September 11, 2007

Ask Aunt Bloggy, and then 3Q with Toni McGee Causey

I am having one of those seasons where I think, well, if I can just get my IN BOX cleared out, I can go to the nervous hospital and spend several months in a medically induced coma. Like, that's the REWARD, a chance to grip Crayolas with my toes and color the padded walls. But ALAS! I never can get my in box cleared out.

I am like Alice and her jam: Nervous hospital yesterday, nervous hospital tomorrow, NEVER nervous hospital today.

In the spirit of avoiding being committed by never allowing myself to get even halfway through my to do list, I am trying to add a few things to my schedule. My church asked me to run Vacation Bible School this year, using my NON EXISTANT organizational skills to organize …things. Yeah. So. Basically, I am NOT EVEN SURE WHAT THINGS NEED TO BE ORGANIZED USING MY NON EXISTANT ABILITY TO ORGANIZE THEM.

I was seriously thinking it over when I realized I have never even SEEN how a VBS works---I always ran the nursery with my friend Julie during VBS. I would hear busy, clipboard wielding people passing by in the hallway saying mysterious phrases like STATION LEADER and CHATTER TIME. I never saw how VBS worked, because I was wrangling diapers in a closed off room full of wonderfully disorganized herds of babies who only needed to be kept from hitting each other in the head with the xylophone mallet. <---I am totally qualified to do this.

I just can’t see me in charge of VBS as anything other than a rip in the ozone---Not. A. Good. Idea. If I had BEEN one of those “Station Leader” thingies, maybe…So here I am saying NO again to the one place I do not want to say no to. I am tired of saying NO to my church because of my crazy schedule – I don’t think I work MORE than any other typically overworked American, but I travel and have no set hours which makes it hard to commit to a specific thing that must be done on a specific day and time each week.

EXAMPLE: I tried to be a greeter, but EVERY MONTH for THREE MONTHS the Sunday I came up on the schedule was THE Sunday I was out of town that month…THREE TIMES IN A ROW. They have now given up on me.

So I am asking Aunt Bloggy (that is you, if you are also a CHURCH PEOPLE SORT): With my schedule and limited skill set, what is a good job for me? At a church? What jobs EXIST that I am not thinking of? I have a willing heart, a bizarre schedule, an overwhelming fear of failure, and I HATE to be Kirk. I am a SPOCK type---second in command is my natural habitat. What job can I do? OR --- just a list of possible jobs would help. AT YOUR church, what job do YOU do and love and what skills are needed?

ALSO, in the spirit of upping my mental illness number by HAVING A BIGGER TO DO LIST, I am going to be group blogging with a gaggle of other writers. I’ll be up once every couple of months, but there are quite a few writers over there I HUGELY admire, and some I just met, and some I am simply looking forward to getting to know. The blog went live yesterday, here.

I’ll be there first in October… BUT TODAY!

Toni McGee Causey gives good interview. Her funny answers to my 3 questions are below, as she blog-tours to promote her debut novel Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day It made a splash when it released in May – great reviews, a lot of attention. Here’s the scoop:
Bobbie Faye Sumrall is a dead-broke Cajun living in a broken-down trailer in Lake Charles, Louisiana. When criminals demand Bobbie Faye's Contraband Queen tiara-- the only thing of her mama's she inherited-- in exchange for her good-for-nothing brother, Bobbie Faye has to outwit the police, organized crime, former boyfriends, and a hostage she never intended to take (but who turns out to be damn sexy), in order to rescue her brother, keep custody of her niece, and get back in time to take her place as Queen in the Lake Charles Contraband Festival (think Mardi Gras, with more drinking and pirates). Luckily, she knows how to handle guns, outwit angry mama bears, drive a speedboat, and get herself out of (and into) almost every kind of trouble. If only that pesky state police detective (who also happens to be a ticked off ex-boyfriend) would stay out of her way . .

bobbiefaye.jpeg

In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly says, “Causey doesn't miss a beat in this wonderful, wacky celebration of Southern eccentricity.”

JJ: Your main character seems to have a lot in common with you. You both are tenacious and southern. How is she different from you?

TMC: I didn't really realize I was writing someone much like myself; I was, in fact, convinced she was very different. Then a couple of friends read it and were adamant that she was more like me than I realized. I plead not guilty. She's 28 and single, I'm not 28 and I'm married, with two kids. And I don't blow things up. (Hardly ever.) So see? Vastly diferent. ;)

JJ: As a Southern writer, I think everything is about locationlocationlocation. How did growing up in Louisiana influence your work?'

TMC: When I was very young, my dad would play poker every Friday night at my uncle's house, and all of those men would ignore a kid nearby. Cigarette smoke thickened the air, chip racks were discarded (and great toys), and everything from world to local affairs might be discussed. Or my mom and aunt would let me lie down in the back room where they were sitting and talking, and I'd pretend I was asleep because they would tell hysterical stories (and it was so hard to pretend I was asleep and not laugh), and it was, in a lot of ways, magic. I can still hear the clatter of the chips of the table, the snap of somone slapping down a trump card and a chorus of groans or laughs or good-natured cursing, all while someone recounted some story or other. I knew then, the story was what held the magic, and I knew that's what I wanted to do--to be able to tell them, hopefully to a room full of friends.

Growing up Cajun, with this culture, going out to the swampy lakes to fish with my dad, seeing how this state operated so differently from those around it... all were strong influences. Sometimes, living in Louisiana is a lot more like living in a different country, it seems, from what I can tell from visting other states and having friends live in various states around the country. I want that distinction to come through the world of the book, to let people see a place different from (maybe) what they'd expect to see.

JJ: Can you explain how having a sort of HYBRID of genres helped or hurt you as you tried to market your book?

TMC: I write action / comedy, and there's a little romance, a lot of crazy (especially the southern fried version of crazy). It's got a thriller pace, but it's shelved in fiction, and in some ways, that's been really nice, because it does tend to appeal to a wide variety of people. The downside to being a hybrid is that you don't have the browsers like you do in a genre section in the same way as in a genre section. If I go to mystery or romance or s/f and see an intriguing title, I do know the type of story I'd be getting. In the general fiction section, my caper might be shelved next to someone else's historical drama, so it's not going to appeal to a customer picking up that book next to mine. Still, it might. You just never know. ;)

Posted by joshilyn at September 11, 2007 7:48 AM
Comments

I MUST read this book now. This very minute.

Posted by: Casey at September 11, 2007 8:26 AM

Are there any jobs at your church that require writing? (A column in the bulletin, maybe interviewing members for a sort of "Spotlite" column to get to know more about the people that you sit next to every Sunday. Like 3 Questions.)

You certainly know how to do that. And you do it well. After all, writing is your gift.

Posted by: Jan in Norman, OK at September 11, 2007 9:40 AM

You could be a "bringer". When they need a salad for lunch with the new choir director or two dozen cookies for a bake sale or somebody to pick up something and bring it, you could, well, bring it. That way, it's not something that exactly repeats at a certain time and you'd be volunteering for it and they'll be grateful. Everybody wins!

Posted by: Keetha at September 11, 2007 9:56 AM

Thinking about all of the various books I've been picking up from the fiction section lately (having been a genre reader my entire life)...

It's the cover that grabs my attention first, if I don't recognize the name. Then it's the title. I would say that Toni has a WONDERFUL cover (and title) to make certain that the right person finds it. If I was looking for Jane Austen, that's not a cover I'd grab.

Posted by: Beth at September 11, 2007 9:58 AM

I don't know if you have lectors at your church, but I've heard so many people rave about what an excellent job you did on your audio book. You MUST be a good out-loud reader.

I'm a Spock, too. It took me years to be able to admit that. Aren't we all supposed to want to be Kirks?

Posted by: Leandra at September 11, 2007 10:01 AM

I've thought about the nervous hospital route, but I'm fairly certain they'd confiscate my knitting needles, which would totally defeat the purpose of getting some restful time all alone. For me, anyway.

As for the church jobs--I checked the church email account for a while and forwarded to the relevant person. I also organized who was bringing meals to a family who needed them so there weren't four meals on Wednesday and none on Saturday, but that does, in fact, require rudimentary organizational skills. ;) Not many, though. A calendar, a phone, and a pen, basically. Do they have a committee that makes sure ill church members get cards or phone calls? All of those things can be done at odd times. Those are just off the top of my head...

Posted by: amy at September 11, 2007 11:56 AM

What Keetha and Amy said. Food is always welcome by someone at any particular time in church. What Jan and Leandra said, too. You are a great speaker and writer and would be great at filling those roles.

If your church is anything like my church, they ALWAYS need help with the kids and don't care whether you arrive unannounced to change diapers or help with craft projects.

Other than that, it seems to me that your ministry is writing fantastic books and a blog that make people laugh and think. Thanks! Raising kids is important, too. Try not to beat yourself up.

Posted by: Elizabeth at September 11, 2007 12:22 PM

Church jobs:

How about taking flower arrangements over to the hospital for parishioners? Or delivering casseroles (I think this is a stupid ministry but apparently some people like to eat casseroles)? Or hosting post-funeral receptions? These are all non-regular, when you're able to, unskilled types of jobs. I would suggest that you NOT do anything writing/editing related... I don't like my regular life corrupting all over my church life.

Posted by: Courtney at September 11, 2007 1:56 PM

I volunteer with the Jr. High & High School youth groups at my church. It requires no organizational skills on my part because the youth minister just tells me when to show up and then tells me what to do once I get there. My main duty is socializing with the kids and making sure everyone gets welcomed properly. Easy 'nough!

Just went to check out the new southern writers blog and added it to my "Check Daily" list. I was very excited to see one of my other favorite writers, Silas House, on the list.

As for Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day, I agree with Casey, I must read this immediately.

Posted by: Patti D. at September 11, 2007 4:13 PM

I prepare craft materials for Sunday school crafts. Cut lengths of yarn and ribbon, make copies, pre-glue popsicle sticks, trim cutouts, generate clipart, etc. Flexible, and mostly an at-home job. I pick up supplies and drop off the finished product. Very low stress.

I've said it before but I'll say it again, thank you for the book recommendations. I'm always looking for new authors and you are such a fantastic resource. Mwah!

Posted by: Jennilynn at September 11, 2007 7:02 PM

As a past coordinator of VBS. . .you DO NOT want that job. It is a huge blessing to all of the little folks who attend--and to you once it's over and you wake up from your two week nap due to exhaustion--but JUST SAY NO (and don't feel guilty).

That being said, I think a caller of the elderly just to chat for a bit or a writer of cards to the sick and shut-in or the deliverer of flowers to someone in a nursing home or the impromptu baker of cookies for the church ministry staff (delivered at random and when time permits) or a cutter outer of craft items (if you can be trusted with scissors) or a visitor or a new mommy to watch the baby while she bathes or takes a nap or. . .you get the idea. Those random acts of kindness seem to fit your tra-la self, and I KNOW that whomever is blessed by your card or cookies or presence will not forget it for a long, long time.

Posted by: Roxanne at September 11, 2007 8:15 PM

My church has a note/card writing ministry. The volunteers send cards or notes to designated people each week--sick folks, people who haven't attended in a while, visitors, members with birthdays, volunteers who need thanking, etc. YOU would be GREAT at that!

Posted by: Amy K. at September 11, 2007 9:35 PM

On church jobs ... I'm in a similar boat, since for the past four months I've been in town all of about four Sundays and my schedule is pretty erratic. I generally make it known that I'm often available for any last-minute, one-time situations. So I've been an emergency fill-in nursery staffer for the midweek women's Bible study class, I've helped chaperone summer kids' day out programs, I've chaperoned the youth lock-in (though I'm still in therapy from that and may never have children of my own unless I can send them to boarding school when they turn 12 and then not see them again until they graduate from college). I've stuffed goody bags for events or set up for a fundraiser auction. I also bake cookies for events, auctions, whatever, helped with the Easter carnival and have done the occasional Habitat for Humanity build (I'm now quite skilled at hanging vinyl siding). And I sing in the choir.

But actually, I've just taken a whole year off from volunteer work, in general, and I need to get back to it (that lock-in may have burned me out). I did have to learn to say no to things that required organizational ability, long-term commitments and planning in advance. I feel no guilt about that because I know I wouldn't do a good job, and I'd feel guiltier if I said yes and then totally messed it up or forgot to do it entirely. Instead, I say I'm up for small, mindless tasks that require no advance planning. Tell me to show up and give me a job to do, and I can usually do okay.

Posted by: Shanna Swendson at September 11, 2007 9:49 PM

I agree with Roxanne. You do NOT want the head VBS position. I did it for nine years. It is a six month pre-planning job, if you do it right. I "retired" five years ago and now volunteer to prepare daily "thank you" treats for the teachers.

I sing in the choir, teach a college/career SS class, and recruit people to positions in the church, (teachers, committee members, etc). One of the things I enjoy doing, when a church family has a death, a committee prepares food to feed the family at the church after the funeral. I am asked to bring a dish, but not help serve, and that is fine. Volunteering food and snacks for Youth functions, children functions, is always a welcome.

You can do it, Girl! Just explain to them you travel and will do what you can, when you can. God gave you the gifts you have, use them in the way that honors Him.

Posted by: Rhonda at September 11, 2007 11:05 PM

I agree with Amy K. that writing notes/cards is right up your alley. I coordinated this ministry at our church for a couple of years, and it opened my eyes to the great blessing it is, especially for shut-ins, so now I write lots of notes and cards, although I'm no longer in charge. I was our newsletter editor for 15 years (yes) but "retired" last year when I started writing a novel... it was time for younger talent, but I loved it when I was doing it, and it was, after all, practicing my craft of writing. A close (much younger) friend (with 3 small children) has coordinated our VBS the last two summers, and it's pretty time-consuming. She's also a writer and school-teacher, but not a full-time writer... yet. Go where your heart leads and God will bless whatever you do, Joshilyn.

Posted by: Susan Cushman at September 12, 2007 2:00 AM

This is a book I have to read. Yay! Book touring! I find the best stuff here. Thanks.

On the chuch lady thing, can you just offer to come in and help out on whatever, when you have the time. Like showing a good heart and good intentions without locking yourself into something you may have to cancel???

Posted by: ZaZa at September 12, 2007 2:50 AM

I agree with the note/card crew. Also, is there some sort of newsletter you could help organize? If not, it was always my understanding that those with young-ish children (under 12) were excused from any significant church duty.

Posted by: Jessica at September 12, 2007 8:38 AM

All the Louisianans in my life are amazing and so full of love and character and generosity - and I can't help loving the song 'Louisiana Saturday Night?'

As for church things, the first thing I thought of was "martini Mondays" but realized quickly that would mean being on a schedule...

So, I think card and letter writing is a great idea. Not emails - real cards, real letters. To the elderly, to the teens, to the 30-something Moms who sit through church pinching the ears of their rowdy boys durning the service because they are folding paper air planes and kicking the pew in front of them.

A good cheer sort of note from Joshilyn Jackson would be about as good as a martini, I think :)

Posted by: Stephanie at September 12, 2007 11:02 AM

Ha! I grew up in LC. 15 years. Ruth, a friend and former classmate, was an official Contraband Days Queen. And the aunt of another friend used to be the executive director. And my sister's ex-husband usually designs the official t-shirts.

A guilty pleasure that I look forward to reading. I just hope Toni put in a bit about how they sell alligator tail on a stick. To eat. Doesn't taste like chicken.

Posted by: Sabra at September 12, 2007 12:20 PM

I agree with the note writing crew -- my favorite jobs was sending out birthday cards. They gave me a list, I wrote them up at the beginning of the month, and sent them out once a week.

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