Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Contest Reminder: Packing up the Treasures

I'm getting ready to pack the box full of handmade Christmas goodies. The Fluffy Flowers creatures couldn't wait to jump into the bag and get going:

If you are the lucky winner of this box of treasures, you'll be receiving from Fluffy Flowers: a Blueberry Fruitcake mitten creature, sporting his Santa hat for Christmas; his friend the Sweater kitty; and a package of Christmas postcards. From me there's a totebag with a pretty cameo embellishment; a sachet bag filled with dried lavender buds; a flashy red beaded necklace just right for those Christmas parties; and a beaded watch.

So remember, leave a comment by December 1 to be entered into the drawing for this box of goodies. One entry per comment.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Review of Searching for Eternity

I just finished reading Elizabeth Musser's new book, Searching for Eternity, and I got a pleasant surprise at the end. I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements! She thanks me for providing information. I thought this was particularly considerate of her since I really didn't do much. I sent her a little info on microfilm and its history. It wasn't a lot, and I'm not sure it was particularly useful. But I was thrilled to see my name. (Finally, I made it into print!)

Seriously, though, you need to read this book. I've read four others by Elizabeth, but in my humble opinion, this is by far the best. Here's a reminder what the story's about: "Following his father’s dubious disappearance, adolescent Emile de Bonnery is forced to leave his native France for Atlanta, Georgia, never suspecting what awaits him in the South of 1964—culture shock, racism, and friendship with a strange girl named Eternity Jones. He brings with him to America an odd collection of ‘treasures’ used by his father during the French Resistance. With the aid of these ‘treasures’, Emile and Eternity find themselves on a journey through abuse, betrayal and prejudice which will ultimately lead them into a spiritual quest for healing. Spanning four decades, their journey unfolds like a spy story and its conclusion shows what happens in the midst of complex human relationships when an adolescent goes searching for eternity."

There were so many things going on at so many levels that I couldn't wait to keep turning the pages. First of all, the mystery of Emile's father's disappearance runs through the entire book. There's the spiritual story of people suffering abuses in different times, places, and cultures--from Emile's suffering at the hands of racist bullies, to Eternity's abuse from her mother and men, to victims of the Holocaust and war. Such different levels and kinds of suffering, and yet they share similar struggles over leaving the past behind and starting life again.

And then there's the love story between Emile and Eternity. They meet when they're thirteen and form a deep, lasting bond. Both are outcasts at Northside High School in Atlanta--Emile because of his heavy French accent and European ways, and Eternity because of her paradoxical love of culture and "trailer trash" family. A tragedy tears them apart while they're still young, but circumstances keep drawing them together over the years. They're never able to break away from one another, but terrible events in Eternity's past won't let them be together, either. I couldn't wait to get to the end and see what finally happened between the two of them, although I was almost afraid to.

On a more trivial note, I enjoyed reading about familiar places in the Atlanta area. The story continues from 1964 up until the early nineties, and I was in Atlanta during some of those times. Characters ate at my favorite restaurants and attended churches I've gone to. It felt like a trip through my past as well.

Searching for Eternity is a unique, complex story. How many other CBA books have you picked up that start out with a thirteen-year-old French boy as the protagonist, and that cover a mystery and a love story spanning several decades? I strongly urge you to pick up a copy. If you want more info on Elizabeth and her books, here's her web address:

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Happy Thought for the Holiday

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request. (I Chron. 4:10, NIV)

Most of you are probably familiar with the prayer of Jabez. It was all the rage a couple of years ago to pray the "Jabez prayer." Not long ago, I had a thought about it.

God granted Jabez's requests not only for enlarged territory, but also for God to keep him free from harm and pain. But how did Jabez know that God had granted his prayer? He had to have faith that he had received God's answer, that God was good. Jabez had to keep trusting in that answer every day of his life. Otherwise, it wouldn't really have made any difference. Without faith, Jabez might have started every day in fear and dread, expecting the worst, even though God had granted him the best.

I want that kind of faith. I'm a pessimist by nature. I come from a family of pessimists. In my family, if anyone asked, "Are you going to do such-and-such this weekend, " the answer would be, "If nothing happens before then." The implication was that we fully expected something to happen--and we didn't mean something good.

So I've had to work at the kind of faith that expects God's love and protection every day. Thanksgiving has a lot to do with that. If you constantly thank God for what he's already done, you're reminding yourself of his goodness, and it's easier to expect it the next time. Have you ever noticed in the Bible how many times God reminds the Israelites, "I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt"? He's constantly reminding us, "I've taken care of you before. I'll do it again."

So with that happy thought, I'm going to sign off for this week. We're making a nine-hour trip to Mississippi to spend Thanksgiving with my husband's family. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, that God will keep you safe whether you travel or stay home, and that we'll all truly be thankful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Finding True Stories to Add Color to Your Writing

I've learned a neat little trick lately when I'm looking for background or research material for my novels. I want to read true stories written by people who've gone through the same things my characters struggle with. Sometimes you can find biographies that are helpful, of course, but I've been frustrated using those. It takes a lot of time to plow through a whole book on one person's life, and then you've only gotten one story, one perspective.

I've discovered there are lots of books out there that are crammed full of personal stories about people who have gone through a certain kind of experience or illness or trauma. And one good way to find those books when searching a library catalog is to add the phrase "case studies" to your search.

The term "case studies" is one of those terms that library catalogers use as an attachment to the main subject headings. If you just stick it into your keyword search, the catalog will locate books with the term in the title, subject heading, etc. I just played around with WorldCat (a really neat combined catalog from thousands of libraries that I told you about earlier) and tried things like "schizophrenia case studies," "domestic violence case studies," "poison case studies"--you get the idea.

Of course, as with any keyword search, you come up with a lot of junk to wade through, too. You know another trick you can use in library searches to get rid of all that irrelevant stuff? Zero in on one book title that looks good. Click on its title and open its catalog record. Look at the "Subject Headings" or "Related Subjects" that are listed. These aren't keywords; they're the subjects the librarians use when cataloging the books. In most catalogs today, the subjects are hot links, and if you click on one, you'll bring up a list of just the books with that heading. You should now have a very focused list.

In a story I'm working on, a character has a bout of memory loss after an injury. First of all, I didn't want it to come across like an old episode of Gilligan's Island or I Dream of Jeannie--you know, get conked on the head, memory flees. Conked on the head again, memory returns. Second, I'm struggling with one part of the story. I was so excited last night to start reading a chapter in this book that was so similar to my character's experience. I now know so much more about how she should behave during the ordeal. Not only that, I got ideas for making a couple of scenes so much more powerful because of this real woman's experience.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just in Time for Christmas, Win...

...a box of handmade treasures.

This is a giveaway I've had in mind for awhile, and yet, Christmas has somehow sneaked up on me and I don't have all the details worked out. So today, I just want to let you know in general what I'm planning.

I want to fill a box with goodies, all of which will be handmade. Several items will be made by my good friend at Fluffy Flowers. She creates fun little creatures, Christmas postcards, all sorts of goodies. I'm going to include some jewelry that I will make--probably a necklace and earring set; a beaded watch; and a bookmark. Other possibilities are a tote bag, sachets, etc.

I'm planning to hold a drawing on December 2, so I figure the winner can use these items for stocking stuffers, or else have a nice little basket of cheer to keep for themselves.

So leave a comment between now and December 1. Each comment will be worth one entry. If you don't want to leave a comment, you can also email me at robing8300 at gmail dot com.

When I get the treasures collected, I'll share some pictures with you and more details. Have fun!

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Haunting Read

A couple of weeks ago I listened to an audio book that had quite an effect on me. I still think about it a good bit, and to me that's the mark of a powerful book. It intrigued me for a number of reasons, and since many of you out there are writers (and readers), I wanted to tell you about it: The Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card.

I first read one of Card's books earlier this year because of a challenge from Andy Meisenheimer of Zondervan. I met Andy at ACFW last year and, knowing that he's a fan of Card, showed him my autographed copy of Ender's Game (which I got when I took a writers workshop from Mr. Card years ago). But then I had to confess to Andy that, although I owned this treasure, I had never actually read it. Andy chided me no end for that and assured me this was one of the best-written books I would ever come across and could learn from it. So I took the challenge, read it, and loved it.

Ender's Game is science fiction, and Card has written plenty more of those. But I was curious about some of his other books that sounded like my work in progress--set in the contemporary world, but with hints of the supernatural and creepy. Which led me to The Lost Boys.

It's about a family who moves to a small town in North Carolina where there's been a rash of disasppearances of young boys. The family has two young boys, naturally. The book starts out in a fairly familiar way for a book of this nature: a prologue from the anonymous killer's p.o.v., describing how he came to start kidnapping children, and how he discovered it was necessary that they not be able to tell tales afterward. Definitely a dark beginning, and wouldn't you just figure you'd know exactly how the book would go from there?

I figured there would be scenes of the still-anonymous villain kidnapping one or two other children to set us up, a few disturbing and violent scenes with the victims, and then the eventual kidnapping of this family's son. It would be fast-paced and plot-heavy, with a climax of the protagonist's child being saved from the kidnapper/killer at the end. I felt pretty safe in assuming this since I've read a number of books that fit that description.

Boy was I surprised.

For most of the book, the disappearances sort of lurked in the background as the family went about the difficult adjustment to a new culture (moving into the deep South), job, and school. The story was filled with conflict and tension, but it mostly came from skirmishes and wars with cruel teachers, sneaky bosses, and scary co-workers. My heart bled for sensitive little Stevie, who tried so hard to fit into his new school and please everyone but seemed to be more crushed and withdrawn with each passing day. Naturally his parents were worried when, instead of making real friends, he started playing with an imaginary boy--then two, then three. The list of names continued to grow until one day, the parents saw a newspaper article listing the names of all the boys who had disappeared. The names were the same as Stevie's "make-believe" friends.

At this point I tried to imagine just where this story was going and how it would end. I managed to figure out who the serial killer was, but that still didn't help me predict the conclusion. At one point, just before the end, my mouth literally fell open as I realized what was happening. Since I was driving and listening to this on CD, it's a wonder I didn't hit a mailbox or something. It wasn't a happy ending, but it was right. I thought back over the rest of the book and could see where it came from. As I mentioned before, I'm still thinking about it.

Oh, for the ability to make my creepy little book turn out like this! With real characters that readers would care about so deeply--and with an ending that makes their jaws drop.

One more interesting thing about The Lost Boys. Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, and so were the family in this story. Card painted a portrait of a close-knit family whose first priorities were church and family, who openly discussed their beliefs, prayed about tough decisions, and went with the ethical route even when that appeared to be a disastrous move to make.

At first I thought, why can Orson Scott Card do this in his novel--while most books that show evangelical Christians in the same way have to be segregated into a special segment of publishing, a special section in the bookstore, etc.? Then I remembered Ender's Game and books that came earlier for this writer, where ethics played a huge role but characters didn't talk so openly about a particular religion or belief. John Grisham did something similar--he had huge success with books like The Firm and The Client, and then he published The Testament, in which a drunken lawyer has a conversion experience that could have come straight out of a CBA (Christian Booksellers' Association) novel.

Do you think this strategy might work for more Christian writers? Write great stories, gain a following out there in the secular world--and then be able to write more overtly about faith issues without being segregated into that special section of the store?

Just a thought to muse on for this weekend.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Jane Austen Had to Persevere?!?

I just read the most amazing post on Melanie Dickerson's blog. She's reviewing Nancy Moser's book, Just Jane, about Jane Austen. I've definitely got to read this book. I love Jane Austen anyway, but I had no idea she, too, apparently struggled with waiting to be published.

I'll let Melanie tell you more. Go check out her blog post:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Picture's Worth...Well, You know

I'm running very late with my blogging this week. I did something revolutionary. I worked on my novel before blogging. With me, I have to fall behind on something. It's a rule.

I wanted you to know I'm still here, though, so I decided to share a picture with you. (That's worth at least a thousand words, so they say.) My husband took this with his cell phone last week when he went camping in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina (while I was home working in the library).

Oh well...enjoy.

Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow with some encouraging words. Actual words.

Friday, November 2, 2007

50,000 and Counting

In spite of all the trouble I've had lately reaching that elusive "write-every-day-and-achieve-a-certain-number-of-words" routine, I was thrilled to discover this week that I broke the 50,000 word mark on my novel in progress. Maybe even better, I think I've had some decent ideas for how it should end.

My first draft is really sort of a long outline. I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer, so frankly the ending is going to be a surprise to me, too. I can't wait until I can start the second draft, know where the thing is going, and start turning it into a "real" book.

So if there are others of you out there having a hard time writing as much as you think you should, and you're feeling discouraged, take heart. I may not be able to "keep up with the joneses" and turn out 2,000 words a day, but I've finished five other novels and I'll finish this one, too. I'll get there. And so will you!