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.