PUZZLE HOUSE by Lillian Duncan:
Life isn’t a box of candy—it’s a puzzle!
Rachel Summers is all about Rachel Summers…until the day she crashes headlong into a semi-truck. As her life hangs in the balance, she has a visitor who asks a very simple question.
Does she want to be healed or to be a healer?
She makes her choice, but the journey doesn’t go quite the way she expected.
And so Rachel now runs Puzzle House. Every guest is different and yet the same. They all come to the Puzzle House for one reason and one reason only—to be healed, usually from a life-threatening illness. Sometimes they receive their miracle, and sometimes they discover there’s more than one kind of healing.
Nia is a fifteen-year-old African-American girl who is dying. The doctors have told her there is nothing else to be done. No more treatments. No more hope. No more life. And she’s angry about that. Very angry. Against her wishes, Nia’s aunt brings her to The Puzzle House.
Together, Nia and Rachel will take a journey that will change both their lives.
GIVEAWAY INFO: To celebrate the release of Puzzle House, I’m having a very special giveaway on my blog, Tiaras & Tennis Shoes at www.lillian-duncan.com. Leave a comment on one of my Puzzle House posts and you’re entered to win. Thanks!
Tell us a little about yourself.
My husband and I live in a small town in Ohio. I mean small—we only have 1 traffic light. I grew up in the area, but moved to the big city of Cleveland for many years. Like Dorothy, I love being home again.
Where did you grow up and attend school?
I grew up in rural Ohio, near Wooster. It’s a farming community. Most of my books have a similar setting. Sometimes I actually use the names of local communities, other times I use a fictional name
I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Akron University and my Master’s Degree from Kent State. Then I moved away to the big city of Cleveland to work for many years until I retired from Cleveland Schools in 2007.
What is your favorite genre to read? To write?
Mostly I read and write Christian mystery and suspense with a little horror thrown in. PUZZLE HOUSE is a complete departure from what I usually write. I would simply classify it as Christian Fiction, like the book WAR ROOM.
Tell us about PUZZLE HOUSE.
I call it the book I never wanted to write!
Really? Can you explain that?
Early on in the story, the main character (Rachel Summers) discovers she has brain tumors due to a genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF 2).
That’s exactly what I said when I was diagnosed with NF 2 and bilateral brain tumors in 2012. Don’t gasp! The tumors are almost always non-cancerous but as I like to say that hasn’t stopped them from wreaking havoc on my health and my life.
And that is why I say Puzzle House is the book I never wanted to write. I would never have written it if I hadn’t developed the brain tumors. But I do have NF 2 and the brain tumors and Puzzle House is one of the good things that’s come from it.
What inspired you to write this novel in particular?
Like Rachel, I have Neurofibromatosis Type 2. I wanted to show that even when you have a serious chronic illness, God can use you to help others.
What is Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2)?
It’s a rare genetic disease that allows tumors to grow anywhere there are nerves, but most people with NF2 develop brain tumors, which I did. The tumors affect both your hearing and your balance which can affect your health in significant ways. It’s been a difficult journey but God is good. There’s a lot I can’t do these days because of the brain tumors, but I can still write!
Tell me a bit about your main characters.
Rachel Summers was all about Rachel Summers until the day she crashed into a semi-truck. While in a coma she has a very special visitor that asks a very special question. Do you want to be healed or to be a healer? Her answer changes the course of her life as well as many others.
What’s the setting for PUZZLE HOUSE?
It starts out in the icy cold city of Cleveland Ohio but moves on to the warmth of Georgia.
Do you have personal experience with any of the events in your story, and if so, could you share about that?
Like Rachel I have neurofibromatosis Type 2 which is a genetic condition that causes bilateral brain tumors. They are usually benign meaning non-cancerous but believe me when I say they aren’t benign meaning harmless!
I was diagnosed a little over 5 years ago. In that time I’ve had two Gamma Knife surgeries, 3 rounds of chemotherapy, and months and months of being on steroids. I’m completely deaf in one ear and partially in the other. I also have severe balance issues that make it hard for me to walk or do lots of daily activities that other people take for granted.
It’s been quite a journey but even as my health declines my faith in God grows stronger and stronger. And that has been a blessing.
What’s your day job? Tell us a little about it.
I retired as a speech therapist from a large city school district in Ohio, then spent several more years working part-time in smaller, rural districts near where I live. Between the two jobs, I don’t think there is any type of child I haven’t worked with at least once.
How did your education or previous career impact your journey to publication and where you are now?
My day job was as a school speech pathologist, better known as a speech therapist. So for more than 30 years I listened…and listened…and listened some more. I think it helped me in a lot of areas but certainly with writing dialogue of my characters.
What do you want readers to take away from PUZZLE HOUSE?
That God can and does still do miracles but the miracle we want isn’t always the miracle we need and God knows the difference.
What is your writing process?
I never know what is going to happen in my story on any given writing day. It’s as if my mind is a movie screen and I watch that day’s events and then I write it.
When I start a new story I usually have a clear picture of the main character in mind and what obstacle he/she will face, but anything goes after that. If I’m writing and start to feel bored—then I kill someone or blow something up. And that way it’s a surprise to me and to my readers.
Do you have a favorite or “life” verse? Why is that one important to you?
Romans 8: 28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.
After I was diagnosed with the brain tumors, the treatments and the side effects wreaked havoc on my health as well as the tumors themselves! When I was at my lowest points, I kept repeating this verse over and over. It kept me trusting God and it kept me in peace and joy in spite of how bad I felt at the time.
Looking back I can now see how God used many of the past events in my life to prepare me for this struggle of a lifetime and for that I’m very grateful.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel to PUZZLE HOUSE. It’s called The David Years and without giving too much of the plot of Puzzle House away, it follows one of the characters you meet in PUZZLE HOUSE.
Are there any other authors in your family?
Actually there is! My nephew, Chad H. Young, is a missionary for CRU, formerly Campus Crusades For Christ. A few years ago, he decided to give writing a try, nonfiction. I’m so proud of him—he has two books out and is about to have a third published, Authenticity: Real Faith in a Phony World and Wrestling with Faith, Love, and Gators: Overcoming Barriers to Fully Loving God.
How did you get started writing? How old were you? What made you want to start?
How did you get started writing? How old were you? What made you want to start?
I started writing when I was 40—a late starter. (This is a pretty good story.) I was feeling the way a lot of 40 year-olds feel. Unsettled, not sure if I wanted to keep teaching. I was watching a TV show, probably Oprah. Her guest recommending writing your own obituary and putting in outlandish things that you’ve never done.
So I did. As I reread the obituary, it said that I was a multi-published author. What? I’d never written any fiction even though I was an avid reader. The most I’d ever written was some poetry years before.
When I read those words, a spark ignited inside me.
And I started writing!
It took me a year to finish my first novel and it was horrible. I made every mistake that writing “experts” say are no-no! As bad as it was, I knew I wanted to keep writing and I did!
If you could offer a word of encouragement to an aspiring author, what would you say?
DON’T GIVE UP! It took me 15 years to get a traditional contract, and now I have almost 20 books published! If I can do it, so can you. But not if you give up your dream!
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website is www.lillianduncan.net and I have a devotional blog at www.PowerUpWithGod.com My blog is TIARAS & TENNIS SHOES at www.lillian-duncan.com. I’m also on Twitter as @LillianDuncan and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lillian.k.duncan
THE BOOK I NEVER WANTED TO WRITE
By Lillian Duncan
Puzzle House is the book I never wanted to write.
What??? Let me explain. Rachel Summers, the main character in my new book, Puzzle House, has brain tumors due to Neurofibromatosis Type 2.
That’s what I said when my doctor told me I had brain tumors and something called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2 for short) in 2012. It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. After all, I felt fine, but I was wrong—really wrong!
So what exactly is NF2? It’s a rare genetic condition that allows tumors to grow anywhere on the nervous system, but especially in the brain (almost always on the auditory nerve and vestibular nerve) and the spine.
The Rare Disease Act of 2002 defines a rare disease as one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States or about 1 in 1,500 people. So exactly how rare is NF2? About 1 in 25,000 to 40,000 people (depending on what source you use) have it so as you can see it’s extremely rare which is why you probably haven’t heard of it either.
The tumors are almost always benign, but there’s two meanings for benign. One being non-cancerous and the other being harmless. The good news is that my tumors are not cancerous, the bad news is they are definitely not harmless.
So how has NF2 affected me? Without going into all the gory details, since being diagnosed I’ve had two Gamma Knife Surgeries, three rounds of chemo, and countless months of being on steroids. Because of the tumors and/or the treatments, I have chronic fatigue, balance issues that affect my mobility, complete deafness in one ear and partial deafness in the other, neuropathy and severe pain in my arms and legs that also affect my mobility as well as a multitude of “less severe” symptoms.
After reading all that you might think Puzzle House is a really depressing story, right? I certainly hope not. My first goal when writing a story is always to entertain and that’s true with this one as well. In fact, the subtitle of the story is a novel of healing and hope.
I’m not going to give away the plot but I’ll give you a little hint. While unconscious after an auto-truck mishap, Rachel has a very special visitor who asks, “Do you want to be healed or to be a healer?” She makes her choice and that’s when her adventure begins.
Let’s get back to the healing and hope part of the novel. Nia is a 14 year-old girl who has lost hope and wants nothing to do with Rachel or Puzzle House. But they’re stuck with each other for the week so Rachel shares her story with Nia as they work her puzzle together.
It’s true that Puzzle House is a book I never wanted to write, but it’s also true that God uses all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) and I believe that’s what He’s done by inspiring me to write Puzzle House.
Why did I choose a puzzle theme? Because in many ways life is like a puzzle—not a box of candy! There’s lot of pieces that have to be put together before you can see the whole picture. Many times we don’t understand why we need a particular piece of our puzzle but God does.
That’s where faith comes in. It’s not easy to keep trusting when we’re suffering, whether it be from a physical condition like brain tumors or some other difficulty. But if we trust God with all the puzzle pieces of our life, He will use them to create a thing of beauty.
Are You Sure?
Hebrews 11: 8
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
In my upcoming book, PUZZLE HOUSE, Rachel is asked, “Do you want to be healed or to be a healer?” She wants to please God so her answer is to be a healer. Of course when she answers she doesn’t know she has a serious medical condition that is about to turn her world upside down.
Most of us will be asked that same question during our life if we’re deeply committed to following God’s Will. The question won’t be exactly the same since God has different plans for all of us.
My question was do you want to be a writer? I’d already been dabbling in fiction writing when God asked me that question. Not literally of course, but in my spirit. My answer was a resounding yes, but… like Rachel, I should have taken a few more moments to think about it. To ask myself “are you sure?”
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing and even more I love writing Christian fiction. My stories demonstrate God’s goodness is many different ways depending on the story. But it hasn’t been an easy journey.
It took fifteen years to get my first traditional contract. That’s a lot of rejections. Would I have kept writing if I’d known it would take that long? I’m not sure but I’m so glad I didn’t quit.
Let me give you a short glimpse into a writer’s life. It takes a lot of time to bring a story to life. First you have to write it then you have to rewrite it and then you have to rewrite it again and again and... Then it’s time for editing, revisions, and polishing before submitting it to my publisher. Then it’s time to go into marketing mode. Actually you have to be in marketing mode all the time. And at the same time I’m in the process of writing and rewriting new stories to get them ready for submission.
It’s a never-ending process, but I truly love it so it’s OK. And then there’s my reward, right? If you’re thinking a financial reward, stop! Yes, some writers make big bucks—but so far I’m not one of them.
But my reward is even better than money. My reward is knowing I’m doing what God wants me to do. My reward is the joy of creating stories that demonstrate God’s love to my readers as I entertain them (and myself.)
So when God comes knocking at your heart and asking you your question, it may sound like an impossible task and you may ask yourself—are you sure? No, you can’t know what will happen, whether you’ll be successful or not, whether it will be an easy or a difficult journey, whether you’ll quit or persevere.
But like Abraham, you have to start the journey if you want to get to your destination. The destination God created for you. The destination that might bring you a few tears or more than a few along the way, but that will also bring you peace and joy and a satisfaction that can’t be described.
That sounds good, right?
Are you sure?
Lillian Duncan…Stories of faith mingled… with murder & mayhem.
Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. She was a speech pathologist for more than 34 years but retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with brain tumors as a result of Neurofibromatosis Type 2. As an educator, speech pathologist, and a writer, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.
Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all of us. To learn more about Lillian, you may visit her at www.lillianduncan.net or www.lillian-duncan.com. She also has a devotional blog at www.PowerUpWithGod.com.