Friday, December 30, 2005

The obligatory end-of-year post

(I hate coming up with titles.)

Yes, this is a bit of a look back, end-of-year sort of thing. I've been blogging since mid-March and I've written more than 220 posts. In many ways, its been a year of growing for me and the blog has been part of that. I started the blog because I thought it would be a way to get me to write some every day (or nearly every day), and it could be an outlet for my occasional opinions. But I've discovered that blogging is a communal activity in many ways. I hadn't been doing this very long before I discovered a few Christian writers who linked to Faith in Fiction, which led me there and I found an amazing community of writers. And they pointed me to wonderful books (Peace Like a River, Gilead) and opportunities to write and share.

So I've been writing more and I've found a few critique buddies and I've gotten to read some great books and converse with some fascinating people. I've had some rejections, but I've also had two stories published at Infuze and I'm writing a regular column for my church newsletter. I've got more story ideas than I know what to do with and I have a novel to revise and one to finish. I've learned a lot about faith and writing from wiser writers than I.

But more importantly, this year has been one of spiritual growth. I feel like I've come through a rather large desert and found an oasis. God is teaching me and blessing me and showing me ways I can serve him that I had never considered before.

So thanks to you folks who stop by from time to time and even leave me encouraging comments. You've been a very nice part of this year. Have a safe and happy weekend and I'll be back next year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Richard Dansky writes about Blue Lightning on the Brain at Storytellers Unplugged -- the moment fiction grabbed him and wouldn't let go. The book that grabbed me was Black Beauty (I'm a girl and I'm older), but the effect was much the same. Enjoy.

I resolve ...

Actually, I haven't resolved much yet. But I did post a new Notes from the Windowsill column -- Resolve.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Rebecca's angel story

My friend Rebecca tells wonderful stories about her family and her life. Today I read a story she posted about angels without wings and it's perfect for any time of the year. Have a merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Have yourself a merry little ...

I probably won't blog again until next week sometime, so I hope you have a very merry Christmas. We still have some of the big kids at home, and I'm looking forward to filling up a pew again at church. Wherever you are, stay safe and take some time to thank God for his gift to us.

And if you want to do a little reading, here's a couple of worthwhile links:

Gina Holmes interviews author Athol Dickson at Novel Journey. It's an excellent interview and he's a fascinating person. He says some really good things about writing, too.

And in keeping with the Christmas season, Mark Bertrand talks about A Fold in Time -- God at work in history -- at The Master's Artist. I think this is one that should go on the best of the Master's Artist list.

Merry Christmas to me from Infuze

Here's a happy thing — I have another story at Infuze! It's called In Transit and it's about a down-on-his-luck reporter named Adam Caldwell and his investigation of an illegal alien smuggling ring. Let me know what you think in the comments at the story.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Browser wars

I'm a Mac user. Therefore I felt a little guilty when I made Firefox my default browser, but I had my reasons. For some reason, Gmail's text formatting options don't work in Safari. And I like the way I can organize my bookmarks down the sidebar in Firefox. And it doesn't crash when I open the Weather Channel Web site. And Firefox has integratetd a lot of cool plugins and search bars, which I use. It's not that Safari isn't a good browser, but I've grown to like Firefox a lot.

But I have one fairly big issue with Firefox -- it doesn't support OS X's services menu. So I can't highlight the text of something in Firefox and save it directly into a text document or into MacJournal, like I can with Safari.

And now my browser situation has become even more complicated -- today I downloaded the newest version of Opera and I think I'm in love. It supports the Services menu, it has very nifty options for the sidebar, I successfully imported my Safari and Firefox bookmarks, it's fast (though with the university high speed connection, that's not usually an issue for me), and its interface is clean and easy to use. But -- it's not the best for posting to Blogger because all the options don't show up in it (which is also a problem with Safari) and, like Safari, it doesn't work with Gmail's text formatting.

I remember when I first started using the Web -- in 1995 when I took a class on communication and technology -- and I used Netscape 1.0 and thought it was pretty cool. I checked my e-mail through telenet, using a program called Pine. I had no idea how far the technology could come in 10 years. So, I'm happy for the choice I have now. And if you haven't tried either Firefox or Opera yet, you should. They're free and easy to use.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Old churches, new ideas

Jordan Cooper referred to an article about growth in older churches in Leadership Journal. It caught my attention because we've been blessed to be part of older churches that don't fit the conventional wisdom about such congregations -- that they're closed-minded, set in their ways, not likely to grow. Since most of the churches I've been a part of have been older, established congregations, I know there's truth in that. (Now that I think of it, the phrases I just used to describe older churches can apply to people over 40, too!) But, as the article says, churches over 40 can be effective for the Gospel. I think this can especially be true in small towns and rural areas, where church growth is often limited in the traditional sense, but where there are still lost and hurting people in need of God's grace.

Let me tell you a little bit about the two churches I'm thinking of: Brantford Evangelical Covenant Church and Clay Center Evangelical Covenant Church.

Brantford is the first Covenant Church we were members of. It's a church with a long history in north central Kansas, with its roots firmly planted in the Swedish heritage of the area. (You can find out a little more about the denomination here.) It's never been a huge church -- attendance runs pretty consistently around 100-120. It also sits out in the middle of nowhere -- it's probably 8 miles from the nearest town. But we were welcomed into fellowship and found a solid church home for five years. It continues to minister to families in the area through a Mother's Hour program, an active youth group, men's fellowship and other ministries. Young people have gone out from this congregation to serve in ministries and missions around the world.

When we moved to Clay Center, more than 12 years ago, we joined the Covenant Church here, and it, too, defies the stereotype of older churches. Members who have been part of the congregation for many years like to tell the story of how our church has grown because it is such a great testimony to the power of prayer. You see, by the mid-1970s, the church was nearly dead. There were almost no families with children and the congregation hadn't had a full-time minister in many years. But many of the ones who were left began to pray for families with children to come. And, gradually, they did. And as the church looked for ways to reach out to the community, they started a Mother's Hour program, which led to further growth. About 1985 or so, they called a full-time pastor and by 1990, the congregation had outgrown the old church building. A new building was built that year and we added on in 1999. We have two worship services on Sundays with a combined attendance of around 300 or so.

But the numbers aren't nearly as important as what those numbers represent -- lives changed because of Jesus Christ. Of course, many of the members moved into the community (as we did) and came looking for a church home; others came from other churches. But there are many who came as new believers, or people who had wandered from the faith of their youth and now come back. We have effective children's and youth ministries that touch many families; members of our church regularly go on mission trips or do service projects in the community. Our church is committed as a body to helping hurting people -- those in prison, those who are sick, those whose families or marriages are struggling.

We are not perfect, but when I hear stories about other churches, I realize how blessed I am to be part of this church. The petty divisions that haunt so many churches don't seem to take root here and I believe a lot of that is because the prayers are still going up for our church and our ministers. And I think that's maybe the most important factor in whether an older church can live -- the prayers of God's people for renewal. It's a prayer God answers.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday fun

I haven't posted a list of Friday links for a while, but I've found several good things worth sharing lately.

I've received Bob Kauflin's* Worship Matters column in my e-mail for several years now and he never fails to have some valuable insight into what God desires in our worship and in our lives. He's especially made me more conscious of the depth (or lack thereof) in the music we sing in church. And now he has a blog. He's got some good posts up right now about Christmas carols and other good music.

Here's another goody that came through e-mail: An Eight-Dollar Bed is featured in the latest Door Insider (that's the Wittenburg Door e-mail newsletter). In the midst of the humor and satire, the Doorkeepers usually manage to throw in some food for thought, and this article falls in that category.

Have you noticed the latest Christmas decorating fad? Inflatable snow globes. I saw one in someone's yard a few weeks ago as we were traveling back from Illinois and I was more or less mind-boggled. Though some of the boggling was due to the fact that the huge inflatable thing was in a yard already packed with candy canes, snowmen, and Santa and his reindeer. I would think a thing like that could give a kid nightmares.

Finally, here's a cute little timewaster, courtesy of the Doorkeepers: Deck the House. Have fun.

*If you were a Glad fan in the 1980s, you should remember who he is.

Then and now

My brother sent me pictures from my parents' 50th anniversary reception, so I thought I'd share. I think I've posted the first one before.

That's my parents, Charles and Margaret Coonce, with (left to right) me, Jim and Tim in front. I think it was Easter, sometime in the mid-60s. Yes, Jim's a redhead. I love Tim and Dad's matching flattops. I have blue-framed cat-eye glasses, and I was so pleased with my matching dress and coat outfit. I'm guessing Mom set my hair the night before either in pin-curls or on those prickly brush rollers (which I hated).

Mom and Dad get to sit down, Tim, me and Jim stand behind. Tim and I take after Dad -- we both got gray pretty young. Jim's still a redhead, but it's somewhat thinner than before. And of course, my brothers got taller than me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I really do still think about writing

And I actually do still write, but I haven't very much lately. (We're in major Christmas cantata mode at church right now -- we've had extra choir practices the last several weeks.) But at the back of my mind are various plot issues, story ideas and resolutions mingling together. One of those is to get the first part of Secrets in Connors Grove into shape enough to enter in the ACFW Genesis contest. (Of course, that means I need to send in my dues.) And in the longer term, I need to finish rewriting Secrets, because it needs it and it's the first of the Connors Grove stories. And I still intend to finish my NaNo novel (A Long Night in Connors Grove).

But if I'm going to do some serious revision, I need to address some problems in my writing and I just realized what one of them is. I explain too much. First of all, I have this tendency to want to give all the backstory up front, which slows down the novel way too much. (But I already knew I do that.) But I just realized that I also resolve conflicts and suspense threads with explanation. It's a lazy approach to storytelling. And what brought me to this epiphany? I read Mark Bertrand's excellent post on his writing blog, Notes on Craft. And the light went on. Of course, now I have to figure out how to earn the conclusion of the novel, but I think it can be done.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Blog Tour: "Landon Snow and the Auctor's Riddle"

I love books. This probably comes as no surprise to most people. So it's a real pleasure to recommend a book that is written by someone who also so obviously loves books. R.K. (Randy) Mortenson's first novel, for children, is called Landon Snow and the Auctor's Riddle and the story unfolds as an 11-year-old boy finds himself in a huge library in the middle of the night and then falls into a book and into a whole new world. The characters are engaging and believable and the story is pulling me right along (I'm about half-way through). Randy's got a knack for descriptive language, too.

For me, part of the joy of books is their feel. This book does not disappoint — it's hardbound with beautiful cover art, nice quality paper and very readable type. It's a good size for children to hold — even when reading under the covers with a flashlight. You won't want to trade this in at the used book store or put in your garage sale. It's a keeper — both because of the quality of the storytelling and the quality of the binding.

Randy has a nice Web site for the book, too, with a few hidden goodies. So if you have any grade-school age kids, this would make an excellent Christmas gift (and you want to make sure you get a turn to read it, too).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

At last

Mark explains what he's been up to, and it is cool. Check it out.

Art and faith, revisited (sort of)

Gina Holmes has an interesting interview (the first of three parts) with Ted Dekker at her blog, Novel Journey. Among the subjects Dekker touches on is his take on "Christian" fiction (read the interview to see what he says). Dee's post Monday at the Master's Artist also relates to the subject. As does Mark's on Friday (actually most of his Master's Artist posts do).

I find it worthwhile to follow this ongoing conversation among Christian writers, and not only because I am one. It seems to mesh in some ways with an idea that's been floating around my head for a while -- an idea we should be living lives of worship. I'm hardly a good example of this, but I keep coming back to the idea that everything I do should be for the Lord, whether it's my writing, my singing, my work or anything else I do as part of my daily life. And when I look at it that way, I realize that I should be offering my best to the Lord, who after all gave me the gifts I'm using. I'm not there yet.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What color should my eyes be?

Your Eyes Should Be Brown

Your eyes reflect: Depth and wisdom

What's hidden behind your eyes: A tender heart

Interesting. (And my eyes are actually hazel.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

It's Christmas music time!

A couple of days ago I sort of went on a music downloading binge. I found that iTunes has the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Sweet. I suppose part of it is nostalgia for the things of my childhood, but Guaraldi was a wonderful jazz pianist and composer and the songs evoke such a peaceful feeling — I couldn't resist. I got a few George Winston Christmas songs, too, from his December album, which go nicely with the Guaraldi.

Then I opened my new Macworld and found a coupon for 50 free downloads from Well, I can hardly resist free stuff, so I surfed on over and took advantage of my free trial. And it really is a free trial -- there's nothing to stop you from getting your free songs and canceling your membership (well, nothing but a little begging and pleading). The offerings aren't as deep (unless you're really into indie music) as iTunes, but I did find 50 songs*. I got an album (Short Term Memories) by Chris Rice, who I've heard of but never listened to, and I like it a lot. I'll definitely have to add more of his music to my collection. And it includes a neat little Christmasy song called Welcome to my World.

So today I'm listening to Christmas music at work. It goes well with the snow on the ground outside.

* Just in case you're curious, and even if you're not, I also got Downpour, by Chronos; Parachute, by Guster; Rare Earth, by Rare Earth (duh!); and a live version of Lola by the Kinks. More proof of my strange taste in music, I suppose, but there you have it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Vote now!

Infuze magazine is having a poll to choose the best stories from 2005. My story, Long Way Home, is one of the choices! Woo-hoo! This is what Robin Parrish, the editor, says about the poll.
INFUZE is publishing a collection of our best Short Stories and Poems from 2005, and you get to help decide which stories and poems make it into the volume!
So, go vote. If you've never visited Infuze before, you have to register, but it's free and they don't do anything evil with your information. And you'll want to keep on visiting because it's the coolest Christian arts and culture 'zine around.

By the way, Chris Well has posted links to all the stories on his Learning Curve blog. This is an easier way to access the older stories on the list.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Seven things

Seven sevens:

1. Seven things to do before I die:
        Go to London
        Publish a novel
        Drive a Miata
        Go to Thailand to visit my missionary relatives
        See the Grand Canyon
        Drive across the country
And one more thing: Take a trip or do something cool with my best friend before she dies.

2. Seven things I cannot do:
        Higher math
        Hammer a nail straight
        Walk and (zip coat, roll sleeves, chew gum -- fill in routine task here) at the same time
        Think of the perfectly cutting thing to say at the perfect time to say it (see "You've Got Mail")
        Back a car in a straight line
        Parallel park
        Understand the attraction of NASCAR

3. Seven things that attract me to my husband (or significant other or best friend):
        His wacky sense of humor
        How he listens to me
        His encouragement of me
        His kiss
        His way with our kids
        His passion for God
        His intelligence

4. Seven things I say most often:
        Good grief
        Good night!
        Holy cow!
        Anyway …
        Well duh
        Stop fighting
        Go to school

5. Seven books (or series) I love
        The Lord of the Rings
        The Left Hand of Darkness
        The Chronicles of Narnia
        Little Women
        Jane Eyre
        To Kill a Mockingbird
        Peace Like a River

6. Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over again if I had the time):
        The Goodbye Girl
        While You Were Sleeping
        A Charlie Brown Christmas
        About a Boy
        Safe Passage
        Notting Hill

7. Seven people I want to join in, too:
        (I can't seem to think of anyone else ...)

Advent column

I've posted my December "Notes from the Windowsill" column at my writing blog. It's called Expectation and Fulfillment. It was prompted by some of my associate pastor's teaching on the letters of Paul, and Romans in particular.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Blogging for the lazy

It's Friday, I'm cold and I'm lazy. I'm having a hard time focusing my thoughts, so I'll point you to some thoughts that are more focused.

Mark Bertrand posts about Structure and Direction in Fiction today at The Master's Artist. There's a lot of meat there, but I liked this thought in particular:
A lot of folks, for example, talk about writing from a Christian worldview without appearing to (a) really know how to write or (b) have a truly Christian worldview! There's a place for everyone, of course, and God uses the humblest means to bring about undreamt-of outcomes. But as good stewards of whatever creative gifts we've been given, we ought to apply ourselves to craft as a way of exploring the God-given structure of our art, while at the same time working toward a redemption -- not just thematic, but total -- of our work.

I was struck by the idea of being a good steward of the creativity God has given me. That seems to help keep things in perspective.

I want to go to London. (Randall Friesen takes nice pictures.) I love the way the light hits the buildings. Awesome.

Here's a good timewaster: The Grid Game. (thanks for the link Chris)

And, finally, two people (the aforementioned Chris and Julana) tagged me for the meme of Sevens. I promise, I'll do it next week. This will take some thinking.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Blog Tour: Comes a Horseman

This month's featured selection is Robert Liparulo's thriller from WestBow, Comes a Horseman. My copy just came over the weekend and I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it looks good. I decided it looked like something I wanted to read during daylight hours, though -- I have a low heebie-jeebie threshold.

The author has an awesome Web site if you want to find out more about him and his book. You can find links to his interview at Infuze, news about the sale of movie rights for the book, a bit of biography, contests, and other cool stuff.

And Chris Well has an excellent three-part interview with Liparulo over at his Learning Curve blog. Not only does the author share some insights to his writing process, he answers some questions in the comments section. He sounds like an interesting guy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What do your characters long for?

I started reading Robert Olen Butler's book about writing, From Where You Dream. I found it in the KSU library a few weeks ago and thought it looked good, and the title and author sounded vaguely familiar to me. Now I remember why -- Kathleen recommended this book earlier this fall. And now I can see why she recommended it so highly. There's a lot of meat in this book. It challenges the analytical way many of us approach writing.

In my reading last night I got to the chapter about "Yearning." He says:
We are the yearning creatures of this planet. There are superficial yearnings, and there are truly deep ones always pulsing beneath, but every second we yearn for something. And fiction, inescapably, is the art form of human yearning.

Yearning is always part of fictional character. In fact, one way to understand plot is that it represents the dynamics of desire. It's the dynamics of desire that is at the heart of narrative and plot.

I read this and realized what is most often wrong with my stories. I usually start with a character or characters, which doesn't seem to be a bad way to start, according to Butler, but I don't always have it clear in my head what really drives these characters. Thus, something is missing, the story doesn't fully engage the emotions. (And emotion is where Butler says our writing truly comes from.)

So I've been thinking some today about how the dynamics of desire drives some stories. The one that came most readily to mind is one of my favorite movies of all time, While You Were Sleeping. It becomes clear early on that what Lucy desires more than anything, whether she realizes it or not, is a connection to a family again. She has a crush on Peter the hunk, but she doesn't know him. Her longing for family is why, in a sort of mistaken identity twist, she ends up letting Peter's family think she's his fiance, after she rescues him from the train tracks. (You really need to see the movie, though.) Everything that happens in the story flows from that desire and its consequences. And it's one of my favorite movies because it has so much heart. It engages my emotions.

And what does this mean for me? I've got a novel I'm revising, a novel I'm writing, and a couple of short stories I'd like to get published somewhere. But I need to get to the heart of my characters and show what drives them, what they most long for. Otherwise, all that great description and witty dialogue and exciting plot twists will ring hollow to the reader (and for the writer). Makes me think a little of I Cor. 13: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." And isn't coming to understand what drives a character, or a live person for that matter -- getting to the heart, in other words -- involve love?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Some random thoughts on a snowy Monday

We had a great time this weekend — lots of visiting and catching up with people I don't get to see very often. My parents' 50th anniversary reception went very well and I think my folks really enjoyed it. My youngest sister-in-law put together an awesome scrapbook of our family's life -- very cool. And she's going to make another one that will include photos and memories from this weekend, as well as bringing the family history up to the present time. (I think she got through the 80s in the first one.)

Yesterday afternoon my daughter and two of my sons and I drove back home to Kansas. My husband called Julia's cell phone to tell us there were tornadoes in Kansas. Yes, in November. Not unheard of, but unusual. And now it's snowing. Yep, I'm back home in Kansas. Anyway, we did run into heavy rain with lightning and wind as we crossed Missouri, but we got home safely. The nice thing about driving with Julia is I get to discover new music. A few months ago she introduced me to Guster. Last night we were listening to a band that was new to me: Blue October (from Texas). I liked them -- very loud, very interesting music.

As for NaNoWriMo: I fear I will not reach 50,000 words by Wednesday at midnight. I've written almost 24,000 words, and I feel like that's a good start, but I just don't have the time and energy to crank out another 26,000 words in less than three days. I knew when I started that I had an awful lot going on this month. So I'll chalk this up to experience and keep working on it. I plan to finish it this winter, so I'm not quitting. And this puts me even more in awe of people who have reached their goal already. Big congrats to all you NaNo finishers!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving thoughts

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and I'll be taking a few days off from blogging — we'll have dinner tomorrow with our daughter and son-in-law in Lawrence, then Friday we're all off to Illinois for my parents' 50th anniversary celebration. I'm really looking forward to seeing my parents and brothers and their families, as well as a fair number of other relatives and friends. All our kids, except Megan (because she lives in Alaska), will be there.

A couple of years ago I wrote a Thanksgiving column for the newspaper. It still applies.

Here's a few other links of interest:

The Internet Monk is on a roll this week — two interesting essays. Yesterday he wrote about drama and art in a church-affiliated school — very good thoughts about art and faith. (11-28-05: Yes, I've edited this -- the other link is now gone and apparently Mr. Spencer doesn't like to be quoted. I am sometimes uncertain about blogging etiquette. Sorry.)

Mark Bertrand doesn't usually make political comments. Generally he sticks to literary or theological musings (except for the occasional ninja post). But he wrote something yesterday that I liked a lot. You can read it here. I think it is always wise not to confuse the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms (or nations, if you prefer) of this world.

Finally, if you get really bored with football, or the kids drive you crazy, check this out. It'll keep you occupied for a while.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Somehow it had almost escaped me what today is. On Nov. 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. A couple of years ago I wrote an essay for the newspaper, but it ended up not being used. So I posted it over at my writing blog. When I taught News & Feature Writing, I used an excerpt from Saul Pett's masterful piece of newswriting to show my students the power of language. Here's a bit:
John Fitzgerald Kennedy fell to an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas, at lunchtime on November 22, 1963. In streets and offices and homes and stores, in lunchrooms and showrooms and schoolrooms and boardrooms, on highways and prairies and beaches and mountaintops, in endless places crowded and sparse, white and black, Republican and Democrat, management and labor, the word went out and cut the heart of a nation.

Husbands called wives, wives called friends, teachers told students, motorists stopped to listen on car radios and stranger told stranger. "Oh, no!" we cried from hearts stopped by shock.

Incredibly, in a time of great numbers, in a time of repeated reminders that millions would die in a nuclear war, when experts feared we were being immunised against tragedy, the death of a single man flooded our hearts and filled all the paths of our lives.

A great shadow fell on the land. Much activity simply stopped, here and overseas.

A big bronze gong sounded, a man shouted "The market is closed" and the New York Stock Exchange stopped. The Boston Symphony Orchestra stopped a Handel concerto and started a Beethoven funeral march, the Canadian House of Commons stopped, a dramatic play in Berlin stopped, the United Nations in New York stopped and Congress and courts and schools and race tracks stopped. Football games were cancelled and theatres were closed and in Dallas a nightclub called the Carousel was closed by a mourner named Jack Ruby. …

Friends in need

You may remember that I went to Mississippi in September to do some disaster relief. Even though it's been more than two months since the hurricane, the needs continue. Today there was a note from the Mississippi 4-H Foundation about the need for coats. I'll quote from the news we received through the Extension system:
"Friends: Our total 4-H family from across America has been unbelievably generous toward our children here in Mississippi following Katrina. There will never be enough thanks to offer. The level of devastation has not diminished but has only hit us hard again with the change in season.

We have an urgent need for "coats for kids" from toddler through teen. Our group that went to the coast today returned basically in tears. They carried 300 coats and found they were short 2,500 just at one school. As warm as the coast is in the summer, winters are cold and the wind and moisture magnify the discomfort. Children are sitting in makeshift class rooms shivering through the day. They go home to small FEMA trailers and in some cases tents.

Mississippi 4-H is soliciting, receiving and working with Mississippi State University to distribute items that will go to all needy children along the Mississippi Coast. Their need is for NEW coats, sweaters, socks, sweatshirts, headwear, and blankets. New, because we simply don't have the means to have used items cleaned, prepared and delivered in time.

If any of you have personal connections with suppliers/distributors/dealers who might be able to help us, we (thousands of we) would appreciate it beyond words. This could be a great way for someone to eliminate old stock. We are making some direct contacts ourselves but sometimes it's the "who" you know that is important. Yes, money so designated would allow us to purchase coats.

Any provided items should be sent to Operation 4-H Relief, Mississippi 4-H, Bost Building, Mississippi State University, MS 39762. All gifts will be received as 501c3 contributions.

The Web site for MSUCares 4-H Relief is here. You can find other contact information there, too.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I’ve been thinking about the human need to label and categorize everything. I suppose this is partly the result of the various debates bouncing around the online Christian community (some of which are pretty acrimonious). Of course, we’ve been naming and categorizing things since God gave Adam that job in the Garden. And knowing how to classify something is an important organizational tool. For instance, if you have an insect or rock collection you can consult any number of helpful resources to figure out what it is you’ve got. (Though, after editing some lessons for the 4-H geology project I’ve realized that classifying rocks isn’t always as straightforward as one might think.) A dictionary or encyclopedia would be useless if it wasn’t organized in some way.

My point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with applying a label to something, as long as the label doesn’t become the substitute for what something — or someone — really is.

We do this with books, too. I think it’s Randy Mortensen who said that when he was pitching his children’s fantasy (just recently published by Barbour) Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle he had to come up with a recognizable hook to hang it on. Sort of Harry Potter meets Narnia or something like that. (Apologies to Randy if I’ve got that wrong.) But of course, the story is much more than that. (Little plug here: Randy is taking the Christian Fiction Alliance Blog Tour in December and you can find out more about Landon Snow then.)

We feel more comfortable when we can put a label on something: her book is a mystery, he’s written an inspirational romance, he’s charismatic, she’s a lawyer, they’re vegetarians. Admit it — those phrases all conjure images in your mind, don’t they. If we’re not careful, we let the labels become substitutes for actually getting to know those people. The worst crimes against other humans are committed when we objectify people.

Jesus had a nifty way of dealing with these sorts of prejudices — he told stories that turned the stereotypes on their heads. How about The Good Samaritan or the Rich Man and Lazarus? Jesus could always see past the label to the person underneath. It’s a little harder for us, not being divine and all, but we have the Holy Spirit to augment our vision.

It’s important to remember that each one of us is known by many labels, but those labels do not completely define who we are. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, writer, editor, blogger, singer, friend, neighbor and probably a few other nouns — but I’m more than that. I’m a sinner saved by grace and perhaps that leads me to the only label that matters — Christian. And so are many of the other people we might happen to disagree with. Just something to remember.

Friday, November 18, 2005

No, you're not lost

I've just renamed my blog and changed the template. I'm not brave enough to try anything too wild, but I was tired of the old one so I found a different Blogger template that I liked. And blue is my favorite color.

As for the new name, you might find some clues here. Or not.

Some more thoughts on freedom and art

This whole “edgy” discussion has got me thinking again. Because every time it comes up people seem to gravitate toward the extremes. Some fear that freedom will inevitably degenerate into licentiousness. Others fear that caution leads to legalism and bad art. And from those opposite poles no consensus is formed.

I lean toward the freedom end of the spectrum. It’s clear to me that freedom in Christ includes the concept of responsibility and being responsive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This keeps us accountable. It’s not cheap grace that we live under.

What keeps coming to mind, though, as I follow the discussion, is the idea that maybe we’re all missing the point. So what is that point? I’ll admit I’m still trying to articulate it. As I said yesterday, we’re all on the same road going nowhere. So, what if we quit looking for the box that defines Christian fiction? What if we quit looking for lines and saying “I’ll go this far and no farther”?

I think we need to recognize that we have redeemed imaginations. We have the possibility of seeing the world as it really is, and yet also as it should be. Others have said this better — Mark Bertrand’s Masters Artists posts are a good place to start. (I wrote this last night before I saw what Mark wrote today, which is even better than what I'm saying here.) But here’s where that idea is leading me. I’ve been in a Sunday school class studying the letters of Paul. Our associate pastor, who is teaching, describes Paul’s eschatology as “already but not yet.” I like that way of expressing the concept that the kingdom of God is come, and yet it is still to come. We live in expectation, but we also live with that expectation’s fulfillment in Christ Jesus. It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around this idea. Something in human nature wants rules, boundaries. And God gives us those, but he also gives us freedom and the Holy Spirit. He gives us mystery and wonder. He gives us imaginations and creativity in expressing them.

We should be telling stories such as the world has never heard, stories full of truth and wonder because that’s the God we serve.

Phil Keaggy sings a great song by Van Morrison, “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?” The song talks about how creation testifies to God, but it also talks about great art:
“You brought it to my attention
That everything was made in God.
Down through centuries of great writings and paintings,
Everything was in God.
Seen through architecture of great cathedrals,
Down through the history of time,
Is and was in the beginning, and ever more shall ever be.”

And the song's chorus is the lament that too much of the time we forget that. But it points to where we ought to be so that what we do is transformed, is our act of worship.
“When will I ever learn to live in God?
Will I ever learn
He gives me everything
I need and more
When will I ever learn?”

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Updates and some random thoughts, not too 'edgy'

I was sick yesterday (actually I've been sick all week, but yesterday I actually stayed home), so I didn't post anything. I thought maybe I'd get some writing done while I was home yesterday, but I was too wiped out. I haven't gotten much written since Saturday because I have this cold, I'm not giving up. So maybe tonight I'll get another chapter or two written.

When I checked the Faith in Fiction message board today, I saw the "edgy" debate rages on again. It's an interesting discussion because it goes to the heart of who we are as Christian writers. My own thoughts on the subject are kind of fuzzy. I keep thinking of something from The Left Hand of Darkness (by Ursula LeGuin and one of my favorite books of all time) -- to oppose something is to uphold it, in an odd sort of way. The discussion continues to go in circles and never finds new ground. To debate what is acceptable material for a Christian writer seems to invite extremes of opinion. Those who urge restraint and those who argue freedom are still on the same road and we get nowhere. But Mark Bertrand said two things that seem to point to a different road, if he didn't keep getting drowned out:
"... but I am interested in writing honestly about God, man and the world, with as much faith to the complexities of our condition as I can muster."

And this about art and ideology:
"The Christian artist has to do more. He must bring ideas into an encounter with experience and produce something more (and of a different order) than ideology. This is imaginative, not instructive, work."

I doubt seriously that I have the skill as an artist to realize those goals, but I think it's what I dream of doing. The books that have affected me deeply have done so because they somehow give me a glimpse of God's truth (yes, even a secular writer such as LeGuin), they introduced me to ideas that opened my eyes and my mind. They were "imaginative, not instructive." And those stories have remained more vivid in my memory than many words uttered by teachers in countless classrooms. Something to think about.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Celebration time!

I could be singing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" today — the snow was sticking as I left home. And now, to add to the fun, the November Celebration of Christian Fiction is up. Violet Nesdoly is the host at Promptings and she's opened the shop so you can start planning the perfect gift for the writer on your list (or add it to your own wish list :) ). My own entry is here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Whoo-hoo! Snow! (Maybe)

I think our mild autumn weather is over. I just checked the weather forecast for northeast Kansas. They have issued a winter weather advisory -- we might get an inch or two of snow by tomorrow! And it will be windy! (thus the advisory) I prefer snow to be the kind that wafts gently to earth, not blows in my face on a 30-40 mile wind, but if it's cold enough to snow, maybe it will be cold enough to take care of the stuff floating around in the air and making me sneeze.

No surprise here


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
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This is fun!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Probably not what Rick Warren had in mind

Check out today's treasure from the Calvin and Hobbes archives.

NaNo update and more

I wrote two chapters last night and I've reached more than 20,000 words on my novel. That puts me more than a third of the way through. Yay! The story is still flowing well, but it's awfully talky. I'll definitely need to go back and rewrite a lot of it. Still, I've discovered that writing all this embeds aspects of my characters more deeply into my consciousness, which seems to help the rewriting process. No, I'm not getting all mystical or philosophical, but I don't know how else to explain it. Another way to say it might be: The better you know your characters, the easier it is to portray them smoothly.

Wednesday I mentioned B.J. Hoff's post at the Charis Connection about writing realistic fiction. Today Mark mentions another post of hers, along similar lines, at The Master's Artist, in his discussion of "edgy" fiction. He does wax more philosophical and theological, but as always, it is enlightening.

Yesterday was the 3oth anniversary of an event made famous in song: the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. There's an interesting Web site with information about the tragedy and you will also find lyrics to Gordon Lightfoot's song. I liked the song long before I knew more about the real event.

Today, of course, is Veterans' Day, which is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended WWI. My Grandpa Myers, who died in 1965, served in that war. One of my favorite family stories is how my future grandparents corresponded during the war. Oscar Myers (yes, his real name) was nine years older than Julia Hudson, but he knew her at church and already had his eye on her. Julia must have been about 16 when we entered the war and Oscar was sent overseas. Her brother told her she should write to Oscar as her patriotic duty. Well, they were married in 1920 and more than 50 years later, when Grandma died and my mom and her siblings cleaned out the house, they found that she had saved many of the letters. I remember Grandpa as a kind, patient man with a twinkle in his eye. He loved the Lord and I know I'll see him and Grandma someday, but I still miss him. Thank you Grandpa and Grandma Myers, for the heritage of faith you bequeathed your children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Writing is a craft so you need tools

There's something of the geek in me — I get excited about reference books and free software. I like maps and encyclopedias. I even blogged about it once. And there are things about the writing life that appeal to that inner geek. Here are a few:

MacJournal is a truly nifty and useful journaling program. As I wrote in the post I mentioned earlier, I use it almost everyday and have entries related to all kinds of things I want to remember for work or for writing. I save song lyrics in MacJournal, or J. Mark Bertrand's essays about writing, or blog posts or just random thoughts. I still use the free version I got several months ago, but an updated and beefed up version is published by Mariner Software. At around $30 it's still pretty inexpensive.

I also find some books indispensible for writing: a good dictionary ( I use Webster's New World College Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary the most), of course. But I also like some other types of grammar references.

Working With Words, by Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson and Jean Gaddy Wilson (Bedford/St. Martin's) has been on my desk for years. It's marketed as a textbook, so it's not cheap, but you can find used copies in college towns. The authors give a clear, concise treatment of grammar, but the most helpful things in the book I find are the lists and guides -- a usage guide, words that present spelling challenges, a guide to avoiding stereotypical language (including words to avoid) and, most helpful to me, words that are (and are not) hyphenated.

I've also become something of a fan of Robert Hartwell Fiske. I own two of his books: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English (Writer's Digest Books) and The Dictionary of Concise Writing (Marion St. Press). Both books are good reads and helpful when you're wondering about usage or trying to reduce the fat in your prose.

There's more: I enjoy reading books about writing. They inspire, encourage and help me see where I might go with this. I've especially enjoyed Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Both books are engagingly written and deal with writing on a practical level, as well as addressing some of the more esoteric aspects of the craft.

So there's a few of the tools in my writer's toolbox. I'm sure you would have others. But that's what so great — no toolbox is ever too full.

A writer's task

Since I've been blogging I've followed the ongoing discussion of how Christian writers present the fallen world around us. Novelist B.J. Hoff talks about this in her post yesterday at the Charis Connection, Accepting Responsibility as a Writer ... and as a Reader. She offers excellent insight into this and other areas of the writer's craft.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

For your viewing pleasure ...

Here's a few links of a more visual nature.

Randall Friesen (Covenant pastor and blogger) has a photoblog now, drycold. He's a good photographer and I like it. Click the before link to see what he's posted thus far. You won't be disappointed.

Liminality is a photoblog that I just stumbled on one day. I know nothing about the photographer, Tristan Roy, but he takes some interesting and beautiful pictures. This photo he posted last week is cool.

I follow these partly because I have a character in my Connors Grove stories who is a photographer. I'm more familiar with news photography, so these give me a bit of a sense of art photography.

Finally, I must thank Dave for this link: The Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery. Awesome.

In NaNo news: I've written about 14,900 words -- still a little behind my goal, but I'll write more tonight. I've posted some chapters over at my writing blog so you can get an idea of what the story is about. Remember, it's a first draft and, as I said the other day, it's long on dialogue and short on description at this point.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Some things should not be done at the same time

I have a new pet peeve: multi-tasking tasks that should never be performed together. Here's an example -- eating your lunch and calling someone at the same time. I'm not talking about someone calling you and you happen to have a bite in your mouth so you have to swallow quickly. I'm talking about initiating a phone call while you're in the midst of eating your lunch. Take it from me folks, the person on the other end does not want to hear you crunching your apple over the phone. It's just gross and it's not worth the two minutes you save by trying to do those two things at once. Just thought I'd share that with you.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

What I'm learning from writing really fast

I've written more than 8,000 words now on my NaNo novel -- probably the fastest 8,000 words I've ever written. And when you compress the writing process into such a short period of time, you start to notice things about your writing. Here's what I've discovered:

I write a lot of dialogue. I realized that what interests me is the interaction between the characters. I don't write tons of description, though I have a picture in my mind of the setting. I'm just more interested in how people relate. I can always go back and add description and cut unnecessary dialogue later.

I'm a little weird when I write. We've moved the computer desk out into an area of the upstairs hall so my youngest son can have his room to himself. So last night I had my earphones in and was pounding away at the story -- it was a really exciting part (at least to me) and I'm pretty sure I was mouthing the dialogue a bit as I was writing it. I was completely oblivious to my husband walking by and going downstairs. But when he came back upstairs I did notice him and he teased me a bit about being so absorbed in my story. I told him to get used to it.

My outline is evolving over time. I keep realizing that I need to divide up some parts of the story into more chapters, or I need to include another character's point of view. I had an outline to start with and it's helped, but it's certainly not set in stone and as the story evolves it changes, too. A road map is nice, even if you decide to take the scenic route.

So that's what I'm learning so far. Even if this novel never goes much beyond NaNo (but I hope it does), it's good experience. And I'm having a blast.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Odds and ends

Here's a few random things:

You can find my author profile over at NaNoWriMo here. There's also an excerpt from the novel in progress. It's rough and it's not all I've written but it's the start.

I found an entertaining way to waste a few minutes: hop over to The Thinklings and try out the different skins for the blog. I think my favorite is The Lord of the Rings. I know, I'm easily amused.

This link came to me from Kansas Professional Communicators. A group of people who are tired of the polarization in our country has set up a Web site promoting civil discourse -- the RedBlue Project looks kind of cool. The project is being led by Barkely Evergreen and Partners in Kansas City.

Finally, while I'm not big on forwarding stuff, here's a site worth clicking on: The Breast Cancer Site. Corporate sponsors fund free mammograms for women in need based on how many clicks the site gets, so follow the link and click on it every day.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is this bragging?

Oh, who cares. I'm really excited. Yesterday I wrote 2800 words, today I wrote more than 3600! Of course, I was off work today. (My son had an appointment and I took the day off, but I figure I may as well write while I have the time, right?) I probably won't have a lot of days with this level of productivity, but the story is flowing well and it feels good. But it's also a story that I've had rolling around in my head for a while, which makes it easier, I think. But usually when I start feeling really good about something, it all goes south, so maybe I shouldn't speak too soon.

Should I post any of it? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Day 1

So I started working on A Long Night in Connors Grove during my lunch hour today and hope to get back to it for a while this evening. I'm feeling pretty good about it (not that I've had time to get discouraged yet). But to help me stay inspired I read the second installment of Chris Well's NaNo interviews: with Chris Mikesell, who was a NaNoWriMo winner last year. He has some good suggestions, but I wish I'd had his advice about junk food sooner -- I stocked up on Brach's Spice Drops last night. But I figure the blog will help me follow another bit of advice -- accountability. I'll have to maintain some kind of word count since I've publicly committed to this project. And anyone who knows me is free to send me the occasional chiding e-mail.

Monday, October 31, 2005

New Notes from the Windowsill

I posted my November column for Notes on the Windowsill. Here it is, Perfect Weakness.

Ready, Set ...

Tomorrow is the first day of November. We all know what that means ... NaNoWriMo is here! (If I can figure out how to post the logo, I will.) I've got an outline, I've got a calendar, I've got a plan. Now all I have to do is sit down and write.

I've been reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, an excellent and entertaining book about writing. She says a lot of things that others say, too, but she says it so well and it inspires me and encourages me. And one of the things she says is that you have to sit down and write, at least a little bit, every day. So that's what I want from this month. To develop better discipline to sit down and write something every day.

For further inspiration, let me direct you to Chris Well's Sightings blog. Today he has an interview with J. Mark Bertrand, the first in a series of interview with successful NaNo participants. Mark offers some good suggestions for making it through the month, though I'm not sure about the whole boar hunt analogy. Maybe it's a guy thing. But you'll want to check in the rest of this week to see the other interviews with Chris Mikesell and Kevin Hendricks.

Speaking of Chris (M., otherwise known as der Fieldenmarshal), he bursts upon the publishing world this month with an article in The Wittenburg Door, "God's Creation Blog." Absolutely hilarious. Don't read this while eating. Or drinking. In fact, you should probably make sure there are no potentially hazardous items anywhere near your computer while you read it. (He also shared a bit of his cover letter for the article, too, at the Faith in Fiction discussion board.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Prayers and links

Most days one of the blogs I check early on is Jordon Cooper's. He's a Canadian pastor (I seem to be reading a lot of Canadian blogs these days) who has been blogging forever. He's always got some interesting links or provoking thoughts to share. He's also been very ill and is in tremendous pain. His wife, Wendy, posted about it on his blog last night. It reminds me that sometimes the answer to prayer is very long in coming, or doesn't even look like what we expect or want. But I believe that God is always there, even in the deepest trials of our lives. I'm praying for Jordon and his family. I hope you will, too.

Speaking of Jordon, he's one of four pastors who is trying an experiment in writing a book "about the church in a post-everything culture." Here's where Jordon explained the project a little bit. I think it's an interesting blog and an interesting experiment.

Writer Janet Berliner talks about voice over at Storyteller's Unplugged. Since I sometimes agonize over that very issue, I found it enlightening.

Finally, here's something fun. Chris pointed me to This Day in Music. Click on Birthday No. 1 in the header and you can enter your birthdate to find the No. 1 song on that day. Then enter the date for your 18th birthday and you get your life song. Very fun. The No. 1 song on the day I was born was "Diana" by Paul Anka and the No. 1 song on my 18th birthday was "Fame" by David Bowie. Prophetic? Probably not, but it certainly shows how pop music changed in just 18 years!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Creston Mapes on blog tour

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring Atlanta writer Creston Mapes' novel Dark Star this month. Mapes doesn't have a blog, but you can find out more about him and read the first chapter at his Web site. You can also get a sneak peak at the sequel, Full Tilt. Dark Star is the story of a rock star and the battle for his soul. It sounds like a good story (I haven't gotten to read it yet) and is getting good reviews.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Uplifting words

I'm in a women's Bible study group that is studying John and Stasi Eldredge's book, Captivating. It's pretty interesting and there's a lot of encouragement there for women who are struggling with the scars of the past. Many of those scars are the result of what people have said (especially things said by parents).

Then, Sunday, our pastor's sermon looked at the sixth commandment -- don't commit murder. But that applies to more than just physical killing. We murder people with our words, too. (A very funny skit illustrated that concept perfectly.)

Then, today, Dan Edelen posted this about the spiritual impact of words.

It's all got me thinking about the words I say and the words I write. I love language, I love the beauty and the fun I can have with words. But I know that words can be weapons even more damaging than sticks and stones. I developed my own defense against such weapons -- sarcasm and self-deprecating humor. But sarcasm can be misinterpreted and quickly degenerates into cynicism. And, while I don't want to take myself too seriously, constantly running myself down distracts me from the truth that God made me and loves me and calls me righteous.

The Bible has a lot to say about the dangers of an unfettered tongue: Prov. 4:24, 12:6 and 16:23, 27 are just a few in the book of Proverbs. James 3 is another relevant passage.

But to have acceptable speech, my heart needs to be in the right place. Ps. 51: 10-17 (ESV) says:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The other passage that came to mind is Psalms 19:14 (ESV):
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

I'm still figuring out what that looks in my writing, but these are my daily prayers.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A good quote by Anne Lamott

I've been reading Plan B, by Anne Lamott. It continues the theme of Traveling Mercies -- her journey of faith. Here's something she said about living in difficult times that really resonated with me:

“Like her, I am depressed and furious. I often feel like someone from the Book of Lamentations. The best thing I’ve heard lately is the Christian writer Barbara Johnson’s saying that we’re Easter people, living in a Good Friday world.

I don’t have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday School, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you’re talking.

In Jesus’ real life, the resurrection came two days later, but in our real lives, it can be weeks, years, and you never know for sure that it will come. I don’t have the right personality for the human condition, either. But I believe in the resurrection, in Jesus’, and in ours. The trees, so stark and gray last month, suddenly went up as if in flame, but instead in blossoms and leaves — poof! Like someone opening an umbrella. It’s often hard to find similar dramatic evidence of rebirth and hope in our daily lives.”
(p. 140, “Good Friday World” in Plan B by Anne Lamott; New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Modern Pharisees

Jordon posted this quote today from notes Darryl Dash took on a seminar by Reggie McNeal:
"We are insular. We’ve built a parallel universe. Instead of intersecting all the avenues of culture (arts, government, finance), we’ve built a separate domain. We have our own music awards, radio stations, bookstores, cruise ships. We eat with people like us, vacation with people like us. We go in for port calls but we scramble back.

We need the capacity to see beyond ourselves (John 4:34-35). The biggest problem the disciples had was they grew up in church. Most of us need to get over our church experience. In a lot of Christian crowds, there are relatively few new disciples. This should scare us.

If God had given the Pharisee’s line, John 3:16 would say, “For God so loved the church...” The Pharisees talked about the kingdom of God too, but they thought it was all about getting enough people to behave. People who think we will bring in the kingdom by fixing the culture - only Pharisees think like this.

Pharisees - “You want God, come and get it.” Religious people are always a problem for God. Dress like us, become like us. Pharisees had their own subculture. We are the Pharisees. Everything we love to hate about the Pharisees is what the culture sees in us. They don’t associate Jesus with his followers."

Oh, man, that really hits home, doesn't it!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A little tropical refreshment, etc.

Brad Boydston (Covenant pastor and blogger) and his wife are spending some time in Guam working with a small college, among other things. Brad's been posting regular updates and pictures. He has some interesting insights into a part of the world I don't know much about.

Jeanne Damoff tells a lovely story about her son Jacob at the Master's Artist today. She always reminds me to see the beauty and joy in everyday life.

Storytellers Unplugged is a group blog by some horror writers. While I'm not much for the genre, the writers often have relevant and helpful tips. A few days ago Joe Nassisse posted some helpful guidelines for putting together a book proposal. (Joe is the author of Riverwatch and Heretic and has been known to hang out at Faith in Fiction.)

What author's fiction are you?

This is way cool. I found this at David's blog.

Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor wrote your book. Not much escapes
your notice.

Which Author's Fiction are You?
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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Talk about Solomon Long with Deeanne Gist

For the rest of this week Deeanne Gist, author of A Bride Most Begrudging, is hosting a book discussion. The topic? Chris Well's Forgiving Solomon Long. She's got some questions to start the discussion today and tomorrow, then Friday Chris will show up for an interview. Head on over there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October's Celebration of Christian Fiction is now up

Yes, it's time once again for the Celebration of Christian Fiction. Dee Stewart, at Christian Fiction, is the host this month and she's gathered together a bountiful harvest of stories for your reading pleasure. You're sure to find something that will touch, encourage or challenge you (or all three). My entry is the opening chapters of my WIP, Secrets in Connors Grove, and I've posted it over on my writing blog.

And speaking of writing, I've changed my mind (not unusual for me -- just ask my husband) about the subject for my NaNoWriMo project. I was looking through my various writing files and decided I wanted to write another Connors Grove story. I already have a good outline started and it's a story I've thought through quite a bit already. So watch for updates throughout the month of November on A Long Night in Connors Grove. It features most of the characters in Secrets -- and you might recognize some people from Long Way Home and Lost and Found, too.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Posting joyfully

Retreat was wonderful. There is no better way to describe it. Our numbers were down, but the 80 or so women who came were treated to perfect weather, good fellowship and powerful messages from our speaker, Lisa Orris. God was there -- of course, he always is, but sometimes we don't pay attention. We payed attention this time.

So I come back today, start reading blogs and discover I've been tagged again. Because last week Val tagged me and I knew but I didn't do it (I'm sorry. Really.). But the game today is about looking up the word "joy" on your blog and telling something about it. So I did the search and I have written about joy before. And what I wrote then seems appropriate today, somehow. Being coordinator of this women's retreat has forced me out of my comfort zone to some extent. I was afraid that I wasn't doing it very well. And maybe I didn't, but God did. The details came together in such a way that I know it had to be God. And I feel great joy in knowing that I don't have to be perfect. My very wise husband told me one night a week or so ago when I was stressing about retreat details that if you are doing what God wants you to, you won't fail. I thought I could argue with that, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. I'm not talking about success in the world's eyes -- but in God's eyes, if I'm where he wants me to be, then I won't be a failure. And he will honor the work I do for him.

Remember the old hymn "There is joy in serving Jesus"? Here's the chorus:
There is joy, joy
Joy in serving Jesus
Joy that throbs within my heart
Every moment, every hour
As I draw upon His power
There is joy, joy
Joy that never shall depart

There's a lot of truth there. The joy doesn't come from doing what I want, but in being in God's will; drawing on his power, not my own.

So now I'm supposed to tag five people:

Have fun!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Is it Friday yet?

No, not really. But tomorrow I'll leave for a women's retreat, so I'll do my Friday blogging today.

If you haven't been following The End of Horror in which J. Mark Bertrand and Dave Long duke it out over Mark's analysis of Ezekiel's Shadow, you're missing an enlightening discussion of Christians and art and how we can convey faith in our writing while still telling a good story. (and could I possibly have written a longer, more rambling sentence? I don't think I'll try to find out.) There's more good discussion on the Critical Analysis forum at Faith in Fiction, too.

Here's a good thought about the church from Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum:
But we're not the Blog of Christ. We're the Body. That Body wasn't created to go into the hellholes of Earth and hand out a tract, but to be the very arms of Jesus around a broken person who needs a shoulder to cry on more than she needs someone armed with a relentless set of answers.
It reminds me of James 2:14-17 -- "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

Mike is one Master's Artist who doesn't want to grow up. More power to him.

I'm off to a women's retreat tomorrow, as I said. I hope you'll keep us in your prayers. It promises to be a lovely weekend, weather-wise. Pray that it will also be a lovely weekend spiritually, as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The good thing about weakness

As I think I've mentioned in the past, I'm the coordinator for our area women's retreat this year. It starts Friday -- lets just say I've been stressing a bit. I keep wondering if I've done everything I need to or if all our plans are going to fall through. I find myself feeling like a failure. But then God steps in and reminds me that this is not all about me and how I look to other people -- it's about how he's going to touch the women who come to retreat. And he is totally in control of the details. I have been reminded several times over the last week or so just how much he is in control of the details. Key pieces of the program are falling into place and several women I've talked to have said how they are convinced God is going to do good things at retreat this year. (Of course, he always does.)

I've been reminded of a scripture verse -- 2 Cor. 4:7
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

Here's another verse, 2 Cor. 12:9
"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. "


Monday, October 10, 2005

Deconstructing Ezekiel's Shadow

Today begins the critical analysis and response of Ezekiel's Shadow, David Ryan Long's first novel. (Dave is an acquisitions editor at Bethany House and the founder of Faith in Fiction.) J. Mark Bertrand is doing the critical analysis and has provided a handy index page so you can follow the discussion. You can also find Dave's responses at Faith in Fiction. And if you join the Faith in Fiction message board, you can participate in the discussion in the Critical Analysis forum. This is cool stuff and you can guess how I'll be spending my lunch hours all week.

Pray for ACC

My daughter, Megan, works at Alaska Christian College. Well, the Department of Education has withdrawn its funding for the school -- an amount that equals about half the school's budget. Keep them in your prayers. You can read the news story from Saturday here. You can also read the ADN's editorial against DoE funding for ACC. (Thanks, Brad, for the links.) I hope you'll pray for the school's administration, staff and students. The school works with Alaska native kids, many of whom have never been away from their villages before they come to ACC.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Looking ahead

Next week, J. Mark Bertrand and Dave Long (of Faith in Fiction fame) will begin a discussion about Dave's book Ezekiel's Shadow. (And for some bizarre reason, I always have to think twice to get that title right -- I keep mixing it up with Forgiving Solomon Long, by Chris Well. My mind works in strange ways that should perhaps not be explored too deeply.) But back to Dave's impending doom. Mark writes graciously about this in today's Master's Artist post. I expect the in-depth analysis of ES will be interesting and enlightening.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Of writers and mad scientists

I'd never really considered how a writer might be like a mad scientist, until I read Chris' article on his writing blog today. Ver-r-r-y interesting. And the article has lots of good advice for how to approach writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Chris actually wrote a lot more than that last year and I've seen some of them. Pretty good stuff.

By the way, I think I have a title for my November novel -- Family Ties are for Hanging. It's a mystery starring a down-on-his-luck reporter named Adam Caldwell, Sam Beckett (his bartender/poet), and Marta (a woman he likes -- a lot). Let's just say they all have some issues in their families that are going to need resolution before all is said and done.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

November is coming!

And why would I be excited about November? Because it's NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write a novel -- at least 50,000 words -- in 30 days. You can sign up anytime from Oct. 1 to Nov. 25 (for the optimistic) for this year's contest. You don't really win anything except the satisfaction of having written something, but you might also have the first draft of a novel under your belt. This is really good for people who spend way too much time agonizing over every word or continually edit and never make much progress -- someone like me. So I signed up yesterday. I even have an idea for a novel I want to write. I may or may not post excerpts as November progresses. And I'm not the only one who is going to tackle the task -- 42,000 people signed up last year. Some of the folks over at Faith in Fiction are also signing up. Should be lots of fun!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Back to Mississippi

Susan (she's in the red scrub top in the photo) is one of the docs who went with us to Mississippi. In fact, we went in her motor home. Well, she's heading back to Biloxi this week, taking furniture and some other supplies to Julie (left) and her mom, Judy (in the back). Julie's home was damaged in the flooding -- it's one of the few homes left in her neighborhood. Keep Susan in your prayers as she drives down today and tomorrow. She also hopes to develop some longer-term ties to the community so we can continue to offer help as its needed.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Some good stuff

Brad and Randall are right -- the National Geographic's Wildcam is just cool!

When I was in college, one little pamphlet had a big influence on many of us: My Heart, Christ's Home. Well, thanks to Dan, I just discovered it's on the Web! Very cool.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A new way of looking at writing

I've been reading Ray Rhamey's Flogging the Quill off and on for some time now. He often has good insights into the craft. Yesterday he posted something that really jumped out at me: Toiling in the lands of the blind and tone-deaf. He described new writers as often being blind -- writing by feel but unable to see where they need to improve their craft and story. I can relate to that. When I first wrote my novel, I thought it was wonderful. And most people who read also enjoyed it. But I've gotten more feedback from writers with more experience (and from an editor who rejected it) and I'm beginning to see where I can improve it.

Then Ray talks about writers who are tone-deaf. Because writing is not only vision, but music. Language is music -- it has a rhythm, a flow. And he's not sure how to help writers who have no sense of that rhythm -- who are tone-deaf.

I think what he says makes sense. I've read writing by people that needed a lot of work, but the music of the language was there. This is an interesting way of looking at writing. Very eye-opening.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Go Cats!

Tomorrow the Kansas State Wildcats (3-0) open Big 12 play at Oklahoma (1-2). But don't be deceived by the Sooners' record -- those losses were to UCLA and TCU, whereas K-State's wins are against Fla. International, Marshall and North Texas (though Marshall is a good team). And K-State hasn't won in Norman since 1996.

But, of course, I'm still rooting for K-State. Go Cats!

Random Friday

So here it is, Friday again. It's a lovely day here in Kansas — fall is definitely in the air. Yesterday was my daughter Megan's birthday — Happy Birthday! I called her last night and her dad and I were weird on the phone and made her laugh. That's a parent's job, by the way — to be weird. Kids think you're weird no matter what, so you may as well just embrace your destiny.

Moving on from the weather and birthday musings, I have a few links to share.

Mick posted this week about Two Loaves and Fish. It's more of his thoughts related to what God can do with what we have to offer. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so.

The New York Times likes Serenity (free registration required). Joss Whedon is a good storyteller and this film continuation of his brief series Firefly sounds like another winner.

It looks like a lot of people are submitting stories for the Faith in Fiction conversion story contest. If you want to read some of them, people have been posting links here and I think Dave will post a more comprehensive listing after all the entries are in. I've read some of them and there's some pretty good stories here. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it's great to see how other writers handle the challenge. (Mine is on my other blog.)

Later note: I have by no means read all the stories people have posted, but thus far, here are a few of my favorites:
Dee Stewart's "Exodus"
Mark Bertrand's "Holy Sonnet"
Chris Mikesell's "Legacy of 'Loco' Komoko"
Chris Fisher's "The Fellowship of the Golden Emerod"

Man, there's some good stuff in this contest!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More impressions

I've been trying to figure out a feeling I had while we were driving around Mississippi last week. I felt a bit like a voyeur, poking around in other people's tragedy.

I think a disaster strips people of their privacy. Their stuff is scattered to the winds. The flaws in their character, the cracks in their facade are exposed -- much like the frailty of human structures was exposed.

I've been wondering a lot about motivations. Are we tourists of tragedy? Are we trampling people's dignity when we drop in on their lives this way?

I think I should add that no one we met in Mississippi seemed unhappy with our presence. No one said, "Go away, we don't want you here." Many invited us to see what the hurricane had done to their homes. They wanted to tell their stories, they expressed their appreciation. We were blessed as much as we were a blessing.

So it's not that I think we shouldn't go and try to help when there's a disaster. I believe it's important and it's Christian. But I think we should be aware of our motives and be mindful of people's dignity. I worry that it's so easy to feed our egos with mission trips and relief trips. I recently heard a song one of the worship leaders at our church wrote a few years ago. One of the lines goes "pour me out so You can fill me up." I think that's the attitude we should have -- I must decrease so that my Lord may increase.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Notes from the Windowsill

I've started writing a column for my church's monthly newsletter. It's supposed to be anonymous (though there was a little glitch with that this time, but I'll be anonymous from now on), and I sign it Eutychus. The first column, Falling for Jesus, explains why. I've posted it over at my other blog, so you can read it if you want.

This isn't deep theology, but it gives me a chance to use a couple of my gifts and I appreciate that.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A few pictures

These pictures are just a few from Biloxi. This boat was right beside the street. We were a couple of blocks in from the bay I think.

This is the house in the middle of the street. It's not very far from the boat above, and it's just a few blocks from the casinos.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "have it your way," doesn't it? (I'm not making light of a tragic situation, but none of us could resist the novelty of the boat in the drive-through.) This was in downtown Biloxi, too, and not an area anyone ever expected to flood.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Impressions of a catastrophe

I'm back from Mississippi. Just to recap -- I left Monday morning with a group from my church and community to take some relief supplies to Mississippi. We drove through Monday and arrived south of Jackson, Miss., (where we met up with the semi full of stuff) by about 2 a.m. Tuesday. About 6 a.m. or so we headed on south and were in Bay St. Louis around 8:30 or so. We first went to Hancock Medical Center, the hospital in Bay St. Louis, where we unloaded about half the truck. We left lots of medical supplies as well as water, clothes, toys and personal care items. This hospital was pretty hard hit -- as were all the people who worked there. The marketing director there said that never in their wildest imaginings had they ever thought the hospital would flood. But it did (the first floor, where most of the medical services were located). But it was heartening to see the hospital staff working together to clean it up. There's still a lot to do, but they're determined to get it up and running again. On Wednesday, we went to Biloxi, and delivered the rest of the stuff we brought to the hospital there. It seems to have weathered the storm better, but Biloxi itself is still a mess. We started driving back Thursday and got home Friday about 4:30 p.m.

I'll probably have some pictures Monday, but for the time being, here are some initial impressions, in no particular order. I'm still processing what I saw and trying to make some sense of it.

• Water is terribly destructive. Bay St. Louis and Biloxi were flooded by a 27-foot storm surge. The force was enough to completely demolish homes along the waterfront, lift huge casino barges from their moorings and deposit them several blocks inland, snap the sections of a bridge from their pilings so it looked like dominos that had toppled, move houses off their foundations -- I could go on but I hope you're starting to get the picture. One woman we talked to in Biloxi said her husband broke out the windows of their house because the water was pushing in on the walls. By breaking the windows, it allowed the water to come in and equalized the pressure. Her house was still standing, while most of the houses in her neighborhood were demolished or completely missing.

• The scale of Hurricane Katrina's destruction is more than I had ever imagined. Even north of Jackson, you can see tree damage. South of Jackson, the highway is lined with piles of broken trees and brush. This is what had to be cleared off the roads before anyone could get to the coast. Once you get to the coastal towns, it's simply mind-numbing. Even three weeks later, power is not fully restored in places. Biloxi has running water, but it's not potable. The city is under a curfew. The houses that are less damaged still may not be livable for a while. An older woman and what I assumed was her granddaughter were cleaning out the older lady's house. It didn't look too bad, but it had been flooded. But they've discovered that the plumbing is ruined and the house will have to be rewired for electricity. Fortunately, this lady has been staying with family, so she didn't have to try to live under those conditions. She also said that as bad as it was for her, she knew there were others who had it a lot worse.

• We met a woman in Bay St. Louis who lived within sight of the bay. There used to be lots of beautiful homes on her street -- they're all gone now. In both towns we saw a number of places where there were foundations and front steps that led to nothing. Not even a stick. But the woman I just mentioned, her house was still standing, though it wasn't livable. She had evacuated, then had come back about 9 days before we met her. She was camping out in her yard and didn't want to go to a shelter because she couldn't take her dogs -- she had 4 Boston terriers. She was trying to salvage what she could of her antiques and fine glassware. She said people came by to check on her and the Army brought her water. We dressed a cut on her head -- she had been hit by something falling on her porch the day before and the cut still looked kind of bad. I wonder if she's been rained on by Hurricane Rita.

• We drove through several neighborhoods in Biloxi on Wednesday afternoon. We handed out cases of water, bags of personal care and first aid supplies and talked to people. A lot of people seemed happy to have someone to tell their stories to, and to say thank you to. On the one hand, I feel like what we did was just a drop in a very big bucket. But I know that we were able to touch specific lives and left much needed supplies. We were able to minister in a real way to the hospital employees at Bay St. Louis because we got to talk to some of them while we were unloading.

• We haven't really begun to grasp the human toll from Hurricane Katrina. People spoke of neighbors who died in the storm, a lifetime of memories washed away, landmarks vanished -- there's a lot of grieving that needs to happen and it's going to take time. This will not be something that can be fixed quickly. We must not forget.

• Disasters force us to reorder our priorities. Many people that we talked to in both towns lost all their possessions, but were thankful that they hadn't lost any family members. They were experiencing real hardship, but they knew they had what mattered most. Many people talked of a sustaining faith and that was heartening.

• On the other hand, some priorities don't seem to get reordered. I understand that it's important to get the economy moving again and businesses need to be reopened. We actually saw a lot of small businesses with signs prominently placed amid the rubble -- Now Open or We'll Be Back. But here's what bugged me. As we drove around Biloxi we passed through the Vietnamese section of town. I understand that a lot of Vietnamese people came here and were shrimp fisherman. I'm sure their lives are very hard now. We saw down a side street that a house was still sitting in the middle of the street. A whole house, right in the middle of the street. Debris removal has been slow -- it's a mammoth task. A couple of different guys we talked to said they'd had to do it themselves, or their neighbors had done it.

But back to the house in the middle of the street. A few blocks away from the Vietnamese neighborhood is the point where the casinos stand -- or what's left of the casinos. And they're positively bustling with workers cleaning up and clearing up and rebuilding. But there's still a house in the middle of the street a few blocks away. I know it's private industry that's working on the casinos (at least I hope so), but it still feels wrong to me. Why couldn't someone from the casinos send some work crews around the neighborhoods to help clean things up there, too? What about the mom & pop grocery stores and restaurants and hairdressers and gas stations? Those businesses are important for a local economy, too, and are less able to absorb the cost of rebuilding. I hope help comes to them, too.

I'm still trying to grasp what God is teaching me through this. I was very thankful last night to be home in my own bed, under my own roof, with my husband to hold me and my sons to make fart jokes. And I don't want to forget what I saw and heard on the Gulf coast of Mississippi.