Author Archives: Gretchen E K Engel

Seize the Day

Carolyn Arends’s “Seize the Day” has been my anthem since my days traveling through the Midwest for my first job out of college. As I wrote in my post last week, I already try to live like my days are numbered. Because they are; some will live to 100  and some will die tomorrow. Or today. I write this post with a heavy heart. A young woman I’ve been praying for passed away this morning. While there is joy she’ll spend eternity in health, I mourn for a vibrant life numbered with barely two decades on earth.

As part of the launch of A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, we are writing about what we would do if we only had a year to live. This isn’t something I’ve spent much time pondering. My grandmother lived to one hundred and my grandfather just turned ninety. My other grandparents lived long lives too. My parents are in their sixties and plan vacations around Rails to Trails bike paths.

But I was recently touched by someone who didn’t have a long timeline. Last year, I lost a friend who left behind a husband, children, and a model of how to make the most of your days. She showed me in real life how to spend days, hours, and minutes with the utmost abandon. Her intentionality to leave a legacy for her family was inspiring.

So how would I spend my last year? My infinitely practical mind went to what I would have to do: work, shuttle the kids, do laundry, and keep the kitchen from becoming a chemistry experiment let alone the bathrooms [shudder]. Not to mention making sure my husband and children would be taken care of after I was gone.

But what would I want to do? That’s where I had to go with this.

If I could choose my last year like Parvin does, it would involve being able to have financial provisions for my family to take off the entire year. I’d travel the world. I would want to have as many new experiences as I could with my family. I’d make sure I visited my extended family, especially my parents, my sister, her family, & my grandfather. I’d visit aunts and uncles. But mostly, I’d travel with my husband and kids. We’d try as many exotic foods as we could. We’d visit as many places as possible. And have as many experiences as we could. My dream experiences would be:

  • Taking my family to Yellowstone. We’d have to camp at least one night, stay in a cabin, and spend a night each in Lake Lodge and the Old Faithful Inn.
  • Go on an Alaskan cruise and visit the interior of the state, Kenai Peninsula, and Dawson City, Yukon.
  • See a Broadway play; this might be the only time I’d consider leaving the kids. It would be special time with my husband but the thought of days without my kids with such a limited timeframe is painful.
  • Visit Prince Edward Island (the only Canadian Province I haven’t visited).
  • Go skiing with my sister’s family, probably in Colorado but I’m not picky.
  • White water raft and water ski – two of my bucket list items
  • I would travel to South America – Machu Pichu is the top of my list, and I’d want to visit hot springs in Chile because I wrote about them
  • I want to spend time in England, Ireland, and Scotland because London is all I’ve seen of the UK and never visited Ireland. And haggis is a bucket list dish.
  • Spend a few days in Paris then take a train to the French Riviera. I’d spend those days in France eating, eating, and eating some more. And I’d do nothing but lie on the beach once I hit the Mediterranean. Well, I’d eat.
  • I’d also make sure to go to Germany. Because if there’s anything I love more than French cuisine, it’s German cuisine.
  • Which brings me to the next stop, Japan. I’d have to visit Okinawa where I spent the summer of 2003 as well as the mainland. Another place that I’d fuel up on awesome food. And visit an onsen (bathhouse) something I didn’t do when I stayed there the first time.
  • I want to go to Greece, Turkey, the Holy Land & Egypt (so I could say I visited Africa). To visit where Paul spread Christianity. Walk where Jesus walked. And if you know me, the pool at Bethesda would be one of my Jerusalem stops. I have a bit of an obsession with hot springs.
  • I’d travel to Australia to make sure I visited all continents. Also, who doesn’t want to go to Australia? I might even get up the courage to SCUBA dive. I’m kind of claustrophobic, but if I’m going to die anyway why not expire seeing the Great Barrier Reef.

I’m pretty sure I have more days planned than a person could do in a year but maybe it’s because the thought of such a limited time terrifies me. There’s so much I want to experience, that I feel limited by a lifetime that could easily span forty, fifty, sixty years. Or I could die tomorrow.

If I do die tomorrow I have two wishes, someone scour my hard drive and shape up my stories so they can be published posthumously and play The Newsboys’ “Breakfast Club” at my funeral. I’m sure the older people will be horrified, but it’s the message I want to leave.

SIDE NOTE: I told my 10-year old about the assignment. He said: Break the clock and live longer!

Both my son and I know our eternity is secure, but we want to make the most of the time we have here on earth. And it’s not just eating exotic foods and crossing items off a bucket list. It’s living each day for God. It’s being Jesus to those around us. Being His hands and feet. And with that, I hope to leave this world a little better place whether or not I ever see Machu Pichu or eat haggis.

What would you do if you only had one year to live?


How would you live if you knew the day you’d die?Parvin Blackwater believes she has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside. In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the government’s crooked justice system. But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall —— her people’s death sentence. What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her Clock is running out.


Connect with Nadine Brandes on her website (
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And speaking of limited time: There’s less than 10 days left in her prize giveaway!


Live Like You Were Dying

Next week I’m scheduled for Nadine Brandes’s blog hop about what I’d do if I only have one year to live. Spoiler alert – not much.

A little over three years ago, the year I celebrated 20 years of liberation from the dystopia of high school, I sort of had a midlife crisis. Thankfully it didn’t involve cosmetic surgery or a sports car. I started writing. Now I have a completed manuscript and a great start on two more. My short story “Neatly Arranged” was published earlier this year as a stand-alone story and part of Mike Lynch’s No Revolution Is Too Big series. My short story “Detention” will be published February 3, 2015 as part of the anthology Out of the Storm.

When I first started writing, it was all I did. Eat, sleep, breathe, and talk about writing. While it threw my life out of balance for a while, it evened out. The benefits have been great. It’s recharged me in other areas of life – my roles as wife, mom, and engineer. I gained critique partners who turned into friends. I’ve been introduced fantastic books by great Christian authors.

Writing is my passion and even a ministry. It’s how I spend my free time. And I don’t miss the “Real Housewives” marathons (don’t judge), Facebook games (did I really enjoy them that much?), scrapbooking (when did I last order prints?), or knitting. OK. I do kind of miss knitting, but when it’s knit or read, the choice is easy. The rest of my life is better too. No televised catfights. No Farmville. No irritation that my daughter made confetti from cardstock. Maybe a little with the mess but not that she “ruined” my stash.

In a way, since I first put fingers to keyboard sometime back in 2011, I have been living like I was dying. Trying my best to make the most of my life. Leave a legacy. Along the way, I’ve realized writing wasn’t something I could do at the sacrifice of my husband, my children, my career, my health, my friendships, or even my walk with God. I mean I’ve always been writing to glorify Him. But was I always?

So now I write, but my “free time” has other priorities: a (mostly) regular quiet time, running to stay fit and enjoy God’s presence, sitting down to a video with my husband, bike rides and walks with the family, an ongoing game of Risk where somehow my minions and I defeated my husband. Good timing. Next week is fall break. Nothing says “mommy time” like plotting world domination. The minions must go down! Bwahaha!!!!



It’s The End of the World

I love dystopian fiction. The first dystopian novel I read was probably Atlas Shrugged when I was fourteen. Yes, I was one of those bookish teens and there’s a quote about us. Atlas Shrugged isn’t necessarily categorized as dystopian. It doesn’t follow the typical format of a “have not” escaping an prestige society. However, it does take place in a dystopian version of America.

Dystopian has been popular the past few years. I devoured the Hunger Games series when I first started writing. Since then I’ve read the Maze Runner series, Delirium series, and Divergent series. I also read The Giver which is both utopian and dystopian.
Even better is Christian dystopian fiction. Because the beauty of books from this worldview is that there’s always an element of hope. Both in the future and in the characters’ present situation. There are some really well-written books out there.

I just finished Rebels, Jill Williamson’s final installment of the Safe Lands series. I loved everything about these books. Great world building, fantastic characters, and a fast-paced plot. While I’m sad the series is finished, the ending was so satisfying. Perhaps one of the best endings to a series, ever.

The good thing is that I have a new series to sink into. Nadine Brandes released her debut novel, A Time to Die, and it’s the first of three in the Out of Time series. It excels in many of the same ways The Safe Lands does. Interesting characters, a fascinating story world, and unique premise. Everyone knows when they will die and carries a clock that counts down how much time they have left.

As for movies, I have Catching Fire and Divergent in my Netflix queue. And I’m still trying to figure out where I can catch Atlas Shrugged III since it’s not playing in our small town.

What is your favorite dystopian novel? What about your favorite dystopian movie?

Step By Step

So much in life is about taking the next step. Something I’m not great at doing. In one of my numerous attempts at procrastination this weekend, I found a description of my Myers-Briggs personality type (ENTP, The Inventor). True to this, I’m great at ideas and getting started but not the best at following to completion.

In overall life accomplishments, I don’t have a lot of loose threads. Mostly because I force myself to finish. But it is the last step that is the hardest for me. I think it has a lot to do with fearing failure. With that in mind, Saturday was a big deal. I am halfway through my half-marathon training and I competed my first race, a 10K. It was scary until I actually started running.

This race happened to be a loop that started at the highest elevation and ended with an uphill climb. I figured out how I should feel running and adjusted my pace. It felt like a normal training run. I finished pleased with my final time of 1:06:41. That averaged to 10:38-minute miles. I was thrilled to average faster than 11-minute miles.

This week on my to do list, i  have three things I want to mark off as complete: one is professional, one is writing related, and one is a craft project.

The apostle Paul tells us our Christian walk is a race, and we need to race to win. We can’t win if we don’t finish. What part is hardest for you? Starting, staying the course, or finishing?

Life in the Fast Lane

Last weekend I posted about our lazy Saturday. This Saturday was a one-eighty. The weekend kicked off with me making a passably decent shrimp saag for dinner Friday night. The secret is to utilize a blender and crock pot. I stayed up too late, and my 5:30 wake-up call came way too early for this night owl. It was the city garage sale and we had a very successful day. Making money wasn’t as much the goal as finding a good home for the last of our baby stuff and the kids’ outgrown clothes.

The dynamic duo set up a lemonade stands and brought in about a quarter of the day’s profits. We didn’t realize how successful it would be and ran out of lemonade mix. My son is an innate capitalist. He raised the price and we still sold out. My daughter has a future in sales. She managed to sell several cups of water when the lemonade ran out.

After the yardsale, we went to a business expo then came home. Our church picnic was scheduled for the afternoon but it poured down rain at our house. I texted a friend and found out it wasn’t raining at the park, so I prepared the coleslaw and off we went. Fashionably late, we had dinner and visited with our church family.

We were home long enough for me to grab my snack for my mom’s night out paint and sip session at a the new art supply store in town. I came home a little after ten! Whew what a long day!

Are you a night owl or early bird or someone in between?


I’ve come to realize my definition of relaxing may be a bit different than others. If you’ve followed my blog very much, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a pretty high energy person.
Saturday, I hit my limit. The energy tank was empty. And in an extremely rare occasion, we had absolutely nothing planned. No games, practices, festivals, meetings, nothing. I even forgot to order Bountiful Baskets. I hated that part, but it was nice having no plans. We walked into town. Taking the shortcut, it’s only two miles. We stopped by a furniture store, the farmer’s market, ate lunch, and visited the pet store (only looking; two black cats are plenty). We even made a stop for a chai latte.
Our trip was 4 miles roundtrip and we still made it back in the early afternoon. My husband and I had an at home date and watched The Book Thief, which is an excellent adaptation of the book. I settled down to write but it was still early, so the four of us played Settlers of Catan. I ended up putting a few words to keyboard before bed.
To some, I’m sure this sounds like a packed day, but truly I have to say it was very relaxing!

God’s Not Dead

Call me old school, but I’ll always be a Peter Furler as front man Newsboys fan. “Shine” and “Breakfast” rank as a couple of my favorite songs of all time. That said, the Michael Tait led Newsboys are pretty great too. Per usual, the title is only a hint at my post’s content. This time it’s a review of the movie God Is Not Dead.

This movie appealed to me. I like going to see movies that are faith-based. I love seeing God glorified as the source of power and strength for the characters. That said, I like salt (preferably jalapeno-flavored) and butter on my popcorn but too much, and it’s inedible. That goes for movies too. I paid money to see a movie not a sermon. I get those free on Sundays and save up money for retreats.

How did God Is Not Dead measure up? I give it four stars and one Gouda wheel on the cheese factor. The acting was good. The characters believable and multi-dimensional. The best part of the movie is how the main character defended his faith. He went outside of “The Bible says” argument. Instead, he jumped off with the assumption that the Big Bang Theory is correct, quoted Darwin and Steven Hawking as well as other leading secular scientists, and ended with something the atheist viewpoint of the professor didn’t offer. My husband and I really liked this. We’re engineers so the scientific arguments had to hold weight. I lean toward the “old earth” (millions or billions of years) theory rather than the “young earth” (6000 years based on the Genesis timeline) theory. My argument is that the Bible is a history book. It’s meant to tell a story not explain science. I also say that if I found out the earth really is 6,000 years old, it wouldn’t shake my faith.

The other part I liked was the character Mina. She is arguably the most central person, a complex character, and a believer who’s shown purchasing a bottle of wine in her first scene. Without saying much more, this gives you an idea that Christian movies are daring to widen the concept of what a Christian looks like. Not to mention there are characters of various cultures, faiths, and ethnicities, which made the story deeper, richer, and more real.

What I didn’t like. There were a couple of places where the dialogue was a bit stilted and a little preachy. That said, these are a few minutes out of two hours. Most of the movie wasn’t like that. My biggest complaint is that one of the main character’s story went a step too far. If his story had been wrapped up with him pulling out a letter and looking at the newspaper, the audience would have come to the right conclusion. However, there was a “but wait there’s more”, just-in-case-you-didn’t-get-it scene. That’s where the Gouda wheel makes its appearance.

I understand wanting to share the gospel but to me faith-based books and movies should serve one primary purpose – to entertain. If the audience member is a believer, then they don’t need the message. If the audience member isn’t they’ll either be offended, enjoy it but be unaffected, or ask questions. That’s where we as the Christian friend who recommended the movie comes in. We ask our friend how they liked it. What they thought about such and such scene, character, theme. I repeat, you don’t pay money to listen to a sermon.

Now on to another related topic. This year there have been a lot of Christian, inspirational, and Bible story-inspired movies. Son of God, Noah, God Is Not Dead, Moms Night Out, and Heaven Is for Real come to mind. Some of these movies have generated a good deal of controversy. I’m not going to weigh in on that beyond these words from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18, ESV).

That passage is wedged between the oft-quoted verses about thanking God for our fellow believers and that we can do all things through Christ. It might not be as popular, but it’s no less scriptural. Whether or not you choose to see any, all, or none of these films is a personal decision that I hope you make with an open mind and prayerful heart. Remember the saying “the book is better than the movie”. So such-and-such flick might have taken liberties with God’s word, but if it encourages people to read the Bible, then maybe it’s worth it. Not to mention movies are made to make money. This means if we as Christians support faith-based movies, more will be made.

Which of these films have you seen? Which ones do you want to see? Are there any you won’t watch?


Hip to Be Square

Yes, I’m wearing argyle socks with suede sneakers from Payless that I bought 7 years ago because that’s how I roll. The other day I commented that I’ve never been smarter, prettier, or cooler. It’s not that I think I’m some sort of genius in a killer body with a gorgeous face. I mean if that’s your opinion of me, I’m flattered, but it’s not what I meant. It’s that I look in the mirror and like what I see. And the part I don’t see. That I’m truly comfortable being me. And this year, I’ve been on a mission to set up better habits. This has become the year of goals.

But the whole thing is realizing I’ve always been cool. We’ve been eating Greek yogurt for nearly a decade. Way before it hit the shelves of Safeway. Everyone on Facebook seems to be into ethnic food. My husband and I have been frequenting Indian, Middle Eastern, and other cuisines our entire marriage. It wasn’t borne as much from being foodies or overly adventurous but because those are the restaurants with two-for-one deals in those giant coupon books. Now we go for ethnic food coupon or not because these are places we don’t have in our small town.

It’s not just eating habits but music, games, and movies. Sirius XM has, at least for the next few weeks, not one but two stations dedicated to my favorite musicians. I’ve been a Parrothead since childhood so Margaritaville has been on my favorites stations from the beginning. I mean I know deep tracks of Jimmy Buffet’s by heart. Ones that aren’t even on Beaches, Boats, Bars, and Ballads. “Come Monday” and “Incommunicado” (both on Ballads) are still my favorites. But so is “This Hotel Room” and “Ringling, Ringling” two songs that remind me way too much of childhood vacations off the beaten path.

Now they’ve added the Billy Joel channel as a limited engagement. I’ve been a fan of The Piano Man since my tweens. In college there was a rather funny incident about my being a Billy Joel fangirl (before there was a word fangirl) and a guy’s failed attempt to ask me out. I blew the guy off and totally forgot about it until two years later I spotted a fake advertisement referring to it. Some mutual friends had turned the episode into a meme (before we actually used the word “meme” or pictures of the Dos Equis guy to make them).

The Goonies, The Princess Bride, and Pretty in Pink were movies I’ve loved since they were released on VHS, way before they became cult classics. Actually, I saw Goonies in the theatre. The Settlers of Catan (which we’ll be playing as a family as soon as I hit schedule) has been one of our favorite games for a decade. That doesn’t exactly make us original settlers or anything since the game was already nearly ten years old before we learned about it.

While I can hardly lay claims to being some sort of hipster, and I never have been the coolest cube in the tray, I like it when things I love become cool and popular. It’s kind of fun.

What are some of the quirky things have like all along that have all of a sudden become “cool”?

Lawyers In Love

Neatly Arranged CoverA few weeks ago, my debut story, Neatly Arranged, was published. Last week I participated in a blog hop about my writing style and mentioned that I want to write speculative fiction for those who hate it (or at least think they do). Neatly Arranged is a great sample of exactly what I mean. The No Revolution Is Too Big series created by Mike Lynch is about a shape-shifting, time traveler named Stelfson. He’s a revolution broker. That is he will start a revolution – for a price. It doesn’t get more sci-fi than that. Yet, I describe Neatly Arranged as “Downton Abbey” meets King of Torts with hover cars. Neatly Arranged is about Arianne, a corporate lawyer from a noble family whose parents are encouraging her to enter an arranged marriage to an earl. Arianne and Stelfson pair up to win a simple legal case and end up uncovering something much bigger.

While Stelfson does morph once or twice, and admits to time-traveling, it’s not to kill his grandfather or create some other conundrum but to snag a table in the VIP section of the hottest new restaurant. My writing style focuses on my belief that character is king, and if the characters are interesting and most-likely snarky, then they can do things as mundane as discuss unicorn polo and popular novels over dinner. Naturally, there’s the other camp that is fine with characters out of central casting as long as there’s suspense and action. I got that covered, too. No, there aren’t any high speed chases or kidnappings (well, not exactly since the main character is compliant), but there are nefarious villains, deception, and the morally ambiguous Stelfson.

This short and sweet post is all about promoting a great series and hopefully snagging a convert or two over to speculative fiction. If you click on the No Revolution is too big link, all nine stories come up. They all take a unique approach to Stelfson. Necessary Evil was written by one of my writing partners, TJ Akers, and is about an accountant and a computer virus of sorts. Two things people love as much as lawyers. A Sirius Revolution was written by another writing partner, Lisa Godfrees. Lisa incorporates an unusual Bible story, a classic movie, and a couple of great legends to wrap up the series with Stelfson’s back story.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go and what would you do?


At The Hop

My writing partner Lisa Godfrees talked me into participating in a blog hop on my writing style. If you read her post, you’ll see I’ve paired this post with a song title, albeit I went outside of the 80s for my inspiration.

So here it goes.

What am I working on?

A few weeks ago, my first story was published. It’s an installment of a science fiction series created by Mike Lynch called No Revolution Is Too Big. It’s about a time-traveling, shape-shifter named Stelfson. Mine is called “Neatly Arranged” and is available on Amazon (shameless plug). It’s the story of Arianne, a corporate lawyer whose parents want her to enter an arranged marriage with a not-so noble earl. I describe it as “Downton Abbey” meets King of Torts with hover cars.

I’m editing my first manuscript, Acid. It’s a speculative YA story that examines the idea of the fountain of youth, panacea, and the concept of going to mineral baths to “take the cure”. I’ve made good progress in the first draft of the sequel, Catalyst as well.

My tagline is Spec Fiction GEKE- Everything from steam punk Elves to the dystopia of high school. Acid covers the dystopia of high school.

As for the steam punk Elves, I’ve written two short stories, and I’m working on a third that are set in a Victorian-Edwardian world of Elves. For NaNoWriMo 2013, I worked on a full-length novel within this time-frame and story world.

 How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I describe my brand of speculative fiction as real-world setting with a supernatural twist.

In “Neatly Arranged”, it’s set 200 years in the future but the technology is identifiable with those of us in the 21st century, except for the hover cars. My steam punk Elves are pretty much humans with pointed ears although some have enhanced hearing or eyesight. Their world is similar to other steam punk worlds with early 20th century (I write on the Edwardian end of the steam punk era) technology stretched to its limits. Acid is set in the real world.

Why do I write what I do?

Here’s the deal. I hated, loathed, and despised science fiction and fantasy until a couple of things happened in my 20s. Our church put on a play of this book called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The same title that I’d been running from since fifth grade. Well, I saw the play and was hooked. About the same time a series of books about this boy named Harry Potter were released. A speculative fiction fan was born.

My reluctance to embrace the genre influences my writing. I want to write stories to convert others to speculative fiction. My reader is the girl I was from about 15-25 (and still am). The one who knows what she believes but is also a bit cynical. She might read Christian fiction, but her preference is the latest and greatest in YA. She likes stories that stretch who she is but is frustrated by the way Christianity and it values are often mocked.

I’m a chemical engineer and my characters tend to be engineers, scientists, or medical professionals. Character is king with me so don’t expect pocket protector wielding Trekkies who captain the Math Counts team. There might be one or two minor characters like that but the main characters are actors, athletes, and artists who set the curve in chemistry or calculus.

Because my stories are aimed at someone with faith, I write to deepen faith and paint realistic characters. Struggles they face include ethics, fighting perfectionism, and learning to depend on God not themselves. Rather than avoid denominations, I embrace them with various church types represented.

How does your writing process work?

I try to write or edit a little bit each day. I don’t take Sundays off as a day of rest because to me writing isn’t work. Also, I’m more likely to have time. Like today. The weather was windy, and I had an afternoon where one child was at a friend’s and the other played by herself while my husband watched March Madness.

I wrote my first manuscript in a crazy frenzy pretty much spending all of my free time writing completely by the seat of my pants. In the strictest sense, I’m a pantser because I don’t write down plots. However, I have it all in my head. Like dumping a jigsaw puzzle on the floor, I have to write out the story then tweak it.

Short stories have been beneficial to me because I tend to overwrite. Whether it’s a 1,000 or 8,000-word limit, those boundaries help me hone my stories.

So that’s a little about my writing style. And I’m sharing the wealth with two of my writing partners and one of the duo behind my favorite hero-centric site.

Linda Samaritoni – I love why she calls her site “My Second Nature” because it reminds us to be more like Christ. If character is king, then Linda is the queen mother. She creates amazing characters and captures the subtleties of her settings. I find myself smiling and saying “spot-on”.

TJ Akers – His story Chocolate Eyes was a well-deserved 2013 Genesis Award finalist. One of the founding members of The Scriblerians I squeed when he invited me to the newly formed group. TJ makes me laugh with oh-so-awkward middle school characters who manage to get into humorous situations. Do not read his work with a mouthful of food. You’ve been warned.

Joy Doering – She joined Nancy Kimball as the second face behind Fiction Hero Features. This is my go-to spot to find my next hero fix. She has a solo blog at More Than Words where she does more great book reviews.

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