Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Steps

One thing I had trouble figuring out when I first began to write my novel, The Miting, was what genre of fiction it represented. It didn't seem to fit Chick Lit genre...Mystery?...uh...no. How about Sci-fi? Waaay no. And I don't even have a clue as to what "Hen Lit" is! (I'm going to have to research that one.)


In order to find a place for my novel, I began to go through the Internet to see how other authors described their Amish fiction. It didn't take long to discover that it is in the...TA DA: Amish Fiction Genre. How hard was that? And how silly I felt for wasting so much angst on something positively logical and simple.


That's one thing that I've discovered in this long process of learning about writing: most things appear more difficult on the surface than they really are so following a logical plan of order makes each process a much more do-able work.


With this in mind, and the Christmas season long past to use as an excuse to delay progress, I plan to tackle my novel to begin the revisions of the first nine chapters, finish the chapters that lurk only in my mind and haven't made it to print yet, and begin learning about the process of finding a literary agent to represent me. That last item seems to be the biggest hurdle for me to overcome at this point, but I know that with careful study and skillful, yet purposeful plodding, I will accomplish even that seemingly impossible goal!

I'm excited about the journey! And I'm excited about my novel, and knowing that I've already started on the path to being published helps me to view the future of my work with less trepidation. God leads...I follow...and His guidance assures me with each step forward. To quote my dear friend and pastor/mentor, Carl Richardson: "I'm going forward in faith!"

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Proverbs 16:3

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

"I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps." Jeremiah 10:23




Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thought-Provoking Interviews


I listened to this set of interviews on the Mission to Amish People web site and it is very thought-provoking, to say the least! Most of the interviews take eight minutes, but two take longer. If you have time to listen to these, your eyes will be opened to the "hole" in some religious people's understandings of their own denominations and to the beliefs of Christianity itself.

These interviews are listed on the MAP homepage under the tab on the left titled "An Interview with an Amish Man".

Click here to listen: Religious Interviews


Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas is Over

Well, it's over for another year, and like every other year, I'm a wee bit depressed. We still have our tree up, and though it will probably stay up until New Year's Day, I know the end is in sight. The hustle and bustle of Christmas is fun and happy for me, and I'm always genuinely sad, at first, to take it all down. But something happens once those first few ornaments end up in the box: I pick up speed to empty the living room and dining room of every last vestige of Christmas! When all the boxes are packed away again, I breathe a sigh of relief and look around at my simpler decor.

This year, we plan to take photos of each area of the house that's decorated and print out the pictures to tape on the boxes that will hold those displays and ornaments. Any Christmas item left out of boxes can then be placed in another set of boxes and labeled "Goodwill" or "Garage Sale" or "Trash". Whew! The older I get, the less decorating gets done and knowing I won't have to remember what goes where next year will be awesome! I'm thinking that even my hubby and son should be able to help me decorate NEXT year...of course, they haven't figured out that that's the motivation behind my "bright" idea, but...shhhh...what they don't know, won't hurt them.

It was a happy Christmas...Dad is still with us...Mom is relatively healthy...and all my siblings are still nearby...my hubby is in remission (yeah!)...and my son is doing well in homeschool and is still a sweet kid in spite of turning 16 (yeah!)..so I'm content. And that's a good place to be at the end of 2008!



Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Gift of My Heart

Jesus came...He took our hurts...He took our pain...He took our illnesses...He took our sorrows...and He gave us:

Life...Love...Peace...Healing


In my heart, He knows I want one thing more than any other this Christmas...a miracle:

The Miracle I Want to See

My Dad, he speaks and smiles at me, and that surprises me, you see,
because he hasn’t said a word for many weeks.

Is this the miracle, I ask, as I go about my task
of turning down the sheets upon his bed.

I brush his teeth; comb his hair; place the pads upon his chair,
and wonder why his days have come to this.

But now I have a piece of hope, a bit of that elusive rope
to hold on to on days he slips away.

The miracle I want to see is the Dad I knew returned to me;
the mighty man I knew through childhood days.

The simple words he spoke tonight have brought hope home as if it might
be generous and give him back his life.

I am an optimist at this, a daughter with a wistful wish,
I cast upon the evening’s twinkling stars.

I say my prayers, I bend my will to wait for God to move and still
I want to press Him with this one request:

The miracle I want to see is the Dad I knew returned to me;
the mighty man my grown-up heart still needs.

My Dad, he speaks and smiles at me, and that surprises me, you see,
because I love him more the more I wait.


Merry Christmas, Dad...I love you!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: The Shack

I just finished reading "The Shack" by William Paul Young. I'm not a professional book reviewer so my thoughts are pure opinion, but here goes.

The things that resonated with me in this book:

The character of the Holy Spirit was, at first,the hardest for me to identify with, but as I read further, the joy, the beauty, the music, the laughter, and the loveliness of all things created that was incorporated in the character of the Holy Spirit began to draw me. I finally grew to love the ethereal aspect of this character and, in fact, have often thought that part of the triune God that shows up in the human as creative and soulful is like the Holy Spirit. The heart of us, so to speak, is akin to that aspect of God. In the end, this turned out to be a wonderful and beautiful characterization to me.


The message that God thinks we're special to Him also resonated with me. I have trouble with all the bashing I do to myself...it's one of the reasons I've struggled with writing devotionals. I tend to nit pick at my failings in my walk with God. It's almost like I take a secret pride in pulling out the proverbial whip and flailing myself for all my faults and ways I've not served or not noticed or not DONE enough, and this book opened my eyes further to how much we beat ourselves up in the Christian community. In the past few years, I could hear the still small voice of God saying to me that Christ did not come to condemn the world, so a part of me was already coming awake to this restless notion that perhaps I was being too hard on myself and my fellow believers. Therefore, reading the characterization of a loving and forgiving God felt real to me and of importance.

The things that didn't resonate with me:

There were minuscule political homages paid to humanistic thinking peppered through the book that felt jarring to the spiritual over-all theme. Not too many, but just enough that when I read them, they stood out like a white dot against a black background and those few sentences interrupted my flow of thinking spiritually as I read. It distracted me to annoyance at times and sometimes prompted me to put down the book for the night.

The writing itself, though more than adequate, often didn't strike me as superb or gripping. I noticed things like repeated words in a phrase and too many of that kind of thing makes me lose my train of thought and begin to think of other words that could have replaced the too often used word. Maybe that's just a quirky writer thing, but it did bug me.

The ideas presented, though refreshing in some ways, weren't so terribly new that I gasped and said, "Wow! I've never thought of that before!". But again, I'm the type of person who analyzes all things to death...it isn't a new concept to me that we mere mortals have no way to really know or describe the awesome nature and love of our God.

And lastly, I think this is a book that is written to the Church. Though it has been presented as being of value to all audiences, I just can't see that a spiritually blinded individual will understand some of the religious phrases and ideas presented in this book...or even care.

All in all, I would recommend this book for Christians and for those who have a hunger to think a bit outside the box about the nature of God. But to categorize this as anything other than allegory would be a mistake. There is nothing that should offend the Christian, theologically, if it is read with the idea that it is a work of fiction and not a serious exposition of scripture. There is a hint of Kierkegaard-ish existentialism just under the surface, but not so much that it screams this theological bent in the reader's ear.

I do not agree with the cover blurb, however, that this book is on a par with having the potential to do for our generation what Pilgrim's Progress was able to do for Bunyan's generation. Frankly, in my opinion, it is not THAT deep!



Monday, December 22, 2008

O Star!

I have placed a music player in my blog this week and will have it there until Christmas so visitors can enjoy a little music while they read.

The first selection on the player list is titled "Alleluia" by Randall Thompson (which happens to be my very favorite song), but that information from playlist is incorrect. It is actually titled "Choose Something Like a Star". Thompson wrote this piece using Robert Frost's poetry. I think it's beautiful, but I had a little trouble understanding the words as sung by the choir. I've posted the words below because I think this is such an outstanding and poignant blending of music and poetry that I'd love to share it!

When I hear music and read poetry like this, my soul recognizes the Hand of the Creator...nothing this lovely and heart-touching could just happen from primordial soup.

Enjoy the music and the poetry!







Choose Something Like a Star

by Robert Frost - 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Fiction



Friday Fiction is being hosted by Rhonda at Beach Reads. Amble on over for more great fiction!


Skip Pulaska's Wiseman Friend

Skip Pulaska and I rode the streetcar to the alley between Johnson’s Town Restaurant and LaFever’s Fine Food Emporium. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and we were hoping to get a free day- old doughnut at the bakery before Ms. Brubaker gave them all away.

Skip hopped off while the car was still moving and caught the bad look of Henry Riley as he pulled the trolley to a stop. He shook his fist at Skip’s back and yelled, “You’re gonna get yourself hurt, Kid. Fall under them wheels and let’s see how smart you are then!” I waited until Henry was fully stopped and stepped off politely while Skip snickered at me from the curb.

“Aww…have to wait for the little ol’ lady,” Skip jeered, and Henry threw him his filthiest look as the air brakes released with a shussssshhh. Henry was muttering “Dumb kids” as he dinged the bell and pulled off.

The sky was bright blue over the pitched roof of the Free United Methodist Church, and I watched the skies for a minute before Skip elbowed me. “C’mon, Rube,” he laughed. “Man! Bring you into town and you look just like the hick you are.” He sauntered to the alley and I followed.

Garbage lay in matted clumps and piles here and there, and the smell of old onions and cooked garlic hung heavy in the air between the buildings.

“Double pee-yew!” Skip hollered. “If people’d come this way and get a whiff of that, they’d never go in that greasy spoon.” He turned and waited for me to catch up with him. “I went to the Bijou last night, Terrence, my boy,” he informed me proudly.

“Did’ja?”

“Yepperoni. And I took that Preston girl.” He strutted like a peacock and I had to smile. Everyone knew she went with anybody, but Skip had to make it sound like a real date.

“No kiddin’,” I supplied. I was Skip’s partner in his life-play and knew my part well.

“Yepperoni,” he repeated. I was more impressed that he had money to go to the movies at all.

“What’d you see?”

“Aw, that goofball ‘Wonderful Life’ movie, but I let Rosalie pick it anyhow.” He threw an empty can against the wall of the Emporium.

“Was it good?”

“Who was watchin,” he snickered.

“Right,” I grunted. It was the bane of my existence that I was perpetually more na├»ve than Skip…he knew it and rubbed my nose in it whenever he could.

“Hey!” he stopped suddenly. “Rosalie told me she goes to your church or somethin’.” He looked me over like this news made me into a creature he’d never met before.

“Yeah? So what?”

“So…she said you’re in a Christmas play tonight.” His face took on a sneer and I knew I was in for it.

“What of it?” I shrugged and started walking toward the back door of the Emporium’s bakery.

“Who’re you playin’…baby Jesus?” he laughed. I shrugged again and pulled the door open. Mrs. Brubaker handed us each two double-glazed, and we went back out to the alley with our hands and mouths stuffed with sticky sugary dough.

Skip wiped his mouth with his jacket sleeve and went right back to the Christmas play topic. “I’m thinkin’ I might come and root you on,” he mumbled around the doughnut.

I nodded but didn’t want to encourage him too much. No telling what a delinquent like him would do to me once he saw me robed and be-decked with purple satin head scarves! I was playing the part of a wiseman, and Skip would never let me live it down if he saw that.

“What’re you doin’ goin’ to church anyway, Man? There ain’t nothin’ to that stuff…Santa and all that junk is make-believe anyway.” He spit for emphasis and kept on walking.

Something came over me and self-preservation fled. “It’s real, all right,” I muttered to the back of his head. He stopped suddenly and turned to me with his mouth open in exaggerated surprise.

“What’d you say, Noodle-head?”

“It’s real. Jesus is real. That’s all”

He looked me over and for once I didn’t flinch from his stare down. He finally dropped his eyes first in concession and then shrugged. “Sure. Whatever, Man.”

He walked on and I followed. He looked back at me again and said nonchalantly, “Like I said, Rube, I’m gonna come root you on. OK?”

“Whatever, Skip, “I answered with a smile.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Night of the Hunted: Paris Rendezvous


Welcome to Friday Fiction! My story today is a light-hearted "romp" through the streets of Paris. Visit Shirley McClay at Sunny Glade for more great fiction!


The Night of the Hunted: Paris Rendezvous


Paris lay before me like a glittery necklace, looped around a rotund lady’s neck. To the right rose the Eiffel Tower. The receding night swirled its foggy velvet cloth around the skeletal-like framework and smothered the sounds of the cars passing beneath and between the famous structure’s feet. I never liked the shape of that thing; it reminded me of a tiger ready to spring on unsuspecting tourists and counterfeit-hawking merchants alike.

I chewed the eraser of the pencil I carried and wetted its tip with my tongue. As I continued to watch the duo, who were strolling just beyond the call of my voice, I made note of their previous rendezvous, writing the information I’d acquired in the battered notebook I carried in my pocket. The misty rain that had begun to fall didn’t stop the pair as they made their way through the darkened cheap streets beside the Seine. Even the boats had stopped gliding over the waters; it was too cold and damp for any tourists to want to be out on the river.

I pulled my collar up and scrunched further into the rain jacket I’d owned for twenty years. Yeah, it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

I spit the eraser top out onto the cobbled street and ambled along behind my subjects. I slipped from darkened doorway to darkened doorway as the two continued to stroll, the wet and dismal air making me impatient for them to conclude their meandering. They finally stopped their aimless walking in front of the infamous Moulin Rouge. Oh “non!” Not there.

The red and yellow neon lights blinked garishly as the larger-than-life windmill flashed its hideous colors over the pavement. It creaked and turned to the syncopated music that was spilling out on the tourists who were waiting in line even at this hour of the early morning.

I sighed. Why did they all end up here? I couldn’t stand the thought of another hunt inside that crowded, sweaty, cigarette smoke-laden tourist trap with its greasy, slippery tiles littered with food debris. I wish they’d sweep those floors.

But the couple in question had other plans. They suddenly darted into the alley that ran beside the old building and disappeared into the hazy darkness beyond. Rats. I’d need to hurry if I didn’t want them to give me the slip. I couldn’t afford to let another pair get away, or my boss would be on my back like escargot on a buttered baguette.

I loped around the crowd and caught a peak of the pair just as they were rounding the corner onto the Boulevard de Clichy. They ran east toward the metro at Blanche. I couldn’t let them disappear into the groups of people congregated there.

I clambered down the steps into the metro but there was no sign of my quarry. “Quel desastre!”* I slowly climbed the stairs back to street level, and just as I was ready to give up, a flash of white moving in the park across the way caught my eye. Could it be? “Oui!” It had to be them!

I edged my way to the path and pounced on my first subject with a yell of triumph. The net settled like a nylon web over the wiggling behind of …a Bison Frise. “Oh non.” The wrong dog! I hauled the squirming, snarling puppy toward my truck and managed to push the petite chien into the waiting cage.

As I latched the back door securely, the rising sun cast its rosy glow over the sleepy park. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied two fluffy tails happily bouncing away from me toward the center of Paris. I narrowed my eyes as I watched their retreating backsides.

“Next time, you mongrels,” I growled.


*Quel desastre: what a disaster!



Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Fiction: A Kiss For Her Baby

A Kiss for Her Baby

The piping hot water in the sink is turning my hands a lobster red. I pull a casserole dish from the sudsy water and run the sponge over and around the rim and surfaces. My shoulders ache from the tension and stress of the day, and I can’t wait to finish this last chore.

As I rinse the glass under steaming water, I suddenly remember where the dish came from. I examine the gold rim and the bright red flowers that are centered on the creamy white middle. She held this dish…and she washed it clean, just as I’m doing…maybe one cold winter evening like this one, after a supper of tuna casserole or, maybe, home-made macaroni and cheese. I place the glass container carefully on the drainer board.

The darkened window above the sink reflects my shadowy face, and I stand still and stare into the past for a minute, trying to imagine my tall husband as a little boy. Did he help her set the table? Would he remember the food she’d prepared in this bowl? Did he laugh with her; stand beside her as they washed and dried the dishes together?

I look around my own modern kitchen and take a swipe at a bead of water on the countertop. The floors are swept, and the dishes are done. The house is quiet at last and I smile at the neatness and order that I know will disappear again in the morning. I turn out the lights on another hectic day and amble down the hall toward bed.

When I come to my son’s room, I stop and peek in. His dark head is snuggled deeply into his pillow, and his blanket is stretched tautly over his long body, one foot sticking out, as usual, for “air” at the bottom of his bed.

Where did my baby go? I can’t resist bending over him to stroke his hair. I used to do this every night. I smile at him and place a kiss on my fingertips to transfer to his cheek.

As I turn to go, I think about whether she did this, too. Did she stand over the bed of my husband in his teen years, watching his lanky form while he slept, regretting the passing of time and wondering, like I do, “Where’d my baby go?”

The question remains in my head as I slip into bed beside my sleeping spouse. His face is pressed tight into his pillow, and his snores are yet on the gentle side. Though I’ve seen many photos of him as a child, it’s difficult for me to imagine this slumbering giant beside me as her son, her boy, and her baby. I sigh as I watch him rest.

My husband had not been my favorite person today. We’d argued and disagreed over every little thing. I’d thought he was too bossy and he’d thought I was too nagging. He’d gone to bed in a huff and I’d been glad he was finally out of my hair.

His hair is ruffled and sticking up and I reach out to smooth it down, but I hesitate. I’m still miffed with him, and the anger I harbor makes me turn my back to him instead.

The devotional I meant to read this morning is lying face-up on the bedside table, so I grab it and open my Bible to Isaiah.

“… you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandied on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you…”*

As a mother…comforts her child…. Hmmm.

I glance back at my husband and think about his mother. I’d never met her; she’d died long before he’d married me, and I’d often wondered if she’d like me. I notice my husband’s eyelashes fanned gently on the bend of his rough cheek. Their soft texture is all that remains as a testament of his little boy face; the face she stroked and kissed at night; the face she loved so much and held so dear.

I feel tears come to my eyes as I remember the harsh words I said to him today. Would I want my son’s wife to say those things to him? No, of course not. She wouldn’t want her son treated this way, either.

I quietly lean down to kiss his cheek as he sleeps. Twice.

“That one was for your Mama. And this one is for me,” I whisper.



*Isaiah 66:13, The Holy Bible, NIV


Monday, December 1, 2008

National Novel Writing Month is Over

I finished the goal of writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month and now the real work begins! Actually, writing 50,000 words in 30 days WAS real work--especially that last two days--it was Thanksgiving weekend after all, and there were many more things I wanted to do....BUT I made myself finish it on Saturday because even though I'd been under this deadline for a month, all of a sudden it felt unbearable...just HAD to get it done and off my shoulders. Once that 50,000 was verified and I was declared a "winner", I could breath again. Funny, eh?

This story has always felt like something I was "meant" to do. But it's not your ordinary Amish book. I pray it's honest, and human, and kind, and hope-filled all at the same time. It's a story that's based on ex-Amish experiences, and some of those experiences are not so happy, but if I wrote an all happy Amish book, it wouldn't reflect real life. None of us are immune from life's mistakes, pains, fears, sins, troubles, and injustices. Neither are the Amish, but I hope this story, which is unique to a group of Amish from my part of the world, can bring some insight into the secret and often misunderstood practices of the most strict Amish sects. That's why I wrote it--to be honest and to reflect the real hearts of real people--with their foibles and human failings and courage.

There's more work to do, and the novel isn't finished, but I'm glad I challenged myself to start it and get more than half of the book written. It was a challenge I honestly didn't think I could meet, but I did and I'm happy!

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year? Who knows, but I'm hoping I'll be too busy editing and preparing this book for publication by then...you never know what the Lord has in mind when you let Him decide your future!