Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dirty Nails

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash


This summer I’ve been doing a lot of yard work. I’m a ‘get my hands dirty’ kind of gardener so I can get pretty grimy. I have observed that, although I may scrub and scrub when the task is done, I still end up with dirt under my nails or even embedded in my nails. I just can’t get it out. Trimming my nails is the only way to eliminate the dirt.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash


I have also observed that bad habits and sin can be like that. They’re embedded in our lives. Despite Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing, their residue remains.

As writers, our goal is to create authentic characters. We strive to populate our stories with people so real, our readers can identify with them, struggle with them, grow with them.

As Christian writers, we also want our characters to reflect the impact God makes in lives surrendered to Him.

And that’s where I struggle.

I have a really hard time allowing my heroes and/or heroines to have dirty nails.

Photo by Eduardo Prim on Unsplash

I’m comfortable with giving them painful pasts to overcome, hurts that need healing. I can embrace bringing conflicts into their lives, obstacles that deepen their faith and drive them closer to God.

But dirty nails? That recurring bad habit, persistent sin—what Paul calls the sin that so easily entangles. In Romans 12:1…

I find it very hard to burden the character I love with such ugliness.


Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash


How do you handle this?
  • As a writer, what dirty nails have you given your characters?
  • Through your story, do you ‘clip those nails’ or do you leave them?
  • As a reader, how do you feel when you encounter such character flaws?
  • Do they help you identify with the characters?
  • Does their removal encourage you?
  • Does it distress you when they are not corrected?





Jayne Self, a Canadian Christian Writer, is honoured to have a short story included in Christmas With Hot Apple Cider, the fifth Hot Apple Cider anthology. Available in Trade Paper and Kindle Edition, this is a collection of stories from the season of giving & receiving, powerful stories of faith, hope & love, by over 50 Canadian Christian writers.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

WASGIJ?

by Marion Ueckermann

I love building puzzles, and about once a year, I’ll go through a spate of whiling away the hours on this pastime. In fact, I recently completed a 2000 piece puzzle that I loved so much, I placed it between two pieces of glass and created a table top from it.


Now, you’re probably scratching your head and wondering what puzzles have to do with writing and reading. They actually have quite a lot in common, and here are a few things I could think of off the top of my head…

They both create a visual effect:
·         the puzzler pieces the tiny pieces together to build a beautiful picture
·         the author forges images for the reader by stringing words together

They both create a relaxing experience:
·         strange as it may sound, piecing together a puzzle can be rather relaxing—even though there are moments of frustration when you can’t find where to place a piece…or if you get to the end just to find there are pieces missing
·         people read to relax—but the relaxation levels could depend on what book you’re reading…not sure how relaxing a Steven King book is

You learn from both:
·         dopamine, the chemical responsible for learning and memory, increases when building jigsaw puzzles
·         Confucius said you cannot open a book without learning something—how true!

They both stimulate the brain:
·         you harness both brainpowers—left (logical, follows sequence) and right (creative, intuitive and emotional)—when putting together a puzzle
·         reading will do the same, dependent on the book, ie. fiction will feed the imagination (right brain), while non-fiction will build on knowledge, logic, reasoning, strategy, etc. (left brain). Creative non-fiction I’d guess would stimulate both.

My sister is a jigsaw fanatic, too, but we have totally different ideas about what to do when we’ve built a puzzle. She will paste that completed image to a hard board in the hopes that one day she’ll frame it and hang it. I think she could build a small house with all the puzzles she’s done this with. I, on the other hand, will break it up to build another day (except, of course, for my table top one). Readers react the same way with books—some will get rid of a book once they’ve read it, while others will slide it back onto their bookshelves to read the story once again.

When my brother emigrated to England two years ago, I inherited a puzzle from him and his wife. A WASGIJ?. Don’t know what a WASGIJ? is?—don’t worry, I didn’t either. Let me explain…it’s a back-to-front puzzle (if you read the word from right to left, it spells JIGSAW). In other words, the image on the puzzle box is actually what the final built puzzle is looking at, ie. if it were an image of the Eiffel Tower, you might find the built puzzle is of a couple picnicking on the grass in front of the tower, gazing up at the tall structure. Here is the puzzle I was given.


A WASGIJ? is rather challenging as you’ve no idea where the various pieces fit. Do they go on the right, the left, the bottom, or the top? It takes quite some time to piece this puzzle together, and all you have to go on is a cryptic clue on the box. This puzzle’s clue was: Uproar at the Vets!
And here’s the finished image, here’s what has everyone in that veterinary clinic in a tizz.


Authors are generally either Plotters or Pantsers (or a hybrid somewhere in between). I’m a thoroughbred Pantser, and this WASJIG? puzzle reminds me of myself because in my writing process, I work to a bare skeleton—kind of like the cryptic clue on this puzzle’s box. I have a vague idea what my story will look like, but am often surprised by what happens between that first word and the last…something like the process of not knowing what image will materialize when you tip the WASJIG? pieces onto a table. Life can be a little like a WASJIG?, too, don’t you think? So often unsure of what the bigger picture will be.

So, what kind of puzzler / reader / writer are you? I’d love to hear your stories on any, or all, of these pastimes.


MARION UECKERMANN's passion for writing was sparked when she moved to Ireland with her family. Her love of travel has influenced her contemporary inspirational romances set in novel places. Marion and her husband again live in South Africa, but with two gorgeous grandsons hanging their hats at the house next door, their empty nest's no longer so empty.

Visit Marion at www.marionueckermann.net

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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Power of Story

By Jebraun Clifford


I had the privilege of being the speaker at a holiday camp last weekend, though at first I admit I was a little terrified apprehensive at the prospect. While I regularly teach Sunday school, I have, on average, only fifteen kids in my class who I know and whose parents I know. The kids are used to me, and we always have a good time. Plus I keep my pockets stuffed with lollies to bribe them for good behaviour.

But how would a room full of fifty-five 8-12 year olds react to a stranger? That age group is notoriously challenging. Not to mention wriggly and easily distracted. Could I be engaging enough? Funny enough? And how on earth was I going to fit the whole gospel message (without being too preachy) in two half-hour evening sessions and one breakfast devotion?

It turned out better than I expected in that wonderfully chaotic way only God can orchestrate.


And it’s all because of the power of story.


Picking out a broad theme—God’s love for us—I found three parables in the gospels that detailed a different aspect of His love and what our response to it should be. One of the parables I chose was about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the fold to look for the one lost sheep.

It’s no coincidence that when I arrived at camp Friday afternoon, there were three newborn baby lambs gamboling about. Or that one of the campers’ duties was to feed the lambs. Everyone got very attached to these adorable creatures and their habit of snuggling with whoever held them. If the lambs were lonely, they’d bleat pathetically until someone ran to their pen to pay attention to them, and we had more than one camper disappear during mealtimes to get some sneaky individual cuddle time.

When it came time to present the parable of the lost sheep, I asked them to imagine one of our beloved lambs was afraid and wandering alone somewhere in the dark, and everyone became immediately invested in the story. They all insisted they would brave the cold and the wet in order to rescue the missing lamb and promised they wouldn’t rest until the lamb was found. Nothing would stop them until the lamb was home safely.

When I explained that the love, tenderness, and protectiveness they felt towards the lamb was a smidgen of the thoughts God has towards them, you could see the realisation sink in.

One simple story, personalized and made very real, brought home an eternal truth to these kids in a way a boring (to them) sermon never could. All I did was follow my Saviour’s example.

Instead of laying out complex theological treatises, Jesus often told stories. He took powerful truths about the kingdom of heaven and cloaked them in the images of a treasure in a field, a mustard seed, and a net full of fish. He enthralled His audience with thrilling tales of wicked vinedressers, a foolish farmer, and an unjust judge. He populated His narratives with people we could each imagine ourselves as: a wayward son, an unforgiving servant, and a woman who lost a valuable coin.

These parables spoke volumes about God’s unfailing love. A love we get to tell others about.


And that’s what I love best about writing stories.


I get to weave my Christian worldview—that life is rich and amazing, that each one of us is deeply cherished, that we all are designed with unique gifts and talents for a good purpose, that we have a Creator who ardently pursues us and holds all things in the palm of His hand—into a fictional tale anyone might pick up to read.

It’s an opportunity we each have when we sit down to write a story.

Whether you pen fantasy, romance, mystery, or historical fiction, you get to hide your unique perspective of who God is and what His love means to you into your writing. Isn’t that exciting?

What powerful truths do you disguise as story?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

SUNDAY EDITION


Coming Up This Week 

Monday 

Jebraun Clifford

Tuesday

Marion Ueckermann:  WASGIJ?

Wednesday 

Jenn Kelly

Thursday

Jayne E. Self

Friday Devotion

Leila Halawe: Green Pastures

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New Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Better Than a Crown, Book 3 in her Christmas in Montana Romance series, releases independently in October 2017.

Carolyn Miller's regency romance set in England, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Book 3 in her Regency Brides series, is an October 2017 release from Kregel.

Lucy Thompson's historical romance set in Australia, Waltzing Matilda, in The Captive Bride Collection: 9 Stories of Great Challenges Overcome Through Great Love, is an October 2017 release from Barbour.

Sandra Orchard's Amish mystery The Hound and The Fury, Book 17 in Amish Inn Mysteries, releases in October 2017 from Annie’s Attic.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Upcoming Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Rooted in Love, Book 2 in her new Garden Grown Romance series (part of Arcadia Valley Romance multi-author series) releases independently in November 2017.

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in USA, Vanishing Point: A Nikki Boyd Novel, will be a November 2017 release from Revell.


Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in Amsterdam, Deadly Exchange, will be a January 2018 release from Love Inspired Suspense.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the USA, Wishes on Wildflowers, Book 4 in her Urban Farm Fresh Romance series, will release independently in January 2018.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the USA, Harvest of Love, Book 3 in her Garden Grown Romance series, will release independently in May 2018.

To find more International Christian Fiction books, please visit our 2017-2018 Book Releases page, 2013 - 2016 Book Releases page and Backlist Titles.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Cloak of Mourning by Keona Tann

Grief is a strange companion the barbs of sadness pierce your heart at the strangest times. Everyday tasks can bring overwhelming sorrow.
It's like a cloak you sometimes forget it's around your shoulders but then, like a punch to the stomach, you'll realize it's still there, surrounding you.
At first you wear it heavy like a winter wool cloak but gradually over time it becomes a light silk cape.
Grief and healing is a process that we simply cannot rush! We need to allow it to take shape. Find someone who can help you through the process.
As I wallowed in my grief during my illness; loss of employment; and loss of loved ones I was led to Psalm 42:1-3,5 (NIV): “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (stand before Him)? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”.

I realised that I was given a choice each day - I could celebrate the small victories or wallow in my grief! As I pondered that I decided to celebrate the beauty of the sunrise. I declared that God's mercy and grace is new each day, like each dawn (Zephaniah 3:5). So the suffocating heavy cloak of grief gradually changed into a light silk cape. I allowed Jesus to speak to my heart and He gradually replaced my mourning with peace and then eventually joy!

I pray that your cloak of mourning lightens as you press into God’s promises:
Lamentations 5:21 (NLT) “Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had!”
Lord ignite in me a joy for you that burns bright and clear!

Psalms
30:11 (NLT) “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy”  
Lord remove my mourning from my mind and replace it with joyous thoughts of you!
Lord remove my mourning from my heart and fill it with Your joy!
Lord remove my mourning from my spirit and wash me afresh in Your never-ending joy!

“God’s peace is joy resting. His joy is peace dancing.” F.F. Bruce


Many blessings!

For most of my life I struggled with sickness. The 2 dominant afflictions were endometriosis (for 28 years) and adrenal fatigue (I was severely debilitated for 28 months and the recovery has been a journey of 11 months so far).
In September 2016 God declared healing over my life. This set me on a path of restoration and transformation.
My passion for writing was reignighted and I wrote the following mission statement:
I desire to impact the world through the words I share. I long to enrich, empower and encourage others whilst delivering my stories with empathy and understanding.
“He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬
I've started a weekly blog which you can find at: https://keonajtann.wordpress.com/
I'm currently working on my testimony as well as my journey with endometriosis and adrenal fatigue. I hope that I'll launch my first book soon. Many blessings, Keona

Thursday, October 12, 2017

My other half

I have always thought of myself as the strong, independent type. I grew up as something of a “latchkey kid” in South Africa. For as long as I can remember I got myself to school every day. In the afternoons I came home to an empty house. You get used to your own company. After a while you even get to like it.

All that changed when I met my wife. I’ll never forget the day she walked into the gym where I worked. It was like one of those western movie scenes where some stranger walks into a saloon and the music stops. She certainly took my breath away.  The guys behind the counter immediately turned on the charm. My manager was a body builder with Mediterranean looks. I knew I didn't stand a chance against such competition. I shrugged and sighed to myself, carrying on with my work as if she wasn't there.

One day a few weeks later she came up to me and said she liked the music I used in my classes and asked if I could make her a tape. She handed me a blank cassette and quickly left. Inside was a small note with a message saying that she was crazy about me. Her name was Ronell. To me it was the most beautiful name I had ever heard.

Three years later we were married and starting a family in our new home in England. We argued in the first couple of years. Not a lot, but enough to make us both wonder if we had done the right thing. I could not help but think perhaps my independent upbringing was an issue. I loved being around Ronell, but I was also single-minded and stubborn. We agreed that we would both give it 100% and that we would build our lives on God’s solid foundation.

In 2015 we celebrated our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. I realized that, during that time, I had changed. People often call their spouses their “other half” and it is true. After so many years you stop being an independent person. Your lives become intertwined to such an extent that you become more like a single unit. At least, that is how it felt to me. This was especially true after the kids flew the nest. I realized that every decision I made and every action I took was centred around Ronell.

I remember putting together a two-picture photo frame for our anniversary. The one on the left was from our wedding day. The one on the right was a photo we took on the ferry—our first trip without the kids. Ronell's wedding dress train seemed to flow into the second photo, forming a white path. She said that represented our future lives together. I told her I was looking forward to spending the next twenty-six years together. She said she was looking forward to falling in love with me all over again.

We never made the next anniversary.  The cancer that had been quietly spreading through Ronell's body attacked her quickly and without mercy, robbing her of her health, then her mobility, and finally her life. When she was taken to the hospital in Delft I gave notice at my job and on our house and moved in with her. They did what they could to make her comfortable but they made it clear there was no chance of a cure. She was given the use of a wheelchair and I took her for long walks around the hospital.

Ronell said she wanted to go back to England and we arranged to get her moved to the hospice near our home in Blackpool.

She passed away less than a week later. I was due to return to Holland the next day with a van to collect all our things from the house. Friends were helping out at the hospice and I gave them instruction for Ronell's day-to-day care. I would return five days later. That afternoon, as I held her hand, she took her last breath.

At that moment my world fell apart. All my strength and independence evaporated. I had imagined I would continue without her until we met again in Heaven. Now, suddenly, I felt utterly and completely lost. It was like being torn in half.

It has been almost a year since she passed away. I still feel lost but I am learning to cope. The waves of grief are further apart now but their ferocity has not subsided. Music tends to bring on the tears. Certain songs remind me of her. I have to be careful in public places where they play music.

Writing helps, which is why I bared my soul in this blog post. Thanks for listening. It is therapeutic, putting my thoughts down on paper.

This evening I returned to an empty house. I am, it seems, a “latchkey kid” once more. Curious how life can do a full circle like that.

I don't know why Ronell had to go home. I believe God had a good reason for taking her. One day I will know that reason. Until then, all I can do is pray and wait. I believe I will see her again, God willing.

It may be a cliché but I really am lost without her. She truly was my other half.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Spring Walk

by Ruth Ann Dell

Three days ago.

It's spring in South Africa. Damp earthy smells delight me as the rain soaks into the dry thirsty soil. Green grass shoots through the black remains of the winter's veldt fires. Trees are dressed in fresh green leaves and blossoms abound.

A short walk up the street takes me to trees adorned with exquisite blossoms next to last year's pods. Many pods are now scattered on the ground and have split open to reveal rows of spiky seeds nestling inside. I don't know the name of the trees, but my brother-in-law assures me they are itchy bean trees--he remembers his school-days and boyish pranks. He and his friends put the seeds down the backs of each others' shirts so that the hairs caused itching!



I take a pod home and use a black marker to draw little eyes, which transforms the seeds into tiny hedgehogs--lovely little characters for a child's picture book.


"Hedgehogs" Nestling in a Pod


And the empty pods can also be used to make delightful birds. African craftsmen use clay to fill the pods and fashion heads. They press legs and feet of wire into the clay, then paint the birds when the clay is dry to make birds like the magnificent African hoopoe.

Dry Pod
African Hoopoe

At the bottom of the street, silky oaks bear golden hairbrushes. I'm sure they brush the flowing green tresses of the weeping willows next to them as the wind blows the branches together.

Silky Oak and a Weeping Willow

Silky Oak Brush
What fun to use my imagination as I enjoy God's creation!

After note: Since my spring walk, I've flown to Ireland where the trees are sporting their autumn colors. Sadly widespread storms have lashed South Africa causing widespread damage and flooding.