Monday, June 14, 2010

Treacherous Beauty

Honeysuckle grows wild and rampant around these parts. I love it – it’s pretty and it smells delightful! Trouble is, left unmaintained, it will completely overwhelm and choke out other plants and foliage.

Driving down the road a few days ago, I drew my husband’s attention to a pretty sight. “That would make an interesting photograph,” I told him, suggesting that we should point it out to our daughter, who loves photography. Honeysuckle vines had climbed up a sign post, twining around and over itself from the ground all the way to the top, where it grew in a huge clump, trailing down the sign and almost completely obliterating its message: “WARNING! Underground cables!” We knew the message only because we’d seen the sign in other places around the area.

“Pretty,” he agreed. “But the county will have to cut it back soon, so folks can see that sign.”

Stunned, I sat in silence as the implications washed over me. I hadn’t even considered what that beautiful vine was growing on. All I saw was its beauty—the danger never crossed my mind. Once Johnny pointed it out, I couldn’t help but liken those gorgeous flowering vines to sin’s subtle power plays.

God has provided warnings throughout His Word. We should be familiar with them…recognize them because of their very familiarity. But when sin is allowed to encroach, it quickly overtakes the caution signs, leaving nothing visible except the attractiveness of the temptation. It entices, playing on our emotions and senses to draw us ever nearer. We fail to see the danger, until we can’t escape its consequences.

It pays to be spiritually alert. Sin, though ugly in nature, can present itself beautifully. It is charasmatic…charming…mesmerizing. Luscious and shiny, like the apple that lured Snow White in the familiar fairy tale. Sensuous, appealing…remember
the mythological Siren’s song.

“...the end thereof are the ways of death…”

That sign with it’s beautiful covering of aromatic honeysuckle, gave me a little spirtual jolt…a reminder of the deceptive nature of sin. It parades itself in attractive disguises, but only long enough to destroy a life and claim a soul. The reminder made me dust off my Bible for a refresher course in warning signs…and made me grateful for God’s love in providing them.

Now…on to this month’s offerings. I’m thrilled and honored to again welcome Kathy Carlton Willis and her author clients, along with Jennifer AlLee, our spotlight author. I hope you’ll take a moment to comment on those articles you like best. We love hearing from our readers! J In fact, Jennifer AlLee has generously offered to give a copy of The Pastor’s Wife to someone who comments on either her interview or my review of her book in this edition. Be sure to leave your contact information along with your comment. I’ll need to be able to contact the lucky winner.

Until August…count your many blessings!

Author of Note: Jennifer AlLee

Welcome to The Bookshelf, Jennifer! We’ll be talking about your writing journey, and I also have a few just-for-fun questions. First, however, I’d like you to tell us a little about you as the everyday lady next door.

The most important things in my life are my faith and my family. By nature, I'm an introvert, but once I get to know people and we become friends, they can't get rid of me! I love to hang out, play games and laugh. I'm also a pop-culture buff and enjoy movies, TV, live theater, and learning useless bits of entertainment trivia.
Sounds like you have your priorities right where they belong. Would you share a little with us about how you got started as a writer? Was there an “aha” moment when you knew that’s what you wanted to do?

I’ve always wanted to be something creative. I went through stages where I wanted to be a photographer, a singer, an actress… but I’ve always been a writer. I was that kid in school who wrote a novella when the assignment was only to write a short story. I wrote my first novel during my senior year in high school and finished the second one in college. Neither one were very good, but they were good learning experiences. (And I still have both of them packed away in a box.) Ultimately, the act of creating characters from scratch and taking a journey with them is the most fun and fulfilling thing I know. It can also be the most frustrating. But it's a gift from God, and I'm grateful everyday that I get to do the thing I love and share it with others.

Yes, it definitely is a gift. Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

For me, ideas are floating around everywhere, kind of like dandelion fluff. Sometimes my own personal experience is the starting point. Or a magazine article or TV news item will have a little nugget in it that makes me think, "Hmmm, what if..." And then there's my own twisted brain which takes off on tangents all by itself. No matter where the idea comes from, I've found it's imperative that I write them all down. I've got a notebook by my bed and a smaller one in my purse. In a pinch, a napkin or the back of a receipt will do. Now, if only I had time to turn all these ideas into really awesome novels...
(Sigh) Time is so relentless, isn’t it? What’s your best piece of advice for new and aspiring writers?

Join a writer's group. For years, I wrote in relative solitude. It was a lonely, frustrating way to work. Then I stumbled across a link for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) on another author's website. Joining that group was like stepping out of a dark closet into a brightly lit arena. A whole new world opened up to me, one of support, learning, and amazing professional and personal relationships. I absolutely would not be where I am today had I not joined ACFW. And I'm not getting paid to say that, either :+}

As an ACFW member myself, I completely, wholeheartedly agree. They have been and continue to be a blessing to me, as well. Jennifer, give us one writing tip that you personally find invaluable.

Let go of perfection. I used to agonize over writing the perfect first draft, to the point that I paralyzed myself into not writing anything. I've found so much freedom in allowing first drafts to be big, sloppy messes. It's in the editing that the real artistry and fine-tuning comes in.
Shushing that inner editor seems to be a problem for many writers—myself included. Tell us about your newest release, and what inspired you to write it.

I served as a church secretary for many years, which gave me a unique perspective on the lives of a pastoral family. When I was working on the original concept for my novel, I thought about the pastors’ wives I’ve known over the years. They’ve handled themselves with amazing grace under pressure. But what if another woman couldn’t? What if a young woman thinks she knows what she’s getting into, but the reality of losing who she is and putting on the label of “the pastor’s wife” is more than she can handle? What if some other tragedy pushes her over the edge? Would she run? And what would happen if she had to return to the scene of her heartbreak years later? All those questions eventually became my newest release, The Pastor’s Wife.

I truly enjoyed the story that came of all those questions. J What can we expect from you next?

My next novel from Abingdon Press, The Mother Road, comes out in 2012. Let me tell you a little bit about it... Natalie Marino has spent half her life telling women how to live happily ever after. But within the course of a week, she is dumped by her husband, receives an urgent call home from her father, and discovers her estranged sister is pregnant. A road trip on Route 66 may not help, but it sure couldn't hurt. Or so Natalie thinks, until her sister's boyfriend starts stalking them. Will their trip down the mother road bring the two sisters closer together, or turn out to be the biggest wrong turn yet?

Ooohhh, sounds exciting! Now for those off-the-cuff questions I mentioned. If you could ask any person, living or dead, a random question – what question would you ask of whom?
As a huge LOST fan, I'd love to sit down with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof and pick their brains for hours, maybe days, on end. I know that's two people and more than one question, but being able to do that would really make me happy!

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when you do that, Jennifer. I’m a LOST fan too. What books are on your bedside table right now?

I've always got a big, wobbly stack of books by the bed, both fiction and non. Here's an example of what's at the top right now: Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer, Chasing Lilacs by Carla Stewart, and Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist. So many great authors, so little reading time!
What “super power” would you like to borrow for awhile?

Transportation. I'd love to be able to think about a place and just be there. This is a result of one long car trip too many.

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

Misuse of apostrophes! I recently saw a flyer for advertising services that read, "You're name here." And there's a disclaimer that runs on one of our local TV stations that says, "The views expressed in the preceding program do not reflect those of this station or it's affiliates." ACK!
ACK indeed! I hate that one, myself. Anything public—such as the places you mentioned—should be as grammatically perfect as possible. I’m just sayin’…

Thank you, Jennifer, for hanging out at The Bookshelf for awhile. Where can readers find your books?

My new novel, The Pastor's Wife, is available at bookstores and online at places like Amazon. You can find out more about it by visiting my website:

About Jennifer AlLee:
As a child, Jennifer AlLee lived above a mortuary in the heart of Hollywood, California, which may explain her unique outlook on life. Her publishing credits include The Love of His Brother, a contemporary romance from Five Star Publishing (November 2007) as well as skits, activity pages, and over one hundred contributions to Concordia Publishing House’s popular My Devotions series. Her latest novel, The Pastor’s Wife, released February 2010 from Abingdon Press. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as the Nevada Area Coordinator. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and teenage son.

Contact Jennifer in Cyberspace:
Twitter -

NOTE: Jennifer has generously offered to give a copy of The Pastor’s Wife to someone who comments on either her interview or my review of her book in this edition. Be sure to leave your contact information along with your comment. I’ll need to be able to contact the lucky winner.

Notes of Devotion: Donna McCrary & Sherry Holbert

Donna McCrary and Sherry Holbert

Goliath and the Chirping Bird

I was shocked! I was actually scared! I began to back away and the bird continued to come after me. He jumped from the ledge to the floor, and was determined to protect himself from this giant obstacle — me. I made quick, backward circles around a table trying to avoid the horrible “pecking” I was about to receive.

Moments later, as I gained my sanity, I started laughing at myself and the hysterical episode that had just occurred. Can you picture it — a five-foot-three woman running from a four-inch beady-eyed bird?

As I was catching my breath, I wondered if my “cool points” were forever gone. I thought the bird must be hurt; he wasn’t flying away. His chirping was becoming louder and louder. My nurturing self thought, “I need to help him. He must be in excruciating pain.”

Hurt? He was perfectly healthy.

This was his big day. He decided in that very moment he would face his fears. It was a David and Goliath battle in his tiny pea-sized brain, I’m sure. Fear or no fear he was determined to stand his ground and guard his territory. Off that ledge he flew, sending Goliath Sherri running.

That little bird had his day (at my expense of course) but he had faced his fears – Goliath Sherri. He had taken the necessary leap off the balcony to change his fear into a positive experience. I on the other hand, had let the fear of a tiny bird make me run in circles unable to see the overall picture. Fear had blocked my vision (and my common sense).

I look back on this with laughter and realize even tiny fears can be a stumbling block to our accomplishments. We have the ability to choose change. We become comfortable in our current situations, good or bad; therefore we don’t want to move out of our comfort zone. God tells us many times to “fear not.” Why? Because He gives us the strength and courage to face our fears. He requires that we trust Him and have faith in His plan for us.

AUTHOR QUOTE: Will you commit to change, move out of your comfort zone, and be obedient?

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV.

Today’s devotion is by Donna McCrary and Sherri Holbert. As Life Coaches, they equip women to discover their life purpose. Learn more about their study, DIVAS of the Divine: How to live as a Designer Original in a Knock Off World at:

Notes on Writing: Kathy Carlton Willis

Kathy Carlton Willis

Elements of A Good Book

Let’s take a look at the elemental ingredients of excellent writing. To cleverly craft a stand-out novel, build layer upon layer of these elements into your manuscript.


What is the theme of the story? Is there a moral or life lesson? What message do you think the author wants to convey to the reader? You will be able to see the themes unveiled as characters make choices and reveal their own strengths and weaknesses. Look for integrity and virtue. What is of value to the main characters? Without theme woven throughout the book, the story lacks substance.

One of my favorite ways to evaluate a novel is by evaluating character development. Do you find yourself caring what happens next to the characters, or how they react to situations? Are the characters true-to-life three-dimensional beings, or do they seem unrealistic? Even speculative fiction characters need to have relatable traits for readers to be drawn into the story. Characters are given hopes and fears, life goals, and motives. They react to relationships based on their personality types and any baggage or life experience they already have. Sometimes the author won’t reveal everything about a character in the story line, but you can pick up on clues as you read the way they respond to stimuli throughout the book.

Are the characters consistent throughout the novel? It’s fine if they show growth or somehow evolve as the story unfolds, but they should always be true to character. If something stands out as unrecognizable for that character, it creates a read-bump that confuses the reader. Also, individual characters shouldn’t be “Stepford Wives” or cookie cutter people. Readers love getting to know quirky or unpredictable characters.

The plot is what moves the characters from situation to situation throughout the story arc. It’s what causes “page-turner” suspense, action, or romance. Without plot, there’d be no resolution at the conclusion of the novel. Does each scene advance the plot? Or does the author bury the storyline in minutia? Actions and agendas reveal the plot as characters overcome trials and face detours. Plot builds tension, leading to the story climax. Ask yourself, “Is this event or situation necessary to the rest of the storyline?” Conflicts throughout the book help build tension. Look for conflicts:
1. between individuals
2. between a person and society in general
3. between a person and nature
4. warring inside self

Plot is the invisible web that provides structure to the entire book. Some authors achieve this by outlining the major scenes in advance, and other authors are “seat of the pants” writers, allowing the characters to tell them where to go next in the story.

Do you like the point of view used by the storyteller? In First Person, one character speaks in the "I" voice. Second Person is the least common point of view, and uses "you" as the story is narrated. Third person is the most frequently used method. Third Person Limited: The narrator can only tell the story from the perspective of one character throughout the entire book. This requires the character to be in every scene, and set up the story through what he witness from his own eyes. Third Person Unlimited: The author tells the story from the perspective of more than one main character. He will alert the reader that a change of point of view is coming by adding an extra space of some kind between paragraphs. If this is not done correctly, it will seem as if the author is “head hopping”—jumping between the perspectives of more than one at once. This can be quite dizzying to us as readers. Some authors will use a technique called Omniscient point of view, but it is rarely done well. In this scenario, a narrator or voice outside the main characters tells the story as if he is witnessing it from a perspective outside the scene. He presents it from a variety of views at once.


What is the setting for the story? Does the author choose a real location? If so, he must be accurate with facts. You’ll be able to tell if he’s done enough research. Setting must serve both style and story. More often than not, the author creates an imaginary setting for the story. Even if it’s not for real, it needs to be believable. Does the book you’re reading use setting in such a way that you feel like you are transported there? Does it lend itself well to assist with character development and plot to deliver an excellent novel?

Dialogue involves conversation between two or more characters. Dialogue functions to advance the story and build texture by showing the reader what’s going on rather than narrating a lot of back-story. It provides background and builds characterization. Does each character have a distinct voice? Does the dialogue seem realistic or is it stilted? Stylization of dialogue often uses unique speech patterns, word usage, or accent. When you read the dialogue aloud, how does it sound to you?

Other purposes of dialogue are to set the mood and to provide some humorous elements for the reader. Dialogue often happens in present tense even if the story is in past tense, so this allows for the reader to sense the pace, the action, and the tension in “real time.”

Writing Assignment
: Pick up your current manuscript and grade it for: theme, characterization, plot, point of view, setting, and dialogue.

Kathy Carlton Willis owns a communication firm by the same name. She gets jazzed shining the light on writers and helping them get the word out about their projects. As she teaches and witnesses light bulbs going on in the heads of listeners, she relishes these “aha” moments. You may reach her at

Notes in Review

The Pastor's Wife
by Jennifer AlLee

Six years after abandoning her husband, her marriage, and a congregation of saints, Maura Sullivan returns to Granger, Ohio for the reading of a will. Its contents will bring the bitter woman not only back to a town she never wanted to see again, but trapped in the parsonage she disliked even as a newlywed. And back to the church that robbed her of her husband’s time and affections.

Maura is mad at God, and equally angry at Nick. And the secret she harbors within her heart leaves little room for healing or forgiveness. It also could be the one thing that forever destroys any chance of reconciliation with her estranged husband.

Nick Shepherd doesn’t know whether to be mad or glad when the will of a departed parishioner stipulates that he open his home for six months to the woman who left him without a word of good-bye. For six years, he and his wife have had no contact—not a phone call, not a letter, not even a greeting card. Can they live under the same roof now, with so many things unsaid, so many wounds untended…so much love unheeded?

In this charming story of hurt and healing, of sin and redemption, Jennifer AlLee paints an eye-opening peek into parsonage life. In Maura and Nick’s story, pastors and their wives become people—real people, with real problems and concerns. With lives and loves and marriages that suffer from lack of attention when the church becomes “the other woman” in the relationship.

Everyone who has ever had a pastor should read The Pastor’s Wife. Every pastor with a wife he’d like to keep should read this book. Every pastor’s wife who feels neglected, abandoned, and unappreciated should read this story. Any person who plays any kind of role in the church should read it, and be prepared to see their shepherds in a brand new light.

Nice writing, and thoughtful handling of a delicate issue.

June/July Contest Notes

The drawing for this edition of The Bookshelf will be held on the last day of July. Winner will be announced in the August/September edition.The winner will receive Finding Jeena by Miralee Ferrell and a $6 gift certificate to White Rose Publishing.

(Click on the book cover to read my review of this wonderful book.)

The April/May winner of Third Time’s a Charm (Virginia Smith) and Sweetwater Gap (Denise Hunter):


Note: 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. You will then receive an e-mail link every other month when the newsletter posts, as well as occasional updates or announcements between posts. If you want Bookshelf articles to come right to your inbox each month instead of receiving a link to this web page, 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 drawings are in excellent condition, but most have been read once for review purposes. Some may be Advance Reader Copies, sent to me for review before their final edit, meaning there could be typos or formatting errors. They are handled carefully and you will receive them in great condition.