How Do You Start A Novel?

I remember my fiction-novel-writing professor, James Thayer, explained how novels get planned. Most of the time the novelist has a full outline, then writes the paragraphs. Another, think it’s Ellery Queen, wrote about four novels at the same time, in corners of his office room.

Hey, if it fits, wear it.

Well, something just happened that I’m excited about. Yes, have written the first draft book for Jessica Cox, in detailing her armless life from the perspective of her father and husband…but also, with great input from her. Jessica will add some notes, edit some of mine and send me pictures. When it’s a wrap I’ll let you know. Hope her foundation can publish and promote it. In addition, I’m seeing if we can bring her to Austin to speak and to visit. That would be great. To put it mildly.

Back to deciding upon a novel. Most of the time it’s a single idea that launches the novel. In the first one I wanted to murder a minister on Tillamook Bay. Nothing more, nothing less. In another I wanted to delve into a multiple-personality situation [from my personal experience with someone who has 13 personalities]. In another I learned that a pastor and her husband weren’t married. They were both gay but feigned the marriage because otherwise their jobs were at stake. Another was to expand a fishing trip I took 2 years ago on the Columbia River. Hey, what’s a fishing trip without a murder? And in this recent novel it was to spend some time in Bend, Oregon with Nathan Spark who is Tricia’s lover. It “just happened” he was kidnapped while fly fishing the Deschutes River, locked in a lightless cabin for 7 days, almost didn’t survive dehydration. Then Nathan and Tricia got married [thought the marital bond would be timely] and learned in Tricia’s 5th month of pregnancy their child would be armless. That’s the last chapter of “Living Without Arms,” now published [in case you’re interested???]

Then wrote about my visit in Tucson with Jessica. That probably was the easiest and fastest I’ve written because I was brimming over with excitement and enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to tell Jessica’s story. She is beyond saintly…at least as I talk with people and see her in action. The waiter didn’t even wince as Jessica and Patrick and I prayed in a restaurant. I held Patrick’s hand and Jessica’s foot. Why not?

So. All this prattling is leading somewhere. How does a novel get planned?

I HAVE to share this because it’s happened in the last 24 hours. I know the next novel will be about the development of Caleb Yale Gleason Spark, Tricia and Nathan’s armless child. That’s marinating now, with Jessica’s experience—she’s now 35—giving great illustrations on how she developed. That was my main focus.

Then…I looked through my pictures…and came upon this and thought, THIS HAS TO BE THE COVER OF MY NEW NOVEL. Isn’t it breathtaking…hey, stick with me on this…it’s the Middle Rapids section of the Sol Duc River out of Forks, Washington. I LOVE IT…and so do my guides.

There’s more! Last night I picked up, the drive-thru, prescriptions for Jason. The loveliest lady helped me…polite, competent, so “with it.” One word led to another and she asked what I did. I told her about the novels [hey, that’s better than washing clothes] and she beamed, ‘Oh, I love murder mysteries; do you really?”

I smiled and then asked her, ‘Mind sharing your name?”

A great smile, “My name’s Tanisha.”

Time stopped. Right in its tracks. “What?”, I claimed, not a whisper. I then asked, “Is that Tanisha?”, spelling it out.

She nodded.

I shook my head, “Tanisha, this is amazing. In my last two novels one of the neat characters is African-American just like you, very polite, a college professor, her name’s Tamisha.”

I couldn’t believe it. Then the marination started all day today…and I GOT IT! A possible input in the next novel…have Tamisha learn she has a twin sister whom she thought was dead. But, no! Ah, only the shadow knows.

Then. This gets better. I asked some of my friends…never have done this before…if they would recommend a name for this new novel, not one paragraph written yet. And, wadda yah know…one of my most treasured friends wrote, “How about something about Tributaries? You love to fish and you have that great cover picture of the river and rapids.”

Ah, SCORE! So the new novel, now baptized and unwritten has a name: Rivers Have Tributaries. It will have Caleb growing up, Tanisha entering from stage left and all the tributaries of the river…flowing into the river and flowing out of the river. Well, maybe that’s something like life is a river with tributaries. Never know. Well, that’s not totally true, but I don’t tell all I know! Ka-Ching!

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Faith Is Assurance Not Certitude

Fifty-one years. Almost to the day. That I last saw Nancy Jo Kemper. At our Yale University Divinity School. I graduated in 1966, she in 1967. Since then we’ve taken our own roads, sometimes less traveled by others, but not always.

Why this start? Because I have just read an article by Nancy Jo, ordained and serving in the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.

She announced to her congregation in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that she would run for Congress as a Democrat to “represent the 6th Congressional District in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

She lost that election, but by a margin less than other Democratic candidates in Kentucky.

That’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I appreciate she’s not settling for the green fields of retirement. Rather, she is writing and leading and making sure her thoughts are not buried in the dust of our times.

She wrote with such power in the Reflections, Spring, 2018, about the two essentials in life and guide for living. To consider who God is in your life and who you are in your life. I maintain, and Nancy Jo makes it much clearer, the most essential part of walking the human landscape is to define God…who is God. For the answer to that guides and empowers the way we live.

Think of it. If you believe God is a referee with a white/black striped shirt and a whistle to blow, you will never put down your personal whistle. Okay, judgment has become the verity in our culture.

But Nancy Jo will have none of that. From her:


In her campaign she lacked ambiguity: “We articulated policies that were not couched in religious rhetoric, but instead used aspirational social justice language that reflected compassion for the poor, the immigrant, and those who were denied their civil liberties.” [p. 29]

“The campaign demonstrated to me that among many, Christianity has become a cult selling false certitude as a balm for modern anxieties, rather than a faith movement following the way of Jesus. Many constituents are deeply frightened that the future holds only diminishing possibilities for them and their children. Too many Americans, urban and rural, educated and uneducated, are being left behind as the nation turns into a plutocracy.

“Can progressive Christianity address this polarization? At least for now, that would be a difficult task in broad swaths of our nation, where many would be horrified by an emphasis on faith as trust and not certitude, by arguments that the Bible’s truths are more than strictly literal, and by the notion that salvation might relate to how you treat your neighbors, not just having your sins washed away.” [30]

Finally, this, from the wisdom and courage of Nancy Jo Kemper:

“Until American Christianity faces how egregiously its faith has been distorted, and learns how to communicate a new presentation of the gospel, our situation as church and nations will remain dire! We have turned churches into entertainment centers to help people feel good week to week. Churches should be places of alternative learning that stimulate intellectual curiosity and artistic creativity for adults and children, with a moral focus that goes beyond the personal to public well-being. Religion is more essential now in our public life than ever before—religion focused on building communities of care and compassion, wisdom and knowledge.” [p.32]

Go, Nancy Jo!!!

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Tricia Gleason’s 7th Novel Now Published!

Living Without Arms
Tricia Gleason’s 7th Adventure Novel
Available on and
Signed Copy, including postage, will be $25.00
Let Mark know if you wish a signed copy.

Dr. Mark Henry Miller
2101 Long Bow Drive
Leander, Texas 78641

Living Without Arms
By Dr. Mark Henry Miller
Available on Amazon and
A Tricia Gleason Novel

A clergy retreat is purposed by good intentions. Not a time to tell lies on how well it goes. The exception to that is a retired minister, not coincidental his first name is Donald, shouts down Oregon Interim Conference Minister Nathan Spark. Makes it clear, “You are rubbish, to be dumped in a bin and left. There is not room for both of us on this earth!”, at which point he stomps from the room.

Nathan learns the “rubbish” remark isn’t new. His predecessor, the irrepressible Creighton Yale, heard the same rant. So Nathan decides it’s better to see about catching Redside trout out of the Deschutes River near Maupin, Oregon. As he casts someone walks up to him, holds a fly rod but no wading boots. The normal greetings. The last thing Nathan remembers is watching the Madame X fly floating the surface. When he awakens he can’t see, hands and feet bound. Doesn’t take long to become rubbish.

Almost a week without water or food, covered in slime from his excretions; would help arrive? In a cabin with no light?

When help arrives, dehydration is in control. The battle between living and death is neither academic nor metaphorical. Shit is shit.

Months later, no longer reeking with the bad odor, he and his new wife Tricia Gleason, share with Tricia’s congregation in Tillamook, Oregon, they are pregnant. The joy lasts until the 5th month when a sonogram reveals their infant-to-be-born has no arms. What to do? When they share with their congregation, one member stomps out about the disgrace of having an armless baby. She tirades, “God must be really furious with you; what have you done? You must be REALLY BAD!”

Apprehending the culprit putting Nathan in the cabin takes time. The most pressing matter is clear: having a baby with no arms. What should they do?
Read on.

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What A Day–Joy and Tears!!!

Today, Saturday, April 28, 2018, has been numbing. Not because of harm, but because of joy. I am numb in joy and want to share.

Jason has taken his first steps without a walker. Yeah! Such a joy with his determination…go, Jason!

Just received the copy of my new novel from Authorhouse with their request for final editing. I wish I could include the cover, but am unsure how that happens. Still, I’ll try. “Living Without Arms,” is Tricia Gleason’s 7th adventure. The jarring yet incredibly blessed event is for her and Nathan to celebrate the birth of this first child, born without arms. This novel will be available in about a month. More on the late news to update that.

And. Speaking of someone without arms, have written the first draft of “Faith Is A Dealbreaker”. First time at my writing non-fiction, as a narrative voice, after being with Jessica, her husband, Patrick, and her father, Bill. When I left Tucson for my return to Austin I broke down in tears in the plane because of the power and joy of the experience. Never have I met such a faith-filled person in Jessica Cox. I am honored to pound away on my computer as she in turn writes great poems and sermons with her toes on the touchscreen. They, of course, will take the editing time with the first draft.

This is the cover picture of “Living Without Arms” taken by Art Johnson, my San Marcos buddy:

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A New Thought On Faith: A Dealbreaker…Go, Jessica!

One of our favorite fly-fishing guides, Joe Willauer, as we drifted the Yakima River in Washington, used to say as our bobber floated downstream near the shore, “Let it marinate, let it marinate.”

Well, this morning, having been in Tucson since last Thursday I’m way beyond marinating. I’m bubbling, dashing around emotionally like a water bug, which zooms and darts in all kinds of directions. The “why” is because I was able to spend the full time with Jessica Cox and her husband Patrick Chamberlain and her father, William Clinton Cox. [He is a hoot, but I never failed to remind him I’m the older, he being born in November of 1940 and I in June of that birth year.]

To listen to Jessica is to be inspired. To be with Jessica is to be inspired. She is a walking sermon. And in short time I never really focused upon her feet, as she drove, as she ate, as she held her sermon to preach. More on that in a bit.

Friends, if I had a wish above wishes it would be for you to meet all three of them. They give inspiration its clearest definition. Lots of nuggets; they abound and will be included in the soon-to-be written book about what it means for Bill to be a parent to an armless child. [Per Jessica’s request.]

Her mother, Inez, died less than 2 years ago, but Bill and she gave me great insights into her attitude. For instance, one key in being Jessica’s parents was not to ever, ever consider her handicapped. “Handicap” to them is profanity.

One day Inez took Jessica, age 7 at the time, to the grocery store, the only parking place a handicap sign overhead. No way. No way in the world would Inez park there. They could walk more distance. One day when Jessica was 3 days old, as Bill gave thanks to God for their new daughter—they never asked, “God, what did we do wrong?”, a lady came up to him and pointed to Jessica, obviously an infant who was armless, “Sir, is that your daughter?” Bill beamed with pride and nodded yes. She then said, “That’s great, you must be very strong parents.” That was a pivotal moment for Bill who believed, “This daughter and we will be glorious.”

More abounds, but I don’t want to provide too much. As Jessica and I visited she said how often…more than occasionally, people would negate her value. I asked her what sustained, she didn’t hesitate, “Mark, Faith was a dealbreaker.” Ah, the book title, used in an unique way Jessica affirmed, because her faith WAS and IS a dealbreaker. In the most inspirational manner. Her faith IS ultimate sustaining, no matter what.

On Sunday morning, Jessica shared in the sermon which will be shared in the book. If anyone dropped a pin, no one could hear it. How inspirational. Yep, I’m now more than marinating. I’m bubbling with enthusiasm. Even more, with gratitude for being in the presence of someone who with no doubt in the world is an angel impersonating a human being.

Stay tuned.

Go, Jessica!

Patrick and Jessica:

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Taking Away The Sting Of Death

I thought of Carol last Saturday during the Stewardship Consultation. I thought of her again today when reading the story linked below in this reflection.

Carol and Rick and their three college-age daughters joined Broadmoor Community Church in Colorado Springs. I remember the February, 1980 day, the same say the USA beat Russia in Olympic Hockey. Obviously, even though my first Sunday as pastor, the man counting attendance had little to do!

That very Sunday Rick and Carol arrived, their first time. They left their name and asked for a visit. The next morning, I called Carol, remember her laryngitis and made an appointment for the next night. That same afternoon I had forgotten I had called Carol, called her again. There was “something” about that raspy voice. I thought, Where have I heard that voice before?

It was Carol! I was Mark! What a mess-up. I admitted that I had forgotten the morning conversation. In the perfect “Carol tone” she responded, “Oh, it’s so nice to have a minister who’s not afraid to be a human being.”

Life continued. A few years later, both Rick and Carol very involved in leadership at the church and community, Carol was diagnosed with lung cancer, liver cancer, bone cancer. The full lexicon, her days becoming shorter.

At Thanksgiving their three daughters came home and said to their mother, knowing the cancer was rampaging, “Mother…we want to take you shopping, to get you some new clothes for Christmas.”

Carol muted to that, had something else in mind. She hadn’t shared that she read a very poor family living up the canyon in Green Mountain Falls lost everything in a fire in their trailer home. Carol tracked down the mother, got the sizes of that family’s 3 grade-school-age girls. She then on the day for shopping, showed her daughters the “special shopping list.” They gulped, yet they KNEW this was their mother, not letting death stare them down.

That afternoon the five Tilden’s visited the Green Mountain Falls family to share Christmas gifts. Not a word said about Carol’s failing health. For Carol the point was to help others. A few months later she died.

That is a WOW experience for me, about what it means to face super foes, and for many death is the worst foe, and not be killed by it. I thought of that when reading this link, about how a daughter’s death brought forth a love…not planned, but neither denied nor avoided.
And with that, as I write this Tuesday April 17, 2018, one day before my dear mother’s birthday [Mom? May your soul be at peace; your son’s doing what he can, no matter what.] I am packing to fly to Tucson. It will be a wonderful trip. To visit Jessica Cox, her husband, Patrick and her father. To listen to her father in what it means to raise a daughter with no arms. To preach in the church where two of the dearest friends in the world are members, Hugh and Jane Smith. Even have a new story Jane and Hugh haven’t heard before.

In that visit I am sure I will learn how the human capacity to love is not dwindled by the specter of pain or hardship or bumps. My prayer for me, for Diane and Jason, for my two sons and their families, is they, too, live in the day, giving carpe diem the best definition possible.

Here’s the link—a daughter was killed by a stray bullet—and how her family and one other are impacted.

God bless us and care for us…always!

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God Save The Angel In Each of Us

I can spell S y r I a. I can spell t o m a h a w k m I s s I l e.

You can, too. Perspectives vary on, “their effectiveness.” That’s not my point.

My point is to ask why war “seems” the only conduit to peace?

During my journey, especially when pastor at Broadmoor Community Church in Colorado Springs, I had the great privilege of wonderful conversations with both retired and active military. It was from the inductees a month past and 4-star Generals. Not one of them favored war, but even more would never eschew the responsibility to protect our country.

Two of my dearest friends, God rest their souls, were Charlie Duff and Bill Greenfield…both retired generals. They wanted me to learn. I was so honored to attend each of their service War Colleges. The Army’s in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania and the Air Force’s in Montgomery, Alabama. Five days of learning and dialogue, the War College the training ground to become general officers. As I have mentioned often in my reflections, the closest military friend for over 4 decades is Bob Dickman, retired General. He and Barb are the dearest to me and Diane.

Where is this going? Stick with me a bit.

I have yet to hear a program about “the bombs of today” on ANY newscast that doesn’t ask the question, “What kind of world are we leaving for our children’s children’s children?”

Does anyone with authority give a damn about that?

God have mercy on us if we leave the future out. Yeah, I know some say military might secures the future. I don’t believe that is the ultimate deliverer to peace.

What I believe I got in a special e-mail today, from my wonderful cousin, Tom Widlits in Portland. It hit me in the heart as he shared a picture. I’ve written about Emery before, Tom and Jill’s adopted grandchild. To say she’s so incredibly dear is a huge understatement. She is growing. So fast. But I ask, into what? For what purpose?

My commitment is to do whatever I can, that never leaves God out, to help Emery and my own grandchildren be as okay as possible in their human steps on the landscape of life.

With that I’m so very much aware that my daughter-in-law, serving in the military as attorney, is on her way to Europe to serve our country and all humanity. Jennifer, we love you and ask God to be with you and Andrew and Dylan and Taylor. Gottes Segen!

Finally, this.

To know that children like Emery were gassed to death in Syria trembles my heart. Oh God! Please help us discover the future doesn’t require such dastardly acts. No less, help us realize that war, in the ultimate dialogue about futuring, is not a necessity. It simply isn’t. May we have the wisdom and the courage and the regard for ALL of God’s Creation to make choices that enhance rather than destroy others.

Say hello to our Emery—and pray for her and her parents—for a future where growth wins!

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