Friday, August 31, 2007

The Desires of Your Heart

I always sit up and take extra notice when my pastor preaches on waiting. Last Sunday, he did just that, and he used one of my favorite Psalms (37) as a starting point. This is the psalm that tells us to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (v. 7). It talks about not fretting over the schemes of men, or worrying when the wicked succeed. (It's sort of understood to say "when they succeed, and you don't.")

Now, I hesitate to call other writers wicked. Okay, a couple do come to mind, because I've read some pretty vile books in my time. But I won't name names.

I do, however, sometimes fret over why others succeed and I don't. This psalm tells me what I should be doing instead. Trusting the Lord. Committing my way to Him. Enjoying all the good things he's giving me. (I love the verse that says "Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.")

Then it tells us to "delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (v. 4). I've looked at that verse many times and wondered just what it means. How do we delight ourselves in the Lord? And how is that connected with somehow acquiring the desires of our heart?

Chip (my pastor) said most people don't delight in the Lord because they don't know Him. And we don't know Him because we don't spend enough time with Him. If we spend time in His presence, however, we'll come to know Him so well that we'll know what He wants us to do, what He wants for our lives. We'll come to trust Him and want what He wants. His desires will become our desires. And of course, then we'll get the desires of our hearts!

I love this because I put myself through such hurdles sometimes wondering if I should even have a dream of writing. Is this what God wants or not? According to Psalm 37, if I delight myself in the Lord, I really don't have to worry so much about that. If I'm spending time with Him, he'll give me the drive and the energy to accomplish His goals for me. And if I was on the wrong track, obsessing over the wrong thing, I'll naturally turn away from it and be attracted to the right thing.

There's no way to lose!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on the Book vs. Movie Thing

When I posted on whether to read the book or see the movie version of a story first, several people left comments that made me think about this more. Most agreed with me that they don't enjoy seeing a movie after they've read the book, but some mentioned rare exceptions when the movie was actually better.

I recall two occasions when I found a movie version to be an improvement over the book. And the winners are: Somewhere in Time and Jurassic Park. Somewhere in Time started out as a book by Richard Matheson called Bid Time Return. I thought the movie was more thought-provoking and had a richer story. Interestingly, Matheson also wrote the screenplay. It almost felt as though the novel was the first draft, and he'd given more thought to it all by the time he did the movie. Of course, that haunting John Barry soundtrack for the film didn't hurt.

In the case of Jurassic Park, I flew through the Michael Crichton novel because of the premise and the adrenaline-pumping action. However, I found almost all of the characters to be obnoxious and couldn't connect with any of them. I'm ashamed to admit that in one scene I thought the two children had lost a fight to a dinosaur, and I was actually disappointed to find they had survived and I had to keep reading their irritatingly precocious dialogue. In the movie, however, the characters were transformed. I adored Sam Neill's absent-minded professor and Jeff Goldblum's eccentric charm. Even the kids were bearable.

Oh, and Pattie commented that she didn't like the book The Nanny Diaries because it left her feeling sad. I thoroughly agree. The ending disturbed me. Hence the table-pounding as I told my sister and niece about it the next day. The movie version doctored the ending, and I've given a lot of thought to how I felt about it. On the one hand, I certainly felt better and more uplifted coming out of the movie. On the other hand, the happy ending robbed the story of its power, and was far less realistic. So which is better? Hard-hitting and realistic, or uplifting?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Just Have to Brag a Little

I just have to take a moment to congratulate the new Little League World Champions from Warner Robins, Georgia--especially since Warner Robins is practically in my back yard. As a matter of fact, I didn't get to watch any of the championship series games until the weekend because I worked weird hours last week teaching library instruction classes, some of them on our Warner Robins campus.

I loved watching these kids. I'm so used to seeing the major league players, who are so poker-faced and try to look so cool, calm and collected. Not these boys. They were thrilled when things were going well. Sometimes when things didn't go so well, there were tears. The highs were definitely higher and the lows were lower.

On Saturday, Warner Robins (Southeast) won the U.S. championship after defeating Lubbock, Texas (Southwest). On Sunday, they faced off against Japan, the International champion. The game was deadlocked at 2-2 into extra innings when Dalton Carriker hit a beautiful home run that gave them the championship. The expression on Carriker's face when he realized what he had done, the way he slapped his helmet in joy as he ran the bases, was priceless.

Of course, being the way I am, I had to analyze things a bit. I felt bad for the Japanese players, who appeared so devastated but immediately went over to congratulate and hug the winners. (That's right. Hug! Isn't that great?) I wanted to tell them, and the Texas players, and all the others who made it to the championship just how much they had accomplished and how much they had to be proud of. A whole lot of people never get that far in any endeavor--and they're only 12! I looked at the skill involved in some of the heart-stopping plays and thought about the sheer work and dedication that went into reaching this championship series.

Then I thought I should probably be writing instead of watching baseball. Then maybe I could accomplish something, too.

Anyway, congratulations, guys! I've got to go work on my own dream.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Which Comes First? The Movie or the Book?

I just got home from seeing the movie The Nanny Diaries, which premiered today.

A year or so ago, when I was writing my chick lit novel, I read the book The Nanny Diaries as research into the genre. I've read articles which definitively state that this book or that one started the whole chick lit craze. Among the candidates are Bridget Jones's Diary, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and The Nanny Diaries (TND). I've read a fair amount in the genre over the last year or two and in my humble opinion, TND was the best. So I wanted to see the movie, but I went in with some trepidation.

I generally don't like reading a book and then seeing a movie. I love doing it the other way around. If I see a movie I like, I'm thrilled if there's a book version I can read afterward. I already have pictures of the characters and places in my head from the movie and am free to picture them that way when I read. More importantly, a book always seems to give more detail. It's like when you go into the ice cream shop and they give you a taste of their homemade Rocky Road in a tiny little condiment cup. You salivate and want more, of course, so you get yourself a whole scoop, and dig in. (Or maybe two, but who's counting?) Digging into the book version of a great movie is like that to me, richer and fuller and more satisfying.

On the other hand, if you read the book first and then go to the movie, everything is all wrong. People look different. The best scenes are cut out. I usually feel like I'm getting a synopsis, not the whole story.

The Nanny Diaries is basically about a college girl who takes a job as nanny to the son of a Manhattan couple, identified only as "Mr. and Mrs. X." It was an amazing book to me for several reasons. It had the chick lit voice but complex characters. In the story, the employers give Nanny a horrible time, yet she becomes wrapped up in their personal struggles and starts trying to protect them. Mrs. X is both infuriating and pathetic, and I only hope I never cross paths with someone that manipulative. Grayer, the child, starts out as the spoiled brat you'd expect in a book like this, but turns out to be a believable child with deep emotions. The narrative is funny, yet gut-wrenching.

By the end of the book, I was so invested in the characters that I worked myself up into quite a tizzy at how it turned out for some of them. My sister went to the movie with me tonight and laughed because she remembered when I finished reading the book last year, and spent an entire lunchtime practically pounding the table and venting about how self-centered and clueless these people were.

Back to the movie. I enjoyed it, and as usual, if I hadn't read the book, I probably would have enjoyed it quite a bit. The film adaptation didn't change things around as much as usual, except for making things turn out better in the end. Still, I had that feeling of being rushed, of so much depth and subtlety being left out. It felt rather flat.

I know some people who make a point of rushing to read a book BEFORE they go see the movie version. With my experience, I can't quite see why they'd want to do this. How about you? What should come first, reading the book or seeing the movie? Or maybe you're a purist, and don't want to see the movie versions at all?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Library Thing and Thingamabrarians

On one of my email listserves lately, there's been a lot of talk about a site called Shelfari, where you can upload a catalog of your books and share your list with friends or with others who may have similar reading tastes. One of the reasons it's been talked about so much, however, is that glitches ensued when some folks tried to add friends to their group and the site instead emailed everyone in their address book.

I had never heard of Shelfari until then, but I did know about Library Thing. First let me say I've never invited anyone to join my group on Library Thing, so I don't know whether glitches ensue there, too. But I did learn about it in a library class last year, so I feel pretty good about the site's reputation.

I believe Library Thing was started by a librarian, Tim Spalding. If you're old enough, you may remember how you had to look up books by subject headings in the card catalog. (Remember the friendly admonitions to "see" or "see also" when you weren't using the right term?) Spalding wanted readers to be able to assign their own subjects, or "tags," for their books. Thousands of folks have taken him up on it. They are informally called thingamabrarians. Don't you love that word? It's the main reason I decided to do this post.

There are a number of things you can do in Library Thing. You can add your own book collection to the site, if you want to. You can add a snippet of info about each one, and Library Thing will fill in the rest. You can give your books tags that are meaningful to you. You can then hoard that wealth of information to yourself, or you can make it public. That way, if you have books you've labeled Christian and fantasy and pirates (guess what I've been reading lately), and someone has a hankering for a book with those tags, you can help them find it. You can discuss books online or join a group. If you see a book you want, you can link to a book swap site and try to make a trade for it.

There's a Book Suggester option, where you enter the name of a book you like and Library Thing suggests others you might like. There's also a funny feature called the "Unsuggester," which tells you books you would probably detest.

My main use for Library Thing has been to ferret out books that might be similar to the stories I'm writing. I told you about my gothic ranch house in Georgia. So for starters I put in "gothic" and "Southern." I kept coming up with Flannery O'Connor stories. Hmm.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Time For a New Contest!

Okay, I've decided to start up another prize giveaway.

We'll do pretty much the same process as before. Everyone subscribed to the blog at the time of the drawing will get one entry. Also, each time you leave a comment between today and September 29, you will get one entry.

On September 30, I'll draw one of those names and announce the winner, who will get to choose from either: a $50 gift card to or a $50 gift card to Bath & Body Works. Although I'm discovering that you folks out there are such bibliophiles, amazon cards are definitely the favorite. That's what Rose, our last winner, chose.

Thanks again for visiting, and please tell your friends about the contest.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Promise or a Dream?

I used to identify with Abraham more than just about any other Bible character, because he had to wait such a long time for the fulfillment of God's promise. If you've been reading this blog even for a short while, you know that waiting on God--waiting for the realization of my dreams--is a struggle for me.

Did anything jump out at you from that first paragraph? Abraham was waiting on a promise. I'm just waiting on a dream. When that realization struck me a few years ago, it unsettled me for awhile. But then I started reading (a few chapters further on in Genesis) about Joseph. As far as I can tell, God didn't speak as directly to Joseph about His plans for him. Joseph just had dreams. He dreamed on two different occasions that his brothers and his parents would one day bow down to him. He seemed pretty confident these dreams were going to come true. And shortly after--well, you probably know the story. Instead of bowing down to him, his brothers sold him into slavery.

Years passed. Things improved for Joseph, then fell apart again when he was unjustly imprisoned. While there, he helped a fellow inmate, who promised to put in a good word for Joseph when he was released. The fellow eventually did help him--two years later. Joseph's family did end up bowing down to him, about twenty years after he was sold into slavery.

The story is so familiar, and we know how it turns out, so it's easy to skim over what must have been a long, horrible struggle for this young man. How many dark nights of the soul did he have while he was in that prison? How did he feel when he remembered that long-ago dream? God seemed to have shown him a bright future in which he had great standing. So why did God let him be locked away for a crime he didn't commit? Finally there was a bright moment; someone promised to try to get him released. Joseph's hopes must have soared. His faith started to awaken, and then...nothing. Day after day after day passed, with no change.

The scriptures don't really tell us what Joseph went through during those years of waiting for release. Interestingly, in the parts of the story that are told, Joseph's faith seems more steadfast than Abraham's, who had a direct promise from God as to how things would turn out. Abraham eventually grew tired of waiting and tried to do things his own way. Joseph always seems to stand firm. Still, those two years must have been hard, with that dream of freedom growing dimmer and dimmer every day.

Then one day--a day that must have started off just like all the others--the waiting was over. God's time for him had come. The former inmate remembered Joseph, and suddenly he was released. He gained power in Pharaoh's household. His family was restored to him.

My prayer for myself, and for all of us that dream, is that we will be able to determine whether our dreams are from God. And if they are, that we will not be shaken from our faith and hope during those long nights in prison. Here's to all my fellow Josephs out there! I salute you all for holding to your dreams.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Check out my reviews

Occasionally I review books for the Novel Reviews blog. I usually forget to mention it when I have a review posted, but thought I'd point you that way now. I reviewed the first two books in Gilbert Morris's new "cat detectives" series: What the Cat Dragged In and The Cat's Pajamas. On is posted on August 13 and one on August 14.

If you're interested in a nice cozy mystery or a relaxing beach read, check these out.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Pretty Good Monday

You know it's going to be a pretty good Monday when it starts off the way mine did today. For those of you who don't remember this, I'm a librarian, and a fairly new one at that. The library director came to my office first thing and asked me to meet with a book vendor with her. So we sat for over an hour previewing and ordering books. Lots and lots of books. I was like a kid in a candy store. When I heard our total bill, I nearly fell over. The director had to remind me--this is what we're supposed to do! Do I have a great job or what?

I generally try to post pretty early on a Monday because I feel guilty for neglecting my blogging duties all weekend. But I decided to try something revolutionary tonight. I decided to--gasp!--work on my novel before my blog. I told myself I would only be allowed to blog after my 1000 words on my manuscript were done. I just checked my word count--1108. Yes!

It's funny how the accountability aspect of the blog keeps me more disciplined. When I started this site, I decided I would post three days a week minimum. When I'm late, I feel my readers drifting away and giving up on me. So I hurry on back. Last year, my agent had me on a deadline for the chick lit novel I was working on, so I mustered up some discipline and finished it in record time. On my current project I just haven't had enough accountability because, do I put this delicately. No one cares but me. And sometimes I wonder about me.

I guess that's one reason people have critique groups and critique partners. It makes a difference if you know someone is waiting for you to produce something for them to read. I've never had luck finding a group or a partner. Of course, I haven't looked very hard. For one thing, my stories change so much in the first draft stage that I'm afraid no reader could keep up. Also, considering how hard it is for me to find time to write at all, I wonder if I could handle reading other people's work on a regular basis, too. It might be like the blog. I'd end up blogging and critiquing but doing even less writing of my own.

In the American Christian Fiction Writers Group I'm in, most folks seem to think that crit groups and partners are invaluable. Years ago I took part in a writing workshop led by Orson Scott Card, and he thought we all needed to be in a critique group.

So it surprised me to hear Stephen King say, in On Writing, that you should never let anyone read any part of your first draft. No one--not even the spouse that might be footing the bills to allow you to write. He held that questions and opinions would only confuse you in that early stage, and you'd veer off course and lose your vision.

What do you writers out there think? Do you have critique groups and partners? Do you workshop your novels even in the first draft? And how does it affect the time you have available for your own writing?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections on Eggs and Cocoons

An email from caught my eye this week. It was titled "Is God Letting Your Family Down?" The author, Tim Palla, talked about praying for something specific for weeks or months or years without seeing any progress or any change. He related it to a project he and his children had taken on--hatching chicks from eggs. Turns out this wasn't so much of a fun family project as a lesson in waiting.

Eggs don't change. They show no progress. Inside, the chicks were developing just as they should. But to our naked and impatient eyes, nothing!

Palla used this in relation to prayers for our family members or friends. It's a great lesson for anything we pray for, anything we have to wait for.

I thought of a similar lesson I heard from someone, about butterflies breaking free from their cocoons. If you've ever watched it happen, the struggle looks appalling. You feel terrible for the poor, weak butterfly. At times it appears he'll never make it. But actually, everything is going the way God planned. The butterfly is exercising his wings. He's actually gaining strength. If, on the other hand, some well-meaning person decides to help out and breaks him free from the cocoon, the butterfly will not survive. Without that struggle, he'll be too weak.

Somewhere in the Scriptures it tells us that we can see God's nature and learn about him by looking at his creation. We can also learn a lot about his relationship to us--and about ourselves.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

She's Ba-ack

No, that isn't me. Despite the resemblance. But I am back from my vacation to Orlando, where I saw this sea serpent made of Legos at Downtown Disney. We didn't do Disneyworld or any of the other theme parks. It was just too hot. Temperatures were over a hundred. Even the Pirates of the Caribbean ride couldn't tempt me enough to tolerate that.

Although I found lots of Pirate stuff on the trip. Lots of souvenirs in the World of Disney, of course. Even Stitch was wearing a pirate hat.

Also, I started reading The Legend of the Firefish by George Bryan Polivka. So far it's fabulous. A great pirate yarn. I thought I would read the whole thing while I was gone, but I couldn't put down Watching the Tree Limbs by Mary DeMuth. I had to finish it first. It reminded me of some old-fashioned tale like Oliver Twist or Annie, only with very modern evils.

I tried to work on my "every single day" things somewhat. I hadn't been planning to write on vacation, but I took a notebook and tried to keep the story going, even if it was only one or two hundred words at a time. Before the proliferation of word processors (yes, I was already writing way back when), I used to carry a notebook around with me and write in little snippets by hand all the time. I think it helped keep me focused on the story, and I think I'm going to try to start doing it again.

What else did I do? I knitted two and a half out of nine squares for a new afghan. I lay around the pool and in it, trying to stay cool. And I'm proud to say I had my daily devotions.

I don't know if I'll ever be an "every day" girl, but I'll be happy if I can just maintain my own steady pace.

Keep cool, everyone. It's supposed to be 102 degrees here tomorrow!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Every Single Day?

Have you ever noticed all the things people tell you that you must do every single day? Reading our Bibles, praying, and spending time with God, of course. Exercising. If we're writers, we're also supposed to write every day.

In addition, the experts always say to do these things at the same time every day. Stephen King in On Writing was very adamant about that. He himself writes 2,000 words every day, seven days a week. If we're part-time writers, he said we could go easy on ourselves and do 1,000 words a day, six days a week. But no matter what our circumstance, he insisted we need to write at the same time every day.

I'm in big trouble.

I've managed to become more disciplined over the years. I've exercised at least three times a week consistently for more than 20 years, and managed to keep off a bunch of weight I lost. I've finished several novels. I've gotten more consistent about my quiet time and was excited that last year I actually managed to read through the entire Bible.

But the same time, every day? Just not going to happen, I fear. For awhile on my last job, I even started work at a different time almost every day. I had to keep a calendar in my purse because my schedule varied so much there was no way I could remember it. I might work from four p.m. to midnight one day, then a couple of days later, go in to open at 7:30 a.m.

Things aren't that crazy now. Still, every day seems to throw me a different curve. For the most part, I've made my peace with that. I eventually accomplish what I need to, regardless of what the experts say. The only thing I really wish I'd get better about doing every single day is opening up God's Word, partly because I'm cheating myself when I don't. I'm constantly amazed how God communicates directly with me through my daily--okay, frequent--devotions.

Take last Wednesday. My cat Cera showed signs she was getting sick again. I knew she had to go to the vet, but I was pretty worried. Not only about her, but selfishly I was afraid I would miss the second of my mini vacations I scheduled for this year. I was supposed to leave for Orlando with my sister and niece a few days later but figured I was in for another ten days of vet trips and shots. And nobody can manage her but me. I needed her well in about two days, not ten. It appeared the trip might be out.

I was praying about it as I walked around and went about my business, but I finally found time to sit down for my daily devotion reading. And there in the Psalm for the day (Ps. 121) was a line that God would watch after "my going and my coming." The words had that quality about them, where they seem to jump off the page. As if God had bolded the words, or whispered them in my ear. And I knew everything would be okay. However it turned out, he had my trip under control. He cared about it. He was watching over my going and my coming.

Turned out, Cera wasn't as sick as I feared. Two shots and the vet said we were through. Orlando, here I come!

So in view of how wonderful it is to have God speak to me in that personal way, I wonder why I so often don't seem to find the time to sit down and read his Word? Why do I consider it an energy drain, instead of what it is--an energy booster?

This is the area I definitely want to improve, whether I ever write 2,000 words a day or not. (And I'm thinking "not.") The Bible is going with me to Orlando.

By the way, I'm planning to be gone through next Wednesday, and I can't guarantee I'll post again before I get back. I may not even take my computer.

Oh drat. I just remembered. They say if you blog, you should also post every day. Like I said, I'm in trouble.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

And the Winner Is...

Drumroll, please...

The winner of the super-duper contest drawing for subscribers and commenters is Rose McCauley. She's won her choice of a $50 gift certificate; $50 gift card to Bath & Body Works; or an iPod Shuffle. Congratulations, Rose! And if we haven't communicated yet, please email me and let me know which prize you want.

Thanks to everyone who played, and all of you have faithfully supported this blog. I wish I could give all of you a big prize. Unfortunately, the Queen is not wealthy. I'm more like one of those exiled, impoverished monarchs who has to live off the charity of their subjects.

Anyway, I will definitely be having several smaller contests over the next few weeks, and I might just start another big one. Once again, I have to give this some thought.

Thanks again, and back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.