Monday, April 30, 2007

Hang in There, Baby!

This little beauty is Atlanta's panda cub, Mei Lan. (My family knew I would have to work Mei Lan into this blog somehow.) We're very proud to have one of the few zoos in the country where a panda cub was born. Watching her on the panda cam has been so much fun, and I took this picture when I went to visit her in person in March. The photo quality isn't great because I was shooting through a glass partition. Also, it was the first day with my digital camera--and that baby moves fast! But I still love having this record of her antics. She had barely learned to walk but decided she was perfectly capable of climbing all over everything. She refused to sleep on the ground any longer but wanted to perch on this log.

Her poses reminded me of that old "Hang in there, baby" poster from my youth, which showed an orange cat dangling from a rope or limb. I can't remember the exact details. (My youth was quite awhile ago.) Anyway, all that seemed to tie in with today's guest blog from Tara Mixon. I love this message because she wrote it to her writer sister, Brenda Medlin, when she was discouraged. It cheered Brenda, and I hope it does the same for you. Here's Tara:

"Hang in there!" It is more often said than done. Going through battles is very tough and sometimes there does not seem to be an end. We all have them and sometimes we have a very difficult time facing our giants. It is in these times, when we can't see God's hand that we have to trust His heart and know that He will lead us in the way that is best. We cannot let our fears stall our life. I read something about that subject just this morning. When we are fearful of what lies ahead it is very difficult to see a solution and to feel that we can move beyond it, but we have to remember that God is still in control - no matter how bad the situation may seem.

The article I read this morning was from Dr. Arthur Caliandro's Sermon Volume 0500, "Don't Let Fear Stall Your Life." In the article, he talked about an interview he had once had with a 99-year-old woman. She was asked to what she accredited her long life. She answered that she had found out how to not be afraid. She quoted some scripture - Psalm 3, "Oh Lord, You are a shield around me." It said that she saw God's supporting presence all around her, like a shield that kept her from harm and freed her from worry. She also quoted Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheth me," which happens to be one of my favorite verses. The article also quoted from Romans, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Believe me, I am talking to myself here. I have a fear of failure and I worry about things that may never even happen. If they do, they will probably not be as bad as I envision them. I have to remind myself of these very verses and continue to picture God taking control of the situation. I have found that when I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic about an issue, when I start praying and stop worrying, the fear subsides and I fall back asleep. When the fear comes back during the day, I have to stop and pray some more. Sometimes it gets to the point that I feel I can't pray for others because my prayers seems to be focused on me, but He always seems to calm me down and help me work through it. One day I will be able to quit worrying and quit being afraid. Until then God is just going to be stuck hearing my prayers - sometimes the same prayer over and over. I have been called a "rock," but the people who have called me that have never seen me feel like a marshmallow! But...I will continue to persevere!

So, back to my original statement. Hang in there - God is not finished with this scene, yet!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Why Are Our Journeys So Different?

I just had to show you this gorgeous photo of the library where I work. I can say it's gorgeous because I didn't take it. The pro at our college (Sheron Smith) gets all the credit for that.

This photo fits in nicely with some deep and profound thoughts I've been having this week. Okay, actually I struggled yet again with publishing envy, but you'll be pleased to know that I overcame it pretty quickly this time around.

It all started with Miralee Ferrell's post last week. As a part of that posting, I visited Miralee's website and read her story of how she started writing and published her first novel. In February of 2005, Miralee received a prophetic word from a speaker who told her God wanted her to write and to publish. Miralee obediently started writing and learning the craft, and everything fell into place. Now, only a couple of years later, her first novel (The Other Daughter) is due to come out this October.

What an amazing story! I truly believe God does work this way, and I'm happy for Miralee. At the same time, I suffered a couple of ugly, jealous twinges. After all, as you know if you've read my story here, I've wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old, and I've been trying to publish a novel for 30 years. I believe that God called me to write just as he did Miralee. He even provided both of us with an agent from the same literary agency! And yet I wait, and wait, and...

In the midst of my little pity party, God reminded me of a few things. Miralee told us last week about her family's hard times, and their struggle to sell their home. I have quite a different story on that topic. A few years ago, God suddenly provided an opportunity for me (and my husband, of course) to move back to my home town. I interviewed for one job in that town and got it, so I was employed by the time we moved. Our house sold in about two weeks. Everything fell right into place.

And then there's my current job at the library. (You knew I'd tie that in eventually, didn't you!) Five or six years ago, I decided I wanted to change careers. I thought about becoming a librarian, which meant getting a master's degree--which meant coming up with a lot of money I didn't have. I prayed to God that, if this was what he wanted me to do, he would provide the funds. Precisely as I was enrolling in my first classes, I received an inheritance from my aunt which paid--almost to the penny--for the entire degree.

The day I graduated, I had a job interview with the library where I work now. One week later, I was officially a librarian. This may not sound that amazing to you, but there are folks out there who have looked for their first professional library job for years, or had to move across country to get one. I'm in a fairly small town that has very few entry-level librarian positions. God provided for me almost immediately.

So, I play up the areas of my life where I've had to wait. And I tend to focus on writing because it's so important to me. But in other areas, when the timing is right, things just fall into place. I guess my point is, we need to be careful about that envy thing. We're all on different journeys. When God leads us around a bend in the road or makes us just sit down by the ditch and wait for awhile, it's all for a reason. We'll all have to wait on something!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Research Tip: More Online Libraries, but These are for Everyone!

I've posted a couple of times about virtual libraries that most states offer for their citizens, and I've compiled a list of all those I've found at Facts for Fiction. I've found virtual libraries for 44 states so far. But what if your state doesn't have one? Or your library doesn't have the resources you need?

I've found a couple of online libraries that anyone can access. The first one is the Internet Public Library. I particularly like the Pathfinders page. At my library (at a community college), we prepare similar guides called subject guides for students in various classes or disciplines. These guides have links to the book catalogs, specific databases for finding articles in their field, trusted websites in their area, etc. Everything they need to guide them through a research project for their class, from start to finish. There's even a guide at the end for preparing their works cited list. These Pathfinders are similar guides for the general public. I like them because they aren't just a collection of web links, but they give you guidance on different ways to approach your search for information. These days, it's tempting to use a Google search for everything--and hey, I love Google! But if you can't quite find what you need that way, these guides may help you think of a new approach.

Also, the Internet Public Library has an "Ask a Question" form that you can use to--yes, that's right--ask a question of an actual live human being. In fact, the form cautions you to remember that you will be talking to a person, not typing keywords into a search engine, so you need to give them full sentences. Talk to them! This service is staffed by volunteers who are librarians or graduate students in library and information science programs. Aren't librarians wonderful?

Next is Library Spot. I'm amazed at the sheer number of links on the home page, and the different kinds of information they provide access to. In an earlier post, I mentioned their Ask an Expert link. What could be better for fiction writers trying to create characters with all kinds of interesting jobs and backgrounds?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Contest Deadline!

Only six days left to enter the two contests for gift certificates. Deadline to enter is this Monday, April 30, by midnight. I'll hold the drawings on May 1.

Just to refresh your memory, I'm holding two drawings. One is for everyone who has subscribed to this blog by the deadline. One is for everyone who has left a comment on the blog by the deadline. Prize in each category is a $50 gift certificate to

For a refresher on the details, click here to see the original post.

By the way, I have a couple of anonymous subscribers to the blog. That's great and I'm proud to have you--but I can't enter you in the contest, of course. If you're one of the anonymous ones and want to email me to enter you, I can do that.

Thanks so much for everyone who's responded so far. You've been great!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Too Good to Miss

I posted a wonderful, encouraging story by Miralee Ferrell last Friday. But I think the blog gremlins had a good time with it after that. First, it's showing the wrong posting date. Second, it doesn't appear to have gone out to email subscribers. And this story is too good to miss, folks. So, if it's already appeared in your mailbox (possibly even more than once, because I've been tinkering with it), sorry! If you haven't seen it, check it out:

When Life Seems to be Crashing Around You

For my email subscribers, will you let me know whether you received this update originally, or several times, or whatever? Thanks! And enjoy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When Life Seems to be Crashing Around You

Today's guest blogger is Miralee Ferrell. Miralee is jubilant lately, and why shouldn't she be? Her first book (The Other Daughter) is being published by Kregel, and will be out in October. When asked about perseverance, however, Miralee had an incredible story to tell. It's not writing-related, but it is about waiting upon the Lord, and His faithfulness, so it fits right in. Here's Miralee:

My husband Allen and I were in trouble and we knew it, but nothing seemed to be working. We’d hit a lot of financial hurdles in the past few years, but this one brought its own truck load of stress and it felt like we were about to be buried under it.

We’d had our house on the market three different times over the past four years, with no success and this time nothing appeared to have changed. We weren’t sure we could hold on much longer as our business was struggling in an economy that had flattened. Housing sales were beginning to strengthen, but ours hadn’t attracted much attention, even with the major renovations to the house and the fact that it sat on thirty acres of beautiful horse country and boasted a year round trout stream running through it.

I was nearing desperation and made the commitment to pray until I sensed a break-through in my spirit. Allen and I also decided to give a generous “break-through” offering that we couldn’t afford, following the scriptural principal of giving over and above our tithes, and asking that the windows of heaven would be opened for us. We prayed about our gift and felt the Lord directing us in the amount as well as the recipient.

Two weeks passed and we continued to press into the Lord, asking Him to provide a buyer. One evening I hit a low, something very unusual for my upbeat personality, and began to cry out to Him, asking for mercy and that He give me a sense of hope.

I began to praise Him and then settled into a time of listening with my spirit….then heard, very softly the following words… “It’ll be sold in one week”… What? Could I have heard the Lord? I’d heard His voice many times in the past, but this seemed too good to be true. One week? We didn’t even have anyone looking. Maybe He meant that within a week, someone would come view it, and we’d start the process…Maybe…a ton of scenarios flooded my mind but that voice persisted…One week.

Two days later a friend called. Their relatives were flying in and looking for a house…he believed our place in the country was just what they wanted, could they come in two days? Of course, I replied…and come they did. Husband and wife, semi-retired, spent several hours walking the property and talking, then returned for another visit the following day. That evening, they called with an offer and the next day we had signed earnest money papers in hand. A total of six days had passed from the time the Lord told me one week! Our long wait had finally ended, our place moved forward and closed on schedule, and God opened doors of possibility from that sale that we’d never imagined….but that’s an entirely new story!

Miralee Ferrell
Author of The Other Daughter, Releasing in October to read the opening scene

Research Tip: Are There Other Books Out There Like Mine?

In an earlier post, I told you about virtual libraries that most states have for their citizens. As a matter of fact, I've found online libraries for 44 states now, if you want to check it out at Facts for Fiction.

In Georgia's virtual library (GALILEO), we have a great resource called NoveList. Its main focus is to help readers find books similar to ones they've read and enjoyed, or find other authors that will remind them of their favorites. As a fiction writer, I've found another great use for it.

Have you ever been advised to find houses that publish books similar to yours? Or maybe in a book proposal, you want to refer to successful novels that share certain qualities with yours. Maybe you're just curious what's out there that's like your work in progress. NoveList is a great source for that.

You can, of course, just browse the Author Read-Alikes or its other features. But it also has a really cool feature where you can "describe a plot" and have it pull up a list that fits the bill.

For example, awhile back I had a new story idea involving time travel. Is time travel an acceptable topic in the Christian fiction market, I wondered? Has anyone done it before? So I entered time travel and Christian fiction as my search terms, and quickly found that Randy Ingermanson, Nancy Moser and other Christian novelists had indeed tackled that subject. But mine has a sort of psychological suspense to it. I tried psychological suspense and time travel and came up with Kindred by Octavia Butler.

I've checked for NoveList in some of the other virtual libraries in the Facts for Fiction list. Some seem to have it and some don't. If you're one of the unfortunate ones whose state doesn't offer it, don't despair. I'll bet your public library has some kind of resource for finding "read-alikes" and books that have certain plots or themes. Just ask your local librarian, and she (or he) can probably point you in the right direction.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Even the Published Have to Hang in There

I freely admit that, as an unpublished writer, I struggle with envy of the published. Sometimes I hear them talking about their contracts and their forthcoming books, and it all just sounds so easy--for them, anyway.

Take Anita Higman and Janice Thompson. They have a new book called Larkspur Dreams coming out for Heartsong. When I started talking to Anita about featuring them here, I thought--how will they fit in? They're successful, multi-published writers. What do they know about persevering?

Anita (pictured at left) quickly set me straight. "I’ve been writing for twenty-two years. It’s been a long journey, a hard journey at times, but I’m glad I didn’t get off the train."

Janice's story frankly humbled me.

"This past year I went through a crash course in 'writing through the pain.' In September, just one week before my father passed away from bone marrow cancer, I had a book due. I literally wrote the book in the ICU waiting room of a local cancer hospital.

"Six weeks after his death, my daughter (33 weeks pregnant) developed toxemia and had to be hospitalized. The baby was delivered six weeks early, weighing only 4 pounds, 8 ounces. Ironically, I had another book due that same week. Much of it was written at the hospital, in various waiting rooms (and/or the cafeteria).

"Finally, less than a month ago, my daughter was scheduled to be married on a Friday. Three days prior to that (Tuesday) my sister passed away unexpectedly. She was only 45 years old. In one week, I had to coordinate a wedding and a funeral. And (you guessed it), on the day after her death, I had yet another book due. I got it turned in on time (miraculously). I literally spent all day at the funeral home, making arrangements, spent the evening with grieving family, then came home and (in the middle of the night) wrote those last two chapters.

"It IS possible to write through the pain. I know that now. And I also know that God will give you the strength to get the work done, even when it seems impossible. He is a God of impossibilities. I will also add that I found the books/writing to be a real 'gift' during this tough season of my life. They took my eyes off of the problems."

In spite of their difficulties, Janice and Anita have written a novel together that promises to be great fun. According to Janice, Larkspur Dreams illustrates their idea that "opposites not only attract; God often uses our 'polar opposite' to complete/fulfill us." Anita adds, "Lark and Everett are total opposites. Lark is a sanguine and a free-spirit who loves people and loves being alive. Everett is a cautious guy who enjoys numbers more than people. I love throwing characters together who’ll stir up trouble just by being in the same room."

So what advice do they have for aspiring writers--or those of us finding it difficult to hang onto our dream?

According to Anita, "If you feel called to write, don’t let people discourage you. I’m sure they don’t realize the impact of their words, but negative remarks can undermine our courage and joy. Comments similar to: 'Maybe you weren’t really meant to be published.' Or, 'Are you making any money at this yet?' Perhaps you’ve heard, 'Why can’t you write like my favorite author?' Honestly, I could go on and on here. Writing is a great and honorable profession—one that can challenge, inspire, and change people’s lives. If you love words and love arranging them into stories, then don’t let the battering influence of dispiriting comments shatter your dream. Keep pressing on!"

Janice tells young writers, "Learn the craft, but don’t necessarily write what the publishers/agents/houses tell you to write. Trends change. Stick with the stories God places on your heart and if He intends them to be published, He will find the right publishing house in the right time."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Contentment or Wimping Out?

I haven’t posted for a few days, mostly because my husband and I made a long trek to Mississippi to visit his relatives for Easter. It was a fun trip but exhausting (almost ten hours in the car yesterday). I started knitting an afghan on the way and got really caught up in that, so the time passed quickly.

I just started knitting in the past few months. I also am learning to make beaded jewelry and I took up quilting again, which I used to do years ago. Lately, much of my time and money is spent on one or the other of those pursuits.

I can’t figure out whether to be happy or disturbed about all this. When I was a kid, I wanted to dabble in everything. I wanted to play piano and guitar. Act in plays. Speak fluent Spanish. Sew gorgeous clothes. Knit, crochet, etc., etc. I eventually learned that if I really wanted to write—and that was my passion—I had to let most of those other pursuits go. Otherwise, I’d never get beyond the “dabbling” stage in writing, too.

So for many years, whenever I had a few leisure minutes, I was either writing or reading. I dreamed of a day when I could spend more time on my novels, and tried to find ways to squeeze a few more writing hours into my schedule.

My writing routine was interrupted when I went back to school for my master’s degree. For a couple of years, I accepted the fact that work, school, and family were all I could handle. I also developed a new habit of flipping through country decorating magazines because I could do that for five or ten minutes when my brain was otherwise exhausted. Maybe that’s what got me lusting after quilts and afghans and handmade goods. All I know is that, when I finally finished school about a year and a half ago, I wanted to write again. But I also wanted to create with my hands.

This weekend, as I watched that gorgeous afghan growing under my fingers (the yarn is beautiful even if my stitches aren’t), I realized something. For the first time in my life, I could be content without writing. I love my job, my husband and my home. I could very easily work and look forward to a long, relaxing evening with a quilting frame or a box of shiny glass beads. Maybe that creative urge could actually be fulfilled without—gasp!—building a world with words.

I don’t know whether to be happy or sad at this realization. On the one hand, I’ve sometimes worried that my writing is too much of an obsession. God doesn’t want us to hold onto anything too tightly—to want it more than we want him. So maybe it’s a good thing to know I could live quite well without ever becoming a great novelist, and that God would still fill my life with wonderful things.

On the other hand, what if my writing truly is a calling from God? I’ve gotten a lot of indications from him that seem to confirm that call. Do I possibly want to stop writing because it’s gotten too serious, too hard? After all, I used to play with writing the way I play now with knitting. Since I’ve gotten serious about writing as a profession, it frankly isn’t so much fun anymore. Sometimes it’s downright painful. Am I just wimping out, thinking about quitting right before I reap a harvest?

Hmm…I’ll keep you all informed. In the meantime, let me know what you think. By the way, the pictures are of my buddy, Wendy. She loves knitting, too.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Thank God He Waits!

Today is Good Friday. Since starting this blog, I've been thinking a lot about waiting and patience. To us, those are usually negative terms. Or at least, painful ones. But as I think about the passion of Christ, of God's plan for our salvation and his incredible patience in his dealings with us, those terms take on a beautiful new meaning.

In God's plan, timing is everything. The Bible says that "when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman..." (Gal. 4:4). I remember hearing an entire sermon about that once--about all the historical and political events that had slowly come together to make the timing of Jesus's birth and ministry perfect.

We are impatient, microwave-generation people. But I truly thank God that He is not in such a hurry. That He's willing to wait for me. For all of us. We are told that the Lord isn't slow in fulfilling his promises to us, but he is being patient, because He wants everyone to have time to repent and be saved. (2 Peter 3:8-9).

Sometimes I read books by Hugh Ross, a fascinating man who is both an astrophysicist and an evangelical pastor. His writing is often over my English-major head, but he does leave me with a feeling of awe and wonder. He helps me see how much bigger God is than this tiny, finite world. In one of his books, Beyond the Cosmos, he posits that God has access to many more dimensions of space and time than we three-dimensional humans. Since Jesus was both man and God, Ross speculates how much greater and longer His suffering on the cross may have seemed or been--far beyond a few hours on that terrible Friday. Again, all this is beyond me, but I was left with more gratitude at the idea of how vast Christ's suffering was for me.

So God's willingness to wait is a very good thing. Hope you don't mind more Scripture-quoting, but I have to close with some wonderful verses:

But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth,
in which righteousness truly resides. Therefore, since you are waiting for these
things, strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence. And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation... (2 Peter

Research Tip: Ask An Expert

Last week I spoke about state virtual libraries. (By the way, I've added several states to that list at Facts for Fiction, if you want to check it out.)

I recently discovered a fabulous online library that anyone can use, without logging in. It's called Library Spot, and I'll talk more about it another time. I wanted to point out just one of its many features, a listing called Ask An Expert.

This portal gets you started not only finding databases or search engines to help answer questions in specific fields. It also has links to loads of spots with volunteer experts, or librarians or researchers. Just think--actual human beings to give specific answers to specific questions. For free!

Being an introvert, I often find it difficult to approach some stranger and ask for information I need for a story. (And you know how it is. When you're writing fiction, the question is usually pretty weird. "So, Doctor, what kind of poison could a woman give her husband that would look like a simple heart attack?") So I love the idea of having experts standing by, waiting for my questions. Questions that I will send via email so they won't see me blush.

So it sounds wonderful, if it works. Here's my confession. I recently discovered this site and haven't tried asking the experts anything yet. I played around with the links this afternoon. I found problems with one or two. Others seemed great.

If you decide to try it out, please let me know if you have any problems--or if it's the best thing since grits. (Or sliced bread, for you non-Southern persons.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Consider it all what?!

Melanie Dickerson is our guest blogger today. She's sharing a tongue-in-cheek look at that most dreaded experience for writers: rejection. (Sometimes we just have to vent a little, don't we? Isn't it great when we can do it together!)

Here's Melanie:

After getting a rejection (the latest of many) from an agent I desperately
wanted, I wrote this little paraphrase of James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my
sisters (and brothers), whenever you receive rejections of many kinds (whether
they be brief form letters or a personal note telling you all the things you
still are doing wrong), because you know that the testing of your faith in
yourself and your writing develops humility (which you'll need once you become as rich and famous as J.K. Rowling) and perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Then I wrote this little job announcement: I would like to announce that I am accepting query letters from all bonafide literary agents. If you would like
to be my agent, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will send you a
template application document. If I decide not to choose you, please do not be
offended. My agent needs are limited, therefore I must be very picky.