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, July 30, 2013

Splattering Art with Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Sometimes I get so disgusted with myself. Here I am in the middle of a difficult decision--one that could either help or hurt someone I love--and while I’m praying and pondering, my mind drifts to the novel I’m working on. 
Should I use this question--one that has no easy answer--in my manuscript? Am I just a sick, twisted freak for thinking about writing fiction while I’m stuck in deep mud in my real life?
Or is this what makes Christian fiction enduring? Tackling deep issues--questions that hover in gray areas with no chapter and verse to latch on to?
I’ve always been pretty much a black and white gal. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. But as the years pile on along with life’s enigmas, I find God teaching me in gut-wrenching lessons that not everything can be stacked in such defining piles.
So I’m back to my original question, and I think I see the answer in the arts through the ages: Michelangelo’s four years of back-breaking work on the Sistine Chapel, Handel’s depression and debt as he composed the Messiah, John Bunyan’s penning Pilgrim’s Progress from prison--the list goes on. The suffering, the grappling, the struggles--all work together to form enduring music, art, and fiction. 
I’m not comparing our work to these masters, but Christian novelists today are no different. Expect to find our manuscripts splattered with our blood, sweat, and tears.

What about you? How is your art splattered with blood, sweat and tears?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

On Rootedness, Transplants, and Trees

By Delores Topliff

Since we got our small farm a year ago, I’m much more aware of growing plants and trees. Under right conditions, it’s fairly easy to start new plants by taking cuttings, placing them in water, and letting them root well enough to take hold and flourish when planted.

In 1980 during my three month mission trip to the jungles of Colombia, South America, I learned the rooting step isn't always necessary. The weather and humid atmosphere there are so perfect, residents break off a branch of anything growing, shove it in the ground with no preparation, and it quickly branches and flowers. Even fence posts sprout, branch, and bloom there. African violets, gardenias and all manner of philodendrons all thrive. It’s hard to keep from crushing beauty underfoot, and bright clusters of fabulous orchids hang from the trees.

The simple rooting process got me thinking about eternity. God plants us on this lovely earth and invites us to take root in Himself. We send out little tendrils and rootlets, living here in the medium of His Spirit, as He prepares us for the transplant to the perfect atmosphere of heaven’s eternality.
That same principle is true in writing--Susie, Rachel, and My Book Therapy provide a nearly-perfect writing atmosphere. Immersed in that influence, our writing can’t help but sprouts, branch out, and bloom.

A Jewish source says God instructed Noah to plant pine trees, taking 70 years to mature, and then harvest them to build the ark. What amazing forethought and planning.
Another ancient Jewish story describes a Torah scholar who observed a man planting a carob tree. “Don’t you know a carob tree takes 70 years to bear fruit? You won’t see the fruit in your lifetime!”
The man answered, “My fathers planted before me, and today I enjoy their fruit. I plant for my children.”
What seeds will you sow in your writing today? What other seeds will you sow for yourself, and for those who follow?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

60 seconds . . .

If your house was on fire and you had 60 seconds, what would you take?

My husband and I recently watched the movie Leap Year. It’s a cute flick about a woman who heads to Ireland to ask her boyfriend to accept her wedding proposal on leap day, when Irish tradition holds that men cannot refuse a woman's proposal for marriage. Her plans are interrupted by a series of increasingly unlikely events and are further complicated when she hires a handsome innkeeper to take her to her boyfriend in Dublin.

Along the way the handsome innkeeper poses the question “If your house was on fire and you had 60 seconds, what would you take?

Having only just faced a wildfire within less than a mile behind our house, the possibility of that occurring to my husband and I was very real. (the picture shown here is the actual fire) We gathered up the irreplaceables: pictures, important documents, a few items that were important to us. Then while taking one last walk through our house, we decided the most important this was we had each other and the rest was just “stuff”.

It got me to thinking, how often do we overlook what is really important? How often do we worry about the “stuff” and miss those special moments with loved ones? Or God? God says he will supply our every need. In fact, he goes beyond that to the point of supplying more than we could ever hope for or dream of. He is our rock, our salvation, but most of all our friend.

He isn’t interested in the “stuff”—the awards, the number of books published, the valuables in our house. He cares about Who we call on in that 60 seconds when life is rough. Who do we smile up at when times are good? But mostly, who do we praise for the journey?

For us, thankfully, the effort in packing turned out to be an exercise in preparedness. The wind for the first time in days turned relatively calm and the fire stayed at bay. In the hours following, the fire crews dumped water and fire retardant on the blaze. We adjusted our “in case of fire” list to include a few things we hadn’t thought of previously.

All in all, our 60 seconds turned out to be a happy ending. But it put life back into perspective for me.

Now its your turn: Where have you experienced the 60 seconds that made you see just how unimportant “stuff” is?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guest Blogger, Author Michelle Weidenbenner

Thank you for inviting me to join you today. Dee asked me to mention my blog and current projects, but it’s much more fun to talk about others. Like Susan May Warren. She’s such an inspiration, mentor, and cheerleader for writers. I’ve learned so much from her. I have her books: Book Buddy, Inside Out, and the Deep and Wide handbook. I reference these often. Just this week I referenced the Book Buddy to plot my next suspense novel.

Movie Biology 

One of my favorite things at Susie’s retreat was dissecting movies. What a blast. Ten writers gathered around watching a movie to find the fiction elements. I enjoyed this so much I wrote posts at my blog, Random Writing Rants, called MOVIE BIOLOGY or BOOK BIOLOGY. My mini series on THE HUNGER GAMES, dissected the parts. (No scalpels needed. I saved those for my suspense novel.) I’m not as skilled at dissecting as Susie, but she taught me what to look for and showed me movie layers I’d never seen before.

 She also convinced me how important it is to share what we learn.  That’s why I started Random Writing Rants.

How to Write a Novel in 30 Days

 At Random, I’m doing a series titled, “How to Write a Novel in 30 Days,” based on my experience with NaNoWriMo. I gave a Power Point presentation at our local library teaching other writers how to blast though their first draft, which Susie and Rachel call the FAST DRAFT.  I shared what helps me using some of what I’ve learned at MBT.

Helping Teens

 One of my favorite parts of Random is meeting teens who want to share their stories. I’m amazed at how much I can learn from twelve and fifteen-year-old writers. On Fridays, I feature a teen’s writing and invite writers (like you) to stop by and encourage them. Doing this gives me great pleasure.  “Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.” George M. Adams

The Cool Ghoul Gazette

I’m writing for Eddie Jones from Lighthouse of the Carolinas for his new blog launch this month titled, The Cool Ghoul Gazette, a funny tween/teen blog that’s a spoof publication reporting on paranormal events. Think of it as a full-time April Fools news magazine. A few of Eddie’s articles are, “How to Get Ahead and Keep It:  Five Things Every Mortician Needs to Know When Working With a Decapitation” and “Zumba for Zombies:  How to Properly Loosen Up When You’re a Stiff.”

My Novel
My suspense novel, Cache a Predator releases July 30, 2013 at Amazon and will be available in paperback in August. Here’s my one-sentence blurb: When a five-year-old girl is found wandering the streets, her father tries to gain custody, but first he must convince child protective services and a deranged psychopath who’s attacking pedophiles in their sleep, that he’s a loving father.

Thanks for visiting us, Michelle. Readers, be sure to follow her at:
Or Twitter:  @MSaintGermain @MWeidenbenner



Thursday, July 11, 2013

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Part 2)

Picture courtesy of http://blackeducator.blogspot.com

Heidi here, again. Are you ready to read the second part of the speech we started on Tuesday? I will warn you, if you are like me, after reading it you will never look at July 4th and your independence the same. Not only did this speech make me want to be a better person, it made me want to be a better writer! It is a speech, but it is also some of the best writing I've ever read. Frederick Douglass knows how to cut right to the heart of his audience. I try to imagine him getting up in front of the President of the United States and other dignitaries, as well as a racially mixed audience of 600 people. An African American and escaped slave, speaking with this kind of brutal honesty in 1852! How many of us could/would do the same for what we believe?

From the speech by Frederick Douglass

Delivered at Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852
Picture courtesy of
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America!
For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!
Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Your turn: What do you think of his assessment? How do you think the crowd reacted to this part of the speech? Does any part of the speech just reach out and grab you?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Part 1)

Picture courtesy of http://www.zingerbug.com
Heidi here. Another July 4th Celebration is in the books. As a pretty big fan of our Founding Fathers and the Continental Congress, I have always loved Independence Day. It is possibly even my favorite holiday. This year I celebrated with a little different perspective than in years past. Recently, in one of the classes for my English BA program--American Literature to 1860--I had the privilege of reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. I have to agree with one H. Parker who called it "one of the greatest human documents in all of American literature...a literary landmark" (1991, p. 15). This is no small feat, considering Douglass was a slave who had to secretly teach himself to read and write. 

After reading the narrative, I went on to read a speech Douglass gave at an Independence Day celebration about 13 years after he escaped slavery--less than ten years before the start of the Civil War. I felt it was worth pondering, but in its full form, it is nearly 4,000 words long! So, to share it with our readers, I have edited it down a bit, and I will post it in two parts. {Entire speech here.} Today is the first part--the part in which Douglass describes and praises the work of the Founding Fathers. Thursday I will post the second part--the part in which Douglass suggests we look at Independence Day from the point of view of those who were still enslaved. It is an amazing piece of writing, and it made me all the more thankful for my freedom this year. I hope you will take the time to read it, and come back on Thursday to read the second part. You won't be sorry!

From the speech by Frederick Douglass, 
Delivered at Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852
Picture courtesy of
Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day.
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude.
This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.
Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner.
On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”
Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history—the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.
They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final”; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.
Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation’s jubilee.
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

Ref: Parker, H. (1991). The price of diversityCollege Literature, 18(3), 15.

Your turn: What part of this, if any, was your favorite? What do you think will be contained in the second part of the speech?