Wednesday, June 30, 2010

1000 gifts - wonderful books edition

Warning, this a ridiculously long post! I really don't expect anyone to read it in entirety. Just skim my list of wonderful books, and check out a few of my many links if anything looks intriguing. I haven't posted in a while, so I just got a little carried away.

Can't believe it's almost July! Here in Wyoming, at 7200 ft, summer has only just found us, but the good part of that is it never gets miserably hot and humid here. It's a gorgeous summer, but too quickly flying by. As result I don't post as much because I'm so busy outside trying to soak up every delicious bit of summer. This picture is of my two older girls with their dear friend Lori, daughter of my dear friend Karen. It's taken at the beautiful gardens at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs.

But I don't want to neglect my 1000 gifts list, because it's such a blessing compiling it and sharing it. The 1000 gifts is a list of all the gifts God has given me that I'm thankful for, to live out the command "give thanks in all things" (1 Thess. 5:18) in my daily walk. I've been reading so many good books lately, I thought it would be a good theme for this part of the list. Especially since I just won my first book (at a writer's/reader's website), was given my first two books to review, and got my first two signed books!

61. Lighting a fire again in marriage can be more than you bargain for
At the Christian writers' workshop at Glen Eyrie I was at earlier in June, I met Megan DiMaria, an author with two newly published books. She was working on the plot for her third book, which is a about time-travel - right up my alleys since the story I'm writing has a time-twist in it. She gave me her first published book, as long as I promised to tell people about it. Which I am glad to do! It's called Searching for Spice and it's beautifully written, a down home story about rediscovering love in marriage. I highly recommend it. I will devote an entire post to this book here soon, but wanted to include it here as part of my 1000 gifts.

62. Meeting an author and buying her book
At the same writers' workshop, I spent most of my time workshopping with another Christian author, Kathryn Mackel, and she had lots of writing wisdom for our wonderful group of about 15 ladies. I had never read anything by her before, so I picked one of her books for sale (hard to choose, but this one had a horse on the cover): the Hidden. And Kathy signed it for me. I think I would call it a suspense novel (there are several mysterious deaths and a lot of mystery and tension) with a bit of supernatural wonder in it, not to mention several beautiful Arabian horses. The quality of writing was excellent. I highly recommend this book too and will be definitely be getting more of Kathy's books.

63. Brainstorming ideas a writers' retreat
Which reminds me, another gift are those same ladies mentioned above, my fellow writers/dreamers and followers of Christ. They had some absolutely amazing writing projects and ideas. It was so neat to hear excerpts and brainstorm with them. I have all their emails, and hope to stay in touch.

64. Discovering the Fire in Fiction
Picked up another book at the workshop, the Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass. The author wasn't present to sign it, but so many people were talking about this book I'm excited to read it.

65. Discovering how to win books
I won a book at Steena Holmes's blog, Chocolate Reality, (don't you love that name?) another fellow writer and member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) - which I will be joining shortly after hearing so many good things about this organization at the workshop. There are so many blogs where you can win books and other goodies, all you have to do is leave a comment and you are entered! I won The One That I Want, by Allison Winn Scotch. Okay, I haven't even gotten it yet in the mail, but I'm still so excited!

66. Harry & David Moose Munch chocolate bar
This isn't a book, but I also won a gift box of fancy chocolates from another blog, YA Highway (a blog for Young Adult writers). The chocolate showed up a couple days ago, and it's almost gone already. I've never tried Harry & David's chocolates because they are so expensive, but I must say now that they are WORTH EVERY PENNY. Well, it was prize - I didn't pay anything, but WOW. The Moose Munch chocolate bar was the most amazing, silky, delicious chocolate I ever tried. And I had tried A LOT of fancy chocolate.

67. Books that get your kids to think about Jesus
My first book that I received free to review is a darling little children's picture book called Our Home is like a Little Church, by Lindsey Blair and Bobby Gilles. This book is being promoted by Ministry-To-Children, a wonderful site with TONS of resources for teaching children about the Gospel and God's Word. Okay, this book doesn't get requested as often by my girls as the Big Red Barn (Margaret Wise Brown), but it always starts some good talk with my two older girls. The book is beautifully written in simple verse, presents the Gospel clearly and the importance of walking with God, and takes less than five minutes to read.

68. Another personally signed book from Karen
Another signed book I'm in the process of reading now is Two Days Longer, by Beth Lueders - "discovering more of God as you wait for Him". My friend Karen down in Colorado Springs, whom I stayed with while attending the workshop, gave me this book for my birthday - she met the author through a Bible study and got it signed for me. This will be another book I plan to devote a full post too. Let's just say pretty much every book in this list will get a post. If I ever find time.

69. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Knowing God, by J.I. Packer. My friend Heather gave this to me for my birthday (my friends know how much I love books!) What a classic! Yup, this one is also on the list for a post of its own. Oh, and I just remembered that I meant to post more about another amazing book from Heather, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. This book inspired me to set some pretty lofty goals/resolutions for this year. The year is half over now, and I need to do an update on my goals soon.

70. CS Lewis on the The Weight of Glory
Heather lent me this collection of essays by my FAVORITE AUTHOR - believe it or not I still haven't read all of his books! I loved it so much I bought the book as a gift for another book-loving friend, Nicole. I need to buy a copy for myself so I can give Heather's copy back to her! This book is SO GOOD and I planning on devoting at least TWO POSTS to it, one about the essay "Transposition" and another on the essay "Weight of Glory." I've already mentioned the book in another post about why myths appeal to us so much, using a quote from the essay "Is Theology Poetry?" All of the essays in this book are beautiful, unique, and thought-provoking as only C.S. Lewis can be.

71. Still Life, by Mary Jenson.
I heard on Chip MacGregor's blog that Mary was one of best Christian writers he'd ever encountered, and the description of her writing so intrigued me that I looked her up on-line and found this book for $.01 (plus S&H of course... but still, who could resist?) "One freckled apple on a china plate. A chipped white pitcher. A blue cloth draped in a graceful swirl. Like a still-life painting, a women's soul longs for tranquility in a busy world." That back-cover blurb was such a mix of poetry and longing that I knew at once I would love this book. It'll get it's own post, absolutely.

72. Evidence Not Seen, by Darlene Deibler Rose.
Nicole has raved about this book for years, and I finally tied her down until she promised to lend it to me (kidding). Your heart will break for this idealistic young woman as she sets off for Indonesia and Papau New Guinea with her new husband, to share the light of the Gospel - only to have World War II intervene in their plans. She spends five years in Japanese prison camps, separated from her husband, who eventually dies in prison. But her strong faith in God eventually wins over the prison camp commander. He becomes a believer! Everything about this story amazed me. Just a short snippet to give you an idea of the love and beautiful expression of Darlene:

Anyone can babble along in Pasar (market) Malay after a few week's study, but proper Indonesian is beautiful, without harsh gutturals. To hear the language well-spoken is like listening to symphony played upon the instrument of words - like enjoying a Renoir painted with a brush of fluency, a masterpiece of lights and shadows.

73. The first book my daughter locked herself in room to read.
Okay, I lied. More about books, but I'm lumping them together here as part of the gift that has been a summer reading program for my girls. Restricting the girls to just one movie a week and making them keep up with the library’s summer reading program was really hard at first. Dreamer is always quick to grab a book – but Blaze grumbles and rolls her eyes. However, three weeks into our new reading/no movie policy, I think she is finally getting used to the idea and starting to have fun. She read 54 pages of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" today, in 50 minutes!!!! A new record! She has also discovered read-a-long audio books at the library and really loves those, where she can listen to the story and read at the same time. I stopped reading out-loud to the girls for a while this spring - depression and stress got the better of me! - but I have started this special time with my kids again this summer with reading the Bible one night, and a chapter from the Lightning Thief (by Rick Riordan) the next night... then back to the Bible the following night.

74. Library fairies, talking wishing wells and teacup sail boats
 I have also been charmed by some of the picture books the girls have picked out at the library. When I’m Sleepy by Jane R Howard is about a little girl who likes to imagine curling up to sleep, cat-sized, with her kitty, or baby-bird sized in a downy nest; in a hollow log hugged by a raccoon, or tucked into a bear hug in a bear den; sleeping standing up like a giraffe or drifting through the ocean like a sleeping whale. Claire and the Unicorn by B.G. Hennessy is a story about a girl whose stuffed unicorn turns into a real unicorn and carries her into a whimsical fairytale world with a teacup sail boat, a tower sitting in the clouds, lollipop trees, a library fairy that lives in a wood with bookshelves carved in tree trunks, frogs and swans with crowns, a fairy godmother that practices magic in a pumpkin patch (making pumpkin tea pots, dresses, umbrellas, and a half-pumpkin frog, and last but not least, a talking wishing well. Oh, the imagination! The library fairy reminds me of something else...

75. Home libraries and cozy reading nooks
Writers often post pictures of libraries on their blogs. Their own libraries, or libraries they dream of! I can so relate! My ultimate dream house would have a room with high ceilings, wall-to-ceiling bookshelves made out of dark, glossy wood and full of books. There would be a ladder to reach the high shelves, a fire place, a big bay window overlooking an English-style garden with a fish pond and a fountain, and several beautiful reading nooks (plan to post more about dream reading/writing nooks and library rooms more)

I had more on this list, but this is getting ridiculously long! I'll save the rest for July's continuation of 1000 gifts. Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A writers' retreat at Glen Eyrie Castle

I had the wonderful blessing of a retreat last week that was both a writers' retreat and a spiritual retreat - a perfect combination, in my opinion! And it couldn't have been in a more beautiful location (click on the pictures to see them full-sized). Glen Eyrie Castle is situated right next to Garden of the Gods, in the foothills beneath Pikes Peak. As if the natural scenery isn't beautiful enough, we were surrounded by gardens, hummingbirds, wild turkeys, and a herd of bighorn sheep.

Colorado Springs is a four hour drive south of Laramie, Wyoming, and the home of one of my dearest friends (who was my maid of honor). I could never have afforded four nights at the Glen Eyrie Castle (their rates are pretty reasonable, but still, four nights adds up!) if not for K.A.'s hospitality. Not only did she provide hospitality - but the ultimate - kid-sitting! She offered to have my daughters Blaze & Dreamer stay too so they could get lots of play time with her daughter, Lori. Truly an amazing friend to take on two of my kids in addition to three of her own, for three and a half days.

It ended up being more of a writers' workshop than a retreat, though we did get two hours every afternoon to either write, pray, or hike one of the many amazing trails. I spent one afternoon with my laptop in the rose garden (starting with prayer for God to bless my writing. Which He always does, when I remember to ask), one afternoon stream-walking up Queens Canyon to Dorothy Falls (I can never resist the opportunity to see a waterfall), and the last afternoon strolling around the grounds with Karen and the kids taking pictures.

The workshop part of the retreat was both inspiring, but also hard. The truths of the publishing world are never easy to deal with. The workshop was led by four amazing Christian authors: Nancy Rue, Kathyrn Mackel, Angela Hunt (author of the Tale of the Three Trees, one of my kids' favorite books), and James Scott Bell. I've read dozens of books on writing and publishing, have been to two writers' conferences, and I regularly follow most of the major writing, editing and publishing blogs - but I was surprised at how much I still had to learn.

Here are some quotes from the authors that caught my attention:

We write a novel to evoke emotion - Angela Hunt

Creating art is an interaction between you and God - James Scott Bell

Good writing is where precision meets passion - Nancy Rue

If even your writing never sees the light of day (publication), you can make it see the light of life. - Kathryn Mackel

They all stressed how to the road to publication is like an apprenticeship - you have to work hard and follow the rules for years, without any compensation. And there is still no guarantee. Even if you do finally get something published, the road doesn't get easier. I saw first-hand how stressful and difficult it is for a recently published author: all the work you have to put into marketing in addition to writing on strict deadlines, plus dealing with the disappointment of meager sales. God was definitely showing me that even if my writing is nearing a publishable quality, I am still not ready for publication at this time in my life: with four small children, the amount of work I would have to put into marketing, promotion and travel, in addition to writing, would be prohibitive. But at the same time, I felt like I had several significant "breakthroughs" in my story. So I came away feeling God was still directing me to keep writing faithfully and to keep honing my craft.

God had some other important things to teach me, outside of Glen Eyrie. I met one of Karen and Ed's good friends, Double D. Ed has joined a biker club called Men of Praise and his biker name is FedEx (long story) and Double D is one of his closest friends. I learned all the details of biker lifestyle ("ride it like you stole it"), what biker church is like, and and the complexities of club interactions, including the especially tricky interactions between Christian bikers and hardcore groups like the Sons of Silence! But I also learned some spiritual wisdom from Double D. We got to talking one evening and I could tell this guy had an amazing story behind his life, so I asked him to share his testimony. It was both heart-breaking and amazing. He didn't stop with himself, either. He looked at me straight in the eye and asked me if I was carrying any baggage.

Oh yes have I been carrying baggage! Anyone who has read any of my posts so far in 2010 has seen some of my baggage - financial stress and depression. There's other burdens that I haven't shared, too. Insecurities that I started to recognize via Beth Moore's excellent book So Long Insecurity - things she helped me recognize, but I hadn't come to complete terms with yet. At times I do give my baggage over to God (and sometimes I even manage to leave it with him for a few days), but somehow I keep picking it up and carrying it again. Double D told me to envision giving my suitcase of baggage to Jesus, and then to envision Jesus throwing your suitcase into the fires of hell – it’s gone. Permanently gone. Not something you can pick up again. He told me, with genuine seriousness, "it's really gone now. As of this moment. Do you believe what Jesus has done?"

His directness and earnestness took me off guard. Envisioning something does not make it so; but Double D doesn't think that way. For him, it's real. His earnest faith really made look with eyes of faith - "we live by faith, not by sight." I'm not saying I'm cured of depression or that all my financial problems will just melt away. God will never completely take away our problems because they are necessary to help us grow and become more Christ-like. But something happened that evening. Jesus did take some of my baggage and burned it so I can't take it back. Double D is going through some painful trials of his own right now, and I am praying for him. The Lord has put him through a furnace and turned him into an amazing man, and I will never forget him.