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.