber drivers out here and that many of them drive without documents. Alright then. We got out of the car and he cancelled the ride. We called another one.

When the second driver wouldn’t take us into the city either we got suspicious. I asked him, “You mean you’re not able to because it’s an hour from here or you just don’t want to?” I told him he was the second driver to decline our trip and I was curious. He said, with kind of a guilty expression, “I’ll tell you what it is.” Then he whispered, so that…

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Just Another American Story

The radio is non-stop commentary, and social media is buzzing. More gun violence. But it is different this week. There is less political posturing. People are emotionally exhausted, howling like wounded animals. Make it stop, they wail. When will it ever end? How can you not cry when peeling apart an emotional onion with so many layers?

The past months of continued footage of black men being shot (and being fed-up about it) as been an eye opener. Noah Trevor’s commentary explained my discernment process best. When he watched the video of a woman receiving 100 catcalls per hour as she walked around New York City, he better understood her harassment because with such a video, we can walk in someone else’s shoes. I read transcripts of the latest events because I have no stamina for the videos.

Imagine you had a writing exercise. The story starts like this: a mother, a child, and a man are pulled over for a broken taillight. The cop is white and the people inside the car are black. This is America. Escalate the tension and conflict.

The mother inside the car, Diamond Reynolds, posts live video to Facebook. The footage makes it easy for the audience to switch point of view. Her commentary runs like a documentary and is powerful story telling. Could I film such a deadly situation with her calm and assertive remarks? No way. It is obvious she knows the drill when dealing with authority figures. Reynolds’s young daughter is in the car during the shooting incident. When I learn about this after the incident, I am undone. I am gob smacked by the mother’s composure.

Switch the point of view to the Reynold’s boyfriend, Philando Castile, who will die in a few minutes. Castile had the sense to tell cop that he had a license to carry, and a gun. When else do you declare questionable items that may be found on your person? He follows directions slowly, reaching for his drivers’ license as instructed.

160707071532-graphic-video-minnesota-police-shooting-philando-castile-ryan-young-pkg-nd-00010909-large-169Let’s pan to the cop. He is overly agitated, his gun is shaking through the car window. Ordinary Americans have the right to carry guns and at such close quarters, in his emotionally charged state, the cop makes a snap decision about the character and intentions of Castile. The policeman shoots to kill as he is trained, discharging his gun four or five times.

There is one more scene to our little story, both an epilogue and cliffhanger to foreshadow sequels of dramatic episodes, with new characters yet to be announced. During a #blacklivesmatter demonstration in Dallas, a lone vigilante decides to administer his own brand of justice against repeated police shootings of black men. A soldier with past tours of duty in Afghanistan, Micah Johnson takes up a sniper position to target policemen patrolling the peaceful crowds. He shoots to kill. Johnson is chased down and cornered in a parking garage, but after a few hours the authorities lose patience with negotiations. They retort to a militarized response against the sniper, a decorated American Veteran. They roll in a drone with a grenade to blow him up.

It’s a sickening resolution of a crisis situation but a rather classic Hollywood twist. When I mention it, my teenager is unperturbed; he says they use this technique in Call of Duty video games.  I am a news dweeb and in real life I only heard of ISIL terrorists (or Palestinians) using explosive devices on humans. No more. Life is stranger than fiction.

Escalate tensions for future chapters. This is America, the wild, wild west.


You’re Not That Great. You’re Not That Bad Either

If you were to cast yourself as a character in your real life, are you a villain or hero? This writer suggests moderating our faults , failures and successes for credibility’s sake. I agree, but my writer’s mind knows this is a dull approach for writing. The best ideas come from the very people who need little exaggeration to transform into best-selling, fictitious characters.


In the stories you tell about your goings on in the world, are you the villain or the hero? Some people’s repertoires are filled with tales of idiots endured and fools set right, while others’ recite litanies of failure with an unrelenting voice of self-depreciation.

We’re not as great or as ghastly as we’re tempted to put it to others, and we’re not doing ourselves any favors by perpetually casting ourselves in these roles. If the narrative arc of everything you recount proceeds from some moron wreaking havoc to you with a one-liner that saves the day, I don’t believe you. If you’re always the moron, I don’t trust you. I pity you, but I don’t trust you.

Let’s pay attention to the trends in our stories and protect against the contrasting faults both of exaggerating our effectiveness and amplifying our failures.

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How to develop a good story

There is not a lot of magic in writing a story. Skill, hard work and imagination all count but the elements of a good story follow a well-developed tradition developed by classic playwrights. The concept even has a name, the arc of a story. It is the plot that lifts and rises across three acts, from a beginning through the middle section to a cathartic resolution at the end. A good plot traces a protagonist’s emotional development over time. The trick is to make this story journey as interesting as possible.

The nuts and bolts of crafting a good story is to make every written scene count. Scenes should move characters through the plot, developing characters and relationships as the story moves through time. In the beginning, from the very first page, the author must make the reader identify with the characters. The characters must be believable and the reader should have an inkling of what the characters want, how they want it, and why it matters. By the middle of the story the main character undergoes a transformative change. Even before the character experiences that crucial “aha” moment, scenes must be full of situations creating tension and conflicts that force the character into unexpected change or circumstances. If there is any magic, it is the twists and surprises that the writer launches in the path of the character, imagination at work.

Professional writers, those who are paid for their writing and who are under a deadline, draft an outline. High productivity requires an outline because it prevents the writer from stalling, losing time, or deviating from the end goal. In some genres, like mystery novels, planning scenes is imperative to the outcome, but stories that focus on emotional development tend to have looser outlines. An outline is not always an academic table of contents, they  take all forms from a collection of index cards, diagrams, or charts. Anything that addresses the beginning, middle and ending will work.

My favorite explanation of the universal story, and a detailed analysis of plot, is by the Plot Whisper, Martha Alderson, who turned her passion for good books into plot analysis and workshops. I get, love the concept, and have heard about this approach from others, but the ending of my story is still not mapped out. One day.


Something Is Better Than Nothing

Read this. Now, will you, or I write a blog post?


Another blog died today, suffocated by its author’s expectations for herself: the posts are uninspiring; they’re too confessional; she doesn’t enjoy blogging like she once did and isn’t reading enough to write well; her creativity needs other outlets.

Like the balance of most blogs ever created, this one’s brave observations went gently into the dark night of unhelpful standards for work that is worth doing.


Inspiration is snake oil. There’s strength in vulnerability. Worthy work is not fun for long stretches of time. Writing well depends more on regular publishing than it does the right kind of reading. Creativity is something you find after the fact.

Blogging is building a body of work, and so I’m giving creativity and inspiration over to the artists, although I’m fairly certain they, too, will say that their songs and films and books and sculptures and poems and lesson plans and games are a body of work…

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advent · historical fiction · Stories · Uncategorized · Writing Craft

Tell All the truth, but Tell it Slant

Write what you know, ever heard that advice before? It helps to locate and ignite an author’s passion. Ona Russell, the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch, February speaker, found a scrapbook of articles about her great-grandfather, a celebrated judge in Toledo, Ohio. Intrigued, Russell’s research unearthed family secrets and inconsistencies. Her own mother’s birth date was incorrect, the judge struggled with mental disorders, and a mysterious lady, Sarah Kaufman, legal assistant to the judge, appeared in many photos. Russell fell in love with these uncelebrated personalities from the past. Eventually, Sarah Kaufman became a sleuthing protagonist in Russell’s own historical mystery novels, a trilogy set in the 1920’s.

Part of her storytelling is true, based on the articles. Some of the storytelling is fact, based on research, but Russell worked hard to highlight the “slant,” the re-invented tensions and conflicts. Russell explained that excitement is created in the margins of the truth, in the details, in the spots where the story pauses and shifts gears. Generating a narrative from this blend of truth, fiction and fact is a tricky balance for writers, whether the works are memoir, science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction because all the world-building elements have to be credible to the reader. For Russell, this credibility is key. She said the way to engage the reader is by establishing credibility with an authentic setting, with historical details, with nuances and a pace that is true to the era. This means eliminating everything that does not move the story forward, research, back story, even a favorite character. A writer should look for things to emphasize, create complexity, and sacrifice anything that is not relevant to the story.

This except is from the Fresh Ink March 2016 issue. The title “Tell all the truth..” is from a poem by Emily Dickenson.