Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jenny B. Jones on First Novels and Dreaming Big

Jenny B. Jones's first novel, In Between, is supposed to be mainly for teen readers, but I'm going to have to pick it up. Any book described "Annie meets Gilmore Girls" is definitely for me. Also, her answers to my interview questions about her writing and first publishing contract are so much fun that I want to read her novel now. Here's the interview:

Tell us a little about In Between.
In Between was a lot of fun to write. It’s sort of like Annie meets Gilmore Girls. The story is centered around Katie Parker, a 16 year old girl who can’t catch a break. With a mother in jail and a father unaccounted for, she finds herself in a mini-van bound for In-Between, Texas, home of her new foster parents. Katie finds or creates chaos at every opportunity as she adjusts to life with this family. Her foster parents, a pastor and wife, have a few secrets of their own, and life begins to unravel for everyone.

Is it your first novel?
Yup, first one out of the chute. There are three in this series. I’m finishing up book three, The Big Picture, and book two, On the Loose, will be out this September.

How long have you been writing fiction?
Since the summer of 2005. I’m a teacher though, so I’m surrounded by fiction daily. Like reasons not to have homework, why that spitball just flew across the room, that sort of thing. Great inspiration.

How did you decide to write books for teens?
I really felt the call. I just knew chick-lit was my place, and I had a vague idea for a book in my head, but God kept building this story of teenager Katie Parker in my head. It grew and grew until I knew I had to write it down. And it’s been a blessed, anointed journey ever since.

How did your first book contract come about?
This is a total God story. I had just decided to get serious about pursuing writing the summer before ACFW Conference in ’05. I have written all my life, but never with a driven purpose. So that summer I accepted the fact that there wasn’t a publishing fairy who was gonna wave her wand over me, and that if I really wanted to be published, I was going to have to get proactive. So I signed up for the ACFW conference and signed up for a critique with a published CBA author that I thought was most likely to “get me.” In the meantime, I rededicated my prayer time to include the Prayer of Jabez and changed my attitude and expectations. God was gonna do something big in my life.

Fast forward to the ACFW conference in 2005. I’m going there armed with nothing but anxiety, big hopes, and my work in progress, which weighed in at a whopping 20 pages. I didn’t sign up for editor or agent appointments, as I was advised not to since I didn’t have anything close to a completed manuscript. But I was completely prayed up and totally confident (which is so not me) that God was gonna move some mountains for me. I went into that conference with nothing but my giant, impossible expectations. On day two I had my critique with this author. She gave me some great advice and suggestions, then offered to contact NavPress and see if I could send them a proposal (which I didn’t even know what that was at the time!). On March 24 at 2:17 p.m. while driving down the Interstate 540 in Arkansas, I got the call from Nav and was offered a contract. I know the likelihood of that all happening is zero percent. I love that about God.

Was there ever a time in your writing journey that you felt like giving up? How did you get through that time?
Not any big “I want to give up” moment, but lots of small bursts of “I’d rather be watching Oprah or playing baseball with my nephew.” Writing commands your time and can dominate your life. I’m still in the learning stages of time management (Did you know some people are born with this skill? I think I really dislike them.) and prioritizing where I don’t miss the important things, like a movie with friends or my grandmother’s birthday.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
The author that worked with me at the ACFW Conference in ’05 said something to me I will never, ever forget. When I told her I had been advised not to pitch that week, she said, “The rules are made for everyone but you.” (Not me as in me personally, but for those willing to take the chance.) I have no doubt this author didn’t know she was saying something of monumental importance to me, something that so fit with my Prayer of Jabez attitude. But when I heard that I got chills. I heard the hallelujah chorus. I felt the arms of God around me. I left that room and immediately burst into tears at how personal and amazing God is. It was my confirmation that God was right there in all of this. I went to ACFW with these ridiculous expectations, and He met me there. Now if I could just get Him to give into my ridiculous expectation of wanting my body to look like Jennifer Aniston’s (exercise free, of course)…

What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Pray, pray, pray. And dream big. God is a big god, and he is not limited by our own limitations. I’m capable of so little, but the God who created the sun and moon wants to orchestrate my life too.

And also get involved—join an organization like ACFW. Invest in some writer’s conferences. Within days you will be a changed writer. Get proactive and stop waiting. If God is telling you to write, get thee to a keyboard. Or grab a pen and some Sonic napkins. Whatever.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
We have a great time over at my blog, where anything goes, and we talk about all the important things in life—like Prince William, Britney’s new haircut, or London’s RoboPigeons. If you’re not visiting it, your life is probably lacking some substance.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

No Disasters! Yay!

I'm sure I would have had more entertaining stories to tell from our beach camping trip if things had gone wrong, but fortunately for me, it was perfect! Absolutely heavenly!

(That's my husband Dave on a walk down to the lighthouse.)

In spite of predictions of thunderstorms, we had blue skies every day. In spite of hot temperatures, the beach had a nice breeze and stayed cool. Since there's not much to tell, I'll just show a few pictures.

We tried to get Ferbie to go in the water, but he just laughed at us.

My fellow librarian Felicia, of Fluffy Flowers, makes all kinds of creatures, including sweater kitties. She made this pirate kitty for me. Naturally, being a pirate, he had a hankering to visit the sea.

My parents have been married for 58 years but still snuggle by the ocean!

This is what happens if you spray your feet with sunscreen while wearing flip-flops, then take off the flip-flops to go out in the sun. I'm just glad I had the sunscreen, or I would look like that red V all over!

Friday, June 22, 2007

In the Aftermath of Fire. . .The Waiting Game

Today's guest blogger is author Marlo Schalesky. Without further ado, I'll turn it over to Marlo:

Robin, thank you so much for allowing me to share with your blog readers a little about waiting and living after life’s storms. You see, my latest novel, VEIL OF FIRE, deals with the one of the greatest firestorms of American history – the great fire of 1894 Minnesota. The story chronicles not only one town’s journey through fire and its aftermath, but also reflects much of my personal journey through pain, perseverance, and dying to my dreams to live God’s. Below are some questions and answers that talk about what I’ve learned in the waiting, and through the firestorms of life.

Q: In what ways has waiting affected you in your personal life, and how does the theme of Veil of Fire connect with your own life?

A: Once, when I was a child, I believed in miracles. The impossible was only a prayer away. Fairy tales were real, and dreams were free. But somewhere, in the journey, in the waiting and hoping for my dreams, I lost the ability to trust. I stopped daring to believe. And I wondered what happened to me.

Life happened. Failure, discouragement, pain, loss. For me, that failure and pain came in the form of years of infertility, mixed with miscarriages. The failure, the endless waiting with monthly reminders that I wasn’t pregnant, yet again, became for me a fire that burned and scarred me. It was so hard to wait through that, to keep on, to believe and submit to God’s love and will in my life.

And as I’ve been thinking about fires, about living through them, about waiting in the aftermath, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Somewhere, somehow, life burns us all. And we realize that this life we live is not the one we once dreamed. The realities of life scar us. Doubts rise. Fear whispers that hope is gone. And what was once a simple faith can fail in the face of that fear.
Then, in the midst of life’s disillusionment, choices appear. Do we retreat? Hide our hurts far from probing eyes? Do we embrace bitterness and cynicism? Do we use deceit to try to obtain our goals? Do we give up, give in, forget that we ever dared to dream? Or is it possible to reach the high places of faith in the low valleys of life’s reality? Can we still live a life of bold faith, of fierce hope, when fairy tales don’t come true? How do we live this life that God has given us when it’s not the life we dreamed?

These are the questions I wanted to explore in Veil of Fire. These are the questions which underlie each character’s journey in the aftermath of the great fire of 1894. They’re the questions that have shaped my life through my own journey through infertility, miscarriage, failure, and loss.

So, for those burned by life, for those who carry scars that cannot be seen, for those who have retreated for fear of more pain, this story is for them, this journey from the hidden places of pain to a new hope in the unhidden truth of Christ’s love.

And I hope, I pray, that God will use Veil of Fire to not only give people a great read, but to also heal hearts and make some lives better in the living of them.

Q: How have you grown personally through your own fires and through writing this book on fire?

A: Through the firestorms of my life, through infertility and miscarriage, and through writing Veil of Fire, God is showing me that I cannot measure his love by my successes and failures, or even by my happiness. Who I am on the inside, how I am being shaped into the likeness of Christ, the character of my life – the color and beauty of it – are what are important to God. And to create that color and beauty, sorrow is necessary. Hurtful things happen. Fires rage. All my dreams don’t come true. But His do.

And in that, I’m starting to understand that my life, too, is a story that God is writing. And since the best stories have conflict, disappointments, and plenty of action, I shouldn’t be surprised when my life takes a turn and my faith is challenged once again.

And yet, my sorrow matters to God, my tears are counted by him as precious. He does not leave me alone in my hurt. He does not abandon me in the fire. He touches me, he heals me, he creates beauty from the ashes of my pain, even when there are more disappointments than victories.

So I’m learning to walk through the fires in my own life. And to dig deeper – not to answer the question of why but the question of who – who is God really, who am I, and who is he making me to be? Those are the questions that matter. Those are the things that help me to face my own fires, accept my own scars.

Q: Tell us about your journey to publication. Have you experienced waiting there too? What have you learned through that?

A: When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a poem on the bus on the way to school. It was about an old tree, forlorn and desolate, standing alone in a field. I read that poem at every recess, tweaked it, polished it, and for the first time, felt the thrill of how the written word can convey profound beauty. That day, I fell in love with writing.

Shortly after that, I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned teenager), “I will just die if I don’t write!” So naturally when I grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry. And, oddly enough, I didn’t die. I enjoyed chemistry. But always that desire to write was with me, in the back of my mind, saying “Someday, someday.”

Someday finally came. I started writing articles for various magazines and putting out proposals for book projects. I thought it would be easy to get my first book published, but alas, it took years of writing and honing my craft (7 years, in fact, before my first book was published).

But more than that, it took giving up my dream entirely. For me, I had to come to a place in my heart where I didn’t have to write to be content. I had to let go of that strong desire born at thirteen years old and embrace God’s will for me whether that will included writing or not. Only then, only when my dream had given way to God’s, was I offered a contract by Crossway Books for my first published book released in 2000 .

Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made while seeking publication?

A: Wanting it too badly. Our culture tells us to pursue our dreams, reach for the sky, dream big, nothing’s impossible if only you try hard enough. Sounds good. But for me, that philosophy was deadly. I needed to completely surrender my dreams in order to live God’s. It was like ripping out part of my soul. But it was worth it. Now, when I write, it can be an act of worship and obedience, instead of something that’s all about me and my dreams.

Q: Finally, will you tell us a little more about this powerful new book, Veil of Fire?

Sure, here’s a blurb:
A Raging Firestorm . . .
A Light in the Hills . . .
And a Mystery Rises from the Ash.

In 1894, the worst firestorm in Minnesota history descends on the town of Hinckley. Heat, flame, and darkness sweep through the town, devouring lives, destroying hope. In the aftermath, the town rises from the ashes, its people determined to rebuild their lives.
But in the shadows, someone is watching. Someone is waiting. Someone who knows the secrets that can free them all. A rumor begins of a hermit in the hills - a person severely burned, disfigured beyond recognition. Doubts rise. Fear whispers. Is the hermit a monster or a memory? An enemy or a love once-lost?

Based on historical events, Veil of Fire beckons to a time when hope rose from the smoke of sacrifice, when trust hid behind a veil of fear, when dreams were robed in a mantle of fire . . .

So for me in writing this book was very much an experience of discovering fire as a character with a life, a beauty, and a terror of its own. I discovered how fire can change you, can scar and maim, but in the end, may just make you new. And so, writing with fire is much like writing with God, unpredictable, powerful, but wondrous as well.

For more information about VEIL OF FIRE, a preview of the entire first chapter, and discussion questions for groups, please visit Special incentives for book groups also available at Or to order on amazon, visit

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Marlo Tomorrow, and then I'm Gone

Just a reminder that I plan to post the Marlo Schalesky interview tomorrow, so be sure to look out for it.

After that, I'm heading out for one of our big family camping trips. I'll be gone until next Tuesday, and will catch up with you then. I really hope I have very little to report. I'm ready for a boring, sunny trip for once.

Although I already checked the 10-day weather forecast for that area. A bright yellow sun is shown every day until we depart. Then there's thunder clouds and lightning bolts for the next four. The day I go back to work--and several following--a big yellow sun again.

Oh well, if there are no evacuations or tents blowing past us in the wind, I'll probably be happy.

The Scary Side of Writing

I read something on a blog last week that scared me. It scared me because I'm a writer of fiction, and it reminded me once again what a big responsibility that can be.

Believe it or not, this blogger was celebrating the fact that piracy is making a comeback these days, and was downright giddy about what Somali pirates have "accomplished." I looked up old news reports to read about these newfangled pirates, and found that they have fired rockets at cruise ships and hijacked vessels carrying food to starving Somalis. Why was this blogger so happy? Because he loves pirate lore, including Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, I've admitted being a fan, myself. Does that mean I make any connection between that otherworldly myth and these outright thugs? I don't think so. The writers of Pirates probably didn't see that one coming, either.

I also love Star Wars. Does that mean I want to ditch Christianity and become a Jedi? What a laughable thought, you might think. But did you know that "Jedi" was listed as an official religion on the last U.K. census, and that 390,000 people marked Jedi as their religion? Granted, a fair number of these people could have done it for a joke. But I used to go to science fiction conventions. Trust me, some of them weren't joking.

Did George Lucas set out to create a new religion? He has said (in a Bill Moyers interview) he merely wanted to get people to think about God and not endorse any particular faith. And yet, some people are embracing Yoda's teachings as real.

Fiction has always been a powerful force (no pun intended, Mr. Lucas), for bad and for good. Remember how Uncle Tom's Cabin riled people up about slavery? It's always exciting to think God might use our work for good. But it's a little frightening to think that, once it leaves our hands, our original message can become twisted and misused.

I've heard people say, "It's only a movie," or "It's only a book." I wonder if there's really any such thing?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Excuses and Promises

I think I have the Martian Death Flu. Okay, it's a cold, but yesterday at least, it felt like Martian Death Flu. That's why I didn't post anything since Friday. So much for Excuse #1.

I've been trying to figure out the rest of my excuses for why I haven't gotten much of anything done lately. Actually, I've been trying to figure out just what the heck I have been doing the past couple of weeks. The house and my laundry are dirty, so I obviously haven't been cleaning. Since Gilmore Girls and the Amazing Race ended, I don't watch TV. I have a stack of books I'm supposed to be reading, but that stack hasn't diminished. I'm more interested in the manuscript I'm working on lately, but somehow interest hasn't translated to producing many actual pages.

I think I've mostly been sitting in the vet's office. You remember Cera, the terror of groomers within a hundred-mile radius?

She developed an infection a couple of weeks ago, so off we went to the vet for our first visit. I mentioned to them, however, that she seemed to have a problem with antibiotics. Her problem is that she has no intention of taking them. If I do manage to get anything down her, she shows me! To put it delicately, within about 30 seconds she delivers it back to me--in a very unpleasant way. The vet told me we'd have to come back EVERY DAY for shots if I couldn't give her medicine at home. This vet's office, by the way, doesn't take appointments. And it's very popular, so you can count on a long wait every time.

Next day, however, we saw a different vet. He suggested I try some brand new pills they have, which are tasty and easy on the tummy. Cats love them. They gobble them up. I tried giving Cera one. I mixed it with tuna. I poured gravy on it. I stuck it inside a treat. She stared at me in disbelief and walked away. So much for tasty. Back we went for a shot.

Next time, the vet had his tech come in to demonstrate the use of something called a "pill pusher." He assured me if I learned to use this, I would be able to give Cera pills and stay home. Home! Finally I'd be able to sit at my laptop and create my Gothic ranch house (where the eyes of all portraits are covered with black tape). This happy dream lasted about 15 seconds. That's how long it took Cera to defeat the vet tech. She clenched her teeth, she snarled, she fought. But he was a professional. He actually got the pill to touch her tongue. At that point she began to foam at the mouth and writhe, like some Hollywood B-movie actor doing the poison scene from Romeo and Juliet. The vet just shook his head and told me to come back tomorrow for a shot. We've been seven times so far, and I have to go again this evening.

So Cera is excuse #2. There are lots more, like friends who needed a good cry on the phone, or developed scary medical problems and needed to talk. And then there's me just being lazy and inefficient. And did I mention the Martian Death Flu?

When I have posted, my messages haven't exactly been...deep. But I'm finished with excuses now. Here are the promises of the wonderful things coming up in the next couple of weeks.
  • An interview with a writer I just discovered named Marlo Schalesky. On someone else's blog, she mentioned the ordeals of waiting and doubt she had been through while trying to have children and trying to publish her first book. I figured she would have plenty to say to this audience! So I contacted her and asked her to talk to us specifically about what God taught her during those times of waiting. Her experiences and her advice are so encouraging, and real faith boosters. We'll be reading Marlo's interview this Friday.

  • Marlo also sent a devotional that I'll be posting. Guess what--it's about fires! Another big theme on this blog.

  • I will share some thoughts I've had on why my own writing journey has been so long, and maybe a few pitfalls you can avoid.

  • My teenage cousin will be reviewing Jenny Jones's new teen book called In Between, and we'll also have an interview with Jenny.
  • I will share some insights about writing and faith that I got from reading a fabulous C.S. Lewis book called Surprised by Joy.

I will bring all of this to you and more. Just as soon as I get out of the vet's office.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Spooky House Stories Needed

I seldom mention specifics here about what I'm writing. However, I need your help on my current project, so let me tell you a little bit more.

It's a suspense called Jordan's Shadow. I took a shot at writing it last year but I'm starting over, and I've decided I want it to be very atmospheric and Gothic. You know those books, right? The covers usually feature a dark, stone mansion perched on a cliff, with the angry waves crashing below.

Mine's going to be like that--only in a brick ranch house in Georgia. Seriously. Instead of cliffs and waves, the house will be perched between acres of piney woods and a shadowy pecan orchard. But I am going for that same sinister, Gothic thing.

So I'm wondering. Do any of you have stories about "normal," non-mansion type houses that gave you the creeps for some reason? Here's a couple of my examples.

I grew up in a brick ranch house, sort of like the one in my novel. When I was about six, we added a large living room onto the house, which was mainly used for big family gatherings or when we had guests. It had a separate entrance from the porch and French doors that closed it off from the rest of the house. When I was a child, that room gave me the willies. To this day, when I visit my parents, I'm not thrilled if I have to go into that dark room by myself.

I was telling my sister about this recently, and she tried to guess the reason for my fear. Was it because of all the windows in that room, which made it easy to feel like someone was watching me? Because it was so separate from the rest of the house? Nope. It was because--and I hope no one takes offense at this--of the picture of Jesus that hung on the far wall, and which still hangs there today.

I've never seen another picture of Jesus quite like this. It's a portrait, and He looks very stern. Almost angry. It's also extremely lifelike. To use a cliche, the eyes seem to follow you all around the room. Sometimes one of my parents used to send me into that room to fetch an encyclopedia from the bookcase. I'd have to open the French doors, cross several feet in sheer darkness, then fumble for the light switch. I tried very hard not to look over at that portrait, because I was certain that, some night, one of two things would happen. (Or possibly both.) Number one, the eyes would be glowing in the dark--and still following me. Number two, it would come to life.

She swears she doesn't remember this, but I told my sister all this when I was a kid. She said I must have a guilty conscience. That did NOT make me feel better.

DISCLAIMER: I promise I have a very healthy and loving relationship with the REAL Jesus. It's just that picture I don't do so well with.

My next creepy house example: When my husband and I were house-shopping a few years ago, we looked at a home in a very nice, older neighborhood. It was a small, brick, single-level house except for an unfinished basement. Here's the weird part. Right in the middle of the living room, there was an opening in the floor with a narrow staircase going down into that dark basement. Right there in the living room! It was a nice house otherwise, but I knew I had WAY too much imagination to put up with that. I tried to picture myself lounging in that room at night, watching TV, with an open hole down into a dark pit a few feet away. Yeah, right.

I'm definitely using the weird basement entrance in my Gothic ranch house.

Have you seen other things in houses, or had spooky experiences, that I could blatantly steal from you and help build the atmosphere in my story? If so, please share! You can leave it in a comment or email me at robing8300 at Also, if it's a really good story, let me know if I can pass it along to the other readers.

Thanks so much for your help. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oh, What a Tangled Mess I've Knitted

A few weeks ago, I posted about my new passion for crafts, like knitting and making beaded jewelry. I talked about losing much of my enthusiasm for writing, and about the peace and contentment that comes from making things with my hands.

Well, God may be trying to tell me something. I tried to follow a knitted shawl pattern and, after a few days of working on it, realized I needed to rip it out and start over. Easier said than done. I was using a tricky ribbon yarn which refused to ravel back into a nice, neat line. Ever tried to unravel about 50 feet of tangled Christmas lights? Yeah, it was like that.

I hated to just give up and throw the yarn away, because it's expensive, but eventually I decided to just give it to Wendy to play with.

She didn't want it, either.

Then I turned to beading. We went on one of our camping trips, and I sat out under the trees at a picnic table, working on a necklace for my mom for Mother's Day, then another one for myself. Ah...sweet tranquility.

The necklace for my mother came apart three times while I was working on it. (When it was almost finished each time, of course.) My necklace waited until the day I wore it to work, then fell apart. Thirty-three inches of beading, mostly tiny seed beads. Did I mention it came apart in my car? There will be beads rolling around in those floorboards until that little Mercury is scrap metal.

I haven't done much beading lately. On the positive side, I'm starting to enjoy writing again.

I love my writing.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Waiting and Hoping

A few years ago, I decided to brush up on my Spanish language skills, so I took a couple of continuing education classes. One night, a student was struggling through a Spanish passage and translated the word "esperar" as "to wait." The instructor corrected him. Although "esperar" does mean "to wait," in that particular sentence, it meant "to hope." The student remarked on the fact that the same word had both meanings. The teacher shrugged and said, "Why not? To wait is to hope."

As I retell this story, I realize I may have it backwards. She may have said, "To hope is to wait." I don't think it really matters. If you're hoping for something, you haven't attained it yet. You wait, and you hope. You hope, and you wait.

I made a similar discovery when reading a Scripture passage recently. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:31. I learned it in the King James version: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

Then one day, I ran across a different translation (NIV): "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

What a beautiful promise! It's so tempting to print the whole of Isaiah 40, which starts off, "Comfort, comfort my people." Just before verse 31, we're assured that God never grows weary or loses strength. Even youths will grow tired and fall, but God has an unending supply of energy, and He will renew us if our trust is in him. (And oh yeah, still another translation of verse 31 begins, "Those who trust in the Lord…")

So it all depends on where we place our trust. Where we place our hope.

If our God is the Lord, to wait is to hope.

Friday, June 8, 2007

New Contest Announced!

It's Friday, so I feel like doing something fun. How about announcing a new prize give-away?

Thanks to all of you who let me know what you'd like to win. After giving it some thought, I decided to run a contest from now through the end of July. On July 31, I'll have a drawing, and the winner can CHOOSE THE PRIZE from among the following:
--a $50.00 gift card to Bath & Body Works
--a $50.00 gift card to
--an iPod Shuffle.

There will be three ways to be entered in the drawing:

--ALL who are subscribed at the time of the drawing will be entered.
--If you refer a new subscriber (in other words, you're the reason they subscribe), you'll get an entry in the drawing. Just email me and let me know who you referred.
--As before, each comment you leave from now until July 31 will get you one entry.

So as you can see, there are ways to get multiple entries in the drawing. Isn't this fun?! It is for me, anyway. I hope you folks will enjoy it, too. My personal goal is to have 50 subscribers at the end of July. If I can manage that, I'll really enjoy this contest!

So help me spread the word. And again, thanks!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Research Tip: Making the Most of Google

Okay, if you're on a computer, writing and reading blogs, chances are you use Google. But did you know there are some extra things you can do to make it work even better for you?

There are several more "focused" Google search engines. Each one in itself is pretty nifty. The U.S. Government link will let you search within government sites. So if you want to do a search about space, you'll come up with NASA web pages, for example, minus all the web sites put up by individuals or folks trying to sell you an opportunity to name a star after yourself.

Google is in the process of putting the full text of thousands of books online. Through the Google Book Search, you can search within the full text of those books--and then read them online once you find them! Other books that aren't available in full text can still be searched, and you can see "snippets" from them, showing where your search terms are found. Then there are links to help you find the book in a library or online store.

Then there's the Google Scholar search, for journal articles. And the Google News archive search.

Want to find out what people are saying in their blogs about Pirates of the Caribbean? (Okay, that's probably just me, but it's still a good example.) Go to Google Blog Search.

If you don't want to try out all these new sites, there are plenty of tricks you can use to enhance your search at plain old Google. Start by clicking the "Advanced Search" button next to the quick search box. You can do all kinds of strange and wonderful things from the advanced search screen.

The first boxes let you control how Google looks for your search terms. The boxes are pretty self-explanatory. In the first box ("with all of the words"), you can put terms that absolutely must be in your results. In other words, if you're looking for web pages about The Color Purple, you don't want it to return results that only had "purple" in them. The most popular site could be about eggplants, in that case! Of course, for a search like that, you'd probably want to put "The Color Purple" in the box that says "with the exact phrase."

The box that says "with at least one of the words" is handy when you're not sure which word the authors might have used, and you don't want to miss any good sites. For example, you could put in "illness sickness syndrome disorder" and it would pull up sites that have even just one of those words.

Maybe you're looking for information about flea treatments for dogs. In the box "without the words" you could put "cats," if you want to avoid having to plow through info on felines.

You can put in limits on dates if you want to make certain a site has up-to-date information.

You can tell it to either leave out certain domains, or search ONLY in certain domains (like .com, .org, .edu., .gov, etc.) Maybe you're looking for some academic or scholarly information, so you might want to exclude .com sites, because they can be more commercial. Maybe you want to only search .edu sites, because these come from educational institutions and you could find out what academics are writing on the subject.

I'd tell you more, but it's making me tired just thinking of it all! Check it out and let me know what you think. I'm playing around with it all myself, and will probably cover each of these more in-depth later.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Lessons from Mozart

It's been years since I saw the movie Amadeus, but I have to remind myself of some lessons I learned from it at least once or twice a month.

If you haven't seen the movie, here's a brief synopsis. In the beginning, Salieri is an up-and-coming composer who thinks he is writing beautiful music all for the glory of God. Enter Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a vulgar young man with few morals or redeeming qualities--but with talent that Salieri knows he will never have. Streaming from Mozart, Salieri hears the kind of music that he wanted to write. But why would God give such talent and success to this horrible "creature," instead of to him, who wants to dedicate his music to the Lord?

That question eats at Salieri, until he eventually declares himself God's enemy. He manages to ruin his own life and Mozart's through his bitterness.

It's easy to condemn Salieri, but I have often felt the seeds of those same bitter thoughts starting to grow in me. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that affected you so deeply that you were astounded by its beauty? That you went around thinking of it for days, feeling it resonating inside you, and yet--you knew it wasn't really worthy? You know the kind I'm talking about. The stories that leave you grabbing for the Kleenex and rooting for the man to "follow his heart" and leave his wife for his mistress. Or maybe the story is noble, but the writer is an appalling mess.

Sometimes I want to ask God--okay, sometimes I do ask God--why do you allow people with such harmful messages to have such talent? I would love to serve you with my gift, and yet it's so paltry by comparison. Why would you allow "them" such success?

And then I remind myself of Salieri. I have to wonder, if serving God had really been his desire, would he have reacted the way he did when he couldn't be the best? Did he really desire God's glory, or his own? And then comes the really tough question--are my motives any more pure than his?

Do you ever ask yourself these kinds of questions? How do we have the necessary drive and ambition to succeed in this writing business, and still keep our focus on God? Have you ever experienced something similar, when you felt that God was clearly choosing the wrong person to carry his message? (In other words, not you!) How do we respond if, even temporarily, God holds us back and chooses to gift someone else?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Speaking of Fires

Tiffany Colter recently shared this inspiring story on the ACFW writers email loop. It's exactly the kind of encouragement we writers need, so I asked her if I could pass it on to y'all. Here's Tiffany:

Last night God did an illustrated message for me right in my back yard. When I shared it with my husband he said I should tell some people we knew were discouraged. Writers get SO discouraged sometimes I thought I'd share it with all of you.

Those of you on the prayer loop, Naners, Cheryl, Pam and Amy know that lately I haven't been my usual bubbly self. LOL. Well, if you're going through a "why not me?" moment, month or decade keep reading.

Yesterday we had a rare beautiful day here in Michigan. It was in the 70s, sunny and beautiful. But since we live on a farm surrounded by half a mile in each direction of flat farm land it was, as usual, windy. One of our family's special treats is building a fire. Our fire pit is an old car wheel [the metal part] sunk down in the ground with bricks from our old chimney around it. It is situated in the 10 feet of grass between our ramp to our back door [built during Chris' cancer treatment] and the 'people' door to our garage.

Our six-year-old asked for a fire and Chris was on his way to a business meeting. I said I'd build a fire. It's been a rough month and this last week has been devastating but yesterday God gave us a day of refreshing and I wanted to celebrate with a fire. A time for mommy and her 4 girls to sit out back and smile and read board books and tell stories. [No this isn't back story, yes it is important.]

So I collected a chunk of pages from the old phone book, a toilet paper tube and sticks to create my "wick." [That is my own creation. You're welcome to steal it.] I put a bunch of twigs and branches down in the fire pit, put a couple of split logs around and stuck my wick in the middle. Usually the paper catches fire, carries it down in the wick through the TP tube and down to the brush on the bottom where the fire is protected from the wind. Yesterday the wind was not cooperating. Every time I got something to burn the wind blew it out.

For 15 minutes I tried various combinations of paper and sticks [I had no 'boy scout water' as my hubby calls it to start the fire]. Each time it would catch fire and the wind would blow it out. Once I got a little fire started so in desperation I grabbed some dried grass on the edge of the yard from when Chris mowed Friday but the weight snuffed out the fire.

Then I heard narration start in my head, just like when I'm writing. It was so clear. It said "This fire is like what you're doing in life." I looked in the pit and saw 4 corners smoldering with paper but nothing productive, nothing was burning to catch the logs. Then the narration continued in my head "The very thing that keeps blowing out your fire is what's going to cause it to ignite."
I kid you not at that moment I struck a match and a piece of paper burst in to flames. For some reason I started to run to our wood shack and grab sticks and throw them on the fire. I started jamming paper underneath. The fire ran down the paper underneath the sticks and out of the wind and ignited all the things I'd been trying to light. Something was stirring inside me. The fire jumped almost as high as me [I'm 5 feet tall]. I ran and grabbed a couple of big logs to hold down the twigs. The wind picked up suddenly and stirred the fire in to an all out tizzy. It was roaring and crackling and popping. I stood there and looked at the fire.

As writers we keep lighting fires with queries, magazine queries, editor/agent appointments, requested fulls and we get excited for that requested full until we get the form rejection letter.
But God said to me last night if we keep doing it eventually the right combination of sticks, paper, grass and matches will connect when the wind has slowed to a calm and it will catch fire. Then when that wind resumes, the thing that has been blowing out your dream will cause your dream to burn nearly out of control. At that moment you can throw everything you've got at it. All those dusty full MS sitting in a drawer, all those rejected articles aging on your hard drive, all those lessons from Writer's conference....You can start throwing them on the fire and it will burn.

Be encouraged today. Normally I would have given up on that fire last night but something inside me said no, it became a game to figure out how to get it to light. Let your pursuit of the "publication dream" become fun--a challenge, not a life or death struggle. Then listen for God to speak because the moment will come when preparation meets divine destiny and God will grab hold of you.

Don't give up....and go start a fire.

Tiffany Colter
Writers Career Planning Services

Contest Winner--I Swear it's not Rigged!

The winner of the May drawing for the $50 gift certificate is...Kathleen Morphy.

Yes, that's right. The same Kathleen who won the book last week. Double congratulations, Kathleen! And all I can say to everyone else is, if you can get this woman to go with you to Las Vegas right about now, you would do really well.

I want to start up a new contest. I need help with ideas. (One idea could be to disqualify Kathleen for at least a month. :)

You can make your suggestions simple or lavish, although I'd prefer to keep things within the bounds of reason. I myself, for example, will jump through almost any hoops to try to win an iPod. (I still haven't won one.) I'm not saying I could afford to give away an iPod, although if it brought about really incredible results, like a mob of new subscribers, might be worth it.

What do you like to win? Gift cards? Books? Do you like lots of little contests? One great big one?

Let me hear from you. I love giving stuff away and will do it as long as I can manage it. Thanks for playing along!