Tag Archives: Christian Fiction

Local Paragons Part I: Hutch and Harris

Hutch and Harris is a restaurant located at 424 West Fourth Street in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The menu and restaurant are excellent and the pictures provided were taken from an actual recent dining experience. The story itself is fictional (I like to take some experiences at these local paragons and weave them into this new fabricated story about Lucy).

Food: <3 <3 <3 <3                                                          Local color: <3 <3 <3 <3


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Downtown Winston Salem still slept, recovering from ushering in the New Year. Lucy St. James climbed out of her twelve year old silver Ford Focus, the echo of the door reverberating down Fourth Street. Glancing down at her watch, the daisies ticked toward seven—she was a few minutes early.

“You’re supposed to kiss him!” the photographer’s flash illuminated the night air. She steadied it on her shoulder as she called out to the couple in the middle of the crosswalk. Lucy laughed, and the photographer exchanged glances with her. “I guess they didn’t get the memo.”

“Guess not. Cute shot though,” Lucy said. The couple hurried to the other side of the street as the light turned and traffic started moving again.

“Yes, as long as they don’t get hit,” the photographer laughed and waved as Lucy crossed the street. The couple was coming back to the middle of the other crosswalk when Lucy passed them. The girl’s foot popped up behind her as she kissed her fiancé, diamond ring sparkling in the white twinkle lights still strung over Hutch and Harris’ awning.

The patio, deserted in January, spread open and welcome as Lucy sidestepped the metal anchors and entered the downtown restaurant.

“Welcome to Hutch and Harris.” The host stood behind the podium, showing his straightened teeth.

“Good evening,” Lucy smiled and tossed one of her black braids over her shoulder. “I have a reservation for seven—under St. James.”

“Ah, yes. We have you all set up, Ms. St. James, right this way.”

“Thank you.” Lucy followed the host back to the booth on the left side of the restaurant. Normally Hutch and Harris was a buzz of activity—but it was still early.

“The specials for this evening,” he handed her a printed page. “Your server will be right with you.”

Lucy smiled, glancing down at the dancing daisies again. Katie, Phoebe and Tia would be here soon. Her favorite part of the holidays was getting together with her friends—they didn’t get to see each other often enough now that they lived in different cities and—

“Lucy!” Tia tumbled into the other side of the booth. “I can’t believe how great you look. What a great restaurant, great choice.”

“Hey, Tia,” Lucy barely got the greeting out before Katie’s infectious laugh filled the restaurant. Lucy could feel the smile spreading from one side of her face to the other. “Well, that makes three of four. Where’s Phoebe?”

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She’s not going to make it,” Katie tossed her phone on the table and shrugged out of her coat. “Stephen isn’t feeling well. She said to make sure to order the crabcake sandwich in honor of her.”

“Oh crabcakes,” Tia grabbed the menu and began reading out loud. “That sounds divine. With mac and cheese. Y-to the um.”

“I’ll pass,” Lucy took the menu from Tia and perused it herself. She didn’t particularly care for seafood. “But El Kentucky looks pretty good—fried chicken, pico de gallo—can’t really go wrong with that.”

“And I bet they come with pickles.”

“I love pickles.”

Katie laughed. “I know.”

“Good evening, ladies. My name is Saul and I’ll be your cruise director this evening—to start off our slate of activities can I get you some wine? It’s Thirsty Thursday—1/2 price on our bottles.”

“Oh that sounds great—“ Katie grabbed the wine menu. “What about the Gugenheim?”

“Great choice.” He winked, then said, “Waters all around.”

The girls nodded and he bounded off.

“He’s pretty nice looking,” Katie said. She lifted an aristocratic brow and elbowed Lucy.

“Katie!” Lucy rolled her eyes. Tapping her fingers on the table, she couldn’t help but compare her left hand to that of her friends—a noticeably bare hand. “I’m not looking for a date here.”

“I’m just saying,” she shrugged her shoulders. “How’s work?”

“Nice segue,” Tia laughed, taking the wine now proffered to her.

“Work’s—work,” Lucy shrugged. “And this wine is phenomenal.”

“Has a nice peppery taste,” Katie smacked her lips together before sitting her wine glass back on the table. Tia swirled her wine around in the glass.

“Have we decided what we want ladies?” Saul asked. He came to the table—no pad, but with a professional smile that told the ladies he knew what he was doing.

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Tia ordered the crabcake, mac and cheese combo, Lucy had El Kentucky with sweet potato fries while Katie went with the special—a duck with a spicy glaze and wasabi sauce.

“Your mouth is going to be on fire,” Lucy shook her head as Saul walked away.

“I like it hot, what can I say,” Katie shrugged.

“Oh, what would Jaime say to that?” Tia arched a brow.

“I imagine he knows all about it,” Lucy commented.

“Luce!” Katie looked at her appalled.

“What? My filter starts shutting down after four,” Lucy laughed. “Besides, I’m turning thirty this year. I have some kind of right to unfliter now, right?”

“We’re all turning thirty,” Tia commented. “We should do something.”

“Nothing we can do,” Katie shrugged.

“Katie!”

“What, I’m not interested in a murder murder suicide thing, so we have to kind of accept it.”

“I meant,” Tia threw her napkin across the table at Katie. “That we should celebrate. Take a trip. Be somewhere tropical with little umbrellas in our drinks or something.”

Lucy sat up straighter, her almond eyes widening a little. “I’m down.”

“What do you think, Katie?” Tia asked. “Could you get away from Jaime and—“

“Baby Boo?” Katie’s laugh rang through the restaurant. “Yeah, I can probably swing it. Jamie can watch Billy.”

“Awesome, we should totally start planning this.”

The food arrived, displayed on white ceramic plates and begging in all its beautiful glory to be eaten.

Lucy’s phone rang.

“Ugh!” Katie groaned swatting at Lucy as she reached for the offending object. “Don’t answer it. We’re eating.”

Lucy looked down at the number. “It’s my sister,” her brow wrinkled. “She doesn’t usually call me.”

“I guess we’ll let it slide this time,” Tia waved her fork, laden with mac and cheese at her. Lucy answered the phone.

“Hello?” Lucy moved the fries around with her fork. Suddenly she stopped playing with the fries. “What? Oh my. Yeah. I can be there in like half an hour.”

“What’s going on?” Katie and Tia looked at Lucy, who was already starting to gather her coat.

“My sister’s water just broke,” Lucy laughed.

“How is everything?” Saul returned to the table, a white cloth napkin now over his shoulder. “That bad? You’re running out on it?”

“Oh no,” Lucy laughed as she pulled on her gloves, “But I do need my check—my sister’s on the way to the hospital and I have to get to her house—the neighbors are watching her son until I get there.”

“Ah,” Saul nodded. “I certainly know the joys of nieces and nephews. I’ll be right back.”

“I thought your sister wasn’t due until February.”

“She wasn’t,” Lucy laughed again and tossed her purse strap over her head. “Guess baby girl was ready to meet the world now.”

“And here is your box,” Saul passed the Styrofoam box to her. “With a little added artistic flair, because otherwise, it’s just a to-go box. And congratulations to your sister.”

“Thanks,” Lucy took the box as Saul walked away. “Katie, can you?” she passed the box over to her, while she pulled out her cash.

“Ummm, Luce?”

“What?” Lucy put her cash in with the check and started to scoot out, but Katie wouldn’t move. “Katie, what is up with you?”

“Looks like you got more than a cartoon on your to-go box,” she opened up the inside further for Lucy to see. Inside was Saul’s name, and his digits.

Katie couldn’t smile any wider.

Lucy slammed the lid to the to-go box down, her face flaming.

“What are you going to do?” Tia asked, kicking Lucy under the table.

“Right now? I’m going to my sister’s,” She pushed Katie out of the booth and headed for the front door, “Call me when you figure out where we’re going.” She said over her shoulder, leaving the restaurant with a flourish—to-go box firmly under her arm.

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Let the EDITING games BEGIN

I have been so focused on productivity for the past few months, I have neglected my editing.

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 Now that I have three manuscripts completed—let the editing games begin.

 And oh boy, let the editing games begin.

I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start—and you’re welcome for that song being in your head from now until eternity. The only way to cure it is to start singing “This is the song that never ends…” oops…good luck). I opened my first manuscript, which in all fairness is a novel I started when I was sixteen years old and finished when I was around 22. I’ve continually gone back and forth to and from it, kind of like a security blanket. I love the plot, because, let’s face it, it’s my first novel and I am attached to the characters, but there has always been something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that bothered me about the whole story.

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It hit me a few months ago—this story has WAY too much BACKSTORY. Sure, I care—that’s because I’ve been in love with these characters since I was sixteen. But you won’t. My readers will stop reading after the first sentence probably because it’s pretty lame. I mean seriously, read this:


 The creaking floorboard sounded eerily loud in the engulfing silence of the vacant room.


I shuddered when I went back and read it. 14 words just to say “the empty room was quiet.” And what is that vacant room even supposed to mean? Very little in the grand scheme of things. That whole chapter is back story—why she’s there, what she’s doing, who she is—explained in meticulous detail.

So I gutted it.

I deleted the first three chapters.

It only hurt a little, but the new beginning gave the novel new life. Compare the two:

 Original


The creaking floorboard sounded eerily loud in the engulfing silence of the vacant room. The air smelled musty and old but strangely comforting in the peaceful hush. For years the building stood in the center of downtown, as tall and proud as one of the Queen’s soldiers at Buckingham Palace thousands of miles from Bentenville, Texas.

A second creaking broke the silence with the firm step of the determined Andrea Honor Cartier, who intended to do more than just break the silence. She would have her way with the building first by eliminating the years of redundancy with necessary restorations and renovations, and then by inviting change that would bring new life to the stoic solider.

At least that’s what she told herself as she stopped in the center of the large open room eyeing every inch of space the building had to offer. She closed her eyes and listened to the silence soon broken by Liz Tonnozi’s voice whispering through her memory.

 Revamped:


Andi, do you want to have some real fun today?” Liz Tonnozi asked as she sat across from her friend Sunday morning. She was stretched out on the couch kicking her legs up in the air while Andi read a book in the recliner across from her. Liz hadn’t been there more than five minutes before she’d broken Andi’s cone of silence with her less than rhetorical question.

Andrea Cartier, recently liberated debutante from Atlanta, looked at the much more relaxed Liz from over the top of her book. While Liz had never been one to follow convention, Andrea, or Andi to her friends, sat up straight even when she was relaxing. Under her mother’s watchful eye, Andi had learned that when in polite company a lady never touched the back of her chair.

Liz didn’t care about the rules of polite company. And with five brothers, she only occasionally recognized that she was a lady.

 

I spent three chapters introducing these two characters before when in these three paragraphs, I gave you a distinct impression of the two from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t compromise the basic plot—it’s still there, I’m just editing it for style, because let’s face it, I’ve learned a lot since I was 22. And that’s what I love about the writing process.

Writing is about change. Continual, never ending, constant, on the move, change. It’s why it is a process and it will never be perfect. By definition, a process is a systematic series of actions directed toward some end—a continuous ACTION or series of CHANGES and oh how we all rebel against both of those ideas.

 Taking action is hard.

No one wants to admit that something they worked for years on still needs work—a lot of work—before it reaches any kind of definite end. And yet, unless some kind of definite action is taken, what good can come of it.

And if taking action is hard, change, ugh, who likes change anyway? For years I rebelled against the idea of taking anything out of the novel because I’d spent so long putting it in there in the first place. BUT if it’s useless crap, then that kind of change is good. Just like cutting the dead ends off your hair helps it grow.

The thing about a process though—it’s not the song that never ends. At some point, you do get to get off that small world ride (oh look, now you have that one stuck in your head) and if you’re really lucky—and you take definite action—you see something beautiful. After all, a caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly till it breaks out of that chrysalis and a writer doesn’t become an author till she learns how to adapt, change, and publish her work.

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Why aren’t you married yet?

If I had a dollar…or a quarter…or a nickel…well, let’s just say I get asked this question a lot by teenagers who have the tact of the Jolly Green Giant in a China shop.

To be fair the conversation usually starts with the pictures of my darling nieces on my walls, who, do in fact look an awful lot like me (genetics are very powerful). It goes something like this:

Me: I know.

Student: Do you have any kids?

Me: No.

Student: Do you want kids?

Me: Maybe someday. Depends on whether all you jokers drive me stark raving mad first or not.

Student: Are you married? [Bingo the million dollar question]

Me: Nope.  [And this is where it goes one of two directions]

Student A: Why aren’t you married yet?              Student B: Don’t you ever want to get married?

Neither of these conversations, of course, have anything to do with English, but you’re kidding yourself if you think my job is just about literature, grammar, and writing. And I’d be bored out of my skull if it was. My job description of course is “English Teacher” but that’s only about a third of what I actually do. My job is really relational, which is exactly why conversations like this will always happen. My students want to know more about me (of course, there is the kid who thinks I live at school…literally…but that’s a story for another day) and why I want to know more about them.

As a result I’m forced to confront my perpetual state of “singledom” (regardless of whether or not I am or am not currently dating someone) or a regular basis. And that is trying.

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The door to nowhere at the Winchester Mystery House (Where I would like to send that question :-))

Because the answer is not simple.


Yes, I want to be married, someday, I think. Most days I want to be, I think. And yet…

No, maybe I don’t want to be married—I like my space—I like my independence—I like my life the way it is and change is…ah….ah…

But I do want to be married. I write Christian romances. Of course I am looking for that for myself so…

Yes, I do.

Of course, it’s not just my students who ask this, but they are the ones who ask most often.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve always pictured myself married by now. I’m not, but I’m not unhappy about it the way my 16 year old self thought I would be, so that is perplexing as well.

What I don’t want is to get married because it is what people expect. If I am simply trying to find a life mate because my society believes that I am somehow incomplete without a partner, then I’m not okay with that. I’m an individual person and I have an identity on my own without a partner.

Of course, the opposite is true too. I hate the idea embodying the extreme opinion where women are all about not getting married because marriage strips them of their independence. With the right person, marriage can add to your identity rather than strip it from you.

So, why am I not married?

I shrug or throw it back at them: Why aren’t you? I ask. Because they answer is all the same no matter what age you are (Maybe I’M still too young to be married…don’t call me old, children ;-)).

Do I want to be married?

Sure, under the right circumstances, I think we all do (even those adamantly against marriage would probably cave…haven’t you seen HIMYM?)

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.


 I would wager to guess that many of us go to work each day and spend at least a small (though often it is large) percentage of time complaining about something.

There is no coffee in the pot.

 Someone ate the last donut.

 There is a weird smell.

 My boss…OMG, my boss…

 The children are wild.

 My subordinates are needy.

 I don’t get paid enough.

I could go on for days, because I’ve been there. Stress with a capital STRESS, can cause us to be cranky with a capital CRANK and IE just to add an extra letter in there for emphasis. But what if it’s not our jobs, or the people, or the place or even the money that leads to the feelings and emotions stacking up one on top of the other day after day? What if it’s about perspective?

Buy Linda Dillow’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/Linda-Dillow/e/B001JS2DXO

While reading Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, by Linda Dillow I’ve been challenged in many ways. Dillow challenges readers to wake up to the many ways in which we worship—or should worship—each and every day of our lives. Often the term ‘worship’ is misused. It is not a synonym for music. Worship is any way we pay reverence or homage to God. Dillow expands this definition by exploring how we as individuals can worship with our lives, our words, our attitudes—and, as in the chapter I most recently read, our work.

 

I spend a lot of time at work. And now I have two jobs.

 

My first job is at school—I do a lot of complaining at this job. More than I wish I did, but less than most because while I do get frustrated I do honestly love what I do. Do I believe things could be better? Absolutely. Do I believe it is a demanding profession? You betcha. Am I often disheartened and disillusioned by the thanklessness of the teenagers who I spend hours of my time trying to help just to hear them say: ‘this is stupid’? Of course. But complaining really doesn’t do any good. In fact, all it does it stress me and the people around me out. And who wants that. So why do I do it?

 

I call it “venting”. That makes it sound better, right?

 

But what if I train myself to look at my work differently? What if instead of getting frustrated that the teenager still doesn’t have his homework—what if I turn my work into praise?


 

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.


Dillow uses this phrase in her book, but it actually comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, a book of precepts written around 529 CE. This is not a new concept. Work is worship (or prayer); Worship is work. For centuries, Monks have used this concept to help keep balance in the monastery (when it wasn’t corrupted I suppose). The point is, everything you do is worship—and work should not be an exception. So if I can shift my perception and see my work as worship then perhaps I can help bring more joy to not only my life, but the people around me as well.

 

But how do I do this? On Friday one of my kids came racing down the hall as the final bell rang and into my classroom. He jumped over a couple of desks in a hurry to sit down. I was tired. And frankly not in the mood to deal with rambunctious teenagers. I frowned at him and scolded a little about his lack of propriety, but in retrospect all he was doing was what I had asked–showing energy and that he was trying to get to class on time. I could have fed off that energy and made the class, all of whom were a bit riled up by the act, more energetic and engaging as a result. Instead I was cranky. “Ms Carmichael you seem a bit cranky. You ok?” Another student asked. I responded as you might imagine a cranky teacher might respond. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t allow students to climb on the desks like monkeys or anything, but the attitude I have when I respond to it is what makes or breaks my class and quite frankly distinguishes me as a teacher, which leads me back to bowing my work, something I don’t do nearly as often as I need to. Especially the last 2 years. I’ve had these battles and I need to lay them at the cross each morning when I get up. I am a teacher.

 

But I can’t do it on my own. Nor should I try. As it happens, I was also reading Francis Chan’s book this week  Forgotten God. I don’t think it was a coincidence that much of what Chan writes applied directly to what I learned from Dillow. Chan points out that James 4:3 tells us that we can ask for wisdom, guidance, direction and the Holy Spirit all day long, but if we ask for the wrong reasons, God’s answer is going to be no. Our reasons have to be to bring him glory, not to bring our self glory or as the verse says to “spend it on our passions.” As a teacher I know that I have the opportunity to touch so many lives each and every day, but I have to understand that “our desire to live should be for the sake and glory of the God who put us on this earth in the first place” (Chan). And I think I too often forget that—which is where I fail most often.

Find out more about Francis Chan at www.Crazylove.org

 

And so I come to my second job, writing—which is where I really have to be careful not to want to spend all my askings on my own passions. Teaching gives me a daily reminder that there are others out there—writing is not as straight forward. Now that I have published Valerie’s Vow, I know I have readers; my publisher gave me the good news about my book this weekend. It’s selling at the top (tied with another book—A Ripple in the Water by Donna Small) of their books on the site and on Amazon. Even so, it’s not a constant reminder. Currently I working on novel that is not a sequel to Valerie’s Vow, but is written in a very similar style—the working title is Clara’s Chance. While I outlined the story and I know where I want it to go, it still has a life of its own. What I keep reminding myself is that my writing is not just for me. I write because I want to use the talent I have been blessed with to bring glory to God, and if I’m not then I have to stop. Vanity and pride are close beside me as I become a creator of something new. It’s beautiful, but ultimately I have to squash them. Because it can’t be about me.

 

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Buy my book here: http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vow-Ashley-M-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B00MV36X32/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410133771&sr=8-1&keywords=valerie%27s+vow or at www.secondwindpublishing.com

Why I used a couple curse words in my Christian Fiction novel

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Last week I released my first book, and there are many reasons why this is exciting for me, but it also makes me nervous. I’m anxious about how it will be received, and even more so, how I will be judged for some of the choices I made about the content of the novel.

 But that’s okay.

As a writer, well, as a human, I have to make hard choices every day about what I think, feel and believe and when that is put into the context of writing I make those choices for my characters as well.  

By going with a small publisher I was able to maintain a lot of control over the content of my novel. As a result, though, I know there will be a lot of questions. Not the least of which will be: but this this is a CHRISTIAN novel—why are there curse words? Let me set the record straight first—the novel isn’t filled with profanity. In fact, I think there may be 5 curse words in the whole novel, but people—especially the target audience—will notice and I want to make sure I go on record with my reasons why.

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1) I want to make the characters and situations real.


 

Many of the situations and people that the main character, Valerie, meets are not Christian. She is put into the ‘real world’ in some pretty amazing ways. For example, at one point she is in a biker bar. To make that setting seem realistic, the dialogue has to match that which she might encounter. Just because a Christian character goes into an un-Christian place, that doesn’t immediately corrupt the character nor does it ‘cleanse’ the place. For a Christian novel to be real, some of that has to be exposed. God told us to be in the world (not of it). I wanted my characters to reflect that. As Christians, we can’t deny being in the world and these are places that we are a part of every day.


 

2) I want people to empathize with the character’s grief and pain.


 

Valerie is processing the death of a close friend—someone who had been a soul sister to her. She experiences deep, soul crushing grief and pain. The anger manifests in her dialogue and interactions with other people. I would love to say that as a Christian I have never used foul language in my grief and pain, but that would be a lie. Again, to connect to the character I added to her humanity. She makes mistakes—including some of her language.


 

3) I want people to understand that just because something is “Christian” doesn’t mean that it is “perfect”—that goes for people, setting, situations, and language.


 

The themes and lessons in the novel are distinctly Christian, which is what makes this “Christian Fiction”, an interesting phenomenal genre that has really only developed in the last fifty years or so (I mean think about it. Charles Dickens had many Christian themes—yet he is not a “Christian Fiction” writer…). I don’t want to alienate the Christian reader by using curse words, but I also don’t want to lie to them either. My story called for them, so I used them.


 

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The funny thing about it is, I worry—not about using them, but about being judged for that decision. Hopefully, my readers will understand and accept the choices that I made, but if not I hope they can at least present some counterarguments to me that are logical and well-thought out enough so that as I continue to write I can keep them in mind for my future endeavors.

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Buy my novel at any of these locations: 

Amazon: 

http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vow-Ashley-M-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B00MV36X32/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409596752&sr=8-1&keywords=valerie%27s+vow

http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vows-Ashley-M-Carmichael/dp/163066040X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1409596752&sr=8-2&keywords=valerie%27s+vow

Barnes and Noble: 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/valeries-vow?store=allproducts&keyword=valeries+vow

Second Wind Publishing:

http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!product/prd15/2506087281/valerie’s-vow

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468297