My Summer’s Top Reading Picks

So many books, so little time.

During the school year, I’m busy with lesson plans as a teacher and school activities as a mom. As a writer, I’m usually preparing one or more proposals which require a lot of focused market reading for that particular novel.

But during the summer . . . I indulge my varied reader tastes and dig into my TBR (to-be-read) pile—that virtual pile on my Kindle or the literal pile stacked two feet high beside my desk.

Today I wanted to list some of my TBR picks for suspense.

When the Smoke Clears by Lynette Eason
Freefall by Kristen Heitzmann
The Pawn by Steven James (if I can summon the courage)
Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble
Gone to Ground by Brandilynn Collins
Plain Secrets by Kit Wilkinson (for those of you who like a little bonnet fiction mixed in with your suspense)
Injustice for All by Robin Caroll
Disaster Status and Code Triage by Candace Calvert (medical thrillers)
Saving Hope: Men of the Texas Rangers by Margaret Daley (Does it get any better than law enforcement and cowboys?)

What about you? Any great suspense novels on your TBR pile this summer?

Later this week, my summer picks for . . . cozy mysteries.

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Summertime—When the Living is Easy

School is out. No more carpool. No more lesson plans. Schedule and routine are out the window. Till September. . . . And I’ll think about that another day.

But for now I’m looking forward to:

• the glow of fireflies on a summer evening

• the intoxicating fragrance of gardenias in my summer garden

• time to sit, breathe and daydream

• digging my toes into the sand and allowing the Atlantic to swirl around my ankles

• lunch and/or coffee with friend—Give me a call. Let’s talk.

• a book and storyworld to create—It’s what I do every summer vacation. One summer I “solved” a mystery at an antebellum mansion. Another summer I “apprehended” a murderer on Raleigh’s Greenway. This summer? I can’t wait to find out.

• shelves of books to read—So many books, so little time. Sigh . . .
Later this week, I’ll share my top summer reading picks.

What about you? What are you looking forward to this summer?

For the Love of Words

Journey of the Mind

I’ve always been in love with words. I can remember as a child, before I learned to read, rolling words around on my tongue, savoring the flavor of the sounds.

Words are powerful. Words can be used for good or evil.

As a writer, teacher and speaker, I search to capture just the right word with just the right nuance in whatever project I’m working on. I’m a wordsmith.

Proverbs 25:11 “Like apples of gold in pictures of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

God’s Word is absolute truth.

II Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for correction, instruction, for training in righteousness.”

Some words inspire. Others do incredible harm. Words can be used to browbeat, control and manipulate.

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Some words are bad.
Yes, it’s true. I teach school and I know this for a fact.

Some words are whiny.
My mother has a favorite saying that applies to the words we choose. Ever heard this: “Cant’s a coward too lazy to try”?

Some words are sad.
This phrase strikes me as particularly sad—“what might have been.”
If you don’t believe me, check out the Little Texas video of their hit song “What Might Have Been.” Makes me cry every time.

Some words require a great deal of courage to speak and/or to write. Truth, whether personal or universal, requires a cost. Vulnerability. Rejection or in its most extreme form, death. Most of us are often unwilling to pay the price for truth.

As a person who loves words, I have also been called “good with words.” The flip side of this gift is the ability to also misuse the gift I’ve been given. To hedge the truth if I fear the cost, to control, to get my way, to manipulate, etc . . .

The words must be submitted to the Word-Giver. Surrendered to His control.

Daily. Hourly. Minute by minute.

Like my projects, I am a work in progress. And God will not leave me as I am. This is my prayer:

Psalm 19:4 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord.”

And finally, my favorite kind of words.

Some words are fun. They make me smile when I see them. They fill me with an inexplicable joy in the saying of them. I’m not sure why I like these words so much except the onomatopoeia sounds amuse me.

Here’s a partial list of my fun words:

  • Poppycock
  • Epiphany
  • Serendipity
  • Skullduggery
  • Kathmandu
  • Abu Dhabi
  • Paprika

Say them five times fast and see if they don’t make you smile, too.

What are some of your favorite words? Brave words? Good words? Fun words?

No need to share the bad words—remember, I teach school.

A Writer/Reader’s Review of Seeking His Love by Carrie Taransky

Journey of the Mind—Tips for Writers

After meeting Carrie Turansky at the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis, I was eager to buy her latest book, Seeking His Love. Here’s my review of this delightful read.

Leaving her old home and the problems her unwise actions created, Rachel Clark seeks a new start and a space at the old Fairhaven School for her teen theater group. Cam McKenna, director of the artist co-op that rents the rest of the school, is leery of kids disrupting the creative atmosphere of the building. A widower yet to come to grips with the loss of his own family, he is also wary of the attraction he feels for the beautiful Rachel. Against his better judgment, he not only allows the teen drama group to rent the space but also allows Rachel to rent the upstairs apartment in his home. When Cam’s young niece comes to spend the summer with him while her mother—Cam’s sister—battles cancer, Rachel becomes a mentor to the troubled teenage girl and Cam finds himself drawn not only to Rachel but to God as well. A jealous co-worker stirs up trouble from Rachel’s secret past in a bid for Cam’s attentions.

The tension of an unknown stalker and the unfolding love story make Seeking His Love a page turner. Rachel will have to face an embarrassing situation when she discovers you can never run away from your problems or avoid the harmful consequences of lies. Cam must learn to trust and love again.

With richly drawn characters and vivid descriptions of setting, Carrie Turansky weaves a contemporary tale of love—as Rachel and Cam learn to seek the truest and highest love.  God’s love. Carrie’s accurate and in-depth depictions of teenage angst and confusion reveal her real life experience as a mother.

ACFW Conference Memories

Journey of the Mind—Thoughts of FaithACFW Conference 2010

One of favorite parts to attending the ACFW conference in Indianapolis in September was the opportunity meet with other like-minded (read, weird like me) individuals who for the most part are not on medication and yet have “people” who talk to them in their heads. Some like me—I’m talking about Colleen Coble and Brandilynn Collins—kill people in their heads and on paper.

I made a lot of new friends—believers called to proclaim the Lord. Reminded me of Ephesians 4:8, 11

“. . . He gave gifts to men . . . And He gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

Different gifts and different genres. Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press and the speculative Christian fiction market. Lovely Carrie Turanksy and her contemporary romances. Kit Wilkinson with her equestrian romantic suspense.

Another favorite memory at ACFW was participating in the conference choir. I urge any one who can carry a tune to think about joining this group next year. We received our separate voice parts through email; practiced alone at home and met for short, quick rehearsals once the conference began to put all the parts together. In so doing, I made a lot of wonderful, musically inclined new writer friends. The result, so I’ve been told by those of you in attendance for our closing anthem, was an inspirational call to renew our dedication to our Lord, our purpose in writing and to each other as fellow servant/writers.

Reminded me of Ephesians 4:15-16

“. . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

If you can in any way do so, start saving those pennies now and make plans to join me at ACFW next year when it will be held in St. Louis.

Prepare yourself to make a lot of new friends—who are weird like you. Prepare yourself to serve—bookstore, choir, workshop hostess. Prepare to be amazed at what the Lord can do through a willingness to obey Him and at all the marvelous works He is producing in people just like you who glorify His name through the written word.

See you in St. Louis. I’ll be the Southern girl killing people in her head.

Care to share your favorite memories of Indy? I’d love to hear from you now that we’ve had a few weeks to debrief and let the lessons of Indy settle.

Writers Abiding in the Midst of Pruning

Journey of the Mind—Thoughts of Faith

John 15:1-2, 4-5

I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. . .Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Are you feeling pruned today? By co-workers, family members, or critique partners?

The Word reminds me that I am a branch grafted into the true vine of Jesus. I cannot bear any fruit unless I remain attached to the life-giving source of the vine root. But as I stay connected and close to the true vine—as I abide in Jesus—I will bear much fruit. As a believer, as a parent, as a spouse, as a friend and as a writer.

Often, I shy away from pruning, but the pruned branch is a healthy branch. Some things need to be deadheaded in my life to allow a place for something beautiful to flower and bear fruit. As a believer and writer, I’ll admit I struggle daily to maintain this perspective—when hard times come, when contest entries are returned, when rejection emails arrive. But pruning, i.e. editing, makes my work and me better and more useful to the kingdom of God. But, oh, how it hurts sometimes. Yet, it is a necessary hurt.

If you want to become a mature, useful servant in the kingdom of God, if you want your writing to be better, learn to welcome the times of pruning. What is He pruning away in this season of your life? What is the Hand of the Lord doing in your life today to mold you into the “write” person He desires for you to be?

And what does it mean to abide? Abide is to remain, to tarry, to stay close, to wait for, to not depart. Does any of that speak to your situation today?

What is this fruit Jesus encourages us to bear? Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . . How’s your crop doing today? The beautiful thing about Jesus is that He produces these fruits in you as you abide close to Him. You don’t have to manufacture any of it in your own flesh. That flesh-produced, pseudo fruit easily spoils, but he fruit of the Spirit produces a harvest of righteousness.

The key is to stay connected to Jesus just as a lamp will not give forth light unless it is connected to a power source. Your power source for all your needs, today and tomorrow, is Jesus.

To stay connected through the power of the Holy Spirit, make sure you: 

  1. Spend time in the Word, allowing it to penetrate deep into the soil of your heart
  2. Devote yourself to prayer—Be still and hear His voice
  3. Don’t neglect worship with other believers
  4. Practice as a habit of life the presence of Christ in every moment of your day

As the old song says, Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

The longer you look, the longer you abide—the more you will begin to resemble Him, the more you will treat others like Him, the more you will speak like Him, and the more your words will glorify Him.

Must Reads for Aspiring Writers—The Journey of a Lifetime

Journey of the Mind—Tips for Writers

As promised, here is the list of great craft of writing titles through which I am working my way. Many of these books I have read and studied. Others I have in my “To Read” pile. Some I return to, time after time, to ponder and apply their wisdom to my writing.

This is by no means a complete list—as in if you read every book on the list you will be published tomorrow. Don’t I wish it worked that way. This is a list that may take you years to sort through. And along the way, additional books on writing will be written and you may discover further gems on your own. It is definitely not a quick fix to publication but a process that may take years as you strive to better your understanding of writing and your abilities to communicate, entertain and inspire through the written word.

Currently, I am reading and savoring James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. With techniques and applicable writing exercises in each chapter, I am learning and growing by leaps and bounds. I can’t recommend it enough.

My next favorite thing—after writing—is reading. So head to your nearest bookstore or library and stock up. Don’t rush through the list but allow these books time to resonate and refresh you.

Happy reading, writers.

Be sure and let me know which ones are your favorites or if you would suggest additional Must Reads to the list.

  • Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon
  • Christian Writers’ Market Guide by Sally Stuart
  • Don’t Murder Your Mystery—24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up…D.O.A. by Chris Roerden
  • Getting into Character by Brandilynn Collins
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
  • Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni King and Dave Browne
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • The Art and Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall
  • The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein
  • Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • Writing the Breakout Novel and Workbook by Donald Maass
  • Writing the Novel by Lawrence Block

Preparing for Conference

Journey of the Mind—Thoughts of Faith from Haggai

Before your eyes glaze over with the question of what a minor prophet like Haggai could possibly have to say to Christian writers, stop, read this blog and think again.

Like many unpublished writers, I expect to be on a long journey of discovery of self, discovery of craft and sheer hard work before the dream of publication becomes a reality in my life.  And along the way, there is always the temptation to surrender this dream for an easier one—a dream with less rejection, a dream with less implicit vulnerability.

In a few weeks I will travel to the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in Indianapolis and meet with hundreds of published and unpublished writers, rub elbows with agents and editors and worship with all these industry professionals who also happen to love Jesus.

And the fears come. What am I doing in the company of these “great ones”? Who am I trying to kid? I will never be good enough. There is nothing within me worth putting on paper.

This, as I’m learning, is the place—as a writer and as a believer—where I need to begin all journeys, all dreams.

“It is at the extremity of our resources that we experience the revelation of God’s power.”

Ponder that for a while.  Not original to me, this anonymous quote says it all about where my heart’s journey must start. I’ve got to get to the end of me before God will step with His marvelous power. Or otherwise, I don’t know about you, I would try and take the credit for His work.

When the fears overwhelm you at Conference or as you sit in front of a blank computer screen, remember God’s people, refugees from Babylon, who faced the enormous task of rebuilding the temple.

  • Haggai 2:4 “Take courage and work. . . . for I am with you”—The great I Am God/Yahweh and Emmanuel (God is with us) is with you.

Note to self—Read this every morning.

  • Haggai 2:8 “The silver and gold is mine”—God our Provider, Jehovah-Jireh is the source. He has all the resources I will ever need. He knows your needs—confidence, an agent, a publisher.  So if you are truly called to this writing life—and taking an aspirin as someone once said doesn’t get you over it—remember God never requires what He does not provide the necessary resources for—a mentor, a friend, a critique buddy, a conference and that workshop divinely designed it seems for you, that agent, that editor.

A reminder at this point—Our prayers are the link between God’s inexhaustible resources and your need. Neglect at your own risk. And come outside of yourself and your need to see the needs of other writers and other hurting people. Be willing to stand in the gap for your critique partner, your mentor, your writing buddy, and yes, I think even those highly exalted beings called agents and editors would love a few of your prayers. They, like you, have needs.

  • Haggai 2:9 “What you build I will fill with my glory”

What a promise from our incredible God. He promises His people that the glory of this present temple will be greater than the former temple. And for us as well—fellow writers and believers—He says “I will give my peace.” God is our Jehovah-shalom.

I don’t know about you but I could use some peace today as I write for His glory, as I journey to this upcoming conference and peace for whatever He decides to place in my path as I continue this great journey of seeking Him first.

God is bigger than my fears and yours, fellow writers. God is bigger than what I can do or write. God is bigger than what I can even imagine (and writers, we have some big imaginations).

So as I go to the ACFW conference next week, I will try to remember to look to God—for all my needs and for His presence most of all. Because Haggai 2:5 reminds me that “My Spirit is with you. . .Do not fear.”

Developing Our Craft of Writing

Journey of the Mind—Tips for Writers

In this age of instant coffee, instant communication and instant everything, most of us think we are ready for publication long before we actually are ready for publication. We must learn to enjoy the journey. Despite what we’ve been taught in this modern, got-to-have-it-now age, it really isn’t all about the destination. Like faith and the Christian life, writing is not a sprint, but a marathon. Pace yourself.

So what can beginning writers do to further develop their writing craft?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Join professional writer organizations like American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Christian Writers Guild, or Romance Writers of America (RWA). Network and learn from industry professionals, published and unpublished writers.
  3. Find a critique partner or group that shares your writing goals and reflects a diverse background of publication experience.
  4. Seek out a mature, published writer who might be willing to mentor you in the craft of writing. Usually this kind of relationship cannot be solicited or hurried, but happens organically while learning and growing together with other writers via conferences, professional organizations, writing e-forums, etc…
  5. Attend at least one professional conference a year—more if your budget allows.
  6. Be the encourager to another writer that you would like to find for yourself.
  7. Read and study books on the craft of writing and apply them to your current project.
  8. Take online courses or creative writing classes through local institutes of higher learning.
  9. Persistence is fundamental. Keep on keeping on despite the self-doubt, time pressures and rejection slips.
  10. Recognize you are in this for the long haul. The average time for the publication of a writer’s first novel between completion and an actual contract is around six years. Most writers will not be overnight sensations. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.

Look for a list of great craft of writing books in next week’s blog.

Remember—as C. H. Spurgeon once said—“Because he never gave up, the snail reached the ark.”