Family Histories: How Family Can Be A Driving Force in Your Writing

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and histories are sometimes their own and sometimes not.

This week JACQUI MURRAY discusses how her children’s military careers inspired her writing.

Family History and It’s Part in My Writing

Jacqui MurrayThank you so much, Adrienne (author of The Tenafly Road Series), for inviting me to participate in this wonderful exploration of families. When I received Adrienne’s invitation, my knee-jerk reaction was it didn’t fit me. My stories about ancient man (the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time) and my Tech-in-Ed writing didn’t have obvious connections to my family; they were tangential at best.

And then I thought about my novels, in the Rowe-Delamagente series. Lots of you know my daughter is a Naval Officer, my son an Army Sergeant, and my husband a saint, but I don’t say much about my family beyond that. Yet, they have been the driving force behind my writing. Here’s a rundown:

Building a Midshipman

This is a personal how-to on preparing for and applying to the United States Naval Academy.  It’s based on my daughter’s experience in high school where she first thought such a selective school was out of her reach and then was accepted into a life-changing activity that would change her forever. My daughter wasn’t the 4.0 (or 5.0 if you’re an IB school) student, the hardest-working or the one with all the answers but as it turns out, that’s not who USNA wants anyway. They wanted tenacious, never-give-up, critically-thinking applicants who always had another way to solve problems. They might as well have stuck her picture by the profile. I wanted to share her story so other high school girls who might think they could never be good enough for an Ivy League college like USNA would think again.

I wrote Building a Midshipman in about two weeks by replaying in my mind how my daughter had accomplished this feat.

To Hunt a Sub

jacqui murray 3This story comes from time spent with friends of my daughters from the Naval Academy who had served on or were serving in the Silent Service. It is a story of brain vs. brawn, creative thinking, and the importance of family in our lives, but at its core is patriotism. Many of my ancestors were in the military though I wasn’t, and by the time I started writing this book, both my children were committed to their paths. I respect the patriotism, single-mindedness, and stalwartness of our warriors–this story reflects that.

This book took about five years to write. I think being my first fiction book, I had little faith in its success so was afraid to turn it loose.

Twenty-four Days

This story takes place in large part on a US warship, the USS Bunker Hill. This was my daughter’s first ship after graduating from the Naval Academy. She secured amazing access for me during my research to the ship and its people. She put herself way out there to help me. For that I am forever grateful.

It took about three years to publish, slowed down a bit because I had an agent at one point, from whom I parted amicably.

Book 3 of the Rowe-Delamagente Series

This third in the series deals with satellites and the weaponization of space–in a nod toward my Army Signal Corps son. I’ve barely begun the outline so I don’t have a good sense of where it’s going but I do know it will be an action-packed thriller where Otto and a new AI friend Ascii will play a major role.

Born in a Treacherous Time

For this book, I go way back on my family tree, long before man was even man, to 1.8 million years ago. It’s always amazed me how our ancestors survived a world filled with vicious predators, not the least of which was the more improved iteration of man. That’s what I explore in this book, Born in a Treacherous Time.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

***Please visit next Sunday for the next guest post!

forget me not promo




How to Handle Criticism

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
Benjamin Franklin

The other day my husband and I were discussing who we were going to hire to put in an asphalt driveway after two different companies sent their men with estimates.

One of the men who came by wasn’t a very good speller but had been laying asphalt for 20 years. The other came with his wife and laptop, fancy postcards and a brand new truck. My husband was undecided since the estimates came in almost the same. He took to his own laptop and started reading local reviews. The bad speller’s company had a perfect 5 star rating. The fancier guy’s company had one bad review.

The wife of fancy guy responded to the bad review. Not good. She passive aggressively pushed the blame for the customer complaints onto the customer. She then described the death of a family member and various other personal issues that may have prevented her in 2014 from returning the disappointed customer’s phone calls. She pointed out that her company was a family run business and one bad review could really hurt its reputation.

At church the other day an artsy acquaintance and I were talking about swapping my book for her music CD. “What if we hate each other’s work?” she asked, jokingly.

Critics have been around since Satan grumbled about his place in heaven, yet pondering the asphalt situation (my husband chose the bad speller) left me thinking that maybe being a critic wasn’t the best way to pursue a happy life. There is a savage thrill in expressing a heavy-handed opinion with a superior toss of the head during a movie about super heroes. But is it really fun for those people around you?

On the rare occasion when I actually leave the house to go to a movie I ask my husband what the reviews are for the film. He usually responds, “Who cares? I want to make up my own mind.”

My husband takes a bad movie in stride. He’ll admit to a movie being less than he hoped but does not get worked up about it. He also never sits down to write bad reviews. I never do either. I may rant about something for a few days, or complain to my husband about a dumb book that’s really popular, but I have no desire to put pen to paper if in my mind the book or film or asphalt company deserves less than 4 stars.

Some people seem to think they’re doing the world a great service warning a buyer against a book, movie or driveway but sometimes silence is just as appropriate as words. A book with no reviews leaves just enough doubt in a reader’s mind without having the author’s reputation tarnished forever (or until an EMP STRIKE takes down all electronics). Only once did I check out a reviewer’s other reviews when she left a bizarrely personal and vicious attack/review. It was very eye-opening. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to live in her world of miserable negativity. I’m not sure I believe in karma exactly but wonder if in this age of YELP and Amazon we are not turning into the crows I see on my property who peck baby birds to death for fun.

the-noon-recess-winslow-homerWhen I used to teach 5th graders, the rule was that the kids had to think of three nice things to say about a fledgling writer’s efforts before the pecking began. My eleven-year-old students very easily learned this skill and the young writers flourished. Adults sometimes seem to think it would take too much time for such civility.

Critical thinking and perceptive critiques certainly have their place and it is almost never worth it to respond to criticism with whining or defensiveness, but I wonder if my mother’s advice, “if you have nothing good to say . . .” isn’t something we all should consider now and again. Maybe we should even consider what our true motives are at times. I can usually tell when I’m just in the mood to be a bitch (so can everyone else).

Once someone close to me said, “Well, it’s not like you’re the best writer who ever lived.”

REALLY? Who knew?  The person is someone I know loves me and her words came out wrong (or did they?) but they still annoy me . . . a little.

In the old myths the gods pecked at and destroyed each other in battles of ego, jealousy or stupidity. What kid didn’t love reading about such battles? But none of us are gods. We play them in critique groups or in dark movie theaters and basically just annoy and rob joy from others (again, I do realize that sometimes criticism is good and appropriate).

There may be some people who produce junk on purpose, but most artists and asphalt layers are just trying to do their best in life. Silence is golden in many (most cases).

My singer acquaintance at church and I decided that if we didn’t like each other’s work we’d say nothing. That way we could each pretend that maybe the other person hadn’t yet found time to read or listen to the works that bared our souls.

What about you? What’s your favorite example of toxic criticism? What has been someone’s most helpful criticism in your life?

PS~How great are the looks on the critics’ faces in the above painting?





Holiday Gratitude:Friends

forget4Thanks to all the kind and supportive bloggers and readers of my novels for making this a wonderful year!

002My cover designer SAMANTHA HENNESSY created these adorable seed packets in honor of our next cover collaboration on the continuing BUCK CRENSHAW SERIES of novels. Aren’t they sweet? We have some great ideas for the cover of the book, but this was just for fun. The packets are filled with lovely Forget Me Not seeds. Sprinkle a few in your garden and have blooms for years!

Leave a comment for your chance to win a pretty packet! I’ll pick a few people from a hat!

Seeds need a hidden time  in winter. We need germination time and stillness, too. I’ll be taking the holidays off to read books (and blogs I’ve neglected), be with friends and family and do a bit of much needed germinating.

Love and friendship to you all!




Feeling How God Feels

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20)  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20) by Artemisia Gentileschi  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

I’m not God, but I play one in my novels. It’s no secret that my books are about flawed people who eventually get their acts together (as I’m an optimist). I think about Calvin’s idea of God choosing who to save. I’ve always hated this idea, but as a writer I find a weird parallel. Almost as soon as I think up a character I know if I’m going to save him or not. I’m not sure if it’s a decision on my part or just a sense, a knowing, that this character will move in the direction of redemption or in the opposite direction. All of my characters are jerks, wimps and selfish asses–so basically human. I love them. I create them. I fret over how they will get to where they need to go to be redeemed (I never know until I join them on the journey).

I fret over the other guys, too. The characters who seem bent on spiritual blindness, who do good things sometimes but for terrible reasons, who suffer abuse and have great excuses for being bad–but choose to stay bad. I root for these people, I do mental gymnastics to turn them around. I want them to change direction, but I’ve never been able to convince them of anything. Never once have I been surprised. I know from the beginning and it’s a sad thing.

I wonder if God is all powerful then why can’t he just change people. On a tiny scale I experiment with the same notion, but the resistance from the character is so strong and my coddling and begging make for a stilted story, an unreal outcome.

My untrained and insignificant brain knows more intelligent thinkers have better answers and impressive theories.

The past is my playground because fate and freewill matter little when looking back. Novel writing forces one to live in the present with predestination standing there at the finish line.




Random Opinions About Poets, Short Story Writers and Novelists


Goats eat up short stories.
Goats eat up short stories.

A farmer once told me that sheep farmers were elitist pastoralists interested in landscape and art, cow farmers were salt of the earth types and goat farmers were fun-loving and crazy. But what about writers? Today I want to generalize.

Poets are the ones who say they do it for the art and don’t care about publication. They LOVE words and like sharing them at small critique circles. They dress funny.

Short story writers take themselves very seriously. They’re impulsive. They’re blunt and they cut to the chase. They wear sneakers.

Novelists do things no one knows about for a very long time. They have other lives, lots of secrets and have the feeling that they’re in the world but not of it. They forget to shower and dress up only if they get discovered and they WANT to get discovered.

Okay so I just made this stuff up. My best friend in high school was a poet and dragged  a shoe around with him. He died young and had no time to stop being pretentious. So what do you imagine are the differences between poets, short story writers and novelists?

Search For Meaning In A Random Universe (Fiction)

I don’t believe in randomness. Without a plan, I’m a basket case. I tried living the free life of self-indulgence and ended up drunkenly climbing an eight foot, chain-link fence to retrieve my shoe, leaving much of my wrist caught in a bloody mess at the top when I jumped. I told my family that I’d just taken too much ginseng from the health food store. They believed what they wanted to believe.

When writing a novel I allow for randomness, but only as an exercise. The rough draft can have its self-indulgent freedom, but as the creator I know that at some point there’s something more purposeful going on–even if it takes me a bit of time to find it (after a while you know a writer’s style. Their fingerprints are all over it–intelligent design).

farewell, Edward Cucuelfarewell, Edward Cucuel

FRED                                                           BUCK

Randomly (or not) I came across two books that all at once have given me a deeper context for my favorite fictional twins–Fred and Buck Crenshaw. The two books have nothing to do with the Gilded Age and everything to do with how we view our lives in the 21st century. I don’t mind cliches if they’re useful. The notion of Fred and Buck moving into opposing philosophical camps didn’t come to me immediately. I was more going for strong twin leading weak twin, but Buck broke free (sort of) and now, upon second reading of book two, I have so much more juicy stuff to throw in. Fred is a modernist and Buck is a throwback to Christendom. Is one thing better than the other? As creator I have my suspicions, but here’s a few juicy quotes to ponder from one of the books I’ve read:

 “Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent god had created us. No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature. No vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature.” Stephen Jay Gould

“Genocide, of course, is merely a shocking name for the process of natural selection by which one gene pool replaces another. Darwin himself explained this in The Descent of Man, when he had to deal with the absence of ‘missing links’ between ape and human. Such gaps were to be expected, he wrote, in view of the extinctions that necessarily accompany evolution. He coolly predicted that evolution would make the gaps wider in the future, because the most civilized (that is, European) humans would soon exterminate the rest of the human species and go on from there to kill off our nearest kin in the ape world.

“Modern Darwinists do not call attention to such passages, which make vivid how easily the picture of amoral nature inherent in evolutionary naturalism can be converted into a plan of action. Darwin’s foremost original disciple, T.H. Huxley, also had no sentimental illusions about the moral meaning of Darwinism. When he had taken a deep enough bath in the implications of the Darwinian worldview, Huxley emerged with the conclusion that morality consists of opposing nature rather than imitating it.”

“Even the nihilistic position that morality is an illusion and law should therefore concern itself solely with utility is a statement about “how things really are” and therefore a proposition of natural law.”

“The Christian story is one of human beings who are created by God, but who are separated from God by their own sin and must be saved from that sin to become what they were meant to be. the Enlightenment rationalist story is one of human beings who escape from superstition by mastering scientific knowledge and eventually realize that their ancestors created God rather than the other way around.” Reason in the Balance by Phillip E. Johnson

So I’m all ears. I’d love to know what people find the most appealing and/or appalling about either modernist or ancient theist thinking. Gut reactions are useful and no opinion is too shocking. What do you think?

And don’t forget to enter. 🙂  Don’t worry. The winner gets the new cover and new edition.(Goodreads is taking it’s time fixing the mistake of posting my new cover under a different author’s list of freezer meal books!) Random craziness.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The House on Tenafly Road by Adrienne  Morris

The House on Tenafly Road

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends April 19, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Where Does Beauty Get You?


Thankful Crenshaw

I’ve been thinking lately of my female characters and how little I actually understand about them. This isn’t a bad thing because it keeps me curious, but inevitably I get dazzled by their beauty or annoyed by their tendency towards bitchiness. (I’m glad that this word is no longer a cuss because if you’ve ever seen hens happily hanging out together suddenly gang up and peck a seemingly innocent friend you know female bitches aren’t just human).

Because my grandmother was such a bitch and also didn’t protect my mother and her sisters from their stepfather, my mother instilled in me a sense that one should never trust a friendly woman with a smile–at least not too much. It’s led to a certain wary, superficiality in my friendships and possibly in the treatment of my female characters.

Katherine Weldon’s only friend, Margaret, in The House On Tenafly Road is a full-on bitch who protects her friend by domination and  the occasional pointed stab of “helpful” advice. Book two brings Margaret’s daughter, Thankful Crenshaw, into view and with her comes a different sort of tension. Thankful is the beautiful twin. I found these pictures at a garage sale a few weeks back. Don’t the two young women look like sisters? They are now officially Thankful and her sister Meg. Meg is dowdy and bitter and hardly deserves notice–or that’s how the family sees her. I know her fate and there’s no transformation.

Yet Thankful troubles one and all. Of course she’s expected to marry well. With her raven curls, innate intelligence and optimistic air her ascent is assured. Even William Weldon who loves her knows this and steers clear of her. Poor Thankful believes the hype. When she looks in the mirror it is incomprehensible to her that someone so physically stunning would have anything but an easy path to satisfaction in all things. When William goes West she steals money from her father to follow only to realize that this beauty she carries as a talisman doesn’t free her. It had never occurred to her that she wanted freedom.

A traveling suffragist lectures Thankful, warning her that even with beauty, the world is a man’s one, but Thankful refuses to believe . . . until much later. Her sister Meg, the dumpy one, remains a quiet mystery, but Thankful begins to demand a new world, a new life and sometimes demanding things when people really only value your beauty doesn’t go very well. Thankful’s fate is still unknown, but even I have a difficult time imagining someone so pretty coming to ruin.


Meg Crenshaw