Reading…Reward or Punishment?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. When I was a child, I used to smuggle a flashlight into my room at night so I could hide under the covers and read after my mom had turned out the lights. My favorite place to hang out was the local library. The librarians all knew me by name and were never surprised when I showed up several days in a row and stayed for hours.
And then there’s my youngest son, Chris. I read to him before he was ever born. When he was a toddler, we spent countless hours snuggled up on the couch together as I read to him. I’d no sooner finish a story than he’d clap and yell, “Again!” I even used his desire to hear me read to him “again” to my advantage by saying things like, “Okay, as soon as you pick up your toys, I will read it again.” It worked for a while.
Then he got older and more into TV and sports and early versions of video games, and reading nearly disappeared from his life. I remember one day in particular when he was whining about being bored, so I suggested he read a book. His eyes widened and he said, “Why? What did I do?”
I was devastated. When had reading ceased to be a reward and become a punishment? Was it my fault? Had I allowed that to happen through bad or lazy parenting techniques? Or was it simply a natural progression for a child growing up in a technological world, with so many entertainment options that books were relegated to the “boring” pile?
I really don’t have an answer for that, as I know that even today there are children growing up as avid readers who never lose their passion for books. But there are many others who react as Chris did to the suggestion to read: “Why? What did I do?”
For those of us who are book-lovers, it’s a sad thing—even unbelievable—to hear someone say, “I never read” or “I don’t like to read” or “I don’t have time to read.” We have time for our priorities, so quite obviously reading is not a priority to many.
I know our lives are busy; I too wish I had more time to read. But I also know I have time to do what I really love. For me, that’s reading. How about you?

The Times They Are a-Changin’! by Kathi Macias

I remember hearing my grandparents and, later, my parents complaining about how quickly the world was changing and how more and more they felt “left behind.” I was clueless and couldn’t relate–until the years began to change my perspective.

When I first got into writing/publishing (WAY back in the Dark Ages, around the early 1980s), my job was actually much simpler. True, I had to write on an IBM Selectric typewriter, as opposed to the PC sitting on my lap at the moment, but I didn’t have to do any self-promoting or social networking or send out email blasts or monthly newsletter or… Well, you get the picture.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that things were indeed changing rapidly, and if I didn’t get on-board, I too–like my grandparents and parents before me–would be left behind. So I dug in and learned all this “newfangled” stuff like marketing and networking, etc., and I thought I’d made peace with that. Until recently…

Now I find myself being contacted about movie and film possibilities for my books. Yeah, I know, a great problem to have, right? Although nothing definite yet, we are certainly making progress in the right direction for seeing one of my stories on the “big screen.” But the tough part for me is that I’m simply not a movie fan. I almost never go to the movies and scarcely watch them on TV. I would so much rather read a book! But that’s another change I’m learning to cope with, as I take on new challenges of scriptwriting and all that goes with it.

As a result I find myself wondering about my favorite people: readers. How do you all feel about it? Are you strictly book people, or do you cross over into movies? What sort of movies capture your attention and make you want to come back for more? As I make this new change, I’d love input from people I respect, and I imagine my fellow authors feel the same. Thanks, dear readers!

Calling All Librarian Stories!

I recently attended an international conference for Christian book buyers/sellers from around the world. Now I’m preparing to deliver a keynote speech at a national conference for book lenders—i.e., librarians. I’m excited about this opportunity because I’ve loved libraries since I was a kid. When many of my friends wanted to play outside, I preferred to be holed up in a library, discovering new stories and exciting adventures.
Something tells me many of you are the same way. People who grow up to be avid readers usually developed that passion while they were still children. True, parents are huge influencers when it comes to our love of reading (or lack thereof), but librarians played a large part in that for many of us as well.
If that’s you, please leave a brief story of how a librarian influenced or encouraged you in your younger days, will you? I am collecting these stories to share with the librarians at the conference next week, but also because I want to read them myself. So come on. Tell us your favorite library/librarian story!

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Laughing It up with a String-Story Slam!

I just returned from the annual ICRS (International Christian Retail Services) Convention in Atlanta, where I had a chance to see dear friends and colleagues I don’t run into any other time but at this once-a-year event. Besides presenting the annual Beyond Me Award to author Grace Fox at the Golden Scrolls Award Banquet and doing some TV and radio interviews (and lots and lots of eating!), I also had an opportunity to be part of a “string-story slam.”

Yeah, it was a first for me too—never heard of it before. But I must admit, it was a lot of fun, and the audience seemed to love it. Onstage with CAN president Angie Breidenbach, funny lady Twila Belk, and comedian-extraordinaire Torry Martin at the Change of Life Festival, we had them rolling in the aisles as we took turns reading from our individual books (i.e., third sentence on page 93, last line on page 132, etc.) to string together an absolutely hilarious and completely nonsensical story. Why am I telling you about this? Because after the event, several audience members came up to us and told us they planned to use it as an ice-breaker at parties and book-club meetings, or just at home with family and friends. Why not give it a try yourself? Have a few people bring their favorite book (novels work best), and then have someone else moderate by announcing which lines/pages to read from. It’s that simple. Then watch the fun begin! Will you give it a try? I’d love to hear about it.

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Quilts and Bonnets…or Human Suffering?

As a long-time writer who has tackled various subjects and genres, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Christian readers prefer soft and gentle over hard-hitting, at least when it comes to fiction. My new Quilt Series has actually been selling quite well, even though it includes background stories about historical characters who suffered for various causes. In contrast, my Extreme Devotion Series (modern-day martyrs around the world) and Freedom Series (human trafficking), though winning countless awards and accolades for helping to expose horrific situations, have been tough sells.

I’ve come to the conclusion (though I’m open to other opinions) that many of us are so inundated and grieved by the worldwide suffering we see on a regular basis that we prefer novels with a “softer” touch, something with a “Calgon feel” that can take us away from all that for a time. That would certainly explain the popularity of Amish or “bonnet” fiction, as well as the current quilt fad. I personally enjoyed researching and writing the Quilt Series more than I did the Extreme Devotion or Freedom Series, simply because they weren’t as dark or difficult. But I believe the others were necessary, and I pray God will use them to help many who are trapped in such deplorable situations.

I would love to hear from other writers who may have had similar experiences, and also from readers. What are your thoughts on this? When it comes to fiction, do you prefer “quilts and bonnets” or human suffering as a topic? Thanks for your input!

Books or Movies?

My husband and I recently went to see “Heaven Is for Real” and were extremely pleased with it. We recommended it to our son and his wife, and they too went to see it, calling us afterward to thank us for the recommendation because they enjoyed it thoroughly.
As a writer, I generally tend to be disappointed with movies if I’ve already read the book, and to be honest I don’t go to see many movies at all (unless they are highly recommended by people I know). I didn’t read this particular book about heaven, though I had a general idea what it was about. I can’t help but wonder if I would have had a different reaction to the movie if I’d read the book first.
Over the years, several of my own novels have been optioned for movies. The first time that happened, I got so excited and couldn’t wait to tell everyone. More experienced authors who’d “been there-done that” said things like “That’s nice” or “I hope it works out for you.” Now I understand. To date, none of those optioned books have made it to the big screen, though one continues to move through the process and I’m cautiously hopeful.
So where do you, as a reader, stand on this issue? If a book you’ve read and loved is turned into a movie, does that make you want to run out and see it at the theater? If so, what has been your general reaction? Were you disappointed or satisfied? Have you ever come away thinking the movie was better than the book? I’d love to get your feedback, as I imagine many other authors would as well.

Good News and Bad News…

Many of us recently heard about yet another Christian book publisher being acquired by a larger publishing house. This reflects on the direction of the industry in general, but it also impacts a lot of individual lives. One of the employees of said publisher is a dear friend of mine, who now has 50 days of employment left. That’s the bad news for her. The good news? Her amazing attitude.
“I always loved an adventure,” she said, “and I can’t wait to see the one God is going to take me on now.” I love that, don’t you? Talk about taking lemons and turning them into lemonade? And this lady is no twenty- or thirty- or even forty-something. She’s at a place in life when it’s a bit tougher to land a job, but she knows it’s not up to her to make that happen. Instead she is patiently and even excitedly waiting on God to take her to that next season in her life.
Isn’t that how we all should live, regardless of our circumstances? Isn’t that Romans 8:28 in real-life? “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). All things—not a few things, or some things, or most thing. All things, even (and maybe most especially) the really tough and challenging things that we all face at one time or another. And for His purpose, not ours. That’s the secret. My friend knows she walks this earth to serve his purpose, not her own, and that’s why she can face this new “blip” on her radar screen with excitement rather than despair.
I pray we will all take that scripture to heart and put “feet to our faith” the next time we too are faced with a “good news-bad news” situation.

The Wearin’ of the Green by Kathi Macias

I must confess to not being a big follower or celebrant of St. Patrick’s Day, mostly because I forget about it until someone reminds me that I’m not wearing green. (When you work at home, as I do, that seldom becomes an issue.)

            At the same time, as one whose mother’s grandparents came to America from Ireland to escape the potato famine, I suppose I should at least acknowledge the holiday. And as a writer, I need to do so with some basic research under my belt.

            St. Patrick’s Day is, as the name denotes, a day to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick. The date is set on what is commemorated as the day of his death. The day became an official feast day in the seventeenth century, and it is formally celebrated by several denominations: the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and
Anglican Communion. The day is meant not only to honor Ireland’s patron saint but also the arrival of Christianity to Ireland. With that in mind, I decided I should become more proactive in celebrating this holiday. I started researching the roots and meaning of this day, and quickly discovered it was more than getting pinched on the playground because you forgot to wear green.

            Here’s a fascinating point: The color originally associated with St. Patrick’s Day was blue, but that changed over the years. Before long celebrants began wearing a green shamrock to honor the day and to signify good luck—or “the luck of the Irish.” It is believed that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the pagans, who otherwise struggled with its concept. As a matter of fact, I remember a Lutheran pastor using that very example to explain it when I was a child, and I admit that it greatly simplified the concept, even to my young mind. In what is known as the “1798 Rebellion,” Irish soldiers dressed completely in green on March 17; from that point on, the phrase “the wearing of the green” began to spread until most everyone was familiar with it.

            March 17 became an official holiday in Ireland in 1903, and I imagine the Irish are celebrating it there with gusto today, though I wonder how many—in Ireland and elsewhere—observe the true roots of St. Patrick’s Day. Not only is it more than a day to wear green to avoid being pinched or to down a bunch of beer at a local pub, it is a day to honor a man who used something as simple as a shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity to unbelievers. Maybe today, as we observe this century-old holiday, we too can find a way to use “the wearin’ of the green” to introduce others to the Christ that St. Patrick followed.

In the Run-up to Easter…Encourage Someone!

Easter isn’t until late April this year, but I always start thinking about it at the first signs of Spring, and the signs of new life that come with it. (And that happens early here in Southern California where I live!) I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, though it was “back in the day” when the majority of the country still openly celebrated the religious aspects of Christmas and Easter. As a result, I knew at least the basics about those holidays, but I must admit that my primary focus was Santa and the Easter bunny. Therefore, it was no surprise when our third-grade teacher asked us to write an Easter story and mine centered on colored eggs and candy.

What was a surprise, however, was the fact that the teacher thought my story was so well written that she showed it to the principal, who decided to turn it into a play for the entire PTA. Wow, I was stunned! I was also hooked. I think I knew from that moment that I would be a writer one day.

As the years went by, I received other words of encouragement about my writing; I also received rejections, which goes with the territory. But I was so impacted by that third grade teacher and the principal who believed in me that I never gave up pursuing my dream.

I want to be like those two women who spoke encouragement into my life so many years ago, don’t you? Regardless of what a child’s dreams may be, it is so important for us as adults to encourage those dreams and help steer their fulfillment in the right direction. As we approach the coming Season of Lent, let’s ask God to give us opportunities to encourage someone else’s dreams. We never know where those dreams may take them, or how they may impact future generations.

Super-Book Sunday by Kathi Macias

Along with millions of others, I watched the Super Bowl yesterday, cheering my team (thankfully, the Seahawks!) on and enjoying time spent with friends/family. Then, when it was over, I checked my email, where I found a note from an eight-year-old girl who wants to be a writer one day. She said she’s using my train-of-thought writing method book (impressive for an eight-year-old!) and had a couple questions for me. She wanted to be sure on some things involving point-of-view and also writing in first- or third-person because, in her words, she “loves books and wants to write good ones” herself.

Need I say “impressive” again? Seriously, she’s eight years old! And instead of watching the Super Bowl with her family, she was in her room trying to develop strong characters for her story.

As excited as I was about the outcome of yesterday’s football game, it didn’t begin to compare with that email from this future success story. Because you know what I realized as I considered that email? Whether or not she pursues her dream to write, she will be successful at whatever she chose to do with her life.

This also reminded me of how important books can be in the lives of young people—for good…or for evil.

Of my more than forty published books, only two were actually written for children. And yet, I’ve discovered that young people (late teens and early twenties) are among my greatest fans. Understanding that my fiction usually tackles tough topics (persecuted Church, human trafficking, homelessness, etc.), this tells me something about today’s youth. Despite the negative things we hear about them in the media (which, sadly, are mostly true), many of them have a passion to rise above that image and do great things with their lives.

Never was that more clearly illustrated to me than the a few years ago when I was doing a book-signing at a local bookstore. It was for one of my Extreme Devotion books, and the anticipated “flood” of fans scarcely qualified as a trickle. One young man, however, made it all worthwhile.

He was about seventeen, and we’d never met before. When he walked into the store, he glanced around until he spotted me, then headed straight toward my lonely corner.

“Mrs. Macias?” he asked.

When I nodded and welcomed him, he said, “I’m a high school senior, home-schooled. I don’t read much, unless I really have to for school, but your book was on our required reading list, so I read it. Now I plan to read all your books because they make me want to lead a noble life.”

I will tell you that in all my thirty-plus years as a published writer, I have never received such a wonderful or meaningful review! That young man encouraged my heart more than he will ever know.

So did the eight-year-old girl who emailed me during the Super Bowl yesterday. Her one note certainly doesn’t qualify as “Super-Book Sunday” or threaten the popularity of the most popular football game of the year, but it reminded me of how important books can be, not only to shape the lives of future generations but the condition of the world as well.

I’m grateful to be a part of it, and I hope you all—whether writers and/or readers—are too!

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KATHI MACIAS

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The Best Christmas Story

Many who hear the words “The Christmas Story” mistakenly equate it to Ralphie and his infamous BB gun. I must admit, I love that silly story and have watched it many times. But it’s not what pops into my mind when I hear “The Christmas Story.”

            The first time I remember hearing the actual Christmas story—the awe-inspiring account of the God of the Universe stooping down to join his creation on a sin-infested planet—I was eight or nine years old. True, I had no doubt heard bits and pieces of it before that, but I had never stopped to listen and absorb its stunning impact.

 I had been chosen to play the part of Mary in our annual Christmas play at school. (Yes, that was public school; we could do that then.) I was excited about the part, even though I had no lines to memorize since all I had to do was sit demurely beside the manger, gazing down at the plastic doll representing the Baby Jesus. I can’t remember who played Joseph, or any of the other parts, for that matter. What I do remember was hearing the angel recite Luke 2, day after day, as we rehearsed. Those words made their way into my mind, though it would be almost two decades later before I made room for Christ in the inn of my heart.

I’ve read and heard and watched a lot of Christmas stories since then, but nothing to equal the amazing story found in the second chapter of Luke. How about you? Can you remember the first time you heard or read that passage of Scripture? Where were you? How did you feel about it? How did it impact you? And if you have other favorite Christmas stories—classic ones or newly written—what are they, and why did you so enjoy them?

What Do You Know..Who Do You Know?

As long as I can remember I’ve heard the admonition to “write what you know.” The problem with that my experience and knowledge were limited. Now I hope that as I have grown older (much older!) I’ve learned more and certainly experienced more. But regardless of how long I live on this earth, how much I experience, or how much knowledge I absorb, there will always be limits.

Since I’m a writer as well as a reader, I had to ask myself, “How long will my readers be content with reading only what I have personally experienced or know?” The answer was, “Not very long.”

That’s when I turned into an avid researcher. True, it was easier to write a novel set in a fictional place similar to my hometown, about people similar to me and/or my family and friends, but if I was serious about writing, I needed to be willing to stretch out of my comfort zone and expand my knowledge base. When I signed a contract to write four international novels, each set in a geographical location I’d never even visited and in a culture that was completely foreign to me, I felt more than a bit intimidated. How would I ever bring these stories to life?

Thanks to modern technology I was able to begin with Internet research, and that certainly gave me the basic information I needed to build the skeleton for my stories. But if I wanted to put “meat” on those bones and make those stories breathe, I had to go further. And so I began to pray. “Show me, God, how to do this, where to go, who to talk to.” As always, He answered faithfully–in His time and His way, of course.

Though each resource person came into my life in a different way, God provided someone from each country I was writing about who was willing to work with me on my stories. As a result, readers often say to me, “Wow, I had no idea you had lived in China (Africa/Saudi Arabia–you fill in the blanks).” They’re shocked when I tell them I’ve never even set foot in those places. But God has His people everywhere–and He knows exactly how to connect us. Because of that, I was able to move beyond the “write what you know” mentality and give my readers something more.

What we know may be important, but Who we know is the vital key, not only to writing interesting fiction but to our eternal destiny–for He is the true Author and Finisher of our faith.

A Love for Books? by Kathi Macias

Almost all writers are also readers, though not all readers are necessarily writers. But writers, readers, or both, I think we can all agree that we are thankful for books.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot as we approach the fall holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. One of the best emails I got last year during this season was from one of my readers who said, “I loved your book so much that I bought copies to give to all my friends and family for Christmas!” Of course, I only got one email like that and would have loved a whole pile of them, but it re-enforced my long-standing gratitude for books, a gratitude that began long before I ever published my first one.

Most of us are privileged to live in a time and place where we can easily and readily purchase a book whenever we please. It hasn’t always been so, and in some parts of the world even today, it still isn’t. Down through the centuries people have paid a great price for writing, printing, distributing, owning, or reading certain books. The Bible, of course, is at the top of that list. I, for one, have more copies of the Scriptures than I can count, and I imagine you do too. And I don’t have to hide them under the bed or in a hole in the backyard for fear of being arrested should the wrong person spot them and report me to the authorities. Still, can you imagine the different level of appreciation someone in that position would have for a book—the Bible or otherwise—than you and I might have, since we are able to own them so freely?

One of my favorite (and most read) books, second only to the Bible, is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I read at least one story from it nearly every day, and each time I do it moves me to pick up one of my Bibles and caress its cover, savoring the life-changing richness of its contents and whispering yet another prayer of thanks to its Author. So many have been imprisoned, tortured, even killed for daring to own just one page of this Book above all books, and here I have access to more versions and copies than I’ll ever need. Now, in addition to the many leather-bound copies on my bookshelf and on my desk, I also have copies on my Kindle. Do I truly realize how blessed I am to possess such treasures?

This year, as we progress through the fall season, especially Thanksgiving, may all of us who consider ourselves lovers of books take just a few extra moments to utter a prayer of thanks for the many books we are privileged to read each year, particularly the Holy Scriptures, authored by the King of Kings and autographed in His blood.

Word Treasures by Kathi Macias

I recently had the most enjoyable experience of going to see an old friend—“old,” as in older than I am, and those friends are becoming few and far between these days.

This friend’s name is Linda, and to be truthful, she really isn’t old. If anything, she’s one of those ageless people whose bodies might get saggy and wrinkled but whose mind and wit stay sharp to the end. I actually find myself feeling quite outdated and frumpy in her presence, though her ever-gracious spirit welcomes me wholeheartedly.

This was an especially nice visit, as Linda and I don’t live near one another and seldom get to spend time together. It was especially nice, therefore, when she discovered I was traveling through her neighborhood that she invited me to spend a night in her warm and spacious home. And what an enjoyable stay it was! Linda has the gift of hospitality, as does her husband who cooked us a marvelous dinner. Of course we spent hours afterward, talking and laughing about old times, but even that wasn’t the highlight of my visit. That came just before heading off to the charming guestroom where I slept like the proverbial baby.

Between our after-dinner chat and toddling off to bed, Linda took me into her library to view her treasures—books, of all sizes, shapes, bindings, and genres, particularly the shelves of ancient tomes with author names like Melville and Shakespeare and Frost and Michener. Oh, how she loved those books, and how she beamed as she showed them to me, one by one. We commented on each author and title, and closed our evening with the sad realization that many young people today have never read such books, or if they have, it was done out of compulsion rather than awestruck wonder.

“Treasures,” Linda mused. “How I long for young people to savor the treasures found in these books.” Then she held up her most beloved treasure in all her library—an old family Bible, passed down to her by her parents and her grandparents before them. “Especially this one,” she said, smiling. “So neglected by so many, and yet so full of timeless wisdom and life-changing words.”

I drifted off to sleep that night thinking of Linda’s comments about her treasures, praying that people everywhere would begin to hunger for the written word again, enough to break away from other pursuits and learn about the treasure found in books, particularly the Bible. For myself, personally, it was a poignant reminder of my own need to spend less time being “busy” and more time digesting “timeless wisdom and life-changing words.”

Christians Read Fall Catalogue Released

(Click below to view the Christians Read Catalogue, 2013 Fall Edition, which includes Chapter Excerpts!

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