Novel Preparation 101 with Guest Author DiAnn Mills

deep extraction by DiAnn Mills

Novel Preparation 101 by Guest Author DiAnn Mills

We writers have habits that help us organize and get started on new writing projects. Today I’d like to share with you how I assemble my thoughts and preparations before writing chapter one, line one of a new novel.

Some writers are careful outliners. Some are seat-of-the-pants writers. I’m an organic writer, which means everything in my story rises out of the point of view character. The character charts the map not an outline. But some things I must know before I can begin.

  1. Idea! Oh, these come from so many different places—from a movie, a current happening in the news, overheard conversation, a what-if from everyday life, and dreams. In Deep Extraction, I learned a pacemaker is one of the easiest devices to hack into.
  2. Prayer. Not sure about you but if I’m not onboard with God, then my story will fail. He is the author of creativity and my source of inspiration.
  3. Premise. This is what guides me to brainstorm a story. For example in Deep Extraction: What if a female FBI special agent learns her best friend’s husband died of a heart attack. But now the investigators believe it was murder, and her best friend is a person of interest? What if the female FBI agent is assigned to investigate the murder?
  4. Character. Who is the hero or heroine of the story? Why would working through the premise and storyline (plot) be difficult for him or her? Why would this character be the only person who could walk through this story? What are the character’s weaknesses that make this journey necessary? What motivates my character into action? What happened in the character’s backstory that shaped who this person is in chapter one?
  5. Characterization sketch. This is a continuance from question number four above. The most important part of any story is the character. A powerful story is one in which the writer knows the character inside and out. We live with the character, breathe, suffer, rejoice, embrace truth, run, and the list goes on. A complete characterization sketch should be completed for every POV character. If you’d like mine, email me at diann@diannmills.com for a copy.
  6. Setting. Where is the best place to set the story? What setting forces my character to change and grow, catch the character unaware, and generally make life miserable?
  7. Research. This covers a lot of ground from the character’s occupation, the problem or goal, setting, and dialogue per the character’s personality and background.
  8. Summary. I don’t like writing a synopsis because I realize from the onset my story will change during the writing process. Yet my editors need an idea of where my characters are going and why. So it’s important for them to have a foundation of my story.
  9. Spreadsheet. Yes, writers, I create a spreadsheet that I will use long after the manuscript is turned into my editors. I have columns titled: Chapter, Scene #, short scene summary, blog ideas, contest ideas, Facebook post, Giveaways, Hashtags, Pinterest Board, Speaking Topics, Tweetables, Video, Images/Memes. I use only the first two columns during the writing process, and the others are completed during the final line by line editing to help with promotion/publicity efforts.

Once I have these things complete, I’m ready to place my fingers on my computer keyboard and create. What about you? How do you ready yourself to write?

 

DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on Facebook: www.facebook.com/diannmills, Twitter: https://twitter.com/diannmills or any of the social media platforms listed at http://www.diannmills.com.

DiAann Mills excpect adverture

 

 

Posted in Mary Alford, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

One Little Starfish

This year, I’m involved in a reading challenge that has definitely expanded my horizons. The list includes stepping outside our favorite genre to read old books and new, fiction or non-fiction, classics or otherwise. In other words, those of us dedicated to meeting the challenge are trying to read a book we might not have picked up unless trying to check off a requirement from this diverse reading list. It’s been interesting, reminding me of when I first joined my book club. In that case, we’ve each taken turns choosing books, and many titles have pleasantly surprised me, including ones I probably never would have thought of reading.

Recently, I’ve read a couple of books that discuss the very serious issue of human trafficking. We don’t often think of slavery in modern times, at least I haven’t, but two books I’ve picked up recently have opened my eyes to just how horrific this modern-day blight really is.

The first book I read was Sold, by Patricia McCormick. Although it’s a fictional account, the author did her research by going to Nepal to interview survivors of the sex slave trade. She also visited several brothels. Rather than taking an actual account of just one girl, she chose to compile the tragic stories and compose a riveting tale from the similarities in many accounts. It’s amazingly well told, considering its tough subject. Patricia McCormick is a survivor of sexual assault herself, so perhaps that deepened her conviction to write about this subject.

Right now I’m reading Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The title refers to the saying that women may hold up half the sky but aren’t treated as equals in too many cultures. This book has a broader look into the slave trade. What the two books have in common so far is that women are oppressed in so many countries and the best way to help is through organizations that know what they’re doing. International Justice Missions, for example, is working throughout developing countries to help entire families escape oppression.

So what does any of this have to do with a starfish, you might ask? There is a story retold in Half the Sky that’s taken from an old compilation of stories by Loren Eiseley that goes something like this: Once there was an old man who lived near the sea. He got up early one morning to see that a huge storm had washed ashore countless starfish. In the distance, he happened to spot a boy hurrying along the shore, tossing the helpless little creatures back into the water. The old man asked him what he was doing, and the boy said they would all die once the sun got too high if he didn’t help. The old man cautioned that the boy’s efforts were hopeless. He couldn’t possibly make much of a difference when there were so many to be saved. The boy picked up another starfish and tossed it as far as he could, back into the ocean. Then he looked at the old man and said “It made a difference to that one!”

So, yes, it’s true we can’t save all of the victims of human traffickers, but perhaps we can make a difference in the life of just one.

As Ms. McCormick said in one interview about her book, if you read it and at the end are depressed and sad that this kind of thing is still happening, then she hasn’t done her job. Her job is done only when we’re moved to do something. Please consider supporting such a worthy organization as IJM (International Justice Mission) to fight modern day slavery, oppression and violence.

Perhaps God has already touched your heart on this topic, and today’s post is only a reminder.

If you want to read more about this please visit either Patricia McCormick’s website or visit International Justice Mission to learn more about how you can help.

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Birth is Still a Miracle–by Hannah Alexander

Let me show you some pictures of our recent miracles, then let me tell you how these little miracles came to us, specifically.

This was not my plan, of course. Kittens? Another stray cat? We’ve had ten come to our home in the past eleven years. Some of them were old when they came to us, and they died. Some grew ill and had to be gently eased out of life to stop their suffering. Some were feral cats we tamed, but they still refused to come inside for long, so they were taken by coyotes. Our 11-year-old, very tame, very loving cat, Data, is NOT interested in sharing us with anyone since he now has us all to himself. It’s nice to be loved, and he effectively puts a stop to our having a house that always seemed filled with cats, as we had before we moved here to the wild, wild west.

When a frightened, hungry, needy young stray ginger tabby came to our front door begging a few weeks ago, I didn’t have the heart to turn her away. Data did. He tried very hard to let her know he didn’t want her here. I had hoped she belonged to one of the neighbors, but that was not to be. I asked them all.

So I fed the young cat–well under a year old–outside, simply because she was hungry. Then she started gaining weight. Did it occur to me that she was eating for five? NO! I only suspected someone else might be feeding her. That is, until Mel filled a box with towels and put it in the garage for her to sleep one night so she wouldn’t freeze in the below-freezing temperatures. It didn’t even occur to us that this was how we ended up with so many other cats when we lived in Missouri.

And then one morning, two Thursdays ago, ten minutes after Mel left for work, I walked out into the garage to see if our visitor was ready to go outside, and got the shock of my life to see three wet, golden babies in the box with our terrified little stray mother. I don’t think she knew where they came from or why they were there. Of course I didn’t think to take a picture of her wide and terrified eyes.

I ran back inside the house and called Mel. I left a message on his cell. “Honey, d-d-did you….uh….did you see…uh…Honey, there are babies! B-b-baby kittens!” He still has that voice mail on his phone. He listens to it when he needs a laugh.

When I returned to the garage, there was a fourth kitten. Now, why hadn’t I stayed out there to help her? But they had been licked dry, so instinct obviously took over. Three of the babies had markings like their mother (whom we now call Prancy because she prances with her front feet when she’s nervous–or maybe she’s trying to charm us into letting her stay.) One of the kittens, the girl, has Siamese markings. She’s going to be very hard to resist. Actually, all of them are.

Today the little ones and their mother are at the vet’s office. Here in cattle country there’s not a lot of time to spend on stray cats, so I just took them in and left them so the vet can get to them when he’s not tagging or vaccinating or helping brand thousands of head of cattle.

For the past few days I’ve been concerned that the kittens were getting sick because they sneezed when I picked them up. Today I was told at the vet’s office that they aren’t sneezing, they’re spitting and trying to hiss. Yes, the ingrates. Even with their eyes closed, they have been learning to protect themselves. Now their eyes are open, and they’re even more difficult to resist.

I should have known they were spitting, not sneezing, because it’s the same kind of sound I’ve heard Data make when Prancy first tried to come into the house. He still makes that same sound. It wasn’t the sound he made when he first saw one of the kittens. He tucked his tail and ran under the bed. Really? He caught a rat bigger than this little kitten a couple of weeks ago, and he’s afraid of a helpless baby?

Sorry the picture here is so blurry, but you try holding a baby still long enough to snap a still shot of it. Maybe Angie Hunt, photographer, writer, and friend, could do it, but not Mel and me.

These little babies will stay with their mother in our garage until they’re weaned and we can find homes for them. I will insist on the boys (three of them) being neutered, and the Siamese-looking female being spayed as soon as possible. Prancy will be spayed as soon as her kittens are weaned. No more of this kind of trauma for her. It will be a huge relief for everyone.

WARNING, some preaching here: I have always been very disappointed by the number of stray cats in the world because they’re dumped, unwanted, at the end of a road, where the dumper seems to believe a good, country farmhouse might need a cat. Or maybe they just don’t care because they think “Out of sight, out of mind.” Then those poor cats become feral–and who can blame them when they’ve been left to fend for themselves in a strange place? And of course, nature takes over and they mate and have babies and the feral population grows until coyotes or other dangers pick the off, one by one. But even that never cuts back on the feral population.

I’ve always immediately neutered or spayed any stray cat who came to us, even if I had to use a live trap. I want our little ones to never experience the trials of mating or fighting over a mate, the terrors of giving birth, the damage caused by fighting. You can always tell if a cat has been in the wild for a while because there’s usually a notch in an ear–this happens in fights. Prancy has a notch, young as she is. Many of our other strays had those notches.

I want these kittens in our garage, including Prancy, to have loving homes, so I will love on them and help Prancy teach them how to behave properly inside. The mama cat naturally teaches the babies how to use a litter box, even the stray, feral ones, so they’re naturally housebroken. I know this from experience.

The reason we will find good homes for these five? Because of this cat, Data. Cats are excellent mousers, and after recently being told by neighbors that they’ve set out live traps and trapped 20 to 30 mice a DAY around their homes, I’ve seen very little mouse activity here, and that’s because cats take care of that problem for us. I believe their scent frightens mice away. This picture of Data might make him look lazy, but don’t underestimate him. A few weeks ago this fifteen-pounder went outside and lovingly brought us a rat almost as big as he was. He’s our terminator. We want to keep him happy, and he isn’t happy when another cat is receiving too much of our attention. If you live in our area (Nebraska Panhandle) and need to keep mice out of the house, I’ve got just what you need: Tame young cats who can grow up in your home and become wonderful companions. I’ve read that I should sell them, because free cats are not considered valuable. Plus, I’m investing a lot of money into caring for these little ones. But all the cats we’ve ever had were rescued strays from the streets, and I always valued them. I think the price would be a loving home.

However, to keep the mice out of the house, you will need to keep the cat IN the house. All you need is a scratching post or two so they’ll avoid the furniture, a claw trimmer so they can get affectionate without damage to skin, and dry food so their teeth will remain clean. Oh, yeah, and a litter box that you can empty once a day–it isn’t difficult with the right litter that is dust-free and clumps. These young cats will become very loving company for you if you want them to. Or they could just stay out of the way and keep the mice at bay. It’s up to you.

After what I’ve seen of the mouse and rat population in this area, I think I’ll always have a cat around, but I just hope Data, who was our youngest rescue kitten eleven years ago, will live at least twenty years.

Oh, yeah, I’ve been told that the huge ranches around here are always looking for cats for the feedlot to keep the mice away, but because of the coyote population, these cats might not last more than a week or two. I don’t plan to invest time and love and energy on taming these kittens just so some coyote can eat them. I want them inside homes where they’ll be loved and safe. Take a chance. Take a kitten. See how the company of a cat can change your life as our cats over the years have changed ours.

 

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Spreading the Word in Chapel Cars and an Announcement by Judith Miller

I’m delighted to share that my most recent book, The Chapel Car Bride, released on April 6th. Writing this latest book was a genuine pleasure because I was able to include a piece of history that isn’t common knowledge. In fact, most folks I talk to have never heard of Chapel Cars. I was fortunate enough to have a friend give me a short piece she’d read in a news magazine years ago. And, then, as if the Lord was pushing me toward sharing the history of chapel cars, a lady who lives in Arkansas was kind enough to send me a large box of research materials about chapel cars. She’d gathered the books and articles while writing her thesis for an advanced college degree. Needless to say, her kindness saved me many hours of research time, and likely gave me some additional insight I might not have located on my own.

My particular story deals with a young woman who accompanies her father on the Herald of Hope chapel car into a small West Virginia coal mining town where she is confronted with the myriad challenges the miners and their families face on a day to day basis.

For those of you who enjoy history, I’ve included a little about the formation and use of chapel cars during beginning in the late 1890s and continuing until 1940.

In 1890, during a meeting between former Coleporter (Circuit Rider) missionary Rev. Boston Smith, who was in charge of Baptist Sunday Schools in Minnesota, and Dr. Wayland Hoyt, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Minneapolis,  an answer to the pioneers’ prayers for a religious presence on the western frontier was developed. The concept of The Chapel Car Syndicate, later known as the Chapel Car Ministry, was based on Dr. Hoyt’s experiences of riding with his brother, a railroad executive and tycoon, in his private railroad coach. In this ministry railroad coaches were refurbished as churches/chapels with pews, organs, pulpits and other religious symbols for religious services giving one a sense of actually worshipping in a church. Also, the front of the car was a small apartment for the minister. The Chapel Car Ministry solved the two major problems previous Coleporters faced, they could now travel year around and with a permanent minister assigned to the Chapel Car the coach could cover more territory with one minister and his wife.

The railroads were instrumental in the success of the Chapel Car Ministry. Not only did they pull the coaches free of charge but, they provided other valuable services. Some railroad companies gave special rebates on freight charges for building materials for new churches reducing the cost of building new churches and allowing for more churches to be built.

In 1891 The American Baptist Publication Society dedicated into service their first Chapel Car, The Evangel. Due to the overwhelming success of the Evangel their fleet soon grew to seven coaches. The success of the Chapel Car Ministry on the western frontier can be seen when by 1905 the ministry had helped to establish 135 churches, helped to build 112 meeting houses, organized 243 Bible schools and baptized 4,578 people. Due to this success it reduced the number of Chapel Cars needed on the Western Frontier and the American Baptist Publication Society began assigning the coaches to rural areas across the United States in need of a religious presence.

The success of the Chapel Car Ministry also inspired other churches to put Chapel Cars into service. In 1907 the Catholic Church Extension Society dedicated into service their first coach The St. Anthony. This was followed by two more coaches The St. Paul and the St. Peter. The Episcopal Church of North Dakota led by Bishop William David Walker placed into service a chapel car, Church of the Advent, for the North Dakota area.

Between 1890 and 1940 these churches on rails covered over eight million miles ministering to the religious needs of unchurched areas through the distribution of Bibles and other religious material and establishing new churches and religious programs such as Sunday School programs.

 

 

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I Believe, but I Need Proof by Julie Arduini

Every Easter season, I reflect on the disciples and their choices. Our church offers a Passion Play and no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I think about Peter’s transformation from foot-in-the mouth to feet on the ground to tell everyone about Jesus. About John and what a true friend he was. And Judas. What a heartbreaking end for him.

This year my mind camped at the thought of those three days and beyond. Mary Magdelene went to the tomb and found it empty, and she ran to Peter and John to tell them. They needed to see. Once they saw the grave clothes folded and no sign of Jesus, they understood what He had said to them. What the Scriptures foretold. But Thomas? He had to see Jesus and the nail marks.

I admit, I’m the same. There are promises over my life and those I love that even when they came to pass, I had trouble receiving it. I had faith the entire time I was praying. I did. Yet, when it was fulfilled, I had to check. Check again. Triple check.

One promise was having a daughter. I felt not long after our first child was born, we were to have a daughter. When I miscarried, I wondered if that was the end of that promise. Still, I felt a stirring that God was not done. After a lot of prayer, I was convinced I was going to have one more child, a daughter. I even had a month that I felt was God’s whisper for us, although I didn’t quite know what it meant. My husband didn’t have the heart to tell me that same month was in his mind, too. He was planning to sit me down that month and tell me we needed to stop trying. It wasn’t going to happen, and he didn’t want to have young children and be a senior citizen at the same time.

As only God can, there was only one opportunity that month for that desire of my heart, and weeks later when I took the pregnancy test, it was faint, but it was there.

And I couldn’t believe it.

Since the first test was an afternoon one, I bought another and took it first thing in the morning.

Another positive, even stronger.

I still couldn’t believe it. Our hot water tank decided to retire, and things were quite stressful. I figured somehow it was my hormones in rebellion, and it couldn’t possibly be a pregnancy.

100_0399After a THIRD test, I finally saw the situation for what it had been all along, an answer to prayer.

There is so much about Jesus time on earth that I want to condemn his earthly friends for their lack of understanding and faith, but I’m no better. Promise after promise comes to pass and I hesitate to believe it was His hand. Over the years I’ve seen people healed. Set free. Provision. So much, and yet, I am not sure when a prayer is about ready to be answered, or already has.

I believe the world is about to see the greatest ushering of His presence through answered prayer and Holy Spirit direction that we better get ready. I believe many prayers will be answered overnight, so subtle yet amazing, we will be dumbfounded.

I want to be ready. I don’t want to be one that needs to run to the tomb to make sure it is empty, or demand proof like Thomas. Like Joyce Meyer has said, “I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.” My faith has grown, but especially when it comes to loved ones, it’s so hard to believe in faith, even after the prayer has been answered.

How about you? Is this a struggle? What disciple do you relate to?

***

FFTSOne of my recent “Are you sure, God?” moments was creating a devotional to complement my contemporary romance series. FINDING FREEDOM THROUGH SURRENDER is a 30 day devotional featuring the characters from ENTRUSTED, ENTANGLED, and the June release, ENGAGED. It also features surrender issues from those books that we all can relate to: fear, loss, change, regret, and dreams. If you’ve read my romances, it’s a great visit with old friends to prepare you for ENGAGED. If you’re new to my series, the devotional will help you get to know the characters and stories.

FINDING FREEDOM THROUGH SURRENDER

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Easter All Year Long by Mary Alford

good friday

This year, because of family scheduling, my husband and I decided to have our Easter Celebration for our three granddaughters on Monday, the day after Easter.

With so much commercialism involved in Easter, I wanted to make sure that each of our activities reflected the greatest gift God gave us. His Son.

So here’s what we’ll be doing on Resurrection Monday. We’ll start out with an Easter egg hunt, but not just any hunt. We’ll be doing the Resurrection Easter egg hunt. For those of you unfamiliar, there are 12 eggs in the hunt. Each egg contains a symbol of Jesus’ journey to the cross inside and there’s a story to go along with each egg.

Then we’ll be doing the miracle of the snow…this one I made up because I figured only God could make it snow in Texas in April. We’ll be using the fake snow that you add water to and it doubles in size. The girls love that stuff.

Then we do Paw Paw’s fishing hole, (another favorite). The girls learn how to become fishers of men and along the way, they get some cool presents. One will be a bracelet with the Christian fish on it.

They’ll be other games during the day, but we always finish with our Walking with Jesus celebration.

We start with the birth of Jesus and then we reenact several of his miracles until we get to Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, (Paw Paw has graciously agreed to play Jesus).

All of our Walking with Jesus takes place in our pasture. We have trails set up for our four wheeler, so they make a nice place to walk with Jesus.

After Jesus enters Jerusalem, we follow him to the temple, then all the events that took place during the week until Spy Wednesday when Judas agreed to betray Jesus. Then on to Holy Thursday and the last supper. The garden of Gethsemane follows with the story of the Easter lilies. From there, the fake trials, Pilot agreeing to crucify Jesus, and to the cross for Good Friday. Then we go to the empty tomb for Resurrection Sunday where we read the story of the resurrection and the greatest gift of all.

Naturally, with having our celebration of the resurrection on Monday, it got me to thinking. Easter is such a special time of the year, so wouldn’t it be nice to keep it with us all year long? I know, we all remember the sacrifice that Jesus did for us by dying on the cross to save us, but with the bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to lose that wonderful feeling of awareness that Easter brings.

So this year, each day, I want to find ways to remember the greatest gift that was given to each of us that first Easter.

Wishing you a blessed Resurrection Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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Easter All Year Long

 

good friday

This year, because of family scheduling, my husband and I decided to have our Easter Celebration for our three granddaughters on Monday, the day after Easter.

With so much commercialism involved in Easter, I wanted to make sure that each of our activities reflected the greatest gift God gave us. His Son.

So here’s what we’ll be doing on Resurrection Monday. We’ll start out with an Easter egg hunt, but not just any hunt. We’ll be doing the Resurrection Easter egg hunt. For those of you unfamiliar, there are 12 eggs in the hunt. Each egg contains a symbol of Jesus’ journey to the cross inside and there’s a story to go along with each egg.

Then we’ll be doing the miracle of the snow…this one I made up because I figured only God could make it snow in Texas in April. We’ll be using the fake snow that you add water to and it doubles in size. The girls love that stuff.

Then we do Paw Paw’s fishing hole, (another favorite). The girls learn how to become fishers of men and along the way, they get some cool presents. One will be a bracelet with the Christian fish on it.

They’ll be other games during the day, but we always finish with our Walking with Jesus celebration.

We start with the birth of Jesus and then we reenact several of his miracles until we get to Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, (Paw Paw has graciously agreed to play Jesus).

All of our Walking with Jesus takes place in our pasture. We have trails set up for our four wheeler, so they make a nice place to walk with Jesus.

After Jesus enters Jerusalem, we follow him to the temple, then all the events that took place during the week until Spy Wednesday when Judas agreed to betray Jesus. Then on to Holy Thursday and the last supper. The garden of Gethsemane follows with the story of the Easter lilies. From there, the fake trials, Pilot agreeing to crucify Jesus, and to the cross for Good Friday. Then we go to the empty tomb for Resurrection Sunday where we read the story of the resurrection and the greatest gift of all.

Naturally, with having our celebration of the resurrection on Monday, it got me to thinking. Easter is such a special time of the year, so wouldn’t it be nice to keep it with us all year long? I know, we all remember the sacrifice that Jesus did for us by dying on the cross to save us, but with the bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to lose that wonderful feeling of awareness that Easter brings.

So this year, each day, I want to find ways to remember the greatest gift that was given to each of us that first Easter.

Wishing you a blessed Resurrection Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

 

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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A Gift Before Departing by Vicki Hinze

A Gift Before Departing 

By

Vicki Hinze

 

A few years ago I thought I had a life-threatening illness. It turned out to be a paperwork mistake, but there were about six weeks when I didn’t yet know that.

 

I thought my time here was nearly done, and I did what I imagine most do on learning that kind of news. Prayed a lot, thought a lot, and looked back at what I’d done in this life. I made peace with what wouldn’t be done, unfinished business, and my bottom line ended up . . . well, we’ll get there. I should start at the beginning.

 

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. Brothers first. The day my brother Kenny died, my dad had had heart surgery. My poor mother was in shock. I had to step up and handle the funeral, Kenny’s burial. I was thirteen. There’s nothing to be said about that except the lesson in it: No matter who you are (or what age you are), when you have to do what you have to do, you do it.

 

That was the first of many deaths that would touch my life over the next years. Friends from school, extended family members, and distant relatives, then much closer ones. My father and mother, my in-laws, and dear lifelong friends. More and more people I love. Because, as we age, our circle narrows. That’s just a fact of life and it must be accepted.

 

The point is that early on, I became acutely aware of those departing and their concerns and regrets. What I discovered was this:

 

If the person who passes is a person of faith, it’s easier on them and on those who love them. Both know who they are and whose they are. They aren’t leaving home, they’re going home. Those left behind will miss them in daily life, but know they will see them again. There is immeasurable solace in that. Comfort and reassurance, too. When grieving, we welcome all solace, comfort and reassurance.

 

If the person who passes is not a person of faith and we are, it’s harder. They too will be missed and the sadness in them and for them is also immeasurable.

 

I discovered in the faithful passing, each one of them (there have been no exceptions), their common concern was that they weren’t as good as they should have been in life. They worried that they hadn’t been “good enough” to get into to Heaven.

 

We’re taught that we enter Heaven by grace, and they knew that, yet they still expressed doubt and concern that they wouldn’t measure up. I guess from this that when we know our every flaw, we’re more prone to fault and less prone to forgive ourselves.

 

In earlier years, I was at a loss as to what to say to them. But as I grew and learned, I began reminding them that nothing about them surprised God. He created them, made them unique as He saw fit, and He loved them unconditionally. Eventually, they recalled it’s not about works but about grace.

 

They speak of loving and being loved. Of gratitude to those who were good to them. Of people and pets who brought them joy. Of people they loved who had passed before them. Of making a difference in the lives of others. Of what being loved meant to them.

 

Not one. Not a single one talked about the things being left behind. Not homes or jewels, not possessions or things. Not one of them.

 

The lesson in that is enormous. The wisdom in that is enormous, and I am learning from it.

 

I’m learning to live life deliberately. To let others know I love and appreciate them. To accept what I can’t change anyone else and to stop beating my head against brick walls (those who do not appreciate, those who deliberately and repeatedly steal joy, tear others down to build themselves up).

 

I’m learning to openly express my gratitude and joy and to reach out to others in compassion not in judgment. When someone makes a difference in my life, I tell them. When I feel loved, I express what it means to me. I appreciate. I am grateful. I am blessed.

 

We all are, and each day—every single one of them, no matter how strife or stress-filled for whatever reason—is a gift to be cherished.

 

Those are valuable lessons to learn at any time. But truly it is wisdom that the departing have shared. It is offered and we choose whether or not to embrace, retain and pass it on. If we do, then that wisdom shared is not lost. Ever.

 

It’s humbling really, to realize that when we set out to comfort, we receive a parting gift from them that is a treasure. When we step into someone’s life to give, we discover we have stepped into their circle of wisdom, and because we have, before departing, they expand our circle of wisdom. And their wisdom lives on…*

 


ICE workbook, vicki Hinze

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WHAT IF… SO WHAT… WHY? by Yvonne Lehman

 

 

We writers are often told to use the “What if?” factor in our writing.

Our response can get us started in our stories, or be an effective tool when we feel stumped.

However, no matter how creative a “What if?” incident, if it doesn’t constitute a scene which has purpose and furthers the story, it becomes “So what?”

The question I’ve been asked most in my writing career is not, “How many wonderful scenes do you have in this book?” but, “Why did you write it?” Another is, “Where did you get your idea?” which is another way of asking, “Why this story?”

This question has been impressed upon me since 2012 when my novel, Hearts that Survive-A Novel of the Titanic was published for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. Since then, I’ve signed my book several times a year at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge TN. 95% of the people who buy, or stop to talk with me, ask, “Why did you write this book?”

Being acquainted with other Titanic authors, and belonging to Titanic groups and loops, I’ve asked them what question does an onlooker ask. It’s the same. The prospective reader asks, “Why?”

That led me to consider, “Why not?” have a group of authors answer the Why? question?

My response is now the book, Why? Titanic Moments, released in March 2017. This book has 33 stories about, or from, people who seek to keep alive the memory and meaning of the Titanic. The authors have been touched by the sinking of that ship of dreams. Perhaps readers will gain a better understanding of this event and realize the memory of it must live on…and discover the answers to “Why?’ there are novels, paintings, personal accounts of Titanic passengers, museums, historic societies, displays, Titanic groups. The authors answer Why?” to questions that will lead interested people to Ireland, Great Britain, and throughout the U.S. and to non-fiction books and novels.

Whether it’s a 500+ page book, or a devotion or a vignette, the “Why?” factor should be applied. Many writers have asked, “Why would anyone want to read what I have to say?”

Ask that in a positive way. Discover why your characters behave the way they do, why you are writing the story, why a reader should remember something about it long after the pages are closed.

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Why ask “Why?” Because the editor, the agent, and the reader want to know. Only the author has the answer and that should be the reason for the writing in the first place.

Let’s take the “What if?” – eliminate the “So what?” – and let the stories live with our responses to “Why?”

Come join us at the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat, October 8-12, 2017 for writing craft, scripts, and social media. http://www.yvonnelehman.com

 

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Easter Greetings by Tara Randel

I’d like to wish all our wonderful readers a very Happy Easter! I hope you, and your families, celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ together!

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After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  Matt 28:1-10

*

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA TODAY bestselling author of fifteen novels. Family values, a bit of mystery and, of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. She is currently working on new stories for Harlequin Heartwarming, The Business of Weddings series, as well as books in the Amish Inn Mysteries. Look for THE WEDDING MARCH, available now! Visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at Tara Randel Books

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A Ride on the Wild Side by Hannah Alexander

Mel and I recently took a research trip for a possible new setting for a book. We have moved to the edge of the sand hills in Western Nebraska, and had been told that the real sand hills were to the east of us. We had a map. We had gas in my car. Mel had a rare day off when it was pretty. After church, we came home, ate, and piled our hiking gear in the car. We expected the drive to take about an hour–two at most–and according to the map, there were tons of hiking trails in the Crescent Lake Wildlife Management area. I felt bold, excited, ready for adventure. I usually do when I’m with Mel. Poor Mel has to bear the brunt of it.

We were eager to hit the trail, and since I was driving, I was paying more attention to the road signs. I found the sign that pointed to the road that would take us to the reserve. I turned onto it.

“Wait,” Mel said. “Are you sure we’re supposed to turn here?”

“Sure. I saw a sign.”

“Where? I didn’t see it.”

“Back there, honey. There was a turn lane and everything. That was it.”

He didn’t argue further, but I was so busy chattering about the pretty, tiny town we were driving through that I didn’t notice his expression. Or his silence. Or his slightly bugged eyes.

We followed the paved road several miles out of town until it became a sand road. Nice and smooth, but we did have to slow down because that sand was pretty soft. We saw a herd of mule deer. I stopped so Mel could take pictures, then drove on.

“Sweetheart, are you sure you saw a sign back there?” He asked after a few more minutes of ever-dwindling road.

“Yes, I did, but if you think maybe I turned too soon, we can go back to the last road and go east. Do you want to?”

His silence told me he really did, but didn’t want to admit he doubted me. So I turned around in the empty road–I was doubting a little, myself, since we’d seen one car in all that distance–and did some exploring. We ended up back at the town where we’d started and discovered we really had been on the correct road.

By this time, Mel was in his “grit it out” mode. He was determined to be enthusiastic for my sake because as we entered more deeply into sand hills, I was entranced, and was talking about the books I could set in a place like this. I LOVED the sand hills! Stephanie Grace Whitson once wrote about the land of the sand hills, and she was helpful in describing this place to me before we moved here. She sold me on the stark beauty of the place.

As the road continued to dwindle and we entered open range land–where we were actually entering private property with an easement for travelers on the road–we saw more mule deer, antelope, prairie dogs, dozens of kinds of songbirds, and of course cattle. And signs of bison. Big signs. Also beaver. And the sand hills rolled on forever, sometimes down to lakes too numerous to mention, sometimes hundreds of feet high–very few road signs, very few cars. In fact, we saw more mule deer than cars or signs. It was breathtaking. I finally noticed it had taken Mel’s breath away. Especially when the sandy road we were on was bordered on either side by lakes. Marsh. Mosquitoes. No hiking for us.

“If you’re feeling worried, we can always turn around and go back the same way,” I told him, though we had planned to make a circle and drive through the sand hills up to a highway and back home on paved road.

“No, this is great. I’m loving it.” He seemed to be saying it between gritted teeth, but perhaps I was reading too much into it.

After four hours longer than we expected, we reached Highway 2, a scenic route in northern Nebraska.

Mel sighed and slumped in his seat. “I never doubted you, sweetheart.”

“Of course you didn’t. We have the map.”

“Maps seem to be misleading.”

I agreed, but I was happy. I wanted to dream about the hundreds of square miles of wilderness and the peace and tranquility I saw there. Yep, I plan to set a book there. Or books. Who knows? Others are bound to be as entranced by this place as I was. Oh, yes, and Mel. Of course. Or perhaps I mistook his relief at finding a highway as enjoyment of the journey.

Maybe I’ll go alone next time while he’s working. He works a lot these days. But I have all the time in the world for another trip. Maybe I’ll try to grab him again if he gets another day off. We’ll see. If you’re ever in Northwestern Nebraska, I highly recommend that you take a detour into the sand hills. It’s like driving on an alien planet.

 

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I AM That Mom by Julie Arduini

As I’ve shared in previous posts, it has been a difficult season for our kids. What makes it so hard to watch is it’s one of those cases where it isn’t consequences for making terrible choices. It’s a refining process where they are growing in faith and life experiences.

But, oh, my Mama heart.

A couple weeks ago was just the rock bottom for them emotionally. School challenges, working with others, and out and out spiritual warfare targeted them both and they were devastated. We prayed and cried together. Not much has changed around them, but their determination to become more Christ-like and declare breakthrough has been steady.

Me?

When we’re together, I’m praying and encouraging. I know they’ve got this, and I KNOW God’s got them.

When I’m alone?

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Deep down, I’m a lot like Beverly Goldberg. Image: ABC/Downloadable Mother’s Day

The struggle to not morph into Beverly Goldberg from the ABC show, The Goldbergs, is almost too much. The sitcom is based on writer/creator Adam F. Goldberg and his 1980’s upbringing in Pennsylvania with his emotionally uninvolved dad and the model for all “smother” mothers, Beverly. With her high hair and colorful sweaters, no one is going to hurt her babies. If they have a need, Beverly is all over it. Schools fear her because Beverly gets it done.

She goes too far, of course, and I’ve enjoyed reading the real Adam’s stories about how real life parallels each episode. The portrayal of the real Beverly isn’t too far off. She wanted so much to be in their lives that when college dorm mates thought Adam had a girl in the room, he was actually hiding his mom.

It makes for a good laugh when the kids and I watch, and even the youngest has thanked me for not “pulling a Beverly” on them.

If they only knew.

A couple nights ago they ran an errand together and not too much later, our son called. He had been hit at a 5 stop intersection. They were fine, but he was nervous with his young age that the other driver or police might take advantage.

I couldn’t hide the Beverly in me anymore. I grabbed my purse and I was off. The scene was about two miles away, and when I saw their car pulled over with flashers on, it took prayer and a couple seconds to collect myself before I left the car. Why?

I wanted to run, run with arms wide open and yell, “My schmoopies! I love you two so much!” and go all Beverly on everyone else.

Thankfully for everyone, I did not. Our daughter was on the passenger side that got hit, and she was scared. She started to cry and we just held each other and I promised her it would be okay. When I got to our son, I let him know he was doing a great job. He admitted he wasn’t sure what to do, but he wanted to learn. I confessed I wanted to be Beverly and just hold them and call them “my schmoopies.” He laughed and said, “I’d be okay with that.”

What’s made the season so hard is that both kids are going through their things at the same time. That’s new, and it has challenged me in ways I never, ever considered before becoming a parent or even as a parent before this. To see them in emotional pain, the Biblical answer is rarely the easiest. But it’s the answer I have to give them.

I am far from perfect. I’ve made the youngest write her own tardy notices and deliver them, and we’ve insisted our oldest re-do a ministry assignment when he phoned it in the first time. I’ve forgotten important dates and raised my voice. But that night when we returned home, the first thing we did was pray. We thanked God for each good thing about the accident, and we came up with a long list. We prayed for the other driver and the man who came to the scene on her behalf.

The fictional Beverly in me wants to rise up and take charge, but at the end of each episode, she knows she’s taken things too far. Oh, she’ll do it again, but she knows they are great kids and they will be successful even if she takes her hands off the process. That’s what I’ve had to remind myself. As much as I want to jump in and take over, control the circumstances and outcomes of their lives, that’s not my job. It’s Gods. And if I think they are, as Beverly would say, “So scrumptious I could eat you up,” their Heavenly Father feels so much love for them it can’t even be measured.

We’re believing breakthrough is ahead with rich blessings and a new level of faith. Should there be any more hardships on our “babies,” my prayer is I’ll handle it with grace.

And keep my inner Beverly home for when we are binge watching The Goldbergs.

How about you? Do you struggle with parenting? Do you know a “smother?” When someone you love is hurting, what’s your instinct?

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Living on the Edge of Danger… by Mary Alford

skies

Anyone else out there love a good spy story? I don’t know what it is about them, but I just can’t get enough of spy stories, whether it’s reading or writing them. Maybe it’s the possibility of living every day right on the edge of life and death, risking everything for love and country. For me, writing about such things, just makes God’s light shine brighter in the world.

Even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You. Psalm 139: 12

sunshire

But not all spy stories are fiction. In fact, some of the best romance stories I know have come out of World War II.

One in particular was about a young woman in Russia right before the Nazis invaded. Her family wasn’t Jewish, but they were certainly on the enemy list of the Nazi regime.

This young woman was attacked by Nazis soldiers yet somehow managed to escape with the help of a young man. The young man turned out to be a spy for the Allied forces and helped the girl and her family escape before they were taken to a concentration camp.

As it turned out, the young girl and her spy fell in love, married and moved to America. Great story, isn’t it. Maybe that’s why I love spy stories so much.

This month, I have two Christian spy stories out.

 

every beat

Every Beat – Book One of the Covert Justice series.

Blurb: Hannah Sandoval woke up from a two week coma with more than a murdered CIA agent’s heart. Vivid dreams haunt her of Kate’s life and death, including the memories of the man Kate loved, Agent Jase McCoy. But nothing prepared Hannah for meeting the flesh and blood man of her dreams.

As Kate’s memories continue to haunt her with more terrifying details, soon Hannah finds herself embroiled in the same web of lies that cost Kate her life. The only person who can protect her now, is Jase. The only problem is, Jase presents his own very dangerous distraction that might cost Hannah more than her heart.

 

Saving Agent Tanner

And Saving Agent Tanner – Book Two of the Covert Justice series where part of my grandparents’ story is there, slightly embellished of course, and modernized to reflect the current world climate.

Blurb: He was the love of her life. The father of her child. Now he was missing. Presumed dead behind enemy lines.

CIA agent Booth Tanner was the best of the best and now he’s as good as dead. The only person who can save him is the woman who’d written him out of her life three years earlier until Rachel Weiss receives a text message that is brief, chilling, and enough to send her back into the shadowy world she thought she’d left behind for good.

 

All the best…

 

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

 

 

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Easter in the Amana Colonies by Judith Miller

Amana 013As I mentioned in my previous posts, I enjoy research and finding unusual settings for my books. One of the places I focused upon for six books and one novella was the Amana Colonies in Iowa. During that time, I learned many of their religious and cultural beliefs and traditions. With Easter approaching, I thought I would share some of those with you.

In the colonies, Easter was celebrated with special services held each noon during Holy Week. During these gatherings, Bible passages describing the last days of Christ’s life were read in sequence. The verses were read in German and spoken in soft and reverent tones. Hymns written especially for Holy Week were sung during these meetings. Without instrumental accompaniment, voices blended in harmony to lift up praises to the Lord. Good Friday was a day of fasting: bread and water was all that was served except to the very young, the very old, and the ill.

TulipsOn Easter morning the colonists would celebrate by singing, “Ere yet the dawn hath filled the skies, Behold my Savior Christ arise.” After a lengthy service, there would be a special dinner, and if the weather had cooperated, the villagers would share in fresh lettuce salad, asparagus, radish salad, mashed potatoes topped with toasted bread crumbs, and smoke-cured ham.

After the meal, each child clutched an Easter basket that had been made especially for him or her by the village basket weaver. At the signal, they would scurry into the yards behind the kitchen house and hunt for the Easter eggs that had been colored with onion skins or with bright colored dyes from the woolen mill’s dye works that were then mixed with glue from the woodworking shop. Both dying processes took time and effort and certainly weren’t as simple as those packets we pick up at the stores nowadays.

Cookie cutterAnother special treat was the Oster Hasen or Easter Rabbit Cookies. These were made from a basic sugar cookie recipe and there were lots of shapes: squirrels, chickens, lambs and deer, and the rabbit cutter, shaped like a hare on the run, was the largest of all. And on Easter, I’m certain the children thought the rabbit cookie was the finest tasting of all the animals that had been cut from the sweet cookie dough.

The village tinsmith fashioned the designs from strips of tin. Cookie cutters were one ofAmana 034 the few things the tinsmith produced that permitted him a bit of artistic interpretation and whimsy in his work. Each cookie cutter was different and the tinsmith could create whatever he fancied. As years passed, the youngsters of Amana enjoyed cookies shaped like camels, fish, leaping ponies, swallows, swans and many others—but the beloved Oster Hasen has always remained the favorite.

After an afternoon of good food and hunting eggs and cookies ended, everyone returned to church for the evening worship service where they may have sung one of the hymns written especially for Holy Week, including this 380-year-old German hymn.

Lord Jesus Christ, my Life, my Light,

My Strength by day, my Trust by night,

On earth I’m but a passing guest

And sorely with my sins oppressed.

(Martin Behemb, “Herr Jesus Christ, Mein’s Lebens Licht,” [1608]

The Amana Church Hymnal)

Though you’ll notice some differences in the celebration of Easter, I think you’ll see there are many similarities, as well.

As you prepare your heart through these weeks prior to Easter, may you reflect upon the joy of a risen Savior. Easter Blessings to each of you.

 

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Pray for Your City by Tara Randel

I always look forward to spring. Here in Florida, the temperatures are already inching into the eighties. Guess we’re going to fast-forward into summer. But when I venture outside in the morning, I can catch cool breezes and the scent of flowers sweetening the air. Everything is blooming, especially my azaleas. I only wish the beautiful pink and while flowers lasted longer than a few weeks.

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It’s the time of year folks are out bike riding or visiting the beach. Tourists are here, busy sightseeing in our quaint small towns or at the large attractions. It would be easy to take for granted this lovely place where we’ve planted roots, but when I look out my windows, into a green yard bursting with the colors of spring, I know I’m fortunate to be right where God put me.

Because God put me here. This is where I met my husband, married and raised my family. Where I have good friends, where family lives nearby, where I plan to retire.

It’s also the area God has called me to pray over. Each one of us has an area God has called you to; to raise a family, to attend your church, to work in the community. To pray.

My prayer group decided to pray for our city this spring, using the prayer guide Seek God for the City 2017. It’s an awesome booklet put out by WayMakers, with daily prayers spanning March 1 to Palm Sunday. Each day has a scripture verse, prayer and a target group of people or places to pray for. It’s been eye-opening, a great privilege and a stretch to look beyond the comfort of my own four walls and intercede for my city. No matter if you live in a small town or a large metropolis, your city needs prayer.

Do you think about your city? See it as God sees it? What plans He has in store for the community? Do you remember to pray for government leaders? For those making decisions? Are the leaders making Godly decisions? How about the police and fire departments? Hospitals? Schools? All these questions, and more, have filled my spirit this month as I’ve cried out for every part of my city to be touched by the favor of God.

Our nation has faced some very divided and tense moments since this year started. No matter what you think about politics or people’s responses to it, we still need to keep those in positions of authority in prayer. To ask God to protect them and give them His wisdom. You may pray from the security of your own home, or maybe join a prayer walk through your city. However you chose, make sure to take time to lift your town in prayer. You live there. You should be invested in what happens, because we are all a part of God’s Kingdom.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

The next time you drive through your neighborhood, or down Main Street, or within the boundaries of your city, lift up a prayer that God will have His place. That your city will prosper. That love would abound. That we would unite, as one people, under the blessings of our Father. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities knowing God is in control!

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA TODAY bestselling author of fifteen novels. Family values, a bit of mystery and, of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. She is currently working on new stories for Harlequin Heartwarming, The Business of Weddings series, as well as books in the Amish Inn Mysteries. Look for her newest release, The Wedding March. Visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at Tara Randel Books

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