Monday, July 28, 2008

Lorena McCourtney (Advice for Novelists, Part 64)

Here's another inspiring entry in our Advice for Novelists series. I've asked authors, agents, editors and publicists their response to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Today multi-published author Lorena McCourtney shares her response. This came from an interview I did with her for To read the full piece click here.

I think persistence is more important than talent. But by that I don’t mean just persistence in sending the same manuscript out over and over (although that can be important too!). I mean persistence in learning the craft, in reading widely and studying what you read, and persistence in actually finishing something. Not just writing great beginnings and then jumping to something else. And persistence in actual writing, not just talking about writing, or being on writers’ loops, but actually writing.

--Lorena McCourtney, author of Here Comes the Ride, Your Chariot Awaits, the Ivy Malone mystery series, and more. Visit her online at her website.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Roxanne Henke (Advice for Novelists, Part 63)

Next up in our Advice for Novelists series is multi-published author Roxanne Henke. Here's her response to my question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Actually, I’d say two things.

1. Read. Analyze good books. What makes them resonate with you? Pull apart the not-so-great books. What would you do to make that book sing?

2. Write. Day-dreaming about writing isn’t writing. You need to sit in a chair, in front of a keyboard and put words on paper (or a computer screen). Only by writing will you find your “voice” and tell your stories.

I’ll say it again, read and write.

--Roxanne Henke, author of Learning to Fly, the Coming Home to Brewster series, and more. Visit her website here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

You Might Be A Writer If...

My writer friend Ane Mulligan posted this on her blog, and she gave me permission to share it with you.

You Might Be A Writer If...

... if chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups in your diet.

... you include an SASE with all correspondence-even letters to your mother.

... you can't resist pointing out grammatical errors on news stations' scrolling bar.

... your friends say they'll kill you if you whisper, "That was in the end of the first act" during a movie one more time.

... in a house fire, you'd save your computer, your copy of Sally Stuart's Writer's Market Guide, then your grandmother's jewelry.

... during church sermons, you find yourself thinking, "This could be tighter."

... you can't balance a checkbook, but your submission log is cross referenced and goes back to 2003.

... you decide by the end of the first page of a novel that the author didn't have an editor.

... when your husband suggests a world cruise you ask, "Is there Internet access?"

... your answering machine says, "Hi, I'm not here right now. Please leave a query and the synopsis of your proposed message, and I'll let you know whether to call back."

... when you nail a sentence, you're pretty sure you know how Moses felt parting the Red Sea.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Francine Rivers (Advice for Novelists, Part 62)

Today we hear from a beloved author in our Advice for Novelists series. I asked Francine her advice for authors in an interview for If you'd like to read the full piece it can be found here. In the mean time, here's her response:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Commit your work to the Lord. Stay in Scripture every day so you’re being formed by it. That formation will come through in your writing in a natural way. The redemption story is the greatest story to tell. That’s what I think everyone hungers for, whether they know it or not. I believe God puts something in us to crave a relationship with Him. People tend to look in every possible place for the answer, and they’re not going to find it until they meet Jesus. The way I felt when I became a Christian was, “Finally I found what I’m looking for! I feel at home here. This is what I’ve been seeking my whole life.”

--Francine Rivers, bestselling author of Redeeming Love, the Mark of the Lion series, and many others. Visit her website here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vicky Lynch (Advice for Novelists, Part 61)

Today we're featuring another response in our Advice for Novelists series. I've asked authors, agents, editors and publicists their response to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

I'm pleased to feature a publicist's perspective:

Remember that writing is just the beginning. When your book is accepted by a publisher and the manuscript is complete, your second job begins. It's time to market yourself! Many authors would love to leave it up to your publicist, and that may be possible, but many of the most successful authors I've worked with are masterminds at self promotion.

You can start small, with a web presence. Create a professional website, complete with blog, and build a community around your characters in your books. Don't forget to visit other's blogs and to make friends with readers and potential readers. Then contact your local bookstores to build yourself and your books in your hometown. I once knew an author who singlehandedly put himself on best-seller lists by making friends with the staff at his local Barnes & Noble. From there the sky is the limit-and there are several books written on the subject you can check out.

Connecting with your readers one on one creates lifelong fans and makes all the writing and hard work worthwhile!

--Vicky Lynch, publicist, Tyndale House Publishers. Visit their website here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Try Darkness by James Scott Bell

I've been a James Scott Bell fan for years. His novels always interest me, and I enjoy his fast-paced style. Recently he began his new Ty Buchanan mystery/suspense series. The first novel, Try Dying was released last year. (Read my review here.)

The latest in the series, Try Darkness, has just hit shelves, and it's even better than the first. I've also written a review for this book. Here's how my review begins:

Ever since his first novel came out in 1995, James Scott Bell’s been an author to watch. The Darwin Conspiracy, a sometimes tongue-in-cheek look at the evolution debate, put him on our radar. Two years later his legal thriller Circumstantial Evidence debuted, and since then Jim hasn’t strayed too far from his suspense groove. In fact, when you pick up a Bell novel you can count on his trademark tag-line “The Suspense Never Rests” to be true.

That’s certainly the case for his new Ty Buchanan crime/mystery series. In Try Dying (Book 1), Ty’s character was established. He’s a fighter, an attorney you don’t want to push too hard. Yet we always suspected he had a softer side. Now in Try Darkness (Book 2), a little girl’s mother is murdered and Ty becomes her impromptu guardian. Fatherly instincts Ty didn’t even know he had bubble to the surface. He’ll do anything to defend the young life under his care. Why was her mother murdered? What connection does the crime have with charges the mother was about to bring to the motel ready to evict them? As usual, there’s much more going on than first meets the eye, and it’s up to Ty to unravel the mystery and keep himself and his friends alive in the process.

Read the rest of the review here.

I've also done an interview with Jim for, and he talks a lot about the series.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Watcher in the Woods by Robert Liparulo

It's May 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour! (If you're interest, feel free to join our alliance by clicking the button.) Here's how it works: Every 21st, we feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter. This week it's Robert Liparulo and his book:


Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

Here are some of his titles:

House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings Book 1)
Comes a Horseman



At twelve years old, David King was too young to die. At least he thought so.

But try telling that to the people shooting at him.

He had no idea where he was. When he had stepped through the portal, smoke immediately blinded him. An explosion had thrown rocks and who-knew-what into his face. It shook the floor and knocked him off his feet. Now he was on his hands and knees on a hardwood floor. Glass and splinters dug into his palms. Somewhere, all kinds of guns were firing. Bullets zinged overhead, thunking into walls—bits of flying plaster stung his cheeks.

Okay, so he wasn’t sure the bullets were meant for him. The guns seemed both near and far. But in the end, if he were hit, did it matter whether the shooters meant to get him or he’d had the dumb luck to stumble into the middle of a firefight? He’d be just as dead.

The smoke cleared a bit. Sunlight poured in from a school-bus-sized hole in the ceiling. Not just the ceiling—David could see attic rafters and the jagged and burning edges of the roof. Way above was a blue sky, soft white clouds.

He was in a bedroom. A dresser lay on the floor. In front of him was a bed. He gripped the mattress and pushed himself up.

A wall exploded into a shower of plaster, rocks, and dust. He flew back. Air burst from his lungs, and he crumpled again to the floor. He gulped for breath, but nothing came. The stench of fire—burning wood and rock, something dank and putrid—swirled into his nostrils on the thick, gray smoke. The taste of cement coated his tongue. Finally, oxygen reached his lungs, and he pulled it in with loud gasps, like a swimmer saved from drowning. He coughed out the smoke and dust. He stood, finding his balance, clearing his head, wavering until he reached out to steady himself.

A hole in the floor appeared to be trying to eat the bed. It was listing like a sinking ship, the far corner up in the air, the corner nearest David canted down into the hole. Flames had found the blankets and were spreading fast.

Outside, machine-gun fire erupted.

David jumped.

He stumbled toward an outside wall. It had crumbled, forming a rough V-shaped hole from where the ceiling used to be nearly to the floor. Bent rebar jutted out of the plaster every few feet.

More gunfire, another explosion. The floor shook.

Beyond the walls of the bedroom, the rumble of an engine and a rhythmic, metallic click-click-click-click-click tightened his stomach. He recognized the sound from a dozen war movies: a tank. It was rolling closer, getting louder.

He reached the wall and dropped to his knees. He peered out onto the dirt and cobblestone streets of a small village. Every house and building was at least partially destroyed, ravaged by bombs and bullets. The streets were littered with chunks of wall, roof tiles, even furniture that had spilled out through the ruptured buildings.

David’s eyes fell on an object in the street. His panting breath froze in his throat. He slapped his palm over his mouth, either to stifle a scream or to keep himself from throwing up. It was a body, mutilated almost beyond recognition. It lay on its back, screaming up to heaven. Male or female, adult or child, David didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. That it was human and damaged was enough to crush his heart. His eyes shot away from the sight, only to spot another body. This one was not as broken, but was no less horrible. It was a young woman. She was lying on her stomach, head turned with an expression of surprised disbelief and pointing her lifeless eyes directly at David.

He spun around and sat on the floor. He pushed his knuckles into each eye socket, squeegeeing out the wetness. He swallowed, willing his nausea to pass.

His older brother, Xander, said that he had puked when he first saw a dead body. That had been only two days ago—in the Colosseum. David didn’t know where the portal he had stepped through had taken him. Certainly not to a gladiator fight in Rome.

He squinted toward the other side of the room, toward the shadowy corner where he had stepped into . . . wherever this was . . . whenever it was. Nothing there now. No portal. No passage home. Just a wall.

He heard rifle shots and a scream.

Click-click-click-click-click . . . the tank was still approaching.

What had he done? He thought he could be a hero, and now he was about to get shot or blown up or . . . something that amounted to the same thing: Dead.

Dad had been right. They weren’t ready. They should have made a plan.


David rose into a crouch and turned toward the crumbled wall.

I’m here now, he thought. I gotta know what I’m dealing with, right? Okay then. I can do this.

He popped up from his hiding place to look out onto the street. Down the road to his right, the tank was coming into town over a bridge. Bullets sparked against its steel skin. Soldiers huddled behind it, keeping close as it moved forward. In turn, they would scurry out to the side, fire a rifle or machine gun, and step back quickly. Their targets were to David’s left, which meant he was smack between them.


At that moment, he’d have given anything to redo the past hour. He closed his eyes. Had it really only been an hour? An hour to go from his front porch to here?

In this house, stranger things had happened. . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I've been posting my reviews on for a couple years now. I've always thought it would be cool to be a top reviewer there someday. Novelist Eric Wilson has a Top 500 reviewer badge (he's actually at #201). But here's the thing. He's written 620 reviews! And received 7280 helpful votes!

Okay, so I know we shouldn't compare ourselves to others and all, but . . .

The other day I was visiting my Amazon profile and saw I'd made it to the reviewer rank of 9,999! I've hovered in the ten thousands for awhile now, so changing that digit was fun to see. Of course, I only have 67 reviews posted and 380 helpful votes. It's probably going to be awhile before I see any sort of a badge. Sigh. :)

Just in case you're interested, here's a link to my reviews on Amazon. I've mostly done books but some movies and a stray CD are featured as well.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lisa Samson (Advice for Novelists, Part 60)

Today we're featuring the 60th entry in our Advice for Novelists series! For those new here, I've asked authors, agents, editors and publicists their response to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Lisa Samson enlightens us today with this response:

My advice is really, really simple: Read well. Read at least five great books for every writing how-to book. Read the top quality writers in your genre. Don't waste time reading books you could have written with your present level of expertise.

--Lisa Samson, author of Embrace Me, the Hollywood Nobody series, and much more. Visit her online at her website here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Zondervan First Novel Contest

According to Brandilyn Collins, Zondervan announced at the Christy Awards last Saturday a fiction contest they're sponsoring for unpublished writers. Not all of the details have been announced, but here's the gist according to Brandilyn:

"There will be three rounds of judging for the contest. In the first round each author will submit a proposal for a novel. These will be judged and winnowed down. Those who make it through the first round will be asked to submit the complete manuscript. These will go through a second round of judging and be narrowed down to finalists. (Not sure how many--the guidelines will say.) The finalists will be judged by selected Zondervan authors to determine the winner. "

Zondervan's website will post full guidelines soon, and it looks like their blog will too. The winner will be published by Z in the future.

All very interesting. I wonder if they took the initiative from the Christian Writer's Guild's Operation First Novel contest?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

2008 Christy Award Winners!

I'm cross-posting this from the Book News blog:

Last night the winners of the 2008 Christy Awards were announced! Every year publishers are invited to submit novels written from a Christian worldview and copyrighted in the year preceding the awards. Each novel is entered in one of several genre categories and/or the first novel category. Each category of novels is then read and evaluated against a ten-point criteria by a panel of seven judges composed of librarians, reviewers, academicians, literary critics, and other qualified readers, none of whom have a direct affiliation with a publishing company.

Without any further ado, here are the winners:

Chasing Fireflies
by Charles Martin
Thomas Nelson

Read our review of the novel here.


Home to Holly Springs
by Jan Karon

A Proper Pursuit
by Lynn Austin
Bethany House

Read our review of the novel here.

by Tamara Alexander
Bethany House

Hallie's Heart
by Shelly Beach

Read our review of the novel here.


The Cure
by Athol Dickson
Bethany House

Read our review of the novel here.

by Stephen R. Lawhead
Thomas Nelson

Read our review of the novel here.

Hollywood Nobody
by Lisa Samson

Read our review of the novel here.

The Stones Cry Out
by Sibella Giorello

Read our review of the novel here.

Terri Kraus (Advice for Novelists, Part 59)

Here's another entry in our Advice for Novelists series. I've asked authors, agents, editors and publicists their response to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Author Terri Kraus chimes in today:

Remember that writing is an art, not a science. Don't obsess about "the rules". (That's what editor's are for!) Don't be paranoid about "getting it right." (There is no single right way.) Find your own voice. What you DON'T want is sounding like everyone else. Write with passion! Tell the story that's in your heart. Go out on a limb a little, and take some risks. That's how you get noticed.

--Terri Kraus, author of The Renovation, and many other novels. Visit her online at her website.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How the FIRST blog tours works

Twice every month at this blog you'll see the FIRST logo at left and the Teen FIRST logo at right. Those are the days I'm featuring the first chapter of a Christian novel.

I've been a member of these FIRST blog alliances for some time now, and it's been a terrific way to help spread the word about great books, and read some I might not otherwise have picked up.

But just how do these blog tours work? There's an informative article by Missy Frye over at Suite 101 explaining it all. I encourage you to read the piece here and join our alliances! Director Mimi Pearson is terrific to work with, and she's a wonderful writer herself!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Robin Jones Gunn (Advice for Novelists, Part 58)

Thanks for sticking with me, friends, as we've journeyed into the minds of some of today's top editors, authors, publicists, and agents. There's more to come! I'll continue with this Advice for Novelists series whenever possible, so bookmark this page and check back when you're in the mood to hear the responses to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Today, the talented, multi-published, Robin Jones Gunn shares her answer:

Trust God in the small things. Obey Him in the most menial tasks and details. He notices. He orchestrates a very diverse universe. Be available to Him. Let Him shepherd you.

Then do what Jesus said to do. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.

--Robin Jones Gunn, author of the Christy Miller series, Sierra Jensen series, the Sisterchicks series, and more. Visit her website here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

I'd been looking forward to reading Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell for quite some time. Like he did in his previous how-to book, Plot & Structure, Jim has crafted a solid entry in the Write Great Fiction series from Writer's Digest Books.

My review has just been posted on Here's an excerpt:

Speaking of writing conferences, that’s what reading this book felt like—attending a break-out session presented by a skilled wordsmith who knows of what he speaks. Like a caring English Professor, Jim hovers over your shoulder pointing out the problems and dishing out the fixes. He pulls no punches, and you can tell he wants those who read this book to succeed. With lots of sweat, burning desire, and these techniques in your back pocket, you truly can.

Read the whole review

Guess what? I have an extra copy of this book to give away! And I do mean extra. There's no way I'd give up my own personal copy! :)

So leave me a comment, and I'll draw a name from everyone who does to win a free copy of this great how-to book. Deadline will be next Monday, the 14th of July.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Will your first novel be published?

I think it's a common assumption among new writers that all they have to do to be published is write a great first book, send it out, and voila! A publisher will pick them right up. Unfortunately, that's not how it usually goes.

A novelist friend of mine sent me a link to a fascinating piece about how many novelists actually sell the first novels they write (thanks, Sibella!). It's worth a look. Check it out here.

Apparently it's a common phenomenon for an author to not become published in book form until they've gotten into the swing of things, sometimes with their third or fourth written books.

This was true for Ted Dekker. He mention in an interview I did with him awhile back that it was his fourth book that was published first. Later, after he was established, he went on to publish his first written works (I believe Showdown was the first novel he wrote). You can read that interview here.

I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately as I contemplate sending my second novel out into the big world of publishing. It's a much stronger book, I think, than my first. And I wouldn't mind if it was my first published work. :)

All in all, this is a fascinating subject. I'd be interested in how this trend of novelists publishing later works first plays out in the CBA market. Maybe I'll do my own survey!

Have a great 4th holiday, friends. And leave me a comment if you're so inclined. I love hearing from you.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Mile in My Flipflops by Melody Carlson

It's July FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (If you're interested, feel free to join our alliance. Click the button at left to do so.) Here's how it works. On the FIRST day of every month FIRST members will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter.

This month we're spotlighting A Mile In My Flipflops by Melody Carlson. Two friends of mine have interviewed Melody for in the past, and the questions and answers will give you a glimpse into Melody as an author and person. Darcie Gudger's piece focuses primarily on Melody's YA fiction and can be read here. Rel Mollet's interview delves further into Melody's contemporary novels and can be seen here. Both feature much more than this of course and are worth the read!


In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss her latest teen fiction, Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2).


I’m not the kind of girl who wants anyone to feel sorry for her.

So after my fiancé jilted me less than four weeks before our wedding date, and since the invitations had already been sent, my only recourse was to lie low and wait for everyone to simply forget.

Consequently, I became a recluse. If I wasn’t at work, teaching a delightful class of five-year-olds, who couldn’t care less about my shattered love life, I could be found holed up in my apartment, escaping all unnecessary interaction with “sympathetic” friends.

And that is how I became addicted to HGTV and ice cream. Okay, that probably calls for some explanation. HGTV stands for Home and Garden TV, a network that runs 24/7 and is what I consider the highest form of comfort TV. It is habit forming, albeit slightly mind numbing. And ice cream obviously needs no explanation.

Other than the fact that my dad, bless his heart, had seven quart-sized cartons of Ben & Jerry’s delivered to my apartment the day after Collin dumped me. Appropriately enough, dear old Dad (who knows me better than anyone on the planet) selected a flavor called Chocolate Therapy, a product worthy of its name and just as addictive as HGTV.

But now, eighteen months and twenty-two pounds later, I seem to be in a rut. And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“Come on, Gretchen,” urges my best friend, Holly, from her end of the phone line. “Just come with us–please!”

“Right…,” I mutter as I lick my spoon and dip it back into a freshly opened carton of Chunky Monkey–also appropriately named, but let’s not go there. Anyway, not only had I moved on to new ice cream flavors, but I also had given up using bowls. “Like I want to tag along with the newlyweds. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Like I keep telling you, we’re not newlyweds anymore,” she insists. “We’ve been married three months now.”


“And it’s Cinco de Mayo,” she persists, using that little girl voice that I first heard when we became best friends back in third grade. “We always go together.”

I consider this. I want to point out that Holly and I used to always go to the Cinco de Mayo celebration together–as in past tense. And despite her pity for me, or perhaps it’s just some sort of misplaced guilt because she’s married and I am not, I think the days of hanging with my best friend are pretty much over now. The image of Holly and Justin, both good looking enough to be models, strolling around holding hands with frumpy, dumpy me tagging along behind them like their poor, single, reject friend just doesn’t work for me.

“Thanks anyway,” I tell her. “But I’m kind of busy today.”

“So what are you doing then?” I hear the challenge in her voice, like she thinks I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday.

I slump back into the sofa and look over to the muted TV, which is tuned, of course, to HGTV, where my favorite show, House Flippers, is about to begin, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. “I’m, uh…I’ve got lesson plans to do,” I say quickly. This is actually true, although I don’t usually do them until Sunday evening.

She snickers. “Yeah, that’s a good one, Gretch. I’ll bet you’re vegging out in front of HGTV with a carton of Chocolate Fudge Brownie.”

“Wrong.” Okay, Holly is only partially wrong. Fortunately, I haven’t told her about my latest flavor.

“Come on,” she tries again. “It’ll be fun. You can bring Riley along. He’d probably like to stretch his legs.”

I glance over to where my usually hyper, chocolate Lab mixed breed is snoozing on his LL Bean doggy bed with a chewed-up and slightly soggy Cole Haan loafer tucked under his muzzle. “Riley’s napping,” I say. “He doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Like he wouldn’t want to go out and get some fresh air and sunshine?”

“We already had our walk today."

Holly laughs. “You mean that little shuffle you do over to the itty bitty park across the street from your apartment complex? What’s that take? Like seven and a half minutes for the whole round trip? That’s not enough exercise for a growing dog like Riley.”

“I threw a ball for him to chase.”

“So there’s nothing I can do or say to change your mind?” House Flippers is just starting. “Nope,” I say, trying to end this conversation. “But thanks for thinking of me.”

“Want me to bring you back an empanada?”

“Sure,” I say quickly. “You guys have fun!” Then I hang up and, taking the TV off mute, I lean back into the soft chenille sofa and lose myself while watching a hapless couple from Florida renovate a seriously run-down split-level into something they hope to sell for a profit. Unfortunately, neither of them is terribly clever when it comes to remodeling basics. And their taste in interior design is sadly lacking too. The woman’s favorite color is rose, which she uses liberally throughout the house, and she actually thinks that buyers will appreciate the dated brown tiles and bathroom fixtures in the powder room. By the time the show ends, not only is the house still on the market despite the reduced price and open house, but the couple’s marriage seems to be in real trouble as well.

“Too bad,” I say out loud as I mute the TV for commercials. Riley’s head jerks up, and he looks at me with expectant eyes.

“You just keep being a good boy,” I tell him in a soothing tone. Hopefully, he’ll stretch out this midday nap a bit longer. Because once Riley starts moving, my tiny apartment seems to shrink, first by inches and then by feet.

My hope for an elongated nap crumbles when his tail begins to beat rhythmically on the floor, almost like a warning–thump, thump, thump–and the next thing I know, he’s up and prowling around the cluttered living room. Riley isn’t even full grown yet, and he’s already way too much dog for my apartment. Holly warned me that his breed needed room to romp and play. She tried to talk me into a little dog, like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, but I had fallen for those liquid amber eyes…and did I mention that he’s part chocolate Lab? Since when have I been able to resist chocolate? Besides, he reminded me of a cuddly brown teddy bear. But I hardly considered the fact that he would get bigger.

After he climbed into my lap that day, licking my face and smelling of puppy breath and other things that I knew could be shampooed away, there was no way I could leave him behind at the Humane Society. I already knew that he’d been rejected as a Christmas present. Some dimwitted father had gotten him for toddler twins without consulting Mommy first. Even so, Holly tried to convince me that a good-looking puppy like that would quickly find another home.

But it was too late. I knew Riley was meant for me, and that was that. And I had grandiose ideas of taking him for long walks on the beach. “He’ll help me get in shape,” I assured Holly. She’d long since given up on me going to the fitness club with her, so I think she bought into the whole exercise theory. She also bought Riley his LL Bean deluxe doggy bed, which I could barely wedge into my already crowded apartment and now takes up most of the dining area, even though it’s partially tucked beneath a gorgeous craftsman-style Ethan Allen dining room set. Although it’s hard to tell that it’s gorgeous since it’s pushed up against a wall and covered with boxes of Pottery Barn kitchen items that won’t fit into my limited cabinet space.

“This place is way too small for us,” I say to Riley as I shove the half-full ice cream carton back into the freezer. As if to confirm this, his wagging tail whacks an oversized dried arrangement in a large bronze vase, sending seedpods, leaves, and twigs flying across the carpet and adding to the general atmosphere of chaos and confusion.

My decorating style? Contemporary clutter with a little eclectic disorder thrown in for special effect. Although, to be fair, that’s not the real me. I’m sure the real me could make a real place look like a million bucks. That is, if I had a real place…or a million bucks.

I let out a long sigh as I stand amid my clutter and survey my crowded apartment. It’s been like this for almost two years now.

Overly filled with all the stuff I purchased shortly after Collin proposed to me more than two years ago. Using my meager teacher’s salary and skimpy savings, I started planning the interior décor for our new home. I couldn’t wait to put it all together after the wedding.

“Have you ever heard of wedding presents?” Holly asked me when she first realized what I was doing.

“Of course,” I assured her. “But I can’t expect the guests to provide everything for our home. I figured I might as well get started myself. Look at this great set of espresso cups that I got at Crate & Barrel last weekend for thirty percent off.”

“Well, at least you have good taste,” she admitted as she stooped to admire a hand-tied wool area rug I’d just gotten on sale. Of course, she gasped when she saw the price tag still on it. “Expensive taste too!”

“It’ll last a lifetime,” I assured her, just like the Karastan salesman had assured me. Of course, as it turned out, my entire relationship with Collin didn’t even last two years. Now I’m stuck with a rug that’s too big to fit in this crummy little one-bedroom apartment–the same apartment I’d given Mr. Yamamoto notice on two months before my wedding. It was so humiliating to have to beg to keep it after the wedding was cancelled, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And now, a year and a half later, I’m still here. Stuck. It’s like everyone else has moved on with their lives except me. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had enough room to make myself at home or enough room for Riley to wag his tail without causing mass destruction…or enough room to simply breathe. Maybe I should rent a storage unit for all this stuff. Or maybe I should move myself into a storage unit since it would probably be bigger than this apartment.

As I pick up Riley’s newest mess, I decide the bottom line is that I need to make a decision. Get rid of some things–whether by storage, a yard sale, or charity–or else get more space. I vote for more space. Not that I can afford more space. I’m already strapped as it is.

Kindergarten teachers don’t make a whole lot. I feel like I’ve created a prison for myself. What used to be a convenient hideout now feels like a trap, and these thin walls seem to be closing in on me daily. Feeling hopeless, I flop back onto the couch and ponder my limited options. Then I consider forgetting the whole thing and escaping back into HGTV, which might call for some more ice cream.

But that’s when I look down and notice my thighs spreading out like two very large slabs of ham. Very pale ham, I might add as I tug at my snug shorts to help cover what I don’t want to see, but it’s not working. I stare at my flabby legs in horror. When did this happen?

I stand up now, trying to erase that frightening image of enormous, white thunder thighs. I pace around my apartment a bit before I finally go and stand in front of an oversized mirror that’s leaning against the wall near the front door. This is a beautiful mirror I got half price at World Market, but it belongs in a large home, possibly over a fireplace or in a lovely foyer. And it will probably be broken by Riley’s antics if it remains against this wall much longer.

But instead of admiring the heavy bronze frame of the mirror like I usually do, I actually look into the mirror and am slightly stunned at what I see. Who is that frumpy girl? And who let her into my apartment? I actually used to think I was sort of good looking. Not a babe, mind you, but okay. Today I see a faded girl with disappointed eyes.

Some people, probably encouraged by Holly, a long-legged dazzling brunette, used to say I resembled Nicole Kidman. Although they probably were thinking of when Nicole was heavier and I was lighter. Now it’s a pretty big stretch to see any similarities. To add insult to injury, Nicole has already hit the big “four o,” whereas I am only thirty-two. Her forties might be yesterday’s twenties, but my thirties look more like someone else’s fifties. And I used to take better care of myself. Okay, I was never thin, but I did eat right and got exercise from jogging and rollerblading. Compared to now, I was in great shape. And my long strawberry blond hair, which I thought was my best asset, was usually wavy and fresh looking, although you wouldn’t know that now. It’s unwashed and pulled tightly into a shabby-looking ponytail, which accentuates my pudgy face and pale skin. Even my freckles have faded. It doesn’t help matters that my worn T-shirt (with a peeling logo that proclaims “My Teacher Gets an A+”) is saggy and baggy, and my Old Navy khaki shorts, as I’ve just observed, are too tight, and my rubber flip-flops look like they belong on a homeless person–although I could easily be mistaken for one if I was pushing a shopping cart down the street.

Then, in the midst of this pathetic personal inventory, my focus shifts to all the junk that’s piled behind me–the boxes, the myriad of stuff lining the short, narrow hallway and even spilling into the open door of my tiny bedroom, which can barely contain the queensize bed and bronze bedframe still in the packing box behind it. If it wasn’t so depressing, it would almost be funny. I just shake my head. And then I notice Riley standing strangely still behind me and looking almost as confused as I feel. With his head slightly cocked to one side, he watches me curiously, as if he, too, is afraid to move. This is nuts. Totally certifiable. A girl, or even a dog, could seriously lose it living like this. Or maybe I already have. They say you’re always the last to know that you’ve lost your marbles.

“It’s time for a change,” I announce to Riley. He wags his tail happily now, as if he wholeheartedly agrees. Or maybe he simply thinks I’m offering to take him on a nice, long walk. “We need a real house,” I continue, gathering steam now. “And we need a real yard for you to run and play in.” Of course, this only excites him more.

And that’s when he begins to run about the apartment like a possessed thing, bumping into boxes and furnishings until I finally open the sliding door and send him out to the tiny deck to calm himself.

After he settles down, I go and join him. It’s pretty hot out here, and I notice that the seedling sunflower plants, ones we’d started in the classroom and I’d brought home to nurture along, are now hanging limp and lifeless, tortured by the hot afternoon sun that bakes this little patio. Just one more thing I hate about this place.

So much for my attempt at terrace gardening. I’d seen a show on HGTV that inspired me to turn this little square of cement deck into a real oasis. But in reality it’s simply a barren desert that will only get worse as the summer gets hotter. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears now. It’s hopeless.

This is all wrong. On so many levels. This is not where I was supposed to be at this stage of the game. This is not the life I had planned. I feel like I’ve been robbed or tricked or like someone ripped the rug out from under me. And sometimes in moments like this, I even resent God and question my faith in him. I wonder why he allows things like this to happen. Why does he let innocent people get hurt by the selfishness of others? It just doesn’t make sense. And it’s not fair.

Oh, I’ve tried to convince myself I’m over the fact that my ex fiancé, Collin Fairfield, was a total jerk. And I try not to blame him for being swept away when his high school sweetheart decided, after fifteen years of being apart, that she was truly in love with him. I heard that the revelation came to Selena at the same time she received our engraved wedding invitation, which I did not send to her. She wasn’t even on my list.

And I actually believe that I’ve mostly forgiven Collin…and that sneaky Selena too. And I wish them well, although I didn’t attend their wedding last fall. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

But all that aside, this is still so wrong. I do not belong in this stuffy little apartment that’s cluttered with my pretty household goods. I belong in a real house. A house with a white picket fence and a lawn and fruit trees in the backyard. And being single shouldn’t mean that I don’t get to have that. There must be some way I can afford a home.

Of course, I’m fully aware that real estate isn’t cheap in El Ocaso. It’s on the news regularly. Our town’s prices certainly aren’t as outrageous as some of the suburbs around San Diego, but they’re not exactly affordable on a teacher’s salary. I try not to remember how much I had in my savings account back before I got engaged and got carried away with spending on my wedding and my home. That pretty much depleted what might’ve gone toward a small down payment on what probably would’ve been a very small house. But, hey, even a small house would be better than this prison-cell apartment.

And that’s when it hits me. And it’s so totally obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I will become a house flipper! Just like the people on my favorite HGTV show, I will figure out a way to secure a short-term loan, purchase a fixer-upper house, and do the repairs and decorating myself–with my dad’s expert help, of course!

And then, maybe as early as midsummer, I will sell this beautifully renovated house for enough profit to make a good-sized down payment on another house just for me…and Riley. Even if the secondhouse is a fixer-upper too, I can take my time with it, making it just the way I want it. And it’ll be so much better than where I live now.

I’m surprised I didn’t come up with this idea months ago. It’s so totally simple. Totally perfect. And totally me!

“We are going house hunting,” I announce to Riley as I shove open the sliding door and march back inside the apartment. His whole body is wagging with doggy joy as I quickly exchange my too-tight shorts for jeans and then reach for his leather leash and my Dolce & Gabbana knockoff bag–the one I bought to carry on my honeymoon, the honeymoon that never was. I avoid looking at my image in the big mirror as we make a hasty exit.

“Come on, boy,” I say as I hook the leash to his collar at the top of the stairs. “This is going to be fun!” And since this outing is in the spirit of fun, I even put down the top on my VW Bug, something I haven’t done in ages. Riley looks like he’s died and gone to doggy heaven as he rides joyfully in the backseat, his ears flapping in the breeze. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a house for sale on the beach.

Okay, it’d have to be a run-down, ramshackle sort of place that no one but me can see the hidden value in, but it could happen. And while I renovate my soon-to-be wonder house, Riley can be king of the beach. The possibilities seem limitless. And when I stop at the grocery store to pick up real-estate papers, I am impressed with how many listings there are. But I can’t read and drive, so I decide to focus on driving. And since I know this town like the back of my hand, this should be easy.

But thanks to the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the downtown area is crowded, so I start my search on the south end of town, trying to avoid traffic jams. I’m aware that this area is a little pricey for me, but you never know. First, I pull over into a parking lot and read the fliers. I read about several houses for sale, but the prices are staggering.

Even more than I imagined. Also, based on the descriptions and photos, these houses already seem to be in great shape. No fixer-uppers here. Then I notice some condo units for sale, and I can imagine finding a run-down unit in need of a little TLC, but it’s the same situation. According to the fliers, they’re in tiptop, turnkey shape–recently remodeled with granite counters and cherry hardwood floors and new carpeting and prices so high I can’t imagine doing anything that could push them a penny higher. My profit margin and spirits are steadily sinking. Maybe my idea to flip a house has already flopped. Just like the rest of my life.

Excerpted from A Mile in My Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.