Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I just finished a second draft of my romance novel, right on schedule! This is fairly unprecedented for me. (Being on schedule, I mean.) And on top of that, I figured this draft would be about 5,000 or 6,000 words too long, and turns out I'm only about 1,800 words over the limit. That shouldn't be too hard to fix.

The next draft will mainly be tying up loose ends, polishing, and cutting. The end is in sight. Yay!

Hope to say something more coherent tomorrow. But if I don't get back to you before then, I hope you all have a wonderful, peaceful, joyous Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How Subtle is Too Subtle?

I told you last time I'm always playing catch-up. I know you probably heard all about the movie Fireproof a couple of months ago, but that was during my blogging break, so I'm just getting around to it now.

In case you haven't heard, Fireproof is the second movie (after Facing the Giants) produced by a church in Georgia. I believe it's called Sherwood Baptist in Albany, but I've just spent far too much time trying to track down that nugget of information with my computer freezing up and refusing to cooperate, so I'll take a guess and move on. Anyway, I liked Facing the Giants but thought Fireproof was better. Not just because they had a "real" actor this time around, the highly likeable Kirk Cameron, but also because this movie seemed more realistic. Facing the Giants made you feel good, but to me things worked out a little too neatly for everyone, leaving the impression that if you love God, all your dreams will come true and you will live happily ever after.

Fireproof shows more of a real-life struggle as a fireman (Cameron, playing Caleb Holt) makes a decision to try to save his marriage, when his wife is ready to file for divorce. The intriguing part is that Caleb initially is no more enthusiastic about his marriage than his wife is. There are hurt feelings on both sides. It's hard, and they want to quit. Caleb agrees to try a 40-day "Love Dare" to please his father, which involves doing selfless things for his wife and his marriage each of the forty days.

And for the entire period, his wife (Catherine) rejects all his overtures. She's suspicious of his motives, or doesn't even notice what he's done. At the same time this is going on, Caleb's father is trying to get Caleb to work on his own spiritual problems and to accept Christ. But Caleb isn't interested. In one of the more powerful scenes, Caleb and his dad go for a walk by a lake and they come to an area that has a large wooden cross and benches in front of it. Caleb says youth retreats were once held there. He rages to his father about Catherine's bad attitude and says he's sick of the whole thing and ready for divorce. He says something like, "How can you keep loving someone who rejects you over and over?" Dad quietly puts his hand on the cross and looks Caleb right in the eye. Caleb gets it. So did I. Jesus still loves him, even though he rejects his Savior over and over.

The writer in me was screaming, "Wonderful! Gives me shivers! Please don't explain it and ruin the moment."

But they did. Caleb's dad proceeded to explain in great detail the conclusion his simple gesture had already made. And to me, the moment was watered down. Powerful became preachy.

That's how it came across to me, anyhow. I'm sure the makers of the movie, though, wanted to make sure that the audience got the gospel message. So what do you writers, readers, and movie-goers think? Should we spell everything out to make sure everyone "gets it"? Or go for the powerful, artistic moment and hope the symbols carry the message?

One more sidenote about Fireproof. There was a great song in the soundtrack that could be the theme song of this blog. It's called "While I'm Waiting," by John Waller. It's about the pain and difficulty of waiting for the Lord to act, and how we should behave in the meantime. I'll close with a little sample:

I will move ahead, bold and confident,
Taking every step in obedience.
While I'm waiting
I will serve You. . .
I'll be running the race,
Even while I wait.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why Didn't Someone Tell Me?

One thing you will notice about me and my reading habits. I'm always playing catch-up. I'm constantly discovering "new" authors and books that other people were excited about months or even years ago. For a brief period of time I was cutting edge, when I was reviewing books for Novel Reviews, but then I went back to my old habits.

I spent October and November reading all seven of The Chronicles of Narnia books. For the first time! (They're very good, by the way. But you already knew that, right?)

Last week, in my quest to find another Christmas-themed audio book, I picked up The Christmas Secret by Anne Perry. My first Anne Perry book. I absolutely loved it! It's a cozy mystery so it didn't exactly keep you on the edge of your seat with danger and suspense, but the atmosphere--snowbound in an English village in the 1890s--and the period detail kept me riveted. When I finished, I wanted more. And turns out this Anne Perry person has loads of cozy Victorian mysteries out there. Who knew! Okay, everybody but me.

Still, I'm excited to find she has more Christmas books, too. I picked up The Christmas Guest at the library yesterday. So far it's hysterical, with the acid-tongued Grandmama Ellison being sent against her will to spend the Christmas holidays with her former daughter-in-law.

I also ran across the unabridged audio of The Fellowship of the Ring, which I may tackle right after Christmas. No, I've never read Tolkien, either.

What else am I missing, I wonder?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Traditions for Readers

We hear all the time about Christmas traditions--things that people do every December with their spouse, or their kids. Some people want to hear Christmas songs over and over. I am apparently developing the need to listen to the same audiobook every Christmas.

I've always had books I love to read every December, that help me get into the spirit. I'm a little disturbed about how my habits have changed, though. I seem to have slid from inspiring Biblical fiction to brain candy and fluff.

For a long time, I kept rereading a wonderful book called How Far to Bethlehem. I think it's out of print now, but if you've never read this, check for a used copy on amazon.com or at your local used bookstore. It's written by one of my favorite authors, Norah Lofts, and it follows different characters from the nativity story (each of the Wise Men, Mary, Joseph, Herod, a Roman soldier, the innkeeper, the shepherd) in the months and hours leading up to Christ's birth. All these characters you've come to know separately converge in Bethlehem at the crucial hour, brought together through heart-stopping, dramatic turns of events. Lofts was a secular historical writer, but she had such an amazing way of bringing characters and past times alive, and this book was no exception. So by the end of each reading, I was ready to sing "O Holy Night" and literally fall on my knees!

My tradition for the last three years or so is not as lofty. I've gotten hooked on the audio version of Skippnig Christmas by John Grisham. I'm not sure why I enjoy it over and over. Maybe because Grisham also has a way with characters. By the time you finish this short bit of fluff, you feel as though you know every resident of Hemlock Street, including my favorite, the roving boy busybody, Spike.

Luther Krank is not exactly Scrooge, but he is definitely--well, cranky. In the beginning of the book, I sort of sympathize with his desire to escape the shallow, materialistic mess that Christmas has become. Trouble is, he substitutes another shallow, materialistic pursuit in its place. He and his wife decide to skip Christmas altogether and take a cruise, which involves new clothes, dieting, tanning beds and the like. By the end of the book, the plan has backfired on them in a big way and--you guessed it--Luther learns about true generosity and giving.

Do any other readers out there have Christmas favorites that you're dipping into again this year?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fun Stuff

In addition to writing, I've had a lot of other things going on during my official Blogging Break.

I went on a conference for work, but fortunately went with a colleague who loves antiques and crafts as much as I do, so we made a number of fun stops along the way. You've heard of the kid in the candy store?

Well, this is how happy I look when I'm loose in a yarn store. The colors! The ideas! The possibilities for things to knit when I should be writing!

You know that Yoda is often seen lurking around my workplace. A few weeks ago, he was visited by an old friend. Actually an old adversary--and there I am caught between them!

Last but not least, my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. This is a photo of them on the beach in South Carolina about a year ago. Sixty years! Now that's perseverance. My husband has probably fainted dead away just thinking about it.
(Thanks to Felicia of Fluffy Flowers for the yarn store and Darth Vader photos)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Finally an Update

It's been weeks since I announced I was taking a blogging break so I could focus on the novel manuscript that I wanted to finish up before Christmas. Some of you have asked me how that's coming along. I'm pleased to report that I made a lot of progress, although not as much as I'd hoped. Actually, I'd hoped to be finished by now, but that didn't happen. But I do have a rough, rough draft and am now into the rewriting phase, which is much easier for me.

I definitely need this to be easier. Writing this manuscript has been one of the toughest projects I've ever tackled--not because the story was all that difficult. I think the real problem has been my attitude. Pardon me if you've heard this story before, but some of you have asked so I figure it bears repeating. (And if you would like to hear my original whining, click here.)

My agent swears that the only real way for me to break into publishing is to write category romance novels, like for Steeple Hill. She does not say that writing these books is easy, just that there are more opportunities for new writers in this genre. I resisted for ages, particularly since I don't usually read those novels. I have nothing against them; we just all have our preferences, and romance novels are not one of mine.

Furthermore, I'm long-winded, I love subplots, and I enjoy playing with language and mood and atmosphere. And that's the type of book I've been writing. And trying to sell. And not selling.

I pointed out to Janet, my agent, that if I can't compete and get a contract with a novel I think plays to my strengths, how will I compete against all those other writers who love category romance--and are already good at it? But she's the agent God sent me and I didn't want to look back on my life and think I was too stubborn to take this opportunity. So I'm trying.

I sent the first three chapters to her a few weeks ago for review, and she had loads of problems with them. I wasn't surprised, since I'm so out of place with this genre. Writing those chapters, I felt as though every word were being pulled out of me, like a tooth or a fingernail. Makes me hurt just thinking about it.

I rewrote the chapters as best I could and send them to Janet, along with a note asking her to feel free to tell me if she thought I was struggling with this category too much, or just wasn't "getting it." That even though I had put in a good bit of time on a first draft, I didn't mind admitting that I stink at this (I put it more professionally than that) and move on. I had folks praying for me that weekend, that God would show me how to proceed based on her response. I was almost hoping she would tell me to stop.

Instead, she said I was now on track, the story was fast-moving and had likeable characters, and she definitely thought I should go for it. So I guess God isn't ready to release me from this yet!

I'd love to think that means I'll publish this novel, but I know from experience that isn't necessarily the case. There are other things He may want me to take away from the experience. I'm having to learn to focus, to make every word count, to skip the atmosphere and get to the action. While I don't want to lose my own voice, it certainly doesn't hurt me to learn to write cleaner and not allow myself to ramble. (Just read a few of these blog posts if you'd like confirmation of that!)

Since Janet told me I'm on the right track, my attitude has been better and I'm finding my rewrites to be easier--like yanking out a hair instead of a fingernail. I think I had been struggling with fear and a sort of hopelessness, not believing this had a chance. I needed that encouragement.

And even though I didn't finish during my blogging break, I still hope to be finished by the end of the year. Yikes! I just realized that's less than four weeks away.

I better sign off and get to writing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And the winner is...

Christina Berry!

Christina is really on a roll! Not only did she win the $25.00 amazon.com gift card, but she also just made her first book sale to Moody. If I were a betting woman (not that I am or anything, you understand, cough cough) I might ask Christina to take a trip to Vegas with me and stand very close.

Ah well, congratulations to Christina. More for achieving her dream of becoming a published author than for winning this little contest. And all joking aside, getting that book contract is an achievement, representing years of hard work and, of course, perseverance!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Last Chance to Enter the Drawing

Wow, it's been so long since I posted, I'm having to remind myself how to do it. I had to think to remember how to log in.

When I left for my blogging break, I promised to hold a drawing for a $25.00 amazon.com gift card when I came back. I plan to do that tomorrow, so here's your last chance to enter the drawing. Just leave a comment on this post if you want to play (be sure I know how to contact you if you win), and I'll announce the winner tomorrow.

Thanks for sticking around!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Contest and a Blogging Break

I wanted to let y'all know I'm going to take a pretty significant break from posting to the blog. I really want to concentrate on finishing up a manuscript in the next few weeks. Lately, I seem to be spreading myself so thin that I'm not posting much or accomplishing much on the manuscript, either, so I want to focus on that one project for awhile.

I'm probably going to be "away" until the end of November. I don't want you to forget about me entirely, though. So I want to do a big giveaway when I come back, let's say the first of December. Leave a comment on this post before the end of November to be entered to win your favorite prize--an amazon.com gift certificate in the amount of $25.00. (That's not entirely true. Your favorite would probably be in a much higher amount. But this is the best I can do for now.)

Also as an incentive for you to stick around and not unsubscribe or anything hasty like that, here's this teaser: I hope to have a big announcement about a new course for the blog when I come back.

How's that for a cliffhanger!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Jar of Oil and the Bottle of Medicine

Do you remember the story in I Kings, about the widow who took in the prophet Elijah and gave him food and shelter--even though she didn't have enough food for herself and her son at the time? She only had a small amount of flour and some oil in a jar, barely enough for one meal. But after agreeing to share with Elijah, something amazing happened. The flour and the oil never ran out as long as he was there with her.

I know some folks are tempted to discount stories like this as mere fairy-tales. But I've heard several accounts of similar events from contemporary times. The one that comes to mind is from Corrie ten Boom's book, The Hiding Place. When she and her sister were in a Nazi concentration camp, someone managed to sneak in a small bottle of medicine. The bottle was made of dark glass and they couldn't see into it, but they figured there were only a few doses inside. But the medicine lasted and kept pouring out as long as they needed it, dosing prisoner after prisoner.

Some years ago, I made a tiny movement of faith, scaling back from a full-time to a part-time job so I would have more time to write. I was okay financially partly because my car was paid for. But it was getting old, and if I had to replace it or make major repairs, things were going to get complicated. I used to drive around in that car praying, "Lord, please make this car hold out just like the jar of oil and the bottle of medicine." And he did just that.

I'm a little scared about the economy and finances right now. Who isn't? We're facing major budget cuts where I work. Once again, I'm doing okay for now, if my car (which has over 130,000 miles on it) holds out. So a couple of nights ago, when driving home from work, I pulled out my old prayer--that God would make my car hold out like the bottle of oil and the medicine bottle.

You know God has a sense of humor, right? When I got home and opened my chronological Bible for that night's reading, guess what was there in front of me? The story of the widow, and Elijah, and the jar of oil and the handful of flour! I could just feel God smiling down at me.

I noticed something else when reading the account this time. When Elijah approaches the widow and asks for her help, she tells him that she only has enough food for one last meal for herself and her son, and she doesn't know what she will do after that. Elijah tells her not to be afraid (I wonder if she laughed at that one!) and then says something really nervy. He asks her to bake him a loaf of bread first, before she makes a meal for herself and her son.

What an incredible step of faith it must have been for this widow to do as Elijah asked--to follow God's prompting and provide for his prophet before herself or her son. And of course, it all worked out. The oil kept flowing. By letting go of that death grip she had on her meager possessions, she gained security and plenty for her family.

I just pray for that ability to follow God's leading instead of my fears. To believe in his provision for food, for cars--and for my dreams.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Great Prize Giveaway and an Exciting New Press

I'm very excited about a new publishing company that's going to have its launch on October 1. I've been hearing about Marcher Lord Press for about a year now, and I can't believe they're almost ready to start selling their first books. They're also going to have a huge prize giveaway as part of that launch.

I'm really pulling for Marcher Lord Press because they're aiming to publish good Christian fiction, but fiction that may be outside the boundaries of other traditional houses. In an online chat last year, founder Jeff Gerke said something to the effect of, if it's "weird and Christian," they're interested in it. Having just returned from the ACFW conference, where one agent's eyes sort of glazed over at my book pitch and he said, "Now that's just weird," I was naturally excited to hear this.

Whether you're interested in this kind of fiction or not, head on over to the Marcher Lord Press site and enter the contest. And if you feel so inclined, you can even say that I referred you so I'll get extra entries. (robing8300 at gmail dot com) I won't mind at all!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

A few days ago, I mentioned that my feisty little cat Cera had gotten a bad diagnosis from the vet. Last Sunday, she passed away. Since she would have had her twentieth birthday in October, I suppose I couldn't have hoped for much more time with her. Plus, she wasn't herself at the end, and I know she didn't feel good, so I'm glad she didn't linger.

Still, when you lose a little animal friend that you've had that long, it's sort of like losing a part of your life. When I got her as a kitten, I was in my twenties. Now I'm...well, you can do the math. It's sort of like the thread linking me to those younger days just snapped.
I also just lost another animal in my life, a cat named Myman that I rescued a few years ago and asked my mother to keep at her house. He was an old kitty, too.
It's interesting, though, that some animal babies have come into my life just as I'm losing my old friends. Remember I told you about going to fetch the kittens that were dumped at my hairdresser's house? They're thriving and they're such a joy.

And then, there's a new panda cub that was born at ZooAtlanta on August 30. I'm so excited that our pandas, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, have had not one but two babies during their stay in Atlanta. The zoo has a live Panda Cam where you can watch mother and baby. I always find it soothing to take a few minutes and watch that big furry mother cuddling that tiny, wiggly baby. Check it out if you have a moment.

Last, I still have Wendy, who seems to be going out of her way to comfort me. Or keep me occupied, anyway--for example, with games of Hide and Seek. I heard some muffled yowls a couple of days ago and spend awhile looking for her. Here's where I found her.

Never a dull moment!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Left Behind and Enjoying It

Okay, the title is not referring to being left behind after the Rapture. That would not be enjoyable at all.

I’m referring to the fact that lots of my writer and blogger friends are heading out for the annual American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and I’m staying home. I attended the last three years, but I just couldn’t afford it this time.

I realized a few days ago that instead of being jealous and disappointed, I’m actually a little relieved. The ACFW conference is a wonderful thing, but it’s also quite stressful—for me, anyway. I know other folks say it energizes them, and that rubbing shoulders with all those other writers fires their imaginations.

This wasn’t happening with me lately. I was putting far too much pressure on myself to pitch and to sell. I scarcely had a discussion with anyone about our stories or characters or the actual love of writing.

I’m pleased to report, however, that I found a substitute conference to recharge my creative batteries. That’s my story, anyway. I may just be entering my second childhood, or having a mid-life crisis. A couple of weeks ago, I did something that I haven’t done since I was in my twenties. I attended a science fiction and fantasy convention.

This one (Dragon Con) was huge—thousands of attendees and events covering four major hotels in downtown Atlanta. There were speakers and panels with writers, actors, directors, artists, costumers, you name it. Half the attendees seemed to be walking around in elaborate costumes, which was silly fun.

I have to confess that I myself wore two different costumes in one evening—one a Pirates of the Caribbean costume that I sewed myself.

I enjoyed hearing Sean Astin speak about playing Sam in the Lord of the Rings movies, and attending a panel with four actors from the Firefly TV series and Serenity movie. I rubbed elbows with tons of folks who may or may not have been writers, but who were passionate about stories and loved characters as if they were real.

What more could a writer on a budget ask for to fire her imagination?

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Sad Excuse

Wow. It's been a LONG time since I posted anything. I was going to sit down and do another one of those cutesie "Top Ten Excuses" lists for why I haven't blogged. And I do have several reasons, including extra evening shifts at work, the guest blogger who stood me up for the second time (yet swears she needs influencers!), an icky virus, etc., etc.

But I don't feel like making a cute list now. While I was laid up with the icky virus, I didn't give my cats as much attention as usual. Even so, it started to penetrate through my antihistamine-drugged consciousness that Cera wasn't her usual self. For one thing, she hadn't suggested tuna fish even once, and normally she demands tuna at least once a day. In fact, she hadn't poked her nose out of the guest room where she likes to snooze.

Then I started noticing other things. How painfully skinny she's gotten. How wobbly she is when she walks. In other words, she was displaying all the symptoms her sister did when she was 20--right before she died of kidney failure.

So, even though I was home on a sick day for myself, we went to the animal doctor for Cera. And he confirmed that her kidneys are shutting down and there's not much we can do. Fortunately, he didn't suggest I put her to sleep. At least not yet. He said to take her home and let her enjoy her life as long as she can, which could be a day or a couple of months.

So anyway, as Lemony Snicket would say, it's been a series of unfortunate events, and that last one has sort of blown me away.

When you're saying your prayers tonight, put in a word for Cera, if you will. Aside from that stubborn streak about groomers and medicine, she's been a wonderful little friend. On second thought, I probably need you to put in a good word for me even more!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Buried in the Back Yard II

A few months ago, I wrote a post called Buried in the Back Yard, when I learned that a Confederate soldier and his sons had been buried in the woods behind the house where I lived as a child. My family never knew this until the land was cleared for a housing and shopping development and the graves were discovered.

I now have another wild "buried in the back yard" story. (My family seems to draw these things.) My brother-in-law and his family live in Nashville. The first time we visited them there, Dave's brother picked us up at the airport and started asking what we would like to see while visiting. Dave started rattling off old-time country stars. "Minnie Pearl," Dave would say. "Dead," Paul would answer. This went on for awhile until Dave said, "Johnny Cash," and of course we waited for the usual answer. Instead we heard, "He's buried in our back yard."

We laughed.

A few minutes later, we turned into their driveway. Guess what we discovered? By golly, Johnny Cash is buried in their back yard.

Okay, technically, it's not a part of their yard. But the cemetery is right behind their house. Here's a picture from their patio.

Of course we had to walk over and see for ourselves.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are buried side by side, and several other members of the Carter family are close by, including Mother Maybelle.

I'm not sure which is stranger, having Confederate soldiers or a famous singer buried in your back yard. All I know is, I hope the competition ends here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Little Encouragement from Deborah Raney

A few days ago, a woman in my online writer's group sparked a lively discussion when she confessed that she felt a bit discouraged because of all the technical details involved in writing. I felt her pain as she said she just wanted to write, and now she was getting bogged down in all the "stuff" she was supposed to learn. I myself frequently complain on this very blog (okay, sometimes I even whine) that I've lost the joy I used to feel in writing because of all the rules I have to follow.

Author Deborah Raney responded with such a brilliant analogy that I asked her if I could reproduce it here, and she graciously agreed. I know it encouraged me, mainly because in Deb's view, the loss of joy is a temporary but necessary step. The passion and the fun will come again! Here's Deb:

I've thought of this analogy so often: when you first discover a piano as a child, you bang on the keys, ruffle the keyboard and make all sorts of cool (and totally un-concertworthy) sounds. Later, you start picking out melodies on the keyboard and maybe even adding a few chords and harmonies. It's a blast and your friends are impressed because you're pretty stinkin' good.

Then your parents decide you're the next Vladimir Horowitz and they sign you up for lessons. Overnight every ounce of joy is sucked right out of playing the piano. Because now you have to learn the NAMES of the notes, and you can only play what's written on the staff. Worse, you can't even play the notes when you choose to play them. Oh, no! You have to count, give every note the correct beat. Even worse you have to PRACTICE! No more playing just for fun, no more playing just to express yourself or show off to your friends, or experiment and see what sounds cool.

But lo and behold, one day, after lots and lots of miserable hours of practice, you actually get a piece right, and it sounds pretty good. You play it at a recital and people clap and ask you to play it again. Cool! So you go home and work a little harder and learn a more difficult piece. Pretty soon you start forgetting about the names of the notes because you know them as instinctively as you know your colors. Before long you can pick up a sheet of music and with a couple of run-throughs, you can play a song that sounds pretty close to the way you heard it on the radio. And all your friends ooh and aah when you play at parties because wow, you're good! And suddenly you don't mind practicing so much because now you know all the names of the notes and you know how to count time, and you know what all those funny symbols on the staff mean--shoot, you know what a staff IS. Practice has become fun, and playing has become an expression of yourself again, and even therapy sometimes.

Then one day, you're playing along, following the notes and the time exactly as written in the music, and almost without thinking you add a trill in this measure and an extra beat in that one...OMG! You're breaking the rules (your music teacher--and your mother--would KILL you) but it actually doesn't sound bad. In fact, by george, it works! You play with those trills and tweak the syncopation and suddenly the song has turned into your own unique, amazing composition, and now YOU get to make (and break) the rules.

But you never would have gotten to this point if not for those hours of learning the notes and the rhythm, playing them exactly as written. There will always be more difficult sheet music to challenge you, and you will continue to improve the more you play, but you've reached that wonderful place where you know enough that playing the piano has become more fun than you ever thought possible, and the songs you compose are better than you ever dreamed. And you hate to admit it, but your mother and your piano teacher were right, and you'd never be where you are without those stupid piano lessons and those torturous practice sessions.

DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her eighteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award and Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. Deborah's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books are the Clayburn Novels from Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, including Remember to Forget, a 2008 Christy Award finalist. Deb serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small-town life in Kansas.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Great Kitten Caper

Is this a cutie or what?

She better be. I went through enough to get her yesterday.

Last week, my hairdresser told me that someone had dumped two tiny kittens at her house, and she couldn't keep them because her dog considered them squeaky toys, and her indoor cat would see them as rivals--something he absolutely doesn't tolerate.

My wonderful mother said she would take the two babies, a male and female. Dave and I were camping somewhat near my hairdresser's house. Well, nearer than we usually are, anyway. So I thought this would be an excellent time to pick them up. I plugged her address into my GPS to see if it knew where Traci lived. It swore that it did, and I trusted that confident GPS Lady voice of hers. And away we went.

A few minutes later, GPS Lady directed me to turn onto a dirt road. "Are you sure?" I asked her. She seemed pretty positive, so I turned. I drove down miles of red dirt road, seeing nothing on either side but woods and the occasional abandoned, falling-down house. I had no idea that dirt roads registered with satellites and GPS systems, but apparently they do. My GPS Lady seems to love them. She took me down about four of them to reach Traci's house and the kittens.

Or maybe GPS Lady just hates me. Traci sort of laughed when I told her how I came. It wasn't exactly the normal route. But that wasn't the worst of it. I just happened to see that GPS Lady actually directed me PAST Traci's house number, telling me that the house was another mile down the road. However, I got suspicious when the pavement petered out and a very narrow, muddy road led into the woods. I mean, wide, dirt roads are one thing. I tend to balk at logging trails. I called Traci and sure enough, GPS Lady was lying to me.

Why she wanted to take me into the woods I don't know. I think it was an ambush. Maybe she dislikes cats. Either way, I fetched the kittens back home to my mother, and they're definitely worth it. She was having fun this morning, watching them play.

Interestingly enough, I'm the one who got Traci her tom cat who won't tolerate rivals and started this whole mess. Back when he was younger, he needed a home, too. I guess what goes around comes around.

It's Traci's turn next!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unless the Lord Writes the Book

Awhile back, I reached the Psalms of David in my Chronological Bible reading and mentioned how much I loved them.

I'm now reading about his son Solomon's life, and the editors inserted a couple of Psalms written by him. Here's the beginning of what I read from Psalm 127 (New Living Translation):

"Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is useless. . .It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones."

What comforting verses, as I struggle to find time to write. As I struggle wondering whether I'm writing the right thing. Whether it will sell. Here's my take on those verses. "Unless the Lord writes the book, the writing is useless."

I don't have to fret. If God is building the house, or writing the book, the labor will get done. And it won't be useless; it will succeed. And I don't even have to work until I drop to prove myself to him. He'll give me rest.

I thought it was a little odd that the next verses abruptly switched to the subject of children. "Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him." (v. 3) Since I wasn't able to have children, verses like this sometimes make me feel bad. But for me, being a writer, my characters feel like my children. Somewhere I once heard them called "children of the mind."

If God will bless them and grow them, that will be a great reward for me!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing Smart or Writing False?

I wanted to share a great blog post by Kaye Dacus that I read a few days ago. Kaye, a romance writer, was frustrated that so many unpublished authors are advised to start with writing romance, because it's supposedly easier to do and easier to get published. I loved Kaye's post because she pointed out that if writers don't believe in what they're writing, it will ring false, no matter how technically correct it is.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kaye, and I found the post even more interesting because I'm one of those unpublished authors whose agent insists that I need to write romance to break into publication.

To be fair, my agent has never suggested that writing romance is easy. She simply feels, based on her experience, that there are more opportunities for new authors to publish in that genre. So I agreed to try it. She is, after all, my agent--and I haven't had any luck breaking that publishing barrier on my own.

But I'm struggling with my attitude as I write. I'll admit that, for a long time, publishing was my number one goal. But that's no longer true. I don't dislike the romance novel I'm writing. It's fun, and I'd probably enjoy picking it up and reading it if I found it on a shelf. But it's not a genre I would have chosen for myself.

I think, as a writer, I'm a little unusual. When I was a little girl, I started developing several different sets of characters--several little worlds. I love those people I created. I never minded writing or rewriting and rewriting again, because I loved visiting their worlds. I always pictured I would mainly write novels about those folks that I've spent most of a lifetime getting to know.

As I try to focus on what will get me published, it's just a job. I don't think about those characters except during the time in front of the computer, when I do my daily word count. Sometimes I wonder, what if I do get published in this genre? Will I get stuck only being able to publish there? Will it just be a chore?

I have a bad feeling--or a good feeling, depending on how you look at it--that I'm not going to have to face that problem. There are so many new writers out there who are passionate about romance writing that--as Kaye pointed out--I can't imagine me actually succeeding in the genre ahead of them.

So why am I trying this at all? Well, God sent me my literary agent. I want to be open to whatever path he leads me down, whether it's my "dream" or not. I realize we sometimes have to be flexible and put aside our own desires. Or at least, he helps us reach them in a way we wouldn't have expected.

Or maybe he's just using this experience--and thoughts from other writers, like Kaye--to show me that publication wasn't really what I desired in the first place. As Kaye said, "When we [write fiction], we’re actually calling upon things that are real and true: feelings, emotions, experiences, thoughts, deeply held beliefs. If we ignore those things to dash off a particular kind of story not because it’s the story of the heart but because it has a better chance of selling, we’re lying to our readers and betraying ourselves as artists (as Madeleine L’Engle calls us)."

Amen, sister!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Back from the Wilds of...my Back Yard

The camping trip didn't happen. Various family issues kept us from making the trip to the beach with the R.V. However, I still took my long weekend and basically camped on our back porch.

My extremely talented husband just added this screened porch to the back of our house. He did the work all by himself. (A relative once asked if I help Dave with all these projects. I said yes--I stay out of his way. That's about all I'm good for in the carpentry area.)

Then, to make up for our canceled trip, he bought me the most comfortable chaise lounge in the world.

I've wanted one of these babies for a long, long time.

I spent a lot of my weekend on that new porch, lounging and reading and watching the hummingbirds fight. (Did you know that hummingbirds fight? I didn't until we got a feeder. I thought they were beautiful, sweet, graceful little creatures. I had no idea how mean and territorial they are to one another.)

All in all, it was a wonderful, restful holiday. It was nice to rediscover the joy of sinking into a good book with no time constraints.

Speaking of my talented husband, I mentioned awhile back that he was taking up the dirty old carpet in our bedrooms and refinishing the hardwood floors that were underneath them. He finished that up a few weeks ago, and they're so gorgeous! Here's a picture of our guest room.

Why folks wanted to hide that gorgeous wood under carpet I'm not sure, but finding that hidden treasure is one of the pleasures of having an older house.
Anyway, I'm back to reality now and will try very hard to think of something profound to say for next time. Oh, the pressure!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Announcing the Winner!

Congratulations to Christina Berry, who won the drawing for the $25.00 amazon.com gift certificate today. Christina is a long-time reader and subscriber, so I'm very happy to reward her.

Wish I could reward all of you! Then again, if I had that kind of money, I'd probably move to the beach, become a completely lazy bum (as opposed to the partially lazy bum I am now), and never blog again. So don't get your hopes up.

Speaking of being a lazy bum, I've been very bad about blogging this week. I've been trying to get ready for a camping trip we're about to take. I'm worn out and we haven't even left yet. I'll be gone for a few days so I may not blog again until the middle of next week. After that, I'll try to do better.

Have a great weekend--and watch for the next contest, which will be coming soon!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Answer Is...

Well, I thought I'd given you a challenging question yesterday, but it took Bunny B. about five minutes (literally) to identify the author in question as J.K. Rowling.

I myself was as fascinated by this little tidbit from Rowling as I was by Francine Prose's declaration that sometimes you should tell instead of show. I realize that J.K. Rowling can pretty much write what she wants to now and it will be published and successful, but the quote seemed to indicate that she's never worried about who her target audience is. How do you ever get a publisher or an agent with an attitude like that? Generally when you do a proposal, you have to be very specific as to who the book is intended for. Amazing!

Anyway, Bunny B. gets an extra five entries in the drawing. And I'd like to ask you, Bunny, to leave a comment here telling me how you got the answer so fast. Had you read the interview? (Which, by the way, is available on amazon.com.) Or it just sounded like something Rowling would say?

Anyway, I'll try to think up something harder next time!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Want 5 Bonus Entries in the Drawing?

First, a reminder that the drawing for the $25.00 amazon.com gift card will be held on July 31.

Second, if you'd like a chance to get FIVE additional entries into the drawing, take a look at the following quote from a contemporary author:

"I never really imagine a target audience when I'm writing. The ideas come first, so it really depends on the idea that grabs me next."

The first person who posts the answer here, correctly identifying the author who said that in a recent interview, will get five additional entries.

If no one gets it by tomorrow, I'll post another hint.

Have fun!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Winter Keeps Us Warm

I never thought I would refer to T.S. Eliot twice in a short span of time. As I've mentioned, I'm not big on poetry, and it sometimes seems to me that I spent half of my college career slogging through The Waste Land and trying to make sense of it.

Only one line really stuck with me through the years: "Winter kept us warm." I mean, what the heck did that mean? I hate being cold and therefore have always hated winter, and couldn't figure out what ole Eliot was getting at.

Today, as I shivered once again in the middle of a typical Georgia heat wave, I understood. That's right--we're having a heat wave and I'm shivering. If you're cold-natured like me and you've ever spent spring or summer in Georgia, you'll know what I'm talking about--a little thing called "air conditioning."

Lately, in winter, I do fine. I put on my boots and my sweaters and, except in those really bad cold snaps, do fine. The central heating in all the public buildings is generally kept at a reasonable level, so all is well. In other words, winter keeps me warm.

But just let the outside temperature climb to about 65 degrees, and everyone runs for their air conditioners. They may have to set them on 62 to make any difference, but if that's what it takes, by golly, they'll do it.

Most public buildings feel like meat lockers. I tend to dress in layers, wearing sleeveless blouses so I can make it from my car to a building in the blazing heat without fainting, then whipping out my sweater the moment I get inside. Occasionally, as the blasts from the a.c. vents and ceiling fans whip around my head, I wish that women still wore hats.

The interesting thing to me is that everyone talks about "going green" and conserving, but no one seems to be scrimping on the air conditioning around here. A couple of years ago I stayed in a ritzy hotel that had little printed notices all around the room about their conservation efforts. They boasted that they wouldn't be changing my sheets every day for the sake of the environment, and they asked me to re-use my towels. And yet, the air conditioning was set on 58 degrees when I came in! Worse yet, after I turned it WAY up, the housekeeping staff turned it back down the next day.

Church is interesting, too. The men are all dressed in shirts, coats and ties, and thick socks. Women are in sleeveless dresses, with no stockings and sandals. How can anyone possibly get the temperature right with a disparity like that?

Personally, I think the men are winning.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Writing Blasphemy!

I gasped and nearly spilled my coffee as I read the first chapter of Francine Prose's book called Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.

Prose advises writers not only to read good, well-written literature, but also to pay attention while reading, and to take note of why the writing is so effective. Chapter 1 deals with the power of individual word choices. She gives examples of opening paragraphs from writers like Flannery O'Connor that Prose found to be particularly strong, and right away I noticed a problem. If I wrote those same paragraphs and turned them in to a contest, the judges would rip through them. Every one of the judges would scream, "You're telling us, not showing us. Show, don't tell!"

That's when Prose did it. She spoke the words that are considered sheer blasphemy in the writing world: "Finally, the passage contradicts a form of bad advice often given young writers--namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine 'dramatic' showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out--don't tell us a character is happy, show us how she screams 'yay' and jumps up and down for joy--when in fact the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language. There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing."

A gleeful, guilty little thrill ran through me as I read the words. Finally, a "real" writer, a woman who's been publishing acclaimed novels since the seventies, was saying what I felt in my darkest, most rebellious moments.

In following the "show don't tell" rule, I sometimes have felt that my characters are turning into a collection of nervous twitches and quirky little movements. I've wondered how many times they can raise their eyebrows, widen their eyes, clap their hands to their mouths or rub their foreheads in one book.

I understand we need to put the emphasis on showing. A novel that is mostly telling would be boring beyond belief. But as Prose stresses about this and other aspects of writing, a good writer knows what works best for any given sentence or paragraph--and isn't afraid to do it, regardless of what those contest judges do to them!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Words that Last

I wish I could write psalms. The book of Psalms is one of my favorite parts of the Bible, and often when I sit down for my quiet time with God, I wish I could put my feelings into such beautiful lines. So far it hasn't happened, though. Probably because I'm so terrible with any kind of poetry.

One thing I love about the Chronological Bible I'm reading this year is that, as I'm reading about the life of David, if there's a psalm he seems to have written at that time of his life, the editors include it at the appropriate point in the narrative. I've always loved the story of David, but reading his prayers, his emotions as he cries out to God in the middle of the events of his life makes me feel so close to him. Sometimes I wish I could tell him--and the other psalmists--how often I have turned to their words to express my own feelings. To calm my fears. To remind myself why I should trust the Lord.

Last night, one of David's psalms had these lines: "O Lord, what are mortals that you should notice us, mere humans that you should care for us? For we are like a breath of air; our days are like a passing shadow." (Psalm 144:3-4, NLT)

It's true that David is long gone--gone like the vapor or shadows he named. And yet, there I sat, reading his words, breathing them in, feeling the truth of them fresh and new for myself. I was reminded that, though we mortals don't last very long, our words do. Words for good and words for evil.

It's both an inspiration and a caution for those of us who write. How I hope to be able to pen words that will last, but only if they're true and good. Only if someday, they can bring someone else a ray of encouragement and faith on a dark day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Time for Another Contest!

It suddenly hit me I haven't done a contest for awhile. Since I have nothing else to say today (stop the cheering out there! It's deafening me), I decided I might as well announce a new drawing.

I'm not feeling particularly imaginative right now and y'all seem to like the amazon certificates, so let's do one of those again.

Each post that you comment on from today until July 30 will earn you one entry in a drawing for a $25.00 amazon.com gift certificate. Subscribers get an extra entry for being faithful readers--or at the very least, allowing me to clutter up their inbox.

I'll announce a winner on July 31.

Good luck, and thanks for playing!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wishing for Duck Feet

I re-read a very profound book the other day, written by a sage named Theo. LeSieg--more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. The book is called I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.

I hadn't read it since I was about seven years old, and trust me, that was a long, long time ago. But it always stuck with me, probably because it scared me. Yes, it's true. I've admitted here before that I was once traumatized by Muppets, and I Wish That I Had Duck Feet made me squirm a little, too.

The boy in the book daydreams about various wonderful things that animals have that he doesn't--like duck feet, deer antlers, elephant trunk, etc. One at a time he envisions himself with these new appendages, first picturing all the neat new things he'll be able to do and the admiration he'll get from his friends. But then realizes the drawbacks and has second thoughts.

Here comes the scary part. He imagines adding all these new attributes to himself at once, which turns him into a whole new creature called a Which-What-Who. In this sorry state, with webbed feet and a long trunk and big old horns, he's not admired but feared. Eventually, he ends up in a cage on display at the circus.

All this is only a daydream, of course. He makes the wise decision that it's best to just be himself, and all is well.

So why am I telling you this? This book kept coming to mind as I mull over my so-called writing career, and the direction I need to take in the future.

When I first started writing, I was just little old me. I wrote the stories that presented themselves to me and didn't worry too much about what to call them.

Then came writers' conferences, and critiques, and meetings with editors and agents and authors, and loads of well-meaning advice. "I think this is really a young adult novel. You should adjust the language." "This is really an adult novel. The characters should be older." "This is close to being a romantic suspense, but you need to look at those guidelines." "This is too literary for a commercial novel. Maybe you should become a literary writer."

One after one, I've taken my poor manuscripts and glued on other appendages. Whacked off my nice psychological ending to give it the traditional romantic suspense, heroine-backed-into-a-corner ending. Removed the "literary" language and tried to make it sound commercial. Sawed it off at the ankles to stick on those duck feet.

After all those Frankenstein treatments, a few of my manuscripts have ended in the trash heap. I think I turned them into unrecognizable Which-What-Whos.

So now the challenge is to be myself, even in my writing. To take the good things I've learned and apply them, but not try to attach so many foreign appendages that I turn my stories into monsters. To discover what I want a novel to be and make it just that--not a conglomeration of ideas and genres and goals.

If any of you out there are as wise as Dr. Seuss and would like to chime in on this, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fourth of July with the Washingtons

Hope you had a great Fourth of July. I can honestly say I celebrated the Fourth in a very appropriate way this year. I attended the Independence Day Festival in Henry County, Georgia, along with George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Patrick Henry, and others.

Best of all, Martha was played by none other than my niece, Kristi (second from right, next to George), whom you last saw as the Kissing Wench at the Renaissance Festival. Quite a step up socially, from Kissing Wench to First First Lady.

It was all quite authentic, right down to the genuine Colonial camera man.

I myself am not the greatest camera person in the world, as evidenced by the above photo, but I wanted to show this one for the beautiful scenery. It really was a fun festival, on a farm that's a historic Civil War battlefield. The characters presented a running story throughout the day, with Redcoats breaking up a proclamation by Patrick Henry, duels, and a ladies' tea where women's issues of the day were discussed. (It was heartily agreed by all that women should be educated. Whether education should be co-educational was a bit more controversial.)

Since I normally spend the Fourth of July catching up on projects, like cleaning out my closets, this was a welcome break.

Did you do anything special? Hope you'll share!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I'm So Confused!

I've been doing a lot more reading lately than I usually manage. Part of this is due to the wonder of audiobooks, which I can zip through while driving, house cleaning, cooking, whatever. A couple of days ago, I finished two books almost simultaneously. The first was one of the best books I ever read--the kind that haunts you for days, that seems to hold a part of you in its world so that you wander around in a fog, not completely back to reality.

The second was one of the worst I ever read. I had to force myself to finish it. It was dull, cliched, and pointless.

So guess which one I'm supposed to be reading so I can learn to write for the line that publishes it? Which one am I supposed to be emulating, molding my writing to be more like it? Yep, you guessed it.

My agent feels I need to do this as a stepping stone to eventually writing the kind of books I want to. But I'm very confused. Sometimes I feel I'm changing my writing so much to conform to all these rules and guidelines and genres that I'm losing my own writing voice. Sometimes I worry I won't be able to go back.

Last night, as I finished reading the vile book which shall remain nameless, I started praying for guidance. Here's what showed up in my devotional reading:

"The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.'" (Psalm 32: 8-9, NLT)

I love it that I got immediate assurance that the Lord will guide me in the right direction. And I certainly don't want to be a mule, although for a moment I had to wonder--is writing something that's against my own nature being senseless, or am I being stubborn and willful by questioning my agent's advice? After all, God sent her to me in a pretty miraculous way.

So, for now at least, I'll try to produce a suitable manuscript for my agent--and hopefully one that still retains my own voice and style. It's going to be tricky.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Warning for the Published

I just came across an interesting tidbit in the June 2008 issue of College & Research Libraries News. They mention that a Rhode Island book dealer just donated three rare and valuable books to Brown University Library. One of them is a first edition of The Great Gatsby autographed by Fitzgerald to the poet T.S. Eliot. Judging by the enthusiastic wording of the autograph, Fitzgerald was a huge fan of Eliot. He calls him "Greatest of Living Poets" and says that he (Fitzgerald) is his enthusiastic worshipper. (p. 359)

Unfortunately, he not only misspells enthusiastic, but he also flubs the spelling of the Greatest of Living Poets' name. (He spelled it "Elliot.")

Now, I often lament the fact that I'm not published. But at least, I'm not in danger of embarrassing myself in this particular way. Lots of other ways, yes, but not this one.

If I ever do get published, I can just see something like this happening to me. I'd be so excited to present some of my own work to my literary idol, so thrilled to show that I, too, am now a part of the literary world. And then it would happen. Maybe an hour later, maybe a day, maybe a year. But eventually, I would see my literary idol's name someplace, and I would realize that I misspelled her name. Down in the depths of my soul, I would know that no matter how great my writing, how brilliant my metaphors and dialogue, how stirring my characters, the literary idol would always remember me as that idiot that didn't even know how to spell her name.

Perhaps I'm just looking for solace. Maybe I'm just downright mean. But somehow this story really cheered me up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Killer Cargo: A Fun and Exciting Read

I must confess I don't usually read a lot of the category romance novels. I'm not sure why that is, precisely. Maybe I've just assumed they would all be too much alike.

Well, last week I picked up Killer Cargo, a Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense novel by Dana Mentink. And I knew I had been wrong. Within about ten pages, I knew this book was going to be different--and in a very good way.

Maria, the pilot of her own private plane, knows she's in trouble when she discovers a package of drugs among the piles of pet supplies she's supposed to be delivering in the wilds of Oregon. The bad guys pull up and know she's discovered their secret, so she has to take off--and not in her airplane. There's no time or fuel for flying. She has to run on foot, then in a borrowed car. Okay, so far, I'd seen it all before.

However, her plane's cargo also contained a three-legged bunny named Hank, who was apparently destined to be snake food. Even in her hurry, Maria decides to rescue him, too. She rents an electric blue 1972 Dodge Demon from a kid working at the airstrip (actually he's keeping it for his cousin, who is currently incarcerated) and tears out of there, with the bad guys in hot pursuit and Hank sliding around on the back seat.

She seems to be doing pretty well at evading the bad guys, until she crashes the car into a creek. She and Hank are rescued and hidden by the handsome Cy Sheridan--the creek is a part of his animal sanctuary. This seems like a pretty good deal, until Maria actually enters his cabin and finds frogs in tanks all over the place. Until she finds mysterious hand-written notes about cyanide. Until she realizes that the animal sanctuary has its own crime problems.

This was a fast-paced, fun read. If you're going to be relaxing by the beach or lake any time soon, grab a copy and take it with you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Go Slowly So You Do It Right"

In his sermon a couple of weeks ago, my pastor mentioned that this month marks the 60th anniversary of the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. Actually, that's not phrased exactly right. It's been sixty years since sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started on the project, a mountain carving that will dwarf the one at Mt. Rushmore.

But the carving is nowhere near finished. In fact, a site called roadsidephotos.com says, "Ziolkowski died in 1982; with luck, his great-great-grandchildren will live long enough to dedicate the finished sculpture." And yet, when Ziolkowski was dying, he told his wife, "You must work on the mountain -- but go slowly so you do it right."

What an amazing attitude, especially today, in our generation--because the dedication to this cause didn't end with Ziolkowski himself. It continues with his family. Seven of his ten children have remained in the area, working for the project and the Foundation. At eighty-two, his wife soldiers on. The vision is huge. Not only will the carving, if and when it is finished, be the largest in the world, but the site will include the American Indian University and Medical Training Center.

My pastor pointed out that God's attitude toward us is like Ziolkowski's with his carving. We humans usually get impatient. We get discouraged and abandon our projects. We want to complete things quickly and move on. We want to rush to the victory and get our accolades.

But God works with us for a lifetime. Paul tells us he's confident that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." (Phil. 1:6, NIV)

I'm grateful for these two reminders that it's okay if my dreams take awhile. That it's all right if I "go slowly so I do it right." That sometimes a dream is worth at least a lifetime.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Culprit Confesses!

She couldn't take the pressure anymore. She finally broke and confessed. Kathleen--regular visitor to the Queen and self-confessed prankster--sent me the anonymous Pirates clock.

In the comments to the original post, Kathleen said (in response to my guess that the clock was obtained with cereal box tops), "Well, you were partly right. It was from little cardboard tokens off a snack bar (peanut bar with chocolate on the bottom mmm!) box. It was just too tempting. 'Glad you enjoyed it!"

I knew it was her! Mystery solved. Hmmm...maybe I should try my hand at writing mysteries.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Tax on Hoop Skirts?

Sometimes in my librarian job I get to look at some really fun things. A few weeks ago we received a trial subscription to a database called American Periodicals Series Online. A company called ProQuest has scanned and digitized magazines and journals from about 1740 to the early 1900s. The publications cover all kinds of subjects--medicine, politics, you name it. They also include popular magazines and ladies' journals.

So I did a search on fashion and limited it to a date range of the late 1700s to early 1800s. I came up with lots of interesting stuff, including a hilarious letter to the editor in The Lady's Magazine and Repository of Entertaining Knowledge, November, 1792, "On the Universal Fashion of Wearing Hoops." The poor writer laments the fact that every woman from low-born to high has been coerced into wearing "useless" and "greatly inconvenient" hoops.

Why is this man so concerned about a woman's fashion? Because he has four daughters--and they're about to bankrupt him. Not to buy the dresses and hoops, but because of how it's affecting the rest of their lives. "At first their hoops were small," he says, "and consequently less inconvenient, but they are now grown to such an enormous size that I must be obliged (if they do not retrench them) to leave my house on the account, as the rooms, where we could formerly move very conveniently, are now too small to admit of our stirring, without incommoding each other. The stair-case, which is rather narrow, is become (if not wholly useless) extremely dangerous to the female part of my family, as they can neither ascend, nor descend in any other direction than sideways."

To help alleviate the strain on society, the writer proposes a tax on hoop skirts, which I don't think ever happened.

Next I read an article from the July 11, 1807 Lady's Weekly Miscellany, in which a writer also lamented the unbecoming fashions of the time, especially hats. "Ought not the figure of the head to be oval? Should not every thing which alters this figure, be considered as detracting from nature? What then are we to think of those bonnets that project both before and behind, and give the head of a woman, seen in profile, the form of a hammer!"

Oh, how I would love to sit and read articles from these fun magazines. And if you're a writer of historicals, what a fabulous resource this would be! Just think of the details, the atmosphere you could add to your story after reading such cozy articles from the time period of your novel.

Alas, we weren't able to purchase this database. Too expensive. But it's a great reminder of what's out there in college libraries that you won't be able to find on the free Internet. If you have a large university near you, in particular, check it out sometime. Often you can go in and pull up gems like these on their computers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stalked By Pirates

If you've been reading this blog long, you know I'm fond of pirates. (Not real ones. Pretend ones. Particularly the ones with the really cool outfits.) You also know I seem to run across them wherever I go. But now I've started getting anonymous pirate paraphernalia in the mail!

A few days ago I received a mysterious package with a return address of the Kellogg Company. Little knowing what was in store, I tore it open, and this is what I found:

Someone with a weaker constitution might have fainted dead away. But I took it pretty well.

It's a Pirates of the Caribbean alarm clock. I figure it was one of those prizes you can get by saving up your cereal box tops and sending away for it. The question is, who used their box tops on me?

I have my ideas. First I accused my husband, but I've cleared him.

I think I know who the culprit is. I think she's even a regular reader of this blog.

Any confessions?

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Long and Winding Road

Yesterday I reran a blog from last spring, when I was starting a new manuscript and dealing not only with fear of failure but also fear of success. I mentioned that the thoughts were pertinent to me again now, because I'm once again about to start a new project.

Actually I'm just sort of switching gears this time. I've been struggling, trying to turn out a draft of a novel I've attacked over and over throughout the years. It's my creepy gothic novel I've mentioned before, and it's not exactly my agent's cup of tea. I told her I would work on it until June, get it out of my system, and then work on the project she's excited about.

I have the usual trepidation when starting a new project, including that fear of both failure and success that I talked about yesterday. As I get older, though, I'm starting to have a new worry--fear of wasted time.

I have not exactly made a straight run toward my goals in life. Hence the theme of this blog. I started thinking about one of my favorite Bible passages (Proverbs 3:5-6), and the difference in two of its translations. Here's the way I learned it first, in the King James: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Later, I read the verses in the New International Version, which I usually love. But I didn't care much for this translation: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Do you see the difference? In the King James, God promises that he'll direct us. To me, that means he'll show us which path to take. In the NIV, he promises to make our paths straight. When I was younger, that didn't seem as encouraging--as though I'd have to figure out the path myself, but he'd straighten it out somehow.

Then I spent a few more years on the long, winding road that is my life. (Sorry if that Beatles song is going to be stuck in your head now.) I made so many false starts. I seemed to wander around without direction. I took an expensive class to become a legal secretary, and all it accomplished was showing me that I don't want to work in the legal profession. I started a graduate degree at USC in Los Angeles so I could become a screenwriter and work in film. I quit after one semester, because I discovered that I didn't want to live in Los Angeles and I had absolutely no talent for writing screenplays.

My writing journey has been just as circuitous. I've tried different genres. I wrote a manuscript for the secular market, only to be told it was too religious. So I reworked it for the Christian market and was told it's too literary. I've actually found myself thinking--should I rewrite it as a literary novel? I'd like to tell you I only went through this kind of confusion with one manuscript, but unfortunately, that's not the case.

You know how Psalm 23 starts off, "The Lord is my Shepherd?" Boy, do I understand that word picture! I often picture myself as a little lost lamb, wandering about, and God has to gently guide me back onto the path. The straight path. The one that leads me toward those achievements, those good works that he planned for me before the beginning of the world.

I'm trying a completely new genre on this current project for my agent. So I can't help but wonder--is this more wasted time? Another false start down the wrong turn in the maze? But I also have to remind myself that God used every one of those experiences to bring me where I am today, and that's a very good place.

So now I love that NIV translation that tells me God will make my paths straight. I may not know what I'm doing, I may take the scenic route, get lost and refuse to ask for directions, but God knows exactly where I need to go! I know from experience he'll get me there yet.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fear of Blessing--Again!

I'm reading through the Chronological Bible this year. (I use the term "this year" loosely. At the rate I'm going, I figure this one-year Bible is going to take me about 17 months.) I've been reporting to you when I come across things that strike me as particularly relevant to our favorite topics: waiting, persevering, achieving your dream. Last week I read through a passage that I blogged about last spring. I was amazed that it was relevant when I came across it last May--and just as relevant right now. So, just in case some of you need to hear it again, I'm repeating this blog about David and the Ark of the Covenant.

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.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Contest Winner!

The winner of the drawing for the $25 amazon.com gift certificate is Bunny B. Congratulations, Bunny! Contact me and make sure I have a good email address for you, and I'll send you your prize.

Thanks to everyone else who played. I'm sure I'll start up a new contest soon, so stay tuned for the announcement.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

They Were Animals!

Last weekend I made a trip with blog friend Kathleen to the Yellow River Game Ranch. The game ranch is the home of Georgia's famous groundhog/official weather prognosticator General Lee, who is very popular. Of course, as Kathleen pointed out, you can tell the Game Ranch is in the South when you visit the other general in residence:

Poor little skunk.

The Game Ranch was a fun experience, because we didn't just get to look at the animals but also interact with them. Deer and ducks follow you around, begging for you to feed them--which is allowed, provided you stick to approved treats. Although you have to keep a safe distance from critters like bears, many of the cuddlier types just wander around the park and will eat right out of your hand.

The animals had different ways of approaching visitors and snagging their snacks. In many ways, visiting the Game Ranch reminded me of attending a writers' conference. If you've been to a conference, you know what I mean. All us poor writers fighting for attention, for scraps of hope from editors and agents. And we all have different ways of going about it.

Some of us will do anything to get that editor's attention. We'll overcome any barrier...

We don't care how silly we look, or how strange our story about the old lady abducted by aliens from the produce section of the supermarket sounds...

Others of us are above all that. We know our writing is wonderful, and frankly you're just very fortunate we came to share it with you...

Sometimes it all works out. We strike up a wonderful relationship with an editor or agent or fellow writer, and it's great on both sides.

Where do I fit in this picture? I had a nagging feeling I'm like this bear. Good things were being tossed at him, opportunities were all around him, but he was just too lazy to reach out and grasp most of them. Unless the snacks landed either right in front of him or right in his mouth--I'm not making that up. He sat with his mouth open and actually caught an apple and a couple of crackers--he just couldn't exert the effort to see it through. In fact, a cracker landed behind him, and he reached back with a paw and tried to drag it. But after a couple of tries he gave up, totally exhausted.

Okay, I think I'm learning my lesson here. I think I'll go home and do LOTS of writing tonight.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Milestone or Stumbling Block?

Here's the guest post I promised you, from my niece, Kristi. She has some great thoughts about perseverance, waiting, and trying to find God's will for the next phase of life.

Recently I had a major milestone in my life. I graduated from college at the not-so-tender age of 34. This is such a blessing, and I thank God for it, because He gave me a second chance. Because it is such a wondrous event, something I had hoped to do for a long time, and because it was something I had to work extremely hard for the second time around, the expectations of what would come next were, and are, incredibly high. They have been so high, in fact, that as I come back down to earth after graduation, I am having a hard time finding my footing. It makes me wonder, am I enjoying the milestone of my graduation, or turning it into a stumbling block on the path to the next thing?

The road to this point has been one which certainly required perseverance. The main perseverance which I experienced came not from myself, though, but from God. My past is filled with many things of which I am not proud, which is one reason I did not make it through school the first time. Although I always believed in Christ and really felt that I did love Him, I spent lots of wasted time living my life the way I wanted to. I took advantage of God’s amazing grace. But His love truly persevered. He never gave up on me, and I look back on some of those moments and am truly amazed at the extent of God’s incredible mercy towards us. I wonder sometimes why it is that I am so loved by Him, that He should care so much about someone who has lived such a life. But it is really not about me, but about Him. That is who He is, and He will never give up on us. We can see this in the Bible over and over as He dealt with Israel through the centuries. He would punish them and be seemingly at the end of His mercy with them, but there was always more. There was always that open invitation to come back to Him. Thank God His love and mercy are not dependent upon us, but upon Him. He enabled me to quit smoking and get registered for school, all while going through one of the worst periods of my life. He got me through school, and supplied me with a great job while I went. That is God’s power at work in my life.

The next display of perseverance came from my family. I would not have made it through the last few years if it were not for the incredible love and support of my mother, my father, my wonderful grandparents, and yes, even my sweet aunt Robin. These are people who have seen me go through many difficult times, many of them self-imposed, and who never once said, “You are on your own.” If they could help me, they have helped me.

I remember one really dark day back in 2005. My marriage had fallen apart, and I was having to leave the house which had become my home over the previous three years. I was faced with the awful task of going back several times to this house where some of my things still were. Barely a week had passed and my soon to be ex-husband had already replaced things I had taken, such as the washer and dryer. Redecoration and reworking of areas in the house were underway that quickly- and I had to go back in there and see how easily I was replaced. In the middle of all of this, my car broke down, and needed a repair that would cost $5oo.oo. My mother and my aunt took it upon themselves to make the 100-mile trip, bring a truck, and help me haul the rest of my things out. I never had to go back to that house. Then, my family selflessly helped me in getting a new car. So, I persevered, but I didn’t do it alone.

There have been many long, long days and nights filled with lots of work and practically no social life, but they were always with that goal in mind- to graduate, and I am so thankful to God that I did. I don’t want this at all to seem like I’m not happy about my graduation. I just don’t want it become a stumbling block. Now what, I wonder, and so far, the answer has not come. Most of us probably understand that this does not mean there is no answer, just that God is not ready to show it to me yet. And most likely there is not ONE answer, but many answers along the way. I have been looking for a giant beacon which leads me to that grand destination- that thing that God put me on this earth to do. Probably, the real truth is that there are lots of steps along the way, lots of things for me to do. It is a difficult thing not to feel a little lost these days, after having been so singularly focused over the last 2 ½ years, but as long as I stay on God’s path for me, He will guide my way, most likely a little at a time. If I keep my eyes on Him, and remember how He brought me through and always had a plan for me, my graduation will remain a milestone, and will not become a stumbling block.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Princess of Perseverance

Last week I had a very proud moment as my niece, Kristi, graduated cum laude with a degree in Theatre and Performance Studies. In the area of perseverance, she's frankly humbling me.

First, because this degree has been a dream of hers for so many years. Second, because at a bad time in her life, when she could have settled for depression and pitying herself, she jumped back into life full force. She worked, went to school full-time, and did lots of extras like producing and directing a film, acting in plays and taking part in story-telling festivals, and even being a street character at the Renaissance Festival.

Okay, Kristi, you can slow down now. You're frankly making me look bad. I whine all the time just because I have to go to my job, cook dinner, and then find time to write.

Anyway, I asked Kristi to share some thoughts about the journey she's been on recently--as well as her reflections as she finishes up one big goal, only to find there are even more questions out there. More decisions and frustrations. More waiting.

Tune in Friday for Kristi's guest post. I've gotten a sneak peek, and it's good!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Final Report on the Disaster

Thursday morning, I returned to work for the first time since last Sunday's tornado. Folks had told me how bad the campus where I work had been affected, but I still wasn't prepared. And I was seeing the damage four days after clean-up began.

There are now open vistas across the campus, where before you couldn't see anything but trees.

God was very kind. No one was hurt, and most of the buildings are okay. There are people in our city that are really hurting right now. I've seen pictures of homes torn apart. The poorer areas of town seem to have been affected most, and I've heard of some people whose food spoiled from the loss of power, and they're having trouble just feeding their families. So I realized how blessed my family and my college were.
Our grounds people are fabulous at landscaping and gardening. They'll take this mess and make the best of it, I know. Weeks or months from now, visitors to campus may not realize how different things are.

That's part of what makes me sad. So I want to give a brief eulogy for what used to be--and then I'll thank God for his protection and move on.
There was the walking trail through the woods by Lake Knee-Deep. I would say 95 percent of those trees were snapped in half and were destroyed. The woods will be gone. Future visitors may see a grassy field--or a new building under construction, who knows? They won't even know about the woods and the trail.

I may sound like I'm making a very sudden change of topic here, but there is a connection, so bear with me! A couple of days ago, I started hearing about a novel called The Shack, by William P. Young. Apparently it's quite controversial among Christians, with some praising it and some condemning. As I understand it, the main character interacts with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are in the forms of a homey African-American woman, a Middle Eastern man, and an Asian woman. I haven't read the book and can't really comment on the controversy. However, I get a little concerned sometimes with the sheer number of books and movies out there that portray God as the guy next door. Someone on your level, someone you would never be afraid of.

And then I see something like the power of this tornado, which reached out and destroyed a little forest in a couple of minutes. And I realize that tornado is just a tiny tool in the hands of God. He made the woods, and in a few seconds, he can destroy them.

I long for books that show God's love and mercy, yes--but that also remind us of his power, his holiness. Remember how the Israelites couldn't even bear to look at the face of Moses after he had been in the presence of God? They couldn't even face a tiny reflection of his glory. I'd love to read a book that makes our mouths drop in awe of the Lord.

Even more, I long to be able to write that book. Maybe someday.
I don't think it's coincidental that these lines were in our call to worship this morning:
"Eternal God,
you are the power behind all things;
behind the energy of the storm,
behind the heat of a million suns."