Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This and That

What discriminating cats are reading.

Just a few items of business today. First, for those of you wonderful people who have subscribed to this blog, I want you to know it just doesn't always work. I've contacted FeedBlitz a couple of times, but lately the email updates just don't go out to everyone consistently. So if you don't get an update for a couple of days, will you let me know? Or come here directly and check for an update? Meanwhile, I'll continue to try to figure out what the problem is.

I know that yesterday's post went out to hardly anyone. It wasn't particularly important or inspiring, but it had a really cute picture of One-Eyed Jack, the Pirate Dog. Be sure to take a look at him if you missed the original.

Last but not least, you have one more day to leave comments or subscribe to be eligible for the June 1 drawing for a $50 gift certificate. Just remember, every time you comment, you get one entry in the drawing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pirates, Pirates Everywhere

Hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend. Mine turned out to be pirate-themed.

This is One-Eyed Jack, the Pirate Dog. He helps host the animal adoption site put on by one of the local shelters (sorry, I'm not sure of the name!) at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Jack is apparently pretty tolerant, but fortunately they only slip the full costume on him when someone wants a picture. He is genuinely one-eyed and used to wear a patch, but he put his foot down about that and refuses to wear it anymore.

I saw a couple of other pirates named Jack (human and monkey) when I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I am embarrassed to confess how much I was looking forward to this event. The movie itself left me with mixed feelings. It had a different feel from the first two light-hearted installments. This one felt heavy, and the ending was just heart-wrenching.

Most interesting to me as a writer were the reviews. I read several afterward, and although I had strong opinions and definite criticisms of the movie, none of the reviewers saw what I saw. They didn't even agree with each other. I think each one, though, called the writers talentless hacks. They didn't use those words, of course, but I think they would have liked to.

I had problems with the writing, too, and yet...I thought about that movie, especially the ending, all weekend. It had quite an effect on me. I wondered, is it really such bad writing if it has such a powerful effect?

I guess it's not just my poor little manuscript that draws wildly conflicting critiques and reviews. And I guess if those guys can write hugely popular films and still get called hacks, I shouldn't get too discouraged, either.

So, did anyone else go see Pirates? Or should I have preserved my dignity and not admitted it myself?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

See, I Told You So

This is what encouragement looks like.

I said I was going to publish a guest blog today. But I'm going to postpone that until next week. I feel like offering some encouragement of my own today.

Here is a direct quote from yesterday's post: "So today, I vent! Tomorrow, I'm sure I'll be able to let you know how good God is, and what he has done to encourage me and keep me going. He always does."

I knew it, I knew it! Whenever I'm lagging like that, God always gives me just what I need to keep going one more time.

Last night, I received back my scoresheets and comments from the Genesis contest judges. Two were lukewarm and so-so. One, however, gave me a great score and was very enthusiastic about my work. In every category, her comments were positive. She ended with a comment, "Thanks for keeping the pages turning." She also signed her name, so I can tell that she's a successful, multi-published author in my genre.

As I said yesterday, I haven't had much enthusiasm over my work in awhile--not like I used to get. I don't have to be published or win contests, but every now and then, I need some indication that my writing is working. That someone finds it interesting and gets excited about it. As usual, God knew exactly what I needed to help me take one more step. That's what it's all about. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

A verse in the Bible says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." I can't remember where I heard this--probably in a sermon at church. But someone compared this "lamp" to a flashlight. When it's really dark and you use a flashlight, it only lights up a little spot right in front of your feet. It does not light up the entire area for half a mile. You can't see to the end of the road. But you can see where to plant your foot next. One step at a time.

And that's what God always does for me.

Winner of Diva NashVegas, and a Couple of Other Business Items

Kathleen Morphy won the drawing for Rachel Hauck's new book, Diva NashVegas. Congrats, Kathleen, and enjoy! If you'll email me your snail mail address, I'll send it to you. You can contact me at robing8300 at

Thanks to everyone who participated. Next week we'll have the drawing for the gift certificate.

A few more items of business:

One, I'm going to be away from the computer for the next four days. No posts until next Tuesday. So you'll get a break from me! :) I hope you all enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, and I'll talk to you next week.

Second, while I was wallowing in self-pity yesterday, I forgot to send my congratulations to Sally Bradley, who DID final in the Genesis contest. Sally has been a faithful supporter of the Queen and I appreciate her very much. Best wishes for your work, and for the rest of the contest!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Face of Rejection

This is what rejection looks like. This is what rejection feels like.

My sister's dog, Ferbie, was definitely feeling rejected. We had told him he had to stay in the motor home (yes, he understands a fair amount of English) while the rest of us went on an outing. The thing I love about dogs is that they show their feelings. No putting on a stiff upper lip. No need to appear professional--as though nothing in the business world is ever supposed to hurt us. He's wounded and he shows it.

Of course, when we got back he immediately forgave us and did an ecstatic happy dance. Another great thing about dogs.

I was talking to a blogger buddy a couple of days ago about the need to vent and cry on each other's shoulder when the rejections are starting to get to us. I decided we need that right here on this blog today. I'll go first.

The finalists for the ACFW Genesis contest for unpublished writers were announced yesterday. I was not a finalist; hence my need for venting. It's not that I'm devastated about one contest. I'm just feeling things piling up on me in the area of writing--or not piling up, as the case may be.

Let me try to explain. I've mentioned here before that I've been submitting manuscripts, trying to get a novel published for 30 years now. I fully admit that for most of those years, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Somehow, in that clueless state, I had constant encouragement. When I entered contests, I often finaled. If I went to a conference, editors seemed to love my writing and requested full manuscripts. In fact, my frustration back then came from the vast quantity of near misses.

After about 25 years, I almost quit. I prayed and placed a fleece before God. If he wanted me to quit, I would. Just please show me whether to keep going. Out of the blue, he provided two well-known Christian authors to help me. Not through conferences or writers' groups or any effort on my part. They just happened to be friends of friends. They just appeared out of nowhere, and they provided so much encouragement, they kept me going. One recommended me to an agent, whom I signed with three years ago.

And since then, nothing.

I enter contests, and nothing happens. I get low scores. No one requests full manuscripts.

The hardest part of this writing dream, for me, hasn't been the waiting, or the hard work. It's the confusion. The frustration. Trying to figure out what in the world I should be doing differently.

Well-meaning people say, you need to work hard and study your craft. I heard one writer compare the process to becoming a doctor. Medical students have to study, learn, apprentice. True, but if I had started medical school 30 years ago, I would either have studied, done well, and been practicing medicine for many years now--or I would have flunked out and gone on to something else. I probably wouldn't pass an exam one day, then show up for class the next and be told that a different professor had looked at it and decided I failed.

I want this blog to be all about encouragement. But I decided when I started it that I wanted to be real, to make myself vulnerable. For me, I sometimes need to know that others are facing a dark hour--and that they make it through. So today, I vent! Tomorrow, I'm sure I'll be able to let you know how good God is, and what he has done to encourage me and keep me going. He always does.

(I always think that if God would let me not only publish, but become unbelievably successful after hanging in there for 30 years, that would be a tremendous encouragement to others! But I've discovered that God often has a different point of view from me.)

Tonight I will get back to work and try again. And tomorrow, I have a beautifully encouraging story from another writer to pass along. But for now, please feel free to vent here, if you like. Trust me, I know how hard this is. Leave a comment, or if you have a story about how you got past some particularly horrible rejection and would like to share it, send it to me. I'll be happy to give you a guest blog spot.

Thanks for letting me share with you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Research Tip: American Memory at the Library of Congress

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Have you ever checked out the Library of Congress's American Memory project?

If you're working on a historical set in the U.S., this is a must for you! The Library of Congress has digitized and put online thousands of oral histories, historic photographs, maps, sheet music, sound recordings, and more. The above photo is from the Selected Civil War Photographs collection, and depicts a dinner party outside a tent at the Army of the Potomac headquarters in Virginia. You can browse this collection by subject. So if you're interested in firearms, or battle-damaged buildings, or even pictures of folks "eating and drinking," you can narrow down your focus.

One collection called "After the Day of Infamy" has audio recordings of interviews with Americans across the country in the days following Pearl Harbor. Traveling in America has first-person narratives of people--you guessed it!--traveling in America from 1750-1920. There are slave narratives, pictures from the Dust Bowl, "life histories" of ordinary Americans collected by a Federal work project in the 1930s, folk music... I could go on and on.

Plus, if you need help finding what you're looking for, there's an Ask-A-Librarian link so you can connect with a Library of Congress librarian.

I could go on and on. But you should really check it out yourself. Even if you're not working on a historical, it's fun!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Would You Believe...

Remember my posts from a couple of weeks ago, about my family camping trips attracting natural disasters? I was really just referring to big camping trips involving my whole family and my dad's motor home. But my husband and I have a small camper that fits on the back of his truck. I guess since we have a small camper, we attract small disasters.

We went to a nearby lake to camp this past weekend. At one point, we made a run into town to buy some groceries. When we came back, we got within about a half a mile of the campground, and--would you believe it--saw smoke blanketing the highway and firetrucks stopping the traffic. We had to turn around and make a huge detour to get to the campground.

I asked Dave, "Do you think it was a car burning or a wildfire?" He said, "Looked like a woods fire."

Oh great, I thought. Half the state's been burning for weeks. Now our camping jinx is going to set the other half on fire.

Fortunately, the blaze was quickly extinguished. Thank you, wonderful Georgia firefighters! But he was right. When I drove home Sunday, I saw about a hundred yards of burned trees. It could have been a horrible disaster.

On a positive note, I read an entire novel this weekend. May not sound like much to the rest of you, but I've been having readers' block along with writers' block of late. I think I've made myself read too many books either because they were given to me to review, or I thought I needed to read them as a learning experience. I actually picked up Waking Lazarus by T.L. Hines as the latter category. But wow, what a great read! This was the first book that I just couldn't put down in a long time. Can't wait to read more by him. If you want to read something spooky, suspenseful, and completely unique, I highly recommend it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rachel Hauck With a Gentle Reminder

First, thanks to Robin for having me stop by her blog this week. I really appreciate you, Robin.

So, how many of you are writers? Oh, nice showing of hands. How many just readers? Oh, good. We love readers.

Well, here’s a peek into a writer’s life.

It’s hard work. Whether one is striving to be published or striving to meet a contract deadline, writing is hard work.

There is a certain joy in it. For me, it satisfies a deep, interior longing I didn’t know existed. And on the days of insecurity and doubt, I would never want to do anything else.

Writing is a discipline. An Olympic athlete begins with one thing – ability or gifting. A special talent for a game or sport.

The ability births a dream – to go to the Olympics.

The dream forms in to a plan.

After that, it’s all about work and discipline. Training, working out, giving up free time or friendships to achieve the dream. Sacrifice. Waking up at 5:00 a.m. to train while everyone else is sleeping.

But if the goal is Olympic Gold, discipline and drive is the only way to succeed, the only way to get even close to a Gold Medal.

While researching Lost In NashVegas, I interviewed song publisher Ree Guyer Buchanan and when I asked her the number one quality of a successful songwriter, she said, “Drive.”

Like athletes, writers have to be disciplined and driven. Outline a plan to achieve your writing goals. If you work full time, or have young children to tend to, or perhaps both, find those one or two hours a week you can dedicate solely to writing.

And stick to it. Shut the door and for one or two hours, only write.

Writing is a creative venue and too often we wait for the muse to visit before sitting down to write. Let me tell you, the muse does not visit often enough. The muse can be ruthless. Showing up only to inspire an idea or two and never returning.

While writing Diva NashVegas, my latest release (May 8, Thomas Nelson) my muse showed up long enough to get me excited about country super star, Aubrey James, then never showed up again.

The book was hard to write. I had four months to write and research. God was so good to me. Just when I didn’t think I could do it, He’d reassure me.

Really, count on God showing up more than your muse. As you preserve in writing, God will meet you.

One day while struggling, I said, “Lord, I thought you said you were going to help me.” He’d given me the scripture Isaiah 41:13 at the beginning of the book.

A soft answer came to my heart. “What makes you think I’m not?”

I laughed. “Because it’s hard.”

Then I really laughed.

Don’t be afraid of the discipline of writing, or the painful blank page. Give yourself to it if you feel the Lord has called you to write, then trust Him. He will be with you. He promises us He will.

Finally, the best advice I can give is “backside in chair.” You can’t perfect what isn’t written. You can’t submit a book that doesn’t exist.

Write on!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rachel Hauck is Coming! Win her latest book.

First, just wanted to give you a little teaser for what's coming up this weekend. Rachel Hauck will be doing a guest blog designed especially for us--you know, "us." Writers and dreamers who are dragging a little and need a pep talk about persevering in the writing life. I've had a little peek at her message, of course, and she manages to give us a very ladylike kick in the pants and somehow make it fun all at the same time.

Speaking of fun, that reminds me (because Rachel's books are always fun), I'm giving away a copy of her latest, Diva Nashvegas. Leave a comment here today or when Rachel guest stars, and I'll have a drawing to pick the winner.

Have fun!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Loaves and Fishes God

I'm in a tizzy tonight. Once again, time has gotten away from me somehow and I haven't worked on my novel. I've been going constantly since I left for work this morning, but here it is almost bedtime and I haven't gotten to the writing. I wish I were one of those high energy people who could stay up half the night and write, then pop back up for work the next morning, but I'm not. I've always needed my sleep. Even back in college, I never could pull those all-nighters.

So tonight I'm trying to remind myself of a lesson God taught me a couple of years ago, when I went back to school after many, many years. I was terrified when I started. I had never tried to work full time and take classes before. I seemed to be exhausted all the time as it was. A number of my colleagues were also working on degrees (I was working at a college, after all), and they scared me to death. They were skipping time with spouses and children. They went without sleep. One co-worker told me she generally started her schoolwork after her husband and child went to bed, worked until two or three a.m., then got back up around six.

I knew I absolutely could not do this. I refused to neglect my family for schoolwork, but I knew I didn't have the energy for the grueling pace my friends were keeping. I feared that, if I could do the degree at all, I would be ready for retirement by the time I finished. I planned to attempt finishing in three to four years, but I didn't know if that would be possible.

At times, the pace did get grueling. I often thought, I just can't do this. I don't have enough time. I don't have enough energy. I don't have the drive.

Somewhere along in there, the story of Jesus multiplying the five loaves and two fishes to feed thousands of people (Matthew 14) started popping up everywhere. It showed up in a couple of daily devotions, the preacher preached on it, I heard it on the radio. Do you ever have that happen? You know God is trying to get something through to you because he drums it into your head over and over.

I wondered what God was getting at. I began to meditate on that story, and I realized it was about Jesus taking something that was not enough, and turning it into plenty. I knew he was trying to tell me that if he could do that with bread and fish, he could do that with anything. With my time. With my energy.

When my energy would lag, when I would start to panic that I couldn't do it, I would pray, "Lord, you are my loaves and fishes God. Multiply me. Make me enough for what you want me to do."

And he did just that. I look back and I can't even tell you exactly how it all worked out. But I never stayed up all night. I spent time with my family and friends. And I finished that degree in two years and two months!

Now here I am, panicking once again that I'm not enough. I don't have the time or energy to write another book. I feel so lazy compared to other writing acquaintances who whip those novels out one after another.

So Lord, I'm just praying to you right now. If you want me to do this, multiply me like the loaves and fishes. Make me enough.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Research Tip: Search Libraries & Archives Worldwide in One Search

Did you know that about 10,000 libraries have banded together and produced one big catalog--and that it's available online and you can search it for free? It's called WorldCat, and it's a pretty good bet that your local public and college libraries are members. So what does that mean for you as a writer or reader?

If you go to WorldCat and do a search on a topic, it won't just give you a list of results. You can give it your location via zip code and it will produce a list of nearby libraries that have the item that interests you. It will even tell you how many miles away the library is--and link you to that library's web page and "Ask a Librarian" feature. So in a couple of clicks, you could locate some helpful material and communicate with your local librarian about it if you have questions. And of course, if it's not available near you, you can also click a button to be taken to an online bookseller that has the item.

One of my favorite things about WorldCat is that it will also tell you about relevant items that are cataloged in the library's archives. In fact, if you just want to look at archival materials, you can look at the limiters over on the left side and click on "Archival Materials." Try doing a search like "slavery oral histories" or "civil war journals," for example, and you'll find published books and one-of-a-kind documents that exist only in the Archives.

Don't forget that, if the book you want isn't in a library near you, you can take the info to your local library and ask them to get it for you through Interlibrary Loan. Most Archival materials won't be sent out that way. But some archives have their cataloged materials digitized, and others might occasionally send you a small amount of photocopied material. I have seen some that would send a microfilmed reel of historic newspapers, for example, to your local library. You would just have to use it in the library, not take it home with you. (But then, not many of us have microfilm machines at home, anyway!)

You could also use WorldCat to try to find other books similar to your Work in Progress. I mentioned some ways to do this in an earlier post, but you can also try WorldCat. I tried my "christian fiction time travel" search and it produced great results.

Here's one of my favorite anecdoctes about WorldCat. For almost a hundred years, a four-volume set of engravings by a renowned 17th century British engraver was "missing." It had actually been purchased by someone and given to the University of Southern California, but researchers studying this engraver had no idea where the volumes ended up. One day, a cataloger working on a project about the engraver decided to check WorldCat. And there the volumes were, very clearly cataloged at USC. But until WorldCat came along, their location was a forgotten factoid. A complete mystery.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cyndi Salzman Talks about Writing, Research, and Avoiding Laundry

A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through Library Journal at work and spotted a familiar name--Cyndi Salzman, an author and fellow member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Her new book, Crime and Clutter, not only received a favorable review there, but she was interviewed and talked about some unique ways she went about the research for the book. (Also, she was pretty darn funny!) I immediately contacted her and asked if I could pass along some of her wit and wisdom to our readers. Here's the interview that resulted:

How long have you been writing?
I wrote and illustrated my first book at age six on manila paper and bound it using rubber cement. The title was The Beatles Book and commemorated the Fab Four’s “landing” in the United States. When I heard recently that Yoko Ono is now 73 years old – the shock sent me into a full blown hot flash.

How did your first book contract come about?
About ten years ago, I began writing a book as an excuse to avoid laundry. Frankly, I wish I had a loftier reason for kick-starting my career. But I don’t. The simple truth is at the bottom of the laundry pile – probably under a pair of smelly socks. It’s no surprise that my first three contracts were for nonfiction books providing encouragement for the domestically challenged.

Your first novel?
I had toyed with the idea of writing fiction for quite some time but came up with the idea for my mystery series when my group of girlfriends (we call ourselves the Friday Afternoon Club) was taking one of our "road trips." We spent ten hours on a train going to Chicago and laughed the entire time. On the trip home, I thought it would be a great premise for a mystery. We ended up plotting a story with the help of several passengers and the conductor, who happened to be a part-time mortician. Although the trip inspired the series, that particular story hasn't been written—yet.

Has there been a time in your writing journey that you felt like giving up? How did you get through that time?
I think about this at least once a week. The work is HARD, promotion grueling and I am always behind on laundry. I think – “WHY am I doing this? I could have a drawer full of clean underwear!” Then God softly whispers – once again – in my ear, “You know why…” Then He reminds me of the same words of encouragement David gave to his son Solomon when he passed the baton, “Be strong and courageous – and do the work.” (I Chron, 28:20) So I pull on a pair of my dh’s underwear (since I don’t have any clean ones) and fire up my laptop.

Tell us a little about Crime and Clutter.
Crime & Clutter is the second title in my light-hearted mystery series focusing on the friendship and adventures of six women who have dubbed themselves the “Friday Afternoon Club.” Sound familiar? : ) Caught up in the everyday challenges of carpool, soccer practice, music lessons and never-ending laundry – this feisty group of midlife moms find themselves acting as sleuths to unravel the mysteries and predicaments they encounter. In this book, Mary Alice is forced to face the difficult memories of her father's abandonment when she was a baby. The FAC rallies around her to help resolve her family's long-buried secrets which take readers through the Sixties counterculture.

How did you go about the research for it?
This is where the former journalist comes out in me. I love research! I read several books written about hippies and the counter-culture during the Sixties, piles of news articles and the trial transcripts of the Chicago Seven and similar cases. I pulled up archives of old television and radio reports, haunted “old hippie” chat rooms and forums and did several interviews with people who were in college during the time.

One of my childhood friend’s older sister lived on a commune and we visited her in 1968. Although I was only nine years old at the time, I have some very vivid memories of the place and the people. I remember being both fascinated and frightened by the experience. Finally, Denny and Ali’s story contain similarities to that of my own parents. I was able to pull from things they’ve said over the years to get a sense of the passion and motivation of the times.

Is there one great research tip (a source, or website, or just a way to go about it) that you would like to pass along?
My training is in broadcast journalism, so I have always keyed into what people say – looking for a sound bite that adds flavor to the story. Consequently, I like to interview people face-to-face whenever possible. I also like listening to recordings or reading transcripts of interviews or trials. And I read letters or diaries when I can find them. Anything in a person’s own words. This gives me a better sense of the emotion and a flavor for the times. For example, when I researched the first book in the series, Dying to Decorate (which deals with the Underground Railroad in the Great Plains) the Slave Narratives produced during the WPA project in the 1930’s were invaluable.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Eight Indications I Need Help

I just discovered I've been tagged by Sally Bradley to tell you eight random things about me. After that, I'm supposed to tag eight other people. (See last paragraph if you've been tagged.) Well, at least Sally didn't specify "amazing" or "fascinating" things about me. That would be really hard. Random I can possibly do.

1. Have you ever seen Nancy Grace, who has a show on CNN? I grew up with her. Went to school with her first grade through twelfth, plus one summer college class.

2. I never used a digital camera until March of this year.

3. I've told you about two of my cats, Wendy and Cera. I had another Himalayan named Tegan who died a couple of years ago. She was 20 years old!

4. I am possibly the biggest Star Wars fan in this or any other galaxy, even those far, far away.

5. This is related to number 4, but I refuse to put them together. This is hard enough as it is. I used to go to science fiction conventions. That's right, I was one of those geeks, and yes, I once wore a Star Trek uniform. (I didn't like Star Trek as much as Star Wars, but they had those really cool uniforms in the movies. If I had dressed as Princess Leia, I would have had to put my hair in those tacky buns on the side of my head. And this was way back, before Padme and all those gorgeous clothes in Attack of the Clones...okay, I'm starting a whole other post here. Plus I'm sounding slightly demented. I'll move on.)

6. I'm kind of depressed this week because I just discovered there's only one more episode of Gilmore Girls.

7. I once worked for a private investigator.

8. I remember seeing the Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan show. I remember a lot of other things about the Ed Sullivan show, including a puppet sketch in which the puppets devoured each other. A caterpillar puppet grabbed some kind of bug, and then a big bird grabbed it, etc. It scared me to death. I'm still slightly uncomfortable watching the Muppets.

Well, this was great. Very good for me, because after reading back over my list, I now realize I am in severe need of psychotherapy! Thanks, Sally!

Now comes the really hard part. I'm new at this, and I barely know eight other bloggers. But here are the ones I decided to inflict this--uh, honor with--naming them: Miralee, Melanie, Judy, Shirl, Robin B., Jess, Terri T., and Angie.

Those of you tagged should post eight random things about yourself on your blog. At the end, tag eight other people and list their names. Leave a comment on their blog telling them they're tagged and to come read your blog for more info.

By the way, I didn't mean for this blog to be as much about me as it has been this week. I will try to get back on track next week, I promise!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Attracting Natural Disasters Part 2

Yesterday, I told you about my family's tendency to draw natural disasters with our camping trips. All this was really just background leading up to last weekend.

Every year we go camping at Twin Oaks Park near Waycross, Georgia, where they have an awesome bluegrass festival. As I mentioned last Friday, this is precisely where horrible wildfires have been burning for several weeks. I can't believe that, even after being back for days, this fire is still burning, but the drought in Georgia this year has really added to the problem. Roads had been closed near Twin Oaks Park and a number of homes had been destroyed by the fires, but of course we headed for South Georgia anyway.

I don't think we realized the extent of the fire until this trip, so I'm glad we went. Sometimes the horrible events I hear about on the radio news tend to blur into "talk" while I'm getting ready for work or driving. I need a jolt of reality every now and then.

The festival was about 180 miles from my home, but we started breathing smoke after about 30 miles. I don't know how folks have been managing to go about their business all these weeks with the air so thick with smoke. We went through the little town of Pearson and could see the clouds of smoke billowing up. Everyone in the local Hardee's was talking about the fire. Mostly they were talking about the firefighters who are risking their lives for them.

My mother and sister were going to join us the next day, and I was particularly worried about them since they have asthma. The park was hazy and smoky on Thursday, but on Friday we were truly blessed. The wind shifted, and the air cleared. Once again, God blessed us with a great family time together and protected us--in spite of ourselves!

For most of the year, Twin Oaks Park is mainly a quiet farm. I like to speculate about the cows, who go about their business in peace for most of the year. Then suddenly, hundreds of people and campers and noisy people who make strange sounds on twangy instruments descend on them. I think the calves are especially bewildered.

We have one more family camping trip planned for this summer, back to Hunting Island again. I don't know what will be going on as far as hurricanes, but I've already gotten an email from the park about our reservation. They wanted to let us know that we should plan for lots of traffic delays when we come, because a barge ran into a bridge going out to the island and repairs won't be completed until a couple of weeks after our trip.

Oh well. We're packing up anyway.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Attracting Natural Disasters

On the American Christian Fiction Writers email loop this week, people are discussing creative ways to make extra cash to help pay for the annual conference. I just thought of one. I can tell folks that unless they send me large sums of money, I will bring my family to camp near them.

My family's camping trips have always attracted natural disasters. We've long been accustomed to heading out in tornado warnings or flash floods. Usually things clear up by the time we get where we're going--at least enough for us to cope.

I was already a grown woman when my dad got a motor home. Family vacations for us had usually consisted of visiting relatives in other states, but now we intended to go play! We planned a camping trip to the beach in Florida, even though it was a little early in the year and the wind was howling. We didn't care. All of us----my parents, my sister and her family (including my niece and nephew) and me--loaded into that RV and headed out.

We basically lay on the beach in a sandstorm. My father still teases my sister about the sand that stuck in her lip balm in the perfect shape of her lips. But we had a blast. The first time my fiancee (now my husband, Dave) met my family was on one of those camping trips. We had a long distance relationship, and he drove over from Louisiana to meet us on yet another beach in Florida.

For years now, we camp every summer at one of my favorite places in the world, Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. The woods and the shady trees with moss stretch all the way down to the beach. So I can park a beach chair in the shade from the trees, lie there and watch the waves, and not worry so much about burning this glaring white skin. In fact, I once had a squirrel come down out of an oak tree right onto the beach to beg for potato chips, which he took out of my hand.

Hunting Island is so popular that it's very hard to get a reservation, but about three years ago, I snagged one. I planned that trip four months in advance--and managed to choose a week when not one but THREE hurricanes went up the coast. We were evacuated, which is a good thing, or we probably would have just sat there and waited for it to blow over.

We tried again the next year. I know you won't believe this, but as I left the library to start my vacation, one of my colleagues said, "At least there are no hurricanes predicted this year." That was the week Katrina hit. We traveled other places for a few days first, but by the time we reached Hunting Island, boy was there a hurricane predicted! Katrina didn't make landfall in our area, but we got the residual effects, mostly in wind. I had mentioned to Dave and my dad that I wanted one of those screen tents to put around our picnic table. We sat in the motor home and watched other people's screen tents go blowing past, rolling over and over like a ball. Daddy told me to just go out and grab the one I wanted as it went by.

All of this is leading up to this past weekend. I'll tell you about that tomorrow, in part 2 of this fascinating story.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Fear of Blessing?

Last week, Tara Mixon wrote a guest blog which talked about fear of failure. Judy left a very astute comment asking are we afraid of failure or of success, and pointing out that these are often two sides of the same coin. So happy you brought this up, Judy, because I was going to follow up with a similar thought.

A couple of weeks ago, my daily Bible reading brought me to some passages in 2 Samuel. In chapter 5, David is having a great time. Here are the NIV headings for the passages: "David Becomes King over Israel," "David Conquers Jerusalem," and "David Defeats the Philistines." He's on a roll, so he decides to take the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

During the trip, the oxen carrying the Ark stumble. One of David's men, Uzzah, takes hold of the Ark to steady it, which seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, God had given strict instructions as to who could touch the Ark, and how it should be treated. Uzzah was struck dead for his irreverence--and David was struck with fear. "How can the Ark of the Lord ever come to me?" (2 Sam. 6:9 NIV).

So David left the Ark right there where it was, with someone named Obed-Edom. Then he had to watch as God poured out his blessings on Obed-Edom and his entire household and know that, because of his fear, he was missing all that.

I'm in the process of starting yet another new novel, and I'm finding it really difficult. Some of that excitement I usually have at starting a new project just isn't there. Sometimes I ask myself, Have I done this once too often? Where's my passion? What am I afraid of?

I know I'm afraid of the rejection, of hitting the usual dead end. But sometimes I read blog posts and emails from published writers and think--what if I did succeed? Would I want to have a contract that required me to produce three books over the next year or two, instead of being able to take my time? And if I write books for the Christian market, what if I say the wrong thing? What if I misrepresent God, if my intentions are just as good as poor old Uzzah's--but I turn out to be just as irreverent and mistaken? Sure I'm afraid people will never read my work, but sometimes I'm even more afraid they will.

Even starting this blog was very scary for me. (See previous paragraph. Same principle.) It's very scary to reach out to people and make yourself vulnerable like that. But I finally decided, I don't want someone else to get my blessing! I'm just praying God will give me courage, and show me how to handle his Ark the right way.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

An Update on My Poor Baby

Faithful visitors to the Queen will remember my former post about my poor, nervous cat Cera. The above picture shows what she's supposed to look like. Even at 18 years old, she's gorgeous--although in this photo you can tell she's getting matted and scruffy. Hence the story of her infamous trip to the groomer, which left her looking like this:

The groomers returned her to me half-shaved because they couldn't handle her. I promised an update, and I'm proud to say that on her second trip, the mission was accomplished. She doesn't exactly look good, but at least her hair is now even and smooth. Here's her new look:

You realize, of course, that she learned nothing from all this. She still won't let me brush her. As soon as her hair is an inch long, she'll be matted again. Back to the groomer we'll go--although possibly to a different one. This one did not specifically say we should never set foot in the place again, but she did not appear happy to see us this morning.

Cera has arthritis, and when I brought her home today, she seemed a little stiff and sore. Squirming to escape and taking swipes at people who were trying to help her no doubt took its toll. I watched her hobble around upstairs, first to the food dish, then her scratching pad, then her favorite sleeping spot. She was so happy to be home, she had to assure herself it was all real. And I was filled with compassion for her, and kept hugging her and petting her. This in spite of the fact that she caused me a great deal of aggravation, stress, and expense by being such an ornery little cuss to begin with.

So on the positive side, I thought--if I'm capable of loving her like that in spite of herself, if I can understand her lack of trust and forgive her for it, just think how great God's compassion must be toward me! And thank God for it. I'm afraid I'm pretty dense about repeating the same mistakes over and over myself, sometimes.

On a mundane side note, I wanted to mention that I probably won't post again for a few days. I'm going camping with my family from Thursday through Sunday. In fact, we're headed to a bluegrass festival near Waycross, Georgia. Have you heard about the horrible wildfires near the Okefenokee in south Georgia? Yep, that's where we're headed. What did I tell you about me and mistakes? Oh boy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Announcing Prize Winners--Plus a New Contest

Today was the big day for the two drawings for gift certificates.

The first drawing was for subscribers to the blog. I am very pleased to say that by the time of the drawing, I had 32 subscribers. Woo-hoo! I don't think that's bad, considering the blog has only been around for six or seven weeks. So I put the names of subscribers into a bag and shook it up, and pulled one out, and the winner was...

Tara Mixon! Congratulations, Tara--and thanks again for your encouraging guest blog yesterday.

I did a second drawing with the names of everyone who left a comment here. The winner that time was Jess, a visitor to the Queen who left a message on April 24. I've left a message on Jess's blog about the big prize--but if you read this here, email me, okay? I need your email address to send your prize.

Tara and Jess have both won a $50 gift certificate to And now here's the good news. I'm starting up a new contest for the month of May!

I can only afford one gift certificate next time--but I still feel I need to bribe you to read until you are so addicted to the gems of encouragement and knowledge found here that you will no longer be able to resist. So here's what I'm doing for May.

I'm going to hold one combined drawing for one $50 gift certificate. I'll hold the drawing on June 1. All new subscribers and everyone who leaves a comment by May 31 will be entered.

I'm going to do entries for commenting a little differently. Every time you leave a comment, you'll get one entry in the drawing. I want to reward those faithful readers who are really supporting the Queen. So if you comment on four separate posts, you'll get four entries in the drawing. Please make sure I can tell who you are or how to get in touch with you. (By the way, if anyone out there has experience with this, how do you handle that part? I don't want to ask people to post personal info--but I want to be able to let them know if they win. If you have brilliant ideas, post them as comments and get entered into the contest!)

Thanks again for all who have participated so far. Help me spread the word!