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A Once In A While Blog

I write notes here once in a while. Certainly not a day-to-day blog. But when I really have something to say--this is the place I'll say it. Welcome.

Vain Empires--Behind the Scenes

Vain Empires is turning, twisting psychological suspense.

Imagine six people on a remote island--contestants on a reality TV show, Dream Prize. They’ve been told the winner will be the person who learns the most facts about the others and gains the majority of viewer votes. Sounds simple. But once the three men and three women arrive on the island, they discover the game rules aren't exactly as expected. Turns out each person has a damning secret--one that could ruin his or her life. And those secrets just may be uncovered on live television.

A set of six clues—one about each contestant’s secret—will be given twice a day, six sets in all. Beyond that the contestants must extract information from each other, while trying to keep others from learning about themselves. 

These uncovered secrets will reveal which of the Seven Deadly Sins each contestant represents: Pride, Lust, Sloth, Greed, Envy, Wrath, or Gluttony. (One of the sins is not represented, but they don’t know which one.) The winner of the game will be the one who most correctly matches each contestant to a sin.

And this is only the beginning of the surprises to come …

Vain Empires is a story with an ensemble cast, meaning all six people are the main characters. Chapters move from one person’s POV (point of view) to the next. When you’re in a person’s POV, you’re privy to that character’s thoughts.

When this story is done being written it must progress smoothly and logically. The reader should have no idea of how difficult it was to make it read that way. But as a novelist I will tell you—the smoother the story reads, the harder it was to write. I often get lost in my own maze as I write one of my twisty Seatbelt Suspense® novels. But Vain Empires has been especially difficult. There are a million and one details for me to keep straight. 

Enter, if you dare, my writer’s brain …

As creator of the story, I know all the facts about each character: Aaron, Shari, Lance, Craig, Tori, and Gina. But I must keep straight at every moment which facts each character knows, and what the reader knows.

Say in one chapter (Aaron’s POV), he is talking to Tori. A fact about each is exchanged. Now I have to remember: Aaron knows X about Tori, who knows Y about Aaron. Reader now knows X and Y. BUT—you learn in the next chapter in Shari’s POV that she was eavesdropping around the corner. Therefore Shari knows X and Y, and the reader knows that Shari knows X and Y, but Aaron and Tori do not know that Shari knows. Meanwhile Craig, Lance, and Gina do not know X and Y.

Got that?

Plus there are each character’s thoughts in his or her POV. So if Lance (POV character) and Craig are talking and exchange information, the reader will know the information exchanged but will also know any information given through Lance’s thoughts. But of course Craig will not know that latter information. And—what if the fact that Lance tells Craig is a lie? Now Lance and the reader know it is a lie, but Craig may believe it. 

Now, compound all of this for every page and every chapter.

As the story progresses I must remember exactly what each character knows and doesn’t know so that they act and think accordingly. At the same time every little piece of information must be coordinated to slowly fill out pieces of the puzzle in a way that's exciting and satisfying for the reader. When to reveal each piece? How to reveal it? And what not to reveal so readers must fill in some pieces themselves? 

Again, all of this is below the surface, only in my creator’s brain. Sort of like the depth of the ocean below surface waves. What I want the reader to see is page-turning, building tension in those waves. 

Some readers, those who love suspense and figuring out the puzzles ahead of time, may read this book carefully, gathering each fact as if playing the game of Clue. Other readers may just go along for the ride. I want both kinds of readers to be swept up in the story—from the first line to the last.

So--if you see me as I struggle to finish Vain Empires, and my eyes are glazed over—all of this is why.

They were stuck on this remote island, all of them.
Trapped in this show.
No way to stop what came next.
No way at all.

Vain Empires will release in late May. I will announce when it is available for pre-order. If you want to make sure you’re notified, please sign up for my newsletter, Sneak Pique, on my home page (and receive a free book).

Vision of My Mom on Her Way to Heaven

My wonderful, amazing mother, Ruth Seamands, graduated to glory yesterday, on April 17. She was 97.  I was en route to be by her side—but didn’t make it in time. I was her only daughter not with her when she passed. 

But God gave me a special gift. I saw a vision of my mom on her way to heaven.

It happened in the early morning hours of April 16.

Mom was so ready to go to heaven. She'd served Jesus all her life and knew what awaited her. During my last visit with her in January, I told her, “Now, listen, Mom, if you happen to go to heaven when I’m not with you—tell the angel who comes to get you that you have to stop by my house on your way and say goodbye to me.”

Mom laughed. “Well, I don’t know if that’s possible.”

“Sure it is, if God wants it. After all, he created the world; He can do whatever He wants. So just tell your angel, and if God says it’s okay, he’ll do it.”

Mom smiled. “Okay.”

I said my goodbye to her during that visit. She’d gone into heart failure and was on hospice. We expected her to go soon. But she didn’t. She hung on for two more months. I live across the country, so it wasn’t easy for me to visit her in Kentucky. It was good to know her oldest two daughters plus numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren lived near her assisted living apartment. And her third daughter drove to see her every few weeks. During those months Mom and I were apart she could talk less and less on the phone. But when we could talk, I’d tell her again—“Don’t forget, Mom. If you go to heaven before I can get back there, tell your angel to bring you by my house first.” Each time she’d laugh and say, “I’ll see what I can do.” The last time I spoke to her, we had the same conversation once more.

Not that I really expected her visit to happen. And, in fact, I don’t even know for sure that God sends an angel to take his children home. The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us that. It does tell us that angels are God’s servants who act as his messengers and serve his children on earth. (Hebrews 1:14.) So an angel escort could certainly be possible.

On the afternoon of April 15 I learned the end was near for Mom. I needed to go to her. I booked a flight for 6 a.m. on the 17th. I would need to get up at 2:30 a.m. to make the flight. Early, yes, but it would put me in Kentucky at 5:30 p.m. Surely I would get there in time. I went to bed alone—my husband was out of town. My mind was full, thinking of all I had to do the next day in preparation for leaving town—for how long, I didn’t know. I would not return home until after the funeral.

That night, Mom appeared to me. 

She materialized over my bed, hovering before me. Much larger than life, as if I were right in front of a huge movie screen. But she didn’t look as she had in her old age. She was young. The way she looked as a bride--sort of. But a little different. Her face was a little rounder than in her wedding picture. I'd never seen her look quite like that. Such a beautiful face, with brown curly hair. People used to say she looked like the actress Loretta Young. Her youth so surprised me. I’ve always known those who follow Jesus will go to heaven, and will be healed and whole. Mom had lost most of her eyesight and much of her hearing. When I pictured her in heaven, it was in her older body, but well. Seeing. Hearing. Restored. I hadn’t thought of heaven’s returning her youth. Yet there she was, so young and beautiful.

Even so--even though she was young--I still felt her overwhelming presence as the mother I'd known. She was almost forty when I was born. I had never known her young. Yet despite her appearance of youth she carried all the history and experience of being the woman she was at 97. My mom. I FELT that. I knew it.

She was smiling at me—a glorious, joyful smile. Around her floated some kind of white, chiffon-like fabric. It covered her body so that I saw only her face. 

At first I couldn’t speak. I could only marvel, I can’t believe this is happening! I can’t believe she really came to me. Then I heard the distinct but gentle flutter of wings—small wings, as those of a bird. I couldn’t see what was causing the sound. This, too, surprised me. What was causing the sound? Was she really being escorted by an angel whom I couldn’t see? I’ve never been sure that angels have wings. That’s our earthly way to depict them. But is it true? (There are some prophetic visions in the Bible in which heavenly beings have wings.) Whatever the case, if they do, I’d expect the wings to be large—on a powerful supernatural being. After all, many times in the Bible when an angel appeared to someone, that person fell to the ground at the mere sight. 

Neither did I think the wings were on Mom herself. People often talk of someone who has died as now being an “angel in heaven.” That’s not biblical. People do not become angels. Humans and angels are two distinct creations.

So I did not understand the small flutter I heard. 

All of these sensations flooded me at once—Mom’s youth, her smile, the chiffon-like material, the gentle wing flutter. Emotion surged within me. I rose up in bed, my throat tight, and cried, “Mommy!” 

The sound of my own voice jarred me. Woke me up. Mom vanished.

What? This was a dream?

I lay in bed, heart pounding. Amazed. I looked at the clock. Four-thirty-two in the morning. It was 7:32 Kentucky time. I knew two things, deep in the core of me. One, this wasn’t an ordinary dream. This was real. We've all had dreams that seemed very real at the time. But when you wake up, you realize it wasn't. You simply think, "Wow. That seemed so real in the moment." This dream was not like that. It was a supernatural, true event. The kind that shakes you deep in your soul. This kind of dream/vision is biblical. As one example, Joseph, legal father of Jesus, had four separate dreams in which an angel appeared and told him what to do about Jesus' birth and how to protect Jesus after He was born. So, yes, I knew Mom had indeed been present. Yet—two, I sensed Mom had not physically died at that moment. That she was still alive. I can’t explain how I knew that. But I did. 

How did these two things fit together? I could not understand. But I have seen God’s supernatural hand numerous times. I have experienced His power and heard His voice. And I knew what I’d seen was not of this world.

All the next day the dream enveloped me. I kept seeing Mom’s face. Everything I’d seen and heard remained so clear.  So real to me. In a phone call I told my husband what had happened.

Two things occurred that day as I prepared to leave town. First, I happened to see the trailer for the just-released movie Heaven is For Real. In the trailer the little boy who visited heaven tells his dad how he saw his grandfather there—the grandfather he never knew on earth.  When shown a picture of the grandfather in his older years, the little boy said that wasn’t him. “Everyone in heaven is young.” When shown a picture of his grandfather at a much younger age, the boy said, “Yup. That’s Pop.”

Second, I wrote an update on Facebook that I was going to see my mom the next day. That she would not last much longer, and I needed to be with her. In a comment one friend wrote, “When I lost my mom a few years ago, I knew when she'd passed because she appeared in the upper corner of the room I slept in, with a soft smile on her face, and ‘touched’ me on her way. She looked her physical age when she appeared, and in the few seconds as she passed, her appearance changed back to her young self, when she first married my dad. It was a rare experience, I know, and it meant the world to me that she took a moment on her journey for that touch.” I responded, “What a story! I have told Mom numerous times that if she happened to go when I wasn't with her, she had to stop by and say goodbye. And to hear this really happened to you!”

The next day as I flew across the country, making two stops along the way, I called one of my sisters after the first flight. “Mom’s going,” my sister said. She didn’t think I would make it in time. I was stunned. I began berating myself. Why hadn’t I left the day before, no matter how difficult it would have been for me? I’d thought I had time. Why had I believed that? Now I may not.

When the plane landed on my second stop two long hours later, I called my sister the minute the wheels touched down. 

Mom was gone.

I could hardly believe it. I’d been so sure I’d get there in time. My first thought was one of pure selfishness. I’d looked forward to Mom going to heaven for her sake, knowing she would be starting her new, wonderful life in eternity. But at that moment I only thought of myself. All my sisters had been there at Mom’s side. And I’d missed it. Missed it.

I stopped in the jetway to call my husband. “I didn’t make it,” I said. I could hardly talk. Mark replied, “But don’t forget, you had the dream.”

That’s when it hit me. When it all came together—the sight of Mom so young, and the two messages the next day of restored youth in heaven. God had been telling me something. What I’d seen indeed wasn’t just a dream. It was a prophetic vision—the sneak peek—of Mom on her way to heaven. God in His mercy had given me this amazing gift. He knew I wouldn’t make it to Mom’s bedside in time. He knew the moment of her passing I wouldn’t be in my own home. I’d be halfway to her in an airplane, surrounded by people I didn’t know. Not exactly the best circumstances in which to see a supernatural sight that would overwhelm me and cause me to cry out. So God sent me the dream one day early—as a vision of what was to come. Mom in her youth—that is true. That’s what she looks like now.

As I hurried to catch my final plane, all these things became clear to me. My sadness disappeared. I was filled with elation—for Mom, and for myself, because I’d seen her. My sisters had the privilege of being with her when she died. I had the privilege of seeing how she looks now—happy and free. Like a bride.

I must admit I’m still puzzled by the flutter of wings I heard. Some day, when I’m on my own journey to heaven, I supposed I’ll learn what that’s all about.

I will never forget that vision. Mom’s face, so clear to me. Her smile. My calling out to her. Not, “Mom.” But—“Mommy!” The sight of her face remains with me. It sustains me now as we plan for all the family to arrive for her memorial service. As I and my sisters clean out her assisted living apartment. I’d pictured having to do that in the past and thought, “How will I ever stand it?” I and my sisters had been so close to our mother. I called her “The Best Mom in the World.” And she was. But now, with the vision of her so filling my head, my heart, I’m not sad. I’m happy for her. I rejoice with her. I’ve seen her perfected and whole. Young.

I’ve seen a glimpse of heaven in my mother’s restored face. 
Update: At my mother's memorial service (an amazing celebration of her life!) a few days after I wrote this post, I walked into the church--and saw a picture of Mom just as I'd seen her in the dream/vision. One of my sisters had gone through old albums and pulled out this picture. It was one I'd never seen before. Mom was 20, a few years before her wedding. I was stunned. I stopped in my tracks and pointed. "That's her! That's what she looked like!" When my sisters and I divided up photos later, of course I wanted this one. It's now hanging on the wall in my office.
Update 2: When I first had this dream, I thought God had given me a vision of what was to come. Now I believe a little differently. I think Mom was actually on her way to heaven at that moment--even though her heart was still beating. I base this on the fact that my mother had fallen into a coma about two hours before I had the dream/vision. She never woke up, and died the next morning. God allowed her physical body to die naturally. But who's to say, when someone is unconscious, when He takes the spirit? I've spoken with numerous people about this, including a Bible scholar who has studied about heaven, and they agree that this could be possible. One Christian friend of mine told me about her husband's death. (He was a strong Christian.) He, too, had been in a coma. She was with him when he died, yet she strongly sensed that his spirit was already gone. So perhaps this is what actually happened. Whichever it was--a vision of what was to come, or a visitation in the moment--it remains a miracle and tremendous encouragement to me.



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