Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Step with the Ancient Story

By Stephanie Duncan, Moody Publishers Marketing Assistant

I am celebrating Christmas backwards this year.  For in all the festivities, traveling, and inclement weather, I missed two Sundays and therefore Advent slipped past me, much to my disappointment. 

I love Advent.  I have always wanted to be one of those elect families who cluster around the Advent wreath to light the next candle.  I am a sucker for those calendars people buy with the little doors you open each day with perhaps a candy inside if you’re lucky.  And I always look forward to the Christmas Eve service where the final candle is lit and the sanctuary is filled with choruses of Silent Night.  There’s just something about the anticipation, the coming promise, and the culmination of what the world has waited for in so small a child. 

So, because this season is special to me, I am making up for it now.  I am going through an Advent devotional and reading the prayers in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a beautiful collection of prayers that appeals to the poet in me.

The “Prefaces for Seasons” in this book contains prayers that go through the whole church calendar.  The year starts with the season of Advent, moves to the season of the Incarnation, then on to the season of Epiphany, and so on.  I read it this morning, and thought, Would that my life glide as gracefully through these sacred cycles! Would that my life arrange itself from Sabbath to Sabbath, moving to the rhythm of the ancient story.

How different would our lives become if we choreographed them to Christ’s: anticipating His advent, singing with the angels at His birth, mourning at His sacrifice, praising “Hallelujah” at the news, “He is risen!” Surely, we will be blessed as we remember the story of salvation and try to live it faithfully. 

This is the prayer for the “First Sunday after Christmas Day”

Almighty God, who has poured upon us the new light of thine Incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Recipe from Author Tracy Groot

Christmas Eve Feast
by Tracy Groot, author of Madman

I've always been enchanted by holiday traditions.  When I married, I decided to create a tradition of my own.  Since Jack's side of the family celebrated Christmas the Saturday before and my side met on Christmas day, I invited anyone who wanted to come for a special Christmas Eve feast.

Jack's parents and Jack's sister, Rita, along with Rita's family, came to the very first Feast.  I planned the menu weeks ahead.  I scrubbed the house to a spit-shine and happily fretted over endless details incumbent upon a holiday hostess.  It was important for that first Feast to go well, and it did.  The guests were suitably impressed by the food, and the atmosphere was pleasant and festive.

One year I decided to serve prime rib.  I investigated many methods of cooking it, and finally decided on the One True Way.  With guests about to arrive, I prepared a final herb rub--and noticed a funny smell.

"Is that my roast?" I shrieked.

"Yes," Jack admitted, as if he'd noticed it for a while.

Turned out my prime rib was way past its prime--the meat was foul.  Christmas Eve Feast was about to be a complete failure.  Maybe my husband expected wails and groans--maybe I did.  But many years of celebrating this Christmas Eve Feast taught me one thing: it isn't about food, though the food is nice.  It isn't about the atmosphere, though atmosphere is important.  It's about people.  It will always be about people.

"Stoke up the grill!" I hollered.  "Meijers is open for another twenty minutes!"

I flew to the store, grabbed an armload of steaks, and made it home just as the first guests arrived. 

It wasn't prime rib, but the most important feature to adorn that table was there--family.

This is special to me for two reasons: It's my son Evan's favorite dessert, and always requested for his birthday "cake," and it came from a dear friend, Amy Strating, whose recipes compile about half of what is in my recipe box.

Whopper Dessert
35 Oreo cookies, crushed
6 T butter or margarine, melted
1 half-gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
1 12 oz. box of Whoppers candy, crushed
      reserving 3/4 cup
1 jar of hot fudge topping (I use Mrs. Richardson's), very slightly warmed
1 8 oz. container of Cool Whip, thawed

Combine crushed Oreos and melted butter, and place in the bottom of a 9x13" pan.  Mix ice cream with crushed Whoppers until well combined; then spread on Oreo layer.  Freeze until firm.  Spread with the jar of hot fudge topping, then the Cool Whip, and sprinkle with the reserved crushed Whoppers.  Keep frozen until serving.

Taken from Come to Our Table, Moody Publishers, ©Moody Bible Institute, 2007

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Spoils of Eden: The Dawn of Hawaii Book I

The waves lap dangerously close to the abandoned baby – abandoned by the Molokai leper colony of the late 1800s.

The baby is at the center of an alternately tense and bittersweet romantic struggle between Eden Derrington and Rafe Easton. Eden and Rafe are in love, but Baby Kip may very well endanger their future together.

It’s two generations after the on-fire missionaries have arrived on the Hawaiian Islands, and the descendants of those missionaries are drifting into complacency and materialism.

SPIRITUAL THEMES: Personal, spiritual, and political tensions test the loyalty and
faith of the characters. As they sort through their convictions, make difficult choices, and resolve long-hidden mysteries, Christ is formed in them. Can Eden hear the true voice of God calling in tropical paradise? Eden desires a lost father-daughter relationship…and finds the true relationship in Father God.

Waiting, Praying, Writing: From the Desk of Author Linda Lee Chaikin

Our Great and Gracious God answers prayer in ways we never consider possible. Over a decade ago when I wrote For Whom the Stars Shine (now out of print), which was the runner up for the Christy Award, I fully expected to write its sequel. The publisher and my agent, however, couldn’t see eye to eye. I no longer work with an agent…and I no longer write with that publisher. I was left hanging—and so were my readers.

Over a decade has come and gone. Now I’ve the honor of working again with one of the finest Christian publishers, Moody Publishers (I say again, because back in the nineties I wrote the Buccaneer trilogy for Moody Publishers).

I’m now writing The Spoils of Eden, book one in a brand new Hawaiian series called the Dawn of Hawaii. This has been a wonderful writing experience for me. I spent two months just doing all new research and planning, for the leprosy colony on Molokai, the Big Sugar industry, and the revolution that overthrew the monarchy. The history is so rich that it will take the trilogy of Dawn of Hawaii to cover that period.

I was especially excited over discovering (that happens to writers, you know) my character Rafe Easton has a heart for politics! Yes, the adventurer that sailed to French Guiana with his Hawaiian buddy Keno, is now running for the Hawaiian Legislature. Rafe has grown and become a new person as he struggles with his opposing views of the Hawaiian Islands and with the protection of the baby boy, Kip, that Rafe saved on Molokai.

My character Eden, too, has changed. It was a learning experience for me to discover that this dedicated woman is independent, strong, and willing to set aside her personal dreams to accomplish what she believes is the call of God.

I guess what truly surprised me in writing The Spoils of Eden is how Eden’s cousin, Roselin, became such an interesting character to me. I’m anxiously waiting to discover how she’s going to handle her love for Keno. Is she truly going to become sacrificial for his sake, or hold fast the one man she truly loves? Roselin has stepped out of the mist and become, to me at least, one of the more interesting persons in Spoils of Eden.

I’ve worked long and hard on this story. My writing hours are from eight o’clock in the evenings until after 3 AM. The house is oh so quiet…my German Shepherd is asleep…my cat is asleep…my four twittering finches and my squawking parakeet are asleep…and Steve, my beloved husband is—no, he’s wide awake! And editing as I write, and saying to me, “Hey, this is good, honey”. What a great guy he is. Aren’t I blessed? Thank You, Lord. I couldn’t do this without Him and him.

In an old chapter of the sequel I’d been writing for For Whom the Stars Shine, I happened to run across a devastating line I had written years ago. In my note from over a decade ago, the phone had just rung, and the unhappy news given. When I went back to my computer I had written: STOPPED. JUST RECEIVED A CALL FROM MY AGENT. THE PUBLISHER WANTS TO END THE CONTRACT.

I closed the Hawaii directory down and did not go back to look at it again until 2009.

But God has been good! I now have a book in my hands again.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a good New Year in the will of God. And whatever your problems, whatever your heartache, spread it out before our gracious God and leave the answers…and the timing, to Him. No matter how many weeks, months, or decades may go by. Jesus Christ is Faithful and True. Trust, and take heart. Like the high priest in the Old Testament who bore a jewel representing each of the tribes on his breast, you are resting on the shoulder and in the heart of the One and only Savior.

Linda Lee Chaikin’s book, Spoils of Eden, will release in May 2010, and you can visit her website at www.lindachaikinbooks.com

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Memoir Trend: How Can the Church Engage a Culture Obsessed with Writing About Themselves?

The Cultural Trend: Populzarized Memoir

American novelist Henry Adams once wrote, “everyone must bear his own universe, and most persons are moderately interested in learning how their neighbors have managed to carry theirs.”

This line, written in 1918, would be an understatement for modern readers who are consuming the published memoir as fast as it can be printed. The memoir, as a published form of self-narrative, has successfully climbed the literary ladder, claiming equal standing with the traditional novel and receiving recognition by literary scholars as a genre revolution. Within the past thirty years, the memoir has asserted itself as a rising trend in the writing world.

Yet public responses are mixed: skeptics claim that the memoir indulges in syrupy solipsism, the theory that the self is the only reality, while enthusiasts praise it for the value of self-discovery through story. With an emerging cultural impulse to chronicle the self and such conflicting estimations of this trend, the church must join the conversation. The church must recognize the rise of the self-narrative as a signpost for the human longing for transcendence and affirm storytelling as a sacrament in the high art of illuminating divine grace.

The memoir is a personal narrative that provides the author with a verbal processing of the self’s “becoming”. This kind of literature has charmed millions of readers with this human interest appeal in bestsellers such as The Color of Water by James McBride, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. The voice of memoir offers its readers an occasion for personal identification so that a reader can find him or herself within the story of another and perhaps borrow the wisdom, healing or insight from similar life threads.

Henry Adams’ idea of the private universe of men is being born into memoir, as the individual universe of motherhood experience, healing from the trauma of abuse, or growing up in a racially mixed family is translated into print. The private universe of the writer, then, opens up a new world to the reader in which a common human spirit is realized, introducing the memoir as a catalyst for community.

The Church’s Response: Stories as Sacrament

The church is no stranger to self-narrative, understood in Christian circles as spiritual testimony, and Augustine’s Confessions is just one example. Beginning with the gospels and later patterned in martyology, hagiography, confession and conversion testimony, the story paradigm is rooted in ancient church tradition. The church has an evangelistic responsibility to engage the rising confessional characteristic of culture for kingdom purposes rather than dismissing it as a narcissistic endeavor. The church need not be suspicious of the collective cultural cry for self-understanding, having its own so satisfied in the Person of Christ. Instead, the church must bridle the technique of self-narrative for Christian testimony, and affirm the art of life story as a powerful witness for grace.

The pattern for spiritual testimony finds its structure in the grand drama of redemption, as the unfolding story of a believer’s sanctification is only understood in the identification with the rhythms of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The storyteller must then recognize the tension between the cosmic Story of redemption and the echoing story of personal redemption. By telling personal story within the framework of God’s Story, we can engage the cultural trend of self-narrative while adding the new, redemptive element of pointing beyond the self to the Savior.

The cultural rise in the self-narrative affords the church a powerful opportunity to channel the very same confessional trait into spiritual testimony. The church can enter the social scene of life-writing by affirming it in theology as sacrament and encouraging it in practice as testimony. The church is already a credible voice in the self-narrative genre not only because of its tradition of testimony, but also in its sacramental ability to transcend the very story it tells by praising the grace of the Divine Author, something no secular memoir can claim. The art of testimony, then, trades a religion of solipsism, characterized by self-devotion, for a religion of sacrament, marked by the surpassing of the self to point to the Savior.

Written By: Stephanie Duncan, Marketing Assistant at Moody Publishers

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Click here to read the first chapter of Debbie Fuller Thomas's Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon, a book about family, trust, and healing.

Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon Discussion Questions
1. How does Andie’s physical description of the Blue Moon Drive-in reflect the spiritual lives of Marty and Andie as the story begins?

2. Marty says the drive-in is ‘family friendly’? Do you find this ironic, and why or why not? What are the comparisons between the future of drive-in theaters and the traditional family unit?

3. Marty seems eager to ‘replace’ Ginger but Andie isn’t eager to ‘replace’ her parents with Marty. What is the difference? In what ways does Marty make Andie feel that she wants her to replace Ginger?

4. Why was it so important to Marty to open a bakery? What does it represent to her, and how does it compare to her father’s desire to be an artist? What do Coconut Dandies represent to Winnie, and how does Marty’s baking contribute to her need for constant grazing?

5. How would you rate Marty’s parenting skills with respect to Deja? Compare it to the relationship between her father and her brother. How do you think Deja will ultimately turn out, and what will she be doing after high school (assuming she graduates)?

6. Marty has a mini-breakdown and ends up many miles from home. Contrast the reasons she left with the reasons she went back. What was the outcome? Did anything change for Marty?

7. At one point, Andie says her ‘heart-shape is plugged.’ What specific instances help to loosen the debris inside of Andie in regard to both the family and to God? In what ways is Marty’s heart-shape plugged?

8. After several years, Marty is still mourning her broken marriage. At what point does she begin to feel the need for closure?

9. When Marty ‘dropped’ the cake at Julian’s feet at the farmer’s market, would you say it was more accident or more subconsciously intentional? Who or what did he represent to her at that moment?

10. In what ways does Andie gradually accept that she is really part of the family? On what points does she feel a kinship with Ginger?

11. When Marty finds Ginger’s hospital bracelet, she reflects that we are all switched at birth and that God wants to reclaim us. What do you think she means? What would have eventually happened to Andie if Marty hadn’t ‘claimed’ her?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fiction Conversion

By: William Carmichael, co-author of The Missionary
I have been a published author of non-fiction over many years. But in my heart, I always wanted to have a try at fiction. In 2001, having no training in writing fiction (believe me, it is very different from writing non-fiction), I decided to give it a go. The first thing I did was purchase about ten books on writing fiction and devoured them. While I read about Point of View, Character Arc, Dialogue, Plot, Pace and Scene, I did not realize the magnitude of those aspects of good fiction until I began to write.

Then, for five years, I worked on a fiction book idea that had been rumbling around in my head. I allowed my wife to read the first draft, which, at that point, was a mistake, as she became pretty much bored with it after about two chapters. That was when I realized there was something major wrong, even though the manuscript made perfect sense to me. As an avid reader of fiction, she was kind enough to point out some of the problems she saw. Over the next couple of years, I continued to write and rewrite. I showed the story to friends who gave additional advice. But, by now, some of the "fun" of writing fiction was beginning to disappear. I later discovered that my frustration was due to a lack of some basic knowledge I did not have about the mechanics of writing good fiction.

I had bouts of “writers block” and while I did extensive research on the country I had selected as the scene for my story, I had never actually been there to see the people, smell the smells, taste the food, and sense the spirit of the place. It was then that I decided I needed to go to Venezuela, where the story in my novel took place. I was there for about two weeks, and you guessed it....this prompted another complete rewrite. But being there gave me a new vision for the story.

Through a series of events, I came in contact with David Lambert who eventually ended up as my co-writer of The Missionary, published by Moody. And that is when I really learned some key things about fiction. David is one of the leading Christian fiction editor/writers in the country. For many years he was the Senior Fiction Editor for Zondervan. He had also written the fiction curriculum for the Christian Writers Guild.

Here are two key things about fiction writing, among many, that I’ve learned from David.

First, a good profile of your characters is essential to knowing how to create their voice and make their character unique. David asked me to write a multi-page biography of my protagonist. “A lot of this will never make it in the book,” he said, “but we need to know what he is like from the time of his birth.”  So I began writing a rather exhaustive profile of my protagonist….where he went to school, what was his family like, how did he fit in the birth order of his family, what was his relationship with his father, his mother, his siblings. What was his attitude about life, God and education. Was he a leader or a follower? What were his physical characteristics….tall or short, fat or skinny, athletic or couch potato? What personality traits stood out? How would he react or respond to crisis, to injustice, to new experiences or to someone’s gestures of love? It was a small book by itself…a short biography of my protagonist’s life.

I wrote these profiles for each of my main characters in the book. These became the basis of how we then created unique characters, with unique voices, who stayed “in character” (Would he/she say that or do that based on their character?). Writing these profiles was a lot of work, but it made the task of creating voice, dialogue and character arc much easier.

Second, David taught me that conflict has to continue to build in a good fiction story. A basic flaw in a lot of aspiring fiction writers is that while we tend to create some really good conflict, we are temped to resolve the conflict right away. We let our characters “off the hook” too soon. That is death to a good novel. Conflict needs to build. In a good novel, things continue to get more tense, increasingly worse, more involved as the story progresses. Conflict and how it will eventually get resolved is what keeps the reader reading. If it is resolved too soon, the desire to continue to follow the story is diminished.

Just now, I am beginning to feel like a beginning fiction writer. It has taken about eight years of work on my first novel to get to this point. David and I are now working on novel number two and with the added skills I now have and, of course, a guy like David as my co-writer from the beginning, it won’t take eight years this time around! Writing fiction is a lot of fun…again.

Check out more of William Carmichael and David Lambert's fiction invention at http://missionarynovel.wordpress.com/home/

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