The Plot of Talents

Talents Huckabee

One of my favorite books is called A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery. It tells the story of a family, any of whom could receive a priceless heirloom based on the decisions they make in the year following the reading of the family matriarch’s will. The decisions that follow are sweet, funny, and sad. In the end, everyone is surprised, yet satisfied, with how things turn out.

As I was coming up with the idea for Talents, I knew I wanted to write a book that intertwined the lives of seemingly unrelated characters toward a common goal in the same spirit as A Tangled Web.

I started thinking about this book sometime in 2012. Like any good story 😉 the plot evolved from the question “What if?”

What if several people were given a gift to invest in their community? How would it affect the community? How would it change their lives? What if the real gift wasn’t the money but the impetus to step out and instigate change around them?

Thus, Talents was taken from my imagination and put on paper. This didn’t actually happen until fall of 2013. The story wasn’t finished until January of 2015. (Hey, I’m a busy wife and mom! I don’t get a lot of time to write!)

I enjoyed developing the plots for each of the characters, but my favorites turned out to be Parker and Ed. The challenge with Parker was keeping it believable. I’d get ideas, then I’d think “would this work in real life?” I’d go looking for people in real life who’d done things similar to the idea I had. You can see an idea I had for the book come to life in the book trailer for Talents in the form of the graffiti art I found to photograph.

Ed’s was challenging, because it *needed* to be over-the-top, but not to the point of becoming unbelievable. Unfortunately, I knew of real-life situations that weren’t much different than what I was writing for my character though some of it came from my own imagination. Art imitating life or the other way around? I don’t know. You be the judge.

A few people have asked me about Jackson’s character – Why didn’t I expand his story further in the book? Two reasons: Talents wasn’t about Jackson and his story, though he did provide a springboard to the real story. Second, I might come back to Jackson another time. This is, after all, only book one.

Both the ebook and the paper book are available for purchase today on TouchPoint and Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


The Setting of Talents

Talents Huckabee

Another important part of a story is the setting, or where a story takes place.

The setting in Talents is just as important as the plot and characters. It’s part of what drives the story.

Lincoln Square is a fictional city based on the real life area in which I grew up. We lived blocks away from Riverview, Baden, and North St. Louis City. Some of my earliest memories were driving through these areas to places like the St. Louis Zoo and Forest Park, the St. Louis Symphony, and the St. Louis Arch. I remember admiring the old, brick houses. They had character. I loved them! Even after I married and had kids we lived in this area. I jogged and biked on trails that went from my house all the way to the St. Louis Arch. We ordered take-out from little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants and got donuts from a shop that had been there for 50 years.

Like any city, you could drive for blocks, seeing only houses that were in good shape, well cared for, with well-kept yards. Then you’d hit blocks of vacant buildings. Some of those houses were beyond repair. Sometimes the city had torn down houses and put green space or playgrounds in their place. I taught 5-Day clubs in these areas, did summer outreach in these areas which weren’t all that far from my home.

Ponticello’s was an old, family owned restaurant in Baden. They’d been on that corner of Riverview and Bellefontaine Road for decades before they closed. I only got to eat there once or twice but their food was delicious!

Even today, I look at my hometown and see, not what it is, but what it was and what it could be if enough people cared to make the investment in it. It needs jobs. It needs better schools. It needs people willing to make the investment in their community.

That’s what I wrote into my book – people willing to invest more than just money to make a difference in their community.

You can see the book trailer for it here. The graffiti images in the trailer tell a lot about the setting and plot of the book. You can also pre-order the book on TouchPoint and on Amazon. It will be available for purchase tomorrow! 😀


The Characters of Talents

Talents Huckabee

My novel releases on Friday and I thought I’d use the next couple days to share the “behind the scenes” of how the book came into being. Ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but this one was more than two years in the making.

When you plan a book as an author, you plan three parts — the characters, the setting, and the plot. Personally, I prefer a book with engaging characters over a book that is driven by plot, though you do need both.

I thought of the parable of the talents in the gospels. How would a person write a modern day spin on that? I started thinking about it. I thought about the characters, about how their lives could intertwine. Then, I planned the plot points for each character.

The interesting thing about this book is that it’s really a collection of four books I wrote, then combined. I wrote each character individually and then put them all together. The very first readers got a rather disjointed book as I smoothed out all the junctions.

Let me introduce you to the characters.

I started with Beatrice Sutherland. Hers was the first story I planned and wrote. Originally, she was to be the main character. However, I discovered as I wrote her that she was more of a supporting character. A widow, she has become almost reclusive in her grief. She desires to participate in her community, but doesn’t think she has the talent to do anything.

Then I wrote about Collin O’Neill. A lawyer in a big company, he knows he has plenty of talent, but he has no desire to do anything with it for the good of others. Then his friend, Justin, gets him to step outside his comfort zone and his life is changed. Collin ended up being a supporting character, too. (I plan to tell more of Collin’s story in another book in this series.)

Parker Wilson ended up being my main character. I started writing him and his story flowed. He sees the needs and longs to do something to help in his community, but lacks the resources to do anything. But, given the opportunity, he takes his talent and turns it into ten talents. (Parker and Alice appear in another book in this series as well.)

Finally, I wrote Ed Raines. Ed was the hardest to write because he was the one who made terrible life choices. He is also, quite possibly, the most realistic character in the book. It pained me to write his story, knowing that as the author, I could write anything I pleased about the character. That’s the myth anyway. Sometimes characters take on a life of their own and you just write it down as fast as you can lest you miss it.

Another supporting character in the book is Pastor William Conner. I love Pastor Conner. He will be making an appearance in every one of the books in this series. He’s a gentle, gracious man who has stuck it out in a difficult area against insurmountable odds. I know men like him in real life. No, I didn’t write these men into my book. but I knew I could write his character the way I did because real people had done the same things in real life.

Talents goes on sale on Friday, July 28. You can preorder it on TouchPoint and on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading the characters as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Baptism in Uganda

One of my favorite services here in Uganda is our baptism/wedding service. We have a huge gathering of all four churches together. There are usually over 200 adults and around that many children. We sing all the best Swahili songs. The church choirs sing specials. We have preaching, then the baptisms, then the weddings. We finish with a meal, complete with cake.

This last week, I made 19 recipes of my favorite white cake. Most of that was in the form of cupcakes for the kids. Of the 190 cupcakes we took with us, we had 6 leftover! My kids were impressed that I’d guessed so well. 😉

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Twenty-two people were baptized today. One of them was the man who got saved a couple weeks ago. He was obviously nervous as he entered the water. He gripped the side, every step deliberate. 

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James baptized him, but the man clung to the side with one hand the whole time. Everyone noticed. The church leaders standing nearby started calling to him that his hand hadn’t gotten wet. He looked up at them, puzzled. So Zizi said it again, “Your hand didn’t get wet.”

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So the man dunked his hand under the water. Problem solved. Everyone cheered and laughed.

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I guess they were worried it would only count if all the parts got wet.

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We took food and medicine out to the church folks this last week (over a half-ton of it! We carried as much as our vehicle could safely hold.). We weren’t able to get all the doses of malaria medicine we needed so we had to take more today. Many of the adults were visibly ailing from malaria. Several were so sick they missed the service. We’ve taken 170 adult doses and 80 children’s. Given how many are sick, it feels like a drop in the bucket in the face of all that is needed.


Friday Funny – San Diego Driving School

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In order to get a driver’s license in Uganda, you have to attend driving school. Consequently, our town has quite a few driving schools. They drive in circles on the roads near our house because there isn’t much vehicle traffic there (well, there is once you get the cars from four or five driving schools going in circles), there isn’t as much pedestrian traffic, and it’s one of the only paved roads like this in the city.

A new driving school started recently, the San Diego Driving School of Mbarara. The name struck me funny, maybe because it sounds like the title of a Alexander McCall Smith book.

If I had to learn to drive from a California driver, I’d prefer they drove like those in San Diego and not like Los Angeles drivers. 😉 So maybe the name is a good choice.


Drumroll please!

It is with great excitement and deepest pleasure that I reveal to you…

The Cover of My Novel!!!!!

Talents Huckabee

Release date set for July 28!

Can you tell I’m excited?! Did I use enough exclamation points?!

Visiting the Afflicted

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I found my quiet seat prizes as promised and gave them out today. Hands down, the very favoritest are the matchbox cars we give to the boys. Today, the big brother that got the prize shared it with his little brother. The boy played with it and entertained younger children with it for almost the whole church service.

Church attendance was down today. Many people were home sick with flu (head colds from the dry season) or malaria. The harvest was poor last month. Many are suffering from sickness brought on by malnutrition. These are issues we deal with here on a regular basis. 

When Jesus ministered here on earth, he met people’s physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Sometimes, in order for people to hear the message we are seeking to share with them, we have to remove the obstacles that are preventing them from hearing. If they are hungry, they need food. If they are sick, they need medicine. 

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We asked for a show of hands in the service at Isanja for how many were sick. Every adult there raised their hand. These people live with deprivation on a daily basis, but for the last year, it’s been much worse. The rains didn’t come as they should have and people in the district died of starvation from the famine that ensued. Christians around the world and the entire country of Uganda were moved to help. They brought food to the people in the districts that needed it most.

The rain came for the rainy season earlier this year but it ended too early. The crops didn’t yield as they normally do. The people in the district are facing famine and starvation for the second time in a year.

We have been getting a list of needed medication to take out to them this next week. We’re also going to be taking food and soap out on a regular basis for a while. If we don’t meet the physical needs, they won’t even be around for us to meet the spiritual ones.

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As for meeting spiritual needs, James was able to sit with a man from Isanja, lead him to the Lord, and give encouragement to all the men in the church! They were all listening intently to everything that was said, not only by James, but also by some of the other church leaders. One man is from another village where we’ve wanted to start a church for a long time. Some from that village have walked to either Ngarama or Isanja for church but it’s a long walk to either place. With four churches already, we’ve struggled to know how to take on something else. It appears God is opening doors for us!

Happy Independence Day!

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Happy Independence Day from all of us here!

Uganda celebrates its independence on October 9 so today is just a regular day here like any other. All the banks are open. People go about their normal business.

As expats, however, we make time to remember the holiday! In the past we’ve gotten together with other expats for food, fun, and fellowship. Today, however, we had a much needed quiet day with our family. We still had food and fun, but the third “f” was family. I’d brought some red, white, and blue M&Ms from the US with us and some Reese’s wrapped in red, white, and blue foil. One of the local groceries had 2 liter bottles of Dr. Pepper! We usually can’t find that here so we bought some and enjoyed it today. (Not all of it…gotta save some for another special occasion!)

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To wrap it all up (after a phone call to my father-in-law who celebrates his birthday today!) I got out red, white, and blue glow-stick bracelets for the kids.

Our fireworks tonight was in the form of a rain shower with some lightning and thunder thrown in. We need the rain! We’ll have to wait for New Year’s Eve for real fireworks that we can watch from our front porch.

The Harsh Realities of Life

This morning I got up and gave my children a hug. I snuggled them, kissed them, told them I loved them. My children are happy. My children are healthy. My children are alive. I pray every day they stay that way, though this is entirely outside my control.

This morning we got a message that an 8 month old baby of one of our church members died yesterday afternoon of a mysterious illness. They baby was taken to the hospital but there was nothing they could do for the baby. It had gotten too sick, too fast. 

This afternoon James preached a funeral for a baby.

No one ever wants to attend a funeral for a child, but here in Uganda, it’s far more up close and personal. Here, you go to the home of the individual that died. Their body is lying in a casket (or wrapped in a blanket or cloth) in a room in the family’s home. The women sit together with the woman of the house who suffered the loss.

The rest of the people sit outside the house on benches or on the ground.

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Today, they brought the casket outside and placed it on a small bench that was still bigger than the casket. The women had made a shroud and the men made a small cross with the child’s name.

We sang hymns in Swahili, some of my favorite hymns, actually. Then James preached. They gave a short eulogy and took up an offering. Taking an offering is often the only way the family can afford to pay for the expenses of the funeral.

Then several men came forward and took up the casket and we all walked to the graveyard.

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They said a few words at the gravesite and we sang another hymn. Then they buried the baby. The father and mother put the first dirt into the ground. They finished by marking the site with the cross they’d made.

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It’s raw. It’s personal. It’s harsh. It’s the way they’ve done every funeral I’ve ever been to here.

Tonight I came home from church and hugged my healthy children once again. Days like this help keep a person from taking anything for granted.