Thursday, December 17, 2009

Waiting for Good Things

Last week in our church bulletin, I saw a mention of Advent as a season of waiting. I started thinking of how long people waited for the Messiah, whose presence we now take for granted. But there were long, dark days, and years, and centuries, when people had to begin to wonder if God had forgotten them. I started to write a blog post on that topic, and then started thinking it sounded vaguely familiar. Sure enough, I wrote something similar awhile back. So in the spirit of recycling and going green and destressing and all that, I decided to share that one with you again:

Do you ever feel that Christmas comes rushing at you like a locomotive--even worse, a locomotive you didn't expect?

How does that happen? One minute, it's October and I'm snickering at the Christmas stuff in stores, because it's still AGES away. And it seems like a few days later, I'm rushing around in a panic because I can't possibly get everything done before the big day.

It wasn't always that way, though. I remember when I was a child, Christmas seemed to take forever to arrive. Even in December, even as we sat at school making construction paper ornaments, the days seemed endless. Three more weeks? That was practically a lifetime, especially when I was waiting for a new Barbie doll and a stack of Nancy Drew books.

Twice in the past week, my church has equated the Advent season with waiting. Tom Anderson, one of our pastors, wrote a beautiful article in our church newsletter, the Pipeline. He said,"Advent is a time of waiting in a culture that has grown impatient, it is a time of hoping ina dark, dangerous place where despair seems too often just around the corner, a time of preparation in a 'fast food, microwave' driven world. It is a time to stop, to watch, to wonder, but most of all, a time to wait.

"We wait for the birth of God into the world, for what the prophet Isaiah longed for, when from exile he cried, 'O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.' We wait for nothing more and nothing less than God in the season of Advent, knowing that above and beyond all of our needs, none is more radical, moreprofound, and more essential than this One..."

Our bulletin/worship program last Sunday featured an excerpt from The Worship Sourcebook, (Calvin Institute for Worship): "The season of Advent, a season of waiting, is designed to cultivate our awareness of God's actions--past, present, and future. In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah's coming as addressed to us--people who wait for the second coming. In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testmanent promises, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away."

This reminds me I need to slow down, to enjoy that sweet season of anticipation. To remember the "reason for the Season." To acknowledge the beauty of waiting on God.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stirring up controversy: Harry vs. Bella

I can feel a backlash coming even as I write, but decided to pose this idea anyway. I know there are a lot of Twilight lovers out there, and I'd especially like to hear your opinion on this. I have only one request if you respond: please don't kill me.

Most of you know I started reading the Harry Potter books a couple of years ago and fell in love with them. Since a lot of Harry Potter lovers also seem to be Twilight fans, I decided to try those books as well and read Twilight and New Moon, but so far I'm not hooked. At first I thought it was mainly because the Twilight books are first and foremost about romance. I enjoy a good love story, but I frankly don't want descriptions of the hero's godlike perfection to be the main focus of my reading material. (Like I said, please don't kill me.)

But then I realized that something else bothers me--and this is where the main comparison between Harry Potter and Twilight comes in for me. And this isn't about something fluffy like romance. It's about the very big issues of death and immortality that are the focus of both books, but in different ways.

In the final Harry Potter book, Harry finds his parents' graves, and there's a Bible verse carved on the headstone: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." Considering the rogues that raised Harry, he hasn't exactly had a church upbringing so he doesn't recognize this as a Bible verse and is disturbed. He tells his friend Hermione that the idea sounds like something the evil Lord Voldemort's followers (aptly named Death-Eaters) would say. These bad guys are all about defeating death and achieving immortality through any means--dark magic, murder, power, whatever. But Hermione explains to Harry that the verse doesn't mean overcoming death their way, but is about living on after death.

In the Harry Potter books, it's clear that physical, earthly death is not the worst thing. And living forever on Earth is not the best thing. The best thing is love and overcoming darkness. In the very first Harry Potter book, an alchemist has developed The Sorcerer's Stone, which has allowed him to live for hundreds of years so far and will keep him alive indefinitely. But when the alchemist learns that Voldemort is trying to acquire the stone and use it himself, the alchemist destroys the object and calmly prepares for death.

There's another symbolic object in the last book--one of the Deathly Hallows, as a matter of fact--that could possibly be used to bring people back from the dead. When Harry first hears of this, he has an intense longing to find that stone, so he could bring back his parents and other loved ones he's lost. By the end of the book, Harry has the stone, but he has learned that using it this way would be a terrible mistake. Instead, Harry uses the stone in an amazing way, that affirms love and sacrifice and "living beyond death."

Which brings me to Bella and Twilight.

From the time Bella learns of the Cullens and Edward's true nature, she longs to become a vampire. She's obsessed with living forever on Earth with Edward. She comments that she's not interested in heaven if Edward's not there. I found this disturbing when I read Twilight, but I figured this was just the set-up. Eventually Bella would come to her senses. Maybe they would find a way to help Edward and the Cullens be "cured" of their vampire state and returned to normal, mortal life.

Because let's face it. Even though the Cullens have a kind of immortality, at least in my humble opinion, they're not exactly living an earthly Paradise. Though they've chosen not to kill humans, it's a constant temptation--to the point of their having to be careful not to lose control and kill their beloved Bella. Would any of us really voluntarily take on a condition that would make us struggle not to hurt or kill our loved ones at any moment?

Frankly, I don't even relish the Cullens' way of having to rip apart animals and drink their blood for nourishment. Or never being able to sleep. (Yikes, definitely not my idea of paradise!)

I admit I've stopped reading after New Moon. But from what I heard, Bella's becoming one of the undead and achieving this kind of immortality remains the goal. So maybe she gets to live with Edward forever, but at what cost?

Accepting that sort of earthly life for eternity is just not a goal that I can identify with, and hence my trouble with Twilight. I frankly don't see Harry going for anything like that either.

So now, Twilight (and Potter?) fans out there--tell me what I'm missing.

But please don't hurt me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What if you lost everything--and got it back?

Can anyone help me out here? I saw a powerful quote on one of those church message boards a few weeks ago, and with my Swiss-cheese-like memory, I can't quite remember how it goes. But the point of it was this: You know all that stuff you're worried about right now? All that stuff that drives you crazy? Your kids, your job, your car? What if you lost all of it--then got it back? How would you feel about it then?

I already thought this was a pretty profound way of saying that we shouldn't take things for granted. Something we all know, but need to be reminded of. And then I recently got a real-life example of how this idea works through a harrowing experience of a close friend.

This friend lost her job awhile back and had to sell her house for financial reasons. She ended up moving in with her sister in another state while she's trying to get back on her feet, so almost everything she owns is in a storage facility here in Georgia. That in itself has been pretty depressing to deal with as the months drag on. Just think, when the seasons change and you'd like that coat--oops! It's in storage. Suddenly have an urge to sew? The machine is in storage. That book you'd like to re-read? Well, you get the point.

And other things haven't been going well. There are health issues. There was a car accident. The new job is extremely stressful, and another layoff is possible. So my friend's nerves were nearly at the breaking point.

And then came the horrible letter. It was from the management of her storage facility, telling her there had been a break-in, and that they hadn't been able to reach her by phone when it happened. They told her the police had come out and taken extensive pictures and were working on the case.

Frantic, she tried calling the management, but naturally they were closed for the evening. She called the phone number they had provided for the police and spoke to someone who wasn't actively involved in the case, but who told her that if they had sent someone out to take pictures of a storage facility break-in, that usually meant one thing. Everything was gone. Sometimes, it seems, thieves simply take a truck to a storage facility, load everything into it, and worry about sorting through it later.

Everything was gone. Bear in mind, for my friend this meant more than furniture and sewing machines and clothes. She lost her parents when she was a teenager, and all the photos of them would be gone. A fellow writer, she had hand-written and type-written manuscripts from pre-computer days that she would never be able to duplicate. All gone.

Or so it seemed.

She was devastated. She could hardly speak or breathe when I talked to her that evening. Then I called her the next morning, after the storage facility in Georgia had opened and she was able to talk to someone. Now she heard the incredible news: nothing was missing! Yes, there had been a break-in, and some of her knitting yarn had been scattered on the ground, but it appeared that everything else was intact.

Suddenly, her situation was just the same as it had been a couple of days before, with health issues and job stresses and all the rest. And yet, everything was different. She had her photos and memories, and her manuscripts. Things she had taken for granted, but that now brought her such joy. Just by going through this with my friend, I felt more grateful for everything God had blessed me with and allowed me to keep.

I'm sure life is still hard for my friend, and it will be hard to hold onto that moment of joy. I know it's hard for me not to slip back into ingratitude and whining.

But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all live as if we had lost everything, and gotten it back?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cut Scenes from Sci-Fi Faves

How have I gone this far in my life and not seen these? Maybe a couple I KNEW about, but not sure if I've seen any of them. I haven't watched them all yet, either, because there are, like, 40 of them! Yay!

If you love sci-fi, enjoy!!! (Courtesy of IO9 and

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Quick Word on Terminator: Salvation

I've been trying to paste this in for a while, and it's not working. Thus, I will link to my facebook note, and hope anyone who wants to read this can read it there. I apologize. Not sure why the copy/paste was not working.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Little Fish in New Waters

This weekend I had a great adventure! I met about 20 cousins I have never seen before, and went to parts of California I have never been to before...including the infamous Rock!!! That's right...Alcatraz.

Pictures and details are forthcoming! (I just need to download them). I got back into town tonight and was welcomed by my two sweet kitties, Bundles and Leo.

I missed my bed and my guitar so much. I played on my guitar until my fingers ached. Only 2 1/2 weeks until I head home for Christmas- back to Georgia. Thanks to my wonderful family (Robin) for the ticket!!! It's one of the best presents I could receive. I've never been five months without seeing my family, to my knowledge.

I'm curious as to how others spent their Thanksgiving. Robin, how was Mississippi?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sandi Rog Dares You to Dream!

I just now made a new online friend, Sandi Rog. Like me, she's struggling to find her niche with her writing. Appropriately enough, her blog is called Dare to Dream, and she has a couple of posts lately that I really wanted to share with my fellow dreamers out there.

The first is called "His Gift, Not Mine." It's about all those times that we want to do something for the Lord--but we want to do it our way.

Another is called "Living the Dream." Sandi shares some great encouragement from marketing guru Jim Rubart.

So check out Dare to Dream if you're needing some encouragement and a little dose of perseverance today. I dare you!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Winner of the Drawing Announced!

Congratulations to Jennifer Hallmark, the winner of today's drawing! Jennifer will get to select any one item from my online shop at Etsy. (So Jennifer, be sure to contact me with your selection and mailing address. )

Thanks to all of you for visiting the blog and participating.

And by the way, if any of you would like to purchase one of the goodies in the shop, just mention this blog in the message to the seller when you check out, and I'll give you a 20% rebate on your purchase.

Thanks again, and as always, stay tuned for more fun and give-aways.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Word Reclaimed: An Interview with Author Steve Rzasa

Today we're featuring an interview with Steve Rzasa, author of "The Word Reclaimed," which was released by Marcher Lord Press in October 2009. The book is available from, Amazon, and Barnes& And now, let's hear from Steve:

Welcome, Steve. Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in South Jersey, and fell in love with books—especially science fiction novels and historical volumes—at an early age. I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communications in 2000, and then spent seven years as a reporter and assistant editor at weekly newspapers in Maine.

My wife Carrie and I moved to her home state of Wyoming in 2007 with our two boys so I could take a job as editor of a weekly newspaper there. Now I work at the Johnson County Library in Buffalo, Wyoming.

I read in your Marcher Lord Press interview that you're proud that "not only does my oldest son read the Bible, but he also knows the difference between an X-wing and a TIE fighter." Let me just say that I do, too! What fun for me to interview a fellow Star Wars fan! Reading the synopsis of your book, I seem to catch a bit of the Star Wars influence. I'm picturing a boy finding the remnants of Christianity (when he stumbles upon a Bible) rather than the remnants of the old Jedi religion. Am I on track at all?

Pretty much, though I did not intentionally pattern the book after “Star Wars.” That said, I am a child of the 1980s – “Star Wars” informs much of what I like to read and create. The idea came when I asked myself, “What would a guy do if he found a Bible floating in space?” The idea expanded into a universe where all print materials are illegal, and a secret police force oppresses any and all religions that claim to have the sole route to salvation or paradise or what have you. This puts Christianity at the top of their hit list. But “The Word Reclaimed” is also an adventure tale that touches on politics, combat and family.

In your interview at Marcher Lord Press, you mention how hard it is to find science fiction with redeeming spiritual themes. Why do you think that is?

I think some of that comes with the territory. Science-fiction generally appeals to an audience that has given up on God, and looks to the stars for answers. I should know – I was one of those people. Science-fiction allows you to dive into a world where science and technology can solve mankind’s ills, both literal and spiritual. But it is a genre that also makes a wonderful setting for great adventures. It is ripe for spiritual redemption.

Are there other current SF books or movies or even TV shows that you're excited about?

Well, the one show I’m most excited about is long-cancelled – “Firefly” by Joss Whedon. Cowboys and pirates in space – need I say more? I am also very much looking forward to James Cameron’s “Avatar” this winter and am still reeling from the eye-popping “Star Trek” from this summer.

Wow, you're definitely at home on this blog! My co-blogger and niece, Kristi, has a Facebook group called something like "Joss Whedon Should Hire Kristi Israel." (Kristi, correct me if I got that wrong.) And I did a post last summer about the new Star Trek movie.

Do you think a writer may accomplish some things better through speculative fiction than other types of fiction?

Speculative fiction offers a better setting for adventures than other genres, in part because the authors can feel free to create a new world. I also think speculative fiction is more entertaining because it is far removed from everyday life, and that makes it easier to tackle themes on a grander scale.

What do you hope to accomplish through The Word Reclaimed? Sheer entertainment? Warn us of a possible, grim future? Or something entirely different?

I hope to do a little of both – entertain with a tale of adventure, danger and space battles, but also warn of a future in which all information is controlled through electronic monopolies. There is no substitute for the printed word.I also want the reader to see the power the Word of God has in people’s lives. It draws people to its pages but also leads them to raging extremes to destroy it. Or perhaps I should say, try to destroy it.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? And is The Word Reclaimed the first book you've written?

I have always wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until high school and college that I really settled on that as the thing that I wanted to do, however. “The Word Reclaimed” is the first published novel I’ve written, and is actually the first half of the manuscript reviewed by Marcher Lord Press. The second half is the sequel, tentatively titled “The Word Unleashed,” is due out this spring from MLP.

I did also self-publish a short Christian sci-fi novel called “This Stirring Strife” shortly after college. It was kind of an experiment – I had a story I wanted told, and wanted to see it in print. So now there are a few used copies out floating around on and Barnes & Noble somewhere.

How did you go about creating the world of your novel? Do you have a science or technology background that helped out?

I have next to zero background in those subjects – beyond public school education – but I usually read any space/future tech-related article in news magazines I come across. I spent a lot of time over the years putting together the future tech for “The Word Reclaimed,” figuring how it would impact their society, and knowing how it works. I also wanted to give the universe a feel of realism, so I made the effort to research foreign languages and put them into the book.

Tell us a little about your journey to publication.

I had little time to write fiction when I was a reporter. When you spend all day writing for a living, the last thing you want to do when you get home is park yourself in front of a keyboard. So my book proceeded slowly. In 2008 however, I changed jobs and my writing took off. Within a year, I’d completed the book and send out submissions. Jeff Gerke from MLP picked it up in the summer of 2009, and the rest, as they say, is history. It was quite a whirlwind ride.

Do you have any words of advice for other writers--especially those struggling to find that first publishing contract?

Yes – keep trying. I know that’s terribly cliché advice, but it’s true. I had several rejections along the way, but thankfully MLP was right there as the perfect fit for “The Word Reclaimed.” Do not give up on your writing, if it is a story for which you have an undeniable passion. And don’t be afraid to take the advice of others and change your work. It’s very hard for the writer’s ego, but the end result will be worth it.
Anything else you'd like to tell us?

By far, the coolest sci-fi characters in existence are Han Solo (Star Wars), Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Sandor Kreja (Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh). Coolest ship ever? The USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

Thanks again for being our guest today. And best wishes with the book!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Star Curiously Singing: An Interview with Kerry Nietz

Today we're featuring an interview with a new author, Kerry Nietz, whose Christian speculative novel about a world under Sharia law manages to be both futuristic and timely at the same time.

Q: Hi, Kerry, and thanks for being a guest on my blog! I just took a look at your information on the Marcher Lord Press site, and I have to tell you that A Star Curiously Singing has a fascinating premise. I was already thinking it reminded me a little of I, Robot, but with an extra dash of cosmic mystery thrown in. I love the line in your MLP interview that says it's like "I, Robot meets Muhammad." So now that we've intrigued everyone, do you want to tell us what the book is about?

A: A Star Curiously Singing is a speculative Christian novel with a decidedly cyberpunk feel. It takes place in a future hundreds of years from now, when much of the world is living under sharia law.

It is a dualistic society, where average people live on the streets in near-squalor and the powerful ride above them in cable car-like conveyances. This latter group is shrouded in high tech, to the point of needing specialized debuggers to handle their machines.

That’s where my protagonist comes in. Sandfly is a debugger who’s summoned to solve the mystery of why a bot malfunctioned. The extenuating circumstances? The bot has been on an interstellar voyage in an experimental ship. Something about the trip made it malfunction. So it is a sci-fi mystery of sorts.

Q: Not only does this premise sound futuristic, but also timely. So timely, in fact, that I could see the theme being a little controversial--or at least not "politically correct." Are you getting any feedback, either positive or negative, on the aspects of your book that deal with politics and Islam?

A: All the responses I’ve gotten about the book thus far have been quite positive. Of course, it is still early. Actually, there was one reviewer on Amazon who questioned the use of the name “Abdul.” In the book, Sandfly uses that name to refer to anyone who isn’t like him. You see, Sandfly has an implant in his head that not only connects him to the stream (think, future Internet) so he can perform his job, but also controls his behavior. Outlets for rebellion or disrespect on his part are fairly limited. Referring to non-implants as “Abduls” is one of the few ways he--and others like him--can rail against the machine.

Anyway, the reviewer thought I might have used it too much. Like it was unnecessarily disrespectful. It’s a fair point, but my first response was to wonder whether he would feel the same way if I’d used the name “Frank”? (I’m guessing probably not.) Regardless, I never gave it any thought when I was writing the book. Sandfly sort of writes himself.

Plus, there is significance to the name “Abdul” for Sandfly and his cronies. You’ll have to read the book to have it fully explained.

Q: This is your first published book, but not the first book you've written, correct? You've mentioned that you were writing A Star Curiously Singing mainly for yourself--and yet, it's the one that got published. Do you think that was simply a coincidence, or is there something different about this book from the others you've written?

A: Actually this is my first published novel. I do have a published non-fiction book called FoxTales, a memoir of a portion of my life in the software industry.

To answer the second part of your question--everything I’ve written has its own personality, a personality derived from the story and its characters. I would say, however, that A Star Curiously Singing is the most unique book I’ve ever written. To start with, it is written in first person present tense which is almost never used for novels. It also has a religion-based totalitarian world that is rarely touched upon in novels, much less in science fiction. Plus, the book has a lot of interesting future gadgets and human interactions that I think are unique as well. There is a review that was just published on Christian Fiction Review that does a pretty good job of outlining the book’s distinctiveness, I think.

Q: I also loved the story in your interview about the elderly author you met on a plane who--when you told him you were dabbling in writing--told you to start early, so you might actually publish before you die! I can SO identify with that line, and I imagine a lot of the other pre-pubbed writers who visit this site can, too. Did you collect a lot of rejections, or find yourself getting discouraged? And if so, how did you handle that and keep writing?

A: Oh yeah. I spent years and years of writing, editing, submitting and getting rejected. It can be very disheartening. In fact, I thought A Star might be the last book I wrote. That’s why when I started it, I told myself “this one is just for me”—meaning I didn’t care if it was publishable, or if anyone else ever saw it. I was just going to write the book I wanted to write, getting as creative as I wanted to get. Ultimately, I think that helped the book. It freed me creatively.

Sometimes that’s what it takes though. Tolkien had this word “euchatastrophe," which meant that just when things seem they are at their worst, good finally breaks through. That sort of describes my writing career…

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers who are struggling to keep writing in the face of discouragement and rejection?

A: Keep trying. You might get published before you die.

Q: The idea of Christian speculative fiction is very interesting to me. On the one hand, so many Christians have written great fantasy and spec fiction. But then this type of "out there" writing seems to make other Christians a bit nervous. How do you think speculative fiction fits in with a Christian worldview?

A: I think speculative fiction fits quite nicely with the Christian worldview. Wasn’t it the Apostle Paul who wrote that the gospel was a “stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles” and yet was both “the power of God and the wisdom of God”? So why should Christians feel nervous about a story with a few robots or aliens in it? What we as Christians are telling the world seems preposterous on the face of it: God became a man, walked the Earth and then died and came back to life. Plus, he lives today to repair and change lives! Preposterous—it might make you nervous--but also true! The same could be said for speculative fiction. It’s a perfect match, I think.

Q: We've mostly been talking about your book, but there are some pretty interesting events in your life story, too. One in particular has to do with Microsoft. Can you tell us about that?

A: Yes, I worked for Microsoft for seven years as a computer programmer, primarily on a database program called FoxPro. The reason I was employed by Microsoft, though, was because the company I worked for before that was purchased by them. (Fox Software.) At the time, Fox was the largest purchase Microsoft had ever made. Pretty significant for a company of only a couple hundred people...

Fox was much smaller when I started, though—less than a hundred people—and many of the employees were related. The owner of the company was also my boss, and he was a real character. Brilliant, driven, but also a little lacking in people skills. Bullying was his favorite motivational tactic. It was an interesting place to work. Lots of crazy stuff happened. For instance, my boss once picked me up during a snowstorm, drove me to work, and left me there. How many people can say that?

Q: Anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself?

A: I really appreciate the interview. I encourage everyone who is reading to get a copy of my book, A Star Curiously Singing, and tell me what you think. Also be sure to check out any of the other speculative titles available through Marcher Lord Press. They’re all great.

Oh, and if my non-fiction book interests you, that is called “FoxTales: Behind the Scenes at Fox Software”.

Thanks so much for being our guest today!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Upcoming Author Interviews and Give-Aways!

I've been a bit lazy about blogging the last week or so. Actually, it wasn't so much laziness as being too busy in every other area of my life. But we have great things coming in the next week or so to make up for it.

I'm featuring interviews with two new speculative fiction authors with Marcher Lord Press. One has some great words about persevering and his journey to publication. Both authors have fascinating book premises. One is about a future world under sharia law. The other is about a world in which religion is outlawed, and a boy stumbles across a Bible.

So be sure to stop by tomorrow (Monday, November 16) to read the interview with Kerry Nietz, author of A Star Curiously Singing.

Friday (November 20) we'll feature Steve Rzasa, talking about his book, The Word Reclaimed.

And don't forget that on Monday, November 23, I'll hold a drawing to give one person their choice of any one item from my online shop, featuring handmade jewelry, knitting, and crochet. It's not too late to enter. Click here if you'd like to leave a comment and get in on the fun.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Contest: Win ANY ONE item from my online shop!

I'm in the mood to give something away again, woo-hoo!

I'm going to do something a bit different this time around. On Monday, November 23, I'm going to hold a drawing, and the winner will get to choose ANY ONE ITEM from my online shop as the prize.

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment here telling me you'd like to be entered in the drawing. And make sure I know how to get in touch with you in case you win.

You can also use the "contact me" button over on the right side and email me the information if you don't want to leave info on the blog.

Want a bonus entry? In your comment, tell me which item from Jasmine Showers (that's the name of my shop) you would like to win and I'll give you two entries in the drawing!

The good part is, if you win, I won't even hold you to selecting the item you choose as your favorite now. After all, I'm adding new stuff all the time and you might find something you like better. Plus, this is mainly a shameless way to get you to click on the link and take a look at my site.

You writers out there might like the Historical Romance Pendant Watch, which features a young writer reminiscent of Jane Austen.

I'm adding lots of fall and dress-up stuff good for this time of year, as well.

So have fun!

Oh, and I understand that I'm supposed to add some legalese. The contest is only open to legal residents of the United States. Value of the prize depends on what you choose, ranging from $7 to approximately $50. Odds of winning depend on the number of entrants.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When Should We Question?

I just read an interesting post at a blog called Christ and Pop Culture. I honestly don't listen to much contemporary music so I'm not familiar with the artist they're discussing, David Bazan. But apparently he has recently renounced his Christian faith and has released an album of songs that reflect anger with God and doubts about His motives.

The author of the article, Chase Livingston, goes on to say he wasn't surprised because 1) it seems to be happening to a number of his friends lately, when the questions and the doubts get to be too much, and 2) he had always heard questions and doubts in Bazan's music even when he was a confessed Christian. In fact, Livingston says he had liked Bazan's lyrics for that daring to pose realistic questions that a lot of Christians wouldn't admit to. He thought that posing questions could actually strengthen faith. Now, however, he's wondering about the difference between questioning that builds up or tears down.

I find this discussion to be really pertinent as I search for the kind of stories I want to read--and write. I sometimes feel like the Goldilocks of the literary world. This book over here is too sweet and unrealistic in the way all problems are explained and everything works out for the good guys who believe in God. No one has questions that can't be answered. Then this one over here is so full of questions and doubts that it leaves me feeling depressed and miserable. There are publishers whose lists of guidelines are unbelievably rigid--down to the point of not allowing Christian characters to say the word "darn" or play cards. Then there are groups espousing faith and literature who seem to believe that books just aren't any good unless they poke and prod at every belief.

I've noticed, even in the Bible, that sometimes those who question are rebuked by God--and sometimes He responds in a gentle manner and comforts them. So when should we swallow our doubts and keep them to ourselves, lest we hurt the faith of others or even offend the Lord? When should we share our questions and be transparent and discuss them openly?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stray Parrots?

Is there any such thing as a stray parrot?

This fellow was perched on a car in the parking lot of the restaurant we went to tonight. He was also calling "hello" to passers-by.

I figured no one would believe this if I didn't get a picture. Sorry it isn't clearer, but first, I took it with my cell phone. Second, when I tried to get close, he flapped his wings and squawked at me.

Maybe he was a low-tech car alarm.

Ah well. Rose McCauley recently commented that you never know what you'll find on this site. Apparently that's true!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Give-aways and this and that

Hi, all. A few juicy tidbits today.

First, Rose McCauley did a blog post today listing some of her favorite blogs that do frequent give-aways, particularly of books. So if you like free stuff, you might want to head over there and take a look. If you leave a comment, you'll also be eligible to win a copy of The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry, which you may remember received a glowing recommendation on this site.

Rose mentioned our blog as one that does give-aways, and I am thinking of starting one up very soon. Probably won't be a book give-away this time. Maybe something a little bigger. Does that intrigue you?

Third, I posted late last week, an entry called "Gods With a Small G," but since I had drafted it weeks before, it has the old date and may not have shown up in your updates. It did show up on my facebook account and generated some lively discussion there!

Speaking of which, are any of you other blog friends of mine on facebook--other than the ones I've already made connections with? (You know who you are.) My account is under Robin Johns Grant if you want to be friends. (Now I feel like I'm in kindergarten.)

Well, that was totally random today, but I'm a little under the weather, so that's about as coherent as I can be. Anyway, as Rose said on her post, you never know what you'll find at this site!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aging Together

An interesting and cool element of social networking sites, such as Facebook, is finding those we went to school with or hung out with as kids or teenagers- specifically, those who are our age. One thing I was realizing today, after finding many friends recently who fit into this category, is that these people have a kinship with me that others don't. They know what I'm going through with this whole aging thing. I have many friends and family members who are closer to me than these old friends are now, as time and distance have estranged most of my old schoolmates. But though I have closer friendships with them, they may be quite far from my own age. Even if they are older and have been where I am now, they are not going through it at the same time.

Sometimes I feel a real connection to these old friends because of this, because, as I've recently found out, aging ain't easy. We hit the same milestones around the same time. We have varying degrees of the same wrinkles, and we have the same basic bodily challenges. Many of my old friends are raising their kids right now, and I see them commenting to each other about their kids and relating to what the others are going through. We'll be hitting our mid-life crises (is that the right word?) around the same time, theoretically. And then, I suppose, one by one, we'll drop off. Sorry- this isn't meant to be morbid, but that IS part of the point. We are on the road travelling at the same rate. We share a special knowledge of what each other is going through right now.

Thanks to the internet, we are able to connect in a way that previous generations of estranged childhood friends could not. And that connection can be helpful if we use it to support each other. What a fascinating age we live in, as the world continues to shrink!

Friday, October 9, 2009


Last week at church, I noticed two different mentions of "desires" in our church's order of worship, even though the sermon didn't specifically deal with that.

The first was a line from a prayer from The Valley of Vision (p. 354): "I praise you for the throne of grace, that here free favor reigns; that open access to it is through the blood of Jesus; that the veil is torn aside and I can enter the holiest and find You ready to hear, waiting to be gracious, inviting me to pour out my needs, encouraging my desires, promising to give more than I ask or think."

The next lines were in the hymn we sang, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty":

"Hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er have been
Granted in what he ordaineth?"

I made a note at the time that the two views of our desires struck me as different. In the first, the Lord is "encouraging our desires." The picture from that prayer rather reminded me of going to see Santa Claus. (I know the Puritan who wrote it would be shocked, but I'm in confession mode here.) The Lord is sitting there on his throne, waiting for me to climb up on his knee and read out my list. Then he would pat me on the head and promise me to deliver, assuming I was a good girl. I doubted that view was right, but I have to admit there's a part of me that likes that picture.

But the lines from the hymn...well, those seem to say that God's in charge. He knows what's best and he ordains it. We're going to get what we need from him, even if it isn't necessarily what we want. That sounded more true to me, but did I like it as much?

I put the church bulletin aside for several days, then pulled it out again just now. And this time, I didn't see much of a contradiction. The other lines of the hymn that I didn't reproduce here also talk about spending time with the Lord, praising him, drawing near to him in his temple. In both cases, we're spending time with God, getting so close to him that we know him. We love him and praise him and want to please him. And through that process, we should arrive at a point that what we desire for ourselves is the same thing that he desires for us. Then our desires are "granted in what he ordaineth."

I wonder daily how close I am to that point. I have a lot of desires, I must confess. God answers one prayer and I immediately start whining for something else, like a spoiled child.

A lot of my desires have to do with accomplishments. I want those achievements bad! And when I seem to be stuck in place, I sometimes find it hard to be the person God wants me to be. So are those achievement goals what God wants for me? Do I really know his mind well enough that I only desire what he wants for me?

That's a tough journey. I want to be at that place, but I know I'm not that close to him yet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Gem From Jim Hines

Does anyone know anything about Jim Hines? It looks like he's a fantasy writer. I may have to check out his stuff, although I'm not sure if stories about goblins as MAIN characters would interest me. I'm not THAT big of a geek, am I? I like my goblins where they belong- in supporting roles.

In any event, here's his blog address...

Check out his poem, Slush I Read.

Hope everyone is having a grand week.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Strange and Wonderful Book: The Little Stranger

A friend recommended The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters a couple of weeks ago. Even though it's in our current fiction collection at the library, she said it was an old-fashioned gothic. She also said it scared her silly, even though it wasn't violent or gory. Well, that was enough for me. I dove right in, and oh my--what a book!

This is one of the few books I've read that left me thinking, this is the book that I want to write. This is the WAY I want to write.

On the surface, The Little Stranger might not sound all that different. It's a typical gothic-type story set in an old, creepy house in the English countryside. The time period is just after World War II, and though electricity and indoor plumbing are advancing throughout the country, Hundreds Hall is isolated enough to be missing out. It's still lit by candles, warmed by fires when the family can afford it. Because even though the Ayres family has been living at Hundreds for generations, like many aristocratic British families, they've fallen on hard times and in some ways live no better than the poorest people in the village. The Ayreses are not seen often anymore, keeping to themselves in their crumbling mansion, so Dr. Farraday is surprised when he is called out to Hundreds to see to the sick maid.

Farraday finds that the young maid is not so much sick as terrified. She swears that there's a frightening presence in the house. Farraday doesn't put much stock in her story, but this is the beginning of his relationship with the Ayres family, including the family matriarch and her son and daughter, who are both in their twenties. Farraday holds onto his scientific skepticism even when stranger and stranger tales come to him from first one, then the other of the family. Their gentle old dog suddenly turns savage and attacks a visitor. Strange noises are heard. Objects move themselves around. One by one, the family members begin to believe they're being persecuted by a strange presence, while Farraday believes there's a kind of hysteria in the house, partly brought on by the stress and isolation of their circumstances.

Of course, even though Farraday is supposedly the uninvolved narrator of the Ayres family's story, it soons become apparent that he, too, is connected in their bizarre situation. First because of his feelings for Caroline Ayres and Hundreds, and also because his mother was once a nursemaid at the Hall.

I don't want to say much more, because this is another of those books that has so many wonderful twists and turns. This is not one of those ghost stories that starts out with things going bump in the night and ends with an explanation of exactly what's been happening--and perhaps with a ghost or a demon popping out of a closet. Neither does it leave you frustrated because there are no answers. When you reach the end of the book, you'll know enough to draw your own conclusions, but you'll also have plenty to think about and discuss with other readers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MaryLu Tyndall Gives Us Some Inside Info

Today we have Part 2 of our visit with MaryLu Tyndall. If you missed last Tuesday's review of her new book, The Blue Enchantress, I'm sure you'll want to go back and check it out after reading this interview.

I think I first became acquainted with MaryLu Tyndall on someone else’s blog. She and I ended up involved in a lively discussion of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Will’s tragic fate. I’ve been intending to read her fiction ever since then, knowing she was fascinated with pirates, too, but just now got around to it. I just finished reading The Blue Enchantress and loved it!

MaryLu, I have to say, as I was reading along I was enjoying the book but was also thinking, darn! I must have started with one of her books that doesn’t include pirates. Then Captain Poole and The Enchantress showed up and the book really picked up for me, LOL! I have to say, I loved Captain Poole and the way you made him dangerous and a REAL pirate—yet I felt there was something redeemable and noble about him. Will we be seeing more of him in future books?

First of all, Thank you Robin for having me on your blog! Now about Captain Poole. I would LOVE to write a story about him someday. In fact, that’s why I left his story open-ended to include that possibility. The problem I’m having right now is selling pirate stories to the Christian market. My current publisher has asked me to steer away from the pirate theme for now. It’s a business after all and if pirate books aren’t selling, then that’s the way of it. But, personally, I can’t imagine readers not enjoying a great pirate tale from a Christian perspective!

And what about Abigail? Loved her, too—and the hint of a romance between the missionary and the pirate. Will we be seeing more of Abigail?

What I’d love to write is an entire novel about the growing romance between Abigail and Captain Poole. I mean, a missionary and a pirate? Sounds like an awesome premise, eh?

I think I read that you grew up in Florida and were fascinated by tales of sea-faring and pirates when you were young. What books and movies did you love as a child? What stories influenced your writing?

My favorite all time pirate book is Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini. Don’t be turned off by the title. It’s an exciting, clean adventure with a bit of romance thrown in. I’ve read it several times. Other books I loved growing up were The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, All of Jane Austen’s books (of course), and The Last of the Mohicans.

Did you start writing stories when you were young? If so, did any of those stories or characters carry over into the novels you’re writing now?

I wrote several stories when I was growing up but just for fun. I never thought I’d ever get published. But no, none of those characters have resurfaced into my current novels. I think because I was not a Christian at the time and I had a very naïve knowledge of human nature. We learn so much as we mature and face struggles in life.

In reading your bio, it sounds as though you found God and rediscovered your writing a few years ago. How do you think these two events relate—if at all?

They are directly related! I believe God’s plan all along for me was to become an author, and He was only waiting for me to FINALLY turn my life over to Him. I spent many years wandering around in the desert like the Israelites, trying to find my own happiness on my terms and making quite a mess of things. I’m surprised God didn’t just open up the ground and swallow me whole and be done with it! But I’m glad He didn’t. I’m so thankful for His love and patience. As soon as I submitted myself completely to Him and His will, I felt the strongest urge to write a novel! Weird, huh? I hadn’t written in years. But it was that very novel that got me my first contract and ended up getting a Christy nomination as well. God is good!

I always like perseverance stories. Do you have any tips for those of us pursuing a dream (whether that’s writing or some other goal) when we fall into doubt, or wonder if we’re ever going to have any success?

Remember Joseph from the Bible. God told him that he would be a leader, that his entire family would bow before him. Then what happened? He was sold into slavery, lied about and thrown into prison with no hope of ever getting out. Not just for 1 year, but for 15! If God has called you to do something and you are truly submitted to Him, whatever the outcome, He will bring it to pass. Hang in there and believe. I once heard a famous preacher say when asked how you know God’s will for your life: “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and then do whatever you want.” In other words, if you’re truly following Him, He’ll put His desires for you on your heart.

Thanks! Can’t wait for the next installment of the Charles Towne Belles series!

Thanks so much for having me, Robin! The Raven Saint releases in January so you won’t have too long to wait.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time with Family

I have been blessed in the last ten days or so to have gotten a visit from my dad and stepmom, who were in Anaheim for a conference. And not just Anaheim, but Disneyland! They were staying in the Disneyland Hotel. And then today (Wednesday), my mother is coming for a visit! How blessed am I? I was able to go and spend three nights in Disneyland and get to visit the parks for the first time (I've been to Disney World many times, but never to Disneyland.) And I got to spend time with family I haven't seen in a couple of months. It was a really nice time. I rode roller coasters and screamed too much, ate too much, and walked what felt like too much.

And now, I am super-excited to see my mother very shortly now! I've been trying to plan what we might do. Definitely she must see Venice Beach and the pier at Santa Monica. Also, I haven't done the whole Hollywood walk of fame thing with all the stars on the sidewalk. I have been down to Hollywood and Vine, but I'm usually on my way somewhere else and have no time to stop. I think we should certainly check that out and see whose stars we can see. She's going to get to meet my roommate and see my place, and just the amazing beauty of the mountains and water around Los Angeles.

Anyone have any other suggestions for what we could do, both touristy and non-touristy? I think my roommate, who is a chef and bartender, will make us dinner one night. Oh, and I almost forgot- we're hitting Vegas over the weekend. It should be a nice drive- not to mention absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Even though a lot of it will be through the massive desert, I still think it's amazing. I've been missing the rain, but with all the flooding I'm hearing about in my home state of Georgia right now, I'm reminded to be thankful for what I have. Thank You, Lord, for beautiful weather!!!!

So, I am quite blessed to see so much of my family during these two weeks. Now, only if I can get to see Robin and my wonderful grandparents soon, all will be right with the world.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Blue Enchantress: Reviewed

Today I'm reviewing MaryLu Tyndall's new book, The Blue Enchantress. On Thursday, I'll be interviewing MaryLu, so be sure to come back!

Betrayed by the man she longed to marry, Hope Westcott finds herself on an island in the Caribbean being auctioned off as a slave to the highest bidder.

Raised in an unloving home and after enduring a difficult childhood, Hope's search for love and self-worth have led her down a very dangerous path. All she ever wanted was to find true love and to some day open an orphanage where she could raise children with all the love she never experienced as a child. But how can a woman with a sordid past ever hope to run an orphanage, let alone attract the love of an honorable man?

Determined to overcome the shame of his mother's past, Nathaniel Mason worked for many years to build his own fleet of merchant ships in an effort to finally acquire the respect of Charles Towne society. Ignoring the call of God on his life to become a preacher, he forges ahead with his plans for success at a distant port in the Caribbean, when he sees a young lady he knows from Charles Towne being sold as a slave.

In an effort to save Hope, he is forced to sell one of his two ships, only to discover that her predicament was caused by her own bad behavior. Angry and determined to rid himself of her as soon as possible, Nathaniel embarks on a journey that will change the course of his life.

If you've known me for awhile, you'll know I love a good pirate story. And since M.L. Tyndall is known for writing a great pirate story--complete with romance, swashbuckling adventures, and feisty heroines--you would think I would have gobbled up everything she's written. I'm embarrassed to say The Blue Enchantress was my first Tyndall read, but it definitely won't be my last.

The story opens up with Hope being auctioned at the slave market in St. Kitts. Of course things are looking dire. It seems pretty obvious why the lecherous old men are bidding for Hope. Apparently their plans are also obvious to Nathaniel Mason, who sees what's going on and recognizes Hope from Charles Towne. Even though he barely knew Hope back home, except for her occasional haughty snubs, he realizes he has to save her. It's his Christian duty. So Nathaniel sells his ship to raise the money to buy her, intending to escort her home to Charles Towne. That part of his plan, at least, succeeds, but it doesn't make him particularly happy.

I appreciated the fact that Nathaniel, as a sincere Christian man, consistently tried to do the right thing--and frequently hated every minute of it. I've been there myself. I want to please God and help people and make noble sacrifices. But then I find myself feeling grumpy and used and having to overcome a bad attitude in spite of my grand gestures. So Nathaniel's moods seemed quite human to me.
By no means wealthy, Nathaniel has struggled to raise himself from poverty, become a captain, and build two ships of his own. Now Hope has single-handedly wiped out half his fleet. It would be different if he could bask in her gratitude, congratulate himself that he had saved an innocent maiden from a terrible fate. But he can't help but feel that Hope has brought most of her troubles on herself by throwing herself at men--even married ones.

Even after being rescued by Nathaniel, Hope faces her own struggles. The man she thought she loved has betrayed her. In fact, he's the one who left her to be sold into slavery. The whole business has shocked her into wanting to reform her life, but that seems easier said than done. Her reputation prejudices most women against her and causes men to expect the wrong things from her. More and more, she finds that the only man she wants anything from is Nathaniel. She would like to have his good opinion, but after their bad beginning things just get worse. One misunderstanding follows another, and poor Nathaniel seems to suffer nothing but bad luck when she's around. By the time she's finished with him, well...let's just say he should have been grateful he had even one ship left.
To earn their passage to Kingstown, where his one remaining ship is waiting for him, Nathaniel hires himself out as a navigator on another vessel. But soon a freak storm causes them to be shipwrecked and stranded for a time on an island. Rescue comes in a strange form--pirates! (I had been wondering when the pirates would show up.)

My two favorite characters played a large part in the story during this period. Captain Poole, the pirate captain, was strong and menacing, but could be persuaded to do the right thing. Poole apparently had a brush with God sometime in his past that caused him to be intrigued with Abigail, a young missionary who was marooned along with Hope and Nathaniel. There was no easy, convenient conversion for Captain Poole--at least not yet. But I have hopes for his future, especially if he shows up in another Tyndall book. And let's hope he does!
The Blue Enchantress is the middle book of a three-part series. I didn't find myself at all confused by not having read book one (The Red Siren), but I was intrigued enough that I'll probably go back and read it now. Loose ends are tied up pretty well for Hope and Nathaniel by book's end, but another adventure is beginning, so if you want more, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Winner of the Signed Nancy Grace Book

I am pleased to announce that the winner of the signed Nancy Grace novel, The Eleventh Victim, is Melanie Dickerson. Finally I get to give a prize to Melanie--one of my most faithful blog readers!

I plan to start a new contest in the next week or so, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Christina Berry's Familiar Stranger: Reviewed

"Craig Littleton has decided to end his marriage with his wife, Denise, but an accident lands him in the ICU with fuzzy memories. As Denise helps him remember who he is, she uncovers dark secrets. Will this trauma create a fresh start? Or has his deceit destroyed the life they built together?"

First, I must apologize to Christina Berry.

Yes, I looked forward to reading her book. After all, she's a friend--at least a virtual, online friend--so I'm excited that her first published book is now a reality. Plus I knew from reading her blog and newsletter that she's a good writer. However, I really thought I could predict the whole story from reading blurbs like the one at the start of this review.

Boy, was I wrong.

I almost read the entire book Sunday and finally made myself put it down and go to bed, because I really, really wanted to know what the heck was going on in The Familiar Stranger.

The story starts with a long-married couple, Craig and Denise. They're arguing because Craig is planning to skip not only church, but a deacon's meeting as well, and go hiking instead. The tension is simply crackling in this house, and you just know things aren't going well in this marriage. Because the story is told in alternating viewpoints, you soon learn that things are even worse than bickering and tension. Although we don't know exactly what Craig is up to, it's apparent that he isn't just going hiking.

Denise takes their sons and goes on to church, as usual. But at the end of the service, she gets a horrifying phone call. Craig has been in a car accident that's left him badly injured and another man dead. She soon finds out that Craig remembers nothing about his life, or about her.

Okay, at this point and from the blurbs, I thought we had a nice, straightforward contemporary fiction book about a man who was probably cheating on his wife. Through the accident, Denise would discover Craig's infidelity, but the accident would cause him to depend on her, to see her in a new way, perhaps even to repent of his past actions. It would be compelling but not terribly suspenseful.

Instead, Ms. Berry thickened the plot on me at every turn of the page. Who was the man who was killed in the crash? Why was he seen arguing with Craig before the accident? What about the mysterious teenage girl who is also in the hospital?

I don't want to say much more, because I don't want to give away the delicious twists and turns. I must say, though, that I'm amazed at the intricacy of Christina's plotting, and her ability to create suspense. She knows exactly how much to reveal and when, and how to phrase things to throw us poor readers off. At one point I actually figured out what was going on, but her misdirection was so skillful that I doubted myself and she led me off in another direction entirely.

The Familiar Stranger is the kind of suspense that I love. Not the campy kind with a villain chasing some poor heroine with a gun. It's the kind of suspense that comes from believable characters and skillful writing. From the psychological "evil that lurks in the minds of men." I absolutely urge you to pick up a copy of this book.

Oh, and by the way, Christina is giving away several copies of The Familiar Stranger. Just leave a comment on this post and she will enter you in the drawing to be held at the end of this month. How easy can you get! (Now that I've gotten you all curious about what Craig is up to, however, you might not want to wait.)

Single mother and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time to write from her busy schedule because she must tell the stories that haunt her every waking moment. (Such is the overly dramatic description of an author's life!) She holds a BA in Literature, yet loves a good Calculus problem, as well. Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, releases from Moody in September and deals with lies, secrets, and themes of forgiveness in a troubled marriage. A moving speaker and dynamic teacher, Christina strives to Live Transparently--Forgive Extravagantly!

More places to find Christina:

Thursday (9/17) at Novel Journey, the next stop on her blog tour (where you can also enter again for her book drawing)

Her blog:

Her "infrequent, humorous newsletter":
(Just by signing up, each person will be entered to win a 4GB iPod Shuffle or free books for the life of her writing career!)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Entry deadline extended for Nancy Grace signed book drawing

That was a very convoluted headline, but the point is we're extending the deadline for the drawing for the autographed copy of Nancy Grace's new novel, The Eleventh Victim. You must leave a comment saying you want to enter--along with a way to get in touch with you if you win--no later than September 17. I'll announce a winner on September 18.

For more details about the book and the drawing, click here.

Gods with a small "g"?

I have a question for all you Christian readers and writers out there. What do you think of literature that incorporates gods into the story as characters? You know, gods like Zeuss or Jupiter or others from ancient mythology.

I'm asking this now because I recently finished reading The Lightning Thief, the first book of a kids' series called Percy Jackson and The Olympians. The premise is that twelve-year-old Percy, a misfit who has been expelled from numerous schools but still is a pretty good kid, discovers that he is one of many "half-bloods" in the world. In other words, his mother is a regular mortal woman, but his absentee father is actually the god Poseidon. Percy discovers this when some not-so-mythological-after-all monsters try to kill him, and he is sent for his protection to Camp Halfblood, where a lot of other children like himself learn how to fight and live with their unique situation.

The Lightning Thief was, for the most part, an imaginative and enjoyable read, and Percy is a pretty admirable little hero. But I have to admit, I'm always a bit uncomfortable with stories with gods and goddesses. The Percy Jackson stories are secular books, of course, but I had the same problem when I read The Chronicles of Narnia last year. I loved Aslan and all the Christian imagery, but then started to squirm when Baccus came prancing through, or when the characters were saved by a river god.

I trust C.S. Lewis and his writing, though, and I know that Shakespeare sometimes threw in an appearance by a goddess or two. (I'm thinking of The Tempest in particular.) So what am I missing?

Is this just another of those things that you have to examine the motives of the writer and the rest of the story? Or could it be that in Shakespeare's and even Lewis's day, no one believed in gods and goddesses anymore so they didn't have to fear anyone taking the story seriously? I'm not sure I could say that in these Da Vinci Code times.

So what do y'all think?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Random, but Excellent, Movie Suggestions

I was trying to think of a really great blog post topic, but I was at a complete loss. So, I decided to write a little about something I like, movies, and even more than that, sharing what I think are good movies with other people. Here is a short list of some of my favorites. It's certainly not a comprehensive list, and I'm choosing to leave off some of my favorites that I think most people probably know of already, like Star Wars. This is more of a "Hey, here are some great movies you may not know about" kind of list. Here goes...

Jesus of Nazareth- a long, but wonderful and reverent, adaptation of the greatest story ever told. Many people star in this one. Robert Powell plays Jesus. If memory serves he has a British accent, but to me that's better than American, and about as good as you can get unless they speak in the original language like in The Passion of the Christ. 1977- Franco Zeffirelli directs.

Big Fish- starring Ewan MacGregor, about a dying man whose life story seems too good to be true. His son seeks out the truth and finds some fascinating answers. Uplifting with great storytelling. 2003. Don't think there's too much to worry about here- maybe some language.

In the Bedroom- starring Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei, Tom Wilkinson. This is a drama about a married couple who lose their teenage son to violence (about an hour into the movie) and their struggle to deal with the aftermath. It is heavy and sad, but a very well-told story with amazing performances. I watch this when I'm in the mood for a good catharsis. 2001. Violence and adult themes.

A&E's Pride and Prejudice- for those of you participating in Melanie Dickerson's Jane Austen challenge, I highly recommend this faithful, five-hour adaptation of one of my favorite books. The Kiera Knightley version does not come close to this one. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle star. 1995.

The Best Man- a young Italian woman, sometime around the turn of the century, is forced by her family to marry a man she doesn't love. His long-time friend arrives from America to be the best man, and she immediately falls in love with him instead. Sweet story. Subtitled. 1998.

Waiting for Guffman- a hillarious mockumentary by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, in the tradition of Spinal Tap, about a community theatre troupe in Blaine, Missouri who wait anxiously for a Mr. Guffman from New York to come and see their show and make them all big stars. The cast is mostly the same as in his other works- Catherine O'Hara, Guest, Levy, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and many others. 1997. Language warnings.

A Room with a View- based on the E.M. Forster novel and starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, and Maggie Smith- oh, and how can I forget????!!! Daniel Day-Lewis as the foppish Mr. Cecil Vyse!!! (which proves what an awesome actor he is, that Nathaniel from Last of the Mohicans could also play this part- unbelievable!!!) I'm getting myself so worked up by this entry, I think I'll go and watch it now! 1985. Great love story set in England and Italy around the turn of the century (the last one- not the millenium). Light-hearted and delightful. There is nudity- but it's not of the vulgar kind.

If you've seen any of these, let me know what you think. If you watch any based on my recommendations, I'd love to hear your opinion!

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Labor Day Every Week

I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled about the Labor Day holiday this coming Monday. I have nothing planned, but that's what makes it so wonderful. I can feel my nerves relaxing a little just thinking about a break from the routine, the busy-ness, the LABOR.

Oddly enough, I just made a note about something I read in Scripture this past week, and I realized that it's the perfect devotional for a Labor Day weekend. I realized that God gives us a Labor Day every week!

It's a commandment actually. One of the Big Ten. We're supposed to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. God wants us to perform our labors in six days, but on the seventh day we're supposed to (gasp!) rest.

That's quite a concept in our culture. Even if we don't go to our jobs, do we really find time to rest--on any day of the week? I'm not trying to be legalistic here or talk about rules. It just struck me as an interesting contradiction. Our culture values busy-ness, productivity, and achievement. But God knows we also need rest. We need to quieten our minds and be able to concentrate on spiritual things. On Him.

Even on my Christian writers' loop, during a discussion about trying to find writing time, someone suggested that if nothing else, we could possibly cram in a few hours' writing time on Sunday afternoons between morning and evening church, because that was usually a quiet, slack time. Hmmm...

I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with writing on Sundays. But if it's become another chore to fit in, another that resting from our labors?

Last week's Scripture reading was from Ezekiel. God was reminding the prophet that he gave his people the Sabbath day of rest "as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I, the Lord, had set them apart to be holy, making them my special people."

The suggestion here is that it was unusual even back then for people to take time away from their labors. I picture the temptation to the people of Israel if their heathen neighbors had one extra day of productivity every week. Were they afraid of falling behind? Not getting as much produce to market? Not producing as many goods? Losing out to the competition?

Were they just like me, in other words?

If God were a harsh taskmaster, mainly concerned with their productivity, he wouldn't have taken away one-seventh of their workdays. Instead, God showed them that he could prosper them when they relied on him instead of relying on their strength. Their work. Their schedules.

That's a reminder I constantly need. Even during this three-day weekend. Because in addition to thinking of being away from my job, I've also started compiling lists of the house-cleaning chores to catch up on, and the stuff I need to do for my online shop, and the writing, and the blogging...

I'd say I definitely need to readjust my focus!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Little Fish Updates

So what have I been up to lately, artistically speaking, that is? Here are some tidbits:

I met today with Antonio Sacre, an awesome bi-lingual storyteller. I first met him at the Jonesborough International Storytelling Festival in Tennessee in 2007. He lives out here and makes his living telling stories, and I wanted to meet with him and pick his brain about just that. He was very generous with his brain, and gave me lots of info and advice, so this goal will be taking a priority over certain other artistic projects. I need to get my content ready, get a website and some video ready, and market myself to schools and libraries. I already have some content in the form of folktales. As some of you may know, I was a member of the KSU Tellers back in Georgia. But I need to find my voice as a storyteller. This may take a while, but for now, I can just do my best with the content I have.

Tonight I went to my weekly class for The Write Club. In this club, what we do is often storytelling, but it is called "solo performance", which as I've been told is actually different than storytelling. Solo performance can incorporate storytelling, but storytelling is much more of a specific craft. In The Write Club, we write stories, mostly personal narratives, or poems, or whatever, and perform them. Some of the works coming out of this class are amazing! This is an awesome class, and the fact that I was able to get in is a gift from above, I believe, because it is by invitation only. I'm learning so much here about crafting stories from my own experience.

When I first got to L.A., I tried several things right off the bat. I took an improv class, a different solo performance class, and did a showcase with some other actors of An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein. Theatre out here is primarily performed in order to gain attention from film industry people, and thus showcases abound. Limits of money and time required that I make choices. I already know a lot about improv, the solo class was too expensive, and the showcase is remounting, but I opted out for the second go round. I am trying to narrow my options.

On the other hand, I'm picking up new ways to spend my time. I've joined a band, and have been working to advance my guitar skills, in addition to singing. Plus, there is my writing, which there never seems to be enough time for. I wonder why?

I'm still waiting to see if I get into that Warner Brothers television writing program, so I'll keep you posted about that, and these other endeavors. Hopefully God will make my path straight, because it gets tough being away from my family and the life I had in Georgia. But like my wise grandpa told me on the phone recently, "You can't have everything." At least not on earth, anyway.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Latest Creation: Historical Romance Pendant Watch

I decided to make something to donate to ACFW's (American Christian Fiction Writers') silent auction to be held at their conference next month. Since there will be so many romance readers and writers there, I settled on making this Historical Romance Pendant Watch.
It's got everything--cameos of Jane Austen-like ladies, reading and books, and of course, hearts and flowers.

Funny. I'm not able to go to the conference this year, but my jewelry will be there...

Anyway, if you're planning to be there, look out for the pendant watch and maybe another goodie or two at the silent auction.

If, like me, you aren't going, I'll probably be doing a jewelry give-away for the rest of us during the conference in late September, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, you can always check out my shop on Etsy. I'll be adding items soon, including a pendant watch for sale.
And don't forget to enter the drawing for a signed copy of Nancy Grace's new, best-selling novel, The Eleventh Victim!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Win a Signed Copy of The Eleventh Victim by Nancy Grace!

The Eleventh Victim: by Nancy Grace

As a young psychology student, Hailey Dean's world explodes when Will, her fiancé, is murdered just weeks before their wedding. Reeling, she fights back the only way she knows how: In court, prosecuting violent crime...putting away the bad guys one rapist, doper, and killer at a time. But dedicating her life to justice takes a toll after years of courtroom battles and the endless tide of victims calling out from crime scene photos and autopsy tables. Just as she grows truly weary, a serial killer unlike any other she's encountered begins to stalk the city of Atlanta, targeting young prostitutes, each horrific murder bearing his own unique mark. This courtroom battle will be her last.

Hailey heads for Manhattan to pick up the pieces of the life she had before Will's murder, training as a therapist. In a vibrant new world, she finally leaves her ghosts behind. But then her own clients are brutally murdered one by one by a copycat using the same M.O. as the Atlanta killer she hunted down years before. As the body count rises across Manhattan, Hailey is forced to match wits not only against a killer, but the famed NYPD.
Unless she returns to her former life and solves the case, still more innocent people will die at the hands of a killer who plans to get her, before she can get him!

Last Saturday, Nancy Grace was back in our home town to do a signing for her new novel, The Eleventh Victim. Nancy and I have known each other since the first grade. I would tell you how long ago that was, but Nancy would probably kill me. Suffice it to say, we've known each other a long time!

My friend Robin P., sister Frankie, me, and Nancy

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading her novel--which is a first for her. She's done almost everything else in the world--prosecuting attorney, has her own show on CNN, mother of twins, writer of a non-fiction book. But this is her first novel.

I still remember a story that Nancy wrote (and read aloud) for a creative writing assignment in high school. I remember waiting for my turn to read my story to the class and thinking, I wish I had written that! Even then, I couldn't seem to come up with an idea that could be contained in a short story--or that had anything to do with real life. Mine had all these fantastical or historical elements and twisted Dickensian plots. Nancy's story was something simple about two best friends who were growing up and growing apart. Simple and powerful.

She has said she's been distracted by all the other life events from creative writing and that she's glad to get back to it--and that it took her a long time to write this book. That's encouraging. Maybe I'll get somewhere with one of mine eventually, too.

Anyway, I got an extra copy of it signed for one lucky reader out there. The Eleventh Victim is hot off the presses and on the New York Times bestseller list, so I think this would be a great prize!

Just leave a comment here before September 15 (NOTE: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO SEPT. 17) telling me you'd like to be entered in the drawing. Two rules: I have to know how to contact you if you win, and you have to respond within a week when I contact you or the prize goes to someone else.

Simple enough! Good luck!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Old Movies or New?

Now I know there are winners and losers in both categories, and the new stands on the shoulders of the old. But really, the worlds are so far apart in so many ways. This is a topic which could be an ongoing thing.

This weekend I saw Notorious at a screening with a group called "Art on Life" I've attended a couple of times this summer. This is a Hitchcock film, and I believe it was made in 1946. Hitchcock could also be his own blog category, but right now I would just love to hear your opinions about old films verses new films. Which are better and why?

Craft comes to mind when I think about older films. The old studio system was flawed in many ways, but they knew how to crank out a movie with factory-like precision, and when the studios recognized the great directors and let them have more say over the films they were creating, a truly artistically-crafted product was the end result.

Anyone seen Notorious? Ingrid Bergman, Carey Grant and Claude Raines are more subtle than many actors of the day. Looking at a film like this is always bizarre for me, because like someone at our meeting said, it's like watching Shakespeare. It takes a while before I can find the rhythm, but once I was there, I was hooked.

Hitchcock crafted his story, his dialogue, his shots, his MacGuffin, all with the skill of a master. At one point, at a scene change, a champagne bottle fades into a lamp shade, and the little decoration at the top of the lamp is in the shape of a key, something which plays a major part in the story.

Though movies like GI Joe and Transformerz certainly require a visual craft, is it the same? The recent remounting of Star Trek was an example, I believe, of a well-crafted movie all around, visually appealing, with a well-developed story which also managed to stay true to the original canon.

Just some thoughts- I hope to get into other comparisons and contrasts in follow-up posts. I would love to hear some opinions!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lost Literature Display

Sometimes I really love my job.

Where else would I get to indulge my love of a TV show, have fun with books, and help build a tent out of bamboo poles and twisties?

I've blogged before about the TV show Lost, and we recently put together a huge exhibit at my library called "Lost Literature." I wrote an article about it for the college's website and publications. I'm going to reproduce it here because I thought you'd enjoy it--and because I'm too lazy to write another version. Enjoy!

A few months ago, Macon State College’s Assistant Librarian Felicia Haywood had a fairly simple idea for a library display that would highlight a number of books in the collection. That simple idea grew into the library’s largest display to date—an exhibit that snakes around the entire second floor and includes a full-sized boat, a tent constructed of bamboo poles, and a smoke monster.

And books, of course. Books as diverse as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Wizard of Oz, and Bad Twin. “All these titles are from the library’s collection,” says Haywood, “but they have something else in common. They also play a part in the popular ABC-TV Show Lost—along with many other titles covering a spectrum of time periods and genres.”

Lost follows the plight of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, which crashes onto a mysterious island and leaves them stranded—but not alone.

The island is just packed with mysteries, including a colony of people they call “The Others,” a monster that appears to be made of smoke, and a man in a hatch who swears he’s fending off an apocalypse by punching numbers into a computer.

If you’ve watched Lost (or heard your friends talk about it), you’ll know the show is a mind-bending puzzle. Through events on the island and flashbacks to the characters’ earlier lives, we discover that the Flight 815 survivors have intriguing connections to one another. Were they brought to the island for a reason?

As Haywood says, “Tiny bits of information turn out to provide important clues later on, so when a character is shown reading a particular book at a particular time, it’s probably important.”

And the literary clues abound! The survivors of Flight 815 read books to pass the time. The Others have a book club. The Hatch where Desmond holds the apocalypse at bay has a library.

Characters quote from books. Writers reference them in episode titles and character names. Sometimes story lines seem to follow famous plots.

In a strange twist of life imitating art, there’s even one Flight 815 passenger who wrote a novel called Bad Twin—which was later published in the real world, and added to the library's collection. The popular character Sawyer was seen reading the manuscript for Bad Twin in an early episode. If you’re interested in it, you can find it in the exhibit at Sawyer’s tent, along with his reading chair, Oceanic Airlines water bottles and blankets.

You can also see a replica of his bizarre reading glasses, patched together from two pairs salvaged from the wreckage.

“My original idea,” says Haywood, “was to draw attention to some classic library books. And also to the second floor of the Library. Even a couple of years after the library’s renovation, some folks don’t seem to be aware that the library now occupies two floors. Since a couple of us at the Library are Lost fans, the idea sort of snowballed. But what better way to get patrons to check out the upstairs than to provide them a recreation of the Survivors’ beach camp, Dharma stations, and even a model of the infamous Smoke Monster!”

“We’ve left clues everywhere to celebrate Lost’s homage to literature. If you’re a newbie to the show, you may just find yourself getting drawn into its world. If you’re a fan, see if you can make the connections.”

There are also plans for events, contests, and give-aways in connection with the exhibit, so watch out for more details.

“And if you find a book that you like,” says Haywood, “feel free to bring it to the desk and check it out—even if it’s the Stephen King book under the polar bear’s paw.”

You can see lots more photos at our Flickr site.

The Flickr photos and all the good pics above were taken by Felicia. The ones that have poor lighting or are blurry were taken by yours truly!