Gail's Book Nook

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Looking Out the Window: Gay Lewis Talks About Sarah and the Double Wedding Woes, the Latest in Her Series of Sarah Books about a Bumbling, Match-Making Angel. She Will Give Away an e-Book.

A Warm Welcome to Gay Lewis 

To enter to win the eBook of Sarah and the Double Wedding Woes leave a comment and an email address below.  

Hi Gay, first, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a retired interior designer, a current pastor’s wife, and mother to grown children. Two daughters live near me in Texas, and one moved to Kentucky. I live in a small town west of Houston but drive to the city for shopping. My driving record scares everyone, including me. As I write this, my husband is in the garage trying to repair my latest scrape with the side of our garage. I told him a few minutes ago that I’d leave the car outside from now on and let him park inside for me. Scraping the garage is a habit and I hate leaving scars on the fender. He patiently buffs them out. Sigh. I’ve done this several times.

Good luck with the car and the garage. When it comes to cars, you're a writer, right? Many writers were avid readers as children. How about you? If so, what did you read?

I grew up in Texas and hated heat. As a child, I stayed indoors with a book, magazine, anything I could get my hands on. I read the Louise May Alcott books many times over. I also loved Nancy Drew. Today the books I chose are usually romance or paranormal. I just finished Saint Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel by Dean Koontz. This was the last in the Odd Thomas series and I’m upset that Mr. Koontz ended the series. Odd Thomas was a hoot.
Ahh, that's sounds like fun. Let's talk about your writing. Who do you write for, and what other jobs have you held or do you hold besides writing?

 I write for Prism Book Group, The Texas Hill Country and a new online magazine called God’s Web.  Now and then, I return to the décor arena. A client called me recently and hired me for a home design update. I confess I enjoyed the décor request immensely. I worked in the interior design field for years and sometimes miss it.  I don’t do much of that anymore, but on that appointment, I found that I haven’t lost my touch.

As a pastor’s wife, I work a lot at church. No salary with this job, but I’ve always enjoyed sharing my husband’s ministry. Our church gets two for the price of one. I’ve been a writer for years, but I wrote for religious periodicals. I’ve also produced a travel series. I now write fantasy, romance, and sometimes add a bit of mystery to my stories. When the idea of a bumbling, dyslexic angel  who does goofy things came to mind, I had to write about her mishaps as she tries to help humans. Some of the things that happen to Sarah I’ve endured myself.

Sarah's such a fun character. How did you begin a writing career?

I’ve always written since I was a child with a toy typewriter. I wrote plays for the neighborhood, then as a teen, I wrote them for church. After I married a minister, opportunities for inspirational periodicals kept coming, but I’ve always wanted to write novels.  The day finally arrived for retirement and I began with Women’s Fiction—I wrote two. One of those books will see the light of day next year, and I’m totally excited about it. The name of the book is Choices, and it’s the first one I wrote. Over the years, I’ve rewritten it, and written it…and again written it. Chuckle, chuckle, sigh. The story was good, but the writing needed help. Authors continue to learn about their craft, and the later versions are better. Choices is a dark subject about physical abuse with study questions at the end. My Sarah Series is a lot more fun and it’s light reading. Sarah makes people laugh out loud, but Choices will make the reader cry.

Other than Sarah who is your favorite character in your books and why?

I love the Commander. He gives Sarah assignments at the start of each book and reviews her at the end. He is not God, but the Commander is a servant of the Lord, but like God, he is kind, gentle, and loving. He often must correct Sarah, but he always does it in a generous and humorous way.

Tell us about your latest book, Sarah and the Double Wedding Woes.

Sarah must unite two widows, Bonnie, the mother and Jessica, the daughter, at the same time.  These ladies live together, along with Mackenzie, Jessica’s daughter. The three generations of women are bonded into a tight family, but all three are falling in love. Mackenzie will wait to marry until she finishes college, but Sarah’s mission is to find men for the other two. After guys are found, Sarah must then convince the females to live apart from each other with a new husband. Each woman fears the other will be lonely and neither will break up the household—no matter how much love for a man is involved.  Sarah is terrified. Her mission is to create two simultaneous weddings, and she just might goof them both up on this mission.

What sort of hindrances does Sarah face on this mission?

Finding a love candidate for Bonnie, the matriarch of the family is a challenge. Where should an angel look for a respectable, eligible bachelor? In the following scene, she tries church and manages to embarrass the pastor.

Men in the choir sat in a row next to each other. Perhaps their wives were gathered in those female groups she’d noticed earlier, but then again, maybe not. Sarah lifted her brows and snapped her fingers as a new thought came. An unmarried dude might be in the choir loft. She should wander up to the loft and check the fingers on their left hands. If married, they’d wear a wedding band, wouldn’t they? She knew of men who hid rings when they wanted to step out on a wife, but surely they didn’t do such a thing in a place of worship. Or did they? Nah. Sarah shook her head, unable to fathom such a thing.

Zooming like a politician to a potential voter, Sarah rocketed down the row of prospects. As she whizzed by each man, the wind velocity caused their robe stoles to fly up. One by one, the decorative cloth hit a male face. The visual effect resembled that of a football wave in a crowded stadium. A stole flew up, hit the individual in the nose and then returned to its place. The next one in succession did the same. One man sneezed. Another coughed. The audience laughed.

The men rotated heads to look at each other with quizzical looks. One shrugged and another scratched his ear. The pastor turned to see what caused the hilarity.

“What are ya’ll doing back there?” The preacher’s tone indicated genuine interest.

“Didn’t you feel that gust of wind?” A man spoke from the middle of the row.

“In here?” The pastor furrowed his brow.

“We felt the Spirit. Maybe we’re about to experience another Pentecost.” The choir member’s voice carried all the way to the rear of the auditorium.

The pastor shook his head. “Not in my church.”

The audience roared again.

The pastor’s face turned from pink to purple. “Uh…ah…um…that’s not what I meant. I hope we do have a revival of the Spirit in here—just wasn’t expecting it today.”

More laughter.

Sarah directed her eyes upward and mouthed “Sorry.” Other than disruption, that little escapade failed to bring results. Maybe she’d approached this investigation the wrong way…perhaps she should consider age and eliminate a few choices. Now—who among these men fit the sixty-year-old prospect she hoped to find?

Two men looked to be near the correct phase of life.

Slipping down, she inspected their hands. One wore a wedding band and the other didn’t. The candidate without a wedding band was handsome—tall with salt-and-pepper hair.

Hmm, he could be the one. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps she should follow the dude home, find out his name, and see how he spent his time.

Connect with Gay

At Prism Book Group

Watch video trailers and follow Gay's blog
Check out Gay on Amazon
Facebook and on Twitter @GayNLewis2.

Sarah has her own Facebook page. Follow Sarah on Facebook@ Sarah Wingspand

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Looking Out the Window: Michelle Griep Talks About Her New Book, Out Of The frying Pan. Shares a Yummy Recipe

A Warm Welcome to Michelle Griep

Out of the Frying Pan, what a cute title! How appropriate that 

Michelle shares a recipe. She also gives us a favorite Bible verse

Zula’s Siren Cinnamon Muffins

I love to cook, so getting into character for my latest co-authored release, Out of the Frying Pan, was particularly fun.

Main character Zula Hopkins is renowned for her sweet culinary skills at the Sunset Paradise Retirement Community. These muffins are her go-to recipe for attracting male suitors—and it’s the first thing she whips up to garner the attention of Detective Jared Flynn for her niece KC. Here’s the recipe . . .

Siren Cinnamon Muffins

2 cups flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
8 ounces sour cream
2/3 cup cinnamon chips
Streusel: 1 package instant cinnamon oatmeal

1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease your muffin tins.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt in a bowl. Make a well in center of mixture.
3. Dump the rest of the ingredients (except for the instant oatmeal) into the well and stir until mixed. The batter will be rather thick.
4. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full then sprinkle the instant oatmeal over the top.
5. Bake at 375 for 18 minutes.

I’m not going to lie. These bad boys are slightly addicting. This recipe makes about 15 muffins so you’ll probably want to double it because they are some kind of good!

Yum. They sound delicious!

Here’s some food for your soul as well . . . One of my favorite Bible verses is Nahum 1:7.

“The Lord is good. A stronghold in the day of trouble. And He knows those who trust in Him.”

Muffins and God’s Word . . . it doesn’t get much better than that.

About Out of the Frying Pan

Murder in Paradise whips life into a froth for Fern and Zula Hopkins. When the retirement center’s chef is found dead, the two ladies get folded in with the case. Their zany attempts to track down the killer land them in hot water with Detective Jared Flynn. Should he be concerned about their safety—or the criminal’s?

But there are deadly ingredients none of them expect. Drugs. Extortion. International cartels. And worst of all…broken hearts, especially when the Hopkins sisters’ niece KC arrives on the scene.

Life at Sunset Paradise Retirement Village will never be the same.

Buy on Amazon


Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. Her latest release is Out of the Frying Pan, but historical romance is her usual haunt. The Captive Heart releases in October. Follow her escapades at or or stalk her on Facebook Twitter, or Pinterest

Monday, August 29, 2016

Looking Out the Window: Talking Love with Sugan Baganz, Introducing The Baron's Blunder

You would think the author of countless romance stories would find it easy to write one out of her own life. But it’s not.

Growing up, I would walk home and look up to heaven, spin around, and wonder if God was taking my picture. Did He care for my overly-sensitive, hurting and lonely heart? All a teacher had to do was look at me wrong and I’d burst into tears until sixth grade when I learned to hide my pain.

The sweetest love story is when, after years of sensing God’s call to me, I finally understood that I could respond. That he was waiting for me to do so! James 4:8 says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (NASB)” Really? He wasn’t some distant King high on a thrown beyond my reach. I first came to understand this at a Campus Life/Youth for Christ meeting.

For weeks I had begged some friends to let me come to a meeting. They seemed happy. They had something I didn’t. And they would go to concerts for groups like . . . Petra, who I had never heard of. Finally, I was invited and we had a conversation about misconceptions people had about Christianity. I was raised knowing about God and taught to fear Him, so I was fully engaged in the conversation. Then the biggest misconception hit me—that people didn’t understand that they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whoa. Really?

I prayed right then and there and my entire world shifted.

I went out and bought a Bible and started devouring it. Opposition came but I clung to Christ. To a hurting, lonely fifteen-year-old, the fact that the God of the universe wanted me—Me?—was a huge revelation. When depression plagued me, I was told I was trying to manipulate people. The only reason I never attempted to take my life was because of the love of God.

Thirty-five years have brought me through many trials and triumphs, deep pains and sweet moments. God has been there by my side through all of it. I wish I could say that I’ve been as faithful to Him as He has been to me. It’s hard when people have wounded me deeply to trust the God who allowed it to happen. Yet I wouldn’t be here without Him. He’s led me, grown me, matured me . . . and I’ve learned that in Him I have more strength than I could ever have on my own. Some trials I look back on in wonder at how I was able to respond the way I did. That couldn’t have been me, could it?

Only God.

Through abuses, betrayals, heartache, He has been my constant. My one true love. When I write my romances my hope and prayer is that at some level the reader will understand the love of God that underlies the journey’s my characters take.

God is faithful. He has never abandoned me. The fact that He gives me the opportunity to put some of those experiences into my stories to bless others is just another example of His love for me.

Check out Susan’s contribution to Prism Book Group’s new Love Is series…

The Baron’s Blunder
“Love does not delight in evil …” 1 Corinthians: 13:6

Fighting evil has been a hobby, but fending off marriage-minded debutantes—a chore.

Lord Charles Percy fends off a land pirate robbing a carriage in broad daylight. Noting he has rescued a beautiful debutante, he lies about his title claiming to be a mere mister.

The Honorable Henrietta Allendale isn’t convinced Mr. Percy is who he claims to be. But after he admits to one blunder can she ever truly trust what he says? Especially about the evil threatening her? Who is the Black Diamond anyway and why would he be after either of them?

One intrepid debutant and one bumbling Baron soon join forces to defeat evil. But to do so might mean they have to sacrifice the one thing they’ve each held as most important—their single status.

Can the truth set them free to love? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Looking in the Window: Celebrating the Olympic Games - Succeeding Through Thrilling Wins and Agonizing Loses, a Sports Mystery Giveaway

In honor of the Olympic Games, we're celebrating sports and athletes. I'm giving away an e-book, a print copy (U.S. residents only) and my publisher's giving away a Smashwords code for Stopped Cold. To enter to win leave a comment and an e-mail address below.

The Olympic Games are underway! What a wonderful time of competition, excellence and togetherness. The results of hard work, gifts used, and obstacles overcome pay off. Possibilities for shining futures fill the air. One one-hundredths of a second can separate number one and number two. On the edges of their seats, spectators escape life’s difficulties and differences and marvel at the best of the best.

It’s a great time to sink into the pages of Stopped Cold, a teen sports mystery, and meet high school swimmer Maggie Butterfly. Stopped Cold  finished 4th in the 16th Annual Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll and was a 2013 Grace Awards Finalist.

Below find The Thrill of Victory, Chapter One and Youth Succeeding, Win or Lose, an article based on Stopped Cold.

From the 16th Annual Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll

Very compelling with emotions and feelings that have been felt by everyone in their lives at one time or another. Everyone can relate to this book! Great for all, especially students and parents.

One of the best books recently published dealing with self-esteem, drugs and the drive to be #1 at any cost. A must-read for the young athlete and the family.

This is an exceptional work and tells the truth of today.

Great story framed with a timeless, heartfelt message.

Review quotes

"…follow Margaret's journey to discover the depth of true character and faith not only in school and friends, but family." Author and Book Reviewer Lisa Lickel

"They…" (the characters) "..are as finely tuned as a lovely stringed instrument, each having a different song to play in the story." Book Reviewer Barbara Shelton

"Stopped Cold is filled with emotion, strong characters, teenage romance, adventure, danger and the intricate workings of modern day high school studies and sports. Ms. Pallotta blends all this together for a convincing story. Our hearts are touched by a family's concern for Sean who lies in the hospital non responsive. We see the story from Sean's young sister, Margaret's viewpoint and the feelings she fights to keep bottled up and maintain her Christian principles. The author is obviously well versed in swimming competition. Supporting characters are well done and fuels the emotions between close friends. I highly recommend this novel." Author Larry Hammersley

"This is a great read. I recommend it for teens or adults alike. It certainly kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next when Margaret, Jimmy, and their friend Emily go out looking to stop dangerous drug dealers. There's plenty of action and emotion." An Amazon Review by Connie C

About Stopped Cold

Things aren’t what they seem in peaceful Mistville, North Carolina. Margaret McWhorter enjoys a laid-back Freshman year in high school flirting with Jimmy Willmore, swimming and hanging out with friends—until that day. Her brother, Sean, suffers a stroke from taking a steroid. Now he’s lying unconscious in a hospital. Margaret’s angry at her dad for pushing Sean to be a great quarterback, but a fire of hatred burns inside her to make the criminals pay.

Looking for justice, she takes Jimmy and her best friend, Emily, through a twisted, drug-filled sub-culture. A clue sends them deep into the woods behind the school where they overhear drug dealers discuss Sean.

Time and time again they walk a treacherous path and come face to face with danger. Even the cop on the case can’t stop them from investigating. All the while Margaret really wants to cure Sean, heal the hate inside, and open her heart to love.

The Thrill of Victory - excerpt

Interrupting my thoughts, the announcer gave the score.

"Meriwether Sharks, fifty-nine, the Valley View Dolphins, fifty-nine."

Tammy strolled over, her flip-flops flapping across the cement as she elbowed her way between two soaking wet Dolphins. "Maggie Butterfly, if you swim your best time we'll probably win this event and pull ahead." Her brown eyes searched my face as though she knew it was hard for me to be here.

"We're all pulling for you." Encouragement rang in her voice.

Enthusiasm tingled over me, and I shivered. Could I swing the momentum to the Sharks? "Thanks, Tammy."

I tapped my bare foot on the cement floor so fast my knee bounced up and down. The will to find a way to win must be left somewhere inside me. If it was, I needed it now. It was my turn.

My hands trembled as I pushed my hair underneath my black cap. On the starting block, I glanced at the bulky girls to my left and right. Squeezing their hands into fists, they let go, flexed their fingers, and repeated the motion. They rotated their shoulders then shook their arms like well-oiled swimming machines. Had they taken Winstrol V? My imagination was on overtime.

I took my position, ready to dive. The whistle blew. I shot into the pool then pulled and kicked with all my might. Water splashed over me from the lane beside me and sent a craving to out swim my competitor surging through me. Push. Pull. Push harder going into the turn. I touched the wall, spun around, and sprinted, my heart pumping with longing, my body aching in my push to the finish. Twenty-six seconds.

My competitors came in only hundredths of seconds behind me, but I won. Satisfaction filled every fiber of my being.

The Meriwether Sharks waiting at my lane swarmed me, giving me hugs and high-fives.
Mom and Dad stood, clapping and grinning.

Jay hurried to me. He wiped off his broad shoulders with his black towel. "Margaret, great job in the fifty-yard butterfly."

That meant a lot coming from a senior and the captain of the men's team. "Thanks." My heart fluttered with happiness. I couldn't have stopped my big smile if I'd wanted to.

For the next hour and a half, I screamed for my teammates to win in every race.

Jay lined up to swim the last leg of the boys' final freestyle relay. He and his opponent dove in and raced side-by-side, stroke for stroke.

I hollered "Goooo, Jay," so loud over and over. The words scratched my throat. Water splashed around him and his competitor like a fountain gone awry. Who was ahead? I couldn't tell. I kept yelling and stepped even closer to the edge of the pool. Jay's fingertips touched the wall first.
"We won. We won. We won the meet." I jumped up and down.

My teammates and I crowded around the lane where Jay climbed out of the pool. We high-fived and patted him on his back. Then, a hush fell over the pool.

"Valley View Dolphins Girls – 190; Meriwether Sharks Girls – 201. Valley View Dolphins Boys – 170; Meriwether Sharks Boys – 180." The score blasted over the PA system.

The Sharks formed a circle. Then Jay yelled out the nonsensical cheer we created to celebrate victory. "Icky La Boomba." Everyone loudly echoed, "Icky La Boomba." Jay cried out, "Icky Le Picky Wicky." The rest of the team shouted, "Icky Le Picky Wicky"; then, "Huffle a Duffle Wuffle, Oka, Te-ah," and "Icky La Boomba." We all raised our hands. "Yea! Sharks!"

Chapter One

My first day as a Freshman at Meriwether Christian High School in Mistville, North Carolina, the sun shone on a small plant with pink blossoms on the windowsill and gave Mrs. Hornsby's English class a cheerful look. She stood in front of pine straight back chairs scrunched together in the middle of the room, the tables shoved up against the wall at the end of it.

"Today we'll form a circle and get acquainted."

Her voice sounded bubbly and kind, but I wanted to escape to the pool or a beach. She directed us with her hands as we scraped the chairs across the laminated floor and took our seats. That's when I noticed Jimmy Willmore staring at me. As self-conscious as a possum in the Westminster Dog Show, I peered at my lap. Was he checking me out? I raised my head and glanced at him then he quickly shifted his gaze to the blackboard.

Mrs. Hornsby ran her hand through her short salt-and-pepper-colored hair then twirled around. "Let's start with you." She gestured toward a pretty girl with dainty features and long, blond hair.

"I'm Sally Dumont, a transfer student from North Wilkes."

The other kids gave their names, but I let them fade into the background while I thought about Jimmy Willmore. Then it was my turn. "I'm Margaret McWhorter, and I started Meriwether in middle school."

Four students later we finished introducing ourselves.

Mrs. Hornsby said, "We're going to study some of America's great poets and authors this year, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and John Steinbeck."

Book covers blown up as posters filled the wall behind her desk. I squinted and scanned them for the authors' names as she picked up two books and held them high. "I ordered these by Lee and Salinger with the others, but for some reason they arrived late. They're at the campus bookstore now. I'll let you go early, so you can swing by there and pick them up." She started handing out the syllabus. "Be sure to have your books by tomorrow. I have an assignment to give you based on one of them."

Jimmy grasped the papers when Mrs. Hornsby walked by him. Then he stood to leave, but lingered at the front of the room.

Moments later I headed out. Jimmy opened the door for me then fell into step beside me.

"How's it goin'?"

My heart jumped in my throat. "Good." I tried to think of something else to say, but my brain locked. We walked stride for stride in silence on the sidewalk lined with bright green foliage. We passed underneath the branches of the huge, old oak tree and strolled beside the blue hydrangeas on the way to the science building. Then Jimmy turned to the left. "See ya'," he said.

Being so close to him took away my breath. All I could do was wave.

* * *

Six weeks later Jimmy still stared at me in English class, but he didn't hold the door for me. I was deep into my third novel, and Dad was deep into my brother, Sean's football games.

This Saturday Dad perched in the rust and green-checked easy chair with his feet propped on the matching footstool. Wrinkles creased his forehead like rivers on a map, his grayish blue eyes cold. He glared at Sean who stood in front of him like a page having an audience with the king. The urge to rush in the den and tell Dad to stop upsetting Sean filled every fiber of my being. All I could do was stand outside the door and wait in the lonely hall with its cold parquet floor and empty beige wall.

Sean shook his head. "Coach is taking me out, sir. I'm not winning enough games."

Sunshine seeped through the mini blinds creating a peaceful glow that seemed out of place.

"Son, you'll have to get back that position. To clinch your college football career you need to be the number one quarterback for Meriwether Christian High."

Sean looked up and sidled around, probably to get out of Dad's line of view. "I had a meeting with Coach Rogers."

Dad turned up his large palm and gestured. "Good. That's a start."

Sean ranked at the top of his class, but he struggled with sports. He may have looked like Dad, but he inherited our mom, Kelly's, mediocre athletic ability.

"No, I mean I met with him when he told me he was replacing me as first-string quarterback." Sean glanced at me.

I nodded to give him support.

Sean shifted his weight. "A new guy, Harold Gravitts, will start. He moved here two weeks ago from Greenstown, North Carolina. You were there the last two games. You know we lost because I threw bad passes in the end zone."

Dad bounded out of the chair as though he'd been shot from a cannon and knocked the coffee cup off the walnut occasional table. "What can this guy do that you can't?"

"He's no better than I am in scrimmages."

Dad lowered himself into the seat and tapped his lips. "Hmm. Maybe he's a jock who holds back in practice, but Coach Rogers sees his special talent."

"I don't know what it is, but—"

"Of course you don't. You're not a coach."

Sean wrung his hands. "He wouldn't have to be Super Bowl quality to have something on me."

Sean's quivering voice pierced my heart. "I'm not a great quarterback like you were."

Six-foot-three, Dad had earned the nickname Bullet when he broke the passing records at the University of North Carolina in the 1980s. Often when he introduced himself as Randolph Sean McWhorter, he'd grin and add, "aka. Bullet. I played quarterback at U.N.C."

"Maybe you need more strength in your throwing arm. Lift more weights. Do whatever it takes to get back that position."

Dad's humiliating words had to hurt Sean. Was Sean's heart falling to his toes like mine did when I had to confess something less than perfect? Seeing that disappointed look on Dad's face always hit me in the gut. Sometimes Dad teased me and cheered me up if I was sad. Mom said he worked hard to give us a good home, but he could make me feel as little as a worm. Did Sean feel that way now? Fists formed involuntarily at my sides as I swallowed back my fury.

Dad picked up the coffee cup and peered at the coffee-soaked spot on the rust-colored carpet. "Just look at that mess." He rubbed his shoe across it.

What about the stain Dad put on Sean's heart?

With the vocal explosion in the den over, the house grew as quiet as a cave. The sadness in Sean's eyes when he walked toward me could have made a stone cry.

"Thanks for being there for me, Margaret. At least my failure to qualify for first string quarterback isn't a stinger."

What was he talking about? How could I help if I didn't understand? "What's a stinger? That feeling you sometimes get when you pull a muscle overdoing in sports?"

"That too, but I meant a bad personality trait like a temper or a big ego. Something that can upset other people. For instance, I can't throw great passes, but that doesn't degrade anyone else. It's a shortcoming, not a stinger."

I hugged him around the neck. "You make people happy. You're the best whether you ever play first string quarterback again or not." We had each other.

"I'll deal with it." Sean lifted his chin and marched up the oak staircase.

He seemed upset, and all the talk about stingers wasn't like him, but he'd take Dad's anger with a stiff upper lip. He always did. After all, both of us knew excellence brought praise from Dad. Failure or mediocrity brought about one of Dad's stingers, his wrath.

Sean would be fine by the time he changed clothes, left the house, and saw his friends at practice. If I bummed a ride with him, he might rush to bring me home. He needed to hang out with the guys after the scrimmage, not chauffeur around a tag-along. The best thing I could do for him was take myself to swim practice. The scene in the den lingered in my head like a hamburger left on the kitchen counter overnight. It smelled.

I headed for the garage and un-propped my shiny blue Schwinn from against the cream-colored wall, rolled it to the driveway then mounted it. At least Dad let me choose my sport. He bought the bike for me when I qualified for the state swimming championship this past summer. Swimming refreshed me, relieved stress, and lifted my spirits, but would I even have a bike if I didn't compete in the sport? That thought made me nauseous as I rode down the winding, mountain road.

Bright orange, red, and yellow leaves blended over the hills like splotches on an artist's canvas. Tourists who flocked here in October said Mistville, North Carolina, was such a peaceful place with breath-taking sights. For me, the landscape was a mirage. A voice constantly screamed inside my head, you have to be the best.

A granite entryway with a bronze nameplate marked Meriwether. I whizzed past it onto a street lined with oak and maple trees, whipped around the curve that led to a steep incline and pedaled up it. The brick gym sat at the top amid a huge grassy lawn with a circular drive. I slid the wheel of my bike into the one remaining spot in the bike stand then scanned the football players on the practice field across the street.

Sean wasn't there. A few steps took me closer. I shielded my eyes with my hands and squinted, surveying the numbers on the players' jerseys. Nope. Even though it wasn't like Sean to run late, maybe he had today. No wonder, after all that had happened at the house.

Dad's muscled arm knocking over his coffee was all I could think about as I opened the glass doors to the lobby filled with trophy cases. How could I practice with my insides coiled as tight as a spring? I slung open the locker room door and strolled in. The clock on the wall stared me in the face—five after nine. No wonder no one else was in here. I was late.

My chest tightened as I pulled off my blouse and yanked on my black practice suit. I charged out and sprinted to the pool.

My teammates, who already swam, splashed water all over the deck. Would Coach Lohrens make me do push-ups for not being on time? A shiver ran up my spine. Talking to one of the parents, he had his back to me.

Relief coursed through my veins as I hopped in the water behind Tammy Morris. Whether I practiced freestyle or my favorite stroke, butterfly, an image of Sean's unhappy face pressed on my mind like a vice. The water felt like gelatin as I pulled through it. Was Sean all right? Why wasn't he at the football field? Needing a breather, I stopped at the wall. Churned up water sloshed around me as the swimmers flew past.

Tammy came in right behind me. "What's happening? How are ya?"

Great teammates, Tammy and I weren't close enough for me to discuss Sean and Dad. "I'm good." I pushed off the wall and swam away.

Thinking of nothing but Sean as I pulled and kicked through the endless water, I lost all sense of time. Finally, I paused again at the wall.

Tammy touched my shoulder. "Maggie Butterfly, it's over. We can leave." Her black cap squeaked as she rubbed it together when she yanked it off. Tiny rivulets of water dripped from her long brown hair as she ran her hands through it. She was my only friend who called me Maggie and then added the name of the stroke I was known for.

Following her, I pulled up on the bars on the starting block and hoisted myself out of the pool. "I couldn't concentrate."

She gently flipped her towel across my shoulder. "I have days like that too. Forget it."

She may have had a day when she couldn't concentrate, but I doubted she'd had a day start off like mine did this morning.

Chatter from the rest of the team faded into the background as Tammy opened the door to the lobby. A cool draft blew in as someone entered from outside, and we hurried to the locker room.

Tammy picked up her swim bag. "Some of us are going to lunch at the Steak House. Wanna' come?"

Getting attention from a junior made me feel grown-up and sophisticated. At meets we swam with our own age groups, but we worked out according to our skill levels. Thanks to Sean, who insisted I learn to swim at age three, I practiced with the upperclassmen. I hardly felt like talking to a bunch of people after the events of the morning at the house, and I already planned to meet Emily Daven, my best friend.

"Thanks. I wish I could, but I can't." Tammy's invitation meant a lot. I hoped she wouldn't be offended.

Tammy smiled, and her eyes looked kind. "Okay, see you later."

I slipped into my blue jeans and put on the green blouse Mom liked for me to wear. She said it matched my eyes and made them sparkle. I closed the door to the locker room, shut my mind to swimming times and competitions, and left the chlorinated world behind. Only Sean remained in my thoughts.

On the way to get my bike, I scanned the football field. It was empty. I mounted the Schwinn and pedaled up the tree-lined road toward The Grill. Why did Coach Rogers have to replace Sean with Harold Gravitts? Why couldn't Sean still be the starting quarterback?

Plenty of vacant spaces waited for me at the restaurant bicycle stand. I parked in front of the brick building then strolled inside. The football players seated at a round table close to the door talked about missed tackles, end-arounds, and flea flickers. Sean wasn't with them. Where was he?

The smell of cheeseburgers wafting from the kitchen made my stomach growl as I meandered by the swimmers who hadn't gone to the Steak House. Jay Arnold, the captain of the boys' team, pulled a chair up to their table. "Hi, Margaret, have a seat."

"Thanks, but I promised Emily I'd meet her." Emily played no sports.

He winked. "Gotcha. Catch you later."

The noise from the front of the room turned to meaningless chatter as I walked to the back where Emily waited. I scooted into a chair across from her.

"Hi, when did you get here?"

She brushed her long black hair behind her ears. "I just sat down, but I can't wait to tell you about Owen!" Her dark eyes sparkled.

Ray Jones, a tall lanky redhead on a work scholarship at Meriwether, arrived to take our orders.

"I'd like fruit salad and a grilled cheese sandwich." Emily gazed up at him.

Ray wrote on his pad then glanced at me.

"A chili cheeseburger."

"You got it." Ray put his pencil behind his ear.

Worry about Sean jammed my mind. Had he gone straight home after football practice? Had he even gone to football practice? It wasn't like him not to. I'd eat as fast as I could and go see.

I leaned across the table. "So Owen's cool?"

Emily's eyes lit up. "Oh yeah."

Emily was pretty hot too. A sophomore, she was five-feet-three inches and must've weighed only ninety-eight pounds. She had her mother's long eyelashes and her father's small nose.

"Owen's so cute. Last night after the movie, we went to the Steak House. I was so hungry. I offered to pay my part. You know what he said?"

I shook my head. "No."

"He said, 'I asked because I wanted to see you. It's my treat.'" Emily's voice rose as she bounced in her seat. "Sincere, or fake?"

I sat back and smiled. "Sounds sincere."

Emily and I met when she first moved to Mistville. As her new student buddies, Sean and I showed her around the Meriwether campus. She and I started hanging out then and never stopped.

Ray brought our food. "Here ya go."

"Thanks, Ray," I said.

Starving, I devoured large bites of my chili cheeseburger and fries while Emily took dainty nibbles of grapefruit and orange wedges. So like her.

"Thanks for listening about Owen." She spoke in a soft, lyrical voice.

"It's cool you're going out with him." No psychologist, I'd only guessed at Owen's sincerity, a small part of a person's character, but I was glad I finally got to hear about Emily's new boyfriend. Talking to her took my mind off the ugly scene at home. I'd never mentioned my fascination with Jimmy to her. What would I tell her? He stared at me. How long could we discuss that? Anyway, today wasn't the time to talk about him with the problems between Dad and Sean pressing on my mind.

She sipped her soda. "How'd you do on your lit test?"


Emily's thin lips parted into a grin. "Yeah right. You did better than that. Like literature's not your best subject."

"Margaret, you have a call." Ray stepped toward our table and pointed to the receiver on the counter in front of the cash register. "You can take it there."

Surprise ran through me as I pulled my cell phone out of my brown purse. It was off. With all that was going on between Dad and Sean, no wonder I forgot to turn it on. Who would call me here? I bounded out of my seat and hurried to answer with Emily on my heels.

"Margaret!" Mom's voice sounded upset, strained.

I'd never heard her so choked up. My palms grew sweaty.

"Something's happened to Sean."

Everything around me blurred. The room swayed as Emily helped me to a chair.

"Sit down. What's wrong? Who was that?" she asked.

A sinking feeling rushed over me. "It was Mom. Sean's at Mistville General Hospital. Can you take me?"

"Definitely. What about your bike?" Emily tapped my arm.

"Leave it. Dad can get it later. Can we go?"

"Yeah, we're leaving."

The concern written on Emily's face barely registered with me as I got up, and we rushed to a scene I didn't want to face.

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An article based on Stopped Cold, originally published in Book Fun Magazine, 2013

"Youth Succeeding, Win or Lose"

By Gail Pallotta

“I won! We won!” What sweet words express the moment when spirits take wings and soar. They are simple and spontaneous, but the victory’s complicated. Lots of work transpired before the moment of glory, someone lost, and the winner’s just risen to a new level. To be the best validates our existence whether we’ve won first place in a local quilt show, a fifty-yard dash or a team sport. The ranking marks our superiority in that place at that time forever. No wonder we aim for it.

Navigating a competitive society’s difficult for anyone, and even more so for children. “There’s a right and a wrong way to do it,” says Tim McDaniel, Recreation Minister for Eastside Baptist Church and Athletic Director for that church’s school in Marietta, Georgia. He tells his students to “compete with character by working for a common goal and respecting their opponents and authority.”

Putting the competitive spirit in perspective McDaniel says, “We tell the youngsters to compete for an audience of one (God) and explain that they’re using the skills and abilities He gave them. It’s not all about them. When they win, we ask them to give God the glory.”

That advice should make it easier to win with humbleness or lose with grace. It’s difficult sometimes when only fractions of an inch, hundredths of a second, the blink of an eye or even a bad call separates a win from a loss. Nonetheless, the person or team handed the trophy is number one. The others are usually forgotten. For that reason Bobby Gatlin, Minister to students at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, in Marietta, cautions competitors “…NOT to make your goal winning or being the best.”

That’s tough for those who arise in the wee hours of the morning to perform strenuous athletic workouts. Others entering various contests work late into the night to hone the words in their stories, perfect their quilting stitches or find the ingredients that will bring home the blue ribbon in the pie judging. Winners are made of such dedication and commitment. If they don’t aim for first place, what should they seek?

Smith Swilley, a Cobb County, Georgia, coach for Little League Baseball, Tournaments and a Traveling Team likes to see his players temper their emotions, have fun with the game and have a good work ethic. He says, “I’m passionate about baseball, but I never want the kids to give up the joy of playing the game.”

Minister Gatlin agrees and quotes Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…”

“Never play dirty,” Tim McDaniel says.

Darryl D. Cook, of Nashville, Tennessee, and his wife raised five children who all love and serve the Lord, a professional athlete among them. He says, “When evil intent invades spiritual competition, resentment and jealousy result. God speaks specifically on this in James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil work.”

Minister Gatlin adds, “We can be driven and successful and still love a life of humility and selflessness if whatever we do is for the Lord.”

David Lee, D. C., PhD., C.Ad, of Wellness Revolution Clinics in Woodstock, Georgia, and Orlando, Florida, teaches his children to keep three concepts in mind. “I must have passion for the sporting event I participate in. I must strive to be the very best I can be at this sport or event. I must be equally excited for the achievements of others."

Whether competitors run track, play baseball, bake cakes, quilt, or write if they do it for the love of it, to use their God-given talents to the best of their abilities, and they rejoice in the success of others, the disappointment of losing pales.

Coach Swilley sees baseball players deal with loss in any given game. He says, “When a batter comes up to the plate, most of the time he strikes out. Three hits out of every ten at-bats is considered success.” He advises his players “to forget the last at-bat, catch or throw in the field. Whether it was a good or bad at-bat or play, it will never be seen again. Keep looking ahead to the next one.”

Coach Swilley’s philosophy works at home as well as on the field. Last year his son, Braeden Swilley, was presented the 2012 National Little League “Good Sport of the Year” award at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Braeden was selected out of the approximate 2,000,000 Little League players for demonstrating superior qualities of sportsmanship, leadership, a commitment to teamwork and a desire to excel.

While winning’s the ultimate, eleven-year-old Braeden enjoys baseball games --win or lose. He says, “I like the sport, and it’s fun to be with friends. Every at-bat and play in the field is different. It’s never the same.”

What a healthy competitive spirit that is. Ian Goss, Head Coach of Stingrays Swimming in Cobb County, Georgia, agreed. He says, athletes should “Know why they are competing in the first place…and be okay with it.”

“Competition is not just bound to competing against another person. Competition is a spiritual source of power that can be used to push an individual into their own purpose,” Mr. Cook points out.

These experts who work with or advise children in our highly competitive world echoed Mr. Cook’s words. “Competition is good.” Reasons given included, “It can cause us to accomplish great things” by Minister Gatlin, and “It builds character” by Coach Swilley.

Ready, set, go!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016