I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Internet Fast

Hey, Heidi here. Remember me? Okay, so I’ve been away for a while—away on what you might call an “Internet Fast.” In September, 2013, I attended the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis. It was a great conference, but I came home a little bit discouraged. I was frustrated with my writing—or more specifically, my seeming lack of discipline regarding my writing. It was a struggle to focus on anything, and the fact that I was working on my BA in English made it that much more difficult to get anything done as all my “writing energy” went into papers and other projects. I lost hours to the Internet. I would check in on Facebook, and then suddenly, two or three hours were gone, either to mindless scrolling through my feed or to crafting “politically correct” posts and responses to avoid offending anyone. (It is impossible, by the way…no matter what you post, SOMEONE will find a reason to be offended!)

At the same time, my husband encouraged (read: nagged) me to write a book about our accident and subsequent journey. I didn’t want to write a book about it…it was hard enough to write blog posts here and there, but to dig it ALL up and put it on paper? Forget it! Then he told me he believed that God wanted me to write it, and until I did, He wasn’t going to let me write anything else. Now let me be clear: my husband does NOT throw around the “God told me to tell you” card often. So when he does, I’ve discovered it’s in my best interest (and his) to listen. So I decided to put aside my fiction projects and work on telling our story. Initially it was very slow-going because of my attention span. Due to the head injury I sustained in the accident, my attention span is ridiculously short, so sitting down to focus on writing is a chore. I feel so bad for kids with ADD or ADHD who have to sit in a classroom all day; it’s torture!

So, I prayed. And I felt God pointing to the amount of time I could sit still to focus on Facebook or Pinterest, and I knew what needed to be done. So, I sent out a mass email to let my friends know that I was going to take some time away from the Internet and Social Media to concentrate on finishing my degree and getting my story on paper. It is interesting to note that one of my last blogs before my "fast" was about my inability to avoid Internet Time Thieves, so it was obvious I needed to do something drastic.

I ended up taking all of 2014 almost completely free of the World Wide Web. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was required to be online for my college courses, but I had the majority of my materials printed out and I worked mostly offline.) At first it was agonizing to not know every last detail about my 675 Facebook friends. And it took a few months before my brain cleared the Facebook Fog. I had no idea, but it turns out, I was addicted to Facebook! “Hi, my name is Heidi Geis and I’m a Facebook Junkie.” That’s kind of scary!!

Sometimes, in those first few months, I would peer over my husband’s shoulder as he scrolled through his feed, and I made him tag me in many of the photos he posted. But after a while, I didn’t care. I mean, obviously I still cared about my friends, just not so much about their food or pets, their reactions to sporting events, or their political/religious opinions. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve posted a ton of food/pet pictures, and I can be fairly opinionated, but in the grand scheme of things, none of it really matters. And whether we want to admit it or not, we spend so much time "like-ing" the status and photos of people we barely know or haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years or who we’ve never even actually met in person, while neglecting the people next door or at our church or right under our roof.

So, am I saying that we should all leave Facebook and never look back? Absolutely not! Facebook can be a valuable tool. It’s been fun to get back in touch with high school and college friends and to thank my favorite teacher for her encouragement in 9th grade English. It’s a pleasure to follow my writing friends and their newest projects and then share them with some of my other friends who might not otherwise know about them. I love that my husband’s family 1100 miles away can see what we’re up to at the click of a mouse (and vice versa) and that Facebook made it possible for Grandma and Grandpa to watch our boys grow into men over the past seven years of posts and pictures.

What I am saying is that Facebook cannot take the place of class reunions, writing conferences, and family vacations. As Facebook’s own video declares, “some friends you have to tag in person.” We absolutely must strive to make real human connections whenever possible. And, if you’re like me, learn to use Facebook in moderation.

Your turn: Could you take a year away from the Internet? Would you even want to?

Image from blogs.constantcontact.com

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

You Know You Want Me: Sin and the Serious Disciple

From the time I was a teen until I was roughly twenty-eight years old, I had a cynical view of salvation. 

Here I was a Spirit-filled Christian yet I could not understand the importance of being one. At least, not being one at such a young age. After all, hasn't many a person gone through life, doing their own thing and come to Christ in his later years and ended just fine?

Oh I knew that being a Christian was important. You didn't want to go to Hell, And since you didn't know when you were going to die, you'd better be ready. But, I still did not understand the reason for being a Christian so young. 

It’s not that I wanted to live a sin-filled life either. I just didn't understand the reason to be so diligent at such a young age.

Then one day my faith got challenged. 

I had only been married for about seven years when I looked out my upstairs window to see a handsome man cutting his grass. Out of nowhere a terrible thought came over me. It was something dark that, in a moment, a flash, had gotten a hold of me. 

I wanted to get his attention, have him look up at me. I wanted to be with him and I wanted him to want me. Kind of like David and Bathsheba. The urge was so overpowering, so overwhelming that I could barely breathe. 

Seconds past and I began to think of my husband and our little boys. Then I stepped away from the window, caught my breath and asked myself, "Why?"

Hours later as I was reading my Bible, I came across James 1:12

Jas 1:12  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Cool! I had resisted temptation even though I didn't know why that was important. But then James continues to address the why:

Jas 1:13  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
Jas 1:14  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
Jas 1:15  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Now I didn't understand those verses completely, but I knew by them that it was greatly important for me to resist temptation. So asking God to help me I never went back to my window again. 

Moving forward from that day, I had not become a better person per se, but I had become more seasoned.

Stay with me, I have a life-changing point.

It was not until after walking with God several years that the answer to my lifelong question came to me.

A woman that I knew and loved came to me one day with a problem that was too big for the both of us. Her teenager had gotten into grave danger. This mother who had known God and walked with Him in her earlier years had been drawn away by so many other things and instead of her faith being strengthened through the years, it had waned and came under disrepair. As I prayed for the situation both with her and in intercessory prayer alone, God answered and the child was brought out of danger. 

I realized then that walking with the Lord all these years and learning to trust Him had made all that possible. I'm not saying God will not hear you otherwise, I'm just saying, it's a whole lot easier to believe and trust someone you KNOW then someone you don't. And having tried the Lord, I knew when He said that He would bring the child out of danger, that He meant it. She, on the other hand, did not and so had no faith to stand.

Our walk is not simply about us, it is about others especially our legacy. 

The Bible tells a story about Two men who built their houses on different materials. One on sand and the other on solid rock. When the storms of life came, the man who built his life on sand (temporary pleasures, wants etc) lost his house. For you parents out there, that means your children. The Bible says his loss was great. 

Like David who first slew the bear and the lion and because of this was able to slay Goliath, or like Joseph who learned to run a household, then a jail before he ever ran a kingdom, you will have to submit to the exercising of both your faith and trust in the Lord. 

Do not think for one moment that it will always be easy but I tell you this: Before you can be a father or mother in the Church, you must first be a child in the Church and submit your life to God and to other fathers and mothers. That’s hard to do when your fathers and mothers are flawed humans, but it’s Biblical and you will never grow in God the way you were intended too if you don’t.

The man who built his house on the Solid Rock, (that's Jesus and faith in Him) when the storms came, his entire house was saved. 

Let me put it another way:

Before you can run a marathon you must first condition, and that takes discipline, time, diligence and perseverance. So start running. Others are depending on us.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Communication Power

Delores Topliff

By mid-February, my three so far TripAdvisor online travel evaluations have been read by 1878 people and won a deserving bed and breakfast in Arad, Israel, a star rating. Two thousand copies of my first children’s book, Whoosh, are out there—not a huge number but it’s gratifying to have that many readers. Five of my true stories published in three Guideposts compilation books have a broader circulation still.

There is power in the written word. Like citizenship, it provides opportunities—and responsibility.

What do we say? And why do we say it? What impact and meaning do we give readers who only know us through the written page? What do they learn of life? What do they see and retain of the God we serve? I don’t want them entertained but detoured by my idiosyncrasies and foibles without considering my underlying life purpose.

Tones of voice and facial expressions are musical accompaniment to our words, creating a multi-dimensional song and dance for our lives. I’ve heard kind words said in clipped anger and felt the underlying knife. I’ve heard awkward but heartfelt words expressed through a voice as rough as homespun—and felt its caress. For me, touch is often the final indicator. You can’t fake the communication of touch. Its communication doesn’t lie.

Is it any wonder that God sent His son as the Word to make Himself known? And lived out redeeming love without self-regard? The Message says, "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." Instead of loss and ending, that kind of life grows in leaps and bounds and extends forever.

Writer Brandy Valance posted: “To write means more than putting pretty words on a page; the act of writing is to share a part of your soul with the world.” On her recent blog, author friend Beth K. Vogt shared a post so honest, vulnerable, and powerful, it took my breath away but brought freedom. Words carry that kind of power.

So go ahead, speak, write, and love. Please comment how you will share your uniquely valuable life and show your heart to others today. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Wedding in our Family!

When your only daughter begins to plan her wedding, you tend to have all things bridal on your mind! We're thinking about cakes, flowers, venues, invitations, showers, registries...oh my! And then big one--the dress. We did have fun with that one. (I'll be back someday with a picture!)

Then there's wishes, dreams, and ever so many decisions. So many choices, in fact, that the wedding planner warned my daughter to stay off of Pinterest for two months before the wedding!

But I keep thinking of the more important issues. How Christian counselors remind us of things like "love is a verb" and "communicate your feelings to your spouse". How can my daughter and her fiancé keep their romance alive?

And I've contemplated weddings in the Bible: the touching stories of Abraham and Sarah,  Isaac and Rebecca, Boaz and Ruth and many more. I even wondered once if so many wedding plans were Biblical...but, of course, they are. Revelation speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb and how "the wife has made herself ready".  I like to think that the Lord is smiling down upon the preparations.

I can't reveal much yet, but my daughter, Sarah, doesn't just do everything the traditional way...at least not to this old-fashion mother of hers! And I'm thankful for that. She's grown into a strong woman who knows what she wants and what she doesn't. It's helped her make choices like saying "yes" to the young man who proposed to her in front of a house full of relatives!

How about you? Have you seen some non-traditional ideas at weddings recently? Or maybe you've read a great book lately about romance or a wedding. Tell me about them!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Adding Words to your Manuscript

By Patricia Bradley

From Printmaster
Last month I talked about cutting words from your manuscript. This month I'm talking about adding them.

Someone asked me if it's easier to cut or add words. Personally, it's easier to cut words. Adding words means new writing and editing is always easier for me. 

Most of the time, when I write my first draft I'm laying down the suspense part of my book. Then I go back and layer in the romance, emotions, scene details and make sure the Inspirational element is solid. If I still don't have enough to meet my word count, I'll think about adding another subplot, with or without a POV character.

Another way to add words is to flesh out your main characters. Give them another problem to deal with. Or, in the words of Raymond Chandler, if you're writing along and the going gets dull, bring in a guy with a gun. 

It doesn't have to be a literal gun. It can be anything unexpected--an accident, a phone call, an illness, a burned meal, a body...you get the picture--any type of sudden shock will do.

I also go back and make sure I don't have talking heads. Characters talking back and forth without a setting. Readers like to picture where your characters are and what they're are doing. This is also the time to give your POV character interior monologues. Let the reader know what the character is thinking. It's also a great place to have her to say one thing but think another.

So these are a few of my tips for increasing word count. What's your favorite way? Or are you a writer who never needs to add words? 

Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a copy of either Shadows of the Past, A Promise to Protect, or my Harlequin sweet romance, Matthew's Choice.

Drawing limited to Continental United States for hard copy. An e-file will be available for all other entries.

Patricia Bradley
Follow me on Twitter: @PTBradley1
Follow me on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/patriciabradleyauthor

Shadows of the Past - Revell February 2014 
A Promise To Protect - Revell October 2014
Matthew's Choice - Heartwarming September 2014
Shop Amazon for my books under Patricia Bradley

I asked God to teach me patience and He gave me a book to write

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why God Asks Us to Lay Down Our Dreams

You’ve been dreaming about it again, haven’t you? Publication, speaking engagments, awards and accolades. “Just wait until I get published! Than watch and see what happens.” 

We’ve all been there. 

Whether its a cherished gift we've hoped for at Christmas time or that dream job. We've all gotten stars in our eyes over something at least once in our lives. 

Let's face it. It’s amazing when a dream comes true. But what about those dreams God placed deep inside our hearts that haven't come true yet? 

Be honest with yourself. You're disappointed aren't you? 

Well what if I told you that God placed those dreams in your heart because He intends for them to come to pass.

Yes, He does. But here's the thing. Not at the cost of you.

If our dreams are paramount in our lives, then they have become idols, things that take precidence. We think about it all day, whittle at it, sort it, all trying to figure out how to get 
it to work. Many times we lose sleep because, let's face it, if we don't worry about it no 
one else will. Right?

The plain truth is:

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (‭Matthew‬ ‭10‬:‭37-39‬ NLT)

I used to dream about seeing my books in print and had so many stars in my eyes that rejection letters would leave me feeling worthless for days. Funny how I took my identity from those letters.

I wasn’t ready. I was losing myself. Laying down my life for the idols of, Publication and Recognition.

It took time to learn how to lay it down. One page, one moment at a time, trusting that He would be faithful.

Publication is nearer now than ever before. But I don't worry about it, because it is not my focus. Doing what I see the Father do and saying what I hear the Father say, is my focus. Publication is a result of my diligence in perfecting my craft and not the end all be all of 
writing. It is not even the finish of the race. It is merely one of the milestones along the 

way. There is a timing for these things and God's timing is perfect.

Here’s something to think about:

Joseph-- had dreams that were fulfilled in time, but not until after many trials and testing of his faith.

Abraham--had a son even when the time for having them had passed both he and his wife. And then he was asked to give up this son. But he received him back from God whole (Genesis 17, Genesis 22

Israel--went into the promised land but not until all the disobedient ones or unbelieving 
ones had perished so their infectious unbelief would not be passed on to the next generation. (Numbers 13)

David--became king but not at the expense of his predecessor, Saul. He refused to take the easy way even though Saul had been delivered into his hands more than once. He waited on the Lord to fulfill the dream in its right season. Side note: Saul was delivered into Davids hands and we might take that as permission to kill our Sauls off in our lives, but 
David understood something about taking matters into his own hands. "I will not touch God's anointed" . (1Samuel 24) 

Ginger R. Takamiya

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Truth Trumps Fiction, or in Honor of Honest Abe

Delores E. Topliff 
Fiction often draws from  historical peoples’ lives for character development. Except some life patterns are so amazing, they’re not believable. I remember talking with a Zondervan editor sharing a poignant true event of my mother’s life I’d included in a book I was writing when she responded, “Not plausible, that couldn’t happen." Except it had.

Nine days from now we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Abe knew people worked hard to earn money and as a young Illinois store clerk, walked three miles to return six pennies he’d accidentally overcharged a customer. Therefore, since his 100th birthday in 1909, his picture has appeared on the U.S. penny, our smallest coin, to honor his role model  honesty. In fact, that kind of integrity became part of the body of stories growing up him that were the best P.R. possible and eventually put him in presidential office, besides securing a place in our hearts.

Next consider Diogenes, the Cynic, who lived in ancient Greece. By choice he lived in a barrel walking around carrying a lantern searching for an honest person since he was convinced no truthful honest man or woman existed. Too eccentric for a hero or anti-hero? Probably, but unforgettable all the same.

Lincoln once said, “You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry.” In other words, not much should be able to do that. He may be paraphrasing Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

For my money, I’ll take Honest Abe, saluting his character every time I jingle his pennies in my pocket.

Old-timers  say, “Beauty is as beauty does.” Homely? Ungainly? Kind! His conduct was beautiful.

Therefore, in my books, Lincoln was the most handsome president we’ve had. I slip a Lincoln penny into the cake I bake on his birthday to serve grandkids while talking about his life and honesty.

Tell us how you celebrate him or another favorite person of your choice.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stranger than Fiction!

There’s an old clichĂ© that “life is stranger than fiction”.  A surprising event reminded me recently that it’s true!

About 31 years ago when my husband and I worked as missionaries in Bolivia, we received word from a hospital in Buena Vista that tiny twins needed adoptive parents. Needless to say, we rushed to the hospital! A representative ushered us into a room where we gazed on the tiniest babies we had ever seen. They weighed only 2 pounds and a few ounces.

We lost our hearts. Goners. Over the top. Helplessly in love with those babies! We adopted them and named them Daniel and Sarah. I began the most exhausting period of my life caring for our premature twins. We moved back to the States when they were about 2 years old and went through all the “terrible twos”, teen, and collage years that all parents go through.

Then about 6 months ago, out of the blue, our twins reconnected with their birth family through…get this…Facebook! We had left a photo of our twins with our contact at the hospital, and the birth family found our kids through that picture.

Daniel took a trip to Bolivia over the Christmas holidays and met with his birth family face to face. He came here recently and showed me the photo album of his visit. Sarah hopes to go too someday.

One of the special things about all this for me has been the way their birth sister, Juani, has accepted me as part of the family. She sends me messages with many kind words. I feel like I have a new daughter!

The beautiful tablecloth in the picture is the gift that Juani sent to me when Daniel returned.

We never expected to be reunited with this wonderful family in Bolivia, but are so thankful that God’s blessings to us and not only stranger than fiction, but way better!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to Cut 30,000 Words from your Story

by Patricia Bradley

Are your words written in stone? Each one precious and agonized over? Your little darlings? What would it take for you to cut five thousand of them out of your manuscript? Ten thousand? Thirty thousand?
Photo from Printmaster

No way, you say. Well, what if there was a good chance of getting it published in the smaller version? Would that entice you?

That's exactly what happened with my first book. After I cut those 30,000 words, I received a contract offer for it...and as God would have it, I also received an offer for the bigger version. 

I learned so much cutting those words, though, and a lot of the shorter version ended up in the longer version because the writing was so much tighter...and better!

I've been asked how I cut those 30,000 words, and I've always replied it was a lot like going on a diet. Very. Painful. 

First, I cut a Point of View. I didn't cut the character, I just took out everything that was in his POV. That gave me 15,000 words right off the bat. 

Of course, I added a few of those words back getting the information into the story that this character had revealed. But I netted at least 13,000 words.

Once I had that cleaned up, I went sentence by sentence, seeing if the sentence could be rewritten tighter, or taken out all together. I discovered I sometimes explained things more than once, often more than twice. You guessed--SNIP.

I also looked at passive wording and weak verbs. Both use more words. When I made the sentence stronger, often by using a stronger verb, I gained words. Here's an example:

 She looked at him from the top of his head to his feet, barely noticing that he had on  jeans and a plaid shirt over those broad shoulders...became: Her gaze flicked over him, barely registering the broad shoulders, plaid shirt, and jeans = 28 vs 14. I did that over and over and the words mounted up.   

Here's an example from this blog: The first thing I did was to... Ended up: First, I cut... (See how it works.) 

I also did a search for weasel words and -ly adverbs to see if they were needed. Ninety-nine percent of them were not. Here are a few weasel words I seem to love: seem, just, that, suddenly, ever, some, almost, but, simply...there are more, I'm sure.

And that's how I cut 30,000 words. And remember, if you cut ten words per page and your page count is 400 pages, that's 4,000 words right there. 

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite weasel words. Oh, and I'd like to know how many of you would be willing to kill your little darlings...