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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Devotion: The Unseen

Janet Rubin

*note: I wrote the following piece this past Spring on my first beach walk after winter.

My little girls and I emerged from the wooded path and stepped onto the beach, the first time our feet had touched sand in months. How good it was to take great, gulping breaths of the cool, salty air. The sea gulls were right where we’d left them in August, swooping and circling against the blue sky, floating and bobbing on the frigid waves, and making track-mazes with their three-pronged feet.

I stood for a moment, as I always do, letting my eyes graze on the vastness of the sea, seeing whether the hue leaned more toward charcoal or cobalt, and what mood the waves were in—playful, sleepy, rolling or raging. Then my gaze traveled to the beach itself.

“Mommy, these rocks weren’t here before,” Cassidy said.

I frowned. “No, they weren’t.”

I remembered vividly our many walks to this end of the beach last summer. There were only two, or maybe three large rocks protruding from the sand that we would climb over. Now, dozens of rocks littered the beach. But these were big rocks. Far too big to be blown here by the wind or tossed up on the beach, even by the most muscular of waves. Stones the size of washing machines, sofas, cars.

On further inspection, I realized what had happened. The ocean got hungry. Deprived of its summertime, daily ration of swimmers, it had gone cannibalistic, turning on the neighboring sand, eating away at it until it had consumed great scoops. From one end of the smiling coastline to the other, the bites it had taken were visible. These mysterious rocks were not new, but old ones previously concealed by sand. The rocks I remembered were still there, only much bigger, their bases showing like the roots of teeth exposed by a receding gum line.

I thought how funny it was that I’d walked over so many of these rocks, year after year, not knowing they lay beneath the sand. For thirty-five years, I’ve walked this beach, collected its shells, and swam in its water. It is my beach, and I thought I knew its every nook and cranny. I thought I knew it. But I didn’t know about those rocks.

There is so much we cannot see, and in our arrogance, or perhaps ignorance, we assume if we can’t see it, it isn’t there. I need to remind myself that there is much I do not know. God is doing things I know nothing about, maybe using me in ways I can’t see, healing parts of me I don’t know need healing, exposing sins I didn’t know I committed, and doing innumerable things I couldn’t begin to imagine.

Isaiah 55:99 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Face of a Lion

The Face of a Lion

by Deniz Bevan

Austin met the cat during his first week in Turkey.

Bored with helping his parents clean their villa, he set out to explore the town. Every few minutes he had to climb onto the stone wall edging the street – there were never any sidewalks in this country – when a car or bus full of tourists whizzed past on the narrow road, a stench of diesel fumes floating behind. As the roar of each vehicle faded, the seaside sounds rushed back into his ears: the drone of motorboats slicing the water, cicadas buzzing in the distant tops of the fir trees, and below everything else, the unending rhythmic crash of waves breaking one after another on the sand.

He waited on the wall as another car zoomed by, then peered through the exhaust and added up the houses he had passed. His mum had said there were forty houses in the original village. Something had to be wrong somewhere, because he had counted every house for the past ten blocks and already reached sixty – and there were still a few streets to cross before he reached the ice cream shop at the bend of the road. Maybe his mum's memory was slightly fuzzy; she had a tendency to exaggerate the merits of Kuşadası-in-the-past. Sixty houses, plus at least fifteen more, that made –

An unearthly howl filled the air, drowning out the disappearing rumble of the car. It came again, a long-drawn out screech, close at hand. Austin ran to the crossroads. The wall here fell away in a sharp drop to the weed-filled garden of a boarded-up villa. On a patch of paving stones, two kids crouched over the prone figure of a thin grey cat. One gripped its front paws as the other tied a couple of tin cans to its tail. The cat wrenched and jerked its back legs.

"Hey! What are you doing?"

His yell was swallowed by the roar of two buses zooming past behind him, and a truck loaded with watermelons that came clacketing up the street. He looked down, ready to risk a jump, and saw a garden shed directly below. He leaped, and as the boys glanced up, hands still on the squirming cat, he vaulted off the shed's roof to stand beside them.

"What are you up to?" He glared, trying to look as imposing and foreign as possible – easy enough, given the contrast of his blond hair and blue eyes to their own dark features. They looked about eight years old, four years younger than him. They wouldn’t meet his gaze, but shot each other shifty glances out of the corners of their eyes.

"Abi, yabancı bu. Bizden büyük."

"Ya birini çağırırsa? Hadi gidelim."

It was impossible – but he had understood what they said! They were afraid because he was older – what if he called someone?

He took a step forward, as if to grab the cat. As one, they released their grip, leapt up and ran off.

The cat crouched low on all four paws, eyes wide and ears taut, but did not move as Austin approached. If it would just trust him… With one hand extended, palm out, he waited. Either the cat would sniff the offered fingers or get up and run.

Slowly, slowly, he bent and untied the twine binding the tins to a tail puffed out and crackling with electricity. The cat did not twitch once, even as Austin broke away the last of the metal and tossed it aside, but eyed him the entire time, as if waiting for a signal.

He stroked the cat between the ears and, to his surprise, heard the low rumble of purring. The yellow eyes narrowed and, for a moment, he had the silly idea that the cat was actually smiling at him.

"Thank you."

He had been bending forward, petting. He overbalanced and nearly tipped over, palms flat on the tiles to keep from pitching head first into the cat.

Had it actually spoken? He gazed at the shadowy creature, who had stopped purring, but stayed still, yellow eyes fixed on him. Had he really heard –

"Thank you, Augustine."

There it was again! A kind of chirping sound. His parents' old cat used to make the same sounds; not meowing or purring, just chirping, like a new species of bird. And under that tone, he could have sworn the cat had spoken in English.

He peered around the garden. No, there was definitely no one else near. He sat and stared back into the unblinking eyes. Far down on the beach, he could still hear the ordinary shouts and laughter of tourists, and the unending whine of cicadas and crash of surf. The smell of fried fish floated up from the restaurants on Ocean Boulevard.

He said the first thing that came into his mind. "My name's not Augustine, it's Austin. After my great-grandfather." He kept his voice low, as though he might be overheard. Silly, talking formally to an animal – the cat wasn’t really talking was it?

But the chirping English came again. "In Latin, your name is Augustine, or Augustus. In Ancient Greek it would be Σεβαστός."

Sebastos. Austin heard the cat's mrrp!, the soft Greek letters, and yet understood the name as if it was in English. "But no one speaks those languages anymore!"

"Perhaps not here, Augustine. Yet I know a number of languages from a variety of places, and times."

He strained his ears, listening carefully to the English words under the chirps, watching the cat's mouth, trying to catch each word as it came.

"In return for your kind gesture today, rescuing me from those young hooligans," the cat rested a paw on Austin's knee, "I may be able to do something for you. Not a favour, exactly, but I fancy you're a little bored here?"

"How did you know?"

"You were not walking with a friend and you had time to notice an animal in distress." The cat sat up, so that they were nearly face to face. "I can lead you to an adventure."

"An adventure? Where would we go?"

"Not where but when."

Before he had time to question this strange remark, Austin heard a shout behind him.

"Oğlum, ne işin var orada?"

What're you doing over there, boy? There it was again – he was sure he had understood the words. He craned his neck, and saw the man his mum had pointed out on their first day, the neighbourhood watchman. Austin must look suspicious, loitering in the garden of a closed-up house.

He stood up and shrugged, forcing a smile and pointing in apology at the cat as his excuse for being there. He could still feel the man's eyes on him as he headed out of the front gate. The cat followed him until he reached the boardwalk.

"I'll come to your house. Look for me tomorrow," he chirped, then disappeared into a thick vine. Austin was going to try to follow him, but heard the watchman's footsteps behind. He walked faster and turned onto Ocean Boulevard, stepping quickly into a huddle of tourists, talking loudly and pointing with their cameras. He passed through, hurrying, trying to disappear from view. Shutters flashed behind him. He must have shown up in their photos – a skinny almost-teenager in shorts and an England football jersey, just another blur in the background.

He ran on. Where had the cat gone? Look for me tomorrow. There was nothing to do but wait.

Sunday's breakfast was a hurried affair. His dad wanted to leave as early as possible, "to beat the crowds and heat". His mum rushed about, clearing the table.

"Where are we going again?" he asked through a mouthful of jam and cheese sandwich. His mum removed the cheese plate just as he reached for it again.

"Ephesus," his dad repeated patiently, lowering his newspaper. "It's a fascinating place. The excavated ruins of a 2,000 year old city – the same city where the Apostle John brought Mary after the crucifixion. There's even a church there, built on the site where it is said John wrote his Gospel and the Book of Revelation."

Austin felt his eyes glaze over. "But is there anything interesting?"

His dad groaned. "There are a lot of ruined walls and columns that you can climb –"

That sounded promising. He peered about for what felt like the tenth time that morning for any sign of the cat, and reached for the milk carton before his mum could whisk that away too, with a vague idea that the smell might attract the animal. But the only creatures to appear were bees, hanging heavy over the jam pot and making his mum nervous.

He kicked his feet against the table leg, waiting for something, anything to happen. There, a dark shape passing the outside wall – no, it was only another stray dog.

His father was still talking. "…and there's a great view from the top of the mountain."

"Mountain? You mean there's another of those roads going up, around and around a mountain?" He shuddered at the memory of their entry to Kuşadası, riding in the bus down a precarious single-lane highway, built along the edge of a cliff. A few centimetres to the side, and there was a sheer drop straight down into a valley – or the sea. "I'm not going up any mountain."

"Oh, Austin." His mum had that I-know-what's-best-for-you look on her face. "You have to come with us, you can't miss Mary's house."

Ephesus, and now a mountain trip. How long would they be away, and what if the cat came by while they were gone?

It was only ten in the morning when they entered the ruined city, but the heat was already unbearable. There were no tall buildings to offer any shade, or air-conditioned shops with open doors blasting icy air onto the streets, like the ones around the bazaar stalls in central Kuşadası. He followed his parents down an avenue of fir trees that offered a bit of shade, then stepped out into what felt like the inside of a cauldron. The crumbling stone and marble, under their feet and piled on either side of the path, reflected the sun's rays and gave off heat like one long radiator. He was grateful for the two bottles of water his mum had insisted they each carry, despite the weight in his backpack.

The straps were already dragging on his shoulders as he trudged along, peering at the stones while his dad read off the guidebook what they might have been hundreds of years ago. Here was a gymnasium – two surviving walls enclosing a dust-filled courtyard. There were the adjoining baths – an archway leading to another square of yellow dust. He looked at the drawings of soldiers in the book, and tried to picture them training. There was a round indent in one flat stone; a target for archers, maybe.

A dove circled a shrub and pecked at the ground, and his imagination failed. The square looked exactly like the other courtyards and, glancing up, he realised that not one single building remained standing – it was all just a pile of rubble. All except for the amphitheatre ahead on the left, and the front of what his dad called the library, where they all climbed onto a stone parapet, and took photos of each other posing as ancient statues.

After two hours of traipsing in and around the marble avenues, he felt weak and dizzy from the sun, and his parents eventually agreed to let him stay in Ephesus while they went up the mountain. He sat on an overturned column near an ice cream stall and watched their taxi climb up the winding road until it curved out of sight halfway up. The sun shone full on the mountain face and he scrunched his eyes, holding a hand to his brow. No, the car had disappeared; he could see only the blacktop shimmering in the light. Now what?

He flipped idly through his dad’s guidebook, his gaze falling on one random paragraph after another. The word cave caught his eye and he stopped to read.

" 42 AD, the Emperor ordered the arrest of seven noble young men who were Christians. The men, with their dog Kitmir, went into a cave on Mount Anchilos to pray and prepare for death. When the Emperor's soldiers came and found them asleep, the Emperor had the cave closed up with huge stones, burying the men alive. One day, a rich landowner had the cave opened. The seven sleepers awoke, thinking they had slept only one night. When they entered the city to give themselves up to the Emperor, they discovered that two hundred years had passed... The cave is now only a grass-grown depression in the ground..."

That was disappointing. He skipped ahead a few pages. "The mystery of the Temple of Artemis... One of the original seven wonders of the world, it is now nearly hidden under a marsh... One column only is visible; further excavations are ongoing." That seemed more promising. Maybe he could help dig and find something. He checked his watch – at least an hour before his parents returned.

Stowing the guidebook in his bag, he headed over to the placard next to the ticket sellers’ windows. There was an arrow pointing into the middle of nowhere, showing where the Temple was supposed to be – across the highway, outside of Ephesus entirely. He shifted his pack onto both shoulders as he stood on the verge, blinking at the wind from all the cars whooshing past, barely two steps in front of him. He had to remind himself to look left not right, instead of the way he was used to back home. There had to be a break at one point – there, after that bus, no one was coming from the left. He hurried forward then glanced right again, in time to see the lorry bearing down on him. The horn blast vibrated all around as he stepped back and tightened himself up, drawing in his arms, trying to stay as stiff as possible and not be swept away. No one else was coming; he threw himself forward and collapsed on the other side of the road, in a ditch off the edge of the tarmac. His breath came in ragged gasps and the blood pounded in his head.

The glare of the sun was still intolerable. His heart had stopped racing and now he felt almost giddy, as though he had run in amongst the cars on purpose and known he would escape. He could vaguely make out a white tent-like thing in the distance. They must be digging under there; it would be nice to get into some shade. He finished off his first bottle of water, pulled his cap on backward, tucking in the longer hairs on his neck, and set off through the grasses and weeds.

When he reached the tent – an almost two-storey rectangle of white – he checked his watch again. Twenty minutes had passed already, and he hadn’t even started exploring yet! He looked around for a door, then lifted a flap of the tent and poked his head under.

He drew it out again as quickly and quietly as he could. Of course, he had expected people to be there. What were they called? Archaeologists, that was it. There were only two of them. The guidebook had said there was still work being done – excavations. Surely that meant digging with shovels, or scraping mud off old marble and coins. Not what the man and woman in there were doing?

Should he risk another peek? He stepped carefully around the tent until he came to an archway; the only door leading in.

He stowed his cap in his bag and ruffled his hair, trying to make it as messy and curly as possible. He bent down so that his knees were in the mud and rubbed them about a little. What else? His shoes – he untied one of his laces and let it dangle. There. Now he looked like a lost little boy and if anyone asked him what he was doing, he could just look confused. But that man and woman had been acting so mysteriously – he could not leave without finding out what they were up to. Carefully, he poked his head around the side of the arch. They were still at it.

All around the sides of the tent there were metal shelves set up, holding all sorts of columns and statuettes, bits of stone and other mud-covered objects. There was an empty space in the middle, a sort of hollow in the ground, in which two long tables had been set up end to end. He guessed that this was where the archaeologists usually worked. Now, though, the place was silent, with no bird calls or cicadas outside. Only an eerie drone that seemed to come from the tables.

The woman stood at the near end, her back to him, long hair waving gently about her head, though Austin felt no breeze. She was dressed in a dark blue sleeveless robe, gold and silver bangles covering her arms to the elbows.

The man lay on his back on the surface of the table, arms crossed and eyes closed, and the woman walked around and around, her hands held out in front, clasping a silver cup by its long stem. As he watched, she began to chant, at first quieter than the droning noise, gradually rising in volume. She was not speaking in English but, for the second time in two days, he found himself understanding a strange language. This time, though, there were words mixed in that he had never heard before. They sounded like names.

"I call on the craven of Circe, I draw on the hordes of Hestia, I summon the strength of Artemis!"

They were names. He recognised Artemis as an ancient god, from the Greek history module they had covered in school last term. What was this strange woman doing chanting their names? And what was she going to do to the man?

For she had stopped walking and was standing behind the man’s head. If she looked up now she would see him. He drew his head back as far behind the tent flap as he could while still keeping his eyes on the scene in the hollow. The man's eyes opened, but if not for that Austin would have guessed that he was asleep. His breathing was deep and even, his chest rising and falling in continuous rhythm. The woman bent down, her hair falling over her face, and drew out a knife from the folds of her robe.

Austin's breaths were as shallow as he could make them and his palms were sweaty. A fly buzzed around his ear but he dared not swipe at it. He could not look away but was terrified that the woman would lift her head and see him. His first instinct was to run, maybe get help. Whatever this woman was up to, he sure did not want to be next. He took a step back, but kept his gaze fixed on the scene inside.

She continued chanting, gliding the knife over the back of the man's left hand, up to the elbow. His skin fell apart and blood welled up as she drew the knife over his arm, across his chest and down the other arm. The light failed, as though she was drawing away the sun with her movement, sucking the brightness and the heat toward the centre of the table until everywhere around the tent was pitch black. Only the cup in her hand remained lit with a pale, reddish glow and the wounds on the man's body glistened in the shine.

The shadow of the woman lifted the cup and pulled it along the tracks that her knife had made. Brimming blood filled the cup and as it did so, pinpricks of light began to glow along the walls.

Austin turned his head from left to right, trying to see where, or what, the red dots of light were coming from.

Eyes. They were eyes. Every figurine, every half-uncovered statuette left by the archaeologists, seemed to have come alive and was staring directly at him.

The woman's voice rose in a final summons, "By Circe, by Hestia, by Artemis, feeder of all, take me to you along the path ordained, take me to your bosom – now!" She drained the cup in one long swallow, grasped the man by the shoulders and started walking forward.

She was walking through the man! Austin forgot his fear of the eyes at the sight of her walking through man and table. He dropped to the ground, intending to crawl backward in the darkness and disappear around the side of the tent. She must have heard; she glanced to her left, her right and, following the trail of the red glow, she lifted her head and saw him.

Her mouth opened in a silent scream and she raised one arm, as if to cast a spell. The red eyes held his gaze fast and he could not look away. Her eyes flashed fire at him out of the darkness. She held the man by one arm, her fingers digging into the wounds she had made, and his body flopped off the table to land at her feet.

In that moment, both man and woman disappeared. The red eyes blinked once and did not return. The darkness rolled away and the sunlight returned, a welcome heat on the back of his legs and neck, as he sat immobile in the high grass.

Sunstroke, his mum had decided. He had managed the run across the highway, and collapsed on a stool near the ice cream stand. His parents found him moments later, silent and withdrawn. He was unwilling to answer their questions, as though repeating what he had seen would make it more real. When he closed his eyes, he could still see the red eyes.

Now he lay under the thin cotton blanket in the cool dark of his room, eyes closed, fuming. His mum had sent him to bed way too early. What if the cat came now, seeking the shade of the verandah to snooze in? He was barely tired anyway. But the longer he had gone without telling his parents, the more incredible the whole thing had seemed. He could just see his mum’s face if he told her that a mysterious disappearing lady had put a spell on him. He would wait, and ask the cat. If that creature hadn’t been a figment of his imagination either.

He yawned and stretched. Maybe if he opened the shutters a crack, there might be enough light to read his comics. Noel had lent him some funny ones about a Roman called Asterix. Or was he battling Romans? Something to distract him from dwelling on the awfulness of the afternoon...

It seemed only moments later that he heard someone calling his name. He started up in surprise, blinking. The cat, who had been purring about his head, rolled neatly off his chest to sit on the mattress, still gazing, steadfast, into his eyes. His black nose was only an inch away.

The voice was there – just as he had heard it the day before.

“Have you thought anymore about what I asked you?”

Austin was certain now that it was the cat’s voice, and underneath the words he heard again a low rumble, almost as though he was purring while speaking. Yet the cat’s mouth was hardly open at all.

“Yes?” The cat laid a paw on his shoulder, expectant, claws sheathed.

He sat up straighter, having recovered breath enough to whisper. “Yes! But I don’t know anything about – about –”

“No matter. There will be time enough on the way to tell you everything. Wear the simplest clothes that you have.” The cat jumped off the bed and turned toward the half-open door. “Be ready when I come tomorrow at dawn.”

“Wait!” Austin called. “What do you mean ‘be ready’? What should I bring? Where are we going? I don’t even know your name!”


During the month of October, look for an interview with author and Washington Post book reviewer, Carolyn See. We'll be discussing her book The Making of a Literary Life and her newest fiction release There Will Never Be Another You.

Look for our first newsletter soon. As a newsletter exclusive, we're interviewing Bethany House editor Charlene Patterson, who tells us what she's looking for and if you have it, how to contact her.

I'd also like to note that October 7-11, 2007, there's a Christian novelist retreat at Ridgecrest Conference Center. For those of you needing a break to write,
Click here For more information and registration.

Lastly, if you write science-fiction/fantasy, check out Jeff Gerke's new project, Marcher Lord Press at

Friday, September 28, 2007

Banned Book Week - Sept 29 - Oct 5, 2007

Thanks to Rebecca Zeidel, Program Director for American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, for an informative interview. Click on the icon to visit the abffe website.

What is Banned Book Week?

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. Banned Books Week is held during the last week of September; this year, it’s September 29-October 6. The other sponsors are the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.

Banned Books Week was started in 1982 by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers association, the Association of American Publishers, and the National Association of College Stores to raise awareness of censorship problems in the United States and Abroad. 2007 marks the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week.

What is the goal of Banned Book Week?

Banned Books Week is celebrated by booksellers, librarians, authors, readers, students and other friends of free expression. Some create banned book displays. Others stage public readings of challenged titles or sponsor discussions of free speech issues.

Banned Books Week spreads awareness of threats to free expression in schools, libraries, and bookstores and provides educational programs and forums for discussion of free expression issues.

What percentage of books are challenged or banned because of moral content? Political content? Racial content? Violence? Other (please explain)?

ABFFE does not track these figures; however, since 1990 the
American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded data on book challenges by type and year. You may find this information helpful.

ABFFE has confronted challenges to books on all of these grounds. In recent memory, many challenges have come from objections to racial or sexual content or discussions of sexuality.

Who suffers the most if a book is challenged?

If a book is challenged, it should remain in a classroom or library until it has been thoroughly reviewed by the school board. In the usual case, written challenges articulating the reasons for the objection are submitted to the school board, who then appoints a review committee comprised of instructors, library staff, administrators, and sometimes including students and parents. The school board then considers the recommendations of the committee and makes a decision.

A book should never be removed from a classroom or library unless a complaint procedure of this kind is followed, and likewise, a book should never be removed prior to the completion of the complaint process.

For more information on book censorship in schools in particular, I encourage you to visit the website of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which provides two very informative resources on this subject: Education, Toolkit

The removal of a book deprives students or library patrons and the public of literature that has been selected by professionals. In schools, teachers and librarians select curricular and library materials to be interesting and applicable to students. In public libraries, library staff members choose books to reflect a spectrum of interests and opinions. ABFFE encourages booksellers to carry a wide range of titles reflective of the variety of interests and opinions in the public arena; ABFFE also supports a bookseller’s right to select which books to include on store shelves.

How can novelists support Banned Book Week?

Writers can conduct readings at bookstores and libraries during Banned Books Week in a special “Freadom” corner designated for this purpose. Writers can also support other writers confronting book challenges by writing letters to the school board or library in support of the books, speaking out in a public forum such as the opinion page of the local newspaper, or publishing a statement against censorship on their website or blog.

How can novelists who write from a JudeoChristian worldview support free speech?

Everyone should support free speech! The First Amendment in particular and free expression principles in general protect everyone’s right to speak, write, and think freely. The marketplace of ideas is expanded when different opinions and worldviews are shared. In cases of book challenges in schools, we often take the position that the best way to deal with unfavorable speech – that which is hurtful or offensive or with which one simply disagrees – is more speech, which provides students with a more inclusive and expansive education.

What is the most appalling situation you've seen or heard of regarding a challenged book?

In February, five books were challenged in Howell, MI for sexual themes and profanity: Black Boy by Richard Wright, Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell. The books were challenged in Howell High School in by members of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education (LOVE) with assistance from the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association.

ABFFE was joined by ten free expression groups in a letter to the school board urging them to keep the books. The school board voted 5-2 to retain all of them. Dissatisfied with this result, the AFA also assisted LOVE in filing a complaint with the State Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the books violate laws against child pornography and sexual abuse. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, federal, state, and local prosecutors alike declared the complaints to be without merit.

Which states or regions are more likely to jump on the banning band wagon?

Book challenges occur across the country, from Alabama to Maine, from Florida to Washington, from New Mexico to Michigan. As the ALA OIF will tell you, for every challenge reported, at least four or five go unreported.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Author Interview ~ Mark Mynheir

Mark Mynheir is a homicide detective whose law enforcement career has included serving as an undercover narcotics agent and a S.W.A.T. team member. He has also written several articles for Focus on the Family’s Breakaway magazine and the Lookout. Mark is the author of three novels: Rolling Thunder, From the Belly of the Dragon, and The Void, which releases August 21st, 2007. He and his family currently live in central Florida.

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

In The Void, which releases in August, 2007, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agent Roberta “Robbie” Sanchez is called in to investigate the murder of a local police detective. When the clues point to a genetic research lab in Palm Bay, Robbie is propelled into a case that challenges everything she knows—or thinks she knows—about the spirit world. Robbie and her team of detectives find themselves face-to-face with a foe of unspeakable evil who’s gunning for them all.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

I was reading an article on the internet about cloning. I’ve always been a bit fascinated with the subject, so I wondered what’s going to happen when humans are successful. Will cloned humans have spirits? If they don’t, could demons enter them? With no human spirit to contend with in a genetically perfect body, what havoc could these beings wreak on the world? And how would they be stopped?

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

When I was growing up, the worst thing I could think of doing was writing. I loathed putting words to paper. I’m Dyslexic and the very reason (I believe) that God invented spell check. But soon after I became a Christian, I felt the Lord leading me to write. It didn’t make much sense to me and seemed impossible. I shared with my wife what I thought God was doing, and she encouraged me to go to school and learn the skills I needed to write.

So, it took about ten years of classes, writing, and more classes. I met my agent, Les Stobbe, at a writer’s conference. He shopped my first novel, which got some good reviews but didn’t sell. I wrote the proposal for Rolling Thunder, my first published novel. He sent it out. I expected it to take six months or so before I heard anything. But about a week later, I got an e-mail from Multnomah, asking if I would be interested in writing a series. I had to wake my wife up to read the e-mail, just to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind.

To say the least, I got kind of weepy when I held my first book. But don’t tell anyone.

Do you ever struggle with writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Sometimes. But when I feel myself locking down on a blank page, I force myself to write anything on the screen. I’d rather have gibberish to delete later than stare at an unfilled page.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you?

Point-of-view, for sure. It took me a while to really get that.

How did you overcome it?

I read several books and articles on the subject, and I’m blessed to work with a great editor, Julee Schwarzburg. She’s been a wonderful teacher and friend.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

I have an office at the house—whenever I can chase the kids off of the computer.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

With my police job being so unpredictable, I write whenever I can, so it’s hard to set limits. When I do have a full day to dedicate to it, I shoot for two thousand words.

You balance your writing with your service as a police officer. What does a typical day look like for you?

I still work as a homicide/violent crimes detective as my day job. Nine to five in the office. Callouts all times of the day and night. It can get really hectic.

When I get the chance, I mostly write at night and on weekends. Since I have a wife and three children who actually like me, I have to divide my time carefully. Sometimes I wonder how everything gets done.

Even when I’m working at the police thing, I’m still churning the stories in my head until I can get home and commit them to paper. I’m sick, I know. But what can I say, I’m a writer.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

I start with the idea or question I’m working on, like the cloning questions in The Void. I turn it in my head for weeks, sometimes months as I’m working on other projects. Then I outline (not too detailed though) and start writing. My stories rarely follow the initial outline.

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?

Eureka, by William Diehl; The Note, by Angela Hunt; To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee; The Great Divide, Davis Bunn; Nobody, Creston Mapes, and many more.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Learn your craft and everything else will fall into place.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I wish I’d have read a few more books on novel writing. I’ve had to play some catch up. There’s a lot of subtleties to make stories stronger, particularly with regard to structure and point-of-view usage.

In publishing, I should have taken the time to talk with experienced authors about the business end and the expectations. It would have saved me some unnecessary aggravation.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I’ve tried some marketing things that haven’t worked out well at all. Because I still have a very demanding day job and with my family responsibilities, I’ve learned that I need to write the very best book possible, and let the marketing take care of itself. I don’t have the time to put into marketing that I would like, so I have to rely on God to open up those paths for me.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Stick with it! Many a great manuscript or talented writer will never be discovered because the author didn’t show the fortitude to stick it out through the tough times—and there will be tough times. If you’re called to be a writer, write. Learn your craft, read books about writing, go to conferences, and write, write, write. Don’t let negative voices around you derail the dream God has planted.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ann Tatlock ~ Letting Go

Between the day I began to write fiction and the day I signed my first publishing contract lay a span of 11 years. You may think that time was spent writing novels, sending out proposals and getting rejection slips, but that’s not how it was. Instead, I spent those years writing entire manuscripts and then, when I reached the final sentence, putting the whole thing aside and starting all over again with a different story.

Every time I reached “The End,” the same thought popped into my mind: Not Good Enough.

It’s true that my earliest writings were not good enough for publication, and that those seven or so novels (I lost count) were a training ground for me in the art of writing fiction. But I’m sure there was more to my reluctance than that. To think of an editor actually reading what I’d written filled me with terror. I could tell myself I wasn’t good enough and accept it, but I sure didn’t want anyone else telling me the same thing! That first rejection would only confirm my deepest fears and no doubt paralyze my efforts for good.

Thankfully, I met my husband-to-be, who read one of my manuscripts and afterward said in essence, “Enough stalling.” I married Bob, wrote another book, Bob got me an agent--since I was too shy to try to get one myself--and the agent got me a contract with Bethany House, who has published all six of my novels to date. (That’s not to say there were no rejections. A series of houses rejected that first book before Bethany House picked it up. That’s part of the process and a writer has to face it.)

I sometimes wonder what might have become of me if Bob hadn’t intervened, because even now when I finish a manuscript, the neon lights in my brain start flashing the same old message of failure. I’ve never reached the point of saying, “Okay, now this manuscript is perfect!” I’ve never sent a novel off to my publisher with a feeling of triumph.

Instead, I cringe and hope my editor will be kind when she calls to tell me everything that’s wrong with the book.

Obviously, my doubts haven’t vanished with the years. But what has changed is this: Now, I don’t let the doubts stop me. I finish the book and I hit the send button and I know that even though the book is far from perfect, it’s probably not nearly as bad as I think it is and, on top of that, my editor is going to help me make it the best it can be.

My newest book, “Every Secret Thing,” will be in bookstores October 1. Did I cringe when I sent my original draft of this novel to my editor? You bet I did. And then I waited for several anxious weeks for the dreaded verdict. But when my editor called, I was pleasantly surprised. She said the book was good! At first I was perplexed (“Are you sure we’re talking about the same book?”), but as it dawned on me that she really did love the story, I was free to love it too. Read the review of Every Secret Thing.

For “Every Secret Thing,” I reached back into my childhood and pulled out bits and pieces of my own story. The plot and characters of the book are fictional, but many of the details are true. The novel takes place in Delaware at the private school I attended from 8th through 12th grade. The main character, Beth Gunnar, is similar to me in that she loves literature and she lacks confidence! Many of her thoughts as a child were my thoughts, and some of what happens to her happened to me. Some, but not all. It’s a fun mixture of fact and fiction.

Beth is returning to teach at Seaton School after many years away. She wants to return to the school she loved, but at the same time, being on campus revives memories of a loss she never resolved. She realizes that the sudden disappearance of a favorite teacher has haunted her all her life, and she wants to find out the truth about what happened to him. There’s a little bit of mystery in the story, a little bit of humor, a little bit of romance. Ultimately, it’s a story of faith and reconciliation, and of how God reveals himself in the simplest of moments.

And I’ll clue you in: The chapter about the bells in the basilica--the bells that go on ringing until Beth realizes God’s great love for her--that’s all true. It happened to me.

You can find more information about “Every Secret Thing”, as well as discussion questions, on my website.
Please come visit!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Award

A wife, mother, and grandma, Yvonne Anderson lives in rural Ohio. She's a former legal secretary, currently a professional Virtual Assistant, and writes a daily Bible study blog. She creates fiction just for fun, but sometimes entertains fantasies about real remuneration.

Okay, so you've been reading these posts about writing contests. You know your novel is at least as good as some of the winners. You stick out your lip in a pout and tell your long-suffering sweetie, "I can't enter any of those because I self published. Discrimination! Think the ACLU will take my case?"

Put down the phone and quit your whining. You're not being discriminated against -- you're just baying up the wrong elm. The raccoon's up the Writer's Digest tree, you flop-eared hound!

You smack your furry forehead – duh! I knew that! Every wannabe writer subscribes to the magazine, so you've seen the announcements. Sure, the Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Award is no Nobel, but it ain't chopped liver, either. Wait, maybe that's a bad analogy. If you're a hound dog, you'd gobble up chopped liver in a big, slurpy flash.

Let me rephrase. Sure, it's not Nobel, but you can buy a lot of chopped liver with the $3000 Grand Prize. While you're licking your chops, you can see your name in Writer's Digest and Publishers Weekly; ten copies of your prize-winning book will be submitted to major review houses; you'll receive marketing advice from self-publishing expert Dan Poynter; and you'll get a box of these mouth-watering treats:

one-year membership in Publishers Marketing Association, guaranteed distribution of your book to bookstores and libraries through Baker & Taylor, a review in Midwest Book Review, six hours of coaching from a Poynter Book Shepherd, a customized Book MarketMap Directory, and an all-day workshop.
Sound good? Keep your tail wagging, because there's more kibble where that came from. Nine first-place winners receive $1000 and promotion in Writer's Digest, a review in Midwest Book Review, and book-jacket seals announcing the award-winning status of their book, among other things. The best part is, every entrant gets tossed a bone or two in the form of a brief judge's commentary and a listing with a link to his or her book on the Writer's Digest website.

Wanna know how to enter? Quit running around in circles and pay attention. The contest is open to all English-language self-published books in the following categories: Mainstream/Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction, Nonfiction, Inspirational, Life Stories (biographies, memoirs, etc.), Children's Picture Books, Middle-Grade/Young Adult, Reference, or Poetry. (Sorry, no category for art books such as self-published collections of paw prints.)

By the way, "self-published" is defined as a book for which the author has paid the full cost of publication or the cost of printing has been paid for by a grant or as part of a prize.

You must submit a bound and printed copy of the book. Preferably one you haven't chewed, because although entrants are judged primarily for content and writing quality, appearance counts too. They don't require that your book have an ISBN number, but they do demand an Official Entry Form, along with a fee of $100. If you're a prolific puppy, you can enter multiple books in multiple categories, but each needs its own entry form. The fee for each additional book is $50.

Oh, yeah. If your book has already won any sort of award from Writer's Digest, you can't enter it. Go publish something else.

Only old dogs need apply – 112 years or more, in dog years. (If you're a people, you only have to be sixteen.)

I sniffed around a little and found that the folks at Writer's Digest have had over two thousand entrants some years, so there is some competition. The judges are all humans who are involved in the publishing industry. Usually agents or editors. But none from the self-publishing world, to avoid problems with personal bias. It doesn't matter what category you enter, because all are equally eligible to win. A recent grand prize winner was a nonfiction entry on travel photography (PhotoSecrets San Diego, by Andrew Hudson), and a Young Adult book (Peace I Ask of Thee, O River, by Lyda Phillips) took a First Place.

This year's contest is already over, but if you run off a copy of your latest poodle romance, you might be able to get it in for next year.

So now we've thrown you the Frisbee – go fetch!

Monday, September 24, 2007

MORE 2007 ACFW Conference Photos

This is my favorite of all. Brandilyn Collins' mother, Mama Ruth and Chip MacGregor. Mama Ruth was a missionary in India and the pendant she's wearing has a wonderful story. Next time you see her, ask her about it. Being Irish with some Scot lurking within me, I love Chip's kilt.

That loud Asian chick Camy Tang and some ACFW buddies, Ronie Kendig and Dineen Miller. Ronie and Dineen worked hard on the conference, volunteering all over the place.

Mary DeMuth gathered a few of her intimate friends. The party of 30 trekked on foot to the Magic Time Machine restaurant for dinner.

Beth studies the menu while Amy Wallace (behind her) smiles (how unusual is that?) Allie Pleiter is telling jokes and Katie is another smiler.

James Scott Bell and Brandilyn Collins share a table at the book signing. I think they're seatbelted to their chairs.

And finally, since Gina, Jessica and I own this blog, we wanted to brag on our crit group the Penwrights. Penwright Chicks ROCK! The Penwrights won 6 awards in the Genesis contest.

ACFW Conference ... Dallas 2007

"Deb Raney" D'Ann Mateer and me as Brandilyn Collins.

Sorry about the delay in reporting, folks. I'm back from the ACFW conference and still bleary-eyed.

We could have posted from the conference, but sometimes even we need to just"be". We hadn't intended to take a break, but Ane and I really needed it apparently.

We brought our new and improved video equipment to do some vodcasts from Dallas and did sit down with Brandilyn Collins, but that was the only one we got around to. We just wanted to talk with friends, worship, pray, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Every year those of us who go to this conference leave with a couple of "this is why I came" fors.

Personally, I've come out of a very long and difficult period in my personal life and I was able to lay this burden at Jesus' feet finally. To accept His forgiveness for my failings and to be reminded that He loves me. That He really, really, loves me. Wow.

Rachel Hauck and her oh so anointed worship team blessed the toenail polish off me (I wasn't wearing socks, okay?). Oh I felt God's presence when they played. Wow again.

Did I get a book contract? Nah, I signed nothing but met with some interested people who I genuinely enjoyed my time with not because of what they could give me but for them.

You know, the folks in the CBA are really, really cool. Worshiping with them reminded me, we're all in this together. We're all here for a common purpose: to write amazing stories that bless God's heart.

Jess and I spent a morning on our knees as God screamed (gently) in our ears that this is your tribe. These are your people. They're imperfect sinners like us, sometimes get their eyes off the goal, (like us), but they love ME. I love THEM. Always, always, offer to them blessings not cursings. No matter what.

Wow, I love the folks in the CBA.

I am so proud of my critique group, The Penwrights. We swept the Genesis contest which was thrilling. Six of us finaled and we took first through third places in our category. Very cool.

ACFW is amazing. Robin Miller, our president worked her butt off. If you are in need of someone to send a thank you note to ... you might want to send one to her if you're part of that organization. (If you're not, you honestly should be.)

Another highlight was meeting new folks whose writing is "ripe". Oh what an amazing thing to ask to see what someone is pitching and then finding out it's just right and ready to publish. That this person knows the craft and has the gift and is ready for publication. Sara Mills, represented by Steve Laube comes to mind. Can this girl write? Ha. Reading her manuscript was like watching Casa Blanca. You had the feeling of being in a black and white movie. Holy smoke is this girl ready to pop. And besides, I really, really like her. Her sense of humor is horribly inappropriate. Oh wait, that's me. Whatever.

What else did I learn? I played Brandilyn Collins in a skit and found I'm not the prettiest red-head (not cherry-red anyway), Brandt Dodson is sooooooooo funny. Ha. I'm still laughing about his toe story. (You'll have to ask him about it when you meet him), Mary DeMuth is even cooler than you think she is, Andy Meisenheimer (acquisitions editor for Zondervan) is going to age really fast because it's apparently his birthday every day. Make sure to tell him Happy Birthday each time you run into him. ) Sue Brower and Jan Stob are editors who know their stuff and speaking to each of them left me feeling really good about the state of the CBA. Editors want to publish fiction that changes lives. Fiction that thinks outside the box. Fiction that furthers the kingdom. They truly do. Isn't that cool to know?

Oh and on more than one occasion I was told to read a memoir called "Glass Castles". I think that's right.

Did I make a fool out of myself this year? You bet! I said stupid things to several editors and authors, and well, this is par for the course for me.

Yet another thing I got out of this conference was that I have really, really, really, really loyal and awesome friends. Jessica Dotta is not a fan of public speaking, but when a public speaking moment I was required to do conflicted with an editor appointment that was very important to me arose, she agreed to take over the speaking for me. This is huge if you know her. Luckily, she didn't have to because Ane Mulligan (now known as Polly Ann) was thrilled to do it for me. She's soooooo shy. Not.

I have good and loyal and amazing friends who complete me in this arena. Thank you God.

Oh and Heather Diane Tipton whispered to me "Run Forest, run." as I went up to accept my Genesis award. I nearly tripped. Ha. Got to love that girl. (She does amazing blog tours btw. Very effective because her personal relationship with bloggers is so good. I will always try my best to find a way to accomodate the authors she's representing.)

Jim Bell gave an amazing keynote and is now known not for his wonderful writing or super sweet and gracious personality, but as being a hairy man. Ask someone who went to explain.

Jim Bell rocks.

There were so many highlights and so many people I laughed with. So many people who blessed me, that I don't have time to mention all...

But I will tell you the coolest thing that happened: On the elevator at the hotel where our conference was being held and where most of us stayed, a maid smiled at me and Deborah Raney and said, "Who are you all? Everyone is so nice to us."

Hey... how's that for doing something right? Praise God for ACFW and the people who sacrificed so we all could be blessed. May God bless you in return.

UPDATE: next year's ACFW conference will be held in Minneapolis and the book signing will be held at The Mall of America!! How cool is that?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gramma's Fridge

Janet Rubin

Cassidy worked fast- Grandma would arrive for Mother's Day dinner soon. She attached a piece of paper to her pink clipboard and gathered her colored pencils. Old enough to be resourceful, she did not ask me how to spell "Happy Mother's Day," but carefully copied the words from the Hallmark card I'd opened earlier in the day. With strokes of pink and purple, she colored the homemade card in, adding hearts and flowers, then folding it.

Mom hadn't been in the door for a full minute before Cassidy was whispering through a cupped hand and asking me if she could give Grandma her picture. Go ahead, I told her. Mom's reaction didn't dissapoint. She commented on the neatly printed letters, oohed and ahhed over the drawings. After giving Cassidy a squeeze, Mom said, "Thank you so much. I love this card. Do you know where it's going to go?"

Cassidy's eyes lit up with knowing. "Your refridgerator?"

She'd guessed right. I'll admit to getting choked up, seeing the delight in my child. She'd made something, offered it up and then experienced the joy of both receiving praise and bringing joy to a loved one. And her work would be displayed on Grandma's fridge, where friends and family would see it. Kind of the eight-year-old's version of getting published, I mused.

Then again, it wasn't like being published. Because being published is more about "being good enough," than it is about being loved. Grandma's fridge is all about love. Not once has mom ever told one of my children to "do it over and I'll consider giving it a spot on the Fridgidaire." Never has she said, "Frankly, I think you don't have what it takes. Have you considered that art isn't your gift?"

When it comes to the grown up world of publishing, I'm glad there are standards that have to do with excellence. After all, when we look for something to read, we want to read something well-written. I hope to improve my craft as much as I can so my writing will be excellent and will entertain and bless my readers.But I'm also glad that I have a Heavenly Father who cares more about the expressions of my heart, and who will hang my less than perfect work on His fridge.

Lord, many of us are in Dallas this weekend, wanting to grow and learn as writers. Help us to do the best we can with the ability You've given us. And thank You for loving us just as we are and accepting all of our humble offerings with gladness. You are the best Father. We love You. Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stepping Up to Bat – From the ACFW Conference

Friday, I taught a workshop on publicity here at ACFW. I prepared, I recited, I gathered stories and refused, absolutely refused, to be nervous about teaching.

I started to teach, and then it happened. I looked up at the eyes trained on me and froze. My thoughts scattered. I forgot the point I was making. Later, it happened again and I had to stop, smile, and just come out with it. "I'm sorry, I lost my point. I'm a little nervous here." Everyone laughed, and for me, the ice broke. I went on to express my passion for teaching them publicity, as I know it really does make a difference in book sales.

I wish I could say everything went perfectly smooth afterwards. It definitely got better, but the amount of information I wanted to communicate didn't translate necessarily the way I wanted it to.

Afterward, I felt tempted to cycle through all the things I meant to say, or wish I had stressed, or could have done better. I had to mentally give myself a shake and think differently. No, it may not have gone exactly the way I wanted, but I took a step in the right direction.

I recall how nervous I felt the first time I sent out my writing to be critiqued, and how hard it was for me to critique someone's work. I remember the first time I pitched my book, it didn't go that well, but by the time I went to the next conference, I was able to speak freely and without tripping over myself. Then, there was sending out the first proposal and manuscript. That was excruciating, but now I've dealt with agents and editors long enough not to even think much about it after I hit send.

I also recall my first days of learning publicity. I had to crawl before I could walk. I remember my hands were cold as I dialed the number for a small town newspaper—and like going up a high dive—the only way to figure out how to do this was to jump in. Now I could board a plane to New York and meet with national media without feeling as shaky as I did that first phone call.

So, in the end, I'm calling the class a success. Maybe not a success as we like to define it—I wowed them, left them inspired, and can't wait to hear the CD. But, it was one more step in the right direction. One more path taken on this journey. And who knows, maybe someone reading this will remember it the next time they step out of their comfort zone and have that icky feeling that too often follows.

Author - Lisa Bergren ~ Interviewed.

Lisa Tawn Bergren is the author of 28 books, with over 1.3 million sold. She is a publishing consultant, writer, Bible study leader, mother and wife. Her hobbies include travel (mostly from an armchair), reading, watching movies, cooking and exploring with her family. Lisa's most recent books include The Begotten, The Betrayed, God Gave Us Heaven, What Women Want and The Busy Mom's Devotional. She resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado. To sign up for her monthly email (which includes a new, unpublished devotional) go here and join her newsletter list.

Click here, if you'd like to read a review of The Betrayed.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

The Begotten and The Betrayed, books 1 and 2 in The Gifted Series, are out in early September. This is a supernatural suspense series set in medieval times, pre-Reformation, pre-Renaissance.

It’s about a group of people who have profound spiritual gifting (healing, prophecy, wisdom, faith) who are in search of the lost letter of St. Paul, another letter he supposedly wrote to the Corinthians (an actual biblical mystery), but this letter has a non-Pauline prophetic bent. And in the margins, over the centuries, this secret letter has been passed along and protected by monks, some of whom added their own prophetic illuminations—drawings of the characters that appear centuries later. There’s the beautiful healer, a handsome knight, the wise priest, the child who can discern good from evil—characters that we both empathize with (when they fail) and wish to emulate (when they succeed).

It is an epic story of good vs. evil and the desire to do what God calls us to do.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

Oh, I hate to tell this story because it's so much more competitive these days. When I was starting out 15 years ago, I noticed there were only historical Christian romances on the market. I simply filled the hole by writing a contemporary Christian romance (Refuge) and a publisher (Multnomah) jumped on it. They called me and said, “We’d like to publish your book.” It was one of the best days of my life…so thrilling! And amazing…that someone else thought my book was WORTHY of publication. It was a “shake your head at the wonder of it” moment. And then it did so well, we ended up building a whole contemporary romance line (Palisades) together, because by the time my first novel came out, I was working for the company. I've seen others break through by being the first to write mystery or Chick Lit or something else unique. But Christian fiction has come so far, there are fewer holes to spot! A lot of it is in who you know….and walking through the doors God opens for you.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Every time I start a new book and especially after I took my four-year writing hiatus (I had a third child and was trying to launch a company). I wondered if my time of creativity had ended, thinking, “It was fun while it lasted…” But then I got rolling again and it’s been a blast! The hardest part is that first blank page of a new book, or even a new chapter. The devil hopes we say, “I’m a fake. I can’t do it any more. I may as well give up.” I put my published books on the shelf above my computer, and tape a little sign that shows my total number of books sold, to remind myself that I just may be the real deal…an actual writer. But I had to publish three or four books before I could even comfortably call myself an “author.”

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

The true writer writes because she can do nothing else. Publication can be a goal, but it can’t be everything. Look for all the ways that God might be able to use your skills as a writer, and if you are blessed with a publishing contract, praise him! But don’t get defeated if it doesn’t happen right away. I just had lunch with a terrific writer and friend, Tricia Goyer, who when I met her 12 years ago, was dying to be a novelist. She set out to learn all she could about writing, really training herself at the craft, and in the meantime, wrote a zillion magazine articles. The articles helped make her more attractive to a publisher, and gave her time to develop. Now she’s doing extremely well as a novelist. It takes passion and determination to write. Follow where God leads!

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

John Eldredge wrote, “The story of your life is a long and brutal assault by the one who knows what you could be, and fears it.” I love that—on the level that it reminds me that we live in a world at war (whether we recognize it or not) and that we have the power to make Satan afraid. God is on our side, always and forever. Let’s do something good for the world and Him!

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

The Hidden by Kathryn Mackel, Madman by Tracy Groot, Kite Runner by Afghan-expatriate-hard name, Grace in Thine Eyes by Liz Higgs, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favorites: Getting in “the zone” when a scene almost writes itself; the new baby, fresh off the press that I carry around with me and pet as if it’s an animate object; good reviews; fan mail

Least Favorites: Trying to get my rear-end in the chair to work; trying to concentrate in the middle of family chaos; bad reviews; un-fan mail

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

Well, I’m trying this blog tour…I’ll let you know how it goes! And I do a monthly newsletter for about 2 people that I’d like to grow to 2000. We’ll see… : )

Parting words?

If you’re not already tired of knowing about me, you can click here. If you become the 3rd person (okay, it’s not quite that bad) on my email list to receive my free eNewsletter, you might win a free book!

And my books will be at Target stores on September 4 and following—look for them there to get a screamin’ deal!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I left on a jet plane ...

and arrived in Dallas ... 30 minutes early!

In the hotel, I peeked into the bookstore where volunteers are already hard at work unloading books and taking inventory.

Novel Jourey will be blogging all week from the conference, and we intend to do some vodcasts with your favorite authors from the conference. So stay tuned ...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Author Interview ~ Juliann Henry

Juliann Henry was born in Wilkesbarre, PA, the descendant of immigrant coal miners. She received her Masters in Divinity in 2002 and completed the candidacy process for the ordained ministry in the UMC on June 1, 2007 when she was ordained an Elder. Juliann’s progress toward ordination has been slow because she has always felt her primary calling to be her three children.

Within a call to ministry, Juliann has felt a specific calling to minister with those who are marginalized by church and society. Following seminary she completed the steps for endorsement as a Mental Health chaplain with the UM Endorsing Agency in Nashville, and currently serves in this capacity in a State Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey. The patients Juliann ministers to remind her (by word and action) of the innate value of all children of God.

In her spare time Juliann enjoys gardening, vacuuming, animal rescue and creative writing. She began writing picture books for her children when they were young. Each of her children has a picture book that was written especially for them. The Little Shepherd Girl is her first published book.

Juliann and her family live in southern NJ with their three rescued basset hounds and four stray cats.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My first published book, The Little Shepherd Girl, is due out this October. It’s a children’s story about a young girl who desperately wants to be a shepherd. Her first night with the flock is the evening in which Jesus is born. She hears the angels, packs up the flock, and makes her way into Bethlehem to see the newborn Messiah.

I wrote this story so that young girls would find their place in the Biblical story. As a child I remember grumbling to my mother that I didn’t like Bible stories because “all the good parts are taken by men.” I remember my mom saying that I should, “write myself in.” Since then I have found it helpful to imagine myself as a minor character when witnessing the drama of the Bible, in order to help the story come alive for me. This was the intent of St Francis when he dressed up peasants in robes to create the first live nativity scene. Unfortunately St Francis didn’t seem to be aware that in Jesus’ day children, male and female, served as shepherds. And so we have this ongoing tradition of nativity shepherds as adult males—further excluding girls from the glory of the birth of Jesus.

Through The Little Shepherd Girl, I am hoping that young girls will realize that Jesus was born for them as well as for their brothers. I want them to feel the excitement of his birth.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I’ve been writing since I was 12, and hoping to publish since that time. When my children were young I began to write picture books and submit them for publication. I’d send out manuscripts to 3 or 4 publishing houses a year, wait for the rejections, lick my wounds and try again. Occasionally I would also paint illustrations for my stories—overcompensating with vibrant colors for what I lacked in artistic skill.

I serve as a pastor and a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital. Over the years I have found that children’s stories make good tools for ministry. So my stories, though unpublished, have found a home in children’s ministry, in visits with shut-ins, and as sermon illustrations. The earliest version of The Little Shepherd Girl was written as a class assignment for a dramatic narrative class in seminary back in 1996. I wrote it for my daughter and named the main character after her. It took 10 years for this story to be accepted for publication. Early on I received some very nice personalized rejection notices for it, but little else.

Then in December of 2005 I felt a call to resurrect the story from the filing cabinet. My daughter was going through a period of struggle, and I ached for her wounded heart as she faced attacks to her character and self worth. The week before Christmas I pulled the story out, formatted the text and my artwork as a mini picture book, dedicated the piece to my daughter, and self published 100 copies at Staples as Christmas presents for my congregation. That Christmas Eve, as my mom was leaving the church she said, “You should really try getting this published.” To which I responded, “Been there. Done that.” But during the first week in January I was sitting at my desk when I felt moved to pull out the Publisher’s Guide and try yet another round of submissions. I bundled up copies of two children’s stories, wrote cover letters to one publisher and one agent, and stuck on way too many stamps. The night before I sent the packets out I remember lying in bed, praying, “God, I’ve been trying this for so long. You’ve given me stories to share with others, but I can’t get anyone to publish them. Please guide my stories to the right hands if you want them to be published. Or give me the strength to stand in front of the color copier at Staples, and the income to pay the bill.”

That next week my daughter left a message on my cell phone that Mary McNeill from David C. Cook would like to talk to me about my story. I called her back from the parking lot at Walmart and we had a long conversation in which she said she would love to publish one of my stories, and explained the approval process through which the manuscript would go in the next few months.

After that conversation it took about a week to get back to sleeping normally. I had gotten so used to thinking of myself as an unpublished author that the good news of a manuscript’s acceptance wreaked havoc with my self image. It was a conscious effort to begin to conceive of myself differently. During that time my tie to normalcy was the thought that maybe the Cook publishers would change their minds and I’d remain unpublished after all.

And there was one added dilemma—a hazard of my profession. As a psychiatric chaplain I work with many men and women who suffer from delusions that can feel quite real to them. Because of this exposure, there were moments before the contract was signed in which I worried that 30 years of rejection notices had finally taken a toll on my mental health. I began to wonder if my mind had crafted an elaborate delusion concerning my manuscript’s potential publication. What if I had truly lost it??? Then Mary would call to update me on the book’s progress and for a while there would be this record of a call from David C. Cook on our Caller ID— physical proof of an actual conversation. To which my husband would respond with a wink, “Maybe they were just calling about your Sunday school curriculum order.” All things considered, I felt much better once the contract arrived in the mail.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Self doubt is part of my nature. I have always had very high standards for myself and am very aware that I fall short of them. I am a perfectionist in early recovery. Thank goodness I know Jesus. In Him I find a love and acceptance that are greater than my self love and self acceptance. In Him I find grace, forgiveness and hope for each day.

Most of my writing involves preaching. The “publication process” for sermons involves the way in which the Holy Spirit moves the Word from my mouth to the hearts of those in the congregation. It is an awesome thing to see a member of my church grow in faith because of the things I have said. It is also a humbling thing, because I know that the words I preach aren’t my words at all, but rather a gift that God has given me for others.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I’m still so new to publishing that I’m no doubt making lots of mistakes I’m still not aware of. One thing I undoubtedly did wrong was in submitting my stories to so few publishers over the years. I should have spent less time licking my wounds and more time licking stamps.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Years ago I read that the process of getting a picture book from contract to publication involved lots of give and take between the author and the editor. It was immensely helpful to know this once my contract was signed and we began to process of endless rewrites. If I hadn’t known this was the norm, I would have been crushed with each request to change things large and small. But because I was prepared, I could look on the story as the end product of a group process, and lay aside my ego long enough to work with the group. In the end I probably wrote 6 versions of this one story. It’s a good thing picture books aren’t the length of epic novels.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I’ve been told to quit my other jobs and focus exclusively on writing. The problem with that is that my other jobs are responses to a call to serve the Lord in ministry. They aren’t what I do—they’re who I am. The ministry that I accomplish is a visible reflection of my relationships with other members of the family of God. And the stories that I write grow out of those relationships. I think that if I locked myself in my office to write full time I would quickly run out of viable things to write.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I’d prayed more before submitting my stories early on. Inviting God into the process changed the whole dynamic of publication.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Aside from lots of rejection slips, I haven’t had any setbacks. Most of my “writing career” is writing and delivering sermons. The congregations I have served over the years have been truly gracious.

Well, there was one woman who complained that I had used the word “sin” too many times in a sermon—but that was a sermon about sin delivered to a group of people who had difficulty accepting the reality of sin. And how can you fight against sin before you first acknowledge it?

And then there was a man who shook my hand after a sermon on loving one’s enemies and said, “Pastor I’m so glad you preached on that. So-and-so in the back pew really needed to hear it.” And I’m thinking, “ Whoa, didn’t you realize I was preaching to YOU?”

Those would be examples of some of the difficulties I’ve faced in my writing career.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

The Bible, The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel by Walter Wangerin, Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas, and Unhindered: Revealing the Glory of a Woman by Jana Spicka. Also The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I’m really proud of the sequel to The Little Shepherd Girl. It’s an Easter story about the daughter of the original Shepherd Girl. Telling the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of a young girl who understood the religious concepts of blood sacrifice was extremely challenging. Ultimately I found that my own faith grew as I delved into this image of Jesus as the Passover Lamb whose blood takes away the sins of the world. I hope that The Little Shepherd Girl: An Easter Story will be published in another year or two. Very few children’s picture books take a deep look at the sacrificial aspect of the cross—they tend to dwell on the joy of the resurrection instead. They are like most congregations in our culture who avoid the passion of Good Friday yet return in droves to the Glory of Easter Morning. But without the pain of the cross there is no real joy of resurrection.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I’m still too new to publishing to have a pet peeve. I’ll do my best to develop one by this time next year.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

First there’s this irritating idea that won’t go away. Like a grain of sand in a clam shell, it eats at me until I give in and begin to write it out. Scribbled notes develop into a first draft that I set aside until I can gain some perspective. Then I begin to rewrite the story, share it with family, rewrite, try it out in children’s ministry or a sermon or small group, rewrite, send it out to publishers, read the rejection notices, rewrite, paint my own illustrations, format the story on a publishing program, and then make copies for use in ministry.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

When I first began to write children’s stories it was with the hope that I could read the published books to my own children. Now that my children are grown, my hope is to be able to read them to any possible future grandchildren that may come along someday.

One immediate goal I have is to publish a story for each of my three children. The Little Shepherd Girl is dedicated to my daughter. I hope to give each of my sons their own picture books, as well. Their stories are all written, just not yet accepted.

I’d also love to finish a novel I began about 5 years ago. It’s the story of a woman in ministry, as seen through the eyes of a one winged seagull who lives in her vegetable garden.

And I’d like to write a book about the interrelationship of faith and mental illness. The patients that I serve at the psychiatric hospital are among the most spiritually developed individuals that I know. Their faith has been tested by suffering; they are constantly blessing me through word and example.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

For 35 minutes after each rejection slip came in the mail.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I love to write. Even more, I love to share my writing with others. I love to read my picture books to children. I love to preach on Sunday morning and get to that moment when you can see that the congregation isn’t moving a muscle because they’re listening intently and really getting the grace of God.

My least favorite part of writing, so far, is anything that people do or say which is designed to pander to my supposedly outsize ego. Introductions that begin with the phrase “the famous author” are just plain silly—and they push me into minimizing my accomplishments while shaking hands. Also, it was pretty weird standing in front of a big poster of myself while doing my first book signing. I would have preferred to stand in front of a picture of my book. Jim Madsen did an amazing job of illustrating the story. His cover illustration would have looked much better than my awkward smile printed large and backed by foam core board.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

Once again I’m still learning this part of the business. I did my first book signing at the International Christian Retailers Show last month. I’d been feeling a lot of anxiety before the signing, but when the moment came I suddenly realized that it didn’t have to be “about me” at all. Here I was standing beside a box of my story, which the publisher was paying to give out. And this story that I’d written so that girls would find their place in the Biblical story and realize God’s unconditional love—every time I signed one I had another opportunity to share this good news with someone else. So a potentially awkward experience became an opportunity to do ministry. God is so good!

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

When The Little Shepherd Girl was accepted for publication, I discussed with my family whether I should officially dedicate the story to all three of my children, or leave it as my daughter’s book. My daughter was quite clear that this needed to be her story.

I remember how hard it was for me as a young woman (back in ancient times, as my kids would say) and added to that the difficulty of growing up female and called to leadership in a church which does not always validate a woman’s call. When I think about my daughter I worry that she’ll suffer the same hurts I did and take them personally. So I’m glad she knows that The Little Shepherd Girl is her story. I hope she finds in it a reminder of her innate self worth as a beloved daughter of the Most High God. I hope she never forgets how much she is loved.

Parting words?

God’s timing is not always our timing. Sarah and Abraham were called to become parents, but there was a 20 year lag between their call and the birth of Isaac. I always felt called to write, but it took 30 years to find a publisher. And the manuscript which was accepted was addressed to an editor who had left the company and sent to a publishing house whose website announced they were not taking any new submissions at that time.

If God has called you to write, keep writing. And pray that God will show you to the mission field for which your work was inspired. And don’t lose hope. Our God has cornered the market on hope!