Thursday, January 31, 2008

Word Pictures from Job

This week I'm still reading through the book of Job in my Chronological Bible. As I read through chapters 29 and 30, it struck me how much I could learn from Job--not just about God and life, but about writing. Editors often tell me I need to use more action verbs. Just listen to some of these beautiful word pictures in Job's speeches:

"Those were the days when I went to the city gate and took my place among the honored leaders. The young stepped aside when they saw me, and even the aged rose in respect at my coming. The princes stood in silence and put their hands over their mouths." (29:7-9)

Job doesn't just tell us that he used to be respected; he paints a vivid picture. He does the same in the next chapter, when he wants to express how he feels God is treating him: "With a strong hand, God grabs my garment. He grips me by the collar of my tunic. He has thrown me into the mud. I have become as dust and ashes." (30:18-19)

These pictures help me feel a little of what Job must have been feeling--far more powerful than just telling me, "I feel that God is treating me badly, lately."

I didn't expect to get such a powerful writing lesson from my devotions this week!

(Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Another Amazing Contest

Once again, in a purely self-serving vein, I'm letting you know about an amazing give-away that I discovered.

Virginia (Ginny) Smith is giving away a $500 shopping spree to help promote her new book, Stuck in the Middle, which is the first book in her Sister-to-Sister series. The lucky winner will receive a $500 Visa gift card. Whoa! I could do some serious shopping with that. So where's the self-serving part? If you mention I referred you when you enter, I'll get another entry. So let's get out there and enter, folks!

Here's the link for the contest:

You need to mention my email if you say I referred you:
robing8300 at (Please put it in the proper form. I'm trying to avoid the spam-spreading, web-crawling robots.)

Have fun! If I don't win, I hope one of you does.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Speaking Wickedly for God

In my Chronological Bible reading for January 22, a passage from Job 13 struck me. (The events of Job may have taken place very early, perhaps around the time of Abraham, so I'm already reading about this poor man's trials.) After literally losing everything including family, wealth, and physical well-being, Job's so-called friends come to comfort him. Their idea of comfort is telling him he has obviously sinned or God wouldn't be doing this to him. When Job protests that he is innocent and has done nothing to deserve his fate, they continue to "speak for God," telling him God would never be unfair as he is suggesting. Therefore, Job must have sinned, and God is punishing him and demanding his repentance.

Job then warns the men of the danger of speaking falsely for God--even when you're trying to slant things in his favor. The NLT version I was reading put it this way: "Are you defending God by means of lies and dishonest arguments?" The NIV says, "Will you speak wickedly on God's behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him?" According to Job, God doesn't like you speaking for Him and getting it wrong, even if you're doing it out of good intentions. Job says "you will be in serious trouble with him if even in your hearts you slant your testimony in his favor."

As a writer who hopes to demonstrate Christian principles through her stories (and even on this little blog), I took this warning to heart. My characters often talk about God's nature and what he would want them to do in a given situation. It's a solemn thing to "speak for God" that way, even in a fluffy little fiction story.

I've heard a similar warning put another way, something like, "Never make yourself out to be more merciful than God." I remember after Hurricane Katrina, how so many people were eager to speak up for God and absolve him of any "wrongdoing." God doesn't want innocent people to suffer, they said, and so the storm wasn't his will. He would never allow such a thing to happen. By the time these well-meaning folks got through, the god they were defending didn't seem to have much power of any kind. That's slanting things in God's favor--and taking him out of control in the process. It's assuming we know as much as God and always know what he's doing. Let me state for the record that I have no idea why Hurricane Katrina occurred--but I still believe God is sovereign and in complete control.

Job didn't know what was going on. But he knew he didn't have all the facts. And neither did his puffed-up friends, who were so eager to tell him what God intended by his trials.

Those of us who write fiction sometimes put our poor characters through trials that would make Job lose patience. Those characters want to know why God is doing these things to them, and all of a sudden, we find ourselves speaking for God through our work. After reading Job 13, that's quite a humbling thought for me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Thoughts on The Other Daughter

Back in October, I introduced you to Miralee Ferrell and her first novel, The Other Daughter. Over the long weekend, I had a great time finally sitting down and reading the book.

You may remember the general premise of the story. A girl named Brianna shows up at Susanne and David's door, claiming to be David's daughter. Even though she was born before David and Susanne's marriage, he always swore to Susanne he had never slept with anyone but her. So, in addition to the problem of a sudden addition to the family, Susanne has to deal with the fact that David has been lying to her since the start of their marriage.

I knew from reading the synopsis of the book that I would enjoy the story. I love character-driven tales and figured I'd be caught up in this family's struggle to deal with this shattering situation. I did not, however, expect the book to be such a page-turner. For the first time in awhile, I had to slow myself down as I read. Instead of chewing over the words and paragraphs, I found myself gulping them whole, trying to get through to the next part of the story. Yes, Miralee did a great job of showing real people trying to cope with real problems. But she also threw in a fast-paced plot. Also, by the end of the story, I cared so much about all the characters that I couldn't wait to finish and make sure that everyone came out okay. (Except the bad guy. And believe me, there was a very bad guy. I couldn't wait to see him get what he deserved.)

Kudos to Miralee for a great first novel. I can't wait to see what she has up her sleeve next.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I'm Giving Away an Amazon Gift Card!

I don't have time today to think of something brilliant to write. (Some of you might say I've never had enough time to come up with something brilliant, but that's beside the point.) So I've decided to start a new give-away.

On February 1, I'll hold a drawing for a $25.00 gift certificate. All subscribers at that time will be entered. Each comment you leave from now until January 31 will get you one entry.

So have a great weekend, and let's get those comments started!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Buried in the Back Yard

When I was about six years old, the country was in a frenzy of building interstate highways. We lived out in the country, but suddenly we found that I-75 was about to be extended through our area. It wasn't going to go through our property, so we didn't have to move, but it was going to be too close for comfort. An investor decided that our land right there at an I-75 exit would be a smart buy, so we sold it and moved about a mile and half down the road, away from the highway. When I say we moved, I mean we MOVED. Houses and all. (My grandmother's house and land were in the deal, too.) At that age, I thought it was normal to see your home put on the back of a truck and driven off down the road.

A few things were built there around the interstate: a couple of gas stations and convenience stores, and a motel. But probably not as much as the investor expected. Our land soon grew back into thick woods, and stayed that way for the next forty years. My parents still live on that second tract of land on down the road, still in the country.

Then one day not too long ago, I turned off the interstate to go visit them and got the shock of my life. The woods where our house used to be--as well as a lot of acres surrounding them--had been bulldozed and had just disappeared. Nothing was left but red clay dirt on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see. A sign proudly advertised that a development of multi-family and single-family housing as well as shopping and restaurants is on its way. I've heard rumors of a super Walmart. For years, I figured all this was coming. Still, it was a shock.

I noticed another oddity in that barren field. One mound of dirt had been left. I don't mean a random pile, but something that almost looked like one of the Indian mounds we have in this area. A couple of days ago I heard that three Confederate soldiers, a man and his two sons, are buried there on what used to be their land. Their descendants have been in a battle with the developers. Most want the graves left alone, but one wanted them moved to the cemetery of a nearby church, where other family members from the era are buried. The case went to court. The developers won.

I've felt deeply affected by all this for a number of reasons. First, the graves weren't actually on our land, but they sure were close. I guess thinking that those soldiers were back there, the other side of our property, and I never knew it--well, I am a writer, you know! As for the church they're being moved to, it's the church I grew up in. I was baptized there, and I was married there. I feel sad at how everything's changing. That little piece of country I loved so much will never be the same. The woods can't stay. Even the folks in their supposed "final" resting place can't stay.

I guess we never really appreciate what we have until it's gone, do we?

On a more uplifting note, I definitely feel the beginnings of a story coming on.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Not Me, It's My Genes!

I stumbled across an article in Psychology Today titled, "The Lure of Laziness." Well, naturally I had to take a look at that. It turned out to be an interesting take on the difficulty of sticking to long-term goals and fulfilling those dreams.

According to the author (Nando Pelusi), humans for many generations were intent on the basics of survival. When they were thirsty, they had to go seek water. When hungry, they had to go find food--maybe go kill food. These needs demanded immediate fulfillment, and because getting food, water and shelter was pretty difficult, those goals also took up a lot of their time. On those occasions when they weren't hungry or thirsty, it was important to conserve energy, so resting was a good thing.

These days, however, we can satisfy our basic hunger and thirst pretty quickly. So what happens then? We start thinking about the future. We start to dream. According to Pelusi, today's very different environment "allows for grandiose plans and dreams, but these very opportunities can feel overwhelming. Once we've generated a goal, we believe that we've got to do something about it." Pelusi says we're torn between competing desires. We want to accomplish our plan, but we really want it to happen immediately, and preferably not be too exhausting.

I read that paragraph and thought, yes, that's me! It's so true that once I think about doing something, I feel that I HAVE to do it, and I start to get overwhelmed. For example, I started thinking about a lot of crafting and sewing projects over the past year that I want to do. I purchased a lot of fabric and yarn. Now I feel trapped. I've set the goals. I have to complete them, right? Even though I started the plans for fun, all those projects are starting to weigh me down. I really want to just finish them all NOW.

Pelusi goes on, "Many of us feel oppressed by long-term goals that do not bear directly on survival or status--they gnaw at us and distract from our daily enjoyment. Sticking to a workout regimen, jump-starting that screenplay, and transferring vinyl to digital are all easier planned than done. That's because, in general, we're keenly responsive to immediate stimulation and to present-moment distractions and not to iffy future plans. Instead of recognizing that it is fundamentally ingrained in our nature to discount the amorphous future, we lambaste ourselves over what we 'should' be doing."

In case you're thinking Pelusi is giving us all permission to be lazy, though, he really isn't. He says in the long run, humans are happier when they're stretching themselves and working on goals, as long as they approach them with the right attitudes. He even gives some tips on combatting that ingrained laziness. Many of them will sound familiar to you writers out there: things like starting small, accepting incremental progress, and committing to others. (Can you say "critique partners"?)

I especially like the part about rewarding yourself after completing a goal--like completing this blog post, for instance. He said to reward yourself with relaxation after the task is finished, but I'm feeling a need to go in search of food and drink, just like my ancestors did. I wonder if there's any of that Christmas candy left?
Article information: The Lure of Laziness. By: Pelusi, Nando, Psychology Today, July/Aug2007, Vol. 40, Issue 4

Friday, January 11, 2008

Insulin Murders: The Rest of the Story

Awhile back, I touched on the subject of a book called Insulin Murders in a couple of posts. I first ordered this book through interlibrary loan at my library, hoping it would give me some ideas the bad guys in my novel could use. Later, you may recall, I left the book on an airplane when I went to the ACFW conference back in September. Well, turns out there's a lot more to the story I need to catch you up on.

After I posted about leaving the book on the plane, I received an email from one of the authors, Vincent Marks, who had discovered my little post and read it all the way from England! I'm such a blogging newbie, I was amazed at the reach of this little effort of mine. Dr. Marks was very gracious, thanked me for the publicity, and offered to replace the book for me. Naturally, I took him up on it.

It took me awhile to get back to reading the book, but I've been engrossed in it this past week. First of all, if you like reading about true crime and forensics, this book is for you. The book is arranged in chronological order, from the first known case of a killing in which insulin was involved as a weapon (though it didn't directly cause the death) to the present. Dr. Marks is an expert in the field and appears as a witness in a number of such cases.

Perhaps most interesting is the account of the Claus von Bulow trials. Unless you are pathetically young, you probably remember this trial, so sensational for a number of reasons--wealthy, celebrity couple; the wife, Sunny, left in a coma and suspicion falling on the husband; his celebrity actress mistress. (In fact, a feature film called Reversal of Fortune was made, based on this story.) I remember that everyone was certain von Bulow administered insulin to his wife and caused her coma, and in fact, he was convicted at first. However, Dr. Marks was called to testify as an expert witness at the retrial, and after reading the medical reports on Sunny von Bulow, he came to very different conclusions from experts at the first trial. Dr. Marks describes the problems with blood tests and conclusions drawn by other experts that led him to question von Bulow's guilt--or in fact, the idea that Sunny had been poisoned at all. The retrial ended in von Bulow's acquittal.

The book is chock full of bizarre cases, from the men and women who killed multiple spouses for inheritances and life insurance policies, to the nurse who administered lethal doses to babies under her care for no apparent reason. And then there are the puzzlers--the woman thought to have committed suicide by insulin, but if so, how did she manage to give herself an injection in the buttocks? And where were the vials and syringes? Then there's the case of Maria Whiston, convicted of killing her lover with insulin--probably wrongly based on the evidence, according to Dr. Marks.

I was intrigued by the progression through the years of the methods to detect insulin in the body and to identify whether it came from a pharmaceutical source or the body itself. The authors describe one case in which a man (William Archerd) was convicted of murdering with insulin--probably correctly. However, they say that the type of tests used at that time on the corpse probably weren't accurate and wouldn't stand up in court today, so do we know for sure?

Whether you just like a good mystery or you're a novelist wanting ideas about murderers and their methods, this is a fascinating read.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Order and Chaos

During the first week of reading the One-Year Chronological Bible, I've really zipped through time. Starting with when the earth was formless and void, I've moved all the way through the death of Abraham's wife, Sarah, and the marriage of their son, Isaac.

The main thing that has struck me so far is that God is a God of order, not chaos. He has a purpose and a schedule. Men and women do impulsive things. They can be clueless and arbitrary. They do bad things because of emotions. But God is always there with his plan. Nothing these creatures do throws him into a tizzy. You get the feeling that even their crazy impulsive acts are all worked into his design. Yes, he has to deal with them pretty harshly from time to time, as in that whole flood business. But again, he didn't throw a fit and do it on the spur of the moment. There was a plan, one that took many years to come to fruition. And he included a plan for restoring the human race as well as the animals and the Earth.

On the one hand, God's perfect order makes me feel a little bad. As I have mentioned many times, my life often feels like sheer chaos. Nothing I intend to do seems to work out. I ask myself, can I really be leading a godly life if it seems to be in such disorder?

But then I realize how God has been shaking up the plans of even the godly people in these first chapters of Genesis. He tells Abraham to move to a strange land. I doubt Noah originally intended to devote his life to building a huge boat--0n dry land. When Rebekah made her usual trip to the well for water that fateful evening, she no doubt had her schedule mapped out for the following day. Nice and routine. Instead, she found her whole life shaken up as she headed far away from her home, suddenly engaged to Abraham's son, Isaac.

So maybe it's not such a bad thing to be flexible, to be willing to change our plans at a moment's notice. The trick for me is to figure out when I'm veering off course because God has something better for me to do, or when I'm just being lazy or disorganized.

Either way, when I read through the Bible like this, I'm comforted by the fact that God is always there, picking up the pieces, getting the wayward ones back on track.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

An Invitation to Join Me

In my last post, I mentioned my resolve to read through the One-Year Chronological Bible (New Living Translation from Tyndale) again this year. Yes, I got off to a late start, but I've caught up now, and I wanted to tell you about this treasure.

If you've never looked at a chronological Bible, here's how it works. The editors have tried, as best they can, to put all the writings of the Bible into the order in which the events happened. This means the books we're used to do get cut and pasted and parts shifted about, but I can't tell you how helpful the end result is. I never could get the events of the Old Testament, in particular, straight. I would read about the Israelites being exiled to Babylon or conquered and scattered, and I couldn't tell whether this was happening once, with several authors writing about it, or several times.

With this Bible, you can easily follow the history of the Jews. There may be a section of history which mentions the prophet Jeremiah, and then Jeremiah's own writings from that time will be inserted in the appropriate place. Sections of Chronicles or Kings that deal with David may be followed by one of David's psalms thought to have been written at that time. It's amazing how biblical characters come alive when their thoughts and fears are put into context with what's going on around them.

As I read through the Bible this year, I'm going to try to take particular note of subjects we talk about a lot: waiting on God, discovering his will, persevering toward our goals. I'd love it if some of you would like to pick up a copy and join in the discussion. I think you'd find it a rewarding experience.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Not Exactly According to Plan...

For several reasons, I look forward to the week of Christmas and New Year's. I usually have a week to ten days off from work (yes, it's wonderful to work for a college!) and it's the one time of the year that I'm off work, at home, and things are fairly slow. I stack up books to read and choose movies to see. I clean out closets and get the house in order. I pray about the upcoming year and make a game plan, goals, even a few resolutions. All that was in the plan for this year.

Uh...things didn't exactly go according to plan.
Early on I had to make a few adjustments. My family intended to make a trip to Florida for the weekend before Christmas to celebrate with cousins. Two friends from out of town arranged to visit after Christmas, so the days started to fill up. But this was all good stuff, so no worries. I was excited and ready to get started.

Dave and I headed to Jacksonville on Friday night, the 21st. On Saturday my niece called, saying the rest of the family couldn't join us because my sister's dog was so sick--literally at the point of death. Ferbie's a member of the family. We all love him, so that was pretty nerve-wracking while it was touch and go. Fortunately, by Christmas he seemed to be out of the woods--and my niece got sick. Walking pneumonia. Whoa!

She had stayed at my house on Christmas Eve, and the doctor warned her she was quite contagious. She advised me to wash all the bedding she had used. No problem. I actually received two new coverlets for Christmas. I stripped two beds and put on my wonderful new bedspreads.

Next morning, Wendy threw up on one. She apparently never felt nauseous on the old one, but the brand new, spotless, non-picked-by-cat-claws matelasse' coverlet did her in. So I stripped another bed.

After three sets of company and all that stripping of beds, I figured I had about eight loads of laundry. No problem. I use my vacation to get my house in order, after all. I envisioned starting the new year with spotless beds and stacks of fluffy towels. Unfortunately, those coverlets had the same effect on the washing machine that they had on Wendy. That's right. It threw up suds and water all over the basement. Guess what we did New Year's Eve?

My washing machine is 17 years old and has taken a dislike to anything larger than a pair of my fat pants or heavier than two hand towels, so I decided I'd had enough. New Year's Day found me buying a new large capacity washer--plus a shop vac to soak up water, just in case.

New Year's evening we arrived home after spending the day with my family to find water running out the doors, down the stairs to the basement, dripping through the ceiling. This time a part in the toilet tank had broken and caused it to overflow. The shop vac was still in the car in the box. You should have seen me trying to drag that thing out, put it together, and read the instructions while water swirled around my feet. I think there's a piece missing from the vac, but it's too late to worry about returning it now. It is officially used.

So here I am, vacation over and back at work. Did I get my house in order? Ha! Things are pulled out of the watery rooms into dry spots and stacked ceiling high. Towels are all over the floors. I actually did make a few resolutions, and I set a record for breaking them. I resolved not to use my credit card this year. At 10 a.m. on January 1, I bought a washing machine--on my credit card. I planned to start reading the one-year chronological Bible again on January 1, but in the excitement of seeing my basement turned into a swimming pool forgot all about it.

But my biggest resolution of all was to get in better control of my time, to make plans and stick to them. I don't even want to talk about that one. Or about the iPod I gave my husband which worked for approximately 15 minutes and then died.

I think I'll go lie down now.