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?
brought to you by Quizilla

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.