Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

Now is the time to get us thinking of New Year’s Resolutions. Whether you make them or not, whether you stick to them past January 2nd, we all think about resolutions we need to make and what we’ll do differently in the New Year.

Over on one of my writing groups the discussion this week is what we’ll do differently in our writing business.

Hmm. How about everything? I haven’t been nearly as disciplined in the actual art of writing for most of 2008. Most of my business has been focused on selling the books I have already written and marketing myself. Those things have to be done, but not at the expense of my writing.

My New Year’s Resolution as far as writing goes is to get back to basics and spend as much time in the trenches writing as I do on every other aspect of the business. One clever little tool I discovered yesterday thanks to Ronie Kendig over at ACFW is a time clock. You can download it for free I can't vouch for this program other than to say it's free as long as you have less than 3 employees using it. And don't we all. The program installs a simple time clock on your desktop, it lets you clock in/out, tallies it for you. McAfee also vouches that the company as an approved site.

Since most of us don't have a boss looking over our shoulder, this may be the motivation we need.

I’ve downloaded it and am looking forward to some real production in the coming year. Let’s get ready to shine in ’09.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Before the Season Ends

Please welcome my good friend and fellow writer Linore Rose Burkard to Joy in the Journey.

Linore creates Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul. Her characters take you back in time to experience life and love during the era of Regency England (circa 1800 - 1830). Fans of classic romances, such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Sense & Sensibility, will enjoy meeting Ariana Forsythe, a feisty heroine who finds her heart and beliefs tested by high-society London.

Ms. Burkard's novels include Before the Seasons Ends and The House in Grosvenor Square (coming April, 2009). Her stories blend Christian faith and romance with well-researched details from the Regency period. Her books and monthly newsletter captivate readers with little-known facts, exciting stories, and historical insights. Experience a romantic age, where timeless lessons still apply to modern life. And, enjoy romance that reminds us happy endings are possible for everyone.

Publisher's Weekly affirms, "Ms. Burkard's command of period detail is impressive, evident in material details, but also in dialogue. Her novels even help non-Regencyphiles learn the difference between ladies' pelisses and spencers...On the whole, it's a tasty confection."

Ms. Burkard began writing when she couldn't find a Regency romance with an inspirational twist. "There were Christian books that approached the genre," she says, "But, they fell short of being a genuine Regency. I knew that many women like me want stories that are historically authentic and offer glimpses of God's involvement in our lives. So, I finally gave up looking and decided to write one myself."

Ms. Burkard was raised in New York, where she graduated magna cum laude from the City University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. She lives with her husband and five children in a town full of antique stores and gift shops in southwestern Ohio. Her hobbies include working on four new Regency novels, family movie nights, swimming, and gardening.

Linore, what drew you to writing Regency Romance novels?
Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen books gave me a love for the period, and there weren't any Christian regencies to be found. I wanted to change that.

Where did you find your inspiration for Ariana and Phillip?
I'm not sure. I think they're both amalgamations of people I've read about and known.
England in the 1800s is a world away from the 21st century.

What do you think we could learn today from how society operated in the Regency period?
Times have changed, but people haven't. Men and women of the time were concerned with their appearances, their finances, their futures, finding the right spouse, and so on, just as we are, today. How they went about pursuing these ends is where all the difference lies, however, and this is precisely where the interest and adventure opens up for writers. Bringing to life the means and methods of everyday life and timeless concerns from the regency. It is fun and enlightening as a glimpse into the past, but readers can also identify with the basic human need to be genuinely loved for onself, no matter the setting or time period, and to be certain of one's convictions concerning life, eternity, and faith. Having said that, it is good to remind modern readers that valuing one's purity can be mainstream, as it was then; or that the struggle to find a true love and a sense that one's life has value, has always been a human issue.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope my readers will feel as though they've been transported to the Regency for a good, satisfying visit; While they're visiting, they'll be reminded that God is involved in their life, and that happy endings are possible for everyone.

Any Regency romance is going to be compared to Jane Austen's novels ~ how are your books similar / different?
I don't think most regencies are written with this comparison in mind at all. However, other people say my book is "Austen-like." That is a huge compliment, and one I would love to live up to.
The sequel, The House in Grosvenor Square, is releasing in 2009.

Do you have more Regency novels planned?
My editor and I are tossing around ideas right now. I do have a few more regencies in mind.

What are you working on at the moment? A sneak peek, please.
I'm exploring whether to do a third book in the Regency Series, which at present is comprised of Before the Season Ends, and The House in Grosvenor Square. Book three would begin about five years later (about 1818) and follow the lives of a number of people who were introduced in the first two books. I would also probably introduce one new couple.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I do something else. If I can't write a scene for a book, I can always write an article. I can update my blog. I can't really force a scene when it isn't coming; I find that getting busy and doing something else is the best thing I can do for the book and for me (rather than beat myself up). One thing about having an online presence today is that there is never a shortage of tasks to be done, including a great many writing tasks. Since I write historical (regency) romance, there are always tons of subjects I can research and write about, putting them into articles for my ezine, or out there on the web.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters, or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
I think for me the biggest challenge was to believe that I could write a novel in small increments. As a mom of five, four of whom are still home year-round (one is in college), having frequent interruptions is a fact of life. Writing takes a concentration so deep so that when I first started doing scenes, I would find myself getting woozy after standing up. I was shocked at the level of exertion it took to use my brain that hard, I guess! It happens less now--I guess I've grown accustomed to it. And I've learned to appreciate those small blocks of time. Ten minutes in a waiting room can yield a part of a scene I couldn't get done at home. Every little bit counts. I don't despise small beginnings. There are times when I'm in a deep level of involvement with a story or a character, and then getting interrupted can break the mood; but I'm getting better all the time at picking up where I left off, no matter how deeply I've got to dive to get back into the character or situation. For people like me with busy households, this is a must-have ability. I believe it can be the difference between making that deadline or not.

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?
If I do get stuck at some point in the plot, I let it simmer in my mind. I also exercise--for some reason, when I am physically active, my brain gets going in a way that doesn't always happen when I'm sitting with my laptop before me. Swimming and doing the treadmill (walking) almost always result in wonderful new ideas I just can 't wait to get on paper. Sometimes, I've even had to stop walking and run to the pc just to get the idea down so I don't forget. By the way, I always pray for the right idea, too. There is no better writer than God.

The second "nifty" way to solve a plot (or other) problem in a book is to let it sit awhile without reading it. When you come back to it after a long enough interval (as long as you can give it) solutions just present themselves. I find the same thing happens to me with crossword puzzles--if I'm stuck, I put it down and when I come back to it--even an hour later--the word is there. So the key is, give yourself permission to take a break.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins, or do you have to tweeze each word out?
In general, I write more than I need and later have to cut back. I don't use a word count, but I may set a goal of one chapter a day or two chapters for a busy week. Other times, I don't think in terms of chapters at all, just events. I may break an event down into four scenes, say, and so my goal for that day will be to get the whole event on paper. In other words, finish the four scenes. Life changes so rapidly with the children, that for me, a hard and fast writing goal just wouldn't work. And, I focus on results, not time spent. Instead of, "Now I'll write for three hours," I say, "Now I'll have this or that happen to a character, or, 'I'll show a different side to this person." When I have accomplished that goal, no matter how long it took, I feel satisfied, and only then.

Thanks, Linore, for spending time here at Joy in the Journey. May you have a blessed and beautiful Christmas, and find much success with your Regency series.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Better to give than to receive

I don’t know if this happens to you, but I get a lot of calls this time of year from charitable organizations asking me for money. I give as much as I can afford. Besides supporting my church and the local animal rescue group, I drop a dollar into every Salvation Army kettle I see.

I’m not telling you this to brag, I’m just making a point. So when the phone calls start coming in, I refuse most of them. Not that they aren’t worthy, just that I’m already pulled a little thin.

Jesus said it is better to give than to receive.

While Jesus never intended that we think of ourselves when we give, I want you to take a moment and do just that. How does giving make you feel? Whether you buy a bag of dog food to take to the local pound or purchase a few extra toys for the Toys for Tots barrel or stuff a dollar or ten in a red kettle, it feels absolutely wonderful to give. Try it. Even a selfish person--not that we have any here--gets an emotional surge from giving something to someone else.

You will probably never see the child who receives the toy you put into the barrel. And the dog at the shelter certainly can’t thank you for the kibble. Regardless, it feels wonderful to give.

Why do we do it then if we never receive accolades? My husband was telling me the other night about a reality show in which philanthropists go into poor neighborhoods, spend time with homeless people and then decide upon which ones to bestow $50,000. I’m sure these philanthropists are well meaning compassionate people. But I don’t think they are putting themselves out too badly. They are giving from their abundance and we've already established...

It feels wonderful to give.

Don’t think on this too long. I certainly don’t want to talk you out of giving this year. Just realize there is plenty more you have to give besides monetary gifts.

Give of yourself. Give a smile. Give the clerk at the register a break. They've dealt with enough rudeness today. Give someone your seat on the bus or the person at the grocery store with a handful of items your place in line. Give a word of kindness to everyone you come in contact with.

Do you remember that song we used to sing in Sunday School: This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.

Have you shone lately?

For it truly is better to give than to receive.

Be blessed and have a beautiful Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Taming the Tongue

Every year sparks from hot tempers or careless words start fires which consume millions of lives in beautiful relationships. Once begun, these fires move unrelenting through self-esteem and trust - nothing is safe from the fury of the tongue.

James 3:5-6
"Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body."

Our tongue has incredible power to build up and encourage - it also has an enormous ability to tear down and destroy. "But I tell you that men will have to give accouont on the day of judgment for every carless word they have spoken." (Matthew 12:36) God holds us accountable for the fires we set.

David prayed that God would "set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips." Psamlms 141:2. While this is a wise prayer, it must be seen as an absolute last line of defense - once our words escape they can almost never be fully recovered.

A much better fire prevention plan is to control the sparks at the true source. "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Matthew 12:34. If our heart is filled with the ways of the world, our mouth will naturally speak the world's wisdom.. However, "the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." 1 Corinthians 3:19. Rather, we must fill our heart with the ways of God and allow our mouth to overflow with His wisdom. "I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin agains You." Psalms 119:11.

Let's look at the results of our tongue. If there are raging fires or even smoldering embers, we must pray for healing and restoration. The damage may look severe, "but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26. We then must so fill our heart with the power of His Word that we truly "do not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths." Ephesians 4:29. Let's stop the fires. Let's begin today to fill our heart and prevent the sparks.

Merry Christmas and may you all rest in the Love and Peace that comes from our Savior.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buy more books

I rec'd this announcement from on one of my online writers' groups and thought I would pass it along here.

How many of you are blessed to live close to an independent bookstore? How many of you know of at least one bookstore that has closed in the last three years? I know of several, some of which hosted me for book signings back in the day when I was first getting started in this business.

Now the independent bookstores need our help. Read the following message from Roy Blount, Jr., current president of Authors Guild.

"I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

"We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

"There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: "Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

"Enjoy the holidays."

Roy Blount Jr.
Authors Guild
Blount then sent this "P.S." to the above:
"The Guild's staff informs me that many of you are writing to ask whether you can forward and post my holiday message encouraging orgiastic book-buying. Yes! Forward! Yes! Post! Sound the clarion call to every corner of the Internet: Hang in there, bookstores! We're coming! And we're coming to buy!..."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Motivation for the task ahead.

I managed to lose ten percent of my body weight in 2008 using nothing more then sheer determination and self discipline. Now if I could only apply that to my writing.

Seems my motivation to finish a project is always lagging this time of year. There is so much else that needs done, I can’t find the inspiration to spend any time writing. Shame on me. I have so much to do and need to get cracking.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar; motivational speaker

Makes sense doesn't it? The secret to staying consistent with your goals, whatever they are, is to stay motivated. That means finding ways to fire yourself up on a daily basis. Being inspired at a seminar, by reading a book, or while talking to a dynamic speaker is easy. But what happens when you're on your own?

To follow through on that burst of motivation and reach the finish line, you need regular booster shots. Give yourself those little positive reminders that you have an important job to do and a good reason for doing it. What's pushing you? Surround yourself with visual, verbal, and physical "pep talks" that trigger that motive. It doesn't take long for dust to gather on your momentum, making your goals turn stale. A daily dose of motivation kicks off the dust before it can settle and gives you a fresh, clean start.

Just because you have a houseful of company coming and cookies to bake for a classroom party tomorrow morning or gifts to wrap and cards to send, doesn't mean you should set your goals aside. Whatever you see yourself doing in 2009 or 2020, get to work now.

Billy Blanks, my Taebo guru, always says; "Where I am today is where my mind put me. Where I'll be tomorrow is where my mind put me."

My mind wants to put me on a bestseller list in 2009. What about you? Where do you want to be tomorrow?

Happy writing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Tis the season--for remakes

If you’ve ever thought of putting pen to paper, you’ve probably heard it said before; there’s nothing new under the sun. Trying to come up with an original idea in fiction is a fruitless pursuit. Anything you come up with has been done to death.

Case in point: TV movies. Just how many remakes or variations of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle of 34th Street can they make? How many are we viewers willing to watch?

And then there are Christmas carols. I happen to be one of those people who could listen to carols year round. I love them. Some more than others to be sure. Some are exhausting; like Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer. I’m not a big fan of Jingle Bells either. But there are many others I could hear over and over again.

With Christmas carols, as in movies remakes, much of it depends on the interpretation of the subject matter. Who is better suited to sing Blue Christmas than Elvis himself? I think all others who throw their hats in the ring should be shot. This includes the latest songstress whose version was released this week. Okay, maybe not shot. I don’t want to endorse violence. How about a firm reprimand or coal in her stocking?

Everyone who’s ever won a recording contract has tried their hand at White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, I’ll be Home for Christmas. I happen to prefer Joe Nichols version of the last one and nobody can do Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy as well as Travis Tritt.

I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery. Frank Capra and Elvis should be pleased their work has endured all these years. Maybe they are even more pleased to know there are some things you just can’t improve upon.

Even though there are no original ideas to be found, let us keep working to make the interpretation of our stories original. After all, no one can tell your story the way you can. Just like no one can belt out Blue Christmas like Elvis, nor should they try.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Three Ugly Truths of Novel Writing

This probably would've been more helpful when so many of you were joining the November Novel Writing Month Challenge. Nevertheless I found this at by UK author and freelance journalist Sean McManus, and thought it bore repeating.

So here it is five weeks late but something to think about.

Three ugly truths of novel writing

If you're going to write a novel, you need to accept three ugly truths.

The first is that you're not writing a bestseller. If your goal is to get rich, you're better off spending your time doing a paper route and buying lottery tickets with the money. In the UK alone, 130,000 new books are published annually. That means that there are 356 new books every day. Maybe you'll strike it lucky. But the odds are stacked so overwhelmingly against you. The only good reason to write a novel is that you'll enjoy it. It's not worth being a tortured artist in the hope you'll get a payday at the end.

The second ugly truth is that writing is hard work. It takes dedication to complete a book. If you're writing a story of 100,000 words, you'll need to write about 2000 words every week for a year. I'm not saying your book should be that long. Publishing formats (including online) are much more flexible nowadays. But you do need to be sure you can commit the time necessary to finish the kind of book you want to write.

The third bad tiding is that you're going to waste a lot of time. You'll need to rewrite scenes as your story evolves. You'll probably want to re-do earlier bits, as you get to know the characters better and improve your writing skills. You might spend a weekend writing a chapter you delete outright. Sometimes you have to write a scene to see whether it works or not. I don't think anything from the first three months of writing (perhaps more) survived into my final story. And that is very much a good thing. If you can't accept you'll waste time, you'll find it hard to delete stuff that really should go.

Once you accept those truths, you have absolute creative freedom. You don't have to conform to traditional notions of what kind of books sell. You don't have to meet anyone's deadlines but your own. And you can write whatever you like. If you'll enjoy writing it, write it.

You can publish online in a range of formats, including print-on-demand paper books and ebooks. Your book will definitely be published if you want it to be. Write for the fun of it, and have faith that you can get your story into circulation at the end.

You might not have millions of readers, but you will have a wonderful experience. Enjoy the journey.

I especially agree with the last statement. Enjoy the journey, folks. There is joy to be found there.

Have a wonderful writing weekend.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Before the Season Ends

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce readers to my friend and fellow writer, Linore Rose Burkard. Linore is the creator of “Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul.” Her characters take you back in time to experience life and love during the era of Regency England (circa 1811 – 1820). Fans of classic romances, such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Sense & Sensibility, will enjoy meeting Ariana Forsythe, a feisty heroine who finds her heart and beliefs tested by high-society London.

Linore's first novel, Before the Season Ends was released this month, and will be the subject of an exciting contest on Christmas Day. You have to check back later in the month for all the details.

Ms. Burkard’s novels include Before the Seasons Ends and The House in Grosvenor Square (coming April, 2009). Her stories blend Christian faith and romance with well-researched details from the Regency period. Her books and monthly newsletter captivate readers with little-known facts, exciting stories, and historical insights. Experience a romantic age, where timeless lessons still apply to modern life. And, enjoy romance that reminds us happy endings are possible for everyone.

Publisher’s Weekly affirms, “Ms. Burkard’s command of period detail is impressive, evident in material details, but also in dialogue. Her novels even help non-Regencyphiles learn the difference between ladies’ pelisses and spencers…On the whole, it’s a tasty confection.”

Ms. Burkard began writing when she couldn’t find a Regency romance with an inspirational twist. “There were Christian books that approached the genre,” she says, “But, they fell short of being a genuine Regency. I knew that many women like me want stories that are historically authentic and offer glimpses of God’s involvement in our lives. So, I finally gave up looking and decided to write one myself."

Ms. Burkard was raised in New York, where she graduated magna cum laude from the City University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. She lives with her husband and five children in a town full of antique stores and gift shops in southwestern Ohio. Her hobbies include working on four new Regency novels, family movie nights, swimming, and gardening.

Before the Season Ends is available from Amazon or or by visiting your local bookstore.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hands of Hope

This Holiday Season - Give a Gift that Transforms Lives

Hands of Hope, a charity of Women Helping Women A World Away, is announcing that their Holiday Gift Cards are available for purchase. These cards provide food, income and water for impoverished women and children in Zambia, Uganda, and Southern Sudan. They can be purchased on the Hands of Hope website for $15.00, $30.00 and $50.00. Purchasing these cards will provide goats, chickens or wells to help change lives. What could be a more meaningful gift for holiday giving for family, friends, and customer appreciation?

Hands of Hope helps mobilize communities to respond to the needs of women and children around the world. With an ever-expanding support base in the Chicago area, Hands of Hope works to raise community awareness regarding poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa and its relevance globally. We are confident in the integrity of the channels we have established so that contributions provide the highest possible impact for the most critical needs.

A teacher who received a Hands of Hope greeting card from one of his students, remarked:

"This was the most profound gift I have received from a student in all my 38 years of teaching."
Roger Prazaider, 5th Grade Teacher, Geneva, IL

This is a gift you can't afford NOT to give! A perfect gift for everyone in your life. Scroll down further to read about how Hands of Hope began and about their current projects.

How Hands of Hope Began:
A few women, A trip to Nigeria

Hands of Hope was started after a trip to Nigeria in 1999 disclosed startling conditions affecting women and the girl child due to the cultural practice of early childhood marriages (as early as age 11.) The pregnancies that follow come at time when a young girl is not adequately physically developed to permit the passage of a baby, which can lead to a prolonged and obstructed labor, death of the baby, death of the mother or a horrendous physical condition called vesico vaginal fistula (VVF). The immediate consequences of VVF are urinary incontinence, dermatitis, and some may suffer from paralysis of the lower half of the body. The social consequences of this condition are severe in a culture where a woman's value is based on her ability to bear children. Estimates are between 250,000-700,000 women are afflicted with this condition in Nigeria alone.

"To meet only one of these mothers is to be profoundly moved...Mourning the stillbirth of their baby, incontinent of urine, ashamed of their offensiveness, often spurned by their husbands, homeless, unemployable except in the fields, they endure, they exist, without hope..."

As a result of that trip and of others hearing about the plight of women and children in Nigeria a northwest suburban community of Chicago came together, bringing their skills and resources, to help address the critical needs of women and children a world away. Our initial efforts funded a hospital addition which is being used for the surgical repair of women with VVF in Jos, Nigeria. A grass roots effort of just a few has now grown to include over 250 volunteers, annual fundraising events, and cooperative relationships with other helping organizations. With an ever-expanding support base in the Chicago area and a clear vision focused on making a difference, Hands of Hope works to raise community awareness and provides resources to women and children that offer education, address health concerns and provide the tools and resources for women to be economically self sustaining. Our efforts bring hope and open doors of opportunity to women and children who want the same things we all universally value; health, safety, the ability to make a living and provide a viable future for their loved ones.

Today, Hands of Hope targets the enormous impact of poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic on women and children in Africa.

Chicken Cards

These lovely cards each represent a gift of twelve chicks. Help an impoverished family with a gift of chicks. $15.00 each

The inside of the card reads:

A gift of twelve chicks has been purchased and given to an impoverished family in Africa in your honor by:___________

As the flock multiplies, a struggling family will be given the hope to survive.

Your gift will help those in need for generations to come.

Goat Cards

These lovely cards each represent an actual goat being purchased for a needy family. Beyond providing much needed milk, a few goats can quickly become a herd, providing sustenance and additional income that can make the difference between whether a child goes to school or not. $30.00 each

The inside of the card reads:

A gift of a goat has been purchased and given to an impoverished family in Africa in your honor by: _____________

Offspring from your goat will be passed along to other needy families in villages where people are struggling to survive. This gift will bring hope and survival to many a continent away.

Well Cards

$50.00 each

The inside of the card reads:

A donation has been given towards funding a well in the Western Province of Zambia in your honor by: ______________

Statistics show that nearly half of all people in developing countries suffer from health related problems caused by unsafe water. In addition, African women and children spend several hours every day collecting water which is often miles away and may or may not be contaminated. This well will provide clean and safe drinking water and will go a long way to ease a heavy burden for hundreds of village people who struggle daily with basic physical needs.

Current Projects

Holistic Resources to Mongu in the Western Province of Zambia

Training, technical assistance and resource development in production and post harvest management for over 1000 rural farmers (approx. 6000 people)
Development of agricultural business services to create markets for farmer crops
Access to credit and financial services to minimize risk and maximize return for farmers

Education - Limulunga Community School

Funding a school building - 600 children receive an otherwise unattainable education in this poverty stricken rural community
Providing school uniforms, books, supplies and equipment
Funding a "children in crisis" project for critical needs of students
Providing desks for 600 children


Provide wells and irrigation systems for farm families

Completed and Ongoing Projects

Emergency Refuge Support - Southern Sudan

Agricultural tools and seeds for 350 families returning from war
Goat and Chicken Projects - Southern Sudan, Uganda, Zambia

Providing Goats and Chickens to an expanding network of over 2000 poor rural families
Microfinance Loans - Congo, Rwanda, Uganda

Provided women seed money to establish or expand viable businesses and provide sustainable income with affordable financing that changes the future of families and transforms poverty-stricken communities.
Education and Vocational Training Center for AIDS Orphans - Uganda

Working directly with First Lady Janet Museveni, we helped fund an educational complex that serves 400 children with secondary education and vocational training
School for the Blind Children - Zambia
Provided clothing, bedding, first aid kits, musical instruments and transportation for Sefula School for the Blind which cares for 200 children with urgent needs
Health Care
VVF Hostel and Vocational Training Center - Nigeria

50 bed hospital wing and rehab center serving over 2100 women suffering from horrendous gynecological problems as a result of early childhood pregnancies and subsequent pregnancies
Emergency Assistance - Southern Sudan

Mosquito nets and water containers for over 200 families returning home to rebuild their lives after 21 years of war.

Contact at Hands of Hope:
VickyWauterlek, Hands of Hope, 847-381-7367

Friday, November 07, 2008

That time of year again

You would think I’d be better at time management by now. Unfortunately every year around this time my writing gets pushed aside by all the other things that need done in preparation for the holidays. Between shopping, planning menus and creating newsletters to include in my Christmas cards, my regular writing schedule takes a beating.

Not this year. Just like I’m already planning to insure my weight loss survives the party going ahead, I need to make concessions so my writing won’t fall by the wayside until January.

All it takes is a little planning and forethought on my part. Regardless of what else needs done, I should be able to find two to four hours each day to devote to writing. The optimal solution is to focus the first few hours every day on writing. I seldom start a day without a cardio routine. I already know if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, I’m not going to do it. My writing needs to be a top priority too.

I think it goes without saying that it’s imperative you write something every day. Even on Thanksgiving Day when you’re planning for company and checking the turkey and shining the mirror in the guest bathroom, take a few minutes to write. End your day in the middle of a scene (or even in the middle of a sentence), and you’ll never be faced with a blank screen at the start of your writing session.

Have a target word count to aim for each day regardless of what else is going on. I know you have to be practical that some days you can’t reach that goal. So lower your word count on the days when you’ll be out shopping with friends or wrapping gifts. But still write something.

It’s okay to count planning, outlining and editing as part of your writing. You might find you need to allocate a day for coming up with ideas (brainstorming), a day for planning in more detail, then three or four days to write the first draft. Those activities are good to focus on while your watching the turkey or stuck in traffic on your way to the mall. Take a notebook with you. Instead of focusing on the idiot in front of you who missed the light, think about your heroine and her current problems. They are probably more interesting than yours anyway.

Happy writing. And oh yeah, don’t forget to get in that cardio time. You’ll feel so much better on January 1st.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Before taking yesterday off to work at the polls, I interviewed Karen Fabian about her book Firestorm of Dragons. Today we will get to know Karen a little better by talking about Leaps of Faith.

Believe in a future where science and faith live side-by-side? Leaps of Faith contains 15 stories exploring space, time and faith. Can an ancient religion bring hope to first-line explorers for whom each trip is potential suicide? What does it mean when a physicist finds God's face in the stars? Is there a "saint gene" and can it be reproduced to create miracles? What happens to your soul when your body is shattered into quantum elements and reassembled on another world? How will the Christian faith transform alien thoughts and traditions?

Read as time travelers seeking to change Biblical history and space travelers harvesting "angels" are brought to faith by their experiences. Experience tender romance and heart-pounding adventure. Laugh at the foilables of man.

A 2002 EPPIE finalist for Best Electronic Anthology, Leaps of Faith promises the best in Christian sci-fi.

Welcome, Karen. Can you tell us what you most enjoyed about compiling this book?

Discovering the many angles at which people examine their relationship with god in the future--and reading some great stories.

Was it hard to select stories for Leaps of Faith?

Actually, no. We had about 100 stories submitted, I think (It was sooo long ago, it seems), but many of them missed one of the three core values of the anthology:
1. make the Christianity real and positive
2. make the science plausible and believable
3. show us how science and religion can interact positively together.

The stories in this anthology didn't just meet these three requirements, but also made us laugh out loud, shed a tear, or sit back and think. The authors made the choices easy for us.

What do you want people to get out of your book?

Hope for our future. An understanding that affirming God's role in our life doesn't mean rejecting the value of science or progress. Finally, a pleasant few hours of faith-filled escapism.

Do you write a lot of Christian science fiction yourself, and if so, why?

I actually did not set out to be a Christian sci-fi writer. However, faith and sci-fi are both integral parts of who I am, so that has come out in my writing. On a literary standpoint, I think religion makes an interesting point of conflict, adds to a character and feeds a part of the reader's mind and soul that other genres don't.

I've written and sold a few stories about the Rescue Sisters--nuns who live and work in space doing rescue operations. In addition to Leaps of Faith, I've edited the anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God and its coming sequel. (From Twilight Times Books, In the fantasy realm, I've got a Catholic dragon detective and his nun partner. That's been an interesting universe to play in, since I have a magical parallel universe interacting with ours. It's been interesting to imagine how the reality of magic changes the development of Christianity. I've several stories and two novels out or coming out so far.
Finally, I'm working on my first Rescue Sisters novel, Discovery. I'm already talking with a publisher about it, but there are no promises.

What's the challenge of writing in this genre?

Placing it. If you want to really be open and frank about religion--not preachy, just prevalent--then you can get a story that's too "Christian" for sci-fi and too "sci-fi" for Christian. Fantasy and Horror share the same dilemma. In fact, there's a group of writers of speculative fiction called the Lost Genre Guild who are working to break these literary barriers.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Firestorm of Dragons

Readers, please help me welcome author Karin Fabian to Joy in the Journey. Karin is also the editor of Infinite Space, Infinite God, thought-provoking sci-fi with a Catholic twist.

Welcome Karin. I know you have several interviews over the month of November that cover you and your story and characters, so what can you tell us about Firestorm of Dragons as a book?

I loved this anthology. The level of imagination and the quality of storytelling humbled me. I think I have a lot of talent and a terrific story--and I do!--but compared to some of the others... Wow! I'm in great company, and readers are in for a great ride.

Aside from your own, which story is your favorite?

Dragonscaling! by John Teehan. Seriously tongue-in-cheek parody of extreme sports written as an instructional article for people who want to climb dragons for fun or complicated suicide. Some of his phrases are priceless!

What else do you like about the anthology? Anything you don't like?

I love the breadth of takes on dragon stories. The only thing that bothered me is there is one story that I'm not comfortable with for kids under 16. It's probably not as bad as some YA stuff out there, but it prevents me from recommending it to a lot of kids who might otherwise be able to enjoy the book.

What drew you to write for a dragon anthology?

It was something I hadn't done before. I've written about psychics, barbarian swordswomen and, in the sci-fi realm, artificial intelligence and colonizing the solar system. Plus, the guidelines specifically said they wanted something unique. That challenged me.

Now, I'm overjoyed, because it's given me my favorite universe to play in--the Faerie/Mundane worlds of DragonEye, PI.

What's next for you?

In sci-fi, I have a new anthology out, Leaps of Faith, which is Christian SF. I'm working on a Rescue Sisters novel, Discovery, with three nuns who do search and rescue operations in space. They are also favorite characters of mine.

In fantasy, I have two DragonEye, PI books coming out in 2009: Magic, Mensa and Mayhem and Live and Let Fly. These are much funnier than "Dragon Eye, PI" and have a great cast of mythological characters and clichés turned on their heads--because DragonEye is nothing without clichés.

You have a special offer for readers?

Yes! If you register on the DragonEye, PI, website this month, I'll give you a free story, "Amateurs: From the Case Files of DragonEye, PI," plus a special on the DragonEye holiday story, "Christmas Spirits." It also signs you up for the every-other-month newsletter, A Dragon's Eye View, with notes from Vern, fun Faerie facts, and news on future stories and books.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dazzling Queries

Last week we talked about attracting the attention of a publisher or agent with a query letter. I am asked all the time what to even include in a query. It is very difficult to look objectively at your proposal. But this is exactly what you must do. You have about two seconds to attract the attention of your writer enough to make them keep reading.

No one else is in love with your book idea yet. They don’t know how talented you are, and telling them so won’t cut it. You’ve got to show them, and fast.

As I said before, all agents and publishing houses have different submission guidelines. Read those guidelines and follow them to the letter. If one house wants your synopsis first and another wants you bio before anything else, give them exactly what they asked for. Just like the Bible asks that which of you parents would give your child an egg when he asks for a fish, don’t give your agent an egg if she asks for a piece of bread.

Sadly when most of us first begin pursuing publication or representation, we don’t have many publishing credits to showcase. You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without having been published. Ugh! What’s a writer to do? Instead of elaborating your resume to impress, dazzle them with your ability to put forth information and ideas.

Don’t fake it. Don’t apologize. Be yourself. Don’t tell them how much your family and friends love your writing. Supply the information requested and get out of there. You have one page to dazzle. One chance. Best wishes on your great success.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I reached a goal!

This is totally unrelated to writing, but I was too excited not to post here. I’m doing the happy dance all over my house. I REACHED MY GOAL WEIGHT. WooHoo! I’ve mentioned it here before, but it bears repeating. At the first of ’08 I joined an online group called SparkPeople for folks who want to lose weight or just adopt a healthier lifestyle.

I guess this is writing related because sitting behind a desk every day pursuing this writing career helped lead to a weight gain that had me outgrowing everything in my closet. My wakeup call came when I busted out my pantyhose two Sundays in a row at church. Like the Hoover Dam, those things are only designed to withstand so much pressure.

I had to do something about my weight or resign myself to buying a whole new wardrobe, including pantyhose. I wasn’t willing to do that.

So even if you don’t need to shed any weight, but you are interested in maintaining your current weight or you just want to surround yourself with like-minded people who also are striving to live healthier, check out SparkPeople.

I’m glad I did. And I’m so glad I reached my goal weight.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The dreaded query letter

I spend a lot of time here at Joy in the Journey on discipline in writing, finding the time to write, polishing your manuscript and marketing your writing. What about those writers who have a finished manuscript, have polished it until it shines, and now want to know what to do with it?

Writing is hard work. We have already established that. But getting the attention of a publisher or agent makes writing a book look like a walk in the park.

Just like with the opening hook of your book, you must grab your prospective agent’s or publisher’s attention with a query letter. Most query letters should be less than one page long. These people are busy and only have so much time to wade through your set up. Go to the submissions page of the person you are seeking to represent you and read their guidelines. They are all different. I read four submission pages of some of the top agents in the Christian market and they all want something different.

It’s impossible to write a form letter and expect it to please these people. They will only be annoyed when they realize what you’ve done. So write a great, attention grabbing letter.

How do you do that?

Most everyone will want a simple paragraph describing your proposal or book. Even if you aren’t looking for an agent or publisher, you will need this paragraph. Everywhere you go people will ask what your book is about. It’s much easier to have a pitch sentence to spout off instead of beginning with; “Well, see, it all starts with a young woman who can’t get a job. She’s been drifting for the last few years of her life. None of her relationships work out. She can’t understand why nothing in her life is going right. So, what she needs to do is…”

Your audience’s eyes will glaze over and they’ll probably walk away. I would if I wasn’t such a polite person.

It’s very difficult to condense a full length novel into a pitch sentence and one paragraph. But it must be done. This will save you loads of headaches when you are at a conference and you get an opportunity to speak briefly with an agent over the dinner table or in line for the restroom.

You will never attract anyone with your fantastic book idea without one. And what good is that brilliant book in your hard drive or under your bed if no one ever gets a chance to read it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Love Begins with Elle

I am thrilled to be part of Rachel Hauck's blog tour and let you know about her latest release, Love Starts With Elle. Leave a comment on the blog tour and you'll be entered to win a copy of the book.

About Rachel: Rachel Hauck is the author of ten, going on eleven novels, and has recently become an "acclaimed" author. (Yeah, funny how that happened. Some dude found her lottery stub stuck to the bottom of his shoe and tried to "acclaim" her. But her husband refused to pay out.)

Since then, she's gone on to become a best selling author of Sweet Caroline.

Living in central Florida with her husband of sixteen and a half years, one sweet little dog and one ornery cat, Rachel is a graduate of Ohio State University and a huge Buckeye football fan. One day she hopes to stand on the sidelines next to Coach Tressel as a famed, acclaimed best selling OSU alumni, beloved for her work in literature and letters. (She's written at least a couple hundred letters in her life time.)

Her current release, Love Starts With Elle (July 2008, Thomas Nelson) is set in the South Carolina lowcountry, and earned 4.5 Stars and Top Pick from Romantic Times Book Club.

Look for her next release next spring, The Sweet By and By, the first book in the Born To Fly series with award winning country artist, Sara Evans.

Of the writing journey, Rachel says, "I'm humbled by the amazing things God is doing in my life. I love what I do, and am so privileged to work with Thomas Nelson fiction and am excited to see what God has in store for all of His authors and writers. Just keep praying and writing!"

Visit her blog and website at

About the book:

Elle's living the dream-but is it her dream or his?

Elle loves life in Beaufort, South Carolina-lazy summer days on the sand bar, coastal bonfires, and dinners with friends sharing a lifetime of memories. And she's found her niche as the owner of a successful art gallery too. Life is good.

Then the dynamic pastor of her small town church sweeps her off her feet. She's never known a man like Jeremiah-one who breathes in confidence and exhales all doubt. When he proposes in the setting sunlight, Elle hands him her heart on a silver platter.

But Jeremiah's just accepted a large pastorate in a different state. If she's serious about their relationship, Elle will take "the call," too, leaving behind the people and place she loves so dearly. Elle's friendship with her new tenant, widower Heath McCord, and his young daughter make things even more complicated.

Is love transferrable across the miles? And can you take it with you when you go?

Buy the book Link:

Post a comment anywhere along the way on Rachel's Blog tour and be entered to win a copy of Love Starts With Elle.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sometimes Little People know the Most

If you think much long about hard it is to get published you won’t make the first keystroke on your computer. After you’re published things get even harder. The economy has tanked. Christmas is coming and people are already strapped for extra money they might have used to buy your book. Book tours and signings seldom work up enough interest to be worth your time.

So what’s a writer to do when agents, economists, and well-meaning friends are telling us now is not the time to build a new career. Not the time for risk taking and stepping out into the great unknown.

The only thing we know for sure is that God is in control. We can’t see the future, but we can have fun in the journey. Forget everything you know about the economy and the election and the naysayers and take a look at some of the children in your life.

Everything you need to know about living a fulfilled life you can learn from children. They have in down pat.

1. Everything can be a game. Add a little fun to your writing. Make up your own rules, shoot for personal records. You might find something that works no one else has ever thought of.

2. Don't walk when you can run. Every day is full of opportunities to increase your productivity. This rule is closely related to "don't drive when you can walk."

3. If you don't like it, don't write it. Don’t write what you think the market is looking for. By the time your book is written, tastes and trends would’ve changed anyway. Write a book you would want to read.

4. Laughter feels good. Kids seem to inherently know that laughter can ease blood pressure, help your brain function, give you energy, and help you reach your goals.

5. Playtime is important. We get so caught up in work, and "have-to's" that we forget to take time for ourselves. Not only does relaxing make life worthwhile, it has real health benefits.

6. The world should be full of color—Splash your life and experiences with as many colors as possible. Try new things. It will benefit everything you put your hand to.

7. It's always more fun with friends around. Children tend to gravitate toward other children. It gives them spirit and makes them want to play all day. Whatever you’re striving for, find a group that understands what you’re shooting for and will support you in it.

8. Adventures are found outside, not inside. Every kid knows that the good stuff is in the great outdoors--fresh air, wide open spaces, limitless possibilities. You can't find those things cooped up in your tiny, stale office. Open the door and start a new adventure every day.

9. It's important to use your imagination. You can be Major Fantasia or Stupendous Woman any time you want. Give yourself permission to believe in your own super powers and let your mind take you wherever it wants to go.

10. Anything is possible. No fear, no self-doubts, no negative self talk, no self-criticism, no worries, no destructive anxieties or thoughts of failure. To a child, he/she can do anything. And do you know what? They're right.

11. You have your whole life ahead of you. Here's your chance to do it right.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What I learned from watching TV

I’ve been writing for a long time now so I am always watching for techniques and tricks that work in writing. TV can be very predictable and boring and give a writer more than enough examples of what doesn’t work. But occasionally if you’re patient and watch closely enough, you’ll notice a few things that do work, even when they are done badly.

Turn on your television and you’ll find little else than suspense and cop dramas in which the bad guy is discovered because he coughed while driving to the victim’s house. Or the dog spit up on the carpet in 1998 after licking the wound of a victim and the DNA is still on the floor even though the carpet was used to wrap the body and burned in another state.

Nothing gets by these super-detectives and investigators. I’ve been told by those in the know not to use primetime TV as research. Real life doesn’t happen that easily. DNA results takes months and local authorities seldom follow Fido around to see if he’s carrying a victim’s DNA in his digestive tract.

But you can pick up a few tidbits.

Successful TV dramas these days are high wire tension. But they don’t maintain the nail biting tension for an extended length of time. You must give the viewer—or in our case the reader—a chance to breath.

The next time you are watching your favorite nighttime drama be mindful of how they cut from scene to scene. Just as the high tension scenes aren’t long, neither are the ones that slow down the action and get into the personal lives of the participants.

It’s all about balance. Create a high tension, edge of your seat scene and end on a cliffhanger. Then just like they do on TV, switch to a scene where the hero must visit him parents. His mother makes a stunning announcement. End your scene before he even has a chance to react and cut back to high tension.

Play around with these techniques and see what works for you and your book. Keep the story moving. You want to jump back and forth, but not so much you lose the reader. These techniques are carefully honed skills but you can learn them. Pay attention to how those making the big bucks do it. Your writing will get better and more appealing to the elusive agent and publisher.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Why didn't I think of that?

The other day a woman from Middletown, Ohio dressed in a cow costume got drunk, chased some children, screamed at some people, and urinated on her neighbor’s front porch. She even showed up in court the next day still wearing the cow costume and asked people to squeeze her udders.

I don’t know if you missed it, but her little drunken escapade earned her two full days of national news coverage. After seeing her story on the local news, I saw it everywhere from CNN to FOX.

What a brilliant marketing ploy!

Every time I saw her picture, most becoming I might add, in her cow costume I wondered what it would’ve done for book sales if I could’ve talked her into holding up a poster for my latest book every time the cameras started rolling. You can’t buy that kind of coverage, folks. Two full days of being plastered across every major news venue! Wow. I might’ve even broken the elusive 1000 mark on Amazon.

That got me thinking about what kind of escapade I could come up with to earn me two full days of national media coverage. I don’t drink, I like my neighbors, and I have at least a modicum of self respect so I can't do what she did. I always heard of climbing up the Empire State Building naked to get attention, but I gotta wonder if anyone would even notice.

I’m not really thrilled about the whole getting arrested thing either. My county doesn’t have facilities for female prisoners so who knows where they’d send me. And orange isn’t my color.

I suppose I’ll go back to focusing on writing the best book possible. I’ll update my website this week and book a few more speaking engagements before the end of the year. Other than that, I’m drawing a blank.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It's never too early to think about Christmas


(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, is available in October for Christmas giving. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.
For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Necessary Evil

A friend commented the other day that I sounded like I hadn't enjoyed myself at a recent book signing I participated in. Hmm.

I wonder if writers ever enjoy book signings. These days publishers and book distributors want to know our marketing plan that involves actually showing our faces in brick and mortar stores before they’ll even read our proposals. But come on. Does any writer look forward to signings? If you have at least one book on the store shelves and have done no less than 5 in-store signings and still relish the opportunity to do it again, please write to me and put me in my place.

I always appreciate the chance to get out from behind my desk to meet readers, even in bookstore settings. Though I much prefer libraries or book fairs or standing on a street corner or nearly anyplace other than a store where they put me behind a table and muzzle me. I don't do muzzling well.

If you believe I’m the odd man out on this issue, consider the last few movies made based on Stephen King books that involved writers who lost their marbles. (Have you noticed he’s doing a lot of those lately?) Most of these movies depict at least one scene in which the writer is in a bookstore doing a signing. The staff does not recognize him and the readers barely acknowledge his presence.

Apparently Mr. King remembers those days early in his career. Maybe they still happen. I have read of well-known writers who still have no one show up for their signings.

But I apologize if I come off sounding less than enthusiastic about the chance to meet readers. It’s definitely one of the most fun things about what I do. I love to talk about writing and to encourage new writers and discuss ideas for new work with readers. I always learn something at these events. I like meeting people and I generally have a good time. Something good always comes from participating in a book signing.

I have one coming up this weekend in West Chester, Ohio. If you’ll be near Lakota West High School on Union Centre Road, maybe you’ll stop in and say hi. I’d love to talk to you and further discuss the merits of bookstore signings. Maybe you can change my mind.

Monday, September 22, 2008


There's nothing as fun, I think, as brainstorming a new book. It’s been a long time since I sat down with my husband to do this. He’s typically my go-to guy on this matter. My sister is good at problem solving and damage control, but I use my husband when the ideas are just starting to percolate.

I hope you have someone with whom you can do the same thing.

I’m getting ready to start Book 5 of my Jenna’s Creek series. This will be the last book, and I want to end the series with a bang. I’ve read so many book series that never mention characters from earlier books. I believe the whole point of a series is to create a cast of characters the reader can’t get enough of. I don’t understand authors who make me fall in love with their town and the people in it and then never mention them after their book ends. I agree you should keep adding new characters to keep the storyline fresh, but don’t leave me out in the cold with the ones I fell in love with.

So my husband and I spent over an hour discussing plotlines—since he doesn’t read my books, I have to bring him up to speed—my purposes for this last book in the series, catching him up on characters who may have been keeping a low profile lately, and how I want the book to end.

Isn’t it amazing how we know where we want to go, we just don’t have a clue how to get there?

After talking to him, I am psyched all over again and ready to start. Beforehand, I really had no idea what to do with these people I had worked so hard to create. Then, last night on the way home from church, I had an epiphany about a character who needs to play an integral part, but I couldn't figure out how.

I’m going to try the book in a month plan, except I'll start in October instead of November like NaNoWriMo. October is a longer month so that gives me one more day in which to write. Not only that, I’m anxious to get going. Can’t hold off until November. I’ve always wanted to do this, but my enthusiasm never lasts until the first of the month. I’m going to cheat a little this time, having started brainstorming already.

I’ll send this week on character sketches and motivations and an outline. By October 1st I’ll be rip raring to go. By Halloween, I’ll have a finished 60K word first draft, as messy and ugly as it can be.

You heard it hear first, folks.
Now back to work.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Loyalty in writing

I was talking to some writer friends the other day who said they often work on more than one book at a time. They couldn’t understand how I could stand to work on only one, especially when it sometimes takes six months or longer to finish a full length novel.

I admit I often get bored with my book, especially as I near the end and can’t wait to finish simply because I have several other ideas cooking and chomping at the bit to get written.

But working on several books at a time? I don’t know. I seriously doubt Stephen King or Jeffrey Archer or any other writers who make their living doing what we do work this way.

It would be simply too easy for the beginning writer to abandon the book as soon as they reached a spot they couldn’t work through. They would tell themselves they'd get back to it after the problem had a few days or weeks to cool off. But would they? It’s tempting to abandon something that gets tough instead of working through the rough patch.

Wouldn’t we all rather have one finished book than ten at different levels of completion?

Stick with your current project. Don’t abandon it just because things aren’t going your way. It might actually be a good thing. The story might be trying to tell you there is another way, a better way to reach your conclusion. Don’t be afraid of new ideas and don’t be afraid to pursue them as they occur to you.

Writing a book is a learning process for you and your characters. Life is happening inside the pages of your book. Life is unpredictable. That’s what makes it fun. It's what makes writing fun. Don’t abandon your project. Don’t, at least until you've finished one or two and learned your strengths and temptations, work on more than one novel at a time.

Remain loyal to your original novel. See it through to the end. Not every novel idea that occurs to you is worth writing. But the one you're working on now is. Pursue it like a junkyard dog. You’ll thank me later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When you can't think of a thing to write.

I'm sure I'm not the only writer this has ever happened to. If you've written more than 10 pages of anything, you can probably relate.

You've drawn elaborate character sketches, hashed out your plot until it's foolproof, and have a 50-page outline with no major holes. Your desk has been decluttered and the kids are out of the house for the afternoon. You do a few deep breathing exercises to get in the right frame of mind and sit down to write. Suddenly your mind goes blank. You can't think of a single word to write. You panic and figure you never should've told your mother and your spouse you were going to write a book.

How do you work through it?

There is no right or wrong answer. There are mornings I don’t want to get out of the shower because I know I need to get to work on my current project and I don’t have a clue about what I’m going to write.

Those are the mornings I stare at my blinking cursor and think; “I need to get a real job.”

Sadly, I have more of those days than the ones where I am chomping at the bit to get started. But I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing. So I have to work through it. The best way to do that is to sit down and start tapping away at the keys. For these moments, it’s good you took the time to write an outline before you made your first keystroke.

If you did at least you’ll have a jumping off point when you get stuck. Even if you didn’t make an outline, you must jump, dear writer. Like the saying goes; “Take the leap of faith and grow your wings on the way down.”

Those wings will grow, but not if you stand on the cliff thinking of all the reasons you aren’t cut out for flying.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Keep hitting keys

I read this today on the Book Maven by Bethanne Patrick who said she found it on Lifehacker about how Neal Stephenson finished his first book. I really liked it so I am sharing it with you.

"It was a hot summer in Iowa City. Neal Stephenson had a regular job, and yet had a hunch that writing might be for him. He had written a 'query' -- a plot summary, the outline of a book, biographies of characters, and a few sample chapters -- and started to send them to editors, which he picked at random from trade directories. Many rejection letters followed. Finally, one editor wrote that he was intrigued by the outline and the sample chapter and asked for the rest of the novel. After a brief exhilaration the reality set in: there was no novel yet. He had to write it. With all his vacation time and the 4th of July holiday there were 10 days, in which to write a novel. He rented a modern typewriter, secluded himself in his apartment and started to type. Soon a problem appeared: the typewriter had a modern plastic ribbon. The plastic mellowed and became sticky: it was July in Iowa City, and the apartment was hot. The only way to prevent the ribbon from getting stuck is to keep the ribbon moving. And the only way to keep the ribbon moving is to keep pressing the keys. That discovery did wonders for his productivity. He didn't have time to think: he had to keep pressing the keys and write the first thing that came into his mind. He sent thus created manuscript to the editor. The latter replied that his publishing house can't print that -- but the work was interesting and should be published. Eventually, Neal Stephenson got an agent, a publisher, and his first published book, 'The Big U'."

I've always thought the best way to write is to just keep hitting keys and make something appear on the paper. During the writing process, we fear it's nothing more than drivel. But we often surprise ourselves.

So start writing, dear writer, and prepare to be amazed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

ACFW Ohio chapter

Yesterday I finally made it to a writers' meeting when the Ohio Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers met at the Der Dutchman Restaurant in Waynesville, Ohio for a Meet & Greet.

I know all kinds of writers online, but because of my rural location and the inability to travel to many conferences, I've never met most of the people I know online. Yesterday was a lot of fun. We discussed where we were in our current writing projects, our searches for editors and agents, and what was on the horizon for our careers.

It reminded me that I need to get out more.

Writing can be a very lonely business. Most of the time writers are alone behind our computers with little interaction with the very people who understand what it's like to do what we do.

Before my first book was published in 2004, I didn't know a single writer. Now I am discovering there are all kinds of them in my own area. Not everyone is published, but they are still writers. It feels good to know I'm not alone. I don't talk about writing to many in my family or close circle of friends.

At a family dinner over the weekend, several people who hadn't seen me in a long time asked how the writing was going. They do care and they are interested, but if a person doesn't write themselves, you can see their eyes glaze over if you discuss it for too long.

Not so with other writers. We can sit around and discuss it all day. It's a welcome change. Thanks to everyone at Der Dutchman yesterday. I loved meeting you and talking about my passion with others who truly understand. Can't wait until we meet again.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Killer openings

A trip to the library earlier today revealed a surprising fact to me. I am currently working on a book about the writing craft so I needed some good opening lines to include on my chapter about getting started on your masterpiece.

We all know the importance of a good opening hook that will pull readers in. I didn't want to use the easily recognizeable openers that you can find anywhere online. Like the one from Rebecca, one of my favorite books. Or Gone With the Wind. Or even To Kill a Mockingbird. I wanted killer openings from modern day writers to illustrate what readers are looking for.

What amazed me was the difficulty I had in finding them. I tried to play fair. I peeked inside espionage thrillers and medical mysteries, romances and cozy mysteries, and even books which the genre was hard to determine by looking at the cover. I must've looked through 50, and wrote down 4 good openings.

I realize captivating openings are subjective. Perhaps Rebecca wasn't your cup of tea. Maybe you never saw the big deal in Pride and Prejudice. But I think I can recognize an opening that draws the reader in, even if it isn't necessarily my type of book. Maybe I'm too tough of a critic. Maybe my taste doesn't reflect the majority of readers.

I did find a few gems and I found a few more, that while the opening wasn't electrifying, the storylines appealed to me and I checked them out.

So here's my question. How's your opening? If a cynical, over-worked writer were to pluck your book off a shelf somewhere in the world in search of an opening line to illustrate to a classroom of students about creating magical beginnings, would yours cut the mustard or go back on the shelf?

Take another peek at your book's opening. Does it draw the reader in? Does it promise a story worth the next three days it will take to read? Or is it just so-so? You only have one chance to make a first impression. That window will only open a crack before some cranky editor slams it shut.

Make your opening shine and make my job easier the next time I go to the library in search of killer openings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

He's Baaaack!

I was lamenting just the other day about the mysterious disappearance of Peyton Manning. This young man, the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last ten years or so, had suddenly disappeared from the airwaves sometime last February.

The last time I saw him was at the Super Bowl where his baby brother Eli was voted MVP of one of the more exciting, nail biting games in the last few decades.

But what had become of Peyton since then?

For the last five years or so he has endorsed everything from Sony media to macaroni and cheese to credit cards to water. About the only thing he hasn't endorsed is feminine hair removal systems, and I probably just missed that spot.

Then all of the sudden, he vanished without a trace.

Had he been sequestered by Tony Dungee to an island off the coast of Malta to focus on his throwing arm? Was he in a Turkish prison for some crime the NFL had kept under wraps? Had he been kidnapped by Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and all the other big name players who were being forced to go on food stamps because Peyton was getting all the endorsement dollars?

But no, dear reader, I am happy to report Peyton is alive and well and once again hawking products, at least for Sony and H.H.Gregg. I saw him on a commercial this morning as articulate and enthusiastic as the last time his adorable face graced my television screen.

I am so relieved as I'm sure are his mother and father.

I'm sure you're wondering why I've dedicated an entire post to Peyton Manning, who I love by the way. (He's the son I never had.)

If only we as writers could figure out how to market ourselves the way Peyton has. If our names were as familiar to the reading public as Peyton's cute little face is to the rest of the free world, we wouldn't have to worry about our books making the bestseller lists.

The question is HOW?

My first suggestion is to make your presence known online. It's cheap, readily available, and most readers have access to it. Secondly, get out there and do book signings and appearances, even when no one shows up but your mother and one of her friends from church. Even if no one comes to signings--and let's face it, they don't--you can usually get some media attention out of the deal.

No, you probably won't attract the throngs of adoring fans the way Peyton does. But do what you can. And if you get a chance today, drop Peyton a line and let him know how happy you are that he's once again gainfully employed.

Happy Marketing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I took my 5 and a half year old Lab, Angel, to the vet today and found out she might have cancer. More than likely she has an anal infection, but there is a 20% chance that it's more than that. All day I've been thinking of how rich my life has been since she came into it.

I found this online and don't know how much truth is in it. But I liked it and thought the animal lovers out there might enjoy it too.

Dog's Purpose, (from a 6-year-old)

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.' Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

Pictured here is Angel's sister Molly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

* When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. * Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. * Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. * Take naps. * Stretch before rising. * Run, romp, and play daily. * Thrive on attention and let people touch you. * Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. * On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. * On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. * When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body. * Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. * Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough. * Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not. * If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. * When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.