Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Alice K. Arenz Visits



Author of Mirrored Image

The cover of Alice K. Arenz’s novel is compelling. When Lynn passed a copy on to me, I had to read it. It takes place in the 1980s which, of course, is a favorite decade because that’s when we started our company, Zuk-Lloyd Associates. Mirrored Image reminds us just how far we’ve come in a few decades with the technological revolution revolving around cell phones, the Internet and social networking. Imagine having to look for a pay phone in an emergency. What a drag.

Two things I look for in a novel: a compelling story and crisp, clean writing. Arenz has accomplished both. Mirrored Image is the story of a newspaper columnist who is assigned to investigate a murder where the victim shares an uncanny likeness to her. Did the killer get the wrong one? Stir in an attractive police detective, along with the usual suspects, and you have the makings of a romantic suspense story that will stay with you after you finished the last chapter.

I invited Alice K Arenz to stop by for a blog visit. She graciously answered the following questions for me…

1. What prompted you to write this story?
My answer would have to be God. If it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t be able to put two words together!

2. Why did you decide to set the story in the eighties?
This is an easy one to answer. I originally wrote the book in 1986, which is why it’s set in ’86. It was “almost” accepted by a now defunct small press. It broke my heart at the time, but as the years went by and I kept re-writing MI, I just got the overwhelming feeling that when I finally got it right, the way it was supposed to be all along, that it would finally achieve publication. So I followed the Holy Spirit’s leading, kept faith, and MI is now a REAL book!

3. Do you plan your novel in detail before you start writing or are you more inclined to just write the story as it occurs to you?
Never. I’m a total and complete seat-of-the-pants writer. I literally don’t know what is going to happen until it does. Any time I try to interject what I “think” should go into the manuscript, it’s a total flop. I’ve learned to keep the communication lines between God and my subconscious open – and then wait for the surprises.

4. Are you writing a new novel at the moment? Can you tell us anything about it?
I’m currently on hold with my latest novel, An American Gothic, which was originally scheduled for release in Oct. 2011. Gothic is a classic romantic suspense in the old style – like Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart, or Victoria Holt might have written – just updated. It’s written in the first person through the eyes of Lyssie Daniels, who is attempting to fulfill her dream of writing an old-fashioned gothic novel. A paragraph or two of Lyssie’s novel “Craven” opens each chapter and foreshadows the action to come in Lyssie’s real life.

Right now, I’m working on a short cozy for a book that will be a compilation of several authors. I’ve always been rather long-winded, so this is something I’m a little nervous about.

Thanks for asking me to be here today, Paul!



You're welcome!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How can a Christian write a story where a character commits a murder?

The role of the artist often is confusing to Christians as well as non-Christians who think Christians are supposed to be better than everybody else. The truth is Christians are about the biggest sinners around. Not only are we vicious little sinners, but also we should know better. Knowing what is right and wrong makes our sin that much worse according to this line of reasoning.

Certain Christians believe artists should only take on projects that meet the Christian ideal of what is uplifting and Christ honoring. For them, the Christian artist should never depict a life of sin since that might lead a person exposed to the art into temptation. I can't imagine a story without a sin element in the same way that I can't imagine a character without a flaw. Besides, who would want to read the boring story of perfect Sam or Sally?

Are artists sinning when they depict sin in their art? The opposite is true. To ignore sin or pretend that it doesn’t exist would be a lie. Artists are called to express the truth, whether they create music, paintings, films or suspense novels.

Writers, like all artists, are called to plum the depths of the human condition. We dive deep into the black places of the soul and shine the love of Christ. Christ's love reveals sin. Sin may be forgiven or unforgiven. Confessed or unconfessed. But all sin is revealed in the light.

Writers are the reporters or journalists of the action of the story. We report the great love people show towards one another as well as the evil they do. To hide the sin -- or worse -- to ignore it -- would itself be sin for we seek to reveal the truth. People don't just sin. Their actions are the result of a lifetime (back story) of actions, thoughts, etc. that make up the character's strengths and flaws.

As writers, our model is Jesus Christ, the great story teller. In his tales, people are beaten, robbed, left for dead, and ignored by the very people who should rush to their aid. A man can take his inheritance, squander it in a sin-filled life of pleasure, end up broke and living in a pig sty. Those are the stories Jesus tells. The stories his followers tell are even more violent. Has any modern writer told a more vicious, blood-curdling story than that of the crucifixion of Jesus? And it's a true story, not fiction. Even the sweet story of the Babe of Bethlehem includes the murder of the Holy Innocents. And do we really understand the justice in Peter's condemning a husband and wife to death for what in our age would probably not even qualify for civil action? What is that story about? Writers make us think, don't they?

The contribution the Christian brings to the art of the story is his or her personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, it's about having a Christian worldview but it goes beyond that to walking close to our Lord and writing the story He wants us to tell. He doesn't hold back when it comes to telling stories about humans. We are sinners and our stories have to include the sin.

Stories written by Christians, like all stories, are filled with passion, murder, love, angst, abuse, etc. The difference, if there is one, is the redemptive message itself. Christians live in a world where redemption is real, life has meaning, and people matter. In our stories, we recognize the difference between good and evil. We show that people really can change and that no matter what happens during the course of our story, in the end good will triumph. Maybe not at the end of the story we are telling, but certainly at the end of the age. The victory is certain. Our stories help the reader see these things for their edification and entertainment.

Writing Guide: The Book of James, chapters 3 and 4, provides good advice for teachers that writers would do well to read and consider.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Reverse

Serves four.
Garnish with fruit.
Flip onto serving plate.
Turnover.
Wait one minute.
Place on hot grill.
Cover thoroughly with egg mixture.
Dip bread.
Beat eggs.
Add a few drops of milk, water or whatever you are drinking.
Deposit in bowl.
Crack two eggs.

French Toast.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mosquitoes

The mosquitoes have moved in. Have you noticed how nasty they are this year? We can’t use the front door because they’ve camped out there. We tried putting citronella plants around the door but the cardinals took them for their nest in the dryer vent. Now we finally have cleaner smelling clothes.

We go in and out the garage door these days. The mosquitoes say, “Oh, look, the big cave is open.” And they move in. Ever get bug squashes on your windshield? In the garage?

I fixed the mosquitoes. I stopped killing the spiders. You ever see a spider scratching an itch? Not a pretty sight. Now I have way too many spiders in the house, but you should see the fishnet covering the ceiling of our bedroom. Very romantic. The only problem is now the spiders get cold at night. They’re cold blooded, you know. So they move into the bed with us to warm up. It’s not so bad once you get used to the squishy sounds whenever you roll over. Or whenever the wife rolls over which is followed by the little scream. Squish, squish, ee-yeow!

And if you sleep with your mouth open, you won’t be hungry in the morning. Speaking of hunger, ever notice how much a spider can eat? See, they move into the bed because they’re cold. They curl up in your warmest place and go to sleep. Yeah, that’s right, the warmest place on your body. I told you they were cold blooded. Oh, and they get hungry in the middle of the night.

Do you know how long a spider bite lasts beyond when a mosquito bite goes away? So how do you keep mosquitoes out of your house? Let me know soon because I’m planning to evict the spiders.

Monday, August 9, 2010

February in Geneva, Illinois or a Cool Study for Summer

She leans on the small round table, chin propped on hand, elbow on Formica in the Geneva Barnes and Noble. The eyes are warm and she smiles softly almost like a lover, but the subject of her affection is the little girl across the table. She expresses her exhaustion along with a mother’s love in this look.

No wedding ring. Mom without Dad. Her coat is dark grey with a green plaid lining peaking out of her hood. Upon her dark blonde hair she sports a bright red velvet hat. Mom after work.

In mid description, Mom exits with the little girl, leaving undefined the natural beauty of her eyes, nose, sweet smile, soft chin, high cheek bones, and a life lived day-by-day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Airplane

A small propeller-driven airplane



Every business is an airplane and every employee a potential propeller. The company flies on the wings of marketing and sales success. It carries a cargo of products and services. The pilot is the CEO who sits up front giving direction. Employees fill the passenger section where they work to achieve a quality work life as part of a successful family and career. It all starts with work life balance.

The power of the company comes from the engine of innovation, creativity and a desire for success. The company is fueled by its resources of time and money.

Before the age of jet engines, propellers pulled the aircraft forward in victory towards its goal. Without a propeller, the rest of the airplane didn’t matter because the plane couldn’t get off the ground. If the propeller failed in flight, the plane crashed.

The propeller is the person who is out in front of the business taking the lead in accomplishing its mission. It’s the champion sales person, the innovative researcher and product designer, the receptionist with the pleasant greeting. It’s the customer service rep who resolves the complaint on the first call. It’s anyone who does an extraordinary job of simply doing their own job well. An airplane can have many propellers. The more propellers it has, the faster it gets to its destination.

You have two choices in any job. You can sit in the passenger area consuming valuable company resources and going along for the ride – or you can become a propeller that moves the company forward to success.

Which do you want to be?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Airplane

Every business is an airplane and every employee a potential propeller. The company flies on the wings of marketing and sales success. It carries a cargo of products and services. The pilot is the CEO who sits up front giving direction. Employees fill the passenger section where they work to achieve a quality work life as part of a successful family and career. It all starts with work life balance.

The power of the company comes from the engine of innovation, creativity and a desire for success. The company is fueled by its resources of time and money.
Before the age of jet engines, propellers pulled the aircraft forward in victory towards its goal. Without a propeller, the rest of the airplane didn’t matter because the plane couldn’t get off the ground. If the propeller failed in flight, the plane crashed.

The propeller is the person who is out in front of the business taking the lead in accomplishing its mission. It’s the champion sales person, the innovative researcher and product designer, the receptionist with the pleasant greeting. It’s the customer service rep who resolves the complaint on the first call. It’s anyone who does an extraordinary job of simply doing their own job well. An airplane can have many propellers. The more propellers it has, the faster it gets to its destination.

You have two choices in any job. You can sit in the passenger area consuming valuable company resources and going along for the ride – or you can become a propeller that moves the company forward to success. Which do you want to be?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Longhorn

Photographs and paintings of old west cowboys and cattle compete with western desert landscapes. A chief’s portrait shows a proud face looking off to a hard future for his people – winters filled with too much alcohol and too little justice or mercy, not trusting a white man’s God.

Touhy and Mannheim is a far cry from the Colorado or Rio Grande rivers of nineteenth century lore. The hostess has a Russian accent. The Longhorn is a sports bar and steakhouse. Country and Western music plays too loud from the speakers.

Stetsons rest on pegs on shelves, never worn but dedicated to memories of old cowboys, Hollywood western adventures, and old radio and TV dramas. Where are you now Gene Autry and Roy Rogers? Moldering in a round, gray tin can in a back lot studio warehouse? And you Red Ryder and Range Rider? Have your horses long ago faded into the Montana sage brush or the foothills of Wyoming? Does the Rifleman still polish his Winchester on some distant shore along the River Styx? Do the Maverick brothers ply their trade on riverboats ‘twixt Natchez and New Orleans? Where are you Wyatt Earp in these days of outlaws and urban terrorists?

A good hamburger or steak will have to suffice as a reminder of pioneer days, while life travels onward toward distant stars and a business lunch in a post Great Recession Chicago where, as far as a western facing eye can see, stand the ‘burbs, one after another, and houses, the last cash crop of the Midwest Promised Land.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Where Babies Come From

I know where babies come from. Do you?
My big brother Jimmy told me all about it. Jimmy said one day Mommy got sad ‘cause she didn’t have a boy friend. You know what Mommy did? Jimmy said she decided to meet a man named Daddy and so she did. Daddy made Mommy happy. That’s because Daddy was nice to her. Daddy bought her stuff. And Daddy took her places like the movies. Then one day Daddy took Mommy to church. That’s when they got married. That made Mommy and Daddy so happy.
“The End,” Jimmy said.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Where’s the part about the babies?”
Jimmy said, “Oh yeah, I forgot that part.”
Do you sometimes forget to tell a part when you tell a story? I know I do.
Then Jimmy told me about the babies. “So one day Mommy got sad.”
I said, “But I thought you said she was happy?”
“She was happy but she got sad anyway because she didn’t have a baby.”
“So then what happened?”
Jimmy said, “Daddy said to Mommy, ‘Look, Mommy, you’re not having a baby because you only have half a baby seed in your belly.’”
“How did Daddy know that?” I asked.
“Daddies are smart about things like that.”
“Oh,” I said.
Jimmy said, “Then Daddy said, ‘Look Mommy, I have a seed, too. Let’s put my half with your half to make a whole baby seed.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
Jimmy said, “They put their half a seeds together and then a baby started to grow inside Mommy’s belly.”
“Then what happened,” I asked. I ask that a lot you know.
Jimmy said, “When Mommy’s belly got too big out popped the baby.”
“Was the baby me?” I asked.
“No!” Jimmy said. “I was the first baby. You came second. That’s why I’m the oldest.”
“And that’s where babies come from?” I asked
“Yep,” Jimmy said.
“That’s silly,” I said. “I thought they came from Pittsburg or one of those places like that.”
The End.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

McDonalds Glenview on Waukegan Road

The painting closest to the front of the store features an impossibly thin girl holding her heart to the sky in worship. Is she a nun in the making who is offering her heart to God? Or is she a goddess extending the heart of God up for mass adulation? Blue dominates a ruddy red hue in this vision.

In the other picture, ruddy red dominates a minor blue chord. The image appears to be two people shaping the center of focus. Or are these two saplings bent in the wind?

A dark blue-gray woven pattern on paper imitates a fine cloth pasted to the wall perpendicular to the creamy brick.

The man in the corner booth where the two walls meet sits below a third water color. The blue and ruddy red both are strong, but a blue border – light blue on three sides and deep blue along the bottom – dominates. A tall female form in ruddy red dances despite her single leg. She balances on a board upon two wheels or barrels.

The man wears a gray-blue sweater that matches the wall so that with a squint, he disappears from the neck down, except for two floating hands holding the Sun-Times.

Above the neck, he wears a scraggly gray beard like a man retired young or unemployed. A mustache matches the beard both in scraggles and color.

His face is long, thin and bony with a straight, patrician nose. His wire frame glasses are the size and shape of military issue from the long ago Nam-era.

Bushy eyebrows hide behind the glasses as do the color of his eyes. His ears stand in close bass relief against the side of his head. His hair is full on top and trimmed business-like on the side above the ear.

The paper holds his interest for a time.

He shakes the paper to set the pages straight, tosses his coffee cup, and dons his navy blue jacket as he leaves the booth and the paintings behind. He places his hand carefully into the jacket to take comfort in the feel of his loaded Glock 31. The man doesn’t have far to travel or long to wait.