Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

I'm taking a week or so off from blogging -- I'm going to visit family next week and probably won't be online much. So I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the whole Gilmore gang.

And if you're interested, I've posted my January Notes from the Windowsill: Lessons from the Prairie.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Topeka guitarist

Check out this guitarist from Topeka that I just found out about! His name is Andy McKee -- here's a video of him playing.

Remembering what it's all about

It's hard to keep the season in the proper perspective sometimes. Megan and Randall both have the right idea.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On books and opinions

If you peruse the links in the sidebar, you'll see I'm listed as a reviewer with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. I've also participated in the FIRST tours. But I've been thinking about this and I've realized that I'm not real comfortable calling myself a book reviewer. This is not to disparage what the CFBA and FIRST are doing -- these are good ways to get the word out about new books. Bonnie Calhoun (CFBA) and Mimi Pearson (FIRST) put a lot of work into these efforts and deserve our appreciation. But over the last few months I've really begun to think about what it is I'm doing when I write about a book, and if it's appropriate to call it 'reviewing.' Maybe this is just semantics, except I think semantics matters. The words we use and how we use them are important -- if I didn't believe this, I wouldn't spend all this time writing and editing words.

When I think of a book review, I think of something more than a book report, or a brief synopsis, or even a strong opinion. I think of something that examines a book for what it is, what it aspires to be, and how well it accomplishes those things. A book review often places the book in question within the context of its genre and subject. This kind of reviewing seems to call for a depth of knowledge about literature that I don't possess. A reviewer should be able to express an informed opinion about the book. (A subject for a different day -- the lack of informed opinion in public discourse.) If you want examples of what I mean try such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, which I subscribe to, or The New York Times Review of Books (I'm not a regular reader of it, though).

So I've come to the conclusion that I'm not comfortable being called a book reviewer. I have opinions, sure. I can tell you if I like a book, and even why I like it. But should my opinion have weight? Probably not. I have read neither widely nor deeply. I have no training in literary criticism. I couldn't begin to do the kind of analysis that Mark Bertrand did with Ezekiel's Shadow. I'm not suggesting that all book reviewing should be like that, but I think some books deserve that level of treatment, and I know I don't have the literary chops to do it. But what about the average book that has no literary aspirations? If it's going to be reviewed, the person reviewing still needs to be able to offer an informed, and well-formed, opinion. And the person should say whether or not the book is worth reading. (Chip MacGregor goes hard about Christian book reviews in this post at The Master's Artist. He's been a publisher, an author and now he's a literary agent -- he knows what he's talking about.)

Thanks to FIRST and CFBA I have the chance to get lots of free books, and it's tempting, but I haven't requested all the books featured in the tours. Sometimes they're books I'm not likely to read and it feels dishonest to ask a publicist to go to the expense and trouble of sending me the book. And I'm discovering that I'm kind of picky about what I read. And I'm not very dedicated to blogging about every book I read, so I tend to only write about the books I really like. Just as a movie reviewer has to see a lot of movies, whether he likes them or not, a book reviewer needs to read all kinds of books, whether he likes them or not. Well, I don't. And if a book doesn't keep me interested, I'll put it down and not return to it. And I'm not likely to write about it.

This is not to say that there aren't books I'm going to be writing about. (Ah, you say, here's where she doesn't apply her own rule to herself. Please bear with me.) I'm going to differentiate between what I do when I write about a book and an actual book review. Maybe the closest I've come to a real book review was a while back, when I wrote about Relentless. But even that was more recommending a book I really enjoyed. I just don't think my opinion should carry much weight -- I haven't earned it.

But, as I said, there are books I will write about. I read, I interact with what I read, and sometimes I write about it. There are writers whose books I've enjoyed in the last year or so and I know I'll want to read their next books. There are several I'm looking forward to: Chris Well, Robin Parrish and T.L. Hines all have books coming this spring and summer. Kathleen Popa's first novel will be out this spring, too. And Athol Dickson's new novel, The Cure, will be out this summer. Oh, so many books, so little time. I hope I'll be able to get some Q & A's with some of these authors (look for one with Chris Well sometime after the new year), too.

Maybe I've shot myself in the foot here, but maybe not. Not that many people will read this. You can say I offer book impressions, or reflections, or reactions, or recommendations. Just don't call me a book reviewer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Keeping the cliche out of Christmas

I have a suggestion: let's all try to keep the cliche out of Christmas.

I gave up most Christmas specials a long time ago. I prefer traditional Christmas carols, or Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas, to endless versions of "The Christmas Song" or "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I'm not a Scrooge or a Grinch -- I've just seen enough Christmases to recognize the variations on a theme. A few years ago I helped put together a sort of hybrid cantata for our choir. We used songs from different previously performed cantatas and I wrote the narration. I realized it's hard to come up with a compelling, somewhat original take on the Greatest Story Ever Told. (My version was called "The Unexpected Messiah." It was a bit too long, but it seemed to go over well.)

So last night my mom called and told me about the children's Christmas program at their church. She said it was a touching story and she really enjoyed it. I suppose I shouldn't be critical of something I haven't even seen, but when she described the storyline I couldn't help but think it was a story built up of one stereotype after another. There was the grumpy, grinchy mayor, the adorable children, the wealthy and busy couple with no grasp of the meaning of Christmas, and the sweet young Christian mother. Of course, these things are always more enjoyable when you know the people involved.

Here's what bugs me -- too often we frame the Christian understanding of Christmas as an us-versus-them story. We're the ones who know the truth and the ones who don't are the enemy. We get irate about businesses and organizations that go with the generic "Happy Holidays," instead of "Merry Christmas." We agitate for the public display of nativity scenes. I'm afraid that sometimes in the midst of all this activism, we lose sight of the real gift of Christmas: Jesus came to earth to live and die and rise again, so that all the world might be saved -- even those people who don't "get it."

I'd like to see a Christmas program that operated from that premise, instead of going with the ready cliche. It might be a less simplistic story, but it also might be more satisfying, and closer to the truth. Maybe I'll write it myself.

Monday, December 11, 2006

You can't make this stuff up ...

A gentleman called 911 to report a theft -- of marijuana. (from the Associated Press)

I have personality

Your Personality Profile

You are dependable, popular, and observant.
Deep and thoughtful, you are prone to moodiness.
In fact, your emotions tend to influence everything you do.

You are unique, creative, and expressive.
You don't mind waving your freak flag every once and a while.
And lucky for you, most people find your weird ways charming!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The popularity of small towns

I use StatCounter (it's free) for blog statistics and it's kind of fun to see what pages bring people to my blogs. This post about living in small towns brings a lot of searchers. And on my writing blog, the story I wrote a few years ago about community journalism is by far the most popular. Not sure why, except a lot of people are looking for ideas of what life is like in small towns.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lazy and critical

Yes, that's me. I've been a lazy blogger, which should be obvious from my lack of serious posting. Not that I haven't been thinking, but I haven't been writing much and I certainly haven't been blogging.

And do I actually have anything to say today? Not much, except I've been re-reading the Lord of the Rings. A couple of weeks ago, we watched The Fellowship of the Ring. The other day Bob was watching The Two Towers. We liked the movies a lot, but reading the books reminds me of some things about the movies that bother me. Some of it is the little details -- no Tom Bombadil, the compression of the storyline so that Frodo is heading out on his journey only weeks after Bilbo's party, some things like that. But what is bothering me more, which becomes more clear when I read the books again, is some fundamental issues. Such as, Aragorn was not that conflicted about returning to Gondor. He'd been waiting and watching for years -- decades -- for the time to be right for him to reclaim the throne. And Merry and Pippin are not nearly as inept and buffoonish as they are in the movies. Sure, they're young and somewhat foolish, but they're also a lot more capable (especially Merry) than the movies portray them.

OK, so who am I to criticize Peter Jackson? He got a lot about the Lord of the Rings right, especially the bond between Frodo and Sam. (But even that is hard to portray well in our day and age and in America, because we don't seem to understand the kind of loyalty and close friendship that men in a different age and a different place were able to express.) And I think the movies introduced a lot of people to the books who might not have read them before. It's hard to convey some of the nuances of the books in film, but there's an attitude, a way of looking at the world, that is present in the books that is missing from the movies.

Reading the books again is a good reminder to me of what a fantasy story can do -- how much depth of human experience it can explore, the kind of metaphors that are possible in fantasy. And walking with Frodo and Sam and the Fellowship reminds me of why I fell in love with the stories in the first place -- Middle Earth is a wonderful place to spend some time and I love hobbits.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

CFBA: Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum

This week the blog tour features R.K. Mortenson's newest Landon Snow adventure: Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum. If you haven't found this children's fantasy series, you need to. (Adults will enjoy the books, too.) I have this book sitting on my to-be-read pile, but as with the first two, everything about the book is inviting: the cover and paper and size make you want to sit down and start reading right away. Once again, Landon's journey starts in the Button Up (Minnesota) Library. The reader will find some familiar friends along for the adventure. You can find out more about Randy (R.K.) at Barbour's Web site for the book, too.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Random links

Here's some good stuff:

Check out the new Carnival of Christian Writers at Writer ... Interrupted. I've even got an entry in it. And of course, many wiser and better writers have entries, too.

Roy Peter Clark, in his Writing Tools column (at highlighted something interesting yesterday (but I just read it today): A graphic novel version of the 9/11 Commission report. You can read some of it here.

If you're involved in editing and publishing, you probably use InDesign (from Adobe). This fall I found a cool site called InDesign Secrets that helps you make the most of the software. And one of the neat things is they have a free plug-in for InDesign that brings a fresh tip to you every day when you start InDesign. I've found some truly helpful and time-saving tips since I installed the plug-in.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Eating and reading ...

Well, the eating was on Thanksgiving. It was a nice quiet day with my husband and sons. (My daughters spent Thanksgiving with other relatives.)

I also did some reading over the holiday. I read The Man with the Iron-on Badge, by Lee Goldberg. It's a fast, fun read, with interesting characters. When I finished it, I wanted more about Harvey Mapes and his girlfriend Carol.

Then I read Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. It's good -- I really enjoyed the story, the characters, the language. He's an excellent writer. The problem? Now I want to read more of his books, like I don't already have enough to read. Oh, well.

I didn't do much writing, but I have posted my December Notes from the Windowsill column: Gifts.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Really, that's all I have to say right now. Enjoy your day tomorrow, and take time to count your blessings. I won't be on the Internet much for the rest of the week, so I'll leave you with an article I wrote when I worked at The Daily Union -- a little piece about what I'm thankful for. I'm still thankful for all those things, so you can read it here.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

List 'o links

I've been thinking a lot about some things lately -- mostly related to how we filter things through our own personal lenses -- but my thoughts aren't very organized so I think I'll save that rambling for another time.

In the meantime, here's some interesting things:

NPR is asking writers questions in honor of National Novel Writing Month and their answers are here. I'm always interested in this kind of thing -- it's encouraging and inspirational.

Here's a cool Bible searching tool (thanks Megan): Biiible, for the Google search freak (and that's not a typo). Since I memorized a lot of Scripture in the KJV as a kid, a lot of times when I'm trying to think of a verse, it's the King James that I think of. This searches that version; it also has some other tools. Pretty nifty.

The American Press Institute has Copy Editing Tools. Handy tool.

Last weekend our church had a video marriage conference: Love and Respect. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs and his wife have written a book by that title, and they do marriage conferences. It's good, balanced Bible-centered teaching about marriage. It's also based on sound research. It's worth checking out.

If you'll notice, that little bar in the sidebar is slowly moving to the right -- I'm getting some writing done on The Man Who Saw Dragons. It's not going fast, but I got over a rough spot this weekend, so I'm making some progress. I doubt I'll make 50,000 words, but I always figure any word count is an accomplishment.

Friday, November 17, 2006

CFBA Tour: Scoop

This week's book is Scoop, by Rene Gutteridge, which I haven't had a chance to read. But you can find out a little more about it at the CFBA blog or by checking out Rene's Web site. I have to say, this looks intriguing since the main character is in a profession near to my heart -- journalism. (I have another book by Gutteridge in my to-be-read pile, though -- I won Boo from the Novel Journey October book contest. This is an author with a knack for one-word titles. And it also looks intriguing.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reflections on community journalism

I've been a journalist of some sort for almost 17 years -- ever since the day I walked into the office of the Clifton News-Tribune to pay for a classified ad and the publisher asked me if I could type. She needed some help and within a few weeks, I had a part-time job. I was five months pregnant with child No. 6, but that was not a deterrent. I could type and I could spell and that's what she needed.

In those 17 years, I've gotten to know some neat people -- journalists and journalism educators who believe that local newspapers are essential to healthy communities. And I have a special place in my heart for community newspapers -- weeklies and small dailies that publish all the news, from who came to dinner at Aunt Martha's last weekend to the big fire downtown to the antics of the local school board. I've said this before, so if you want to read it, it's here.

That essay has been reprinted in the last two editions of Jock Lauterer's defining text for community journalism. The latest edition is out now, published by the University of North Carolina Press, and it's called Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local. I got to see Jock last week when he came to K-State for a conference and he gave me a copy of the new edition -- very cool. And I'm even in the index. The book is full of stories and pictures about how small newspapers serve their communities. Jock is a great storyteller, by the way, and his book is a must-read for anyone involved in community journalism.

Seeing Jock last week is part of the reason behind the post, but I was also reminded of the importance of community newspapers because of the news from the Kansas Press Association that the long-time editor and publisher of the Marion County Record died this week. Bill Meyer was a giant in Kansas journalism and he'll be missed.

About a month ago, another important figure in Kansas journalism died: Marie Boyd, the widow of McDill "Huck" Boyd, who published the Phillips County Review and was Bob Dole's political mentor. When Huck died in the late 1980s his family helped found the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media, located in the School of Journalism here at K-State. I worked for the Huck Boyd Center as a grad student and after I finished my masters, and through that I got to know Marie a little. She was a great lady and played an important role in encouraging quality community journalism in Kansas.

Journalists don't get a lot of respect these days, and sometimes with good reason, but they play an important role in our communities and I just wanted to pay tribute a little to those efforts. Thanks, Jock, for encouraging community journalists. Bill and Marie, we miss you.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Addicted to love or something like it

(A while back I found my literary muse, Hank. He shows up every now and then, but I'm not sure he's much help. But then, how much should I expect from a figment of my imagination?)

"I'm a comment junkie."

Hank took my confession in a college-town coffee shop. He did not seem surprised. But he did study the froth on his cappucino with suspicion before answering me.

"I don't think milk should be made to do this," he said.

I rolled my eyes. I should have known better than to have him meet me here -- he's a Cozy burger and Sonic kind of guy. He spends a lot time in an aging RV plastered with bumper stickers for tacky tourist destinations. But one can't be choosy about one's literary muse. Besides, he's a figment of my imagination.

But figment or not, I needed to talk about this, so I approached the subject from a different angle.

"Did you see my last story in Infuze?"

"Of course. I think you submitted it before it was finished."

"Did you see the comments?"

"What comments?"

"Exactly. And it's bothering me a lot."

"It bothers you that no one commented on a story that probably wasn't your best work?"

"Actually, I think the fact that it bothers me is what's really bothering me."

Hank gave me a blank look. My husband gives me that look sometimes -- usually when I've taken a conversational left turn without signaling. Not a good sign.

"Look," I said. "I know I shouldn't be writing for the praise of men. But lets face it, if I didn't want people to read my stories, I wouldn't submit them. So I like to know that something in the story worked for someone. But when there are no comments or feedback of any kind, I don't know that. So it bums me out. And then I'm reminded that I shouldn't be so wrapped up in getting praise from others anyway. So that bugs me even more."

"I think in some circles the very fact that you've admitted you have a problem would be considered a good sign. But I'm not in those circles. You want me to be blunt or can I beat around the bush, like I usually do?"

"Be blunt. If I don't like your advice, I'll quit talking to you."

"Fair enough, though does that mean you'll quit talking to yourself? Never mind. I think part of your problem is that you're impatient. I think you sent that story before it was really ready. But even if it was the best you could do, your job is to write, not receive compliments. The writing life is full of disappointments and frustrations. You've read Bird by Bird, you've read On Writing. You know that even famous authors receive precious little feedback from readers. They write because they've got stories inside them that they want -- and need -- to tell. Nice words from readers are just a bonus."

"You're right, I know. I've always been a people-pleaser and it's hard to break out of that."

"You're a Christian, and you know the only audience that matters. Why don't you see what He says about your stories, instead of hanging around on the Internet looking for comments?"

"Yeah. But he knows even better than you do when I'm not doing my best."

"So what are you gonna do about that?"

"Write better. Be more patient. Push myself."

Hank started to get up to leave, his cappucino still untouched. "My work here is finished. You need to write a lot of words before November 30. Get busy."

I had one more question, though.

"Wait, I'm curious about something -- have you got a relative out in Oregon?"

"Yeah, a second cousin once removed or something, named after shrubbery. Weird kid. I stick to the Midwest, where people have normal names," he said. "And next time, let's meet at Sonic."

Friday, November 10, 2006

I'm a Mac ... er, uh Christ-follower

Here's something truly funny to start off your weekend. I came across this link to a series of little videos parodying the Mac vs. PC commercials. The twist? "I'm a Christian, I'm a Christ-follower." If you like a little gentle fun-poking at our Christian pretensions, you'll like these (there's 4 of them).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why free music is good

The record companies can fuss all they want about the Internet hurting their business, but here's a good reason why free -- and I mean free and legal -- music is a good thing (and might earn them money in the long run). I just listened to a truly rockin' concert by a couple of guys from Akron, Ohio -- the Black Keys. Oh. My. Goodness. Just a guy on a guitar and a guy on the drums and they are awesome -- good and loud blues rock. (From what I'm hearing even as I write this, the Black Angels are pretty awesome, too. They're a Texas band -- kind of psychedelic.)

And how did I acquire this cool free music and discover a new group to enjoy? From good old NPR. I found the NPR Live Concert Series and downloaded the recording of a concert by The Black Keys and the Black Angels at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. You can find it here. I'm not sure if they always make free downloads available, but other sessions of the concert series are available to listen to via streaming audio (you can choose your player -- RealPlayer or WindowsMedia).

So I've already found the Black Keys on iTunes and I will probably buy some of their albums some time in the future. Which means that this free concert has earned the group a new fan who will spend some of her limited music budget on their music.

CFBA Tour: The Cubicle Next Door

I've only just started reading The Cubicle Next Door, but already I can relate to the office dilemmas, especially in an academic setting. Even if you've never worked in a cubicle, or in the military, or at a university, I'm guessing you'll find something to enjoy in Siri Mitchell's book. If you're interested in a review by someone who's read it, check out Kevin's take at The Bookshelf Reviews. You can find more about The Cubicle Next Door by visiting the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance or clicking on the CFBA reviewer list in the sidebar.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Writers and editors on writing

Scot McKnight shares his insights into the writing life. Scot is a disciplined, and prolific, blogger and writer. He's got some good thoughts to share.

There's a good interview with Mick Silva at Into the Fire, in which he talks about his work, what he's looking for in writing, and other good and thought-provoking stuff.

It's Tuesday ...

Have you voted? This is not a political blog, but if you haven't exercised your right to vote, do it. I voted Saturday (advance voting is available in Kansas). It's been one of the ugliest campaign seasons I've ever seen in Kansas, especially in the Attorney General's race, but it will soon be over. If you want to know what's been happening in Kansas, here's a recap.

But November means something else, too. College basketball. Yay! The Wichita Eagle has a nice preview package today. There's some good basketball in this state, which is only fitting since the first basketball coach at KU was James Naismith himself. (He was also the only coach at KU to have a losing record, but that's not talked about much. Apparently he considered basketball more of a character-building experience, and nothing builds character like losing. His successor, Phog Allen, changed that a bit.)

And since November is also National Novel Writing Month, I'll have a bit of a dilemma tonight -- watching KU or writing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday news and views

(I really have to come up with some better kind of title)

It's Friday, which means that when I go home tonight I can really push on my novel for NaNo. You may notice the little guy in the sidebar on the right. Whenever I update my word count at the NaNoWriMo site, you'll see that little word count meter move. So far, I've written almost 4,000 words in two days -- not bad, but I hope to really boost that count by Monday. My novel is tentatively titled The Man Who Saw Dragons. If that sounds suspiciously like a story I wrote this past summer, there's a reason. I've posted an excerpt in my profile at NaNo.

But I'm also toying with other ideas to work on after this month is over. Because Dave has announced another Faith in Fiction story contest, and this one has a great first prize: publication in Relief and $250. Runner-ups get posted at Faith in Fiction, which isn't bad, either. If you've ever thought about entering a story in a contest, this is good one. Even if you think you have no chance of winning, it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I actually sound like I know what I'm talking about ...

Which is pretty hilarious, since I don't. I'm referring to the Q&A Chris Well did with me back in the summer. It's now posted here, and he even links to my vast body of work. (feel free to leave snarky comments below)

But even better, Infuze has an interview with Lisa Samson, who really does know what she's talking about. Great, honest talk about writing and life. Check it out.

More true words from Lisa: A Theology of Comfort, Detrimental to the Christian Artist, at the Master's Artist.

FIRST: Coldwater Revival

(Thanks to the FIRST coordinator for providing the author interview and images.)

It is November 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature author is:

Just three weeks before her wedding, Emma Grace Falin has returned to her hometown of Coldwater, Texas, consumed by a single, burning desire. She must confront the guilt and shame of a devastating event that has haunted her since childhood.

"...What a stunning debut novel."
--Wendy Lawton, Literary Agent, author of Impressions in Clay

"An astonishing debut! Coldwater Revival is a hauntingly beautiful story made doubly so by Nancy Jo Jenkins stunning, lyrical writing. I was mesmerized from cover to cover."
--Deborah Raney, author of A Nest of Sparrows and A Vow to Cherish


Q. How long did it take you to write Coldwater Revival?

A. I perceived the idea for Coldwater Revival in June, 2003, and completed the manuscript in March, 2005.

Q. Tell us about your journey from writer to published novelist.

A. During my teaching career, I dreamed of the day when I could write the stories that continually swam around in my head. I didn't know at the time that it would take me four or five years of attending workshops, conferences, retreats, lectures, and of studying tapes, books and other materials before I was ready to put my newly-acquired knowledge to use, and begin writing the stories that God had prompted me to write. In March, 2004, at the Mount Hermon Christian Writing Conference, I submitted a book proposal to Steve Laube (Literary agent), and Jeff Dunn, (Acquisitions Editor) for RiverOak. Both gentlemen asked me to send them all I had written on Coldwater Revival, which at the time was 109 pages. During the summer of 2004, both men offered me a contract. My book was published by RiverOak and released in May, 2006.

Q. The agony and healing Emma Grace went through are so real. What personal experiences did you draw from to portray Emma Grace's feelings so well?

A. There was a time in my life when I suffered with depression, though it was not due to a death in the family, as Emma Grace's was. At the time, it seemed that I was in a daily knock-down, drag-out fistfight with sadness. I was truly blessed in that I was never prescribed any kind of medication to treat my depression, which proved to be relatively short-lived. But I did receive counseling, which was just what I needed to win the battle with this debilitating condition. During that time of depression I endured many of the symptoms that Emma Grace suffered through. Excessive sleeping was about the only symptom we did not share. There were times when I couldn't swallow my food, and times when I could almost touch the face of that same blackness that almost overwhelmed Emma Grace. Her sorrow and guilt were difficult scenes for me to write, and I found myself crying each time I wrote about Emma Grace's sadness and the continual ache in her heart.

Q. Emma Grace loses all desire for life when her brother dies - not eating or talking, just living in the blissful cocoon of sleep. Do you have any advice for folks who are in that dark place right now?

A. Communication was the key that unlocked the door of depression for me. Communicate with God, even if the only words you can utter are the words, "Help me." But I also benefited greatly from talking to a certified counselor; one who was trained in helping people express their pain, their needs, their fears. I hope that anyone who feels sad and lonely for an extended length of time, will contact their pastor, or someone who can direct them to a Christian counselor.

Q. Emma Grace's grandmother lives in the city while the rest of the family lives in the country. Why do you think she didn't move out to the country with the rest of the family long ago?

A. Granny Falin immigrated from Ireland to America with her husband and son when Emma Grace's papa was just a lad. This family shared a dream about their new country. It would be a place where they could find work and prosperity, raise their family, and put down roots. Even the Great Hurricane of 1900 couldn't wash those dreams from Granny's heart. Though her only remaining child lived a hundred miles away in the rural township of Coldwater, Texas, Granny could never leave Galveston. The island and the sea that surrounded the island were her home now. It was where the ashes of her husband and three children were buried. It was the home she and her husband had dreamed of during their desperate years together in Ireland. If she left Galveston and moved to Roan's home, she would be giving up the dream she had shared with her husband.

Q. Papa and Elo have a tough time showing their emotions. Elo, especially, is so hard to read in the book. Why do you think some people hole up inside themselves rather than sharing their emotions?

A. I believe we are born with a portion of our personality already deeply embedded within us. Some people are reticent to express their feelings and emotions, while others have no problem whatsoever in expressing what they feel or think. I have known many individuals who are like Elo; people we sometimes refer to as "the strong, silent type". Papa and Elo are powerful protectors and providers who waste little time and effort on words. Both of these men feel that "actions speak louder than words". Added to that is the fact that Elo feels extreme discomfort when his mother and sisters are emotionally distraught, therefore, he maintains a rigid demeanor, in part, to provide a stable link in the chain that makes up his family - The Falins.

Q. Do you have other books coming out soon?

A. Thank you for asking about my upcoming books. I'm about to submit my proposal for a novel entitileld, "Whisper Mountain". This story takes place in the early 1900's in the Great Smoky Mountains. It is the story about lost love, and a desperate woman's journey to fill the void that deprivation and loss have left in her heart. The story has elements of mystery, intrigue, murder, and of course, romance. I'm very excited about this story. I've also begun writing a sequel to "Coldwater Revival" which will parallel both Emma Grace's life after 1933, and the adventurous trek Elo begins when he falls in love.

Coldwater Revival


Coldwater, Texas

Three weeks before I was to marry Gavin O'Donnell, I set my feet upon the beaten path leading to Two-Toe Creek. What I had to offer Gavin in marriage—my whole heart, or just a part—depended on the
decision I would make today.

As my feet tracked the dusty pathway they stirred loose soil to the air. My heart stirred as well, for the guilt I had buried in its depths smoldered as though my brother had just died, and not five years earlier. In the shadowed days following the tragedy, my disgrace had glared like a packet of shiny new buttons. I'd not thought to hide it at the time. In truth, I'd thought of little, other than how to survive. But at some point during that time of sorrowful existence, when my days and nights strung together like endless telegraph wires, I dug a trench around my heart and buried my shame.

From that day until this, I deeded myself the actor's role, closing the curtain on my stain of bitter memories, hiding my sorrow behind a veil of pretense. But that old deceiver, Time, had neither softened my guilt nor put it to rest; only allowed it ample pause to fester like deadly gangrene. Now, as the day of my wedding drew near, my heart cried out for healing. It was, you see, far wiser than my head. My heart understood its need for restoration—before I exchanged wedding vows with Gavin. For this reason, I now walked the trail to Two-Toe Creek. To revisit my failures of yesteryear and reclaim the peace that had slipped past the portals of my childhood. Perhaps then I could give Gavin the entirety of my heart.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Making up for lost time ...

Not me, Adam Caldwell, who finds himself in a bit of a predicament. And what, you ask, am I talking about? Making up for Lost Time at Infuze! Check it out and let me know what you think.

By the way, you don't have to be registered to read Infuze now. So what are you waiting for?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday news and views

First of all, I had a great weekend with Megan at home. And she got the whole home church experience -- a fall cookout and bonfire at one of the member's homes on Saturday night, and a potluck dinner at church on Sunday. We are a church that knows how to cook -- and eat. Very fun.

Mir rants so much better than me, so I'll direct you to her comments on Angelica Magazine. And yes, she mentions the fact that I had a story accepted, but since I never signed a contract, never received a check and haven't heard much from them, I haven't given it a lot of thought. The editor actually asked to use the first story I had published in Infuze, so I didn't go through the submission process; I worked with a freelance editor on a revision, which I turned in about a year ago. The editor and the freelancer I worked with were nice but I have no idea what's holding up the magazine's publication -- updates would have been nice. Publishing a new magazine is such an iffy venture, I guess I was a little skeptical of actually seeing a copy.

On the other hand, my experience with Dragons, Knights and Angels was completely professional. They sent a contract, they sent a check, they published the story when they said they would. If you write Christian speculative fiction, give it a try.

Speaking of DKA, they've announced the winners of their first poetry contest and Chris placed third. Way to go!

Finally, I've posted my November newsletter column: We Are Not Alone.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the diluting of testosterone

Weird title, I know. It refers to the fact that my life is very full of boys -- whom I love -- but this weekend I get to hang out with my girls for a change. Megan is flying into KC and I'm going to see her and Julia tomorrow, then Megan will be at our house for the weekend. I'm looking forward to having another girl around. (That's me and my girls on the right.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tuesday news and views

One of the cool things about this blog thing is that I've gotten to know some neat people online. One of them is Chris -- critique partner, Funny Farm solver extraordinaire, Kanner Lake blogger, and now radio star. Chris was interviewed last night on Art Hustle, a radio program from the U of O and he's posted his impressions and link to the broadcast. Fun stuff.

Books that matter to readers: Mary Demuth and various commenters on the books that made a difference for them. Something about lists like this always inspire a similar response, such as Mark's. After reading all these suggestions I've discovered even more books I want to read!

Jordon Cooper posted this list (with a link to where it came from, which is also interesting) of what an apprentice of Jesus looks like. Challenging and interesting.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday news and views

(someday I've got to figure out a more interesting title for this type of thing)

Good reading today:
Who's to Judge at the Master's Artist, in which Mark Bertrand offers up a fresh reading of Phil. 4:8. Excellent.
Mick Silva is moving Toward a Definition of Christian Literature. Also excellent.
Ashangel, a story by Robert W. Hegwood at Infuze. This is a really beautiful story, and guess what -- you don't have to be registered to read at Infuze anymore. They've opened up their content to everyone. But you can still register to receive their weekly newsletter. There's a lot of great stuff at Infuze, so check it out.

Techy tip:
I installed a new extension for Firefox yesterday: Tab Mix Plus. This is very cool. It gives you close tab buttons for each tab, as well as a lot of other features for managing your tabs.
I loaded up another extension for Firefox, too: Tab Preview. It does exactly what it says -- mouse over a tab that's not your current window and it previews that page. Very cool.
One the great things about Firefox is the way you can add features through extensions. I probably get a little crazy with this, but there's a lot of neat things available. I use Firefox more than any other browser, even Safari, and this is part of the reason why.

A grammar hint:
A while back I wrote a grammar hint about semicolons for the ACE Writing SIG (special interest group). It is posted, at last. You can check out the archived grammar hints (the link is at the bottom of the page) for more grammar goodies. I did one last year about 'all right.'

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cat people run in the family

Sometimes I think Megan and I are so much alike it's not even funny. Evidence:
You Are: 40% Dog, 60% Cat

You and cats have a lot in common.
You're both smart and in charge - with a good amount of attitude.
However, you do have a very playful side that occasionally comes out!

She, too, is 60 percent cat, 40 percent dog. (Though it shouldn't be surprising since our family has had way more cats than dogs.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Don't mourn the demise of books just yet

I'm still catching up with e-mail from the last few days, so I just read David Pogue's article in the New York Times last week about the Sony Reader. It sounds like a nifty gadget, but still too pricey for me. Still, it's a fascinating idea. As the technology improves and the price comes down, I could imagine using an e-book, especially while traveling. I always take way too much reading material when I travel. I guess I have a horror of being stuck in an airport or someplace and running out of something to read. So I always have a couple of magazines (meaty magazines, like the Atlantic Monthly, that take a long time to read) and a couple of books besides my Bible. The downside of this approach is that my luggage is awfully heavy. So this gadget could come in handy someday.

Speaking of books, Katy has found a very nifty thing: Shelfari. It's sort of the social networking answer to letting your friends browse your bookshelves. I may just have to do this, too.

As you may have noticed, I'm sharing my music, sort of. I finally posted a chart from my profile that shows what I'm listening to. But since I'm only on a computer connected to the Internet from roughly 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, if you look at this blog at other times the chart will not be updated. Oh well.

My brother Jim and I have been playing a maddening little game online: Funny Farm. It's a word association game and it looks pretty easy, but it gets hard really fast. It allows collaboration and we've made some progress, but it's slow going. Anyone think they want to give it a try? Leave a comment or e-mail me and I'll explain it to you.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday news and views

If you've wondered where I've been, I was coordinator for an area women's retreat and it was this past weekend. We had a good weekend -- our speaker and worship leader was Ginger Millermon, who is a singer and speaker. She did a great job. Her message and music is very down-to-earth and I think a lot of us were touched and challenged. Still, I've relieved that this year's retreat is over. Being in charge of this thing is hard for me and I've wrestled with it a lot this year.

I have a new favorite album: The Chess Hotel, by The Elms. This is the best straight-up rock-n-roll I've heard in ages. I can see why this CD has gotten great reviews. I love this kind of stuff. It would be great to listen to in the car, turned up loud, with the windows down.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Good interview

CJ Darlington did a nice interview with Chris Well over at TitleTrakk ( a new site that features the latest in Christian books and music). Chris talks about his influences and interests and even includes a teaser for his next book, Kingdom Come.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

So much music ...

Infuze has an interview with an artist I hadn't heard of before, Dave Barnes. So I read it, thought he sounded cool, checked out his MySpace page and now I'm hooked. Very cool music.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The clan gathers ...

That's what Mir says, at least. And where would this gathering be, you ask? Why in the Faith in Fiction forum at NaNoWriMo. Technically speaking, I'm not writing something new. But I figure I'll hang out and be a cheerleader and work on revising Secrets in Connors Grove, like I've been planning to do for the last year or so. I've even put up the nifty little logo (and I mean the smallest one).

If you have a novel bursting from your imagination, maybe you should join. Head to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and register. The actual writing starts in November, and the goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. I only did about half that, but I did write those words faster than I usually do. So I'm hoping the motivation will help me push harder on the revision. I might even set myself some kind of revision schedule.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Testimony: God does not leave you alone

Our pastors have been preaching a series of sermons (actually multiple series of sermons) to help our congregation learn to be responsive to God's call in our lives and to help us bear fruit in the community. Our church is growing -- today Pastor David said we've had 90 new people become involved in our church in the last year -- and we are experiencing some growing pains. But the growth has been because of good things, not just a drive for numbers. People are coming to faith and bringing their friends and family and coworkers. This is exciting, as well as a little scary, as we look for ways to minister effectively.

Today's sermon was about the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 16-20). It occured to me that, though I talk about my faith here, I've never been very systematic about it. I'll be honest and admit that I've never been very bold about sharing the Gospel. I try to live my faith, and I think most people around me know I'm a Christian, but I've never been comfortable with the methods of evangelism I was taught years ago -- methods which involved walking up to total strangers or knocking on doors and handing out tracts and asking people if they've ever accepted Christ. But in the sermon today, Pastor David emphasized the importance of knowing your testimony and being able to share it when the opportunity arises. And I decided that, though most of the people who read this are Christians, maybe I should write my testimony and post it here. So here goes.

First of all, I'll warn you, it's not a dramatic testimony. I remember sitting around the campfire as a kid at church camp and hearing testimonies that would curl your hair -- testimonies about deliverance from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and lots of other bad (but exciting) stuff. I lived a sheltered life and for a long time I didn't think I even had much of a testimony. But, boring life or not, God was at work. That's one of the great things about God, he loves me even though I'm boring. I was raised in a Christian family -- my father was a minister and my mom stayed at home, but she also spent a lot of time doing church work. I accepted Christ and was baptized when I was 10 years old. We had a revival meeting that week and the preacher painted a vivid picture of Christ on the cross -- I realized my need for salvation and went forward one night. The next evening, my dad baptized me. I figured I was set for eternity. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

In the years since, I've begun to learn what it means to walk with Christ. Among those things I've learned is that I'm a sinner saved by grace. Sure I knew that on some level when I was baptized, but I didn't really think I was a sinner. I was a good kid. And I pretty much stayed a good kid, at least on the outside. All the rebellion was on the inside, and it took me a long time to realize how that was just as much sin as if I'd rebelled in some of the more obvious ways. And then it took me a long time to understand that God still forgives me and loves me, even though I don't deserve it. I've learned that being resistant to grace is a pride issue. To accept grace, to accept that God has wiped the slate clean for me, is to accept that I have no power to be good enough on my own; that if I keep trying to be good enough on my own, I'll only make a mess of things. It means giving up myself. But it also means I have help, because that's what God has promised.

I've been in Bible studies with people who really struggle with how God is at work in the world -- why do prayers go unanswered, how can a good and loving God allow some of the horrible things that happen, is God really at work in our lives? And I don't know how to answer those questions, because I ask them, too. But I know that the world is not as it is meant to be and I believe that in his time God will right the wrongs. In the meantime, I have seen how he is at work, at least in my life. I've experienced some long dry spells in my faith, times when I didn't really feel God's presence, though I continued to go to church and tried to be faithful. I didn't see a lot of answer to prayer -- at least not the answers I wanted. I struggled with depression and feelings of worthlessness. But I can see now how God was at work, teaching me and molding me and I was never left alone. I think my experience helps me understand when other people are going through such times, and maybe I can be an encouragement.

And maybe this is what my testimony really is -- that God does not leave you alone. He probably won't give you everything you want, and he probably won't take away your problems, and he'll let you suffer the consequences of your sin, but he is there. Part of learning that was learning to trust God, to give him my burdens and quit trying to carry them on my own -- all my worries about money, my fears of failure, my struggles with obedience and self-discipline, my self-righteous and judgmental nature -- I can't deal with any of these things on my own. But now I understand I don't have to. I've also learned to see the blessings in each day and to be thankful.

God told the ancient Israelites to pile up rocks at places where he had done something significant. That way, when they were walking along with their children and the kids would ask, "What's that pile of rocks for?" the fathers could say, "This is where God brought us through the Jordan River on dry land," or "This where God gave us the victory." These places are called ebenezers (that's what the word refers to in the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -- it says "here I raise my ebenezer"). I haven't piled up stones around town or at every place along US 36 where I've had car trouble and the right person came along to help, but in my memory I can look back and see the places where God was at work, even if I didn't recognize it at the time.

And now, when I feel discouraged or anxious, I know where to turn and it doesn't take me so long to do it. I know I can trust God to be at work and that whatever the circumstances, I am not alone.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Blog Tour: Dark Hour

This week has been a bit of a blog blitz for Dark Hour, by Ginger Garrett, with the FIRST tour earlier this week and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance Tour the rest of the week. I didn't get the first chapter posted, but you can read it here. The novel looks into the Biblical story of Jezebel's daughter and her attempts to destroy King David's descendants. (I haven't had the chance to read it yet.) You can find an interview with Ginger at the CFBA blog. And, of course, you can find out more about the author at her Web site.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Breaking the Rules: A Prayer for Owen Meany

One of the rules that experienced writers tell beginning writers is to avoid weighing down your novel at the beginning with a lot of backstory. I know there are good reasons for this rule -- the temptation is to tell everything you know about your characters and their lives before you even get into the story. But I was reminded of this over the weekend when I started reading a book that pretty much breaks this rule -- and I like the book, so I'm not being unkindly critical. And then I realized that a lot of my favorite books break this rule: To Kill a Mockingbird, Peace Like a River, Gilead, for example. And now add to that list, A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

Like Harper Lee does at the start of Mockingbird, at least a little bit, Irving starts his novel with some stage-setting, some family history, some community history. He's divided the novel up into a few very long chapters, so you're well into the book before a key life-changing incident occurs. But far from being bored by the meandering path of the story, I was completely hooked. I'd fallen in love with the characters and the town and was not the least bit bored. I like a story that takes its time -- Owen Meany certainly takes its time. But there's a purpose here, I think. The story is circling around some recurring themes and gradually building on them. I'm about a third of the way through now and John and Owen are still 11. That's OK -- I'm willing to see where the story takes me.

I've noticed a few other things, such as Irving's writerly quirks. We all have them and I think in small doses they help distinguish one individual's writing from another. But it's hard to keep them from becoming annoying. Irving has one quirk that bugs me -- his use of the dash seems pretty random. I know what you're thinking: here's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I abuse that form of punctuation, too, but I think I use the dash correctly most of the time. I do wonder if Irving's editor went easy on him, at least with regard to his use of the dash. And even though I said I like a story that takes its time, I do think this novel could have been a bit tighter. And the brief interludes in Toronto, set in 1987, are rather jarring. When the book was published in 1989, they might have been more effective, but in 2006 a character's ranting about Ronald Reagan seems pretty dated. For me, the 'present-day' interludes disturb the timeless aspects of the story. But I'm not trained in literary criticism and I'm not a best-selling author, so maybe it's cheeky of me to even mention it.

But even with these few imperfections (at least in my eyes) I'm enjoying the book a lot. Owen Meany is a great character, I love the gradual unfolding of the story, and the quirky prose is engaging. I'll wait to talk about the themes until I finish it -- there's a lot of stuff going on and I'm not sure how it's going to resolve.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Good writing as miracle

I've been reading The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda. It's excellent. Here's a selection from ch. 2 about what writing is and the reader's role:

Everybody who writes is engaged in the remarkable enterprise of making consciousness manifest — catching the slipperiest of substance, a thought, and nailing it to a page. It is amazing, when you think about it, that people should even try to do such a thing; that theywould occasionally succeed, nearly miraculous. And indeed, there is something spiritual about the act of writing. When it's done in a slovenly manner or in bad faith, it seems somehow sacrilegious. When it's done well we should stand back and regard it with a kind of reverence.

Writing is also alone in the level of mediation it requires its consumers to make. … A film, a play, a painting, or a piece of music can wash over you and at least make you wet, so to speak, but you can't receive a piece of writing passively; it requires work, an act of translation called reading.

Happy Birthday

Very early this morning (at 2:44 a.m. to be precise) my daughter Megan turned exactly 24 years old. I didn't call her, though over the years I've been tempted to wake her up at the time when she made her first appearance in the world. Actually, she started making herself known several months before -- she was a strong kicker.

I could tell lots of Megan stories, but she'd probably be embarrassed, so I'll leave you with something that's probably just as embarrassing -- a couple of pictures.

I think she's about 3 in this picture -- she's handing around gifts at a bridal shower.

And this one was taken this summer, along Lake Michigan at Kenosha, Wis. That's her cousin Aidan with her. (My nephews adore her.) (Fixed because I misspelled his name earlier)

Megan lives in Chicago now and works for North Park University, in the communications office. She's also taking seminary classes and volunteers with the youth group at my brother's church. God is going to do cool stuff with this young woman and we're very proud of her.

Happy Birthday, Megan!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday news and views

The annual conference is over and our presentation about copyright and plagiarism went well. I think we may get something we can present at next year's ACE conference out of this. We had a lot of good discussion.

I've done some catching up with my reading and here's some things worth reading, mostly on the theme of excellence:

Dick Staub answers his critics about his views on a recently-released movie.

Mick is once again taking on low quality in CBA.

(added later) I just saw Mark's post on a similar theme, today. He offers a good, balanced perspective on encouraging quality in our art without tearing down the artist.

Mark talks about craft and genre.

Richard Dansky talks about genre and literary criticism.

Infuze has a great interview with Andrew Beaujon, who wrote one of my favorite books of the year, Body Piercing Saved My Life.

Christian Music Today has an excellent commentary about worship by Matthew Ward. His point is that we need to remember where our worship should be focused, and that we worship as a community. I remember seeing Second Chapter of Acts a couple of times in the early 1980s (the group Ward was in with his sisters Annie Herring and Nellie Ward) and both times were an amazing worship experience, in all the ways he talks about in this excerpt from his book.

Finally, I've posted my October column: Seek His Presence. The women of our church had a prayer retreat a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me of how much I need to do this. We're also going to start a 24/7 prayer room. God is calling his people to pray.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blog Tour: Violet Dawn

Brandilyn Collins has kept readers on the edge of their seats or up at night with suspense novels such as Web of Lies and Dead of Night. Now she's unveiled a new series beginning with Violet Dawn, set in Kanner Lake, Idaho. I didn't get my name in for a copy, so I haven't read it yet, but it sounds fascinating. You can read a review at the CFBA blog. But why only settle for a review when you can get to know the characters? Visit the Scenes and Beans blog, where a gaggle of bloggers have been writing the parts of the characters in Kanner Lake. Brandilyn set this up a few months ago, auditioned writers and now they're busy blogging away. It's a cool way to build interest in the stories, though the blog is peripheral to the novels. And of course, you can get to know Brandilyn through her own blog, Forensics and Faith. Her enthusiasm and knowledge of the craft shine through, along with her heart for helping other writers.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monty Python meets Halo

I don't do this very often, but I have teenage sons so maybe that explains why I think this is funny. (found via)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hey, I'm not as lazy as I thought!

You Are 24% Slacker

You have a few slacker tendencies, but overall you tend not to slack.
You know how to relax when the time is right, but you aren't lazy!
Are You a Slacker?

But Megan is even less of a slacker than I am.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Do you have a reader?

I was reminded this week about how great it is to have a reader. I'm not talking about people who read things that have already been published (though that's great, too). I'm talking about someone who is glad that you're writing and wants to read your work. I have a friend who likes to read my stories. She's not a writer, herself, though she's an avid reader. And Wednesday night at dinner at church she asked me if I had anything else for her to read. That did my heart good. She listened with interest as I described what I've been writing and I promised to give her copies of a couple of stories.

Stephen King says, in his book On Writing, that a writer should have a reader in mind while writing. His ideal reader is his wife, who is another writer. But it doesn't have to be another writer. It just needs to be a reader. I think there are advantages to having a reader who isn't related to you. I think that person has a little more distance and can maybe be a little more objective. But I'm not sure there has to be a lot of objectivity, just a love of reading and a willingness to say "This worked" or "This didn't work." My friend read my novel and gave me some very good feedback about what she liked and what she thought was missing. She's read some of my stories, too. So now I'll see what she says about the two I sent her the other day.

In a totally unrelated matter, I know that one of the cardinal rules of blogging is to post regularly. I've been breaking that rule lately -- between the trip to Iowa and a big job to get done this week (a job that came to me on Tuesday!) I haven't posted much. It may not improve a whole lot during the next week or so, since we have the K-State Research & Extension annual conference this week and my boss and a co-worker and I are presenting a workshop about copyright and plagiarism. But I'll try to post a couple of times.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Still here

No I haven't given up blogging, but I was gone part of the week last week and when I got back I had a bunch of stuff to do. So I just put off blogging for a few more days. But now I'm back. Not that I have anything amazing to say, but I've found a few things of interest.

I went to my local library Saturday and checked out a book by Simon Winchester called The River at the Center of the World. It's about the Yangtze River in China. So far, it's pretty good. It combines several things I like in a travel book: a leisurely pace, a sense of the place and its people, an engaging narrator with an openness to what the experience will bring. The first book by Winchester that I read was his excellent book about the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman. I think I'm going to enjoy this one, too.

I also bought a book this weekend: The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda. Yagoda talks to writers about style and voice and so far it's good.

There's some good quotes over at The Mechanic & the Muse (Chip Scanlon, of the Poynter Institue, writes about writing here). Since there are several things, I'd just suggest you scroll down page and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday news and views

Today may be the only day I post this week -- later this morning some of my coworkers and I head out for Iowa State to visit our counterparts there.

But here's something encouraging to read: Mary DeMuth posts at The Master's Artist about how To Kill a Mockingbird came to be. It's one of my favorite books and I think I always assumed it was brilliant from the start, but it took years -- really, years -- of work before it was published. Good stuff.

Have a great week, folks.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday news and views

I've been trying to do a little updating around the blogs and I posted the current version of the first few chapters of Secrets in Connors Grove over at my writing blog (creatively named Lindaruth's Writing). Feel free to check it out and leave a comment. I want to return to revising it, after I finish a story I'm working on.

I think every time the 'edgy' or 'not safe' debate makes the rounds of the Christian writers blogs I read, it develops a little more, or becomes more clear. Mick Silva posted his latest "Reality Check" and it's about writing "safe books." Today, Mark has reposted his column "Safe or Good?". And, related, is this post at Faith in Fiction: "Violence in Christian Fiction." However you feel about what writers who are Christians should write about, and how they should write about it, it's important to think about these issues. It's also important to recognize that many will hold different opinions and it doesn't mean they're somehow lacking as Christians. (Consider this Linda's customary admonition to play nice.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Writing like a rock star

Writing wisdom from Gilby Clark, on Rockstar: Supernova: You don't have to be so specific, be more universal. Don't explain too much.

Writing wisdom from Hugh (aka Mike Snyder): "Just forget all that stuff and write, man."

Free Derek Webb. Really. Read about what he's doing with his music and download Mockingbird. I already did and it's very good.

What I'm listening to (via When I figure out how to make the code work, I can have a list of what I'm listening to show up on my blog, but it never seemed to work right yesterday.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I went to CD Tradepost (motto: Where Being Used Is a Good Thing) yesterday and hit the jackpot. They had VHS tapes for $2 each and I scored some classic Star Trek episodes: The Trouble with Tribbles, The City on the Edge of Forever, A Piece of the Action, I Mudd, and (in a 2 episode tape) Amok Time and This Side of Paradise. S0 last night I fired up the used VCR we got a garage sale this summer and watched some Star Trek. Good times. I may have to see how long this sale lasts and get some more episodes.

I also found three cds by The Choir, including their live album Let it Fly. Very fun. And I found a cd I'd listened to in Julia's car -- Consent to Treatment by Blue October. This is one of their older cds I think, but I really like it. Good hard-driving rock with some blues and other elements thrown in. If you look at the lyrics without hearing the songs (or look at the weird album art) you might think this would be a real bummer of an album -- many of the songs are about struggles with addiction and recovery, mental illness, broken relationships (and include some gritty language) -- but you would be wrong. There's a lot of hope here and the tunes are surprisingly melodic and catchy. They've got a new cd out, too, that sounds interesting. Blue October is probably not the most radio-friendly band, but to me that's a point in their favor.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Read Relentless

I finished Relentless last night. I hadn't really intended to stay up past midnight reading, but I couldn't put it down. It's a very good book, and Robin Parrish does a lot of things right with it. I'm not sure it falls entirely in the thriller genre -- it could also be called speculative fiction. But however you classify it, it works well on several levels.

First, here's a quick plot summary: An ordinary man suddenly discovers he's been shifted into someone else's body. Not only that, he's got a new name (Grant Borrows), a new apartment, a cool car, some incredible and hard-to-grasp abilities, and some very bad people after him. As Grant learns more about what's happened to him, he finds others like him, as well as some other unexpected help along the way. And he learns that somehow what has happened to him is tied up with an ancient prophecy and a mysterious and secretive organization. Before the end, Grant's life -- and maybe the fate of the world -- will be changed forever.

So, to start with, it's a rousing good story. It really doesn't let up. Sometimes that's not a good thing, but there are enough breaks in the pace to give the reader a chance to catch her breath; and here, the pace of the story seems a function of the plot. Grant Borrows is rushing headlong from one crisis to the next and there's a reason for that, but the full implications don't become clear until the end. There are a lot of surprises along the way -- it's a good idea to remember that much here is not what it seems at first.

As I've said before, I get pulled into a book by the characters. The pace of a book like this doesn't always allow for good character development, but for the most part, Parrish has done a good job. Some of the supporting characters are a little thin, but the main characters are strong and distinct. What I said about the plot above holds true for the characters -- some important characters are not what they seem at first.

But the main reason why I like this book so much is the way it resonates at a deeper level. As Grant's story unfolds, he is forced to come to terms with who he is deep inside; questions are asked and not all of them are answered completely. And, what is probably more surprising about this story than the plot, it's been written from deep within a Christian worldview, but without even mentioning Christianity. I haven't read a lot of Christian speculative fiction, but Parrish seems to be breaking new ground. He's framed the story in modern mythic terms -- the language and conventions of graphic novels and comic books -- but it's no less epic than The Lord of the Rings. (OK, maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, but the story really has an epic feel to it.) Parrish's influences show clearly in the book, but it doesn't feel derivative to me.

One of the challenges for Christian writers is to tell stories infused with faith, but without preaching. Robin Parrish does that here, wonderfully. The story deals with the eternal battle of good and evil (the only Scripture he quotes is from Ezekiel, about Satan being cast out from Heaven), but it also deals with what it's like to live in a fallen world, to deal with the brokenness around you and within you on a daily basis. That's something I want to be able to do, so maybe that's why I'm so excited about what Parrish has done here.

Reading through what I've written so far, I see I've been quite fulsome with my praise. So I suppose a little balance is in order. It's not a perfect book (are there any?). Especially near the end, it feels a little rushed. Sometimes the revelations that help Grant add another piece to the puzzle of his life seem to come at awfully convenient times. There's one subplot that could have been developed a little better. And, like a lot of fast-paced books, the romantic elements seem a little strained, but the blood flows freely. There's a lot of violence, but it doesn't seem gratuitous, and it's handled tastefully. If there's a guy coming after you with a sword, heads are likely to roll (literally). And violence isn't always the option chosen. But overall, this is a well-told story and I recommend it.

And did I say this is the first of a series of three? The next one comes out next summer -- I'm looking forward to it. Want to know more about the book, the series and the author? Here's Robin Parrish's Web site.

I've gotta say, this is one of my favorite books so far this year. Back in January, I said I was looking forward to three books: Deliver Us From Evelyn, Waking Lazarus and Relentless. Now I've read all three and not been disappointed. I don't think you would be, either.

FIRST Day Tour: Squat by Taylor Field

It is September 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature author is:
Taylor Field

"We live in a squat. We don't know squat. We don't have squat. We don't do squat. We don't give a squat. People say we're not worth squat."

Taylor Field has worked since 1986 in the inner city of New York where he is pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church/Graffiti Community Ministries. He holds a M.Div. from Princeton and Ph.D. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his previous books is the award-winning Mercy Streets. Field and his family live in New York, New York.

If you want to know more, please visit The SQUAT Website!

To order Squat, click HERE.

Author interview contact is Andrea Irwin at Broadman & Holman.

Please Note:

All author proceeds from Squat will go to Graffiti Community Ministries, Inc., a service arm of the East Seventh Street Baptist Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Field preaches.

Back Cover Copy:

In the shadow of Wall Street's wealth, homeless citizens with names like Squid, Saw, and Bonehead live in abandoned buildings known as "squats" where life is hand to mouth, where fear and violence fester. The light in lovable Squid's obsessive-compulsive mind's eye is Rachel, a loving soup kitchen missionary who tells him about faith and unfaith, hypocrisy and justice, the character of God and finding identity in Him.

But among the squats and so many other abandoned lives, will such talk be enough to make Squid believe that his life may actually amount to something?


CALMLY, THE GIRL on the sofa reached out and pulled up a flap of skin on the little boy's thin arm. It could have been a gesture of affection. But then she pinched the skin and twisted it. Hard.

"Ouch!" He whipped his pencil in front of her face once, like a club, and then cracked it on her forehead. He pulled the pencil back, ready to strike her again, crouching against the back of the couch like a cornered weasel.

The little girl wrinkled up her round freckled face but did not cry out. She looked toward her mom, who was talking to the receptionist. The boy's mom, seated across the room, didn't look up. She continued to look through the pages of her magazine, snapping each page like a whip.

"You could have put my eye out!" the freckled girl hissed.

The boy rubbed the two blue marks on his arm. He looked her steadily in the eyes and growled.

His mom called him over. "Come sit by me, honey, and stop making so much noise." She patted his hair down in the back and smiled at him. She wore lots of eyeliner and widened her eyes to make even sitting in a waiting room seem like an adventure. "You're such a big man, now," she had said this morning as she combed his hair and helped him put on his best shirt. She was humming "Getting to Know You" even though her voice quivered just a little. She had put a lot of extra perfume and sprays on this morning. She smelled like the women's aisle in a drugstore.

Once the little girl's mom finished with the receptionist and returned to the sofa, the little girl started crying with one soft, unending whine.

The boy rolled his eyes and looked for a book to bury his head in.

"What's wrong, honey?" the mom asked as she swept her little girl up.

"That boy hit me."

You can read the rest of the first chapter here.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Star Trek gets the 'Lucas' treatment

I'm not sure how I feel about this: The original Star Trek episodes have been digitally remastered, with updated CGI effects not available 40 years ago. (I'm one who still loves the original of Star Wars, warts and all.) I'm not sure if Gene Roddenberry will be rolling over in his grave or not. The good side of this is that the series is being released in syndication again. (via)

Reading Relentless

Last night I started reading Relentless, by Infuze founder and editor-in-chief Robin Parrish. Oh my goodness -- the title says it all. From the opening sentence you're pulled into the story and it doesn't let up (at least it hasn't yet and I'm a third of the way through the book). One of the reasons I don't read a lot of thrillers is that they've become so formulaic and unsatisfying. But Relentless has a lot going for it that lifts it out of the genre's typical rut. There's a sense of the epic here, a sense of forces larger than life at work. Like a good comic book, the action is sharply drawn. The hero (Grant Borrows) is an ordinary guy who is suddenly thrown into a circumstance he can't understand. While this has been done a lot, the character is fleshed out well, as are most of the other characters. And the story is propelled non-stop from the start. Again, this could be a weakness, but so far the pace works for me. I'll have more to say when I finish the book -- for now I'll just say I'm liking this a lot.

On another subject: A couple of days ago I posted about being honest Christians. Then, yesterday I read this great interview with Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay frontman) at Christian Music Today. He talks about the band's new album and his efforts to be more honest about who he is and about his struggles and temptations. This is excellent. And here's a related thought. One of Haseltine's points is that being honest with those around you allows for accountability. And I realized that maybe one reason we aren't really honest with each other about how our faith life is going is that we don't really want to be held accountable. We're really encouraging people at church to be involved with small groups, which I believe in. As our church grows (we're running close to 400 every Sunday, split between two services) it becomes harder for the pastoral staff to really minister to everybody. The body needs to take care of itself and small groups can be an effective way to nurture and disciple people. But there are always people who don't want to be involved in small groups and I wonder if this avoidance of accountability is part of it. I don't have any hard evidence for this, it's just a thought.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tuesday ramblings, mini-rant

Here's some things of interest:

The guitar wizard that millions have watched on You Tube playing a rocked out arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon has been revealed.

Here's another pretty nifty bit of guitar playing. (via)

How's your U.S. geography? This nifty little flash game will test it. You even get praise for getting it right. (also via)

Scot McKnight has been writing about the rise of neo-fundamentalism here and here.

My brother asks what causes people to turn away from their faith. Last week this post at the Thinklings also generated a lot of discussion about 'dark nights of the soul.' Be sure to read the comments. I think the church has erred in not encouraging honesty and transparency when it comes to difficult times in the Christian walk. For too long we've taught that being a Christian is a happy, peaceful life. Well, guess what. It's not. But it can be full of joy and the 'peace that passes all understanding.' But Jesus says he gives his peace, which is not the world's idea of peace. And probably not the modern church's idea of peace, either. We set our brothers and sisters in Christ up for failure if we teach them any differently. OK, rant over. We now return to your regularly scheduled blog.

(edited 8/30/06 to fix Scot McKnight's name)

A new column and thoughts on our awesome God

I've posted my new Notes from the Windowsill column: A Garden of Righteousness.

Here's the introduction:
In recent weeks, the pastors of our church have preached some sermons about living for God's glory and being instruments of renewal in our community. One of Pastor David McCowan's jumping off points for his sermons based on Joel 2 and Ezekiel 37 was the book Red Moon Rising, about the 24-7 prayer movement. So I wanted to write a column that was relevant to those messages. The Sunday after I turned this in, Pastor David preached from Isaiah 61 -- I didn't know he was going to do that, and he already had his message planned before I wrote my column. God is cool.
By the way, I've started reading Red Moon Rising -- this is an amazing book and one everyone should read. I haven't gotten very far, but the story of what God is doing in unexpected places is amazing. But then, that's our God.