Thursday, February 28, 2013

Got it Covered?

I have to admit something here... I cannot stand it when book covers show actual people.  Let me phrase it this way - when they show the faces of actual people!  I have a very vivid imagination and when I read I want to be drawn into the story that's created through the authors words, not because they showed me on the cover what the heroine looked like.

Am I alone in this?  

It's just that, once an image is formed, it's hard for me to get past it, especially if the girl or guy on the cover isn't what I'd imagined them to be. I don't mind a little bit of imagination sparking, a beautiful gown, a handsome man in the background, maybe a nice landscape or bit of architecture that relates to the story, but when you show everything, it limits the mind. 

With that all said, what constitutes a good cover? Personally, I'm not completely sure.  To me, it's just something that sticks out to me or something that turns me off from the book.  I do think that book covers really can make or break the book though.  You hear "don't judge a book by it's cover" and I fully agree with that statement but sometimes, as a reader, its extremely hard to get past the cover.  If it depicts something in a way that you don't like, what's to make you push past that an actually read the book?

I came up with a few things that would push me to read a book despite its cover:
  • Author - if it's by a certain author that I like, no matter the cover, I'll still probably give it a read.  
  • Recommendations - If someone recommended a book to me (and I know they enjoy reading what I do) I'll give it a read no matter what.
  • Back blurb or first few pages - If I happen to pick up a book (even if I dislike the cover) and I read the back blurb or the first few pages and like the style or am intrigued by a plot twist, I'll push past the cover in hopes of finding a diamond in the ruff. 
What about you?  Why do you chose the books that you do? How is your opinion swayed by a cover (if at all)? 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thoughts on Downton Abbey

Unfortunately, our {Writer Wednesday} guest was unavailable for today's interview.  While thinking what I could share you with instead, the only thing that came to mind was Downton Abbey.  And, a quick word of advice? Make sure you're saying "Down-Ton" not "Down-Town" as I've heard a few people say... ;)

I will admit to being completely taken in and transfixed with the characters, plot, scenery, clothing, and era of it all.  To be completely English about it - it's brilliant!

First off, let me mention that I'm only on Season 2, about 3/4 of the way through so I'm not totally caught up to speed here, but what I've enjoyed thus far has been marvelous. I won't comment so much about specifics - don't really want to give it away - but just a few themes that have caused me to think. 

Sacrifice.

So many characters sacrifice so much for the sake of their station, their love, or even their own homeland.  It is so interesting to following the characters, both 'upstairs' and 'downstairs' and to see their different pursuits and ways that they must sacrifice - whether that be for good reasons or bad.  I often am amazed at the attitude of some of the servants - for some, it really is a passion as much as it is their livelihood.  Downton gives us the opportunity to see a house of this magnitude within context.  It's not so much about the divide between the lord and his/her servants but more of an ecosystem in and of itself.  Very interesting and quite entertaining.

Forbidden love.

This one is all over the place in this series! Whether it be a maid and an officer, a married man with an unmarried woman, or a love that spans classes in an "improper way" for that time - it's rampant at Downton.  Aside from blatant, unbliblical types of love, I have focused in on the "love that spans classes" as something wholly romantic and beautiful.  I'm sure at the time it was seen as an abomination, but to my writers imagination it's the fodder of great stories.  It has me wondering "what if" for future plots.

Then I tied this type of love to something even greater - God's love for us. It's kind of the same idea, isn't it?  Christ sacrificed Himself for us - His dignity, His standing, His life all because of love (John 3:16). I don't know about you, but that overwhelms me! I definitely see the potential for writing an allegory in the future.  It's been done, but why not just one more story that parallels God's love to us?

Well, it's back to my manuscript for now.  I've been working on rewrites for the last few days and can't wait to be ready to move to the next step!

Are you watching Downton?  If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  Who is your favorite character? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pam Hillman {Writer Wednesday}

I am thrilled to have multi-published author in short fiction and non-fiction, Pam Hillman on the blog today. Please give her a warm welcome :)

A little bit about Pam...
Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel.
How to connect with Pam...

Website: http://www.pamhillman.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pam.hillman.7
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PamHillman or @PamHillman
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5800307-pam-hillman
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/wrtnbyph/
Group blog: http://www.seekerville.blogspot.com
Personal blog: http://www.calicotrails.blogspot.com
Publisher: http://www.tyndale.com/Claiming-Mariah/9781414380964

Author Interview | Pam Hillman

You & Writing
Tell us a little bit about yourself: How did you start writing? What has kept you writing?
...I wrote in my head for years, from the time I was a child. Then eventually I started writing stories down. The dream of seeing my stories in print has kept me writing.

Do you have a favorite book or work that you’ve written? If so, why?
...My current release, Claiming Mariah, is a favorite. I’m just so pleased in how it turned out, and had the best time working with the copy editors polishing it.

Your Writing
Tell us a little bit about your book or what you’re working on currently? Why are you/did you write it? ...Several years ago, I read a novel where a bank robber tosses a sack of stolen money in the back seat of a hand-to-mouth college student’s car. She kept the money and eventually started a very successful business. She justified her actions because she anonymously created a charity to help destitute young women get back on their feet. But, as the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right, and that wasn’t quite right from a Christian’s perspective, was it? I based Claiming Mariah on the following question: “What would a Christian do if they found out their whole livelihood had been based on a lie?” Mariah does the right thing by writing to Slade’s father asking for forgiveness, but the consequences of her actions end up being way more than she bargained for.

Do you have a favorite character in this work? If so, why?
...I enjoyed getting to know Mariah’s grandmother. Grandma Malone doesn’t dance around particulars or stand on ceremony. This line sums Grandma Malone up to a tee. She gave him with that peculiar look of hers that said she was old enough to say what she wanted and get away with it.

What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?

...I hope readers can learn to let go of bitterness toward someone who has wronged them. But on the flip side, I pray that someone who has committed a wrong would have the courage to offer restitution if God lays it on their heart to do so.

Writing
Where do you find inspiration for your story/characters? Are they based on real life or pure imagination or both?
...Everywhere! Church. Books. Movies. Drinking coffee. (Oh, what a good idea. Be right back…) Watching ants crawl out of a flooded anthill. Boom! I immediately see coal miners fleeing a mine, or WWII soldiers climbing out of bunkers. Oh, sorry, you were asking…
...For Stealing Jake, my debut novel in 2011, Tyndale House Publishers used to publish 2 Heartquest anthologies a year. Tyndale has been my dream publisher from the beginning, and I submitted novella proposals several times trying to break in. Stealing Jake was one of those submissions. Tyndale put out guidelines for a Cowboy Christmas anthology, so the story had to involve Christmas and have a historical setting. Stealing Jake didn’t make the cut for the anthology, but I loved the idea so much that I went back to it later and turned it into a full-length novel. It just happened to be the novel my agent and I were shopping when word went out that Tyndale was launching the Digital First Initiative.
...I honestly can’t remember how I came up with the exact idea for the pickpocket theme, but it was the old adage of opposites attract. If she’s a thief, he’s a lawman. Okay, she’s a reformed thief…or is she? lol


What advice would you give to aspiring authors for writing and/or publishing?

...First: Believe in yourself. I tamped down the dream until I was almost thirty years old because the author bios and the glamour shots on the back of the books in the bookstore intimidated me. Who was I to think I could compete with such poise, such sophistication, education, and competence? Surely those authors came from wealth and power. But sometimes that glamour shot might be an illusion, the bio polished a little too brightly. You, dear writer friend, are just as worthy as the next person.

...Second: If you’re writing Christian fiction, join ACFW. Develop friendships with other writers, not just connections, but true-blue, ask-me-anything, I’ve-got-your-back friends. It took me years to find those friends because I’m a fairly private person. I don’t open up to others very well, but those friends are the very reason I can be this candid with you today. Find them. Embrace them.


You
Would you prefer chocolates or flowers on Valentines Day??
...Definitely Chocolate.

On Valentines Day would you rather stay in (ie: home with a movie) or go out (ie: night on the town)?

...Generally, we stay at home, but this year, we went to our local steakhouse and enjoyed a delicious steak and shared a chocolate lava cake with ice cream. And we had chocolate covered strawberries waiting at home. Also from a local sweet shop. A very memorable day indeed.

Describe your ideal date.
...Going out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants and riding through the countryside. My son recently purchased a Polaris Rzr, and I can’t wait for us to get our hands on it so we can ride around on the weekends. I think I would enjoy it better than 4-wheelers. Easier to talk to each other and I won’t have to eat my husband’s dust!

About Claiming Mariah...



In light of her father’s death, Mariah Malone sends a letter that will forever alter the lives of her family. When Slade Donovan, strong willed and eager for vengeance, shows up on her front porch, Mariah is not ready to hear his truths: her father’s farm, the only home she’s ever known, was bought with stolen gold. With Slade ready to collect his father’s rightful claim and force Mariah and her family out on the streets, Mariah must turn to God for guidance. Though Mr. Fredrick Cooper, a local landowner, promises to answer her financial woes if she agrees to be his bride, Mariah finds herself drawn instead to the angry young man demanding her home.

With the ranch now under Slade’s careful eye, he will unearth more than he ever imagined as a devious plot of thievery, betrayal and murder threatens more than the well-being of the ranch, endangering the lives of those who hold it dear. With days dwindling until the rest of the Donovan clan arrive to the Lazy M ranch, Mariah and Slade must rise above the resentment of their fathers and see their true feelings before greed alters their futures forever.

  To purchase Claiming Mariah click {here}

To celebrate her new release, Pam is giving away two eReaders!
(choice of Kindle Wi-Fi, 6" Display, or Nook Simple Touch)

Two Winners: One on Facebook. One through Pam’s Newsletter.
Facebook Drawing for Kindle/Nook

Pam’s Newsletter

Registering both places is not required but will double your chances of winning. Also keep in mind that you will receive updates more often being connected on facebook than through the newsletter. Just sayin’

Contest runs from January 1st until March 31st, 2013.


                                                ____________________________________

Thank you so much for joining me on the blog today Pam!  It has been so great hearing from you and I absolutely love your advice to aspiring authors - I know I have struggled with feeling inadequate comparing myself to other writers, but your advice rings true, we are just as worthy as the next person. I look forward to hearing about new releases from you in the future :)

Who's that hiding behind a photo & words?


I was sitting here... admittedly scrolling through the Facebook feed...when it hit me.  Someone should do a psychological study on why and how we chose our Facebook profile pictures.  I think there could be some serious findings discovered that could clue us into how we view ourselves and how we think we can change how others view us.

Wrap your brain around that last sentence.  I know I'm trying to.

What I'm getting at is this: How are we trying to show (or maybe prove) to people who we are - whether that be through our profile picture, a well placed status, or possibly our profile information? 

There used to be days when people had to sit down with you and have a conversation to get to know you.  Now, they can just "Facebook stalk" you and discover your favorite quotes, random inside jokes no one else understands, and hilarious pictures of you and your cat.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not speaking out against Facebook - I'm still a user - but I do have to ask myself, who do I say I am through my Facebook? 

Who do you say you are?  Is it really you?  Why do you portray yourself the way you do?

I'll think more about this and hopefully post more later, but I did want to bring it up because it's an important thing.  I think we can tend to hid behind a computer, creating who we want to be, when in reality it's just a facade.

What are your thoughts on this?

Friday, February 15, 2013

RE:View | The Unspeakable by Tessa Stockton

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tessa for Writer Wednesday this week, check out the post {here}, and was excited to be able to share my thoughts on her book for today's RE:View post!
 
First of all, I love reading new books - especially ones that offer a new perspective or are about things I've never read before.  Tessa Stockton's The Unspeakable is one of those books.

About the book....

When a furtive conflict is pitted between violent leftist guerrillas and a rightwing paramilitary group in Colombia, a North American woman mistakenly gets caught in the middle.

“I spent four months, one week and two days in a clandestine prison referred to as The Water Cave. Every day I stared hell in the face, and each day I wanted to die. I don’t want to share too much too quickly. To understand fully, you must join hands with me, fasten your heart to mine, and course through my book. Stumble over the incomprehensible human rights journey with me. I’ve pondered it to the brink of questionable sanity, and it is the only way. It’s the only way to explain. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I survived at all—for many did not—yet, perplexingly so, that’s not the premise of this narrative.

He altered my life, marked me forever.
But it’s not how you might imagine.
This is a story involving Horacio Botello, my torturer known as Puma.”
The Unspeakable...

I wasn't sure what to expect.  The book starts off as innocently as any other - a sister goes to Columbia to meet her brother.  It's sweet.  But his reaction to her presence is the initial cue that things aren't as they seem.  One event leads to another and Sylvia Abbott is captured and placed in a prison known as The Water Cave.  What happens next takes faith, courage, and a total trust in the Lord.

I wont give anything away, but I will say that this book held me to the end.  A sign of a good read (for me at least) is one that captures my attention and doesn't let me go.  The Unspeakable was that type of book for me.  I kept turning [virtual] pages late into the night wanting to see what would happen.

It's not my typical read, mind you - there wasn't any blatant romance and it was filled with more facts than I had anticipated.  These facts almost seemed placed for the specific purpose of education which, knowing Tessas background a little, makes sense (she mentions some of this in the interview on Wednesday).  Either way, the facts were not off-putting and gave the novel a weight of validity.  Also, in my opinion, it was written in a bold, no-nonsense style.  Tessa is not afraid to have her characters ask the tough questions or be real people who make mistakes but learn to turn to God for forgiveness.

If you like suspense and intrigue, learning about new cultures, and can stand to learn the truth about difficult situations and what it really means to forgive your enemies, this book is for YOU!  It won't disappoint you in the least. 

An excerpt from the book...

The silence I met caused me to slide further inward. The dull sound of particles shifting underfoot, as the rubber soles of my tennis shoes grated against something, caught my attention. I lifted my foot. That’s when I noticed the shards of orange glass from a vase, which used to sit on the entry console table. It lay in fragments on the brown tiled floor.

My stomach did a flip. Proceeding into the main part of the house, the open kitchen and living room, I found things strewn everywhere, tipped over things, broken things.

If you'd like to purchase this book, check out these links below...

*Publisher Bookstore: http://www.wings-press.com/Bookstore/The%20Unspeakable.htm

*Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-unspeakable-tessa-stockton/1114082715?ean=2940016101125

*Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Unspeakable-ebook/dp/B00B2ZLZ7O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1359658562&sr=8-2&keywords=the+unspeakable+stockton

___________________________
I received a free copy of this book for review purposes, but was under no obligation to read the book or post a review. I do so under my own motivation and the opinions I have expressed in this review are honest and entirely my own.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lessons from the Valentines Day Blues (part 3)

His & Her's

I'm completely blown away at the response I am getting on this impulsive and fun little mini-series about Valentines Day! I have had the chance to exchange ideas with several young, single women about it and to hear what is on their hearts... well, it's seriously amazing and so encouraging! It's also helped me to shape this last post into something that I hope we can all take to heart - whether single, dating, or married! 

If you missed them, click {here} for Part 1 and {here} for Part 2 of this series!

#3 True Contentment

I think one of the biggest reasons that Valentines Day is so difficult for singles is that it points out something you think you should have - whether that be a relationship or a husband.

In other words, it points out a big reason to be discontent. 

That's not to say that everyone reacts to Valentines Day like that, but I think it can be a bigger struggle than many let on.  In my own experience, I've flip flopped back and forth.  One year I was extremely happy that I didn't have a Valentine because, really - who needs that distraction.  Then the next, I thought to my sappy-self, for just once I'd like to get flowers and chocolate (lots of chocolate) from someone special on Valentines Day.  Then, of course, the next year it was all about having fun on S.A.D. (that is, Singles Awareness Day).  Yep, my girlfriends and I went out to dinner and had fun just being us!  Single and free!  And yet I still came home to think... if only I had had a date with a man tonight.

I actually laugh now thinking about my thoughts from Valentines Days in the past.  This is not to say I've got it all figured out, but looking back I see what the major problem was.  My feelings were taking their cue from my circumstances and my expectations.  I marveled at the injustice in the world because didn't have a boyfriend and I wondered why I wasn't married yet.  My focus was off.  Way off. 
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:11-13
Look what Paul says, "...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."  Wow!  Now, we have to remember that at this point Paul was in prison writing this letter to the church at Philippi to not only encourage them but to call them to boldly proclaim the name of Christ and live together in unity (Phil. 1:27-30).  His reference of learning to be content wasn't merely talking about his current circumstance (or even his singleness - though I think in a small way that could apply) but it was referring to the fact that whether he was in prison or not, whether he was among friends and believers or not, or even whether things were going well or going very badly - he had learned to be content in all of it.

Bringing this back to Valentines Day, I have to ask myself - am I content?  I'm not asking if I'm happy or satisfied in my circumstances, I think those are very different questions.  I'm asking whether or not I'm content in Christ because ultimately, even if I'm currently content in my singleness but that isn't founded in Christ, then that will slip away too. 

Our hearts are so tricky... especially as women, but just being human in general, it's really difficult to love God before all else. Things slip in and we attach our hearts to them.  We care for our friends, we enjoy our job, we want our "me" time... the list goes on.  None of these things are inherently bad, but when they become the sole focus of our heart, they take the place of God.  They become idols and they let us down every time, driving us further and further away from true contentment.

So what is true contentment? 
 
I believe a great definition of true contentment is to, “...love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37).  It's the greatest commandment according to Jesus, and it also puts everything else into perspective.  If I'm loving God with all that I am, how could I love something else (greater than I love Him, that is).  Plus, in the following verse Jesus says that the next greatest commandment is to, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39).  I think the order of these is extremely important and gives us a direct path to follow toward true contentment in Christ. 

To be truly content in singleness, we must first be truly content in who we are in Christ.  That means He is our everything.  We are defined by Him.  In order to do that, we have to spend time in His word to get to know Him, we need to be in constant conversation with Him, and we should be modeling our lives after His (practically outlined for us in the gospels).  Secondly, we must love others.  We are defined by love (see part 1 of this series).  

I chose the picture for this last part because it reminds me of an old married couple (yes, I'm aware that it's just chairs).  At first, when I thought of this picture (especially in conjunction with Valentines Day) it made me a little sad.  I desire marriage (and no, this is not a bad desire).  In my heart I know that it is a beautiful blessing from the Lord and I want to experience that as well as the refinement that comes from marriage.  But, the longer I thought about this the more I realized that my overriding joy and satisfaction in Christ is enough.  No, it's more than enough!  

I won't lie and say it's been easy - in fact, it has been a long and difficult road to this point (and I'm still going), but I will say that I know a peace that I could not have found in anything else other than Christ.  That peace and satisfaction is complete, lacking in nothing, and only possible in Him.  Even if I do get married some day I will never find that kind of joy in a man - ever!  I will forever need to be setting Christ before me and seeking out true contentment in Him.

Today, on Valentines Day, I can say that my response is not one of disappointment because I won't be getting flowers from a man, it's one of joy because I am whole in Christ and truly content!  I pray that the Lord will continue to shape my heart into what He wants it to be, to show me to love the way He loves, and to cherish this season in my life for what it is - a blessing. 

Happy Valentines Day!

A gift of flowers from the Lord this morning :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tessa Stockton {Writer Wednesday}

The Writer Wednesday author for today is Tessa Stockton - I hope you all give her a warm welcome and enjoy learning a little more about her and her writing!  Make sure and check back on Friday as well because I will be doing a RE:View of her book The Unspeakable


A little bit about Tessa...

A veteran of the performing arts and worldwide missions, Tessa Stockton also contributed as a writer/editor for ministry publications, ghostwriter for political content, and headed a column on the topic of forgiveness. Today, she writes romance and intrigue novels in a variety of genres.
How to connect with Tessa...

Her website:
www.TessaStockton.com
Like her on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/tessastockton
Follow her on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/TessaStockton
See her profile on Linkedin:
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tessa-stockton/29/553/222
Become friends with her on Goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4639560.Tessa_Stockton

Author Interview | Tessa Stockton

You & Writing
Tell us a little bit about yourself: How did you start writing? What has kept you writing?
...I came from a family of musical arts professionals. I, too, entered that realm. Several relatives were also literary professors, and there are a slew of poets down the line. I think I am very much a product of my lineage. Seems I have always had my hand in writing something. And as somebody who needs a creative outlet, writing is a superb fit to that bill - especially now that I’m no longer in the performing arts.

Do you have a favorite book or work that you’ve written? If so, why?
...My favorite book is always the one I’m currently writing. When I look back at the ones that have been published, I see things I wish I would have done differently. As I’m working through a manuscript, I just go with the creative flow and try not to worry about much else. That makes the current work-in-progress my favorite, because I love that special place of creating without outside influences.

What was the hardest thing about publishing? The easiest?
...At first, marketing. I’m a quiet, reclusive, introverted person by nature, and promo and self-promo (which is something all writers have to attack at points) I find extremely uncomfortable. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. Second, grappling with reviews. I will say, though, I’m beginning to understand that readers/reviewers opinions are as relative and as different as how we’re individually wired. You can’t please everybody and you just have to do what you do. Otherwise, you’re bound for one long and extremely exhausting rollercoaster ride if you hang on every word.

...The easiest—I hate to say this because every serious writer should have an amount of respect in the trade—I find people take me more as a “real deal” the more books that I have out on market.

Your Writing
Tell us a little bit about your book or what you’re working on currently? Why are you/did you write it?...The Unspeakable is a suspense/thriller. I have a keen interest in the topic of forgiveness. I like to explore events and questions that don’t have pat answers, yet offer what forgiveness can look like in raw form. Much in the same vein as how Jesus forgave those who tortured him and who pounded those nine-inch nails into his flesh.

Do you have a favorite character in this work? If so, why?
Puma. He’s complex and intriguing, and conflicted. He’s also a seeker.
What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?
...Forgiveness isn’t easy. Even in an unjust situation, when you want to say, “No way, I can’t do it, I can’t forgive,” sometimes it’s the only way to heal, to move forward - this kind of forgiveness. I hope readers recognize that this is how Jesus forgives each of us: his loved, yet sinful children.

Writing
Where do you find inspiration for your story/characters? Are they based on real life or pure imagination or both?
...For The Unspeakable, I used to work in human rights groups and have had a fair share of encounters with, say, a war crimes tribunal lawyer, individuals who have been implicated in dirty politics or social cleansing, as well as those who have endured torture. My own family has its own history, as my mother is a Lithuanian Jew and one of the Hidden Children. Much of The Unspeakable is inspired by real life events, whereas my allegorical fantasy romance series is pure imagination and much lighter material.

When you write, what is your overall intention with your stories?

...Mostly to provoke theological insight. With my suspense/political intrigue works, I hear: “It made me uncomfortable and it made me think.” I get that a lot from Christians and non-believers alike.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors for writing and/or publishing?
...It takes a lot of determination, thick skin, and time. There are up and down days, challenges, and a lot of rejection. Just accept it, roll up your sleeves, and keep moving forward.

You
Would you prefer chocolates or flowers on Valentines Day??
...Both! I never object to being showered with gifts. : )

On Valentines Day would you rather stay in or go out?
...I don’t know…it depends. Probably stay in, and then go out another night. I don’t care for large crowds. And being out among ALL of those who are celebrating Valentine’s Day only makes me feel like one in a herd. It’s never struck me as very unique or special, doing what a ton of other people are doing at the same time…having said that, I’m always in the mood for a good concert. If there’s a good show going on, I have no problem attending whatever day it’s on and I can get over my discomfort of large crowds if the show promises some great entertainment. Yeah, it depends…

Describe your ideal date.
...Horseback riding in the mountains. Make it with Gypsy Vanners and I’m mush. If not that, then a sunrise picnic followed by a hike. Or, perhaps, an excursion to explore a small tourist town, grabbing a casual yet gourmet bite in some quiet nook, and engage in profound, philosophical conversation. 
 _____________________________________

Thank you so much for sharing Tessa - sounds like we have a lot in common (I come from a musical & writing background too!).  I love how you have taken things you are passionate about and turned them into writing material.  Also, I just read a great article called "Promoting Your Book: Are You Doing the Right Job?" by Moira Allen (a fantastic article by the way) and she explains a lot about promotion and what is and isn't a writers job.  Sounds a lot like what you have learned in your experiences!

Again, readers, don't forget to come back on Friday to read my review of Tessa's book, The Unspeakable!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lessons from the Valentines Day Blues (part 2)

E.A. Creative Photography
Welcome back!  If you missed part 1 of my Valentines Day Blues lessons, check it out {here}.  If not, please... do continue :)

# 2... Successful Singleness

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines success as:
a : degree or measure of succeeding
b : favorable or desired outcome

Don't you love it when the dictionary uses a form of the word to define the word (heavy sarcasm here)?  

The definition of success is pretty straight forward and I think we could probably come up with many examples of people who have succeeded in many different areas.  A few that come to mind are Steve Jobs and Apple, Billy Graham and evangelism, or Bill Gates and...well, money (among other things).  Their success is well known pretty much across the board.  I don't think that success has to be broadcast for it to be success though. 

So, what is successful singleness, then?  In my humble opinion this question can be answered with (or maybe through) another question:

If you're single, what do you do? 

Now, I'm not asking what your job is.  I'm not asking what your hobbies are, either.  I'm not even asking what you like to do for fun.  What I am asking is, what is your life about? How you answer that question tells a lot about what you hold valuable and what you'll sacrifice for.

Think about it for a second - as a single person you answer to no one but yourself.  You make your time schedule, you spend your money how you like, and you have a certain type of freedom that's unique to only single people. When you think of it that way, you can see that being single is a huge blessing, but also a huge responsibility. There is a large area of leeway because you're technically not answering to anyone. Then how do you "succeed" in singleness?
 
I believe you can succeed in your singleness by not making it about YOU.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others
[Philippians 2:3-4]
These verses have impacted me so much recently.  As I have thought through the implications of them not only in a church perspective but as a personal directive to me, I've realized that the success of my singleness hinges on what I make my life about. Or maybe I should say who I make my life about.
>I'd wager this is the case for all, not just singles ;)
 
Some practical things for us singles...
 
Time.  We have it.  No - don't go trying to tell me you're busy with this, that, and the other.  Despite the busyness in life that we singles face, we still have time to devote to other things.  I think if we were to be 100% honest with our time allotments, we'd find we spend more of it on ourselves than we'd like to admit (I'm lumping myself right on in there too!).  So the real question becomes, how do we spend our time?  
 
Finances.  Whether or not we are working full-time or trying to make ends meet working several jobs, we still need to be a blessing with our finances as well.  In fact, I'd say now is the best time to learn to be generous because habits that are formed now can be established and can grow as we grow in the Lord and in age. 
 
 Focus.  What are we focused on?  Is this time of singleness a time we use to do what we want, or are we using it for growth?  Do we open up our lives to those who are older and wiser so that they can speak into our lives?  Are we seeking to establish good habits with the Lord now - or are we believing the lie that "once were married" we'll suddenly wake up early, study the Bible for an hour before work, pray all the time, and learn to serve in the church? (And no, that won't actually happen...)

These are just a few areas where we can assess our success as singles but there are many more.  The last point about focus hits closest to home for me.  I want to make sure that I'm not placing my hope or expectations on or in anything other than Christ. 
 
As Valentines Day approaches, take time to check out the success of your singleness.  It's not about doing a lot of things, but it is about being purposeful.  It's time for us to stop using our singleness as an excuse to do what we want, but to instead use it as a means to accomplish what the Lord wants for our lives.  I'm excited to be reminded of this myself, and to ask the Holy Spirit to enable me to better serve in this extra freedom I have. 

____________________________________
 
 
 
For you ladies out there, Elizabeth Elliot has written some fantastic books for women dealing with singleness and life in general.  To me, she is the epitome of a woman who's focus is on the Lord, no matter the circumstances.  If you don't know her story, you should look into it! Two of my favorite books from here are Let Me Be A Woman and The Path of Loneliness

Friday, February 8, 2013

Marriage, Love, and the Power of the Holy Spirit

I've been doing a little reading recently and have come across two (very different) amazing articles that I thought I'd share with you, my dear readers.  I've also included my reflections on each article - I'd love to hear your what you think of them as well!

First, I came across this article:

Three Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married by Tyler Ward

E.A. Creative Photography
I'm not married (as evidence by my Valentines Day Blues post) but I do enjoy reading about what others think/recommend/advise about it.  I look at it like this: if I get married I'll be aware & prepared, if I don't - oh well!  I blogged about the book Altared by Claire and Eli which had such a fresh and inspiring perspective on love, marriage, and singleness.  If you haven't read it yet (the book, that is) YOU SHOULD!! 

But, back to the article... I appreciated Ward's points.  I think the first one is my "favorite".  One of the things I've heard from my various married friends is that marriage is not a fairy tale.  In my naive, single-person perspective I'd like to think it's possible to have a "happy ever after" ending...forever.  In reality, it really is two sinners coming together and living under the same roof.  To me, that does sound like a recipe for disaster. 

I think the only way that marriage can work and not end in divorce is to put Christ at the center.  That's where, with Ward's second point, I have to disagree - maybe just a little?  I mean, I get where he's coming from and what he's trying to say - put your spouse first because your selfishness is what is getting in the way.  I see evidence of my own selfishness just within the context of living with a roommate!  It's so easy to put me first and ignore Jenn or what is best for her.  When I put me aside and focus on what is best for her, my attitude becomes one of service and not selfishness. 

However, I do think the only way that anyone can "fix" this selfishness problem is by putting God first - that is, having Christ at the center of any relationship, whether marriage, friendship, or roommate-ship (yes, I just made up a word).  I wont sit here and say I know how to do this well, but it is definitely something I want to strive toward now and (maybe) in marriage.  I'm sure Ward was not insinuating that married couples should put one another before the Lord, but I just wanted to make that little statement anyway.

Second, this article:

My Train Wreck Conversion by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I love the tagline of this article from Christianity Today: "As a leftist lesbian professor, I despised Christians. Then I somehow became one."

I happened upon this article from a friends post on Facebook and all I could see was the tagline, but I knew I had to read it.  It's definitely a controversial topic, but worth the read.  The article is so well written and comes from such an educated perspective! 

1 John chapter 4 = understanding of love
I had two favorite parts: One was the response to her own article that made Butterfield take pause - the pastor who's letter she read and tried to throw away but couldn't.  He gives us such a fantastic testimony to all Christians as to the way in which we can speak truth in love.  Truth is a sword but when it's used like an ax we end up hacking peoples emotions (whether spiritual or intellectual) to bits.  Instead, when used through the power of the Holy Spirit, it can be a truly beautiful thing.   It can be done in love!

The second thing that stood out to me was the incredibly powerful nature of the Holy Spirit and His work in the hearts and lives surrounding this story.  I mean - talk about amazing! Here was a woman living a lifestyle of sin, actively perusing her flesh, and what did God do?  He placed people and situations in her life to woo her to Himself.  That makes me want to cry in wonder and shiver in awe all at the same time!  It's such a beautiful story of redemption through love that drives me to seek out ways in which I can respond in all situations with Christ's love - not on my own strength but through His.


These articles, though completely different in topics, are worth the read!  I'd love to hear what  your thoughts were on them!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nike Chillemi {Writer Wednesday}

I'm excited to introduce you to Nike Chillemi!  Thought currently she is extremely busy, she was a doll and still agreed to an interview with me :)  I know you'll enjoy her answers as much as I have.

About Nike...
Like so many other writers, Nike Chillemi started writing at a very young age. She still has the Crayola, fully illustrated book she penned (penciled might be more accurate) as a little girl about her then off-the-chart love of horses. Today, you might call her a crime fictionista. Her passion is crime fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad and her good guys smarter and better.

She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards and its Chairman, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011 and 2012 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. BURNING HEARTS is the first book in the crime wave that is sweeping the south shore of Long Island in The Sanctuary Point series, published by Desert Breeze. GOODBYE NOEL, the second book in the series released in December, 2011 won the Grace Award 2011 in the Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller category. PERILOUS SHADOWS, the third in the series released in July, 2012. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers (Ning). http://nikechillemi.wordpress.com/

How to connect with Nike...
Look through her blog
Like her on Facebook
See her work on Amazon
Check out her website

Author Interview | Nike Chillemi

You & Writing
Tell us a little bit about yourself: How did you start writing? What has kept you writing?
...I've been writing since I was a little girl. I penned (actually in Crayola) my book about horses and read it numerous times to my long suffering parents. I started writing seriously about six years ago when I submitted my first manuscript to an agent. The novel was awful I keep it around for laughs. I got involved in a few writing groups and several published authors took interest in me and they told me I had a unique voice for classical murder mystery...but I had to learn the art and craft of writing fiction. I have a lot of stories in me and I keep getting excited when I think up a new one. That keeps me writing. I've been called the "crime fictionista" because of my love for crime fiction. I read and write murder mysteries. I'm compulsive about them.

What was the hardest thing about publishing? The easiest?
...The hardest thing about the business of writing is the marketing. It has to be done or the books won't sell or be read. But it takes up a tremendous amount of time. If I'm not careful it can eclipse my writing and reading time. The easiest and most fun is thinking up new story lines and new characters. Or, fun story lines with old characters from a previous story.

Your Writing
Tell us a little bit about your book or what you’re working on currently? Why are you/did you write it?
...I have several irons in the fire right now. DARKEST HOUR is about to come out through Desert Breeze Publishing. The plot line is about a petite young widow and mother of a small child who is framed for murder by powerful people. The county medical examiner realizes she didn't pull the trigger because the killer was much taller. He then launches his own investigation to find the real killer and in the process falls in love with the heroine and her young son. I'm also self publishing a short story "Harmful Intent" about a Brooklyn (NYC) female private investigator who flies to see an old friend in Texas, learns her husband is also in the Lone Star State and that he has been murdered...and guess what? She's the prime suspect.

What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?

...A central theme of all of my novels is justice for the victim. My heroines and heroes are truly the good guys, though they do have flaws. In DARKEST HOUR there is also a theme that the little guy who is being pushed around can also prevail. There's the old saying when good people do nothing, evil prevails. Well my heroes and heroines do not believe in doing nothing. They roll up their sleeves and fight the good fight.


Writing
Where do you find inspiration for your story/characters? Are they based on real life or pure imagination or both?
...Generally speaking I make my characters up out of whole cloth. They just pop out of my imagination. But in BURNING HEARTS the heroine's mother, Mrs. Brogna, surprised me. When I was in edits, I realized for the first time that I'd recreated my paternal grandmother. Mrs. Brogna bakes a delectable apple strudel like my grandmother did. Mrs. Brogna horses around with her children and teases them, just like my grandmother liked to do. I can recall my grandmother swatting my father with her apron and the two of them would laugh up a storm.

You
Valentine's Day would you rather stay in (ie: home with a movie) or go out (ie: night on the town)? ...Neither. I recommend reading my novel BURNING HEARTS for Valentine's Day...or around that time. It's a wonderful murder mystery and also a story of young love. Readers have be captivated by the heroine, young and spunky Erica Brogna and the hero, World War II decorated hero and Harley Davidson rider Lorne Kincade.

Describe your ideal date

...I'm married, but my ideal date is going to a spa with my husband for a couple's massage. That is the most relaxing thing. We've done this about four times and each time it's just a wonderful experience.
                                             _______________________________________

Thank you so much Nike!  I know you're busy and I am so thankful that you would share your thoughts, experiences, and even Valentines Day recommendations with my readers and I. 

Make sure you head over to Amazon and check out Nike Chillemi's books - you won't regret it!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lessons from the Valentines Day Blues (part 1)

Red hearts.  Chocolate.  Flowers.  Balloons. 

They are everywhere!

Have you noticed them?  I mean, how could you not see them?  They started appearing just slightly after Christmas (if not before) and their numbers have increased exponentially since then.

I do have to ask myself, as a single woman, what I'm supposed to do with this unconventional, seemly contrived "holiday"?  It's a valid question seeing as how I have no one with which to shower ridiculous gifts upon and no one to receive them from. 

I think a few things become clear when I start to think of this "holiday" (and yes, I refuse to allow it to be a real one without quotations).   I have decided to explore these things in a three part mini series called "Lessons from the Valentines Day Blues".  I don't want the name to fool you though, for I have no intention of wallowing in my singleness or focusing on a negative aspect of Valentines Day either ;)

Love
#1...LOVE

I've hear it said L is for the way you look....blah blah blah, but I think that's hardly the case!  Reflecting upon Valentines Day without hearing the word love is just not a do-able thing.  Of course, love is going to make its way on the scene.  I mean really, with all those cut-out paper hearts hanging around how could the L-word not be mentioned? So, to bring it back around to what I'm supposed to do with this "holiday", I feel compelled to reflect on love first.

You probably saw this coming...
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." 1 John 4:7-12 (emphasis mine)
This is one of my favorite passages about love in the Bible and I think it creates the perfect response to a day supposedly focused on love.  I may be single, but that doesn't mean I can't love!  In fact, if I'm reading this correctly, I'm called to love just like God loves us.  That is such a HUGE responsibility but also a HUGE blessing.

In this Valentines Day Blues lesson, my first takeaway is to remember that February 14 can be a day that I choose to love others.  When I see those candy hearts, when I watch other girls walking around with beautiful flowers, or even when I remember that I may not have someone here on earth to give me those things, my heavenly Father has already loved me more than any guy could.  He "sent his Son to be the propitiation for [my] sins" and I've got to say, I can't ask for more (or better) than that!

I challenge you single ladies (I hope you started singing the song in your head...) to not let yourselves get burned down with this day but instead take it as an opportunity to remember what true love is! 

For the rest of you - married or not - you can participate in this too!  We have an opportunity to be reminded all day (and on into the future) to love one another, to serve one another, and to remember the overwhelming love God has shown us in the sacrifice of His Son for us.  Now that is a definite reason to celebrate!

Friday, February 1, 2013

RE:View | The Color of Light by Nancy Thelen

Last night I was surprised by a "night off" - well, mostly.  I had a few things that needed finishing up at work but, when I came home, I was able to cook dinner and relax a little.  It was heaven!  I even made my Single Lady Apple Crisp and enjoyed some mindless hulu watching (hehe).

But today (my day off) is another story!  I have lots to accomplish and am happy to say that part of that "work" is reading.  You honestly can't have a better 'job' than that, in my opinion.  No, I'm not getting paid to read - yet!  But, I do need to schedule the time to do it so today is one of those days!

I am starting off with 4 books:

Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson - This book is for our women's group at church and I technically have to have it finished by next Friday...I think I'll make it!

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck - They say you must read what you write and I would love to write like Rachel Hauck!

Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell - I have 4 manuscripts that need to be edited... I think this book will be extremely helpful & timely.

Key Witness by Christy Barritt - I'm excited because this book is just about to be released and I get the opportunity to review it before hand!

Anyway, on to the "real" reason for this post...

The Color of Light by Nancy Thelen

Jackie lives in the small town of Rivers Run in a quaint cottage surrounded by her two sisters and cousin Tom.  She's a talented creative who forms beautiful stained glass items as well as rag rugs to sell in order to support herself and her loveable dog Sadie.

When she delivers a custom order to a shop in town and is chosen as the next guest on a television fix-it show, she is the first person to step out of the spotlight, paying it forward to a neighbor in need. As the television crew comes to Rivers Run, Jackie finds herself face to face with her television crush, a carpenter named Doug.

Through the various trials they face with weather, the show, and their friendship, a bond is formed between them just as Doug has to leave for the shows next out-of-state job.  Not to mention one of Jackie's favorite places in the Rivers Run area, an old summer camp she used to attend, is up for sale and may be taken over by a large company that would forever change the economy of Rivers Run.

As I read through this story I found the town of Rivers Run to be charming and as close to perfect as any small town could be.  The element of "quaint small town" is driven hard though this book and can act as a reprieve for anyone living the city life.  Coming from a small town myself, I can relate to the closeness, though some of it can come across as unrealistic.  Also, something to watch out for in this novel - a long list of characters!  I found myself half way through the book asking myself, "Who is that again?".  Nancy does a great job of dropping you, the reader, into the middle of a small town community, but it can get a little confusing at times so pay close attention to the names and associations of characters.

All in all, it's a sweet book that will give you a good break from the every-day life of the city (if you're looking for that) or remind you of the blessings of living in a small town (if you do already).

Note that it is a series so, when you get to the end, you will be kept guessing until book #2 comes out!


***Spoiler Alert ***

I wanted to discuss one part of the book that I found interesting but I have to give away something to do it, so I wanted to make sure you all knew before I just dove into it!

I just wanted to mention two things about the book.  First, it is a Catholic based book which I didn't realize at first until they mentioned attending Mass.  Now, of course, that's not wrong but it is different from what I generally read and review.  I don't have much personal experience with the Catholic church, but I am cautious only to the point that the emphasis is not on works but on faith in Jesus, the resurrected Son of God.  Nancy's portal of the church is focused on them doing a lot of good in the community by helping those in need and the main character is often seen praying before bed and turning to God in hard times.  Again, I only say this because I usually read nondenominational Christian books and often endorse them but, seeing as it's fiction, I see no harm in a different denomination as long as it's handled well - which, in this case, it was!  Hope you hear my heart in this :)

Anyway, the second part contains the spoiler.  The main character (at least in this book) is Jackie and she meets Doug - as I mentioned above.  When she does, Doug has stepped back from his faith (or something akin to that) and Jackie cautions him that he needs to turn back to God. At the end of the book though, Doug proposes to Jackie and she accepts even though she is hesitant.  She does mention to him that he needs to be worshiping with the church and that she's concerned that he isn't, but she doesn't make an issue out of it.

This is the only part I was concerned about because she agreed to marry him even though she wasn't sure of where he was at in his relationship with God and she even mentioned that she thinks maybe she can convince him to turn back.  Now, I will give Nancy the benefit of the doubt because I have a feeling she is going to address this in the next book, but if she doesn't I would be hard pressed to say I agreed with her decision to allow Jackie to be in a relationship with someone who was "unequally yolked" with her.  As I said, I have suspicions that Nancy will use this in the next book to grow both characters and possibly address this so it remains to be seen.

Anyway, if you're looking for a cute book about a small town coming together and helping one another, this is definitely the book for you!  Just be warned, when you get to the end you will want to read the next one but you'll need to wait ;)

___________________________
I received a free copy of this book for review purposes, but was under no obligation to read the book or post a review. I do so under my own motivation and the opinions I have expressed in this review are honest and entirely my own.