Friday, February 29, 2008

Wendy Picks a Winner!

I didn't intend for this to happen, but Wendy ended up picking the winner of Rotten Reviews & Rejections. I put the basket with the names on the floor and stirred them up with my hand. The sound of the rattling paper drew her like a dinner gong. I turned my back for a minute, looked back, and she was pulling out one slip of paper. I thought, what the heck? At least she's impartial!

And Wendy picked...Elizabeth Musser. Congratulations, Elizabeth! I'll get the book on its way to you.

By the way, you may notice in the above photo that Wendy appears to have lost most of her hair. Yes, it was time for the cats to go to the groomer again. That's a whole other story. Maybe more about that next week.

Have a great weekend, and thanks to everyone who entered the contest.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

God of Infertility

As I've mentioned before, I'm reading through the Chronological Bible this year. In the early portion of Genesis, something struck me in a new way. Have you ever noticed just how many of the women in the first generations of God's chosen people had to deal with infertility?

First, God tells Abraham that he's going to be the father of a great nation, that the number of his descendants will be like the grains of sand on the beach. Then Abraham and Sarah proceed to wait. In fact, they grow old without having produced a single child.

Eventually, of course, Sarah gives birth to Isaac. When Isaac becomes an adult, one of Abraham's servants returns to their homeland to find him a wife. The servant prays for a specific sign so he'll be sure to choose the woman that God has picked out for Isaac. God sends the sign. Apparently, he also sends Isaac another infertile woman. Genesis 25:21 says, "Isaac pleaded with the Lord to give Rebekah a child because she was childless." (New Living Translation) God answered the prayer and Rebekah had twins, Jacob and Esau.

Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Guess what? Rachel struggled with infertility. This passage is from Genesis 30: "When Rachel saw that she wasn't having any children, she became jealous of her sister. 'Give me children, or I'll die!' she exclaimed to Jacob. Jacob flew into a rage. 'Am I God?' he asked. 'He is the only one able to give you children!'" (NLT, verses 1-2) Rachel did eventually give birth to two children, one of them the great patriarch, Joseph.

God chose this line of people and set them apart. He intended them to become a nation and promised them they would be fruitful and produce many descendents. He fulfilled this promise, but not without causing the first three generations to struggle with infertility. Having those children did not come easily to Abraham's family. They had to wait. I'm sure they wondered. Sometimes they cried. They prayed.

We Americans tend to believe that things are supposed to come easily and quickly. If something is difficult, we assume it isn't God's will. If God guided us to that marriage or that job, it should go smoothly, right?

Reflecting on this first book of the Bible, I had to remind myself that isn't always so. God's plans may take a long time to come to fruition. The path may be difficult. And that's not necessarily because we're fouling things up. It may just be that God planned it that way.

God had an overall plan of building a nation from Abraham's family, but he also cared about each individual along the way--each building block of that nation. Maybe he wanted them to think about his promise constantly, to think about Him. Perhaps he wanted them to depend on him and know those children came from him and his grace.

Whatever the reason God gave them these struggles, I'm sure that each of these babies, when they finally arrived, seemed like little miracles.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anniversary on the Little River

Today is my 18th wedding anniversary. We just got home from our anniversary trip to Mentone, Alabama, where we stayed at the Little River Cabin. The place had wall to wall glass across the front, and we had great views of the water.

Our friends built this cabin a couple of years ago. I expected something simple and rustic. I had no idea how charming and special the cabin would be. It even had a loft with beds and sloping ceilings--something I've always dreamed of having in my own home.

As usual, I took particular note of the four-legged folks we met on the trip. This is our friends' dog, Millie. At least I think it's Millie. Their dogs are named Millie and Guinness and I called this one Guinness the whole time, and our friends were too nice to correct me. But I'm pretty sure her tag says Millie. Isn't that the cutest face you ever saw?

The mule didn't tell us her name. I think if she could have talked, she would have said, "What are you staring at? Get that camera out of my face." Mules hate paparazzi.

Our friends are building a new house on a mountain close to the cabin. This is going to be the view from their deck. I can't imagine waking up to this every morning, but it's a nice thought.
By the way, the Little River Cabin is for rent, so if you ever want a quiet vacation in the mountains of Alabama, check it out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jane Austen, Part II: A Sad Mystery

I teach library research classes to college students. A few days ago I was running some sample searches in literature databases, preparing to teach an English class. Since I was reading Just Jane by Nancy Moser at the time, I used "Jane Austen" as a sample search. In the first item I pulled up, I noticed her date of death: 1817. I felt a little stab of sorrow, as though I'd stumbled across an obituary for an old friend. I had just reached the year of 1811 in Moser's novel. Jane was thriving and in the process of publishing her first book, Sense and Sensibility. She was only in her thirties, finally realizing the dreams of a lifetime. So what in the world happened to her in the next few years?

I read a couple of biographical articles and they frustrated the literary detective in me. They merely said she died of an illness at age 41. So I turned to other databases looking for an answer, including indexes of medical articles.

Apparently I'm not the only one fascinated by this mystery. Doctors and medical experts have been speculating for years. The common story is that Jane Austen became ill in 1816 and struggled with her condition for about a year before passing away. Symptoms, according to a few sketchy letters, included "biliousness," back pain, dark discolorations of the skin, weakness and fatigue. In a British Medical Journal article in 1964, Zachary Cope reached a conclusion that stood for many years. Jane Austen died of Addison's disease, which destroys the adrenal glands. Other doctors today think Jane's condition may have been Hodgkin's disease, a kind of cancer. Annette Upfal, author of an article called "Jane Austen's Lifelong Health Problems and Final Illness," says that "both diseases were unidentified and untreatable in Austen’s lifetime, and the outcome was always fatal." (Medical Humanities, 2005)

Upfal uses scraps of information from Austen's own letters and those of friends and relatives to try to solve the mystery. Upfal also addresses the question of why so many people feel a need to answer this question. "The futility of this death from an illness that now offers recovery, with the image of a dying writer struggling to use a pencil...and above all, regret for the novels that were yet to be written, have added a sense of pathos to Austen’s iconic status."

I myself just felt sadness that Austen died when she finally seemed to be accomplishing all her dreams. I so identified with the struggle, the waiting, the years passing by that she experienced in her journey to become an author. In the final part of Just Jane, Nancy Moser has Austen praying the Bible verse asking for God to "restore the years that the locusts have eaten." Once again, I felt astounded, because I have often prayed that verse--and in connection to my writing!

Perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way. After all, God did bring her dreams to fruition. Her dreams are still living today, in all of us who read her books and live in the wonderful worlds she creates.

What writer could ask for more?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jane Austen and Me, Part I

I haven't blogged in days. I feel so guilty. For once, I have a pretty good excuse. I've been working on my novel plus reading a wonderful book. Isn't that great?

I'll spare you the details of my own writing, at least for the moment, but I have to share my experiences reading Nancy Moser's amazing book, Just Jane, a fictionalized account of the life of Jane Austen. I mentioned this book once before, when I had just read a review of it and discovered that Jane Austen actually had a long, difficult journey toward being published. It's taken me this long to get around to reading the book myself, and it's hard to explain the powerful effect this story had on me.

Or maybe it's not hard. I felt a kinship with this woman as I walked through the years with her. I felt we had so much in common. I don't mean the details of her life, or the writing talent. (So you can all stop choking now.) But her temperament, and the overall direction of her life--well, here are a few examples.

From childhood, Jane was a writer. That's how she defined herself, and how most of her family and close friends defined her. She seemed to be working on one story or another practically from childhood, and yet she wrote only a few complete novels. There seemed to be a limited number of stories and special characters that she worked on, writing and thinking and rewriting, throughout her life.

I could have just described myself in that paragraph. I've identified myself as a writer since I was about seven years old. Like Jane, I have four of five groups of characters and stories that I pick up, finish, put down, and then come back to years later. When I signed with an agent a few years ago, the book I had just "finished" was in about its fourth incarnation. I started the first one when I was twelve, and at that time I was in my forties. The book I've been working on this past week is one I conceived when I was a teenager.

I've mentioned this before, but so many modern writers advise that you simply must sit down and crank out a certain word count every day, finish a story in a few months, and move on to the next one. I just can't do that, or at least it isn't natural for me. It wasn't for Jane, either. Not only did she seem to love the characters she created and want to live with them through the years (as do I), but life often intervened so she simply couldn't write for awhile. I know that feeling.

Jane Austen identified herself as a writer but she seemed to assume that she would also be a wife and mother. The years passed. Things happened. The husband and family never came, and the woman who conceived characters that will live forever never gave birth to a child in life. Though she never gave up on publishing a book, she seemed to accept that eventually it was too late for marriage and a family. I went through years of wondering if all that would pass me by. I did marry when I was 30, but I never was able to have the children I had planned.

I must confess that all the above Jane Austen information comes from only two sources: Nancy Moser's novel and a biographical article (which seemed to corroborate the general events in the novel). So I can't exactly say I'm an expert on her life. But I want to say thank you to Nancy Moser for introducing me to this woman, who almost feels like a friend now. Being a librarian, of course I'm so intrigued that I want to do more research.

This is getting a bit long for a blog post, so I'll continue tomorrow. I want to tell you some intriguing things I read about the end of Jane Austen's life.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Does God Waste His Spirit on Arts and Crafts?

My Chronological Bible reading is taking me through Exodus right now. Some of those chapters are slow-going. Lots of lists and instructions on how to construct the Tabernacle, how to build the Ark of the Covenant, even how to make the robes for the priests. (I have to admit that last part interested me most. I love fashion!)

Then some verses in chapter 35 jumped out at me. God chose specific individuals to work on His tabernacle, the place where he would meet and interact with his people, because of their skill in arts and crafts. Not only that, he had specifically given them the skills they needed, through his Spirit. Here's the exact quote (from the NIV version):

"Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts--to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers." (Exodus 35:30-35)

I sometimes wish God had gifted me to be a doctor or nurse, so I could actually help people. Or given me the ability to preach or to understand deep doctrines. Instead, I'm interested in making up stories, and sewing, and making jewelry.

I love these verses, that remind me that He has uses for the artsy-craftsy people, too. Someday He may have a project that He has uniquely gifted one of us for.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Win a Copy of Rotten Reviews and Rejections

Last September at ACFW, keynote speaker James Scott Bell occasionally quoted from a book called Rotten Rejections. I couldn't believe there was actually a book called that, but if was real, I wanted it.

Sure enough, I found it on Actually, the version I bought is called Pushcart's Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. It combines three smaller volumes that were published earlier and it's just what it sounds like--a compilation of bad reviews and mean rejection letters of books that have since become classics. Or at least sold lots of copies.

I love it! What a morale booster. To know that reviewers said that Emily Dickinson was destined for oblivion, that Faulkner was a "minor talent," and that Dickens would not be remembered in 50 years' time . I love the statement about Wuthering Heights: "the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read." Those are from the reviews.

The rejection letters are even better. Having had many editors explain to me why my books will never sell, I wanted to laugh with glee when I saw that editors in the past said the same thing about books that went on to sell millions--that are still selling after decades.

My favorite story was about a journalist who typed up a "manuscript" of a novel that had won the National Book Award only a few months earlier. He then submitted it to editors and literary agents under his own name, as an experiment. All of them rejected it--and lots of them explained why it would never sell. Even the publishing company who originally published it rejected it!

In another story, a publishing company accepted a book for publication and sent it to an artist to do illustrations. After completing the illustrations, the artist sent the manuscript back to them. The publishers apparently thought he was submitting the manuscript, because they sent him a rejection letter for it!

But here is my personal favorite, from a Chinese economic journal (p. 212): "We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity." None of the rejection letters I've received used those exact words, but I'm sure that's what they meant.

I'd love to share this little morale booster with one of you out there, particularly if you're a writer in need of encouragement. Even if you're not a writer, the book is fun. If you'd like to win a copy for yourself, leave a comment ON THIS POST to that effect, and I'll hold a drawing on February 29th.

Good luck! I simply must end with one more, from page 56 about Rudyard Kipling: "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."
Quotes are from Pushcart's Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by BillHenderson & Andre Bernard. New York: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Friday, February 8, 2008

How God is Not Like a GPS Device

This time last week, my husband and I were on our way to Atlanta to visit his cousin and her family for the evening. We decided this would be an excellent time to test out the GPS device I received for Christmas. We had Adrienne's address, and I thought I knew the approximate area she lives in, but we didn't have specific directions. So off we went.

If you're familiar with Atlanta, you know there are many ways to get wherever you want to go. You can hit I-285, the "Perimeter," and go around what used to be the outer rim of the city. If you're braver, you can take I-75/I-85 right smack through downtown. These two interstate highways flow together for a few miles through the middle of town, then split again. While they're together (the Connector), they are not for the faint of heart. About six lanes wide, they're always crowded. If the cars aren't in gridlock, they zip along at somewhere between 65 and 400 miles an hour, approximately three inches from one another. And here we were, testing the GPS.

First of all, with the two of us listening to the spoken directions and me reading the directions on the little screen, I still managed to misinterpret the GPS lady's first crucial directions. (I know it's just an electronic voice, but it sounds like an irritated woman. She's probably irritated because we seldom do what she says.) For about 15 minutes, the direction at the top said "I-75 to I-285 West." I knew you could get to Adrienne's neighborhood by taking I-285 West, so that made sense, and I told Dave that's what we were doing. But at the very last second, she told us to get in the left lane and take I-75. Ha! Not only is the GPS lady irritated, she's also insane! So we just got on I-285 West.

Usually when we disobey, she gets over her snit pretty quickly and recalculates to follow our preferred route. Not this time. We followed her next directions, and by golly, she made us circle around and get back on I-75.

You'd think I would have learned after that experience. A few miles later, in the 400-mile-an-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic, we approached the split where I-75 and I-85 would go their separate ways. I was sure we needed to go to the right on I-85, but she kept telling us to keep left on I-75. We started to panic. My eyes were glued to the screen. I told Dave maybe I was wrong and didn't really know where Adrienne lives, because GPS Lady insisted we stay on I-75.

When we were literally at the split, the lady barked at us to go left on I-85! This time Dave managed to do it, but let me tell you, it was pretty exciting for a few seconds there.

All in all the GPS device is amazing. It led us right to Adrienne's door. You know by now how my mind works. When I first started playing with this device, I thought, I could make an analogy out of this. It's like God's guidance. He only shows me one turn at a time. I have to trust it's the right one and that I'll end up in the right place, because I'm not seeing a list of all the turns ahead of me. Plus, I might not always understand the route that's chosen for me. I might look back and think, hey, I could have chosen a more direct route. There's some reason for the choice that I'm not privvy to--but there is a reason.

But then my analogy started breaking down. God's guidance may seem to be late in coming--but it always comes at exactly the right time. God knows the whole story. He knows about the wild drivers and the bumper to bumper traffic. He knows how long it's going to take us to make a move, and he's going to take give us just enough time to make that move--safely.

For less heavily populated areas, though--I'm still going to love using my GPS!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

My treasures are famous!

I got a nice surprise today. Remember the goody box of handmade treasures I gave away back around Christmas? Today, the winner (Brandy) featured them on her blog. It was a nice little lift on a rainy, gray day. They look very cute in their new home. Check it out:

Thanks for the publicity, Brandy!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Off Track for Forty Years

Say the name "Moses" and what comes to mind? Leading the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness to the Promised Land, right? But did you ever notice how much of Moses' life had passed before he even reached that part of his life's story? So was that the whole point to his life? Was he just waiting around to become the man who freed the slaves?

All this came to mind because I've started reading Exodus in my chronological Bible, which begins with the account of the Israelites falling into slavery in Egypt. That, in turn, brings us to the story of Moses.

Awhile back, I was in an online writers' group (not ACFW, the one I'm in now). When one new member introduced herself, she related a number of impressive things she accomplished early in her life. Then she said, "But I killed the Egyptian, so that got me off track for years." There was an immediate outcry from the other members. "What does that mean?" "You killed somebody!"

I had to laugh. I knew what she meant. She made a bad decision, or did something that got her off of that straight path to success. Moses did the same thing. In the opening chapters of Exodus, Moses has lived a cushy life in Pharaoh's palace, but he starts to visit his people, the Israelite slaves. He starts to identify with them. He seems to be right on track to fulfill God's plan. God is obviously about to move, in his life and theirs.

Then Moses gets into a fight with an Egyptian overseer, kills him, and has to flee into the wilderness. He remains there forty years. Talk about getting off track!

Moses was already forty when he killed the Egyptian. Add another forty to that and you come up with the ripe old age of eighty--and there he is, still in the wilderness.

Sometimes lately, I feel pretty old. I work with college students who are younger than my cat. I'm in a new online writers' group, with people half my age publishing multiple books per year while I still struggle for that first contract. It's quite reassuring to me that when Moses was eighty, he hadn't even gotten started on the most important accomplishments of his life. Once again I remind myself that God's timing is so different from mine. If he wants to use me now or thirty years from now, he'll do just that. He can give me the energy, the strength, whatever I need.

Want to bet you're going to be hearing a lot more about Moses?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Contest Winner!

The winner of the $25 gift certificate for is Jess, who's been a frequent commenter over the past couple of weeks. Jess, contact me with your email address and I'll send the gift certificate to you. You can email me at robing8300 at

By the way, I had 72 subscribers to enter in the contest, plus all the folks who left comments.

Thanks, guys!