November

winterIt’s November, the between month. Between leaves tumbling in sun-warmed colors and snowflakes feathering from a slate sky. Between roaring combines churning dust clouds and dazzling white blanketing latent fields. November. Cold, gray.

I was born in a dreary November more than 80 years ago. In the same old farmhouse that cradles my weary bones and bleary memories. I am cold and gray. I am November.

Shrieks pierce my mind. My heart thumps in my throat as the ambulance careens around the corner and lurches into our pasture.

My eyes flutter open and focus on the book in my lap. The sound is only the phone. And like the old fool I am, I’ve left it in the kitchen again.

I grasp the sides of my walker and hoist myself out of the recliner. It will probably stop ringing by the time I get there. “Don’t you dare do that to this old lady.”

My slippers shuffle across the linoleum to the table, where I’d left the cordless phone after Charlie called during breakfast. I pick it up and press talk. “Hello?”

“Maggie, that you?”

“You were expecting Marilyn Monroe?”

Elizabeth chortles, and I wait for her snort, but she cuts it short. “You okay?”

“Of course, I’m okay. I’m standing here talking to you, aren’t I?”

“You weren’t in church yesterday, so I just wondered.”

“You and half the county.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, honey.” She chuckles.

I ease into a chair. “Well, maybe only Charlie.”

“Checking up on the old lady?”

“Just like you.”

“You mean I’m an old lady too, or I’m checking up on you like Charlie?”

“Both.” I grin, even though she can’t see it. “When are you coming over for Scrabble?”

“You up to it this afternoon?”

“Sure, I’m always ready to trounce you.”

“Ha!” She laughs like a crowing rooster. “Look up last time’s score.”

“Can’t. I threw that paper away.”

Now her laugh ends in the familiar little snort. “See you at two.”

“Wear your asbestos pants.”

She doesn’t reply because she’s already hung up.

I guide my walker to the desk and replace the phone in its charger. No sense letting the battery go down before something happens and I really need it.

The ambulance vision flashes in my mind, and I take a deep breath, dancing around the other images vying to be seen. I stretch out both hands in front of me and focus on the gnarled knuckles. The indented finger around my wedding band.

When William slipped on the ring, he looked into my eyes and the corners of his lips rose in that slow smile. If not for his smile, I wouldn’t be here today. In the decrepit old house where I spent most of my life, except for those college years in Iowa City. My brother, Charles, worked beside Dad every day and was obviously cut out to be a farmer, but that wasn’t the life for me. I was going to be a teacher, move out east or maybe to the west coast. Anywhere far from hogs and corn.

Then during Christmas break of my junior year, William Briggs from down the road came calling. And his slow smile stole my heart. His brother wanted to take over their family farm, which was fine by him because he planned to become a doctor. I easily envisioned myself as a doctor’s wife. I could teach while he was in medical school.

But by the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma and teaching certificate, things had changed. Charles had been killed in action in Korea. Dad came in from scooping a heavy spring snow out of a feed lot, laid down to rest, and never woke.

Neighbors rallied to put in the crops and do the chores, but my mother didn’t have a head for business and needed someone with brains—someone like William. We moved up our wedding, and then we moved in with Mom.

I shake my head in a vain effort to dispel those memories. Adjusting to married life and the first year of teaching had been difficult enough, but complicating things by living with my mother while William learned to farm the place had been insane.

I take a deep breath. What I needed was some exercise. On the enclosed porch, I slip on my hooded sweatshirt and zip it up. I wrestle the walker through the door, and the cold air startles my lungs.

The walker slides along the smooth path into the pasture. A wisp of morning mist rises from the pond in the hollow like an unsettled spirit. I bow my head. The moment stretches into minutes. Then I turn away.

I stand and survey the land, feeling like a tiny figure frozen in a Grant Woods landscape. Acres of corn stubble spread like dunes of raked sand. Bean fields that lay covered with gold and russet velour blankets only a few weeks ago, now rest like shaved gray heads.

Clouds scud above, and a gust of wind invades my jacket. Time to turn around.

As I near the house, the LP truck rumbles down the road and pulls into my driveway. A man hops out, gives an energetic wave, and dashes around the back of his truck. By the time I’m within talking distance, he’s already fastened the hose onto the nozzle and another five hundred dollars flows into the tank.

The driver is Harold and Lucile Stanhope’s boy. He grins. “Should you be walking clear out there by yourself, Mrs. Briggs?”

“You offering to come walk with me every day?” Why can’t I remember this guy’s name? He was in Margaret’s class.

He laughs. “I wish.” He makes a note on his clipboard so the Co-op doesn’t neglect to send me the bill. “Nothing I’d like better than to walk with you on a fine day like this.”

I raise my eyebrows. “What’s so fine about it?”

“It’s not raining, and it’s not snowing. Yet.” He checks the tank’s gauge. “The roads are clear and dry.” He looks at me and grins again. “Yep. It’s a fine day.”

His name still eludes me, but I remember he has a daughter getting married soon.

“How are the wedding plans going?”

“Oh, the planning’s done. Jennifer got married in October.” He patted the pulsing hose. “Now I just have to work my tail off to pay for the blessed event.”

My legs and arms are turning to jelly, so I head for the back door. “Well, best wishes to the happy couple.”

“Thanks.” He waves.

“See you later.” I maneuver through the door, and he has the good sense not to offer to help me. Why can’t I remember his name?

My hood hung up, I push into the kitchen. What’s for lunch? The daily question. The refrigerator contains some wilted lettuce in a baggie, a few cheese sticks, and Rubbermaid containers I don’t want to open for fear of what might be growing in them.

Soup’s always good. I open a can of chunky chicken and dump it into a pan.

The phone blares, and my heart leaps. But it’s probably only Margaret.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom.” It is Margaret. “How’re you doing today?”

“Fine. You?”

“Fine, too.”

My daughter and I have scintillating conversations.

I decide to ratchet it up. “What’s on your agenda for the afternoon?”

“Paperwork. Then leading bingo in the activity room at 3:00. Want to come into town for it?”

“No, thanks. Elizabeth is coming over for Scrabble this afternoon.”

“Oh, good deal. Keeps the Alzheimer’s at bay.”

“We can only hope.”

She laughs. “Mom, I work with elderly people all day, every day, and you’re the sharpest pencil in the box.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Glad I’m sharp enough to write, since I can’t dance anymore.”

“Who are you kidding? You never could dance.”

I chuckle. “You got that right.”

“Have you had lunch yet?”

She’d moved into hovering daughter mode. And her question reminds me of the soup on the stove. “I’m heating some soup, which looks like it’s boiling. I’d better take care of it.”

“Don’t forget to turn the burner off.”

Definitely hovering. “I won’t.”

As soon as I hang up, I shut off the burner and put the pan on a cold one. I check again to make sure the knob is turned to off. One time the oven was on all night. I shudder to think what that did to the REC bill.

I eat from the pan to save dishes and dump the extra in a container, which joins the others in the fridge. I slide my walker into the living room and sink into the recliner. As I reach for the open book lying on the table, my fingers brush Emily’s picture.

The book feels heavy as I pick it up, but I hang onto it like a lifeline. I smooth the page and stare at the words, which blur. My mind wanders shadowy paths.

A baby’s face smiles at me, drool dripping from her lips. She giggles and grows into a leggy teen, bouncing on Blackie’s back as he bursts from the barn and pelts toward the pasture. I run outside, yelling for him to stop. But Emily tugs the reins and spins him around, laughing. “It’s okay, Mom. I have everything under control.”

Only she didn’t. She couldn’t control the demons in her mind. The demons that drove her to tie a gunny sack full of heavy rocks to her waist and wade into the pond. She tied knots well, and her body stayed submerged until Charlie glimpsed her red shirt shimmering beneath the surface. By the time William and Charlie dragged her out, it was already too late. William cleared her airway and performed CPR during all the years before the ambulance screamed down the road. He kept at it, until the EMT pulled him away and told us she was gone.

So many gone before me! Charles, Dad, and Mom. My precious Emily. Two little grandbabies who never saw the light of day. And William. That dear man with his slow smile and his warm heart.

He would have been a wonderful doctor. He loved people. But he loved the land too, and he was a great farmer. He taught me to see beauty not only in breathtaking sunsets, but also in the deep sheen of corn leaves. The myriad hues of green in the trees and grasses covering the rolling hills.

And I taught. Other people’s children off and on, but mostly my own. Teaching Emily to sound out words as she cuddled on my lap. Teaching Charlie to count apples and subtract the ones we peeled. Teaching Margaret to form letters on the blank backs of desk calendar sheets. Good times. Special moments with my children who had grown up so fast. Now their children were adults, some married with kids of their own.

“Yoo-hoo! Anybody home?”

Elizabeth waltzes through the kitchen and into the living room as if she owns the place. “Oh, sorry. Did I wake you?”

“No.” I blink. “Well, maybe I dozed off for a minute. What time is it?”

“It’s 2:00 on the nose, honey.” She gets the Scrabble game out of the hall closet and brings it to the kitchen table. “I said I’d be here at two, and I am.”

My body seems heavy as I struggle to stand. “Sorry I’m not ready. I haven’t even made coffee.”

“I’m not drinking coffee lately anyway.” She opens the board. “It bothers my gallbladder.”

I ease myself onto a chair. “You ought to have that thing yanked.”

She wrinkles her nose. “Easy for you to say. I don’t want to have surgery if I can avoid it.” She shakes the bag of tiles and holds it out to me. “Go ahead and take one. Let’s see who starts.”

I examine my tile and smile. An A.

She glances at hers. “Aha! I got a C.”

I show her my tile. “Looks like I make the first move.”

“Oh, shoot.”

As I place my seven tiles on the rack, I keep smiling. This game is off to a great start.

Elizabeth loses gracefully as always and puts away the game. She goes to her car and brings back a small casserole in a disposable pan that she puts in the oven on timed bake.

She pauses on her way out. “Now, remember. Supper will be ready at 6:00.”

“I know.” You’d think I hadn’t just beaten her pants off.

Her car shoots down the road, leaving a comet trail of gravel dust. The sun has dropped behind the barn and casts long shadows.

I slip on my sweatshirt and head outside. The morning’s gray sky has broken into white clouds that sail across intense blue. The humidity must be low for once.

I pause by the pond. No mist rises now, and I allow the images to wash over me.

Emily’s pale face surrounded by her darkened hair, streaming dank water onto my shirt and pants as I cradle her head in my lap. William bending over her face, pressing his mouth to hers. Charlie pressing her chest with his crossed hands. Water bubbles between her parted lips like suffocating baby drool. I will her to gasp. I beg God to make her breathe again. But she doesn’t.

I lean on my walker and look at the hills. That’s where my help comes from.

Bent and broken corn stalks gleam in the light of the low sun. Tall grass stems glow like bronze reeds. It’s a fine day for a walk on the farm. Especially for November.

Time for this old lady to go home.

The above short story by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-9 of the December 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

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Looking for whip-poor-wills

whippoorwill
Image found on Illinois Raptor Center website.

Have you ever heard the whip-poor-will cry down the twilight? Years since I’ve heard the haunting chant, it still echoes in my mind. A chance glance recently reverberated melody and memories.

As a subscriber to Iowa Outdoors magazine, I receive its lovely DNR calendar each year. Each month features a gorgeous picture showcasing Iowa’s natural beauty. The dates are sprinkled with fascinating facts and timely reminders. May 2 tells us: 1890 Large meteorite strikes 11 miles northwest of Forest City, and Walleye season opens on Iowa’s Great Lakes.

A May 24 notation made my body pause and my mind reel backward: Look for return of whip-poor-wills.

Five years after my husband and I were married, we built our house on a wooded acreage. We would live in the basement and finish the hollow frame bit by bit. Soon after we moved, we discovered one of our location’s treasures: whip-poor-wills nested in the shrubbery along the fence line about fifty feet from our front porch. On summer evenings, we sat on the cement block serving as a temporary step and listened to the onomatopoetic call. (You can hear it at this link.) But we never saw the elusive and well-camouflaged nocturnal bird.

What a thrill to hear that rare call! And what piercing memories my mind associates with it. Little boys leaping to catch fireflies. A young husband’s strong arm cradling my shoulders. Stars sharpening in a darkening sky. Cool air. Warm hearts.

But one year the whip-poor-will was silent. The new neighbors on the other side of the fence had dogs. Whip-poor-wills don’t build nests, laying their eggs directly on the ground. We never again heard the whip-poor-will sing.

Some years ago, I wrote this poem, dedicated to my husband:

Vespers

 

When you and I

were in our prime,

we sat on the cool concrete step

with bare feet in dark grass

as dusk deepened.

 

Boys who had leaped

to snare random spurts of pale light—

squished into glowing rings on fingers—

quieted in beds.

 

Above our heads,

the Milky Way materialized

in a pointillistic arc

of bright blessing;

while the whippoorwill

sang vespers.

 

© Glenda Mathes, 2006; revised 2010

Standing and staring at the calendar created a melancholy feeling. If only I could look for whip-poor-wills with any expectation of seeing them return!

Thoughts and memories tumbled in my mind for a few days, until I wrote a new poem:

Look for return of whip-poor-wills

 

The tiny notation

On the calendar

Prepared by the conservation department

Puckers time as keenly as a pleat

Pressed by my mother’s hot iron

A quick stitch

Skips from childhood cotton

Past bridal satin

To parenting denim

 

And we two sit

On the front stoop

In evening’s cool

As the whip-poor-will

Sings its onomatopoetic song

Low tones bracketing

Rising trill

 

The melancholy notes soar

From earthy berth

Through honeysuckle blossoms

Past quivering cottonwood leaves

To echo in the deep blue

That turns black as a bruise

While the lonesome chords

Encircle my heart

And constrict

 

As I stare at the calendar

Alone

Waiting for whip-poor-wills

 

© Glenda Faye Mathes, May 2016

The poem’s persona is imaginary, but grows more real to me as I age. The whip-poor-will echoes in my mind may haunt me, but whatever losses in my life, I wait for a return far more significant. I look for the return of the King of whip-poor-wills and every other created being.

 

 

Redeemer Reader reviews Matthew Muddles Through

PrintGreetings, readers!

Janie over at Redeemed Reader has posted a review of the first book of my Matthew in the Middle series, Matthew Muddles Through

Her review captures the spirit and time frame of the novel as she describes Matthew and his problems in creative ways. She notes that any reader with siblings can relate to some of them. She also mentions his struggle with how to grow up as a Christian “without necessarily thinking in those terms.” She writes:

As the son of a pastor he knows the expectations of his community, but his inclinations don’t always match up. He’s at the age where kids are beginning to question of what they’ve always been taught and how it applies to them personally. Matthew has no hidden supernatural abilities and will not be chosen to save the world, but the Holy Spirit is at work in him anyway, and it’s a struggle worth watching.

Check out the entire review here!

Somebody who is already famous: A conversation with Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Many Christian Renewal readers may be familiar with Janie B. Cheaney as a regular columnist for WORLD magazine. But you may not know about her multiple writing successes. She and another writer launched the RedeemedReader.com website to focus on children’s literature. She has written creative writing workbooks called the Wordsmith series. She has several published fiction books: two Elizabethan-era young adult novels (The Playmaker and The True Prince), a middle reader novel set in the WWII time frame (My Friend the Enemy), and two contemporary-setting middle readers (The Middle of Somewhere and Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous). She anticipates publication of another middle reader novel in June of 2015 (I Don’t Know How the Story Ends).

Booklist magazine chose The Playmaker as a top ten best young-adult books by debut authors, and it as well as The True Prince were on the list of the New York Library’s Best Books for the Teen Age. The St. Louis Dispatch named My Friend the Enemy as one of 2005’s top ten books for children, and the book was a finalist for the Pen award for best children’s novel. The Middle of Somewhere was nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet award, the Florida Sunshine State Young Readers award, and the Indiana Young Hoosier list. Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous was named a Junior Library Guild’s 2014 Fall selection.

Janie is not only a successful author; she’s also a humble believer invested in a local Reformed congregation, Gospel of Grace Church in Springfield, MO. Christian Renewal’s Glenda Mathes recently communicated with Janie about her work and faith.

Christian Renewal: Janie, you’re a regular columnist for WORLD magazine and have written several award-winning novels as well as a creative writing curriculum that continues to sell well. What’s the “secret” to your success as a writer?

Janie B. Cheaney: There’s a practical secret and a spiritual secret. I’ll deal with the practical first, because it’s the easiest. The easiest to state, that is; not so easy to do. The main secret of writing success is to show up for work. For beginning writers this is a tough hurdle because they haven’t established themselves as a salable commodity. Writing is a unique occupation in that the writer must produce a substantial body of work before the job actually begins. It could take years just to develop the craft and learn certain tricks of the trade. Then the sales job begins, during which you create a product and try to find a market. Over time you’ll develop a resume and a contact base leading to assignments, like any other line of work, but at the beginning the only thing that keeps you at your desk is your own conviction and determination. And, I might add, a certain inner need that all writers have; we are compelled to shape words around our thoughts and stories and to strive for our own trademark style. If you can keep going after months, or perhaps even years, of rejection letters and emails, you know you’re a writer.

The spiritual secret is this: if the Lord intends that you write, he will see that you get the opportunity. So much of publishing appears to the world like a matter of luck (dumb or otherwise): connecting with the right editor at the right time or catching a trend on the rise. For a Christian, all these mysterious hits and misses are divine appointments.

But you still have to show up for work!

CR: Most people who write for a living limit themselves to one genre or type of writing, perhaps for their entire career, but you may be writing a column for WORLD and a novel during the same week. How do you manage your various writing commitments or organize your time?

JBC: Organization is key, especially as your commitments increase; unfortunately I’m not an extremely organized person. One thing I must do is get up early so I can lay claim to the maximum number of uninterrupted hours. How early is early? Try 4 a.m. A detailed daytimer with each calendar day divided into time increments is also a big help to me. Writing down when I plan to do something doesn’t guarantee that I’ll do it, but at least I can imagine that it’s possible.

CR: Your method enables you not only to write efficiently, but also to write excellently. You’ve received several awards, and your recently-published novel, Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous, was a Junior Library Guild’s 2014 Fall selection. You structure the novel in an interesting way with an almost-unheard-of nine points of view. Why did you want to portray so many characters?

JBC: Most of my children’s novels are written for middle graders, an interesting transition time. That’s when their primary loyalties are beginning to shift from parents to peers, and that’s a natural process even in the most loving families. It’s an identity issue: kids are beginning to wonder who they are apart from family, and they become almost obsessive about what their peers think of them. My idea was to take nine middle-graders (one for each month of the school year) who all live in the same neighborhood, many of whom have grown up together, and tell each one’s story over a year of shifting self-images and relationships. They are all tied together by a central mystery, which is, Why does the driver make the same stop on the way to school every morning, when there’s never anyone waiting there? She refuses to say, and it troubles some of her passengers more than others. Over the school year, each one of them will pick up a clue to the mystery of the empty bus stop, and by the end (of course!) it will be solved. We also learn who will be famous, but I’m not telling.

CR: The novel ends with an exciting and satisfying conclusion that finally answers questions raised in the reader’s mind at the very beginning. How did you decide on that crucial first scene?

JBC: The first problem with posing nine protagonists in a novel is introducing them. Most authors when beginning a story will be careful not to crowd too many significant characters into the first chapter, because a reader needs time to get into the story and feel comfortable with it. Throwing eight or nine people at the reader in the first few pages is more likely to frustrate than intrigue. After my first version of a completed manuscript had been rejected a couple of times, I decided to use a trick.

The climax of the story involves a bus wreck—in a driving rainstorm, the driver swerves to avoid a passing car, the bus hydroplanes and slides off the road and down a slope towards a creek. I decided to move that incident to the very beginning of the novel: the rain and wind, a highway patrolman receiving a message about a school bus and racing to the scene. No names are mentioned and only two characters from the bus actually appear; one limping down the hill toward the patrolman, and one trudging uphill. Then the scene shifts to “nine months earlier,” with eight of the children getting ready to board the bus on the first day of school. The idea is that the reader knows the wreck is coming, but who are these people and what will happen to them? Any injuries? Any deaths? I’m hoping that after the prologue the reader will be invested enough to keep reading, just to find out.

CR: While your juvenile fiction novels convey deep truths, they are not overtly Christian or marketed at Christian readers. What’s your writing philosophy, and how does your Christian faith inform your work?

JBC: I think a writer’s worldview will automatically emerge, whether or not she sets out to write an explicitly Christian novel. We sense a structure and purpose to life, and simply can’t end a story on a nihilistic note. At the same time a Christian should understand sin and evil better than an unbeliever; there’s a reason for tragedy, but redemption waits just over the horizon. As Solzhenitsyn famously wrote, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart, and that’s where the wisest of nonbelieving authors end: with a conflicted heart. But God does not end there; he draws that line straight through the heart and ties it to Christ.

Since all my published fiction is for children (so far!) I can’t plunge into the depths of human depravity, but all children’s novels have the same theme: they are essentially about growing up. In the course of growing up, my main characters make mistakes and have to confront their own flaws. I never know what the theme of the story is when I begin writing; that will emerge from my embedded worldview and from the demands of the story itself. The Playmaker and The True Prince, my first published novels (both for a slightly older age than middle grade) are set on and around the Elizabethan theater, so the natural theme is about establishing your true identity in the midst of playing a part (as almost all young teens do!). My Friend the Enemy is a World War II homefront story involving a friendship between an all-American girl and a Japanese-American boy; it’s about seeing below the surface and determining who your friends really are. The Middle of Somewhere is a contemporary humorous novel about finding enchantment in the ordinary, and Somebody on This Bus is basically about adjusting one’s expectations. My next novel will be titled, I Don’t Know How the Story Ends, and the setting is Hollywood during the last year of World War I and the early years of the silent movie industry. It turned out to be about accepting profound changes in life that are contrary to the “story” you imagine your life to be.

All of these have resonance for a Christian. The solution to the central problem might not be what the characters had hoped for, but it gives them hope, and sets them up for the next challenge in their journey to adulthood.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 34-36 of the February 25, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal. The following book review by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 37 of the same issue.

SOTB hi-rezA sweet treat for kids (and adults)

Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous by J.B. Cheaney; Sourcebooks; hardcover; 296 pages; © 2014

Take nine middle school kids, combine them in a bus, stir in diverse personalities, sprinkle with literary elements, drizzle in mystery, and shake well. That’s the basic recipe for J. B. Cheaney’s well-written Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous.

Few authors would attempt to incorporate nine different points of view into any novel, let alone one for middle grade readers, but by layering nine primary chapters—each focusing on one student and one month of the school year—Cheaney creates a delightful treat.

Another challenge with multiple points of view is introducing the characters, particularly when standard procedure is to keep characters to a minimum in the first chapter. Cheaney beats that problem by creating a gripping initial scene set in a terrible thunderstorm (the Storm of the Decade!). Readers learn only that a bus has crashed and children are hurt. They’ll have to read to the end to discover what’s happened, and by that time they’re heavily invested in all the various characters.

Cheaney keeps readers invested by lacing the plot with an intriguing mystery and spicing it up with realism. Believable action, dialogue, and thoughts reflect the wide range of problems and emotions experienced by these kids and the adults in their lives. The author garnishes the narrative with fresh literary elements that appeal to young readers. Many girls will identify with this one: “On the outside, she looked the same but was really a virtual human, trying to act normal while a snake wrapped around her quick-beating, mousy little heart” (p. 77). And most middle grade boys will enjoy: “It may be the kind of idea he should forget, but it’s like a booger that won’t shake off his finger” (p. 219).

Kids will enjoy the tasty writing, but parents and teachers will also have fun reading this delectable book to their children and students. Cheaney’s superior writing leaves a palatable aftertaste readers will continue to enjoy.

Matthew has moved ahead

My book boy Matthew has moved into his final phase. He’ll leap only a few more hurdles before crossing the finish line.

Matthew Moves Ahead is the third and last novel of the Matthew in the Middle series. My wonderful online critique group reviewed all the chapters in it, and I’m finalizing end matter prior to submitting it to the proofreader. I’m seeking endorsements. The artist is working on the cover. I hope hard copies will be published this summer, perhaps in July.

The first two books in the series, Matthew Muddles Through and Matthew Makes Strides, are already available on Amazon, and I’m excited for the third one to join them. Writing this series has been quite a process, with Matthew sometimes sidelined for long periods of time. (You can read more about that here and here.) I recently took some time to reflect on how my book boy was born.

Several young boys (and some girls!) have asked about this final Matthew book, and I’m eager for them to hold it in their hands and turn the pages.

Here’s hoping Matthew clears those hurdles and soon rejoices in the winner’s circle!

Birth of a Book

PrintI’m excited to share this first blog look at the cover of my newest novel, Matthew Makes Strides, which will be released soon. The wonderful artwork by Ken Raney captures the emotion of this intense moment.

Matthew Makes Strides is the second novel of my Matthew in the Middle series for middle grade readers. Book 1, Matthew Muddles Through, is already available on Amazon.

Yesterday I finished the final revision of the final book of the series, Matthew Moves Ahead. It still needs to go through a lengthy editing process, but the Matthew narrative is now—and finally—complete.

I spent some time this morning thinking about how Matthew came to be and crafting the story of his birth.

My book boy Matthew grew for more years than his age (11) in these novels. He was conceived in a course I took on fiction writing in 2002, as an experiment challenging myself to write in a point of view very different from personal experience. As a boring and sedate old lady, I’d write from the first-person perspective of an imaginative and active young boy.

I named that embryo Caleb to reflect the faithfulness and zeal of the biblical believer, who urged the Israelites to fight giants and enter the Promised Land (Numbers 13:30), and who at 85 years of age was still eager to fight for the Lord (Joshua 14:6-12). Military matters interested Caleb, the middle child in a minister’s family, who became acquainted with a Vietnam veteran named Mr. Winters.

My short story began with Caleb washing his toy soldiers in the bathroom sink and showed him playing a basketball game of Horse with his older brother, while Dad spoke to Mr. Winters in the kitchen. I loved Caleb. And my instructor loved the story, calling the scene with the two boys playing basketball in the cold “beautiful.” He suggested I submit another Caleb narrative as my next assignment. That second short story described the chaos of a Sunday morning when everything goes wrong. Later that day Mr. Winters shared a glimpse of his tormented past, and Caleb witnessed to him about the truths of God’s word and how those things are worth fighting—and dying—for. The story concludes with the two going upstairs for apple pie. (Readers of Matthew Muddles Through will recognize that these stories developed into Chapter 10: Banished, as well as Chapter 14: Trouble with a Capital T, and Chapter 16: Peace Follows Battle.)

My book boy continued to develop and was born in 2007 as Matthew Henry Vos. The poor fellow suffered a sickly childhood, undergoing numerous surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. His debut presentation plans changed from one novel to four to three, and back to four and then to three again (more than once). Matthew made it through some preliminary auditions in 2009 and flew to the big city in 2010 to make a name for himself, but came back home feeling rejected. I visited him from time to time; however, he languished in recovery for years.

Until late in 2013, when my oldest grandson asked, “Grandma, did you ever finish that story about Matthew?”

Well. If my grandson wanted to read Matthew’s story, I ought to finish it before he lost interest. And he was almost a teenager. I determined to put the first book in his hands for his thirteenth birthday. Which I did in 2014.

Now the second one is almost ready to be released, and the third one is written. And that’s the story of how my book boy Matthew was born.

Extraordinary Endorsement

It’s a wonderful Wednesday because I just received this extraordinary endorsement for my upcoming middle reader novel, Matthew Makes Strides:

Glenda Mathes writes with energy and intentionality. When she writes about a coming tornado, it feels so real, I start glancing nervously out the window. Young people will feel like the author knows them, is inside their heads, so intimate is her knowledge of her readers. This is a frank and honest portrayal of growing up a preacher’s kid, but one that speaks to the extraordinary struggles and challenges of ordinary growing up. Highly recommended.
~ Douglas Bond, author of Duncan’s War and many other works of historical fiction

This endorsement means a great deal to me, especially since Douglas Bond is an interesting blogger and writes exciting novels that appeal to readers of all ages. You can check out Duncan’s War and his many other books at his website.

Douglas Bond in Scotland (photo from his Facebook page)
Douglas Bond in Scotland
(photo from his Facebook page)

Matthew two, too

Soon, very soon I hope, the second novel in my Matthew in the Middle series will be available.

PrintThe first novel, Matthew Muddles Through, is already available on Amazon. In this story, readers meet Matthew and his family, which includes a dad who’s a minister, a mom who’s sick all the time, an older brother who harasses Matthew, and a younger brother who annoys him. But he struggles with difficulties on more than just the home front. Trouble swirls around him in every part of his world. Although he’s longed for three years to attend the 1996 Cadet International Camporee, he wonders if he’ll ever go.

In the second novel, Matthew Makes Strides on multiple levels. He meets new people, becomes a faster runner, and draws closer to his Camporee dream. But he really progresses in overcoming his fears and in his understanding about what it means to be a hero.

Because this second novel explores the concept of courage, and because part of that involves Matthew’s deepening friendship with a veteran, I wanted the professional opinion of a military expert. I asked an Army chaplain, a West Point graduate with combat experience who now teaches ethics, if he’d be willing to review some chapters. He was. And he sent me the most encouraging message I’d ever received that said (in part):

The chapters quickly captured my attention and provoked thoughts and emotions that are sympathetic with those of several characters in the story…. Your description of the accident…especially the fear, injuries, and actions of [multiple characters] prompted in a cathartic way several memories of my and my soldiers’ experiences in Iraq. You did an excellent job describing and portraying the trauma, excitement, and relief of events where there is great danger and courage present.
You also did a wonderful job introducing [the veteran] to the circumstances of this particular event as a wounded yet compassionate figure who is being healed while he helps heal Matt. I found his conversation with Matt to be very touching and also appropriate. He could have said more about courage, heroism, and his combat experience, but what he did say was just the right amount for a boy of Matt’s age and for your audience to hear.
Lastly, I thought the chapter on the Memorial Day flag-raising ceremony was very good. You rightly begin it with the rifle salute and playing of Taps. Those two parts of every memorial or funeral service typically occur at the end of the service, but for all practical purposes they are the beginning and the invocation of the emotions held unexpressed up to that point. In the dozens of services I have performed, the rifle salute and Taps are followed by the sobs of those who have lost those whom they love.
Your chapters are rich in narration, imagery, momentum, and emotion. They also contain a good amount of humor to guard against overly heavy emotion or intensity. I am thankful that you are writing Matt’s story and sharing it with your readers of all ages. I applaud you for taking up the topics of courage, authentic masculinity, fear, and loss. I pray that the Lord will use these books as well as the other things you have written on these topics to comfort and encourage many others. You certainly did that for me.

How wonderfully his words encouraged me! They reinforced my commitment to keep marketing Matthew Muddles Through, the first novel in the Matthew in the Middles series, and made me eager to share Matthew’s continuing story with you when Matthew Makes Strides, the second novel in the series, becomes available, too. Soon. May it please God.

Two new books launched

DSCN4962What a fun Friday! A radio interview and book signing doubled the fun during my local launch of two new books. Between 10:15 and 10:45 yesterday (December 19), Patricia interviewed me on the local Christian radio station, KCWN 99.9. After that, I signed books during the station’s Christmas open house until 1:00. I want to thank General Manager, Bev De Vries, and DJ Patricia for their gracious hospitality. The station’s facility is decorated beautifully, and entering it feels like stepping into a welcoming home.

Patricia made the interview completely painless. In fact, it was a lot of fun. Growing up as the middle child in a pastor’s family, she felt a lot of affinity for my book-boy Matthew. Talking about him and the problems he faces in Matthew Muddles Through was a hoot. She shared her enthusiasm for the story with listeners.

Bev De Vries took this picture through the production room window while Patricia and I were on the air.
Bev De Vries took this picture through the production room window while Patricia and I were on the air.

We then discussed my other new release, Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. She described it as going “deep” and we talked about the writing style, which Aimee Byrd called “a commendable style of commentary meets personal devotion.” Patricia and I also spoke briefly about Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss and A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. Before I went off the air, I had the opportunity to share my excitement about my current memoir collaboration project with Uriah Courtney, who was recently exonerated after more than eight years of wrongful incarceration.

booksBook signings are always enjoyable. It’s great to meet new friends and experience the support of existing ones. The best kind of book signings are when a steady stream of people comes in and I have time to speak to each person individually. And this was one of those signings with wonderful opportunities to talk to individuals, including some people I hadn’t seen for years.

I’m thankful for the doors God opens and I grateful he equips me to walk through them. books-2

Dedicating Matthew

DSCN4896Last Thanksgiving, my oldest grandson asked, “Grandma, did you ever finish that story about Matthew?”

His question motivated me to resurrect my poor book-boy, who’d languished too long in a forgotten ward of the hospital. I started completely over on my Matthew in the Middle series, reorganizing it for the umpteenth time and finally deciding on three novels.

Matthew moved into my life, consuming my thoughts and my time. Words poured onto pages in a torrent more forceful than Niagara Falls. Weekly word counts creeping from around 5,000 to over 9,000, and then to an astounding 18,133 words in one week! In six weeks, I’d written nearly 67,000 words.

My goal was to finish the series and get the first novel published in time to put a hard copy into the hands of my oldest grandson on his 13th birthday. By God’s grace, I did it. This week I handed my grandson the first book in the Matthew series, Matthew Muddles Through. It’s dedicated to Gabe, the first person to hear and love Matthew’s story.

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