Thursday, April 2, 2009

God in the Storm

A recent unexpected snowstorm found my husband and myself, along with my sister-in-law Elaine, on the road between Tulsa and home. It was pretty scary stuff for folks from a California desert, who have mostly seen snow in Currier & Ives pictures. Within a couple hours of the first snowflake, we had several inches of slippery white stuff on the ground and visibility that left a lot to be desired.


Beautiful? Oh, yes, it was! We have some gorgeous photos to prove it. Dangerous? Yep. In fact, despite being equipped with four-wheel drive and inching along at a snail's pace, our vehicle spun briefly out of control. Just for a few seconds – but long enough to send us directly into the path of another car, which plowed right into our driver’s side door, spun around and hit us again on our rear bumper.


From the moment we started sliding, three voices inside that car were calling on the name of Jesus. No one screamed. None of us fell apart. But the instant we realized the slippery road had control, we instinctively began to call on the only One who could save us.


God was faithful, as always, and no one in either vehicle was injured. I can’t deny being shook up – once it was over, I cried most of the way home. But we were all alive, and Elaine’s car was still in operating condition despite a couple of rather unsightly dents.


It left me contemplating sudden storms of another nature. Most of the time, they come on us without warning and wreak havoc on our lives. Often they send us on emotional, out-of-control spins in disastrous directions. And sometimes we fall hard and land painfully. But God never fails. We may emerge with bumps and bruises and tearstained cheeks, with tattered pride and a hurting heart – but we will come through victorious if we’ve trusted ourselves completely to the hands of our Rock and our Salvation. He always comes out a winner at the finishing line!


I’m so grateful God was with us in that storm. In no time at all after the accident, we were back on the road, driving even more slowly and with extra care. We all had a heightened awareness of the dangerous beauty all around us, but we were “back in business.” (Find more on that subject in Jo Huddleston’s thought-provoking devotion.) God is good … all the time!


Our spotlight author this month is DeAnna Dodson, whose website invites the reader to “Step into a world of adventure, romance and faith. Step into time ….” I know you will enjoy our chat with this historical fiction author.


I reviewed a fun book by Mary Connealy, and we have some interesting writing tips and our monthly contest. Kick back, get comfortable, and enjoy the April edition of The Bookshelf.


Have a happy Easter month, and remember what it’s all about … He is risen - indeed!


Notes of Devotion - Jo Huddleston

Back in Business
by Jo Huddleston


Are you a flower gardener? I love meandering through flower gardens whether in someone’s backyard or at Callaway Gardens, Georgia. But when it comes to a green thumb, I don’t have one. I can sometimes keep potted plants alive inside—sometimes. However, pity the blooms I put in my yard.

Relaxing in my den one July afternoon, I glanced out the window to discover my colorful impatiens weeping for attention. The scorching heat had drained the tiny flowers and their leaves into withering ugliness. Choking in the high humidity, the flowers begged for their daily watering I’d forgotten yesterday and today.

Pushing fatigue aside, I rushed outside to their rescue. I let the thin spray from my garden hose gently cool the plant, drench its soil and soak deep around it roots. I continued until the hanging basket overflowed, water splattering onto the parched ground below.

After supper I checked on the impatiens. To my delight, the flowers that had drooped their heads near death a few hours earlier now perked up like it was the cool of an early spring morning. They’d become their old selves, displaying vivid reds and pinks as proudly as ever before. They were back to their business of adding beauty to their surroundings.

I was reminded how the same thing can bring us down in our Christian living. If we neglect our commitment to God, even for a day or two, we give Satan the opportunity he’s waiting for to destroy us as pointed out in 1 Peter 5:8. When we don’t do regular Bible study, meditate with God, spend time in prayer with Him, we’re neglecting necessary maintenance of a Spirit-filled life.

Just as I didn’t care properly for my flowers, if we don’t tend our relationship with God on a consistent basis, we’ll have to start a rescue procedure. We’ll have to renew our efforts, get back in a balanced lifestyle with Christ.

But it can be done. My wilting impatiens revived when they received what they needed. They again burst forth, fulfilling their purpose of creation.

Without God’s daily sustaining power, we will fall short of God’s purpose for us. We will wilt when facing temptations and disappointments. We can actively pursue His direction by listening to His voice through the Bible as we let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16), through being faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12) and through fellowship with other believers, as we not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).

We don’t have to spend our days in wilting uselessness for God. God can refresh us like He did the woman at the well (John 4:13-14). He will provide our needs daily just as He did for the wandering Israelites following Moses’ leadership (Exodus 16). His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 9:8), but we must seek that grace (Hebrews 4:16). Then, like my flowers, we can be back in business with God, living as He intended.

Do you plant flowers and then forget to care for them like I do? I hope thinking of my wilting flowers will help you remember to regularly tend your Christlike lifestyle, not letting it falter from neglect.


Jo Huddleston has published over 200 articles and short stories in more than 50 Christian and general periodicals including Guideposts and Decision magazines. She authored three nonfiction books, Amen and Good Morning, God and Amen and Good Night, God (Tyndale House Publishers) and His Awesome Majesty (Hendrickson Publishers). Jo coauthored with Vickie Phelps an ebook, How to Write to Write for the Christian Marketplace.


Author of Note - DeAnna J. Dodson

DeAnna Julie Dodson

This month, we’re talking with DeAnna Julie Dodson, author of the Chastelayne Trilogy and A Dinner of Herbs.

Welcome to The Bookshelf, DeAnna! I have a few off-the-cuff, just-for-fun questions, but first, let’s find out who you are. Tell us about DeAnna Dodson, the lady next door.

Well, let me see . . . I officially work for an attorney, but I get to work from home most of the time, and that gives me a lot of flexibility for my writing projects as well as letting me keep an eye on my three cats, Elliot, Emily and Eloise. It also lets me sneak in some quilting and cross stitch from time to time. Many people find it surprising, but I’m also a rabid hockey fan. Go Stars!

Love your cats’ names! Now let’s talk about your books. How many do you have published?

So far I have my medieval trilogy, In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered published. They’re getting somewhat hard to find anymore, unfortunately, and I hope that a new publisher will want to print them in the future. I think the basic theme that God loves us even when we don’t love Him is something we can’t hear too much about. My agent is still finding a home for A Dinner of Herbs, a story about reconciliation, both personal and societal, during the upheaval of the Civil War. I’m quite eager to get that one out to my readers who have been so patiently waiting for something new from me.

We’ll all believe that it will be placed soon. What are you working on now – can you talk about that?

I’m pretty excited about the book I’ve just finished. It’s a 1930s cozy mystery called Rules of Murder. I’ve been a big fan of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers for some time now, and I wanted to try my hand at something similar. And, because I couldn’t help myself, I tried to throw a little P. G. Wodehouse in there to make it fun. I think my hero, the very stylish and very British Drew Farthering, has many more adventures in him, too, along with his American sweetheart, Madeline Parker. As soon as I give it a few more tweaks, I’ll send the manuscript off to my agent for her opinion.

Good luck with that – it sounds like a great story! How long have you been writing? Was there an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

I have always been an avid reader, even when I was a very little girl. I got good grades, but the only way I really learned was by reading the textbook and figuring things out for myself. Lectures never really helped me. So, when I was in high school, once I had taken note of the assignment for the next class, I pretty much tuned out and wrote. At first, I wrote drippingly melodramatic ”episodes” of my favorite TV shows. Then, when I was in college, I wrote scenes that tried to mimic Shakespeare. Finally, I just started writing a scene. I knew it was set in medieval times, and I knew the main character was a prince who had been gravely wounded in a disastrous battle, but that’s all I knew. In Honor Bound grew from there. I worked on it for a long time, never letting anyone read it. Then I finally let a friend of mine see one short scene. It wasn’t until she said I should finish up the book and try to get it published that I even considered that I might be a writer. Obviously God knew way before I did and knew that all those books and TV shows and Shakespeare plays would teach me about story and craft even when I wasn’t aware of it.

God is so awesome like that! He has our best interests in heart, knows who and what kind of person we will be even before we draw that first breath, according to Jeremiah 1:5 (Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.)

Now that you’re doing what He planned on all along, how much time do you devote to your craft?

It’s hard to put a specific number on that. I read a lot of books on craft, especially if I’m having a particular problem getting a manuscript to behave properly, but I may read just a specific chapter that deals with the problem at hand. I belong to two online writers groups, one is ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and the other is made up of multi-published Christian authors. Between the two, I am constantly learning and reinforcing what I already know. When I get a chance, whether at a conference or online, I take workshops. They always motivate me to work better and harder.

Any advice for new and aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. From my own experience and from what others have said, I firmly believe writers absorb much of what they need to know about writing just from reading well-written books. However, don’t be taken in by the idea that something is well-written just because it has been published. Some experienced writers break the rules and get away with it because they clearly know what they’re doing. Some inexperienced writers break the rules and get away with it because they don’t know any better and because they have passionate and wonderful stories to tell. Learn from both of these. But be aware that some books, the ones you read that don’t touch your heart or your mind or your spirit, the ones that you can set aside and never think about again, are not the ones you want to emulate. Writing is a delicate balance between art and craft. Slavishly following the rules won’t guarantee a good book. Neither will ignoring them.

Of course, besides reading, a writer must write. Writing is wonderfully forgiving. You can start over as many times as you need to. You can change and improve and reconstruct again and again and again, and truly the only way I know to “grow” a book is by rewriting. I have to just get something down, whatever it is, before I can start shaping it into what I hope it will become. That takes time. That takes tenacity. Anyone can say he wants to write a book. How many people actually do it? Only the stubborn ones.

And get into a writers’ group of some kind, whether it’s local or online. As the Bible says, iron sharpens iron. Other writers have experience that can help you, and you have experience that can help them. And there is no one who understands writers more than other writers. It’s good to know you’re not alone and that you’re not entirely crazy.

Excellent advice - all of it. Now for that off-the-cuff stuff I mentioned.


If you
could ask any person, living or dead, a random question – what question would you ask of whom?

Goodness, there are tons of things I’d like to know straight from those who were actually there, everything from asking Shakespeare if he really, really wrote all those plays himself to asking Michelangelo or da Vinci how in the world they did what they did. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one.

What crayon in the box describes you best on a good day? Bad day?

Hmmmm . . . on a good day it would have to be a breezy lemon-yellow, nothing orangy, just light and fresh and tangy. On a bad day? I don’t know what the color would be called, but it would be a muddy, gray-green-black mess. I don’t have many of those days.


Thank God for that – it sounds awful! What books are on your bedside table right now?

Road of Vanishing by Robin Hardy, From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury, Shadows of Lancaster County by Mindy Starns Clark, Ring for Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse and, of course, The Holy Bible.

What would you do today if you knew you had only a week to live?

I don’t know. There are certainly many things I’d like to do and see before I leave this world. I’d love to explore the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress and the British Museum. I’d love to go to Disneyland or go to Canada to see some NHL games. I’d very much enjoy seeing England again or even going as far as someplace like China or Japan.

What would be the most important thing for me, though, would be to make sure my cats had a good, loving forever home, and that my family and friends knew how much I love them. And I’d want everyone to know that this wasn’t the end for me because of Jesus Christ.

What word annoys you more than any other?

“Quit.”

Not a good word, I agree. What “super power” would you like to borrow for awhile?

I’m not sure it’s actually a super power, but I’d love the ability to not need sleep for days or weeks at a time. Think of how much I’d get done!

Share a grammatical pet peeve … go ahead, sound off.

I guess one that really grates on me is when someone uses the subjective case rather than the objective case. “John and I gave it to you” is correct. “You gave it to John and I” is incorrect. If you would use “me” as the object, then it would still be “me” when including others: “You gave it to John and me.”

Another big one for me is when someone uses the reflexive pronoun improperly. Only “you” can perform an action on “yourself.” So it’s proper to say “See the pastor or me after the service.” It’s not proper to say “See the pastor or myself after the service.” You can say “I saw myself in the mirror” but not “He saw myself in the mirror.”

I like the way you explained that – it’s sure to be a help to someone else who has difficulty deciding how to use those words. Now share a societal pet peeve…here’s your chance to blast ‘em.

It seems to me that, more and more, failure is rewarded by the government through subsidy, and success, through taxation, is punished. That encourages dependence and stagnation rather than independence and creativity.

Amen and amen! Thank you for hanging out at The Bookshelf for awhile, DeAnna. Where can my readers find your books?

At this point they can be a bit hard to find, though I believe you can still get them through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I hope to have one of my new books out before too much longer.

We’ll be watching for it. Thanks again, and we hope you sell a million!


Step into time . . .

HISTORICAL FICTION by DeANNA JULIE DODSON


DeAnna has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with three spoiled cats. She is currently represented by Wendy Lawton of the Books & Such Literary Agency (wendy@booksandsuch.biz).

Notes in Review

GINGHAM MOUNTAIN

by Mary Connealy


The orphan train just pulled into the small town of Sour Springs, Texas. Grant races to the station, set on claiming any leftover children – those nobody else wants. He’s just in time to save two of them from a long, sad trip back to the orphanage.


But the train dropped off more than homeless children this time around. Along with two adorable but troubled kids, both of whom Grant falls in love with instantly, it left behind Hannah Cartwright. She’s a snippy little schoolmarm who’s bound and determined to prove the rather unkempt-looking rancher unfit to raise the houseful of younguns he’s rescued one (or several) at a time off the streets or the orphan train.


Add to the chaotic mix a couple of con artists set on getting their hands on Grant’s land for the oil he doesn’t even know he has. Blend in Grant’s own frustrating attraction to the meddlesome and thoroughly annoying new schoolteacher, and you’ve got the makin’s of a riotously funny, absolutely irreverent tale of unexpected romance and old West shenanigans.


This third novel in the Lassoed in Texas series by Mary Connealy is a wonderfully fun new thread in the fabric of tall tales woven by this amazing author. Connealy tackles serious life issues such as abandoned children, child abuse and the professional con game, and handles them with enough humor to make them bearable and enough realism to keep them believable.


Incredible, unforgettable storytelling!

Notes on Writing - Delia Latham

A Dozen Ways to Avoid Writing Your Novel


Writing Tip: It does not matter whether or not you assign yourself writing time each day.


Ouch! I already feel the outrage of veteran writers who adhere to rigid rules of time apportionment. I’ve heard it too: “You must allow yourself a certain number of hours to write – every day.”


And I agree.


As a writer, you must carve out a set amount of time every day for writing. It’s also good to have a realistic word count goal, and not stop until you’ve reached it.


So now I’ve executed a complete 360, haven’t I?


No, I have not. I stick with my initial statement: It does not matter whether or not you assign yourself writing time each day … unless you write during that time.

It’s easy to allot a slice of hours and minutes for any given action. It’s harder to use that chunk of time for the purpose designated. If I give myself four hours to write every Monday through Friday, but spend three hours and ten minutes of the alloted time doing something else – even something “writing related” – I haven’t accomplished what I set out to do.


I’ve put together a list of ways to sabotage writing time. If they’re not familiar, you’re probably one of the few authors who has learned to avoid procrastination. Good for you! I’m impressed. But I’m not quite there yet, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. Thus this list.


Novel Detours


1. Check e-mail. It must be done, but not during writing time. Checking leads to answering. Answering leads to chatting. Chatting lead to lots … and lots … of lost time.


2. Visit a Social Networking Site. Facebook, Shoutlife, Twitter to mention just a few. Networking is important, even crucial to building a platform. But writing time is exactly that: time for writing. Networking is not writing, and is incredibly time consuming. Find another time slot for it.


3. Research. It’s unavoidable if you want to make a novel accurate and true-to-life. But it is not writing. It’s easy to feel self-righteous about two hours spent finding out whether plastic tea pitchers existed in 1936. Trouble is, research gets out of hand so easily. While digging into information regarding an intended subject, tidbits of data about a gazillion other topics show up – and before you know it, you’re looking at those as well. I’ve found, through uncomfortable experience, that it’s good to specify a limited amount of time for research. “Writing Time, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., to include no more than one hour of research.” (Better yet, save yourself a headache and just make the pitcher a pitcher – must it be plastic?)


4. Write other things. Like I’m doing right now. Instead of plowing ahead on my current WIP – an inspirational novel – I’m procrastinating by writing about procrastination. Between projects, this article would be an excellent way to fill my fiercely guarded writing time. But until that novel is finished, I’ll simply find myself another hour or so closer to my deadline, while my characters remain frozen in time, right where I left them yesterday. Articles, short stories, fillers, greeting card verse … they’re all commendable projects. But none get a novel written. Unless and until the author develops an iron will and rigid self-discipline, it’s a good idea to work on the novel to the exclusion of everything else. Once you’ve mastered the ability to park yourself in your writing spot at the same time every day, for the same length of time, then who knows? You may be fine with adding other writing projects to the mix.


Or maybe not.


5. Edit what you’ve already written. I wish I could reclaimall the time I spent editing my last novel. To avoid dealing with a rock wall of writer’s block, I edited my four existing chapters over and over – and over – for nearly a year. When I finally forbade myself the right to change a single word until the book was finished, I broke through that stubborn wall and started writing. It wasn’t necessarily good writing at first. But I was putting words together and making sentences about the characters and situations in that novel. I had plenty of opportunity to cull out the awful stuff later – when the story was told.


6. Critique a friend’s work. I love working with critique partners. I’ve learned as much about my craft by critiquing and being critiqued as I have by reading books and attending classes. But critiquing is not writing. Enjoy someone else’s work on your own time. (Writing hours belong to your novel, not you.)


7. Blog. This particular form of online presence has become almost a frenzy. And there’s no doubt that it provides a good medium for staying in touch with readers … friends … family … or simply as a personal journal. (Though I have to admit, the idea of journaling in such a public forum makes me break out in hives.) But posting to a blog, whatever your reason for having one, doesn’t add a thing to your work-in-progress. Blog if you must – just keep it to its own time slot.

Note:
The above applies to newsletters, as well. Whether you’re creating, writing, or posting news items, don’t steal from your writing time. If you really want to pursue these activities, schedule a time slot just for them. You might think about writing four days a week and working on your blog and/or newsletter on the fifth day. The point is, keep your writing time pure. Mixing it with other “writing related” pursuits will eventually whittle it down to far less than you started out with.


8. Write a review. It consists of more than putting words on paper … first you have to read the book. And writers should read. But believe me when I say reviewing can quickly get out of hand. Be careful how many you agree to do. It involves reading, writing, and usually posting to several different online venues. I also like to take time to e-mail the contact with a copy of the review and information on where I’ve posted or plan to post – and this costs another minute or two. Last but not least, writing a review is “writing related.” At the risk of nagging, I’ll say it again: It adds not one jot or tittle to your novel. Consider including review activities on your to-do list for “the fifth day,” right along with maintaining your blog and/or newsletter.

.


9. Surf the Web. I’m beyond glad to be rid of my old typewriter with it’s correction tape and smeary ink cartridge. But that trusty machine had one massive benefit: All it was capable of doing was getting my words onto paper. When I sat down to write, I wrote. Now, my writing instrument has become a time bandit, robbing me of precious seconds, minutes and hours. Writers, beware the virtual time warp! You sit down to write, fire up the Web, and ten minutes later your clock has moved forward three hours! Amazing, isn’t it?


10. Play Online Games. I used to visit games.com on a regular basis. After all, even writers deserve a break now and then! I can’t even venture a guess as to how many times I entered a Boggle gameroom for “one or two rounds” and came out only when the phone rang, my honey hollered “hungry,” or I realized I needed to visit the restroom – badly – two hours later. Games are enjoyable pastimes, but even word fun like Boggle and Scrabble doesn’t qualify as writing. Play when you’re not supposed to be creating a novel.


11. Make a phone call. About the time you start to really get into the next chapter, a mental alarm goes off. You intended to call someone today – a friend or family member, a business associate, a bill collector, the winner of your latest blog contest … someone. Immediate instinct is to reach for the telephone, but don’t. Keep a notepad beside your computer. When you remember something you need to do, jot it down. Now you’ve lost ten seconds, rather than the five minutes to half an hour you’d forfeit if you made that call. It’s also helpful to keep a to-do list. Lay it out the night before. Include those calls you need to make, and slide them into their proper time slot – which is not in the middle of your writing time.


12. Take a phone call. Here’s the deal: Ignore the telephone during writing hours. Let your answering machine do what it’s there for. Return calls after you’ve written those 1,500 words or when the clock strikes whatever time you’ve set as “quitting time.” If you’re a worry wart who will be absolutely certain that last call was the local hospital with news that your 25-year-old baby finally crashed his souped-up Mustang, then do yourself a favor and put the answering machine within hearing distance. You’ll actually hear that overgrown infant asking to borrow another hundred bucks, and you can ignore him and go back to work. Most calls can wait – let them.



That’s it - my one dozen little bites of writing sustenance. I hope it’s beneficial. But why, oh why, are you reading this rather lengthy example of procrastination instead of starting that next chapter?


It’s only a matter of time….

Contest Notes - April

The April drawing will be for a signed copy of Age Before Beauty by Virginia Smith (Amazon value $10.97). See my review of this book on My Book Bag. In addition, the April winner will receive a beautiful cubic zirconia cross necklace on a silver-tone chain, in honor of Easter. This gorgeous piece of jewelry comes courtesy of a dear friend of mine, Theresa Malone. Theresa and I grew up in houses whose back doors faced each other across a chicken wire fence in Weedpatch, California. (Old friends are the very best kind, Teesa – I’m glad you’re mine!)


The March winner of A Lever Long Enough by Amy Deardon is ...


Lisa Gordon

Congratulations, Lisa!

Lisa will also receive an Avon Footworks 3-head foot file (value $4) and a small, pink felt tote/gift bag from Avon (value $8.50).


You don’t need to “do” anything to enter the newsletter drawing each month. If you are subscribed to The Bookshelf, you will be automatically entered. Here’s how to subscribe: Use the icon on my website’s Home page, or the link in the Navbar (top of page) on that site, which will put you on my e-mailing list. If you want Bookshelf articles to come right to your inbox each month instead of receiving just a link, use the FeedBlitz link in the top left corner of this page in addition to the manual icon on my website.)


Note: The books given away in these contests are in excellent condition, but have been read once for review purposes. They are handled carefully and you will receive them in great condition.