Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Laurie Kingery's The Outlaw's Lady Book Review and Author Interview

Tess Hennessey, an accomplished young photographer, strives to earn enough money to study her craft with a famous studio in New York, something most women wouldn’t consider doing in the 1880s. On her way home from a successful shoot at her uncle’s ranch in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, she is accosted and kidnapped by a gang of Mexican banditos. Who is the mastermind behind the scheme? The attractive Sandoval Parrish, a man she meets at her uncle's gathering who is reputed to befriend Diego Delgado, the evil leader of the notorious outlaws.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sometimes I'm One of Those Weird Types

In early July of this year, I visited my family in the Detroit area for a week and stayed at my siblings' houses (three of them). After having been away for years, one of the things that impressed me was the quality of toilet paper they used. Can you believe that?

My sister bought the plush stuff, almost too thick and impressive to use, if you know what I mean. On a rating system of 1-5, I gave her a wholehearted 5+. My brothers chose different brands that seemed slightly thinner, but equally memorable. They got a 4.75. In a nephew's home, I found another kind that was teenie-weenie thinner yet. I had to peek under a couple of bathroom sinks to identify the brand. It ranked a close 4.5.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to Regular Mode (Sort of)

I enjoyed the many facets of last week's ACFW writers conference, but one of the greatest highlights was spending time with my critique partners, Carole, Stephanie, and Roseanna. (From left to right in the photo. I'm the oldie in the crowd.) After two years of emailing, we all finally met face-to-face. What treasured moments.

The conference officially ended yesterday at noon, but I didn't get home until midnight. Today my limp eyelids hovered at half-mast--the effect of barely-slept nights and days packed with mental overload that sizzled my brain cells. But there's stuff to do now. Somehow switch gears and get back into "regular mode" Follow up on all the conference projects.

Then there's the need to reorganize my workshop notes to help me tweak my current manuscript  before I send it off to an agent who asked for my proposal. After some serious thought, I decided to revise my original plans of a book review/author interview each week. Don't look for the next one until NEXT week. Two per month is a much more attainable goal.

With so much going on, I need balance, but I know how to get it. Spend time in the Lord's presence for a divine exclange: His strength for my frailties, His peace for my frenzies, and His wisdom for my follies. Precious Lord, only You can really redeem my time. Thanks for guiding me every step of the way.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dorothy Clark's The Law and Miss Mary Book Review

This is a second in a series of Steeple Hill Inspirational Historicals book reviews.

In The Law and Miss Mary, Mary Randolph and her brother, James, travel to St. Louis on a secret mission to discover who is skimming funds from their family’s steamship line and allowing the steamers to fall into disrepair. James, posing as the new manager, plans to go alone, but Mary learns the man she expected to marry only wanted her for her dowry, and she begs her parents to let her go with her brother. Brokenhearted, she longs for a godly man who will love her for herself, but doubts that could happen since her tall, skinny shape, plain face, and outspoken personality make her undesirable. What’s more, she’s convinced God couldn’t love her either, for if He had, He would have created her small, beautiful, and demure.

Samuel Benton, Captain of the St. Louis Police Department, who methodically strives to build a powerful reputation for himself, suspects the Randolphs are behind the steamship company’s woes. Soon after meeting them, he escorts Mary to the city’s shopping district, where they happen upon a young orphan who’s caught stealing food to keep from starving. Mary stops Sam from arresting the child by paying for his food and taking him home. When she learns there are more orphans with similar problems, and their plight is hopeless due to the cruel behavior of civil authorities, she begins a quest to save as many of the destitute children as she can though with limited resources.

Sam agrees with her in principle but must enforce the laws that deny the orphans’ basic rights. As Mary continues to fight for them, Sam tries to help but soon reaches a point where he must examine his attitudes not only concerning his actions and career, but more importantly, toward God Himself. And he is forced to choose between Mary’s dream of providing an orphanage to care for the children, or pursue his goal of marrying the mayor’s daughter and succeeding her father into office.

I enjoyed the characters in The Law and Miss Mary and found them very believable and genuine with strengths and flaws that added to their depth and vulnerability. I especially loved the way Dorothy Clark depicts Mary’s poor self-esteem and her bad habit of comparing her physical attributes to other women’s and falling short. But she also exhibits wonderful compassion, tenacity, and courage. Sam’s shallow, life-long goals overshadow his strong sense of honor and generosity, but when challenged with the children's difficulties, his true personality comes to light. He struggles for the cause of justice, but his greatest battle takes place within himself.

The despicable antagonists whose necks I wanted to wring provide a great source of conflict, and  James’s warmhearted wisdom and encouragement is precious. The author paints our God as the faithful and loving Provider, who opens the eyes of His imperfect vessels to truths that set them free and enables them to help Him manifest His perfect plan for children and adults alike.

Sweet, sweet, sweet.

Note: there is no author interview this week.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How I Miss the Land of the Bible

I've visited Israel for at least ten days on three different occasions. And every time I went, I didn't want to leave. That's highly unusual for this gadabout, who's usually more than ready to get back to my own neck of the woods within five days of wherever else I go.

But Israel is like no other place on earth. As I rushed through the jetway to the plane on my first trip, I said, "Well, Father, I'm going home." That shocked me, for it was nothing I'd planned to say. But I discovered many hours later that this trip was a wonderful experience my heavenly Father provided for me.

It's impossible to choose my favorite place in the Holy Land; there's too many to consider. But I'd like to share a few with you. The one that leaves the greatest impression was feeling God's presence--like a loving father embracing his children in a holy, hovering way--in the Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. I caught a tiny but profound glimpse of His love for these physical offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Another treasured memory is my baptism in the Jordan River after a tremendous time of worship with the group I toured with. I hadn't planned to be baptized. After all, I'd done that many years prior and didn't NEED to do it again. Or so I thought. But after the unction of the Holy Spirit pressed upon me, I tore away from the group to a little tourist shop to rent a white robe, concerned the whole time I was gone that I might not get back quickly enough to participate. But God was faithful. He didn't leave me out.

Another special event took place in the grove that holds the Garden Tomb. My group assembled together in a small wooded cove to pray and take communion. Then we stood in a long line to wait for  our turns into the hewed out tomb. The sign on the door says it all. "He is not here ~ for He is Risen." The presence of the Lord permeated the place. (Photo on right shows Golgatha--place of the skull--in the background.)

For fun we lolled around Ben Yehuda St., a major shopping area spread over several city blocks, and tried falafels for the first time. The greedy birds practically demanded we hand-feed them our scraps. I bought a huge ram's horn (shofar), and several of us puckered up and tried to blow it--no easy feat at all.

No matter where we traveled, in times of prayer and contemplation or fun and fellowship, the ache of wanting to stay in the Holy Land clung to me.

Oh Father, may I go back soon?

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's Important when I'm Running Around in Circles?

My lights out times have been averaging midnight to 1 am this week, but I still manage to awaken around 6:30-7 am. Not the smartest thing to treat the old bod. But there's always so much to do, especially when the acfw conference hits in five days and the things I plan every day get interrrupted and interrrupted and interrrrrrrrrrrrupted. Sigh.

Like today. My son needed someone to pick up his wife from across town and drive her almost just as far in the opposite direction from my house to get her car. He didn't even ask me to do it, but a little nudge reminded me I hadn't seen her in months. And I had to buy business card paper anyhow. Might as well be a good Samaritan while I was out.

So I did it. And our communion, though somewhat short, was sweet.

On the way home, I listened to the local Christian radio station, and Focus on the Family played some of the original 9-11 radio recordings we all heard eight years ago on that painful, horrendous day. It made me stop and consider my reaction back then. How I grieved for weeks, checked the Ground Zero website every day, hoped and prayed the rescue workers would find someone alive. Like so many others, I wept, mourned, and identified with those who suffered great losses. And thanked God that our nation had turned to Him in our hour of need.

But how many would remember that today's date even means anything anymore? Dr. Dobson and his guest showed great concern because the people's hearts seemed to have waxed cold again--as if there never was a 9-11.

It's time for a reality check.

Do I pray for:
The president and our civic leaders on a regular basis whether I voted for them or not?
The people of my nation?
Those in authority in other walks of life?
The peace of Jerusalem?
Our military, those in law enforcement, and those who risk their lives daily for the protection and safety of others?
My spiritual leaders?
All their families?

If not, I need to repent, give myself a mental sock in the head, and ask the Lord to help me form better prayer habits that include selfless prayers for others. If we don't ask, God won't answer. "...ye have not because ye ask not" James 4:2

May we turn back to the Lord that He may pardon, protect, and shed his grace upon us. He is a good God.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Linda Ford's Dakota Child Book Review and Author Interview

Linda Ford, who has written over twenty published novels, weaves a story rich in tenderness that depicts the struggles of two “misfits” in 1890s America. Though they see themselves as flawed, Vivian Halliday and Billy Black are willing to lay aside their own desires and dreams to protect those entrusted in their care. 

Young, unwed Vivian is lost in a blizzard with her two-month-old son, Joshua. A huge but kind man rescues them and shelters them in his home until the weather improves. Wary but grateful Vivian is surprised when she realizes he’s Big Billy, a childhood acquaintance, but she panics when his screeching, emotionally unstable mother, dubbed Mad Mrs. Black by taunting town folk, reacts hostilely toward her.

Determined to confront and wed the man who seduced her and fathered her infant, Vivian confesses her sin and guilt to Billy. He agrees to help her by taking her to town to find the man, an act he'd normally shun to avoid reoccurrences of the ridicule he and his mother suffered due to her erratic behavior and his large size. In town Billy and Vivian are dismayed to discover her potential husband-to-be has gone away for an undisclosed period of time. With no place else to go, she and Joshua return home with a reluctant Billy, who knows their presence will upset his mother. His concerns prove true, for Mrs. Black wants Vivian and the baby gone and makes sure everyone knows it. Billy takes on the role of peacemaker but secretly wishes that Vivian and Joshua would stay. And Vivian learns to appreciate Billy and doesn’t want to leave, but she must for Joshua’s sake.

Dakota Child deals with several issues: the guilt, shame, and fear that results from bearing a child out of wedlock, the lack of rights and other difficulties foundling children face, bigotry and cruelty toward people who are “different”, unprincipled men stealing from the innocent, and unforgiveness. Through their trials, our hero and heroine continually turn to the Lord in prayer, and even when Billy offers up a desperate, selfish prayer, his frailty only makes him more precious.

I definitely recommend Dakota Child. It’s a testimony of God's provision and forgiveness, and the power of unconditional love that works to change people’s hearts and lives.

Publisher: Steeple Hill Publication date: Sept 2009

Author Interview:

MAP: I've always had great respect for people who adopt children when they already have a brood of their own. You and your hubby had four homemade children and chose to adopt ten more to fulfill your dream of running an orphanage with at least twelve kids. That must have been quite a challenge. 

LF: Yes. Our adopted children came with lots of baggage that unfortunately did not go away with love, discipline or any other tool we had at our disposal. When several of the kids acted out in weird and awful ways in their teens, my dream seemed more like a nightmare.

MAP: So how did you cope with it?

LF: Interestingly enough, I got invited to a writer's meeting. The group listened to a tape telling how to organize our thoughts into chapters and write a non-fiction book. It all sounded so ...so controllable. I went home and started to write. From the beginning I was hooked because my writing gave me a world to control and kept me relatively sane when the one around me seemed out of control.

MAP: When you started writing fiction, how long before you switched from writing for yourself to making getting published a goal?

LF: I was first published in non-fiction—farm papers, human interest stories—but some of the human interest stories touched my heart and made me remember the joy of fiction. So a few years (the exact number has slipped my sieve of a mind) I tried my hand at fiction.

MAP: What's the easiest part of fiction writing for you?

LF: I could always make up stories in my head, often late at night when I couldn't sleep. I thought everyone did the same thing. To this day I can remember one rancher hero I created tall with a rolling swagger and a smile that didn't end.

MAP: What's your greatest fiction writing challenge?

LF: Getting the story from my head to the paper in some form of structure that will resonate with readers and portray what I see in my head. I have many, many stories where I missed it entirely.

MAP: You've worked through the family challenges of the past. I take it life is a lot calmer these days?

LF: In most ways now but never dull. I share my life with my ever-patient husband (yup, the rancher of my dreams), a paraplegic-double-amputee client for whom I provide personal care, a grown son who lives at home, and a yappy African grey parrot who knows far too many insults. I have an open door policy to my large family, which means special occasion family dinners for twenty or more, visiting grandchildren, crisis counseling (let's talk to Mom about it) and generally sharing the joys and trials of my children's lives. All of which provides me lots of research material for my historical and contemporary books, which have a recurring theme of foreverness, commitment, the power of faith and the joy of family.

MAP: Those themes shine clearly through your books, Linda. Thanks for sharing with us. To find more of Linda's books, go to her website, http://www.lindaford.org/. (FYI, Linda's website also contains some great fiction writing tips. Click on my sidebar link, Linda Ford's Writing Articles, to access them.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree...

Well, it took some doing, but my darling daughter showed me how to access my camera without going through the old software (See previous post for details). So here's the Christmas in September photo. But how am I supposed to wash and wax the floor under it between now and the Christmas season? Hmm. I think I'd better meditate on the scripture verse of the day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's Christmas in September - Sort of

Today my darling daughter promised to help me create a website, so I dashed up to my bedroom and plopped myself in front of my laptop. I spent a few hours writing materials to add to the site. While I worked, every now and then I heard thumpings and other sounds of furniture movement, but was too engrossed in my work to pay much attention.

Then my stomach grumbled that I needed a break, so I rose from my creative efforts and slogged downstairs to scrounge something up. Surprise, surprise. The furniture in front of the kitchen bay window had mysteriously moved into the family room. In its place Christmas showed up. In the shape of a seven-foot high champagne-colored prelit tree with the lights glowing.

"It's too early," I wailed. But the perpetrator had gone off somewhere with her sister, so neither of them heard me. I did the only thing I could think of--except for feeding my face. I hurriedly dug out my digital camera and took a couple of shots, making sure the photos included the greenery growing all over the back deck so people could see I wasn't lying. I mean, after all, who'd believe we'd really put up a tree in Sept? I wanted to back up my story with proof.
Unfortunately, that plan fizzled. Ever since my desktop computer hard drive had been updated, I haven't been able to access certain software. And my Kodak shareware is one. So until I can figure out how to download my photos, you'll have to take my word for this.

I guess I should tell you that we put up a huge Christmas light display every year. Before you think we're too weird, the photo on the left should give you a glimpse of what we do--outline the shapes of the trees--a slow process that can easily take more than an hour for one tree. We decorate at least 8 trees inside the house, several of which rotate. Is that cool or what??? There's 50 or 60-18 gallon storage bins sitting in a storage unit waiting to be transported home. Wah. I hate the thought of filling up my sunporch with them while they get unloaded and spread all over.

Last year we started in October but weren't able to complete everything by our annual first Friday of December Christmas party. So I guess we'll start earlier this year. The inside gets our attention first (we can hide it better) until the trees and shrubs lose some of their leaves, or at least stop growing. But my daughters have strict instructions to KEEP THE LIGHTS OFF UNTIL NOVEMBER. Of course after I said that, I wanted to turn them on.
It's never a dull moment with my enthusiastic, creative offspring. God bless 'em, every one.
BTW, not everyone agrees with this method of celebrating Christmas, of course, but we use it as bait, for people are definitely drawn to the displays each year. I've wanted to stand at the end of the driveway and hand out cookies or hot cider or something along with tracts about who Jesus is. Haven't done it yet, but maybe this is the year we'll be able to. Lord, you work it out, please.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I'm Forever Grateful

     Even though I'm busily preparing for a writers conference I'll attend in 12 days, a sense of super gratefulness has been rolling inside me. I think the Lord placed a triple dose of it in my heart, and I can't seem to stop gushing it out. Sometimes I actually break out in song for things as simple as:

     The cool weather (anything below 80 degrees is practically a miracle after the long stretches of humid, 90+ degrees days we've had most of July and August.

     The clear, clean water filling my oversized jacuzzi-type bathtub. A couple of weeks ago our water softener jammed up and the water was rust-colored and stained everything it touched.
     Money to put in the offering envelopes at church. I remember the days when pennies and nickels were all I could afford. Today it's dollars, and much more than one at a time.
     Fresh produce from plants that came up by themselves. In fact, they're stronger and taste better than the ones I babied.

     The prolific verbena that has spread so rampantly this year, that it's attracted all the butterflies that usually produce those nasty green worms in my tomatoes. I haven't seen even one of those icky critters for the first summer ever.

     The ability to bounce on a rebounder. Last year I needed an electric scooter to get around because using my right knee hurt so darned much.

     Working out with weights. Last time I tried, my shoulders gave me fits, and I had to quit after two weeks of miserably failing.

     Sons and daughters who help me without waiting to be asked. It hadn't always been that way.

     Seeing dozens of towering trees and shrubs close up no matter what window I look out. Ten years ago there was only one 6" tree on our lot.

     There's a lot of things in my life that I wish were different, but when I'm wrapped up in praising and thanking the Lord, they become insignicant. May I never get so caught up in myself that I lose sight of His goodness and forget to thank Him for it.

1 Thes 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  (NIV)

     In another matter, I subscribe to SteepleHill Historicals and Romantic Suspense novels. The good thing about that is receiving four of each every month, usually several weeks before their release dates--often before authors get their own copies. With that in mind, I will regularly review the most current selections--one per week starting after Labor Day. Stayed tuned for further details.