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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Frasier Contest - Should You or Shouldn't You?


The Frasier Contest is Open!

Are any of you like me?  Wondering if you’re really ready to take the leap – actually enter?  I’ve heard conflicting things about contest entries but am seriously considering the Frasier.  Since I’m so very analytical I wanted to get some input from someone that actually entered. 

So I asked my friend Ginger Takamiya, who not only entered but WON! Way to go Ginger!   I thought you might want to hear (okay "read") what she had to say.

What prompted you to enter?

I entered as a treat to myself. I had put away writing for many months to take care of my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. When she passed away it took me a few months to begin to write again. So as a goal, I decided to enter a couple of contests. When I turned in my entry, I felt I had accomplished my first goal. The second was to final. When Susan May Warren, founder of My Book Therapy (mybooktherapy.com), called with the wonderful news, winning was an afterthought. I had met my goals and I was very proud of myself.

Did the feedback help?

I want to be able to produce the best work possible, so feedback is essential. When I see two judges pointing out the same things, I know I have a problem. Likewise when I see judges pointing out the same good things, I am delighted -- knowing that I have something right. For example, my opening line was a big hit with all of them so I know it's a keeper :).

Did you have a specific takeaway from the judges' comments?

Two judges pointed out my use of a particular verb. I realized then, that I needed to add diversity to“showing action" so I put that one at the top of my list.

How did it feel to win?
It is hard to describe that one. I had told myself that the other finalists were just as good in their writing, why else would they have finaled? So when my name was announced, I almost couldn't feel a thing.

When I got up there, I could think of nothing. I even forgot to thank the Lord (though I have done it a thousand times since).

My best advice, don't psyche yourself out. Allow yourself to feel the excitement, the disappointment and the elation, whichever comes. Take both opportunities to grow and become what our Lord intended you to be.

Are you glad you did it?

Oh mercy, YES! I also entered the Genesis and semi-finaled in that one. Both contests and results had affected me differently. Both caused me to strive to be a better writer. Nothing should ever get in our way of doing that, certainly not disappointment.

Anything else you learned?

Bottom line: Enter. Let that be your first goal.

Thanks Ginger for taking the time to answer these questions!

Here’s a link to the Frasier contest: http://www.mybooktherapy.com/frasier-contest/

What are the reasons you enter a contest?  What did you learn? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things (aka Books)


One thing is certain here with The Ponderers—we love books. We read them, write them, and (of course) ponder them. We tremble, with weak knees, as we pitch them to editors and agents. We never have enough time to read all the books we want to, and if there’s one thing most of us need, it’s another bookshelf to store all these treasures!

So I think it’s high time we share some of our favorite books. I’ll go first but I hope everyone will pitch in.

Fiction

Sons of Thunder by Susan May Warren—A fabulous redemptive story set during World War II showing the depths of man’s sin, the breath of human love, and the all-encompassing grace of God.

Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck—I thought this was just a sweet love story until I came upon a timeless story question all Christian women face.

The Still of the Night by Kristen Heitzman—A touching story about a man known as the “success guru” who finds solutions for corporations, but the one life he can’t set straight is his own.

The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy—who wouldn’t love cowboys with comedy?

Lakeside Reunion by our own Lisa Jordan—A woman jilted by a cop five years ago is pulled over for a broken taillight as she returns to town.

Wish You Were Here by our own Beth Vogt—Can kissing the wrong guy lead to Mr. Right?

Nonfiction

Primal by Mark Batterson—if there was only one book I could recommend, it would be this one.

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall—This true story reads like a novel and takes place in the town where I was born.

Fire in Fiction by Donald Mass—Reading it once isn’t enough

Soulprint by Mark Batterson—Few people discover the God-given identity that makes them unlike anyone else—our soul print.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite books? I’d like to put them on my shelf!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dreams and Risks

Photo credit
By nature, I'm not much of a risk-taker. 

I'm really not. Sometimes I run to my mailbox in my pajamas--we're talking polka dot fleece pants and a five-year-old tee. That always feels a little brave.

But I'm not generally one to crave risky stuff. 

And yet, over the past few years as I've pursued my writing dream, it's become pretty stinkin' clear you can't move in the direction of your dream without taking a few risks here and there. You just can't.

(That is, unless your dream is to become an actuary. I can't think of anything risky about pursuing that career. Unless your name is Melissa Tagg and you're convinced numbers are out to get you...)

Remember that story Jesus tells in the Gospels about a wealthy man who sends his servants out with money and later comes back to see how they did? I love how The Message paraphrases this story in Luke 19 and the master's words to the servant who risked the most and doubled his money:
"He said, 'Good servant! Great work! Because you've been trustworthy in this small job, I'm making you governor of ten towns.'" 
That's verse 17. A few verses later, in verse 26...
"He said, 'That's what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.'" 
More than you ever dreamed of. That sounds pretty good to me.

Now, let's be honest. There are probably smart risks...and incredibly dumb ones. And as we get older and hopefully mature and get advice from wise people around us, we'll learn to discern good risk from bad. 

Here are some of the risks I've taken in my writing journey:

  • Attending my first writing retreat (MBT Storycrafters, 2009)
  • Entering contests*
  • Pitching to agents and editors at conferences
  • Investing money on expensive conferences
  • Sending proposals and manuscripts to agents and editors
This fall, I'll take a whole new risk when my debut novel hits bookshelves. 

But I can look back and see how each little risk has been worth the big joy of knowing I'm pursuing the call God put on my life, the dream he breathed into my heart. 

So here's my question for you: What dream has God put in your heart? And what risks are you going to take to follow that dream? 

*Since I mentioned contests above, I wanted to take a moment to plug the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest! This is an awesome contest for unpublished writers founded by award-winning author Susan May Warren. The feedback alone is worth the minor cost of entering. I can't possibly recommend it enough. Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on this contest next week right here AND an upcoming Frasier blog tour all over the blogosphere. More details on the contest available here

*****

Melissa Tagg is a former reporter turned author who loves all things funny and romancey. Her debut novel, a romantic comedy titled Made to Last, releases from Bethany House Publishers in September 2013. In addition to her nonprofit day job, she's also the marketing and events coordinator for My Book Therapy. Connect with Melissa at her websiteFacebook and Twitter (@Melissa_Tagg). 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Little Biped


My kiddo is struggling to become a biped. Yes, she’s at the age where crawling just won’t do, she insists on standing on her own two feet. I can almost hear her mischievous grin saying, “Look, Mom, no hands!” as she lunges forehead first toward the sharpest corner in the room.

When she’s not stacking another bruise on her forehead, she busy investigating the electrical outlets or power cords, eating leftover Christmas tree needles, or scooting around with a dog toy in her mouth. She’s constantly into everything.

In the morning, when I’m getting ready for work, I find myself putting her back into her crib with a few toys just to keep her out of harm’s way. It doesn't matter which toys I put in the crib. My little cruiser finds this incredibly insulting, and stands and wails, clinging to the crib slats.

As I’m brushing my teeth in the doorway making faces at her, I can’t help but notice how she looks like a little jailbird, desperate to break out. I’ve tried dozens of times to explain to her that the slats are just to keep her safe until I can go exploring with her, but there’s just no reasoning with an eleven month old in the middle of a tirade.

Watching her makes me ponder all of the times God has given me boundaries, and rather than being thankful, I’m standing at the edge wailing, trying to push just beyond the limits He’s set to keep me safe.

This year one of the topics I plan on pondering is what God is teaching me as I raise my daughter. Each day I learn about an attribute of our Heavenly Father as I watch her grow. I also learn more about my stubborn self, for better or worse!

Your turn: Can you think of a time in your life when you could look back and see the boundaries God had set for you as a blessing, instead of something to break free from?

Blessings,

Amy and the Junior Jailbird

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What "Will" You Do?

 
I didn’t make any formal resolutions, but next year I'm copying my six-year-old son’s list. As his first New Year’s resolution, he wrote: “My news years resolution is to do nothing. First, I will eat a Snack. Next, I will watch tv. Last, I will take a nap. I Hope I can keep my new years resolutions.” Sounds easy, right? But he needs little sleep, so I’m not so sure he’ll take any naps. If only I could take them for him. 

Whether you make any resolutions or not, a new year often ignites a spirit of goal setting or good intentions. But good intentions are useless if you don’t follow through. One thing people intend to do, but put off, is writing their Last Will and Testament.   

Listen, I really wanted to write a fun post. Wills? Arrangements? They're not exciting, but you never know when they'll be needed. So here’s your friendly reminder that it’s time to write your will, plan your estate and get your act together.

My husband, Jack, was one of the most thorough men to walk the planet. He drafted a will within a month of discovering I was pregnant with our first child. At his insistence, we chose guardians before we'd become parents. He bought life insurance to provide for his growing family, just in case. I was so thankful for his wise provisions when he passed away suddenly from a heart attack at 45, leaving me with seven children, ages 20-1. Now, all those plans and papers became very important to me.




On top of devastating grief, I was terrified there'd be a glitch somehow, maybe we'd missed a payment, and the life insurance wouldn't pay out. (Thankfully, it did.)

It's your turn. Are your affairs in order? Or are you so overwhelmed you don't know where to begin? If so, don't stop reading. This blog's for you.

1. Start a notebook with the following information:

--Your general information: name, address, social security number, occupation, education, and contact person.

--Military Service: branch of service, serial number, date entered, type of separation or discharge and date, location of discharge papers (DD214), highest grade or rank, wars/conflicts served, medals/honors/citations, and any additional information.

--Date and Location of your Will. Executor/Executrix, and contact information for attorney who prepared the will.

--Banking Information: Name of bank, account number. Safe deposit box location, box number and key location.

--Credit Cards: Name, account number, expiration date, and contact number.

--Life Insurance: Name of company, policy number, and beneficiary.

--Real Estate Holdings: Description, address, and deed location.

--Financial Assets: mutual funds, stocks, bonds, vehicles. Type/description, location.

--Personal Requests: List all family heirlooms and items of sentimental value. Name beneficiary of each.

--Passwords (Optional): Yes, I suggest writing them down.  (Some—including my late husband—might call that a "no-no." But just try settling affairs without them.)

Having this kind of information available to your next of kin is invaluable. Just be sure to store your notebook in a safe location.

2. Make a will and make sure the prominent people in your life know pertinent details; such as which individual or law firm holds the original document.

--Appoint guardians for any minor children. It’s hard to imagine anyone else raising your children. Do it anyway. Never leave this most important decision about your children to chance.

3. Buy life insurance. Get as much as you can possibly afford. Divide your proposed amount of life insurance by your annual salary. Is it enough to provide your loved ones with financial security?

4. Consider pre-planning funeral arrangements. No one wants to think about dying. Making those kinds of plans never make it to the top of your to-do list. But planning a funeral after a sudden death condenses all the stress associated with wedding arrangements into a single day. But, instead of a looking forward to a happy occasion, you're making expensive and permanent decisions while living out your worst nightmare.

Finally, if you’ve made all the above arrangements, congratulations! You’ve done the most “grown up” and responsible planning of your life. But sometimes information and decisions become outdated. The choice of your child(ren)'s guardian changes as everyone grows older. Also, if you've relocated across state lines, your designated executor may be ineligible to fulfill that duty.

Whether you're sorting through your papers to de-clutter your home office or for tax purposes, it's a great time to review your arrangements and make sure everything is up to date. Isn't your peace of mind and your family's security worth it?

~Roxanne Sherwood Gray

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Word for 2013

By Heidi Larson Geis


On the first day of this new year, Lisa Jordan wrote a blog post about having the courage to step away from the shore in order to discover all of God’s blessings. Two weeks later, I’m still thinking about it!

My husband and I haven’t spent New Year’s Eve alone since we rang in 1996 when I was seven months pregnant with our first child. This year both of our teenage boys were at the church youth group party until after 1AM. It was weird. They were out on one of the most dangerous nights of the year, without me. Talk about losing sight of the shore!! My husband and I caught a glimpse of our empty nest and of letting our sons grow up and away from us. We caught a glimpse of change.

Over Subway sandwiches (we’re big spenders, lol!) we talked about the coming year, and we joked about making a lengthy list of resolutions. I remembered Beth Vogt’s alternative to resolutions (here, and here) choosing one word to embrace and live for the year. I suggested we try it. We took a serious look at what we might put on a resolution list, and in doing so, realized just how many projects—home, ministry, writing, etc.—we’ve started, that remain only partially completed.

It quickly became obvious that our word for 2013 should be COMPLETION. 

So our focus for the coming year will be figuring out what God wants us to complete, and looking to Him to help us do it. (This will hopefully include the completion of our kitchen remodel project!) For me personally, I know this means 2013 needs to be the year in which I write “The End” on a manuscript. Good, bad, or ugly, I need to complete something. Since I began this journey in 2009, I’ve found too many reasons not to write. But, as I see the face of a man emerging in my firstborn son, I also see how quickly the years have passed since 1996 and I realize I need to stop wasting time. 

What about you? Have you thought about choosing a word for the coming year? Do you have a project that you’ve been putting off completing? Any ideas on how you might make it happen?

Heidi Larson Geis  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Starting the New Year fresh…and clean.


By Jennie Atkins

Every year about this time, as Christmas decorations come down and all the ornaments are nestled into their year-long storage, I start my annual ritual of not-quite-spring spring cleaning. Instead of focusing on a New Year’s resolutions I won’t keep, I have learned to set my house straight for the upcoming year.

As well as benefiting from a clean house it helps me in other ways:
  1. It increases my efficiency. By getting rid of all those stacks of old correspondence (including my e-mail in box), books I no longer need, and the junk filling my drawers and closets, I have found it makes it easier for me to find things later
  2. It helps me find forgotten items. How many times have you set something down and forgotten it, only to find it months later hidden in some drawer or basket? Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly messy or unorganized, it’s easy for any number of things to slip through the cracks while trying to write, maintain family order, and do your dreaded day job.
  3. It removes visual distractions. For me, a clean desk, office, and home ensure that I’m not distracted by a bunch of clutter. It helps me focus on the task at hand. My writing! 
  4. Easy on the eyes is easy on the mind. A large part of interior design is focused on giving spaces a specific atmosphere. The atmosphere influences people kind of like a mirror. A peaceful space creates a peaceful atmosphere where people feel at ease. A colorful and dynamic space creates a vivid atmosphere and sparks creativity in people. A clean and tidy space creates an atmosphere without distractions and stress and supports people being focused.  Believe me--it works!
  5. It increases usable closet, drawer and desk space. Clearing out the junk helps me maintain order and gives me the ability to complete any future task with the most convenience. No piles of paper are consuming space and no piles things-I-don't-need tumbling from my closets.  
  6. I gain a sense of accomplishment. Don't forget that cleaning up simply feels good and you can see tangible results afterward.
So before you all label me a neat-freak—I’m not. Believe me—I. Am. Not. However, I have found that taking a couple of weeks out of my new year has its benefits all year long. Plus, it lets me concentrate on my writing the rest of the time. 

Now it’s your turn: Instead of setting New Year’s resolutions, how do you jump start your new year? What season do you do your spring cleaning? And how does it affect your writing?

***
Almost two years ago Jennie and her husband of thirty-seven years packed up their home in Ohio and moved twenty-four-hundred miles west to Carson City, Nevada. There she manages a team of software engineers for a large corporation. When she isn't learning the fine art of growing anything in the desert sand, or mesmerized by the view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from her front porch, she works on her latest manuscript.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lessons from Aesop



by Delores Topliff


Writing becomes classic when it contains a timeless truth that is applicable forever. Great examples come from Aesop's Fables. Here his "Wind and Sun" is loosely adapted from http://www.storyarts.org:

The North Wind boasted of his great strength. The Sun argued that he had greater power. Far below, a man wearing a warm winter coat traveled a winding road.

"Let’s have a contest," said the Sun. "To test our strength, "let’s see which of us can make
 that man remove his coat."

"That's simple," bragged the Wind. He blew as hard as he could, but the harder he blew, 
the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.

Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud and warmed the entire world until the man
unbuttoned his coat. The sun kept shining brighter and brighter until the man felt so hot, 
he took off his coat.

My grandchildren love that tale. They used to complain if I changed a single word, but 
I’ve taught them to compose variations on that theme and retell their versions. Though 
we know where the story’s going, we all enjoy its new details every time. Timeless wisdom suits 
Faith and Fiction. 

In a parallel as powerful as sunshine, Romans 8:35 asks, “"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" --incidents as chilling as cold wind and hot sun. No!

Yet too easy a life can be the separator. Romanian pastor, Nicky Popp, reports his people grew strong during communist persecutions, often miraculously surviving events that should have caused certain death. But after arriving in the U.S. as refugees, they lost some members to prosperity. “Persecution made us strong,” he says. “Easy living ruined many of our people.”

In faith and fiction, adversity faced and conquered makes us lean more on God--and deepens our characters. What about you? Do you prefer wind or sun? Why?


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hardboiled Eggs Can Explode = A few things I learned in 2012


 By Patricia Bradley

New Years Eve I curled up on the couch and reflected about the past year. It was a great year for me with exciting events and some not so exciting events. And as always, it was those not so exciting events that I learn the most from. 
Like:
  • If you put eggs on to boil and go back to your office to write, the eggs will eventually explode. Honest.
  • Don’t try to put a scared cat into a pet cage by yourself…even if you’re trying to get him out of the house because you’re afraid his lungs are going to be damaged by the smoke from the burned beans.
  •  Never ask a woman when her baby is due, even if she looks 8 months pregnant. Ever
  •  If you drop an open-faced, peanut butter sandwich, it’ll always hit the floor peanut butter side down. That goes for a jelly sandwich, too.
  • When someone says they want to hear the truth, they’re usually not telling the truth.
  • Consider your answer carefully when a friend asks if you like her new hairstyle. (See previous bullet)
  •  When a friend asks you to critique her granddaughter’s essay, RUN.


I’d like to say I didn’t actually do any of these things. That they are all figments of my imagination. I’d like to say that. I will say that each of the events happened only once. Hence the title, A Few Things I Learned in 2012.

There is a positive side to my lapses of common sense. Thank goodness. They make entertaining stories. And since I’m a writer, at some point, in some story, my hero or heroine will forget the eggs or do one of the other dumb things I’ve done, not just last year, but during my lifetime—today’s list is way short.

And guess what? My foibles will strike a chord in readers, endearing my protagonist to them, even if they’ve never exploded an egg. Because they have done something similar. They can identify. And that’s what it’s all about for me. Creating characters readers can identify with and care about.

So, would you care to share something you learned in 2012? It doesn’t have to be something crazy like my list. Just something you’ve learned.

Pat Trainum writing as Patricia Bradley
www.ptbradley.com
http://mbtponderers.blogspot.com/

@PTBradley1

Shadows of the Past from Revell February 2014