Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Messages in the Snow

The ground outside is covered in snow. Icicles hang from the eaves of the house and garage, and from the branches of the trees. We were amazed to find tiny shards of ice attached even to the feathers of a couple of chickens who wandered outside their roost.

Our back yard is a maze of snow and huge frozen puddles of water, deposited there by the rain that preceded the snow. Just peeking out a window makes me shiver. And yet, there’s such incredible beauty in a blanket of white that remains untrampled, undirtied by human interference. White and pristine, the sunlight makes it almost blinding in it’s bright, shining purity.

Looking out over our white world earlier today, I was reminded of an article I wrote a couple of years ago on my blog,
The Melody Within. I thought I’d dust it off and share it with you. If you read it the first time around, I hope it touches your heart again, and that you find something to take away that perhaps you missed last time.

If you haven't read it before, well … here it is. I hope it blesses you!

Fresh Tracks in the Snow

I read something tonight that resonated within my heart, and I have to share it. If you’d like to visit Sally Bradley’s blog and read Fresh Territory, you won’t be sorry. But here’s the gist of it:

Sally’s guest blogger, author Cynthia Ruchti, talked about how it felt as a child to make new tracks in a fresh fall of pristine white snow. It was untouched and unexplored, and walking across it, leaving her fresh tracks in the snow, was a special thrill. Cynthia went on to say that she gets that same type of pleasure on an even deeper level now, when she opens a new Bible or comes upon a page in her old one that has no ink marks on it. If she hasn’t written in it, she obviously hasn’t read that page.

“How can I be so sure?” she asks. “Because God speaks to my heart somehow, some way, on every page. If nothing is marked, it’s a tell-tale sign that I haven’t been over that territory.”

I love that! Probably because I know exactly what she’s talking about. I am not comfortable reading my Bible without highlighters in hand and ink pens nearby. When something I read sets my heart aquiver or opens up a window of enlightenment in my soul, I must mark it in some way. It’s so heartwarming to return to that place weeks, months or even years later and remember why I marked it just so, and to relive that special spark between my God and me.

What kind of tracks are in your Bible? Do you allow yourself to write in it – or are you uncomfortable with the idea? If so, why? Are there special ways you mark certain verses? Cynthia draws little musical notes beside verses she knows have been made into worship songs. Someone else uses a triangle beside anything that alludes to the Trinity, and a pitchfork to represent Satan.

What about you? What kind of tracks do you leave on the pages of your Bible?

Notes of Devotion (Christa Allan)

New Glasses
by Christa Allan

Philippians 3: 15-21 — All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

God spoke to me this morning. Okay, not in one of those Charlton Heston burning-bush-in-the-middle-of-Paramount (or whatever) Studio kind of ways or my phone ringing with an unidentified caller ID. No, it was during my morning Bible study that I experienced one of those "aha" moments that could only be defined as God speaking to and through me because I'm just not that dern smart.

I woke up school-day early for a Saturday because Ken was leaving for an out-of-town-semi-business trip, and I wanted to be conscious when he kissed me good-bye. He increased the odds of that by bringing me a cup of coffee before I was fully vertical; you gotta love that man! Anyway, after he left and after one of the cats threw up three times on the newly cleaned wood floors (I know, TMI), I snuggled into my reading corner with a new cup of coffee and my new Devotional Bible.

This morning's devotional was Philippians 1-4 and, in my reading, I'm stuck on this line about how—if I think differently from what I should be thinking, "...that too God will make clear..." to me. So, why that seemed so profound to me, I'm not sure. But, I felt reassured that God is busy fashioning just the lenses I need for my short-sightedness, and He's not going to let me wallow in my own stupidity. Of course, my brain knows He's God, and He knows that I know that He knows, but this morning it just felt so much more clear in my heart.

Anyway—that's not even the epiphany. What happened next was such a moment of clarity that it was as if God had angels on instant FedEx deliver my new glasses. Paul talks about God transforming our lowly bodies so that they'll be like His glorious body (3:21), and I'm about to giggle thinking what a joy it will be to see my thighs transformed (assuming God is not built like JLo), when—SMACK—OUCH—WOW.

What if, Christa, you spent all the time, money, and energy on your spiritual body as you did on your physical body? Time spent exercising, money spent on food and dieting and books about food and dieting, and energy spent on hair and nails, and then there's that whole cooking thing to feed the body, and do I really need to mention all the clothes issues? How much of my life do I devote to a physical body, not even counting the emotional angst? God looks at me and sees Calista Flockhart or Nicole Ritchie and shakes His head and wonders why I continue to ignore all that good spiritual food He makes available for me—and catch this—free.

Lord, You’ve given me a banquet of spiritual food, and it’s there for my feasting every day in your Word. Food that will nourish and transform my soul. Keep me hungry, Lord, not for things of this world but for the glorious world that waits for us in heaven with You. Amen.

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa weaves stories of unscripted grace with threads of hope, humor, and heart. She contributes to Exemplify and Afictionado, the ACFW e-zine. The mother of five children, grandmother of three, and high school teacher, Christa lives in Abita Springs, Louisiana. She and her husband Ken enjoy their time playing golf and dodging hurricanes. Her debut novel, Walking on Broken Glass, releases February 1.

Author of Note (Amber Stockton)

I’m delighted to welcome Amber Stockton to The Bookshelf. Amber, we’ll be talking about your writing journey, and I also have a few just-for-fun questions. But first, tell us about Amber Stockton, the lady next door.

I was born outside of Washington, D.C. with roots in Virginia and Kentucky as well as Pennsylvania, but I spent most of my life living in Delaware. From an early age, I always loved to read and tell stories, but I also love traveling, photography, horses, movies and music. Now, I am married to another author, Stuart Stockton, who had his first book releasing in April of 2009. We have one daughter so far, and we live at the base of beautiful Pike’s Peak in Colorado. We also have a border collie named Roxie, who keeps life bouncing. Outside of our little circle, I have three brothers and my parents have been married for over thirty-five years. On Stuart’s side, there are two sisters and a brother, a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law, three aunts, two uncles, four cousins, one nephew and one niece. His parents have also been married thirty-five years.

Sounds like you have a busy life! 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?

That would be years ago. I wrote my first short story in 5th grade with several accolades from both my teacher and my fellow students. It was even entered into a ‘Young Writers of America’ contest where it became a finalist, but didn’t get selected for publication. Ever since I learned to read at age 3-1/2, I’ve been telling stories. Writing seemed to be a natural progression from the verbal. Although I continued it as a hobby for years, it wasn’t until 1997 when I wrote my first fan fiction and received a lot of encouragement and feedback that I realized I might be able to make something of this ability. It took me another five years before I took the step professionally to begin a career. Five years after that, I sold my first book and took that rather scary step into the world of authorship. I haven’t regretted a single moment.

Well, you obviously still love it … you’ve been really busy, with several releases last year, and Liberty’s Promise coming up in March. Tell us about your upcoming release.

This book is actually a Repackaging of my 3 historical Delaware novels: Promises, Promises; Quills & Promises; Deceptive Promises. Here is a collective summary:

Feel the heartbeat of a chaotic new country through the lives of three Pennsylvania women who seek to know to whom they can entrust their hearts.

Relive the birth of a new country as three women battle for determining to whom they can entrust their hearts. Raelene is all alone, but is there peace in following the wishes of her deceased father? Elanna is intelligent for her young age, but will her love for an older man turn into a passing fancy when his integrity is questioned? Margret's loyalties are torn when the colonists rebel, for how can a relationship with a British soldier built on deceptions survive? Will each woman find her place of freedom to embrace her faith and trust her heart to love?

Repackaging … I like that. J Of all your published works, do you have a favorite? And if so, what about that book makes it special to you?

At the moment, it would have to be Quills & Promises as it was my first attempt at retelling the courtship of my husband and me before we were married…only I time-warped us back to the French and Indian War and had us correspond with written letters instead of email. :)

Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

From real life, other books, movies, just about anything and everything I encounter in whatever form it takes. It could be something tiny like a remark someone makes all the way to a personal story someone shares or a biography I read somewhere. It’s hard to describe how the ideas form. I only know it takes just a blip and my mind is off and running!

How much time do you spend writing?

It depends on the day, to be honest. When I’m on a deadline, I am forced to make time wherever I can find it, and I often write for 4 hours. On an average day, though, I’m lucky to get thirty minutes to an hour free to write. With a baby at home, free time is quite precious, so I grab it when I can. The optimal time for me is late at night once she and my husband are asleep, as I am NOT a morning person unless I absolutely have to be. J

Ahh, another night owl! That’s when I do my best work too. What’s your best piece of advice for new and aspiring writers?

Writing is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work, determination, patience, perseverance and faith. And it won’t happen overnight. You have to maintain a teachable spirit and be open to constructive criticism, no matter how far along in your writing journey you get. In the end, the rewards far outweigh all the sweat and tears you shed along the way. Most importantly, if you feel this is the path for you, never give up!

Amen! Give us one writing tip that you personally find invaluable.

Read, read, read. If you’re going to be a writer, you must immerse yourself in the styles and genres where you’d like to be published. Become familiar with those who are selling book after book. Find out why their books work and what doesn’t. Know your market and read everything you can find in your genre.

That’s good advice. 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?

George Washington, and I’d ask him if he knew what would become of the country he helped found, would he still make the decisions he made that led to the creation of the United States?

Good question.... What books are on your bedside table right now?

For fiction, I’m currently working my way through a few of the “Love Finds You In…” books as I have two proposals with the editor right now under consideration. I want to familiarize myself with the tone and feel of the stories so I can be ready to write the book the editor wants.

For nonfiction, I have my devotional by Dee Brestin entitled, A Woman of Confidence. A group of ladies and I meet at our church each week to discuss it, and I’m loving the concept of having confidence without having pride, and growing it through inner holiness.

What word annoys you more than any other?

“Whatever.” It’s so rude and dismissive, although I suppose it’s the tone accompanying the word that bugs me more than the word itself.

Gotta agree. What “super power” would you like to borrow for awhile?

Lightning speed, so I could get everything I need to get done in a minimal amount of time and still have time left over at the end of the day to relax.

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

Dangling participles. People use them all the time, and it irks me when I read a book that’s gone through the editing process with these left unchanged. It’s not difficult to reword a sentence to avoid this, yet far too often, they are overlooked. For example, instead of saying someone picked the book up, you write that they picked up the book. That way, “the book” becomes the object of “picked up” and answers the question “picked up what?”

In every chapter I edit for my critique partners, I always mark them with the rewording suggestion. Perhaps some day, writers will be held more accountable for proper grammar usage and not be permitted to fudge in a few areas for the sake of a good story. :)

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

The latest information is always available on my web site on the books page, but I also include special announcements, sales, blog tour news, etc., on my blog. Here are the links:


Thanks again for being with us, Amber. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.

Thank you for having me here, Delia. It’s been a true pleasure and honor. And thanks to all of my readers who help keep me writing. If it weren’t for you, I’d have no destination for my books and no career as an author.

Amber Stockton is an author and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author and their baby daughter in beautiful Colorado Springs. They also have a vivacious Border Collie mix named Roxie. Amber has sold eight books to Barbour Publishing with more on the horizon. Other writing credits include writing articles for various publications, five short stories for Romancing the Christian Heart, and contributions to Grit for the Oyster and 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage. A born-again Christian since the age of seven, her faith in Christ has often sustained her through difficult experiences. She seeks to share that with others through her writing. Read more about her at her web site: http://www.amberstockton.com/.

Notes on Writing (Vickie McDonough)

AlphaSmart or Laptop
Vickie McDonough

So you’ve probably heard about an AlphaSmart by now and may even own one. If you’re thinking of buying a laptop, you may want to check out the AlphaSmart first. I own both, having recently inherited my current AlphaSmart from my son, who used it in high school for note-taking. FYI – from here on out, I’ll refer to AlphaSmart as AS.

Before I had a laptop, I had an AS, and though I loved it, I disliked the limited editing features. It’s a very lightweight keyboard, about fifteen inches wide and weighs only a few pounds, which makes it easy to take with you. It runs on three AA batteries, which last for a long while. I change them annually now, but have had them last several years in the past. My AS 3000, which is an older model, has eight files for holding text. The files hold a lot of material, but you wouldn’t be able to keep a whole book on it.

The AS is simple to use. It turns on and off immediately, with no warm-up time. It automatically saves your document, so there’s little risk of losing your text, unless you accidentally delete it. To upload info, first you need to have the AS software on your computer. Then just open your Word program, plug in your AS, and hit Send. The text uploads a letter at a time, but is fairly fast. Portability and ease of use were my favorite things about the AS.

When I write at home I prefer my laptop. Here’s why. First off, it’s networked to our main computer, so I can access all the files I have stored there. I prefer to write downstairs in my recliner, and having the laptop networked is wonderful. You can’t do any graphics on the AS or play games. The AS has a smaller keyboard than a laptop, so there is an adjustment when you first start using it. Another AS negative is the screen is very small and not lit up. You can’t change the text size to make it easier to read. It has very limited editing features, so you have to do your editing on your computer. Also, there are no email capabilities with an AS, but that could actually be a plus for writers who are easily distracted. The Dana does advertise WiFi capabilities, but I’ve not used one so I don’t know how well that works.

The AS is much cheaper than most laptops, running from around $200 for the basic AS to $350 for the nicer Dana model. Both, I believe, synchronize to either a PC or Macintosh. If you’d like more AS info, go to Alphasmart.com.

If I had to choose between a laptop and an AlphaSmart, I’d choose my laptop. I’m fortunate to have both though, and find them both useful in different situations.

Award-winning author Vickie McDonough believes God is the ultimate designer of romance. She loves writing stories where the characters find their true love and grow in their faith. Vickie has had 18 books published. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and is currently serving as ACFW treasurer. Vickie has also been a book reviewer for nine years. She is a wife of thirty-five years, mother of four sons, and grandmother to a feisty three-year-old girl. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching movies, and traveling.

Visit Vickie's website at http://www.vickiemcdonough.com/.

Notes in Review (Third Time's a Charm)

Third Time’s a Charm
Virginia Smith

Tori Sanderson loves her job. She loves the great pay checks and the trendy clothes she buys with them. She especially loves the distinct possibility of a great promotion, but she’ll have to win the favor of an overbearing boss to get it. What she does not love is trying to make it happen with her competition breathing down her neck—both professionally and … well, unprofessionally.

Outside of the office, her closest friends are her sisters. When Joan and Allie decide Tori’s job is taking over her life and it’s their duty to help her find Mr. Right, little sister is in for a rollercoaster ride of change.

She can’t imagine herself with a man like Ryan Adams. No money, no real career, absolutely zero interest in expensive clothes and toys. Still, something about the handsome farm boy sends tingles down her spine. Trouble is, it’s hard for Tori to trust love when her own father didn’t love her enough to stick around.

Pressure builds in the office. Emotions threaten to suffocate her at home. And love comes calling without an invitation. Can Tori release old hurts to make room for new happiness? And will she allow a heavenly Father to show her the love her earthly one did not?

This final offering in Virginia Smith’s Sister-to-Sister series is filled with laugh-out-loud humor on the one hand, and tear-jerking sentiment on the other. It’s a sometimes painful look into the hurting heart of a woman abandoned by every little girl’s natural hero—her daddy. While the author’s style seems light-hearted, there are moments of genuine, bald emotion that make the tale unforgettable. Smith possesses an admirable ability to deliver compelling storylines with messages of faith so subtly interwoven as to be near undetectable.

Good writing, good storyline, good way to tie up a series!

Reviewed by Delia Latham

New & Upcoming Titles

Watch for these 2010 titles from Christian authors:


Third Time’s a Charm
Virginia Smith

Released January 2010

Tori Sanderson has the professional opportunity of a lifetime. If she can prove she's executive material, she's in line for a big promotion. But there's only room for one new account executive, and her co-worker has his eye on the job—and on Tori. Her matchmaking sisters have a handsome handyman in mind for her. But how can she consider romance when she couldn't hold on to the one man who was supposed to love her forever—her own father? The time has come for answers, and Tori decides to search out the father who deserted her twelve years ago. While Tori may find the answers she craves, will she ever be able to love again? A heartwarming story of sisters, retail therapy, and love that endures, Third Time's a Charm is the satisfying conclusion to Virginia Smith's Sister-to-Sister series.

Walking on Broken Glass
Christa Allan

Already sloshed from one-too-many drinks at a faculty party, Leah Thornton cruises the supermarket aisles in search of something tasty to enhance her Starbucks—Kahlua, for example. Two confrontations later—one at the grocery store and the other with her friend Molly—Leah is sitting in the office of the local rehab center facing an admissions counselor who fails to understand the most basic things, like the fact that apple juice is not a suitable cocktail mixer. Rehab is no picnic, and being forced to experience and deal with the reality of her life isn’t Leah’s idea of fun. But through the battle she finds a reservoir of courage she never knew she had, and the loving arms of a God she never quite believed existed.


Liberty's Promise
Amber Miller Stockton

As a new country emerges, three Pennsylvania women wonder who can be trusted. Raelene feels abandoned to the care of a man she dislikes. Elanna’s inquisitive mind may lead her down the road to heartbreak. Margret’s love for a British soldier is built on deception that is bound to backfire.


They Almost Always Come Home
Cynthia Ruchti

When Libby’s husband Greg fails to return from a two-week canoe trip to the Canadian wilderness, the authorities soon write off his disappearance as an unhappy husband’s escape from an empty marriage and unrewarding career. Their marriage might have survived if their daughter Lacey hadn’t died…and if Greg hadn’t been responsible. Libby enlists the aid of her wilderness savvy father-in-law and her faith-walking best friend to help her search for clues to her husband’s disappearance…if for no other reason than to free her to move on. What the trio discovers in the search upends Libby’s presumptions about her husband and rearranges her faith.

Anonymous Bride
(Texas Boardinghouse Brides)
Vickie McDonough

Check yourself into the Texas Boardinghouse Brides series by Vickie McDonough, where you’ll meet Luke Davis, marshal of Lookout, Texas, who flippantly tells his cousin he’d get married if the right woman ever came along. When three mail-order brides are delivered to Luke a month later, he’s in an uncomfortable predicament. How will he ever choose his mate? Rachel Hamilton’s long-time love for Luke is reignited with his return to town. So when three mail-order brides appear, she panics. Will she find the courage to tell Luke that she loves him? Or take an anonymous part in the contest for his hand?


Chasing Lilacs
Carla Stewart

It’s the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.

As her life careens out of control, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears: Her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious boy from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on. Then there’s the elderly widower who seems nice but has his own dark past.

Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.

“A remarkable debut novel. Carla Stewart cleverly captures the stark simplicity of a young girl’s voice with all the masterful qualities of powerful prose. Unforgettable.”
—Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy

“Chasing Lilacs is the kind of coming of age story that sticks to you beyond the last page. Unforgettable characters, surprising plot twists, and a setting so southern you’ll fall in love with Texas. Carla Stewart is a new talent to watch!”
—Mary E. DeMuth, author of Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn

Visit Carlas's website
Visit Carla's blog


Vanishing Act
Elizabeth Johnson

Vanishing Act is the story of Nora James, a young woman who sees her father shot in an alley. Afraid for her life, she hides in tiny Crescent City, Colorado, changing her name, appearance, and job. It worked for months ... but now her luck has run out. A ruthless assassain is on her trail, and soon Nora will be found out. But this time she has FBI Special Agent Nate Andersen by her side. The handsome agent would give his life to protect his assignment, but he's weary of giving his heart ... until a deadly confrontation leaves him with both on the line.


Hatteras Girl
Alice J. Wisler

There are two things that journalist Jackie Donavan dreams about—marriage and owning a bed and breakfast in Nags Head, NC. But why is the bed and breakfast she desires deteriorating, and why won't her relatives behave so that she can go out with the handsome realtor? Filled with quirky friends and relatives that help and hinder Jackie to and from her goals, Hatteras Girl is about uncovering the truth while finding the way to your dreams.

One Year Alone With God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God
by Ava Pennington

One year from now, will you be able to say that you know God better than you id before? One of the best ways to start is by learning what He says about Himself—the names and attributes He gives Himself. One Year Alone with God is a devotional guide to the names and attributes of God. It provides 366 life-changing, personal devotions exploring who God is, who we are, and how we relate to others.

One Year Alone with God will examine each of 122 names and attributes of God from three perspectives:

1. How God describes Himself
2. How this name/attribute changes or strengthens our relationship with Him
3. How this name/attribute changes or strengthens our relationships with others


Information pending

Contest Notes (February)

The drawing for this edition of The Bookshelf will be held on the last day of March. Winner will be announced in the April edition.

The winner will receive Third Time’s a Charm by Virginia Smith (see my review, above) and A Gathering of Finches by Jane Kirkpatrick.

The December-edition winner of Love Finds You in Revenge, Ohio and a gift certificate for one pound of See’s candy is:


Congratulations, Melissa!

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. They are handled carefully and you will receive them in great condition.