Friday, February 28, 2014

Hope SPRINGS eternal! Keep hoping!


By Niki Turner

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin'd from home,
Rest and expatiates in a life to come."
~Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

I can finally see my driveway, and the track of muddy paw prints inside my door testifies to the promised arrival of spring. Eventually.

I know we'll see more storms, and more snow on the ground, off and on, for at least two more months, maybe three. It's easy to feel discouraged and despondent when one of Colorado's spring storms blows in and dumps six or eight inches of snow on ground you'd just rejoiced at seeing again after the long, dark months of winter.

So I cling to those little signs, and the fact it's still light outside at six o'clock in the evening, and the birds I heard chirping overhead when I went out to feed the chickens this morning, as confirmation that spring is on its way.

Healing—physical, emotional, spiritual, relational—is a similar process. There are good days and bad days, and the bad days are especially discouraging after a spate of good ones. However, as my dear husband keeps telling me, every tiny hint of progress, of improvement, is a sign, a promise, evidence, that things are eventually going to be better than before.

That's the nature of faith, according to the author of the book of Hebrews.

NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. 
Heb 11:1 AMP

The writer's journey is one of faith, too.

There are bright, sunshiny days when you reach your word count, find just the right turn of phrase, and come up with the perfect plot twist. And there are stormy days when your own writing makes you want to gag, when you realize your story doesn't just have a sagging middle, it has total plot prolapse, or you get yet another rejection letter for that novel you've been carrying in your heart longer than an elephantine gestation.

But just as we don't give up on spring's eventual arrival during a March snowstorm, and we don't give up on healing and recovery in our bodies when symptoms rear up again, we can't give up on writing when we experience "dry spells" or setbacks, or disappointments. In truth, there's probably never been a better time in history to be a writer. 














Originally posted at http://www.westernslopeacfw.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Happy!

Studies indicate having a sedentary job (i.e. writing) can be hazardous to our health (see links below), but getting in the habit of standing up and moving around for a few minutes every hour can reverse those negative effects on our bodies. 

In consideration of better health for writers and readers everywhere, here's a catchy tune that should get you up and moving for a few minutes. 

(Earworm Warning!!! This song will get stuck in your head, and might just make you feel... um... happy!) 

Have a blessed day!



Monday, February 24, 2014

THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS

by Christine Lindsay
Normally I write historical novels, but when I saw the submission call for the Passport to Romance line from Pelican Books, I got really excited. They were asking for romance novellas to take place in specific cities around the world—a place you need a passport to travel.

One of those cities was Londonderry. As a person born in N. Ireland where Londonderry is situated, I simply had to write this book. I was salivating—I wanted to write this book so badly, because I didn’t need to do research, but could draw on recent memory. Many of the bed & breakfast scenes in this novella were inspired by the memories of my aunt's farm and beautiful Irish farmhouse. In fact, I ended up dedicating Londonderry Dreaming to my Aunt Maggie who is now with the Lord.

There were times I needed to verify details. For example, it was an honor to communicate over email with the Vicar of St. Augustine’s Church in Londonderry. Not only did I receive the vicar's permission to use the ancient church in my novel, but a blessing as well, and help from the congregation. The church, but mainly the stained glass windows of St. Augustine’s were the inspiration behind this romance.


My daughter Lana and I visited St. Augustine’s back in 2006, and I was admiring one stained glass window in particular—the one depicting Ruth and Naomi.



That biblical story had given me hope over the years when I was searching for Lana’s older sister, Sarah.  Sarah was the child I had relinquished to adoption and was reunited with 20 years later. I took encouragement as I read how Ruth and Naomi developed such a close, loving relationship in their adult life. Thy people shall be my people...thy God shall be my God. That entwining of hearts and lives was what I hoped for with Sarah, the kind of relationship I already shared with Lana.

God graciously gave me that precious relationship with both of my daughters. What an indescribable joy it was to see my daughters, Sarah and Lana, as the models on the front covers of my first two books, Shadowed in Silk and Captured by Moonlight, a bit like those gorgeous stained glass windows depicting Ruth and Naomi.


Having such an emotional connection to St. Augustine’s assured this church a significant role in my romance novella, Londonderry Dreaming.


Writing about the land that I am proud to have been born in, and showing a small aspect of its unusual beauty was a personal joy. I know what those emerald green fields are like. The ancient stone boundaries, the medieval wall surrounding the old city of Londonderry, the rush of the surf along the jagged coastline on the North Sea, and the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.  

A few readers of the book have asked me about the Irish brogue in the story. I really hope readers will enjoy this humorous aspect, especially the dialogue from the 'Irish cousins'. I pretty much stole phrases from my real-life cousins and injected them into the novel. But to a lesser degree, this is the way I speak when I spend time with my relatives. There is also a certain rhythm to the Irish accent which I have naturally.

I was born in Ireland and was raised in Canada, but all my extended family is Irish---so I know how they talk and think. I know their blarney...oh...my...do I know their blarney.   

For a short trip to N. Ireland, watch this minute long book trailer for

Acclaimed New York artist, Naomi Boyd, and music therapist, Keith Wilson, loved one another five years ago, until her grandfather with his influence over Naomi separated them.

That root of bitterness keeps them apart until a letter from Keith’s grandmother, Ruth, draws Naomi to Londonderry to find she’s too late. Ruth has passed on. After the death of his beloved grandmother, Keith has also come to Londonderry only to open the door to his past…Naomi...beautiful as ever, the girl who broke his heart.

A mysterious painting in Ruth’s attic brings up questions about their grandparents’ entwined past and their own broken romance. But more comfortable with the unspoken languages of art and music, Naomi and Keith find it difficult to share their old hurts and true feelings.

Will the majestic coastline of Northern Ireland inspire them to speak the words to bring peace to their grandparents’ memory and to rekindle love?
  
Christine Lindsay Bio:
Christine Lindsay was born in Ireland, and is proud of the fact that she was once patted on the head by Prince Philip when she was a baby. Her great grandfather, and her grandfather—yes father and son—were both riveters on the building of the Titanic. Tongue in cheek, Christine states that as a family they accept no responsibility for the sinking of that great ship.

It was stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India that inspired her multi-award-winning historical series Twilight of the British Raj, Book 1 Shadowed in Silk, Book 2 Captured by Moonlight, and Christine is currently writing the final installment of that series called Veiled at Midnight to be released August 2014.

Christine makes her home in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada with her husband and their grown up family. Her cat Scottie is chief editor on all Christine’s books.

You can purchase Londonderry Dreaming at Pelican Books  And on Amazon Kindle

Please drop by Christine’s website
Follow her on Twitter
Be her friend on Pinterest

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Blackfish


by Susanne Dietze 

Blackfish (2013, now available on Netflix) is one of those documentaries that haunt you long after you finish watching. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of ethical treatment for animals, or you're pro- or anti-captivity of wild animals, this film will challenge and move you.
Black-and-white picture of an orca (killer whale) with the title Blackfish and credits underneath
Magnolia Pictures
 

As the film explores the astonishing intelligence and animal culture of Killer Whales (orcas), it also focuses on Sea World’s policies and one orca in particular, Tilikum, a bull whale involved in (if not responsible for) three human deaths, although he is not the only whale who has attacked or killed a trainer.

I grew up outside of San Diego, California, home of one of the Sea World parks, where the crown jewel in the collection is Shamu, the Killer whale. In my lifetime, I have probably seen more than two dozen Shamu Shows. I grew up loving Sea World. I appreciated how its exhibits and shows entertain as well as educate, and the corporation’s dedication to rehabilitating wounded or orphaned animals.

But after watching Blackfish, I don’t know if I’ll go again.

Producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite set out to make this film after the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World’s Orlando park (supposedly because the 40-year old, experienced trainer wore her hair in a ponytail, which the whale confused for a fish—a line Sea World used that didn't sit well with me when I first heard it). After Brancheau's death, OSHA got involved, and snippets of the case against Sea World are included in the film, as are interviews with OSHA expert witnesses, orca experts, and former Sea World orca trainers (young people who, to my surprise, didn't have science degrees or experience training animals).

And then there's Tilikum, captured off Iceland in 1983.
File:Shamu1.jpg
Tilikum at Sea World, Orlando, Milan Boers

It's hard not to be moved by Tilikum's history. He was bullied and bitten by the matriarchal females with him while at his first home in Victoria, Canada, and the movie’s participants argue that such treatment might have contributed to Tilikum’s aggression with humans. After the three whales (or perhaps Tikilum alone, depending on who you ask) killed a female trainer during a show, they were sold, and Tilikum was bought by Sea World and shipped to Orlando.

As I mentioned, however, dozens (yes, dozens) of other attacks on trainers have occurred, and not just by Tilikum. I could list specifics, since after viewing the film I did some research of my own. Suffice to say, attacks on humans by orcas in captivity seems to have been occurring since the beginning, to varying degrees of injury (even death, as in the case of a Sea-World trained orca killing a trainer in the Canary Islands in 2009). 
 
I had never heard of most of these incidents. Dawn Brancheau’s case is perhaps the most famous because she was killed before an audience, and OSHA responded with fines and a lawsuit against Sea World, claiming it is unsafe to work in the water with orcas.
File:SeaWorldORL08-04-01a.JPG
Trainer "surfing" Katina, Public Domain

If the movie is one-sided, it might be because Sea World declined to participate in the film. Could the producers have included more interviews with individuals who were pro-Sea World's stance? Absolutely. But the film’s goal is to shed light on what it believes to be a fatal flaw within the marine entertainment industry. I do not accept everything the film states as fact, nor did it change how I feel about zoos as places of research and education as well as entertainment. However, watching the documentary provoked me to research, discussion, and prayer, and I'm still pondering my response.
File:Orca collapsed dorsal fin.jpg
Tilikum has a collapsed dorsal fin, a problem that occurs in the wild but is quite common to orcas in captivity. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bladeflyer/53264655/
 

But despite the lack of balance in the film, Blackfish broke my heart.

For the trainers who loved the whales and recognized something wasn’t right in the system.

For the families of the people who have died.

But for the whales, too. They are intelligent, problem-solving, nurturing, astonishing animals that have vocalizations, hunting techniques, and behavior patterns specific to their particular group (in fact, orcas may actually be made up of 3-5 separate species). What must it be like for creatures wired by God to live in a community with a specific culture, where a young whale never leaves its mother’s pod, to be taken from her and confined with whales that don't vocalize the same?
File:Killerwhales jumping.jpg
Orcas in the wild near Alaska, public domain
 
OSHA fined Sea World over the death of Dawn Brancheau, and now, it's my understanding trainers do not enter the water with orcas during shows. For his part, Tilikum still performs.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the PG-13 rating, earned with a swear word, graphic imagery (including blood and the gathering of whale sperm for artificial insemination), and disturbing video footage of trainers caught by whales.
 
It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, but I’m glad I saw it. Questions and thoughts are percolating as I continue to ponder these amazing animals and how humans should (and do) interact with them.

***

Let's go back to third grade and ask: what's your favorite type of whale?

***

 Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. She won first place in the Historical category of the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler, and her work has finaled in the Genesis, Gotcha!, and Touched By Love Contests. Susanne is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Comfort Spills - A Guest Post with Susie Finkbeiner

by Susie Finkbeiner

My in-laws live in Roswell, New Mexico. Yes, it’s a quirky place. McDonalds is built to look like a UFO and Walmart has an alien painted on the wall. Most of the town is devoted to the tourists who come, looking for evidence of extraterrestrials.

It’s a fun place to visit.

Fun, but dry. Desert spans for miles. It’s hard to tell how many. Blaring sun and dry sand make depth perception fail. The aridity wicks away all moisture. All day, the goal is to keep from becoming dehydrated.

During my whole visit, I was reminded of one very important thing: the desert is dangerous. It could mean death to someone ill prepared. To someone who is not mindful of its perils.

In my novel “My Mother’s Chamomile”, my character Olga Eliot finds herself in a desert of grief. A wilderness of loss. Dry and hopeless and isolating. She feels a kinship with the Israelites who wandered on their trek to the Promised Land.

The desert seemed to have no end. For her and the Children of God. In that desert, they question God. His love for them. His power.

My pastor reminds us often that, in the desert, faith either grows or dies.

I believe he’s right about that.

How many times have I been in a Spiritual desert? Too many to count. Feeling alone. Terrified. Near the end of hope. Wandering aimlessly, wishing for a little direction. Not knowing that what I needed more than anything was mercy. Comfort. A flood of relief.

That, not only did I required it, I would need to accept it. Not only for myself, but for others.

First Corinthians 1:3-11 is all about receiving comfort so that we can become a comfort for others.

When we walk through the desert, we are comforted by Christ. Often that looks like a friend bringing over a casserole. Or someone paying a bill we can’t manage. A kind word. A warm hug.

We drink deeply of mercy, having more than our fill. Let the oasis of comfort immerse us. Renew us.

Refreshed, we have the power, the resources, to let that comfort spill over. To wash over those around us.

And, in the cleansing, faith grows. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My Mother's Chamomile

Desperate for the rains of mercy...
Middle Main, Michigan has one stop light, one bakery, one hair salon...and one funeral home. The Eliot Family has assisted the grieving people in their town for over fifty years. After all those years of comforting others, they are the ones in need of mercy.
Olga, the matriarch who fixes everything, is unable to cure what ails her precious daughter. She is forced to face her worse fears. How can she possibly trust God with Gretchen's life? A third generation mortician, Evelyn is tired of the isolation that comes with the territory of her unconventional occupation. Just when it seems she's met a man who understands her, she must deal with her mother's heart-breaking news. Always able to calm others and say just the right thing, she is now overwhelmed with helplessness as she watches her mother slip away. Click here to order.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lessons from the Editor's Desk - First Pages

by Dina Sleiman

Let’s start this lesson with full disclosure. I am a part-time, often-volunteer editor for a small publishing company. That being said, for the past three years I have been representing WhiteFire Publishing at conferences and reviewing submissions for them. Probably the best perk I’ve gleaned from this experience is a huge improvement in my own writing, and especially in knowing how to make my own submissions sparkle for bigger publishers. So I’m going to do a series sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned. Today let’s start with those all-important first pages.

The sad truth is that for the majority of the manuscripts I read, I never get past the first page. Keep in mind that WhiteFire accepts unagented submissions, so I imagine that statistic is different for bigger publishers. You might wonder how in the world I can tell a manuscript won’t cut it by the first page alone, but a first page can tell you a lot. It can tell you whether or not a writer has done their job to learn the craft, it can tell you if they’re lazy, and it can tell you if they possess any talent.

 Here are a few of the red flags that will stop me reading right on the first page.
1     1)  Stilted Language
2     2) Phony dialogue
3     3) Lack of understanding of point of view
4     4) Telling not showing
5     5) Confusing sentences
       6)  Bad grammar
7     7)  Excessive typos
      
There you go people, that little list alone saves me reading farther on over 50% of submissions. If I see any of those problems on the all-important first page, I know that matters can only go downhill from there. As a publishing company, we simply don’t have the time or energy to put into fixing any of these issues, no matter how brilliant your idea might be.

Now don’t get me wrong, I realize not everyone excels at opening scenes. I understand the paranoia of crafting the perfect hook. I know that some people aren’t good at nailing down exactly where a book should start. But if you haven’t mastered the basic writing craft yet, as attested by the red flags above, those other issues are immaterial. If the writing is good, but the opening is weak, I might read on. Occasionally if someone is “telling” a story with a really nice style, I will skip ahead a few pages to see if they shift into “showing.” And I’m not going to turn down a manuscript over a typo or a misplaced comma, but if I see a handful of those sorts of mistakes on the very first page, that’s just lazy, so forget it. 

I used to overuse the "not a fit for our company" phrase in my rejection letters, which really meant, "your writing is too awful to be a fit for our company," but I don't do that anymore. For books that I don't make it past the first page, I figure a simple "no thank you" will have to suffice. When I say a book is not a fit, it means we don't publish that type of book. And when I offer suggestions for improvement, that's a good thing. It means the project has potential.

If you pass the all-important first pages test, and I actually get through a good scene or chapter of your book, I will then put it on my kindle and read it like a reader, not an editor. At that point, I’m mostly looking to see if I enjoy the book and if it holds my interest. If I actually read through to the end, I might ask for some changes, but I will likely be sending the book forward to my senior editor. In my next lesson we’ll look at some of the reasons I might stop reading a novel by an otherwise competent author. Click here for lesson 2.

As a reader, what do you look for on the first page of a novel to decide whether or not you will read on?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Check out her novels Dance from Deep Within, Dance of the Dandelion, and Love in Three-Quarter time. And please join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hudson Taylor

by C.J. Chase

Last month I wrote a post about Eric Liddell after reading a fascinating article about the long-term affects of 19th century Christian missionary activity and the phenomenal growth of Christianity in China.

I hadn’t intended to write about Hudson Taylor—mostly, I suppose, because he is already so famous and I’d thought to cover some less familiar names. But it’s a funny thing. When looking into other late-19th century missionaries and church leaders, it almost feels like all roads lead back to Taylor.

You know the “six degrees of separation” game? Well, name anyone in a Who’s Who of 19th century Christianity, and you’ll find a connection to Taylor. Charles Spurgeon? Friend of his. Dwight L. Moody? Taylor preached in his church. George Muller? Wrote Taylor letters that exist to this day. And then there was an entire generation of missionaries inspired by his passion for missions as he traveled about Britain and America on various furloughs: Amy Carmichael (India), CT Studd (China), and Thomas Barnardo (slums of London), to name just a few among hundreds of others, many of whom followed him to China.

James Hudson Taylor was born in England May 21, 1832 to a Methodist lay minister with a heart for the Chinese people. Mr. Taylor prayed that God would grant him a son who would be a witness to the Chinese. Hudson turned away from God in his youth, but a Christian pamphlet changed his life at 17. Almost immediately he began studying medicine and languages to use in missions work among the Chinese. He arrived in China at age 21.

In China, Hudson Taylor adopted local dress and demonstrated respect for the local culture. He tried to resolve disputes by appealing to local (Chinese) officials rather than taking complaints to British consuls. His love and respect for the Chinese were influential in reaching the people of that land for Christ.

He married in China four years after his arrival. Maria Dyer Hudson, the daughter of missionaries to China, died a mere 12 years into their marriage. She was only 33—and yet, she had already outlived 5 of the Hudsons’ 9 children. (The four surviving children all became missionaries to China.)

Taylor was to travel back-and-forth between China and various furloughs in Britain and North America a total of eleven times, an impressive feat in a time before airline travel. He used his breaks to write books/pamphets and to speak before groups. It was on his first stay back in England (1860-1866) that he founded the China Inland Mission with the goal of evangelizing the interior of China. The CIM was interdenominational (Taylor himself had a Methodist upbringing, was a member of a Baptist church, and had close ties with the Brethren), accepted single women to work in the mission field, and (like contemporary George Muller) did not solicit for funds. And like Taylor, missionaries were encouraged to adopt local dress and customs.

A year after Maria’s death Taylor married one of the single-lady missionaries with the CIM, Jane (Jennie) Faulding. They had two surviving children in addition to the two they lost at birth.

Hudson and Jennie Taylor finally retired to Switzerland in 1900. She lived another four years, then passed away from breast cancer. For Taylor, the lure of China remained strong until the end of his life. He made his eleventh—and final—journey in 1905 and died two months after his arrival. He was buried next to Maria.

The saga of the Taylor gravesites parallels the story of Christianity in China during the 20th century and is worthy of its own special mention. During the Cultural Revolution when Mao sought to remove all foreign and religious influences in China, the “Foreign Cemetery” home to the Taylor gravesites was supposedly destroyed and a warehouse built over the site. But as China began to re-open following Mao’s death, Taylor artifacts turned up. First the gravestone for Hudson Taylor and then the one for Maria. In 2013, the government ripped down the warehouse and sold the land to developers. An archeologist pinpointed the location of the Taylors’ graves—still intact despite the destruction of most of the other graves, and their bodies were moved to a (new) nearby church.


If I had a thousand pounds, China should have it – if I had a thousand lives China should have them. No! not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him? Can we do enough for such a precious Savior? Hudson Taylor

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her current release, The Reluctant Earl, is now available  in online bookstores. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at www.cjchasebooks.com