Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Last Amen

by Gina Welborn

Since last summer, I've been haunted by a Christian song with a vibe reminding me of drug-induced music from The Doors crossed with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Only problem the radio station never stated the name of the band or the title of the song. And I'm quite skilled in not getting lyrics right.

For the longest time on Sunday morning when the youth worship service began, I sang along with the welcome song. Finally the gal (Deanna) who ran the Power Point said, "Gina, what in the world are you singing?" I answered, "The song, Act of Late. Why?" She pointed to the screen and said, "It's Activate. The lyrics are up there...and you're nowhere near the actual words."

Mmmm. Who knew?

So after the fourth or fifth time of hearing that Christian-Queen song on the radio, I googled it. Or googled what I thought was it. Nope, couldn't find it. I gave up. Months went by. And more months. The radio station quit playing song. So I really gave up.

Then Sunday as I was getting ready for church, it came on again. I hastily wrote down the lyrics. Come to find out (after a bit of googling) the song title wasn't "My Lasting Man" or "Everlasting Man." 'Twas "My Last Amen." So I have a hearing problem.

Still, jotting down the lyrics as quickly as I could forced me to forget about the awesome music and listen to the words.

I could swear I have two hearts
One to stay, one to depart
This sad, tragic kingdom

And it burns me down to the core
Because I know there's so much more
It's just a pale reflection

And it keeps me wanting
That mysterious thing
Like an outcast waiting to belong

And while the thrills are fading
The joy is in the waiting
Somewhere in the grand design
It's good be unsatisfied
It keeps the faith and hope a little more alive

Everyone, wake up because Peter just stepped outta the boat!

It's GOOD to be unsatisfied?!?!
[Because] it keeps the faith and hope a little more alive?!?!

No! That's not what I've heard in church, in Sunday School, in numerous Bible studies.

I'm supposed to be content.
I'm supposed to be satisfied.
I'm not supposed to want more.

Yet I do. Yet you do. Why, though? Why can't we be content?

Read more HERE!
He has planted eternity in the human heart. ~Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

In his book Epic, John Eldredge explains it this way: "Christianity, in its true form, tells us that there is an Author and that he is good, the essence of all that is good and beautiful and true, for he is the source of all these things. It tells us that he has set our hearts' longings within us, for he has made us to live in an Epic." (emphasis mine)

Don't you see? This world and all in it will never bring us contentment, no matter how much we strive to be content. We will yearn for more because we were created to long for something else. For something greater. Something new.

I will create a new heaven and a new earth. ~Isaiah 65: 17
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. ~Revelation 21:1
Behold, I will make all things new. ~Revelation 21: 5

Right now we're in the midst of summer. Soon the colors will change. Leaves crunch...or become soggy mush. Until the non-evergreen trees are bare. Then the temps dip even more. Winter blankets the ground and us. I'm shivering just thinking about it. Hot cocoa, anyone?

No matter how much my husband and kids love sledding and skiing (and missing school), they wouldn't want to live forever in snow. Narnia understood the joyless desolation of winter.

"Sunshine, warmth, color, and long days of adventure together. The garden blossoms in all its beauty. The meadow soft and green. Vacation. Holiday. Isn't this what we most deeply long for? To leave the winter of the world behind, what Shakespeare called 'the winter of our discontent,' and find ourselves suddenly in open meadows of summer? The restoration of the world played out before us each spring and summer is precisely what God is promising us about our lives. Every miracle Jesus ever did was pointing to this Restoration, the day he makes all things new." ~Eldredge, Epic

New. Means change. Means something different. Better, perhaps?

I tend to think so.

So today, the last day of Inkwell's First Year of Life, I say goodbye to her old self. And I welcome the new her. Hey, girlie!

We've changed her clothes (consistent weekday themes instead of varying weeklong ones).

We've added new accessories (pages, such as bios and poetry).

We've simplified her purpose ("responding to life with a Christ-colored pen").

One of the new features I'm giddy to tell you about is our monthly Backlist Promotion (which will have its own page). On the first Saturday of the month, we'll share a list of books, generally, written a year or more ago that have a common theme. The glitter of a new release often blinds us to the gems written a year, five years, even ten years ago.

Check them out! Who knows what Sparkling Delight you'll find.


Since we're talking past and future, what's your favorite "old" thing and favorite "new" one? One random non-Inky commenter will be chosen to become a guest blogger for a day.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Time and Time again

Debra E. Marvin

Measure my days, Lord. And take your time. I’m not in a rush.

I know a little bit more about time now that I’m over the hill, well, farther over the hill. I’ve decided that OVER THE HILL is the point in life where the days go by faster and faster.

Is it age or busyness?

Two weeks is forever when you’re waiting for something—like vacation. Or it can be barely enough time to look up from our everyday life to find it’s recycle day again.
Didn’t I just put that box out yesterday? Time is one way we measure our lives. Somehow, I don’t think God does.

I admit to spending a good portion of my life obsessing over the day when I would be . . . where I wanted to be. (I'm getting really close.)
I don’t do that much obsessing any more. I’m willing to let it all happen in God’s good timing and frankly, the slower the better.

Mom was right. The older you get the faster time goes by. And we all agree on that clichĂ© Time flies when you’re having fun. So am I having more fun? Or have I just learned to enjoy things more and be pleased with the everyday joys? Every moment is precious. After all, the difficult times pass, just like the good ones and there’s no sense wishing either along any faster.

As for the inkwell . . .
Having a blog takes time, right?

Well, to be ‘salable’ a manuscript must come with a writer who is willing to present it--practically perfect--and take responsibility for a much of their marketing, as well. Without a presence, we writers were supposedly handicapped in any effort to sell a book. Publishers supposedly want us to come with our own tribe. So Gina gets this idea to pull together a group of contest finalists and a-blogging we went. Blogging, tweeting, facebook-friending and building up our own platform—all this while writing and editing? Oh, and having a full time life with family responsibilities, church and community involvement, and maybe a job or two thrown in? Do this and you have a chance to be published—if your book is amazing and the market is right and . . . Once published, expect the responsibilities to double. What joy!

I’ve done what I can. Just haven’t finished the book. But the reason I came into this blog was all about the above reasons. Paving my path to publication.
You know what? I might not get anywhere with this blogging stuff, but boy, did I find some wonderful new friends.

In the past year: I attended the ACFW conference and met some of my blog mates as well as many of the writers I knew only online. I was blessed to have my writing get the attention of a few agents and an editor or two. My mother’s health has been a giant roller coaster but, I was also blessed with a new grandson and the joys of watching my granddaughter go from a wobbly one year old to a confident, strong two year old person. My secure job was jolted into the new reality of zero funding and I waited six months to find out if I was going to have a job or not. I lost it, by the way, but got another one. I didn't take any time to worry.

So here I sit, celebrating my first blog-o-versary. My writing has improved, so has my confidence in it. God will do as He pleases with it, as I give it my best. I’ve learned to be okay with a lot more things. I've stopped being too busy to enjoy all my blessings.

And I've gained these amazing Inky sisters.

God only shows us what’s at our feet. We can look up and see Him but we can’t see what’s in our future, so we trust Him step by step. I’m excited to know that He has my ‘next year’ all
figured out already and He’s preparing me for it. I’m not rushing toward my goals, but plan on enjoying each day a little bit more along the way. I’m taking my time. Slow and steady. Unless I'm racing my granddaughter down the slide.

Excerpts of Psalm 139: O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

I think God wants us to enjoy things more and stress a lot less, don't you?

What was the last event that caused you to stop racing and just try coasting for awhile? How long did it last? What little piece of joy have you worried away, or been too busy to enjoy?

Silly questions: When was the last time you went down a slide? played in a sandbox? listened, really stopped and listened to a bird's song?

Serious questions: When was the last time you went down a slide? played in a sandbox? listened, really stopped and listened to a bird's song? Really. I'm serious. Share a frivolous moment of lighthearted joy that you've experienced lately. I hope you don't have to go back too far to find one!

Thanks for reading. God bless you all and a extra dose for the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations.

Wednesday night, I'll be drawing the name of one of our commenters for a $10.00 gift certificate on Amazon.com. Remember to leave your email address safely - separate the (at) from the rest of your address. I'll need it to get in contact you with and know that you are interested in that $10.00 GC!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Next Week: Blog-o-versary is here!

Somewhere about a year ago, Inkwell Inspirations posted its first blog. What have we learned? How have we changed? What has twelve months brought us in our lives, our writing, our faith?

Over the next week or two, the Inkies will post updates. Please come by and share in what God has done!

Sunday Devotional: Dina Sleiman

Then, Blog-o-versary kicks off, come join the party! -

Monday - Debra-o-Marvin

Tuesday - Gina-oh-Well-born

Wednesday - Lisa-KO-Richardson

Thursday - Anita-Mayo-Draper

Friday - Susannaversary Dietz

Saturday book review - NEW!!!!!!! BACK LIST SATURDAY!

Once a month our Saturday book reviews will feature a back list of older books connected by a theme. Next Saturday, Gina Welborn features Christian authors who write for the ABA (secular market publishers) rather than, or in addition to, the CBA (Christian publishers). Stop in and visit! I found myself a new book and author while sneaking a peak!

Thank you Lord for our Inky sisters and all the new friends we've made. Bless our visitors, those who comment and those who don't. We appreciate them all. Bless our words Lord, that they may encourage, edify and entertain and remind us that we're writing for YOU. Guide our hearts and minds to turn our love of writing over to you to be used for your purposes.

A Look at THE HUNGER GAMES Trilogy

from Jen AlLee

Even though young adult fiction (more commonly known as YA) is shelved in the bookstores right next to the picture books and early readers, it's not just for kids. A few YA series have crossed over into the general population, becoming must-have titles on lists for all ages. Science fiction and fantasy seem particularly suited for this kind of widespread appeal. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Jacques' Redwall series, Rowling's Harry Potter books, Meyer's Twilight saga... they've all garnered rabid fans from high schools to senior centers. And now, a new series has joined the list: The Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins.

I knew the book was popular with adults, but I hadn't quite realized how much until I took it with me to a doctor's appointment on Thursday. My doctor walked in, stopped when he saw it sitting on the chair beside me, and broke into a grin. We spent the first five minutes talking about the series and who would be right to play the main character when the inevitable movie is made. But then, he said something interesting. Something that had bounced around the corners of my mind, as well. "My wife and I were talking about it," he said, "and she wondered if it's wrong for us to be enjoying such violent books."

Here is the basic premise of The Hunger Games, book one, taken directly from Suzanne Collins' website:
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.
The games are part reality show, part propaganda, and part political tool. Collins has created a fascinating dystopian world. Certain aspects of Panem are technically advanced while others are simplistically non-automated. The story is fast-paced and the use of first-person present tense point-of-view puts you right inside Katniss's head. As I read, I couldn't help comparing her televised games to our own present-day reality shows. We already have programs in which people believe someone can find true love from a group of suitors while the world watches. How far might we go one day? Hopefully, not as far as the Hunger Games.
Make no mistake, these books contain some pretty violent subject matter (although we are more told about the violence rather than experiencing it in graphic detail, for which I'm thankful). The games are by definition kill or be killed. Only one victor can remain standing. But at its core, The Hunger Games is about basic human emotions: survival, love, empathy, greed, and how far one will go to keep themselves and those they love alive. It also has a strong anti-war sentiment and asks some questions we should probably all ask from time to time.
So in answer to my doctor's question, no, I don't think we're wrong to enjoy the books. Because we're not enjoying the violence, we're pulling for the people to survive it. To rise above it. We're rooting for Katniss, a teenage girl who has to make choices that no adult should. And sometimes, she makes the wrong choices. It's another thing that makes these books so engrossing. Katniss is flawed. Sometimes she's selfish. Sometimes she's petty. But she also has moments of brilliance, of pure love, and of understanding that, underneath our differences, we're all human beings, all trying to get to the end of the game.
I've read the entire trilogy, but to tell you anything about Catching Fire or Mockingjay would be to share major spoilers about book one, so I won't. This is a series you have to read from the beginning. And if you're anything like me, when you start, you won't want to stop.
Have you read any of The Hunger Games books? What's your impression?

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Sheets for the Faint of Heart

By Lisa Karon Richardson (Reposted)

I'm reposting this article because once again conference time is upon many of our writer friends. One of the newer and more daunting pieces of information that we're being asked to produce in order to sell our work is a One Sheet. So here's a look into the heart of author angst!

Readers have no concept of the pain we go through for our art. *moan*, *sigh*, *whine* I’m not talking about the effort we pour into our manuscripts. I’m talking about everything that has to happen after we type the end. The prospect of selling a manuscript is often more daunting than producing it. For the uninitiated, (i.e. the sane) a one sheet is a document an author puts together to aid in the pitch/sale of their book. It contains a few easy components, the authors name and contact information for example. From there it’s all down hill.

For some reason we can write a 90,000 word novel, but we’re stumped when asked to condense it to a couple of paragraphs. We become deer staring mesmerized into the headlights of an approaching car. And don’t even get me started on graphics. It’s enough to send a poor writer screaming into the woods.

Let me share a few thoughts that may make tackling the ravening beast of a one sheet a little more doable.

First, don’t worry about graphics. Sure they can enhance the overall feel of the product you’re presenting, but don’t get sucked into the notion that they are essential. Also be wary of trying to do it all yourself. Poorly applied graphics can do more harm to your cause than even a witty tagline can help. First impressions are important in preparing a reader to receive what’s written. Why else would publishers spend so much on developing great cover art for their products? That said, don’t be afraid to use a template. Most word processing programs now come with some sort of function that makes it easier to produce brochures or newsletters. Often they’ll have a few samples of each. Take advantage of these tools that can make your task easier. You can delete elements that don’t work, change colors, etc. All with the comfortable knowledge that the overall design is pleasing to the eye, and even if it doesn’t wow it also doesn’t put anyone off. It will enable your words to get a fair hearing.

The blurb (or as I like to call it, the blob, because of its horror inducing capabilities). At first glance it looks harmless but beware. This small block of text can mire an author in indecision and suffocate their creativity. Typically 8-12 sentences long, this is where you describe your book in such breathtaking prose that an editor will leap across the interview table in their haste to sign you to a contract before anyone else can snap you up. Or at least it shouldn’t stink so bad that it makes them hold their nose.

The most important bit of advice I ever received about one sheets came from our own Gina Welborn. Drum roll please. The blurb is NOT a summary. Ta da!

It’s sounds so simple, but I spent vast amounts of energy on trying to boil my plot down to its essence while still including the spiritual arc, story arc and character arcs. The result wasn’t pretty. A disjointed glop that made little sense to someone who hadn’t yet read the manuscript.

The purpose of a one sheet is much like the back cover copy of a book. We want someone to buy the product we are selling. We have to intrigue the reader enough that they want to know more. That’s it.

‘But how?’ I hear you say.

Use strong language. And I don’t mean swear like a sailor. Pick the most evocative and powerful word you can to convey your idea.

Make sure it is proactive. Instead of everything happening to your character, tell what they do about it.

Focus on the main character or two, the inciting incident that puts the story in motion and what is at stake.

Be specific but not too specific. Just like this advice! Seriously, though no one cares that your heroine’s name is Elizabeth Catherine Anne Margaret Seaton. It’s not a hook because it doesn’t give any sense of the story you are trying to tell. But if we talk about a ‘mail-order bride’ or an ‘outlaw’, you get a mental picture that also tells you something of probable setting and genre. By the same token ‘Cold War spy’ provides a totally different image and feel. So what defines your character?

Study up by browsing the bookstore shelves, or for that matter, your own shelves. How did the professionals do it? What sort of techniques can you identify? This is a particularly good exercise if you know what house you intend to target.

Have you ever put a one sheet together? Was the process painful or easy peasy? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?

Do you buy books based more on the cover art or the back cover blurb?

Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy only to wonder if they were describing an entirely different story?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Author Laurie Alice Eakes!

I Could Be Anything If Only I Knew What It was
by Laurie Alice Eakes

click HERE to read an excerpt
This is the name of a book I read back several years ago when I nearly had my MA in creative writing and knew I needed a real job until I got published and then started making enough to live on. Basic premise: We don’t get what we want or where we’re going because we haven’t a clue what we want or where we’re going.

My needs were simple—I wanted a job where I got on the train and went to an office like everyone else around me in the hyperkinetic DC Metropolitan Area. Wasn’t quite sure what I’d do in that office, but… Well, I was facile with words and decent with other aspects. The point was—I could do a number of jobs.

I ended up in Human Resources at a huge corporation and hated every minute, from the horrendous commute, to the office politics, to the boring and tedious job. But that’s another post.

My point is that women now can pretty much be whatever they want from carpenters to astronauts, city council women, to Supreme Court justices. Our foremothers, however, could only be wives and mothers, maybe companions, governesses, cooks, servants. Right?

Of course. We’ve all read how downtrodden women were in history, that they swept out the dug-out or helped haul the plow, cleaned the house in heels and pearls, and took care of the children, theirs if they were lucky enough to get a husband, someone else’s if they weren’t.


Not only, that is.

While writing the manuscript that is now my fifth book to release, I realized that all my heroines had careers or wanted some vocation besides wife and mother. Hmm. Was I making a huge historical error? I went back to notes from when I was a history grad student and to many of my sources, many of which were original documents, and realized that, no, I wasn’t being historically inaccurate. I could have been if I handled situations incorrectly, but I wasn’t.

Let me say something here that goes against the grain of contemporary historical thinking—the Industrial Revolution robbed women of independence.

Before the mechanization of most industries beginning in the eighteenth century, families worked together. Their home was their place of business. The wife, the children, and the father worked together to build their product, from furniture, to fabric, to cutlery. Money came into the home and stayed in the home with the family. The wife knew how much her husband made, probably even took the actual pay and tucked it into its safe place to pay the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Then machines came along and could produce faster and cheaper. Cottage industry died. Men went out to work. Women stayed home with the children. Men got paid at the end of the week and stopped at the tavern on their way home. He might or might not give his wife what was left over.
Money grew scarce in the family. Children went out to work at too young an age. The wife sometimes took in laundry or did some cooking for others, but it wasn’t much. Men lost pride in their work because they had little control over the end result of a machine-produced product…

Yet women had known independence in the form of at least being a part. They didn’t lose that, and many rebelled, even in a quiet way. Anne Bradstreet was, by all accounts, a rather good wife of colonial New England. Yet she wrote poetry that wasn’t hidden away in a desk drawer. People read it. Women sewed and sometimes got so good they became seamstresses with others working for them. Especially in Holland, women became painters, but even women in England and colonial America were professional artists. Women inherited businesses from their husbands. A woman (Clementina Rind) ran the Virginia Gazette after her husband died in the eighteenth century.

So was I out of line when my heroine in my first traditionally published novel, Family Guardian (Avalon Books, 2006) became a perfumer? If everyone knew she was one and supported her family with her product, yes. She would have been shunned by society and her family rather disgraced. So she must keep it a secret, which becomes a source of conflict for the story and between her and the man she loves. She won’t marry and let him have her business by law.

In Better than Gold, Lily was a telegrapher. Western Union liked paying women to do this—they could pay them less and they gave less trouble. They even put the machines in women’s homes so they could be moms and housewives at the same time. My next three heroines want to do something with their lives besides be wives and mothers. They want that, too, but feel God has something more for them—and they find it.

And we come to my favorite subject, which is another post, too—midwives. I wrote and presented a paper at a history conference called “Women of Power, Midwives in the Early Modern World”. Oh, yes, they had power—independent means, the power to testify in court, the ability to travel at any time of day or night without being thought indecent. Is it any wonder I have a whole series coming out with midwife heroines? (Lady in the Mist, Revell, Feb. 2011) Midwives even had a lower infant mortality rate than did doctors until germ theory and disinfecting the birth room took over.

And when male doctors took over birthing and a monopoly on the forceps, women became doctors. So I wrote a book with a doctor. When the Snow Flies, my second ABA book, just released.

And if a woman could be a doctor, why not a lawyer? They had been merchants since Lydia sold purple in the New Testament, and politicians since Deborah sat under the tree and dispensed judgments.

Thus, when you see a heroine struggling to be more than a wife and mother, don’t automatically assume the author is foisting modern values onto historical ladies.

Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes does not remember a time when books did not play a part in her life; thus, no one was surprised when she decided to be a writer. Her first hardcover was an October, 2006 Regency historical from Avalon Books and won the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency, as well as being a finalist for Best First Book. She is also a finalist for the ACFW Carol award in the short historical category (winners to be announced in September). After selling her first book in the inspirational market, she also wrote articles and essays for Christian publications. A brief hiatus in publishing climaxed with her selling thirteen books in thirteen months, to publishers such as Barbour, Avalon, and Baker/Revell.

She is an active member of RWA and ACFW, and started the Avalon Authors group blog. A graduate of the Seton Hill University Master of Arts Degree in Writing Popular Fiction, And a Bachelor of Arts graduate in English and French from Asbury College, she is an experienced speaker, and has made presentations at local and national RWA conferences, as well as local universities and libraries.

Until recently, she lived in Northern Virginia, then her husband’s law career took them and their dogs and cats, to southern Texas, where she writes fultime and enjoys the beach whenever possible.

You can find her web site at:  http://www.lauriealiceeakes.com/

Audrey Sinclair Vanderleyden sets her heart on fulfilling a promise to her deceased husband to continue practicing medicine, despite opposition from their families. But the old physician from whom they bought a practice stands in her way and refuses to honor the contract. Audrey must either give up medicine and return to her family, or marry a near stranger. A gunshot wound robs Nathan Maxwell of the ability to continue practicing medicine. He must find another purpose in his life. Marriage isn't an option; only a desperate woman would want a blind man for a husband. Audrey is desperate, but marriage to Nathan isn't the salvation of her medical career she thought it would be. For Nathan, the union challenges loyalties and exposes what he's lost.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Novel to Ministry in a Few "Easy" Steps

by Jen AlLee

When I wrote my novel, The Pastor's Wife, I had one main goal: deliver an engaging, entertaining story. But as it turns out, God had a little more in mind than that. (Amazing how His vision is always so much bigger than my own!)

I love hearing from readers. And a lot of the readers who contacted me about The Pastor's Wife felt a personal connection to the story. You see, they were married to pastors themselves, or they were daughters of pastors. Thankfully, they saw the book as an honest portrayal of what it's like to live under the microscope of ministry.

As time went by, I kept thinking about these women. I wanted to reach out to them, to support and encourage them. And then the proverbial light went on... I could start a new blog (because that's what writers do when we see a need... we write about it). Only I didn't want to be the one doing all the writing. I spent a bunch of years as a church secretary which gives me a unique perspective on pastoral families, but I've never been married to a pastor. So even though I could contribute to the blog, I couldn't be the main voice. No, the main voice needed to be these women who live their lives on the front line of ministry.

And so, The Pastor's Wife Speaks was born. It's only two and a half weeks old, a virtual baby in the blog-o-sphere, but it's off to a great start. I've been thrilled at the way women are reaching out to each other, offering support, asking questions, relating. In response to a heart-felt post about what to do when your own church doesn't meet the needs of your children, one women emailed me directly and said, "I had no idea anybody else felt this way. I thought I was the only one." And that, right there, is the heart of the blog.

I invite you all to come over spend some time with us (http://thepastorswifespeaks.blogspot.com/). If you're part of a pastoral family, you'll find other women who understand what you're feeling. And if you're not, you'll get a better insight on what your own pastor's wife copes with. In honor of the launch, there's a book giveaway on Saturday. All you have to do to enter is comment on a post or follow the blog. And in September we'll be discussing our very first book club selection: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan. It's going to be good!

Many thanks to my Inkwell sisters for giving me the opportunity to share this with you today. I leave you with these words from the apostle Paul:

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy
Philippians 1:3-4 (NLT)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Disappearing Diva

I thought it might be a fun exercise to honor some famous authors (and their characters) by writing short stories inspired by their style. Here’s my first attempt, and who better to honor than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s inimitable Sherlock Holmes. I hope you enjoy!
The Disappearing Diva
By Lisa Karon Richardson
“You’re certain it was Miss Harrington’s voice you heard?” Aurelia asked in her penetrating way.

I, Ilene Stadler, Aurelia’s confidante and companion, watched her as she in turn regarded the stage manager, one Mr. Durczek. He considered the question, revolving his hat over and over in his hands. “Certain? Yes. Miss ‘Arrington, she is the diva. There is no voice like hers.”

Aurelia jerked her head once in acknowledgment and bent with her magnifying glass to examine the doorknob to the diva’s dressing room.

Next to uncomfortable Mr. Durczek, dapper Viscount Lashley lounged against a post. I don’t suppose he could help it, lounging seemed to have been bred into his bones, and even now he couldn’t quite put any starch into his spine. “All sorts of people have been in and out by now, what do you think you’re going to find.”

Aurelia turned to him with a look that could have scoured brass. “I won’t know until I look, will I.”

“No. No I suppose not.”

Viscount Lashley and the perspiring stage manager had appeared at our lodgings less than an hour ago with one of the strangest tales I’d ever heard. Miss Sarah Harrington had taken London by storm over the last three weeks. Everyone seemed to be talking of the previously unknown genius. During this evening’s performance she had retired to her dressing room for the intermission as usual. This room was under observation by various workers the entire time. The stage manager had made the rounds and knocked on her door with the three-minute warning. The diva had sung out that she’d be right there. The curtain had gone up on schedule, but when her cue came, she didn’t appear. After an awkward pause the curtain had been lowered and a frantic search instituted. Her door was locked from the inside and the producer had finally ordered it broken open. The room had no windows and only the one door. The ventilation shafts were too small for anything larger than a puppy to wriggle through. During the few minutes in question the door had been under continuous observation and no one had gone in or come out.

And yet the fact remained that the opera star had disappeared.

Aurelia pushed open the door to reveal a small, cluttered dressing room. A vanity stood directly opposite covered in jars of creams and lotions. A screen was covered over with discarded costumes. Behind the screen the singer’s street clothing still hung neatly on a hook in the wall. Almost immediately behind the door a table held a phonograph, its needle still resting on a record.

Aurelia surveyed the room with the air of one totting up a row of sums. At last she stepped out into the hallway. “I should like to speak to everyone who observed her door during the intermission.”

Mr. Durczek motioned toward a man repainting a tired looking bit of scenery. “This is Patrick O’Fallon.” The stagehand glanced up from his work.

Aurelia tucked her magnifying glass back into its pouch. “Mr. O’Fallon, please tell me what you witnessed.”

“Didn’t see a thing.”

“Have you been working on this scenery all evening?”

He sighed. “Mostly."

“Then you must have seen something. Was there anything odd?”

“Everyone around here is odd.”

“Then tell me everything you saw during the intermission.”

“No use. No one even came close to the door but Mr. Durczek.”

“Were you here when the door was broken in?”


“Who entered the room first?”

“I’m not sure.” He frowned. “Maybe Mr. Durczek or the producer. Does it matter? No one could have smuggled her out past me I’d have seen. I was right there.”

Aurelia sucked in her cheeks ever so slightly, a gesture she made before springing a trap on some unwary soul. “Pray tell me how you came to have your attention so fixed upon Miss Harrington’s door?”

A scarlet flush swept up his neck. “I was taking my break and happened to have a good view.”

“Balderdash. The intermission is timed for a change of scenery. No stagehand would take a break at such a time.”

His adam’s apple bobbed. “I—“

“Be very careful what you say, Mr. O’Fallon.”

His shoulders slumped. “Sarah and I were going to marry before he came along.” He cast a venomous glare at the Viscount.

From one of the myriad corridors came the crash of something falling and a howl of protest. An instant later a fashionable, white-haired lady rounded the corner. Here was the type of woman Carroll must have had in mind when he installed the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Wonderland. She marched up to the viscount. “Harold it’s time to go.”

For once he straightened nearly all the way up. “No, Mother. My fiancĂ©e has been abducted. I’m not going anywhere.”

Any response she might have made was cut off by the arrival of a workman, all but hauling a red-faced, balding man behind him. “There she is. That’s the one.” The workman pointed at the viscount’s mother.

The red-faced gentleman waved the workman off and took the woman’s hand in his, lifting it to his lips. “Lady Marchmont, it’s so kind of you to visit. How may I be of assistance?”

Mr. Durczek jerked his thumb toward the little balding fellow and whispered an expanation. “The producer.”

“Hello, Mr. Grundy.” Lady Marchmont removed her hand from the vicinity of his lips with the expression of one who has inadvertently touched a slug. “I don’t imagine a producer can help me a jot unless you can convince my son to remember his duty rather than chasing after chorus girls.”

“She’s not a chorus girl, Mother.”

O’Fallon, the jilted lover, furrowed his brow and looked Lady Marchmont up and down. “You were here for the show.”

She sniffed and glanced over at him. “Of course I was here. I learned of this ridiculous engagement today and came to see this... this woman perform.”

The ugly red tide returned to O’Fallon’s features. “No, I mean you were here. Backstage.”

“Don’t be silly.” She looked at each of the people in the gathering crowd as if waiting for someone to vouchsafe her denial.

Aurelia stepped toward her. “Others will have seen you, Lady Marchmont. The police will prove it easily.”

“And who might you be?”

“Aurelia Peale. I’m investigating this matter.”

The woman shot her a glance designed to melt a person into a quivering jelly. “You would be better employed finding yourself a husband.”

Aurelia tilted her head. “Possibly. But at the moment I’m employed in finding a kidnapper. You must see that it’s easier to explain your presence here among friends, than down at Scotland Yard.”

Lady Marchmont nearly rolled her eyes in an uncouth manner, but caught herself in time. “I came to talk to the wretched girl.”

“Miss Harington?”

“I thought she could be reasoned with.”

Aurelia crossed her arms. “You meant to offer her money if she would break off her engagement with your son.”

Lady Marchmont glanced at the viscount. “Yes. But once I got down here, I became lost. I never even saw the girl, before I heard she’d gone missing.”

“Mr. Grundy I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” The fluting American voice made them all turn. A robust young woman with a glorious mane of tawny hair stood eyeing the producer. “I heard you’re thinking about canceling tomorrow’s show.”

“Yes, Miss Boxer. I’m afraid that without Sarah—”

“But what’s an understudy for if not to sing when the lead is… indisposed?”

He held his hands up. “Miss Boxer, until we find the reason for Miss Harrington’s disappearance, it could be dangerous for you to go on.”

The girl stepped closer and pushed a fleshy finger into his chest. “Sarah Harrington didn’t have a patch on my voice. I’ve told you that before. Well now’s my big chance and I’ve got a contract. So you just better rethink your idea of cancelling the show.” With a showy swirl of skirts Miss Boxer turned and marched away.

Aurelia turned to the viscount. “Miss Stadler and I will continue our investigations. Why don’t you go home? I know your mother will feel better for the companionship.”

“Are you sure? I—I could stay. I want to find Sarah.”

“That’s not necessary. I assure you that I’ll find Miss Harrington. And I don’t believe she’ll have been harmed.”

“Then she did run off, just as I supposed,” said Lady Marchmont.

“Pray, Madam do not put words in my mouth. I never suggested anything of the sort.” Aurelia turned her back to the woman and motioned for me to follow her.

She went all through the theatre, no detail too small to secure her attention. Every workman and chorus girl she found was interviewed. Most saw nothing of any interest whatsoever. A few confirmed that Miss Harrington had not been seen leaving her dressing room during the intermission.

At last, Aurelia declared our labors at an end. “Come along, Ilene. It’s past time we should be home and enjoying a cup of tea before bed. We’ll return tomorrow to unmask the culprit.”
The next morning Aurelia and I were breakfasting on kippers and toast when urgent banging sounded at the front door. I dropped my uneaten toast and we scrambled to stand at the top of the stairs. Our landlady opened the door and the stage manager, Mr. Durczek barreled into the hall.
He saw us and whipped off his hat. “Please. Miss Boxer has been hurt.”
It took but a moment to learn that the understudy had been practicing on the stage when one of the heavy sandbags had fallen and struck her. She was now in hospital.
“Let us get our things,” Aurelia said. A moment later we were clambering into the hackney Mr. Durczek had waiting.
When we arrived at the opera house we found Lady Marchmont, and her son the Viscount Lashley awaiting us, along with the stagehand, Patrick O’Fallon and Mr. Grundy, the producer.
“If you will all follow me, for purposes of demonstration I believe this meeting would best be conducted in Miss Harrington’s dressing room.”
It was a tight fit getting us all inside.
“Have you discovered how she was removed from here?” asked the viscount.
“No. And for a very simple reason. She wasn’t removed from here. She never entered.”
“Impossible,” sputtered Mr. Durczek. “I heard her.”
“You believed you heard her, but in fact, you heard this.” She gestured at the phonograph. With a twist of the handle she wound it and reset the arm.
Immediately a woman’s voice emerged. “I’ll be right there.”
A gasp went up from everyone, even me.
“But how did you know?” asked the viscount.
“Very simple. If it were impossible for Miss Harrington to have left the room, then she didn’t. Either she was still in the room, or she had never entered. A thorough search made it eminently clear that she was not in the room, therefore only the second option remained. At that point the question became how could someone make it sound as if she were in the room.”
Lady Marchmont leaned forward, interested in spite of herself. “How could that contraption have been started at the appropriate moment?”
Aurelia smiled. “I imagine the kidnapper put the arm in place beforehand then attached a weighted string to the handle. He left the key in the lock and balanced the weight on the end. When Mr. Durczek gave his usual hearty knock, the weight was dislodged and the crank given a sharp turn. It must have been someone with ample access to the entire theatre. Someone no one would question entering the diva’s room earlier in the performance.”
I shook my head. Once more she’d pulled an answer from the jaws of the impossible.
“But who’s responsible!” Patrick O’Fallon slapped his hat against his knee.
“Again it’s a matter of looking at the evidence as it is, and not as we should like it to be.”
So whodunnit? And why? Put your answer in a comment to try your powers of deduction against Miss Peale’s. I’ll post the solution to the mystery this evening at 9:00 PM EST.
The first person to get the answer (both who the kidnapper is and their motive) will receive a copy of Shadows of Sherlock Holmes, an anthology of stories inspired by the great detective. (Used because it is no longer in print.) Please make sure to leave your e-mail address so that I can contact you and get your snail addy. Don’t forget to put a space or brackets around the @ so that web spyders don’t phish your address.

And now for the conclusion of our mystery.
Smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat, Aurelia paced before us, hands clasped behind her back. “Mr. O’Fallon was the first to rouse suspicion. Avowals of love can upon occasion mask a darker emotion, particularly when the object of affection has spurned that love.”
“I didn’t have a thing to do—”
“I soon concluded the same, Mr. O’Fallon. You were quite adamant about not seeing anyone go in or out, whereas if you had been behind the disappearance it would have been in your interests to say you saw her leaving of her own will.”
O’Fallon nodded.
“Of course jealousy can affect more than the lower classes. There was the possibility that Viscount Lashley feared Sarah was experiencing a change of heart and determined to remove her from Mr. O’Fallon influence.”
“How dare you, Miss—”
Aurelia whirled to face Lady Marchmont. “I dare, because someone must. You were also seen backstage in suspicious circumstances. However, since you had just learned of the engagement there was little time to arrange elaborate schemes, nor were you familiar with the layout of the theatre. While it’s possible, the proposition is less likely. Besides it seems more keeping with your character that you’d try to buy cooperation before resorting to more desperate measures.
“The next most likely suspect was the understudy. She was intensely envious of Miss Harrington’s position and talent. And yet a simple accident or bout of food poisoning that prevented Miss Harrington from performing would have been easier to engineer, and much less likely to draw unwanted attention from the police. And now Miss Boxer herself has been injured.”
“But who does that leave?” I asked, unable to leash my curiosity longer.
Again that knowing smile. “Why the culprit of course, Miss Stadler. Someone who enjoys engineering complicated schemes.” She pinned the producer to the wall with her gaze. “Isn’t that correct, Mr. Grundy?”
“P-pardon me?” The little man’s eyes widened.
“I thought it odd you did not accompany Viscount Lashley to retain my services. A producer typically stands to lose a great deal if his show folds. And yet you made no move to secure your investment.”
“I have confidence in the fine officers of Scotland Yard,” he said stiffly.
“In addition, the kidnapper had to be familiar with the routines and practices backstage. And also required access. By all accounts you were there when this door was broken down, and most of the hands I talked to identified you as the first man in the room, giving you the opportunity to quickly remove the string and weight from your improvised device. A matter of only a second with your back to the wall, while everything around was confusion.”
“Absurd! Why should I want to ruin my own show?”
“An interesting question. Yesterday, Miss Boxer had to argue vehemently against closing down the show, even though doing so should mean a financial disaster for you. And now she is injured. I suspect it’s because you didn’t want the show to be a success. One of the oldest schemes in theatre is to raise more money than necessary to put on a show, and then ensure it fails, thus guaranteeing the investors won’t come clamoring for their money. But what’s a producer to do if he stages an unexpectedly popular show?”
The little man collapsed on to the couch, dropping his head into his hands. “If I had known it would be a success I could have made a mint.”
O’Fallon closed in on the hunched figure. “Where is she?”
“I didn’t hurt her, just kept her dosed with laudanum. She’s in the spare bedroom of my flat. I was going to release her without her ever knowing where she’d been kept. The show just had to close first.”
“Instead, the curtain is coming down on your plotting for good.” Aurelia adjusted her hat. “Come Ilene, I believe our work here is finished.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Teacher's Prayer For a New School Year

God in heaven,

I pray for this new school year.

First, I pray for our students. They are the walking heart and soul of their parents. They are cherished, adored, and understood. Give teachers the eyes to see each one as You do, and to see them as their parents do. We can never replicate a parent's love, but we can remember that each child is fearfully and wonderfully made.

Father, give our students the courage to fail. For in failing they will stretch, and in stretching, learn. Give us strong arms to catch them. Let them not fear falling, nor doubt that we will rally around to hoist them up again.

Father, give our students charity and compassion for one another. Let every child who wanders the playground alone, kicking stones under his feet, find playmates and friends. Give each of our students the heart to see loneliness, the eyes to see need, and the will to right wrongs.

God in heaven, give our students a zest for learning. Not for schoolwork, or tests, or homework, perhaps--but for learning. Give them curiosity, a drive to understand, energy to create, and bravery to ask questions--hard questions that adults can't answer, but that lead us to wonder. Lord, we love to wonder at the mysteries of Your world.

Father God, please protect and provide for teachers: those who hold that title, and those who teach by driving a bus, serving a meal, pushing a broom. Let all adults who serve in schools cherish children first. Give us abundant love every day.

God, please grant us wise words, for words can shatter or enrich the life of a child. Teachers utter many words in a day, one after another. When our words are thoughtless, stop them up. When we will unintentionally say the wrong thing, stay our tongues. When we are tired, impatient, in pain, frustrated, sad, or exasperated, please give us strength to endure so that we may not inflict a moment's harm on a child with our words.

Instead, Father, guide our minds and thoughts toward need. Point our attention to the students who come to us hungry for love, sustenance, knowledge. Guide us to each child's struggle. Grant us the ability to ease it.

Father, I come before You to ask for joy. Father, give our school music and laughter, dancing and mirth. Give us moments when we share a joke and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Help us know when we need to work harder and when we need to savor the surprising, joyful moments and spin them into happy memories.

Most importantly, Father, never let us cause a child to stumble.

May we view teaching as a sacred trust.

May we remember never to take the privilege for granted.

Yours is the glory forever. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seize the Day! And the Napkins!

by Susanne Dietze

“Be careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…” Ephesians 6:15-16a

The school bell may be summoning kids back to the classroom in my neck of the woods, but it wasn't that long ago that my family was in the midst of our summer vacation, visiting family in the Pacific Northwest. We collected our fair share of souvenirs along the way, but my favorite memento came from our visit to the Farmer’s Market at the Marina in Everett, Washington.

Farmer's market, Jul 2009 - 11Image by Ed Yourdon via Flickr
What a farmer’s market! We browsed through stands of vegetables and fruits, sampled flavored honey sticks and dabbed lavender-scented body butter on our knuckles. My sister-in-law bought a large carton of the ripest, sweetest raspberries I’d ever tasted, and we all ate half the box before we left the market. Eventually, we added three bunches of fresh carrots to our bag, looking forward to grilling them alongside fresh-caught salmon at supper.

Our bags full, we wove through the crowd to the exit. The very last stall, however, drew me like a moth to a porch light. One look at the wares and I was hooked. I marched right up to the display table and knew that I could’ve spent a hundred bucks right then and there. On napkins.

Yep, napkins. I know, I know, but I just couldn’t help myself. It was my thing. Yards of vintage-inspired prints had been sewn into 1940’s-style aprons, tea towels, and yes, napkins, and they enticed me like the Forty Thieves’ Treasure Trove sparkling up at Aladdin. My husband looked at my face, sighed, and found a comfy post to lean against. And I got lost in the wonder of the napkins, an affordable choice in a sea of sweet options.

Several adorable bundles tempted me, but one particular set of four called me by name. A grass green background showcased an assortment of summery garden statuary: plastic deer, kissing Dutch children, lawn chairs like my husband’s grandma had in her yard, and red-capped gnomes (for which I have a weakness). Now, these napkins may not do anything for you, but I thought they were very, very cute.

But should I buy them? That was the question. If I were at home, I wouldn’t have bought them. I’d have sighed, calculated, and decided that I really didn’t need them. And if I changed my mind, well, I could come back next week and buy the napkins then. Or ask for them for Christmas. I had time.

When I’m on vacation, however, I seem to have a different policy toward making purchases. After all, those gnome napkins will be long gone before I return to Everett, Washington. I could pass on them, go home, and look for the fabric online so I could make my own napkins, but even if I found it, my sewing skills haven’t improved since I was a Brownie Scout. So I seized the opportunity, whipped out my credit card, and made the napkins my own.

In the car on the way home, I realized while I may know how to “seize the day” when it comes to little souvenirs, I don’t make the most of other occasions. I’m not talking about spending money here, but the chances I’m given to talk about my faith. I let those opportunities slide because I assume there will always be another chance. God may give me a person to share with, but in fear, anxiety, or just plain laziness, I convince myself that I’ll find a better time or a more convenient place to share what Jesus has done for me. I tell myself that if I wait for just the right moment, then – oh, I don’t know. The heavens will part and the Holy Spirit will flood me with peace and eloquence.

Maybe He will. But sometimes I think God prompts me to move – to speak, to give, to throw caution to the wind and love somebody – and He doesn’t give me peace or eloquence. I think He’d be pleased if I’d speak, give, or love, even when I’m timid as a dormouse and just about as articulate.

I’m praying that I will start to look at people and my time with them in the same light that I lovingly viewed those gnome napkins: irreplaceable, unique, and precious. That I’ll be more aware of the opportunities in front of me. Not, as Paul writes in Ephesians, “as unwise but wise, making the most of every opportunity.” In Galatians 6:10, Paul also writes, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” and in Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

Tonight when I use my napkins, I’ll be reminded of more than my trip to Washington. I’ll be reminded to be on the lookout for opportunities to love, share and bless. Because those chances might not come around again.

What's your favorite vacation souvenir? When did you get it?

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