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

Friday, April 29, 2011

Crafting a Compelling Story

There was a time in my life when I lived in remote foothills along western Canada's Alaska Highway, an hour from the nearest town. We learned to make things from scratch, repair broken items, or do without. With money in short supply, we invented ways to earn it. Once, I cut enough willow branches to fill a horse trailer with 735 medium to large-size attractive woven wreaths and hauled them 650 miles south to a large wholesale florist. I loved the outdoor exercise, but also asked God for a second, less-taxing income source.

Many in my community had broken jewelery. Since mailing pieces to big cities for the simplest repair cost $35 minimum, I wondered if I could learn how to do repairs. When I found someone to teach me, her closing words were, "This might grow into a good small business for you."

I learned safety pins are great jewelry-making tools. But I also discovered something better: the bead board. These are inexpensive trays with spaces to hold beads, as well as a generous trough with inch markers to show how long your finished product will be. After placing various sizes, shapes and colors of beads next to each other in the trough, you find your final pleasing combination and string them together. Voilá--excellence!

God also gave me the desire to write and then revealed ways to learn the craft. The February MBT Deep Thinkers Retreat provided a bazillion, gazillion gorgeous elements--rich colored beads in varied sizes, spacers, roundels, bead tips, clasps, hooks, dangles--everything needed. Under the tutelage of master craftsmen Susie and Rachel, writers tried ideas, working and rearranging combinations until we found the satisfying designs, colors and lengths right for each of us. Then we added clasps and applied needle and thread to tie our stories up.

Using our life experiences, God provides the colorful beads unique to each one of us. Waiting on Him, "oohing" and "aahing" as we cheer each other on, arranging and rearranging our story elements in the bead board--all this helps us create compelling stories.

Delores Topliff

Photo by alfredo-9/stock.xchng.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Fickle Dance Partner

Remember in The Sound of Music when Captain von Trapp and Maria danced? When their eyes met, the reality of their love for each other melded their worlds with sparks and fireworks against the indigo backdrop. No matter what happened next--even their country being taken over by a tyrant--nothing could quench their spirits. Their love would endure the test of time and tragedy. As they climbed to the top of the mountain to escape the Nazis--with their six children in tow--you knew on the other side their happily ever after waited to embrace them.

Ahhh ... for that to be the story of our love affair with writing. Our fingers waltzing with words and the eternal embrace of our novel as we hold it tightly to our chests. We may face uphill battles, but with our true love by our side, we will " ... climb every mountain, ford every stream; follow every rainbow, 'til we find our dream!"

And yet, our dance partner is capricious. One moment he pledges his love and the next he ignores us. We try to reason with him, but he throws our dreams in our face and uses our own words against us.

We're pulled, only to be spun around and fly, uncaught by our dance partner, into a bone-crushing heap on the dance floor. And all the while, millions are watching as we crash and burn.

A bit melodramatic, but isn't that the way we feel about our writing sometimes? It's that important to us. Reality is there will be times when you dance. There will be times when you and your partner will hide behind tombstones of dead story ideas, hoping you go unnoticed by those who want to expose and destroy you.

And yes, freedom is usually an uphill climb. But together you and your writing lover will make it up and over to the other side, where freedom abounds. Stay the course. Continue to dance with your fickle partner. In the end, you'll find your dream!

Reba J. Hoffman

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Why of Why


Why do we do the things we do?

I love to work out. It doesn’t matter if I'm jogging on the treadmill, using the elliptical or taking an aerobics class. I love working out! If I have a busy week and I have to skip exercising, look out! Grumpy shows up.

Some people may think working out is frivolous--a waste of time. If you asked me why exercise is such a big deal, my first answer to you would be ... bread. Really. I look at any kind of bread and it appears on my hips. So I have to work out to control the consequences of my bread addiction.

If you asked me “why” again, I would answer with, “It’s my time. No children, hubby or work--and definitely no cell phone.”

If you asked me “why” again, I would say, "Anything within my own power that I can do to live to see my children grow up, I’m going to do." Why? I would finally answer with the real reason, “My mother died of cancer when she was 29. I was just a baby."

There, the real reason I work out. There's a definitive link between high Body Mass Index (BMI) and cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. I don’t want to leave my children like my mother had to leave me.

Asking Why is a great My Book Therapy (MBT) tool to help you figure out your characters and their real motivations. Keep asking your characters “Why" until you uncover their core motivations.

In my work-in-progress (WIP), my hero Rand works in small town USA at the local feed store. Why does my character Rand stay when he could leave? His first answer: He enjoys his job. His second answer: He is responsible and works hard to meet his obligations. Why is Rand so responsible? He would respond, “I’ve lived with my aunt and uncle ever since my parents died. They raised me like their own, even when they began having their own children. Now my aunt is a widow."

Aha! Now we know why Rand really stays: He feels obligated to be there for his aunt because she took care of him.

Look at your WIP and make sure you have gone deep enough to discover the heart of your characters. Ask them, “Why” until they are positively exasperated with you and blurt out the truth--not some pat answers.

Alena Tauriainen

Photo by dhigaum/stockxchng.com

Friday, April 22, 2011

Do You Know Your Villain?

You hang around Susan May Warren long enough and you're going to learn about villains. First she'll teach you about basic story crafting--plot and heroes and heroines and the Inciting Incident and the Ds (Disappointments and Devastations) and the Black Moment and creating a satisfying Happily Ever After.

Then, before you know it, she'll talk about word painting and Backstory Breadcrumbs and emotional layering and then--at last!!--she'll teach you how to craft a nasty, nobody-would-want-to-know-this-guy villain.

Here's Susie's take on villains: "I believe a villain is anyone or anything that seeks to destroy another person's confidence, goals--even their hope. A villain chews at a person's competence, raining upon them doubt, stirring up their fears and leaves them helpless."

As writers, we don't just craft villains for our stories--we face villains.

Think about it for a moment.

Who--or what-- destroys your confidence as a writer? Who steals your hope, your dream of becoming a published author? Who stirs up your fears, leaving you feeling helpless--or, worse yet, feeling worthless?

Maybe it's a family member or a friend who says something like, "Give it up. You're wasting your time sitting at that computer writing that story. You're never gonna get an agent. Do something meaningful with your life!"

Maybe you're the one telling yourself to get a real job, to stop wasting your time, to stop pursuing this impossible-for-you-dream.

As writers, we know who our hero's villain is--after all, we created him! And, if we write the story well, we make sure our hero beats the villain.

It's important to take time to identify the real-world villain or villains that we face--the enemies intent on destroying our dreams and dashing our hopes. Are we just as determined to conquer the villains taunting and terrorizing us?

Question: Is someone destroying your confidence as a writer? What do you need to do to protect yourself--to conquer this villain and win the day?

~Beth K. Vogt

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Writing Clutter

Remember last fall when your husband’s parents called to say they were coming for a visit the third week of April and you thought April seemed like a million years away?  Surprise, it’s April!

I’ve spent the past several weeks trying desperately to de-clutter my home in preparation for the arrival of my in-laws on Monday. In all fairness, they are very easy going people and have never judged my house keeping skills, but I think they appreciated that they could find their bed.  

Like everyone, I want my house to be clean and neat. I don’t want excess; less is more and I want more. Or less. More or less. Whatever, my problem is that I love stuff. A lot. And I am sentimental. So I keep everything. I have the sweater I was wearing when my husband proposed. I have every scrap of paper on which my children created scribbled masterpieces. I have birthday cards, anniversary cards, and pamphlets/maps/postcards from trips I have taken with my family. And BOOKS? So. Many. Books.

It is possible I am a hoarder. I’ve seen the show, and while my house was not television-worthy, it was well on its way.  So, when my husband’s parents told us they were coming, I thought it was the perfect time to purge.  You know, like in Ecclesiastes 3, where it says there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. 
Honestly, it especially felt good to get rid of clothes. My family of four seems to have significant trouble with our laundry, so we donated a significant portion of our clothing. Not only did it clean out our closets and drawers (and laundry room and garage), but it provided for others and it felt good. I know I feel like I function better with less “stuff” piled up everywhere.

Last night my mother-in-law and I were discussing the never-ending battle against clutter in our homes and it got me thinking about my writing. I know it is much easier for me to concentrate on writing when I have a neatly organized workspace, but I was actually thinking about the clutter within my writing. I know I am guilty of padding my writing with a lot of extra flowery wording in an attempt to sound literary and important. I cram words into sentences the way I cram laundry into laundry baskets; at some point they get heavy and overstuffed and in the end, you can’t really make sense of any of it.

 William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, says that "clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon." Ouch!  Get me vaccinated!

Luckily there are a few things we can do to de-clutter our writing. First and foremost, we must make every word count. Tell your story in the fewest words necessary. Also, we can work on shortening clauses and phrases, and avoiding redundancies. Furthermore, resist the temptation to use the words “very,” “really,” and “totally.” You know there is a better way to write that sentence, so do it! The same thing is true of wasting time writing with a bunch of vague words. Get out your thesaurus, and find that perfect, specific word. Finally, don’t open your sentences with phrases like “there is…” or “there are…” Just cut to the chase already!

William Zinsser also says that "fighting clutter is like fighting weeds--the writer is always slightly behind."  For me it’s more like fighting my laundry.

~Heidi Larson Geis

Monday, April 18, 2011

Surrender ... 1335 feet up.

In February, my husband and I got stranded in Chicago thanks to another Minnesota blizzard. Forever an optimist, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to check out the sights. (I’ve never been to Chicago the town, just Chicago the airport.)

One of the things I was most looking forward to was the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower’s Skydeck. I knew from there you could stand in a little glass box on the 103rd floor, suspended over nothing, 1335 feet in the air. From this perch, I would be able to see clear across four states ... on a cloudless day. (You see where this is going.)

Despite the foggy conditions, with hubby in tow, I bravely navigated the “L” to the Willis Tower. Upon arrival we were confronted by a guard confirming what I refused to believe: zero visibility from the Skydeck.

Hm. Well. The happy-go-lucky in me was certain that when we arrived on the 103rd floor, God would part the clouds and the view would be spectacular. He’d even done us a favor. No visibility = No line to wait in. For my dear husband, who would call himself a pessimistic realist, forty dollars to see nothing was less-than-enticing. Thankfully, he’s usually willing to humor me and we made it to the 103rd floor.

I’m not afraid of heights. Or so I thought. But the idea of stepping into a little glass box, knowing you are 1335 feet above nothing – even if you can’t see it – is completely unnerving. If God had miraculously parted the clouds and I could have seen what I was stepping into, I’m not sure I would have done it.

Sometimes that’s how I feel about writing. If God were to show me the panoramic view of where my fledgling writing career will take me, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to step over the edge with Him.

My husband took this picture of me in that foggy box, and one of my fellow Ponderers pointed out what it conveys without words: surrender.

How have you had to surrender your writing career? Has God ever used an unexpected moment to speak to your heart?

Happy writing,


Friday, April 15, 2011

Meet Award-winning Author Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck, a good friend and mentor of The Ponderers, has graciously agreed to visit with us today. She graduated from Ohio State University and married her best friend, Tony. Together, they worked in youth ministry for over 20 years. Rachel served as the president of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) for two years and now serves as an adviser. She is the award-winning, best-selling author of 14 novels, with more to come. Yay!

Rachel, you have a degree in journalism and you've traveled the world as a software trainer. (There's a story there!) What made you start writing novels?

RH: Writing novels was always the goal. Since I was a girl, I wanted to write novels. I kept journals for 17 years. I was always writing about something, about life, about feelings, the drama of being a teenager in love. My hopes, dreams, my prayers, my love for Jesus. I loved my corporate career. It was something I needed to do, to get it out of my system, but there is nothing more satisfying to me than writing. And it's the hardest job I've ever had!

Think back. Tell us about receiving the call.

RH: This was actually a strange process for me. Publishing happened in increments, gradually. For example, my first book was co-written with author Lynn Coleman for Heartsong. I did all the writing, but she brought me and the idea to Barbour. I was very grateful. So, with that process, everything happened in increments. I didn't get the "Call" out of the blue when I was least expecting it. It was the same with getting an agent. Same with contracting with Steeple Hill, then Thomas Nelson. It all felt more like a gradual, next step process that had me nodding, going, "Yeah, this is right." Of course, it was all very exciting, but I never had the big shocker. Now, ask my about winning my first award and I'll tell you a different story.

I liked the premise of Dining with Joy--a cooking show host who really can't cook--but I wondered if I'd enjoy the book because I thought the heroine was being deceptive. Then, I started reading it, and I discovered her producer knew her secret and the only reason she was doing the show was to help him out, which made Joy completely sympathetic and heroic. It was brilliant. What was your inspiration for Dining with Joy?

RH: Thanks, Roxanne. I didn't want her to be deceptive so I had to work really hard to find those layers of reasoning as to why she'd do this job when she wasn't qualified. I felt Joy was a picture of the human condition. Often we do things we don't want to do, or don't feel called to do because someone needs us. Our hearts to help and serve win over reasoning sometimes. Even over truth.

I first got the idea of a cooking show host who can't cook a few years ago -- just brainstorming ideas one afternoon. Doing a bunch of "what ifs." I've actually seen a few cooking shows where I wondered if the host could really cook. ;) I loved being able to describe the book in one sentence. "It's about a cooking show host who can't cook." People always laughed. Then I'd ask, "What do you think that book is about?" They'd shrug. "I don't know." To which I'd answer, "Me, neither." I really had to dig deep to find why Joy was in this situation and why she didn't just get out of it when she had the chance. The story ended up with many more emotional and psychological layers than I've had in the past.

Booklist said that Dining with Joy has "... sparkling dialogue ..." and Library Journal said, it has " ... excellent characters ..." I loved the relationship between Joy and Luke. What's your secret for writing such great characters?

RH: Great characters are created. They don't just happen. I have to work really hard to layer my characters and think about why two people do or don't belong together. I do a lot of character work but even then, it may not be enough. I write and rewrite. I think I have good motivation and then I realize I could have better, deeper motivation. So I work on the characters more. Often they really come alive when I write "the perfect scene." In the writing process, somewhere along the way, I'll write a scene that so captures the characters it makes them alive to me. Then I can fix all the other scenes.

With all the cooking shows out there, how did you come up with "stupid cooking tips?"

RH: Stupid Cooking Tricks? I was trying to imagine what kind of show Joy would have -- to hide her flaw. She's athletic, funny, smart and really good on camera so I thought she'd do a bunch of bits, want viewer participation. I remembered David Letterman's Stupid Human Tricks from the '80s and how funny they were, so I made up something like that for Joy. In my mind, her show was something like Letterman in the '80s. A little off-beat but well done.

Would you ever consider writing a book with Joy's nemesis, Wenda Devine, to show a story of redemption?

RH: Wow, what a great thought. Probably not. I didn't like Wenda and have no desire to spend four months writing her. Ha! But I think she'd be a great story of redemption. What an amazing heart you have, Roxanne, to even ask!

What's your favorite thing about being an author?

: Readers. I mean, where would I be without readers? I love hearing from them and interacting with them. I love that they spent time with my baby. I love that, like you, they might have been skeptical about a story but read it anyway and I miraculously won them over. I love having written. I love holding my books. I love having accomplished a whole story. I love working with my editor. I love interacting with readers and talking about writing and the process. I love so many things about being an author. It's so amazing when people ask, "What do you do?" I love to say, "I'm a writer." Love it.

What's on your bookshelf? What are you reading?

RH: I'm reading a book for endorsement by Janice Thompson. Great, funny book called Hello, Hollywood. I'm also reading Jenny B. Jones' Save the Date. But my iPad is loaded with Kindle books and I may read anyone of them at any time.

What's next for you? Another book set in the lowcountry or a book with Sara Evans?

RH: I just finished a book called The Wedding Dress about a 100-year-old gown and four women who wear it. It's a fun book. I'm working on rewrites for the third Songbird Novel. This summer, Sara and I will start a fourth book. And hopefully work on some new ideas for my own stories.

What's your journey to following Jesus?

RH: When I was six-years-old, my Sunday school teacher was talking about Jesus. At least, I think she was because I left that class knowing I needed Jesus as my savior. I cannot recall at all what she said, but I remember being dismissed for church, and climbing the steps to the sanctuary, my little mind racing with, "I need Jesus in my heart." I asked my mom that afternoon and praise God she did not put me off or tell me I was too young or that I didn't understand. Never put off a child who wants to meet Jesus. She explained salvation to me and that night at church, we went to the altar. Kneeling there, I prayed so earnestly for Jesus to live in my heart. I knew He went to the cross for me. I can still hear my weak, six-year-old prayer. "Please, Jesus, live in my heart, I know You died for my sins. Please, please." The pastor came by and prayed for me, his hands on my bowed head. It is so true ... I love Him because He first loved me. I'm blown away that He'd choose me.

Oh, a wonderful story. Rachel, thank you so much for sharing and for being with us today.

One lucky reader who leaves a comment or question for Rachel will receive a copy of Dining with Joy. So, be sure to leave a comment!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stark, Barren, and Desolate – The lie I believed

As you read this I am traveling across our great country to start a new chapter in my life. (Pun intended.)

Five months ago I put in for a really good job – one I never, ever thought I’d get. A job, in a region of the country my hubby and hoped to move to  ... one day.

The term “region” I use loosely. On several occasions during our marriage we considered moving west. I pictured the Rocky Mountain vistas of Colorado, covered with tall pines dipping into grassy meadows. I could close my eyes and hear the words penned by Katharine Bates: "Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain. For purple mountains majesty ..."

Whoa! Wait! My better half had other ideas.

One week in Nevada with my son sold my husband on what state he wanted to move to. Nevada? The harmony of America the Beautiful now rang in my ears like fingernails against a chalkboard. Was he serious? I’ve been there, seen it, and I got a T-shirt (which I believe I now use for a dust rag).

He's got to be kidding.

Although Nevada is our most mountainous state, it’s far from rugged, snow-topped majesties! And between each mountain range, hot winds toss balls of sage brush across barren desert planes dotted with alkali pits. Let us not forget to mention the buzzards and rattlesnakes! Ugh!

Oh and remember – I’m the gardener in the Ponderer group – giving up my lush perennial gardens for a land where nothing, nada, zip grows. Well unless you consider the large amounts of sage ...

Lord, this is NOT what I had in mind.

I fought against the idea, and prayed till my knees hurt. I wanted God’s will, but please, please, please, Lord, not Nevada.

But he sent me there anyway!

Okay – enough of my ranting – so what does this have to do with writing, you ask? It’s all about the lie I believed. Nevada may be barren, but it is beautiful. I flew out for the interview and God showed me his version of the state. I finally saw the beautifully colored mountains, the vast openness of the state, and the radiant sunshine. (Hey when you live in NE Ohio where you only get 80 days of sunshine a year – that’s a big plus!) It’s a place where you can see both ends of the rainbow! And yes, the picture above was taken in Nevada.

I’ll get to grow new plants – drought-resistant to be sure. And the snow-topped mountains dotted with pine? I get those too. Because the job is in a little community at the base of the Sierra Nevada’s, right next to Lake Tahoe.

I’ve got a new adventure ahead of me, but it took overcoming the lie I believed and letting God take me to a place I only dreamed about. Our characters have to reach that point as well. They need to get so desperate that the only thing they can do is lean on God’s love and understanding.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to answer your comments right away as everything at this time is in transition, but remember – through God’s eyes everything is beautiful!

Jennie Atkins

Monday, April 11, 2011

Priority Check

I was minding my own business—probably trying to make sense of my own handwriting as my local critique group discussed a member’s WIP—comfortable and relaxed, curled up in the leather recliner that somehow I usually am lucky enough to sit in. Then the eyes turned on me as one of the ladies said, “ ... so Jenness, since you’re the fiction expert, can you explain MRUs for Linda?”

Um, sure. I remembered skimming a blog post or two of Randy Ingermanson’s on the subject. I fumbled through an explanation and hoped they wouldn’t ask about some term I truly didn’t have a clue about.

But I should know all of this. I’m multi-published. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I have a minor in creative writing. I’m a long-time member of ACFW, have attended conferences and even an MBT retreat. I’m a writer. It’s a part of who I am and directs the way I think. Recently, though, have I been relying too much on instinct and not working to study the craft? To grow?

Maybe I’m not as dedicated as I should be.

Skip forward a couple months. I was minding my own business—probably trying to make sense of my pile of to-do lists at work—enjoying a Sobe Energy and the scent of the candle burning nearby. Then a motorcycle dude entered and (very nicely) began debating theology with me. He referred to one Bible story, and I of course knew which one he was talking about ... but not who played the starring role. Peter? Paul? Philip? Too many Ps in the New Testament.

But I should know all of this. I attended Christian schools from 5th grade on up. I grew up in church and in a Bible-believing family. I was never much of a rebel, unless you count driving around a low-rider in college. :-)
I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s part of who I am and directs the way I live. But ... (big gulp) ... have I been relying too much on past experiences and half-hearted devotional times?

Maybe I’m not as dedicated as I should be.

Besides my family, faith and writing are the most important things in my life. But recently I’ve become lazy or let less important things crowd out the things that should be my top priorities. My calling. My relationship with my Savior.

I'm determined to change that. No more drifting along--I'm ready for some purposeful forward motion.

What about you? Any priority checks in your life recently?

~ Jenness Walker

Friday, April 8, 2011

Of reporters and presidents and greeting cards. (Ooh, and Secret Service agents!)

I’m pretty sure there’s no better job for an aspiring novelist than newspaper reporting. It’s like a writer’s version of med school minus the mad-cap studying and cadavers.

As a reporter, I learned to ask good questions, research, and eventually write (pseudo) intelligently about stuff I knew nothing about. Like the time I wrote about a local biochemical company’s advances using industrial enzymes from bovine pancreases. Yeah, me? Clueless. But somehow the article made sense by the time I turned it into the editor.

Best thing about reporting? The crazy collection of experiences you pack into a week! Ride a hot air balloon? Check. Save a goat’s life. Check. (I’m not kidding. County fairs, intense stuff.) Appease a local farmer who is convinced the newspaper needs a photo of the bald eagle hanging out in a tree in the middle of his muddy field. Double-check. (Two checks ‘cause I ruined a pair of shoes in the process.)

My favorite reporting experience? The day the president came to town. Regardless of your political persuasion, a presidential visit is an impressive experience. The security, the crowds, the music. Uh, they played "Eye of the Tiger" as a prelude to the "Hail to the Chief"…to which I gave a resounding, What?! (But hey, a marching band played the James Bond theme when I saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. So, well, there you have it.)

While seeing the president was pretty cool, I have to admit I might’ve been even more impressed by the Secret Service guys. I'll never forget the moment an agent put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You're okay, kid.”

I'm okay. Kid. Right, so the last part wasn't quite as flattering. But I'm sure he meant “kid” in a Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca way. Not a, “Huh, you're dressed like a high schooler and your hair's a mess, but at least you've got a press badge” way.

Yep, while the Hulk in black shooed others off the press platform, he let me stay. Not going to lie – I felt important. Worthy. Chosen. Empowered by the approval of a Jack Bauer-like authority figure. A good feeling.

But probably not one us aspiring writers feel day in and day out. Gosh, it’s so easy to feel lost and uncertain in this whirl of “wanna be published.” And it’s easy, too, to feel un-approved. Unworthy. Un-chosen.

Yet, if there's anything we are, as Christians and as creative types, it's chosen. Maybe not necessarily (yet) by that agent or editor or publisher we've got our eyes on, but by Someone even bigger – the Someone who gave us our love for stories in the first place.

Simply by infusing us with creativity and a love for stories and talent – even if it's talent yet to mature – God has placed His mark on us. He's
chosen us to use what He's given us. Perhaps not in the way we expected – i.e. book printed and bound and on the shelf – but he will use us if we continue to nurture that storyteller in us.

At the first MBT Deep Thinkers Retreat back in 2010, fellow writer and Ponderer Beth Vogt gave each of us a print-out with words which, I believe, were originally written for a Dayspring greeting card. Today I've got that printout hanging in my writing room for those days when I need a reminder that I am indeed chosen.

Just think...
You are here not by chance but by GOD's choosing.
His hand formed you and made you the person you are.
He compares you to no one else; you are one of a kind.
You lack nothing that His grace can't give you.
He has allowed you to be here at this time in history 
to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.
You are GOD's servant in GOD's place at GOD's perfect time. 

Roy Lessin, Dayspring

That truth, friends, is even better than approval from a Secret Service agent! 

How about you? What lifts you up when you're feeling less than worthy of your writing dream? 

Melissa Tagg

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review: Our Witchdoctors are Too Weak by Davey and Marie Jank

Ten years.
That's what stuck with me the most after I finished reading Our Witchdoctors are Too Weak, Davey and Marie Jank's "astonishing" autobiography.
It took 10 years for the missionary team to be able to teach the Bible to the Wilo people in their own language. Ten years to study, understand and translate the Wilo language.
Now that's astonishing.
Jank's book is a quick read--condensing 10 years into chapters with titles like "The Day the Freak Show Came to Town," "The Snake that Wanted to Snuggle," "Lamaze Class-Wilo Style" and "I'd Like to Buy an 'S'." Jank's writing style is conversational and each chapter reads like a captured reminisce--like you've caught him at the end of his day and oh, did he tell you what happened when he went on a fishing trip with a few Wilos?
And yet, woven within his self-deprecating humor, is the reason he's there: the Wilos want to know what "God's Talk" says. And yet, how can they know when their language is unknown to anyone else but them? And before they can hear "God's Talk," their language has to be unraveled--this language that doesn't have an "s" and sounds of letters vary because . . .well . . . it depends. (Read the chapter "To ?B or Not to ?B.")
So often the end of a book can be a bit anticlimactic. The missionaries came. They translated God's Talk (the Bible) into Wilo. And people were saved.
Clap. Clap. Clap.
I loved when Jank allowed us to glimpse how he felt the day the Wilo people heard God's Talk for the first time--and responded. Some embraced the truth. Some did not. And he was okay with letting it be.
"It was God who had been at work all these years--at work both in me, and in the Wilo people. ..." Janks writes. "I was never more happy to be rendered irrelevant. The messengers were set aside now that direct communication had been established."

CONTEST WINNER: Patricia Preston won the iTunes gift card offered during our update on Mazie post.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Now what?

© Patrick Jordan
With a pounding heart and shaky finger, you pressed submit. Your contest entry or manuscript whizzed through cyber space to enter the inbox of the contest coordinator, agent, or editor of your choice. Or maybe you received "the call" and sold your first book!

Hooray!! You did it!! Congratulations!!

Now what?

1. Pray. Pray? Yes, pray and ask for His favor on your writing. Pray and ask for His will to be done--even if you don't final or if you receive a rejection letter from that agent or editor.

You see, God has a plan and a purpose for your life--a plan to give you a future and a hope. Long before the desire to write stirred your heart, God put His plans in place for when the time came for you to travel down that chosen path.

I believe every writer needs to feel the sting of rejection. I cried when I received my first rejection letter--ironically from Love Inspired, who is my new publisher! At that time, though, my writing wasn't ready. The feedback from the contests I entered and words from those who mentored me helped me to improve my writing.

2. Celebrate! You need to celebrate the milestones you reach as you strive for publication. Celebrate finishing that first draft. Celebrate submitting to that contest. Celebrate that contest final. Celebrate that agent acceptance. Celebrate that first sale.

When I received the call from my wonderful agent, Rachelle Gardner, that Love Inspired wanted to buy my book, I cried. Yes, I'm a sap. :-) The years of working harder to write better were paying off. 

3. Study the craft. Writers who don't invest in their craft become stagnant. Consider how you can improve a new technique in your next novel. Maybe it's dialogue. Or word painting. Or symbolism. 
But you know what?

4. Keep writing. Whether you submitted a contest entry, a manuscript for consideration, or sold your first novel, keep writing. Polish that manuscript or begin your next story. Writers write. Plain and simple.

5. Be prepared to wait. Writers wait. Agents wait. Editors wait. At each stage in your writing career, you'll be asking "now what?" and waiting.

With my first sale, I haven't arrived. I've simply taken a bend in the road for a new direction in my career. I still wonder "now what?" Now I have line edits, marketing, and the next books to consider.

Writing isn't easy. But if it's your heart's desire, you'll stay the course. While you're waiting, ponder "now what" and be prepared for God to take your breath away. 

John Waller - While I'm Waiting (Official Music Video) from Provident Label Group on Vimeo.

Your Turn: Are you thinking "now what?" At what stage are you in your writing career? How do you handle the waiting?


Congratulations to Katie Ganshert! She won the I.O.U. for an autographed copy of my novel, Lakeside Reunion, when it's available in the fall.

Lisa Jordan

Monday, April 4, 2011


Well, the first word in the title gives away what happened to Mazie, who is now THE.CAT.I'M.NOT.KEEPING.
No one gives an update on a cat they didn't keep. First, I didn't expect Mazie to be a "he". Even I wouldn't give a girl's name to a boy cat. But a boy he is. He's almost ten months old now, neutered, and not quite what I expected from the kitten I resuced from certain death on a 110 degree parking lot last July (see July 2010 MBT Ponderers post)

*Sigh*. I actually expected him to grow up and be grateful. Shows what I knew about cats. No, he is skittish and doesn't want to be petted or held--for that I get his ears laid back and a slap from his sharp claws. Except when he wants to be fed. Then (sometimes) he'll actually lie on his back and give me the sweetest look ... and let me rub his head. He'll even purr for me. That lasts maybe a minute until his tail starts swishing, and I know to get his food. Someone once said dogs had masters and cats have staff. I agree.

So, why do I keep this Mazie? I fell in love with the raggedy little fellow on sight. His little paws wrapped around my fingers and my heart. And he lets me pet him enough to keep me coming back for more. He's also a good character study for a spoiled-brat heroine I have in mind.

I've also learned a lot about God and the way He views His people from having this cat. When we want something from God, don't we do just like Mazie? And like me with Mazie, God keeps reaching out to us, wanting a relationship, wanting to bless us. And we, like Mazie, lay back our ears and ignore God's outstretched hand. We get impatient when God doesn't give us what we want, whether we need it or not. But He keeps coming back, offering Himself again and again.

Exactly what I do with my now eight pound cat.

Leave a comment and receive a chance for a $10 iTunes gift card. Leave a suggestion on how to train Mazie to let me hold and pet him, and you'll be entered twice!

Pat Trainum

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

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Author Interview: MBT Ponderer Lisa Jordan

There's been a lot of "happy danging" going on in MBT Ponderer-land. Our very own Lisa Jordan, the heart of this writers community, is soon-to-be published!! Her book, Lakeside Reunion, will be published by Love Inspired this November. I had fun interviewing Lisa, aka LJ, about her book and why she didn't become a brain surgeon.

Tell us about your book, LJ!
Well, it has a spine, cover, pages, words ... not what you meant?
Lakeside Reunion is a contemporary Christian romance about getting a second chance at love. All Lindsey Porter longs for is to share breakfast with someone special. Problem is, the man who captured her heart broke it by marrying someone else. After her father's tragic death and her broken engagement, Lindsey swept the Shelby Lake dust off her feet and vowed never to return to the lake-front community. Locking away her broken heart, she stopped trusting God--He tuned her out when she needed Him the most. When family obligation calls her home, can she stay without compromising her heart?
Stephen Chase knows firsthand how past mistakes create a ripple effect in the lives of those he loved. Forced to choose between love and honor, Stephen chose honor and married the mother of his child. Now widowed, he juggles his responsibilities as a single dad, police officer and dutiful son without messing up too badly. Haunted by past mistakes, Stephen works hard to prove to God that he is honorable. With Lindsey back, maybe he could fix what he had broken in the past. Next time she left town, it wouldn't be because of him. Or, God willing, he'd make sure she never wanted to leave again.

Why write--when you could do something easy like be an astronaut or a brain surgeon?
Well, I considered being an astronaut when friends called me a "space cadet" in junior high, but then I realized what they really meant. As for being a brain surgeon, I'm a little squeamish about poking around inside someone's noggin.
So, at the ripe old age of 16, I had finished reading Danielle Steel's The Promise and decided I wanted to give other readers that heart-satisfying feeling. Thus, my desire to be a writer was born.

If you could write a novel with a fictional character, who would you choose and why?
Hmmm, that's a little tough. I'm hanging my head in shame to say I don't read much classic literature or literary novels. I love romance novels. I could easily see myself hanging out with contemporary characters such as PJ Sugar (Susan May Warren), or Caroline, Elle and Joy (Rachel Hauck.)

Where do you ponder your stories? Are you a morning writer or an evening writer--or an anytime you can writer?
I ponder my stories in bed after the day is done or first thing in the morning before my feet hit the floor. I ponder in the bathtub. I ponder while doing the dishes. My day is often filled with noise that I need to escape to give my muse time to ponder in silence. I do the majority of my writing in the evenings.

List three must-haves that you need to write.
My MacBook with internet connection, beverage of choice--water or tea--and my My Book Therapy (MBT) Book Buddy.

Your agent scores a screen deal for your novel: Who do you want to play the lead roles? Who would you take the the premiere?
This is how I picture Stephen.
When Love Inspired asked for photos of my characters, I used actress Cherlize Theron and Australian model Ian Lawless. They're how I picture my characters.
This is how I pictured Lindsey.
For the premiere, do I have a number limit? I'd take my hubby, of course. He's my real-life hero. I'd also take our two boys, my mom, my agent, my editor, my mentors, and the Tough Cookies who helped me edit this novel.

What's the worse thing you've ever done to a character?
When I started this story over a decade ago, Stephen was too perfect. I had to give him a flaw, so I got him drunk. He was a Marine, and in the USMC, when a buddy is promoted to the next rank, his friends throw a "wetdown." Basically, it's a drinking party and they wet down the promoted Marine by pouring beer over him. Well, Stephen wasn't much of a drinker, but that night he had too much to drink. In his inebriated state, he slept with a girl who turned out to be his commanding officer's daughter. He ending up losing his "96"--his weekend pass to attend his sister's wedding. As if that wasn't enough, Stephen worked hard to be a man of honor once he left the USMC. He fell in love with Lindsey Porter, but the week before his wedding, his former one-night stand showed up with their son--a child he didn't know existed. He had to choose between love and honor, and Stephen chose honor.

What's one thing you wish you'd known earlier in your writing career?
I wish I had known about the story spine. Having a weak plot and surface backstory for your characters creates a story without depth. Lakeside Reunion straightened out when Susie and Rachel brainstormed with me the MBT way and constantly asked why. Their questions helped cement the story structure.

What's the best thing about being a writer? The worst?
The best thing? Being able to write in pajamas with bedhead in order to create fictional characters, their lives, and giving them a promise of hope and happily ever after. It's my way of ministering God's truth to those who may be searching for personal hope and happily ever after. God gives us both and uses me to deliver his message.
The worst? The waiting. Everyone in this industry waits--writers, agents, editors. But it's so hard for me to wait when I want something so badly. God uses this time for me to keep my focus on Him. After all, it's all in His timing, right?

Lisa is giving away a free copy of Lakeside Reunion when it becomes available in the fall. But there's a catch! Breakfast is a key component in Lakeside Reunion. Share your favorite breakfast food with Lisa in the comments section and your name will be added to a drawing for a free copy of Lakeside Reunion. Everyone is invited to participate, but due to postage costs, the book is available for U.S. residents only.