Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's almost 2010...

The peace and quiet on this blog during December reflects my relationship with writing during this past month. I've basically taken a hiatus. But I'll be back - hopefully posting more regularly in 2010.

Right now I'm clearing the deck for January projects. I found out this morning that I won a free critique for my NaNo project from editor Andy Meisenheimer. He assures me I have till forever to collect on that, which is a good thing. Getting back to revision and rewrite that project is at the top of my to-do list for the new year. That certainly has to happen before alien (especially editor) eyes get a peek.

Yesterday I did a little introspective writing prompted by the excellent blog post "Seven Questions to Ask About Last Year" by Michael Hyatt. It's a good way to put the old year to bed.

If you're needing more to read, I'd recommend the "Best of Copyblogger 2009" post. Bookmark it and dip into it whenever you have a minute. (Copyblogger is so consistently worthwhile I've actually done something I rarely do and subscribed to the posts by email.)

I've launched another 2010 writing project too. It's a daily devotional blog. Other Food is a blog I opened years ago to write about faith matters. I posted regularly for a while, but then put it in mothballs. For the last while I've felt I'd like to document the things I'm learning every day in my quiet time. Whenever I go back to reread my quiet time journals, I get so blessed. And it's like God says to me - why don't you share the things I teach you?

I argued for a while. Because for me something like that - both the writing and the reading - needs to be a daily thing that you fit into a regular time slot so that it becomes a habit. Committing to writing a daily post is no small matter.

While I was struggling over this, I bumped into several instances of daily provision, one being the Israelites gathering their daily supply of manna during the wilderness wanderings. I had my answer.

And so tomorrow Other Food: daily devo's gets off the ground for 2010. It follows the daily readings suggested by the Canadian Bible Society. (I've feedburnered the feed. If you read and find you like it, you can get the posts delivered daily via email - just sign up using the form in the sidebar.)

Now I wish you a  


Thanks so much for reading.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Poetry anyone?

  • On the advice of D. S. Martin (and moi) get yourself a copy of Barbara Colebrook Peace's Duet for Wings and Earth. Wonderful Christmas poems!! (see The Word Guild Blog for reviews).
  • I write a monthly Poet's Classroom column at Utmost. December's column, "Short" is on writing poems of five lines. (Covers tanka, cinquain and limericks).  All P.C. columns are linked here.
  • Am also doing a little happy dance today because my poem "Forest Usurper" won an Honorable Mention in Utmost's Canadian contest (topic prompter - a picture of a forest fire). The winning poems are all linked here (1st and 2nd place poems are so good - don't know how I squeaked into the winner's circle).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

As you can see in the sidebar, I've completed the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge - and even before the deadline of November 30th. The reason I got it done - and early - was that little nagging fearful voice that kept whispering, This is too hard. You won't really get to the end, or at least not on time. What you're writing is garbage and a huge waste of time....etc. Completing this project became more about conquering that bit of negative self-talk than anything.

This month I have learned:.

1. Actually writing a novel is a lot harder than it looks. It's easy to armchair quarterback someone else's tale. But when you're creating it yourself - whole different ball game (to extend the metaphor).

2. A fast way of writing a first draft. I normally write, edit, rewrite, edit. It's push-pull all the way. This time I wrote the first draft like I've read of others writing it - FAST. No looking back. No editing along the way. I was afraid that if I started reviewing yesterday's work, my editor would get all excited and eager and I'd get distracted with that - OR, I'd be so discouraged about the dreck I was writing I wouldn't finish the project. (I still haven't read what I wrote.)

3. About the various elements of a novel - characters, scenes, mini-scenes, dialogue, transition stuff. I tend to be one of those people who feels like I've conquered something after I've read about it (thus my collection of feel-good writing how-to). But following that advice when writing an actual story is as different from reading about it as walking across a stream on a slippery log is different from seeing it on film.

4. Writing a novel-length story can be full of surprises.
  • For example, I was surprised by how my plot took different directions than I thought it would. What I tried to do with each scene was turn the characters loose and see what they would do. Often they didn't end up where I had thought they would. 
  • Also, some of the things that felt arbitrary when they first happened ended up advancing the plot later in ways I had never envisioned. It was really quite amazing. 
  • Another surprise - how I composed best. Writing longhand, though I put up more words when I composed at the keyboard. For some reason keyboard composing felt like making something with gloves on.

5. My story is far from done. Even as I was writing, I realized I was leaving out so much that had seemed important during the imagination stage. Now I need to look back to see if some of those things have a place. This initial writing has been a way of simply pinning the thing down, or as Stephen King describes it, uncovering the fossil. I take comfort in the chorus of voices that reassures me the brilliance of a piece of fiction comes from the author's ability to rework that clumsy first draft into a readable story. In that department I have my work cut out for me!

6. NaNo is a great way to get at the bones of a first draft because:
  • You're not alone in this craziness. NaNo emails, your NaNo buddies and regional events (should you choose to participate) alleviate the solitariness of the task.
  • Those NaNo emails, in particular, are something else! As one of my buddies said, someone should invent such an encouragement service for writers all year long.
Have you ever committed to NaNoWriMo? What was your experience?

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    River of Words - Anthology - official launch


    This anthology showcases the talents of over twenty Valley writers including the winners of our River of Words Poetry Contest.

    Bound in a spiral spine and wrapped with a cover that features a panoramic view of the Fraser Valley, this book is a delight from cover to cover.



    We would like to extend an invitation to all of you to join us for this event.

    Thursday November 26
    7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
    The Reach - Gallery and Museum,
    32388 Veterans Way, Abbotsford, BC 

    (on the same grounds as the Clearbrook Library).

    Maps and more information at

    The evening will include a reading time and refreshments.

    The event will also support the Abbotsford Food Bank. Participants are asked to bring an item of nonperishable food. Please note that $2.00 from the sale of every book will be donated to the Abbotsford Food Bank!

    Saturday, November 07, 2009

    NaNo update

    Just a little update on the last week. I've written. A lot. If you check the NaNo widget to the right, you'll see my word count is 16,110. My goal was to reach 16,000 before I quit for the weekend. Now the story gets a rest till Monday morning.

    I'm learning so much!

    • I can write for long stretches at a time.
    • I don't work like I thought I would. I envisioned myself working for hours at the keyboard. However, I've discovered my best way of composing is longhand, with pencil. This is about the speed my brain works (I know, I'm slow). Then I read what I've written onto a minicassette tape and type it out as if it were dictation (good thing I kept my transcription tools)  making wee changes along the way but of course never officially editing. I've sworn off that for the month!

      (For your interest, check out this piece about the variety of ways 'real' writers work - sent to my by one of my NaNo buddies)
    • This story has been brewing inside me for years (I first had the idea and did some work on it in 2002). It feels very good to get it out of my head and onto  a document  - I was going to say 'paper' but I haven't even printed the thing out yet.
    I'm celebrating the end my first week of NaNo with hubby, and friends. We're going to see and hear Adrian Plass and Glen Soderholm in the Story and Song Tour - Delta BC. Woot!

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    My NaNo adventure

    I haven't posted much about writing in the last few weeks - but I have been doing it! Maybe that's even better than writing about it.

    Around mid-October I started to seriously consider registering for NaNoWriMo. That's short for National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November.

    The NaNo movement started small a few years ago but has blossomed to thousands of writers getting on the NaNo bandwagon, each with the goal of writing 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel from Nov 1-30 (or at least that's what one must do to 'win').

    I was persuaded to dive in by some of the things Chris Baty wrote on the NaNo web site. I was even happier I had registered when I got my welcome email on October 27th. In it Baty makes three main points:

    1. It's okay to not know what you're doing.
    2. Do not edit as you go.
    3. Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel in November (basically so it's impossible to quit without losing a lot of face).

    I especially perked up at point number 2. Because editing as I go is my modus operandi. But it makes for painfully slow writing. Here is an expansion of the "Do not edit point:

    "...Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it's hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn't. Every book you've ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you."

    So, having sent my inner editor on a much-needed holiday,  I've actually been free to write fairly quickly - for me. As of this afternoon, I've logged 6534 words of the aforesaid"beautifully flawed first draft." I'm simply not allowing myself to edit. Case closed.

    I'm trying different ways of spinning this tale.

    On Sunday I plunked it out at the keyboard.

    On Monday I thought of using my old transcription tools and tried telling my story to my little Pearlcorder microcasette recorder and typing it from that (I have the playback machine with the foot pedal). That works fairly well if you can get into a smooth telling mode.

    Today I tried writing in longhand with pencil, reading what I'd written back to the recorder and typing it as dictation. That may work the best, as my thoughts flow about longhand writing speed, and typing from dictation is a lot faster and easier on the neck than typing from copy.  

    My daily goal is 2000 words. If I reach that six days a week, I'll be able to take Sundays off, which is my intention (although I did write on the 1st).

    If you're interested in checking on my progress, my NaNo profile page is here.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Book review: Leaving Yesterday by Kathryn Cushman

    Title: Leaving Yesterday
    Author: Kathryn Cushman
    Publisher: Bethany House, October 1, 2009, paperback, 320 pages. 
    ISBN-10: 0764203827 
    ISBN-13: 978-0764203824

    What business could a police officer have with her except to bear the bad news that her son Kurt has been found dead, Alisa Stewart wonders as Detective Thompson’s car turns into her driveway. But a few minutes later she is saddled with an even greater burden as she discovers her 21-year-old drug addicted son is wanted for questioning about a murder. When he calls home a few days later with the news that he’s been in rehab – and for a while – she reasons it couldn’t be him, could it?

    In Leaving Home Kathryn Cushman combines what Alisa finds in a box of Kurt’s things with old frictions between Alisa and her estranged husband, the need to keep up appearances at her church and, above all, the determination that her son will have the new start he deserves to give us the tug-of-war tale of a mother’s love.

    The story, told in first person by Alisa, has a rapidly thickening plot. Pressure on her to look good in her position of women’s ministry leader mounts even as her relationship with her husband Rick deteriorates and questions about Kurt multiply. She finds she can be most herself with her neighbor Lacey, a retired lawyer who is canny, pragmatic and a mistress of rationalization. Cushman takes Alisa and the whole family through some tough situations and decisions in a book that is hard to put down.

    Character-wise I found myself with mixed feelings about Alisa. Though I sympathized with her as a mom and understood her mother bear impulses, there was something Barbie-dollish and plastic about her too. She came off as shallow in her role as wife and women’s pastor, and smug as a public speaker. My favorite character was her 10-year-old daughter Caroline who was completely believable with her bouncy ways and excitable, dramatic clinginess. Alisa’s husband Rick rang true as well – even though he was a bit of a downer. Jodi and Monte were recognizable and fun as aging hippies. I wasn’t sure what to make of Kurt. He was sweet and genuine on the surface but showed just enough deviousness to keep me wondering, through most of the book, just how genuine his reformation really was.

    Cushman does a good job of bringing up some weighty themes even as she weaves this entertaining story. No mother will be able to read this book without asking herself if she would she go to the lengths Alisa did if she were in the same shoes. The story touches on other issues of parenting as well, like permissiveness, tough love and the possibility that parents drive their kids to self-destructive behaviors with dysfunctional parenting. Cushman introduces God the Father as the greatest example of a parent. The story also makes us think a lot about guilt.

    For a hard-to-put-down read that will prompt you to take a thoughtful look at your role as a parent and as a child, Leaving Yesterday is a good choice. 

    Reading Group Guide for this book.

    (I received this book from Bethany House for the purpose of writing a review.)

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Book review: Things Worth Remembering by Jackina Stark

    Title: Things Worth Remembering
    Author: Jackina Stark
    Publisher: Bethany House, October 2009, paperback, 320 pages

    ISBN-10: 0764207113 
    ISBN-13: 978-0764207112

    Kendy Laswell can’t wait for her daughter Maisey and fiancé Marcus to get home this third Monday in July. It’s a mere six days till Maisey’s wedding and there must be a thousand things to do – though Masey hasn’t told her much.

    But when the kids arrive, Maisey says she’s tired and goes straight to bed. Kendy hides her disappointment but inside asks, for the thousandth time, what is at the root of her daughter’s avoidance? The only thing she can think of is the months-long depression she suffered when Maisey was 13. Things have never been right between them since that dreadful summer nine years ago. Now, though, they still have the rest of the week to patch things up.

    In Things Worth Remembering, Jackina Stark takes us through the week before Maisey’s wedding. Through the first-person voices of Kendy and Maisey we live those memorable six days, but much more, as incidents trigger memories. These, plus Maisey’s surprising outburst on Wednesday and a health crisis on Thursday work together to create a heart-wrenching story about mothers and daughters, marriage and marital unfaithfulness, family, love, and forgiveness.

    In Kendy and Maisey, Stark has created two flawed but sympathetic main characters. The supporting cast of Luke (Kendy’s husband), Marcus, Jackie and others also feel real and convincing. Stark’s style of writing current happenings in present tense with the back story in past tense helps dispel any confusion about now and then. Her contemporary American setting feels absolutely believable and authentic.

    The story is seen through the lens of a Christian worldview. Stark works the faith of her characters into the story seamlessly and in a way that feels organic to its plot and characters. To underline how integral faith is to the story, we find that even the title hearkens back to a discussion of it:

    Luke (to Maisey): “’Children of dust, Maisey, children of dust. That’s not an insult to the human race; it’s just a fact. Making mistakes is unavoidable; we are the created not the Creator. But it is also a fact that God loves us despite our frailty. And it’s a fact that life is good when we choose love and forgiveness.’

    I close my eyes against his words.

    Dad puts his hands over mine and I dare to look at him.

    ‘These things are worth remembering, Maisey – they really are.’”  248-9

    Being a daughter myself and the mother of a daughter (with whom I planned a wedding a few years ago) I related to Kendy at a gut level. Maisey’s rudeness to her mother and the  way she shut her out of all her wedding plans and activities made me wish I could take Kendy aside and tell her she’d better stop acting so passive and make an effort to get to the bottom of their rift. Yet Kendy downplays her hurt to the extent that at times she seems almost stoic when one would expect her to be falling apart. However, this downplaying is probably safer than over emotionalizing, as Stark has created an emotional minefield of a situation, and the tone of Kendy’s telling could easily have degenerated into sentimentality and self-pity.

    Altogether the book flew by far too fast for me. The way it explores the mother-daughter relationship and forgiveness would make it an excellent choice for individuals or reading groups.  Discussion questions are here. Read an excerpt here.

    (I received this book from Bethany House for the purpose of writing a review.)

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    November is coming!

    And what is there to get excited about in November, you ask.

    It's the month of two ambitious writing challenges that, should you decide to accept them, will have you swimming in words.

    November Chapbook Challenge at Poetic Asides:
    Write one poem a day in November (Robert Brewer will post daily prompts), use December to preen those poems, then submit your best 10-20 pages - 1 poem/page -  to Robert by January 2/2010 to enter the chapbook challenge.

    NaNo WriMo (National Novel-writing month)
    Write a short novel (50,000 words) during the month of November (quantity, not quality is the watchword here). Read all  the details at the NaNo WriMo web site.

    Are you up for either - or both?

    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    Does your poem pass the sound check?

    Of all the things I find difficult about writing poetry, choosing words that flow over the tongue and sound musical may be my biggest challenge. It seems I naturally gravitate towards alliteration, ending up with all kinds of harsh and tongue-twisty bits. That's one of the reasons I chose to write about the sound of poetry in my latest Poet's Classroom column.

    In researching the article, I found out lots of good stuff about the texture of words, onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhyme, repetition and more. Check out "The Sound of a Poem" here.

    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Top Ten Blogs for Writers

    Want to add the best writing blogs to your reading list? Michael Stelzner of the Writing White Papers runs a yearly top blogs for writers competition. On September 22nd he announced the top ten writer blogs for 2008/2009. Here they are. (I can personally vouch for number 1. I follow Copyblogger on twitter and his articles are excellent.)

    1. Copyblogger (Brian Clark)

    2. Men with Pens (James Chartrand and Harry McLeod)

    3. Freelance Writing Jobs (Deb Ng founder)

    4. Write to Done (Leo Babauta)

    5. Confident Writing (Joanna Young)

    6. The Renegade Writer (Linda Formichelli and Diana Burell)

    7. Remarkable Communication (Sonia Simone)

    8. Writing Journey (Bob Younce)

    9. Freelance Parent (Lorna Doone Brewer and Tamara Berry)

    10. Urban Muse (Susan Johnston)

    Hat-tip: @JanalynVoigt

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    A "God quote" doesn't make a story Christian

    "...whether you are writing for the main stream or one of the niche markets, the religion must be an integrated, fundamental part of your story. A secular story with random Bible quotes dropped in doth not a Christian Fiction story make. If you have an extremely devout character, then their religion should permeate every aspect of their life. On the other hand, a character that only attends temple on the high holy days every other year probably is not going to be quoting the Torah or Talmud on a regular basis. You want the religious aspect of your story to seamlessly integrate with the rest of the work, not pop out at random places."

    So writes Editor/Publisher and writer of the Buried In the Slush Pile blog in the post "Holy Writing Batman." Last week she wrote several posts on writing fiction for the religious market for kids. You'll also want to check out:

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Review of Everyday Greatness by Steven R. Covey

    Title: Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life
    Author: Steven R. Covey, compiled by David K. Hatch
    Publisher:  Thomas Nelson, 2006
    ISBN-10: 140160241X 
    ISBN-13: 978-1401602413

    Sixty three of the best stories from the Reader’s Digest archives, organized into twenty one chapters which address essential components of character are what’s inside Everyday Greatness.

    What was the point of resurrecting and reprinting these stories? For David K. Hatch, who pulled the collection together, it began as a search for stories and anecdotes he could use in public speaking. For Stephen R. Covey, who introduces each chapter and links the stories with insights and observations, the book’s purpose is to help the reader understand what makes a person great – not only in public but also in private life.

    Chapters titled Charity, Courage, Humility, Gratitude, Perseverance, etc. (21 in all) explore the topic subject with three stories, a few questions (called “Reflections”), and a section of quotes, all stitched together with commentary by Covey.

    The stories themselves are by a variety of authors, new and old, from Henry David Thoreau to Reba McEntire. They’re short, easy to read, interesting, and illustrate the subject under discussion more efficiently than a lecture twice their length would.

    If there’s one criticism, it would be that this everyday greatness is achieved by self-effort. Any mention of God or a new life in Christ or the transforming work of the Holy Spirit is absent. And so the book presents only a partial picture of how this everyday greatness is achieved, at least for the Christian. However, each quality discussed is something the Bible and Jesus emphasized as well. The difference is in how and to what end you achieve them.

    Despite that quibble, the book offers a lot to think about. There’s enough good stuff here to overwhelm. The “Afterword” section at the end of the book helps dispel the overload by listing ways the reader can begin putting the principles explored into practice.

    For a book that will encourage and inspire in literally hundreds of ways (there are around 600 quotes), Everyday Greatness is recommended.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Poetry Contest Almanac

    Notice the Poetry Contest Almanac widget in the sidebar?  It's new! Each item is a link to a poetry contest. The date is the last day entries can be postmarked or emailed to be accepted. I did this for myself  - to keep track of upcoming poetry contests. You're welcome to use it too.

    You'll need to read the rules for each one. Some only accept entries from Canadian citizens. Both of the Utmost contests are for entrants whose beliefs conform to a statement of Christian faith.

    If you know of contests I've missed, please email me and I'll add them. If you decide to enter any of them - ALL THE BEST!!

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    It's all about pleasuring the reader

    I've been spending some time looking through my old journals to see if there's anything salvageable in them - poem seeds, ideas for articles or devotions. Here's something from Feb. 08 that I marked to put on this blog:

    When you get too flowery, you sound show-offy, or like you're getting carried away -- emptying all your spice bottles into the soup. Flowery stuff is a garnish. Over use it and you sound silly or pompous. When you show off, you serve yourself. Being a writer is being a servant, not of yourself but of your reader.
    Maybe I was reading one of my favorite how-to books on writing  at the time. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein says the same thing only better (from Chapter 1 "The Writer's Job May Be Different Than You Think"):

    "...many writers have inappropriate intentions The four most common I've heard are "I am expressing myself,: I have something to say," "I want to be loved by readers, and I need money." Those are all occasional outcomes of the correct intention which is to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life." - p. 3

    "...key to writing both fiction and nonfiction - it has to be a good experience for both partners, the writer and the reader, and it is a source of distress to me to observe how frequently writers ignore the pleasure of their partners. 
        The pleasures of writer and reader are interwoven. The seasoned writer of both nonfiction and fiction, confident in his craft, derives increasing pleasure from his work. The reader in the hands of a writer who has mastered his craft enjoys a richer experience." p. 7

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    for poet keeners

    My September Poet's Classroom article, "Assigned Reading For Poets" is up at Utmost. If your poetry writing needs a booster shot of inspiration or how-to, it offers mini-reviews of ten poetry writing books that might help.

    While you're there, take a look at the What's New page to keep you up on Utmost's latest contests, articles and gallery poems.

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Write 'free' content - and get paid for it

    If you're a freelance writer you'll know that the writing business has changed. Magazines and newspapers are going out of business, but there's still lots of reading to be found -- online. Though it's great that so much information is free for readers, where is there any money in that for writers?

    Fortunately writers are still needed to write all that "free" content. A site which has generated a few shekels for me as a content writer is Constant-Content.  This site has a library of thousands of articles on just about any topic you could name. Web masters come by and purchase content from C-C for use on their sites.

    Here's how Constant-Content works for writers:

    1. Sign-up is free. (Writer's Guidelines - Writer's Tutorial)

    2. Authors choose their own article topics or write for requests.

    3. Authors price their own work according to rights sold. (They earn 65% of the asking price; Constant-Content takes a 35% commission.)

    4. Articles are submitted via online form and uploaded documents.

    5. Articles are checked by an editor and filtered for plagiarism before being published on the site.

    6. Only a sample of the complete article is displayed online. (You, the author, determine the length of the sample - a minimum of one third is required).

    7. Payment is monthly by PayPal (threshold is $5).

    8. A widget is available to advertise recently written C-C content on your blog or web site (see mine in the sidebar -->).

    Here is a sampling of the 19 licenses (articles) I've sold since joining Constant-Content in 2008.

    - An old article that I wrote years ago, but never sold, on honey.

    - A new piece about wedding rings.

    - An article about "green" house-deodorizers.

    - Several book reviews

    - An article about showing appreciation.

    So if you have an area of expertise or enjoy researching and learning about stuff and then writing about it, give Constant-Content a try.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Poetry sites galore

    I got an email from someone unfamiliar the other day - delivered to "Junk" of course. I'm sure glad I dug it out of junk. It was from Accredited Online University giving me the heads-up on their site listing "100 Sites to Study, Teach and Share Poetry Online." Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Check it out:

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Author as God?

    One of my writer forums alerted me to a fascinating interview with science fiction writer Mary Doria Russell. America Public Media's Krista Tippett interviewed Ms. Russell for the Speaking of Faith program. Here is the introduction (from the website):

    "Our guest has grappled with large moral and religious questions on and off the page. We discover what she discerned — in the act of creating a new universe — about God and about dilemmas of evil, doubt, and free will. The ultimate moral of any life and any event, she believes, only shows itself across generations. And so the novelist, like God, she says, paints with the brush of time."

    Mary Doria Russell has written several books including: Dreamers of the Day, A Thread of Grace, The Sparrow and Children of God. Her website has many interesting nooks and crannies to explore as well.

    "The Author as God" - Mary Doria Russell in conversation with Krista Tippett

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Poetry Portfolio

    In the last while I've been mulling over the idea of assembling an online poetry portfolio. I love other just-poetry sites that I often visit - sites like Poems by C. Van Gorkom, Christian Nature Poetry, and Real Poems.

    Recently Kimberley Davis, a writer I follow on Twitter, wrote a blog post about doing just that as well. Her thoughts echoed many of my own feelings (positive about posting the poems with images, for example - her portfolio is here).

    This week I took the plunge and put up

    (click on the graphic and be whisked away to the site)

    I will mostly post poems that have already been published in other places. Of course it's not complete. I have yet to add more tabs, with pages for links, and other poetry-related goodies. I'll be adding a new poem about once a week until I run out of 'stock.'

    So, if you enjoy poetry, I'd love it if you'd come by for a read!

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    On Writing by Stephen King (an unreview)

    Title: On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft
    Author: Stephen King
    Publisher: Scribner, 2000, Hardcover, 288 pages


    I have just finished reading On Writing by Stephen King. I enjoyed it immensely - he came across so unpretentious and likable, not to mention all the wisdom about writing that's in it. I'm not going to write a proper review, just list some things from the book that I want to remember:

    1. In order to be a good writer you have to read a lot and write a lot.

    2. He wrote his books by setting a 2000 word limit per day. Most of his books took about three months to write.

    3. He calls his way of plotting "situational", i.e. his stories usually start when he envisions a potential character in a situation. He doesn't outline or plot, but rather lets his characters develop as they react and interact in that situation. He asks "what if..." a lot. He stresses honesty and letting your characters be and become who they are.

    4. He talks about the story developing as if one had found a bit of fossil. Telling the story is digging out that fossil.

    5. His work ethic is incredible. But one gets the feeling it's not entirely a work ethic -- but a play ethic. He loves writing, believes he was destined to be a writer and couldn't have been anything else.

    6. Here are some quotes from the book:
    "The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better." p. 269

    "Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy." p. 269

    The book is in three parts:

    Part 1- he calls his C.V. It's his growing up years and the trace of his experience as a kid, then student, and older, looking back and seeing all the evidences of his destiny as a writer as they played out.

    Part 2 - his beliefs about writing and all the practical things he shares from his experience as a writer. Early on in that section he introduces the idea of a toolbox. That is essentially what he shares in that section - his views on story, plot, character, dialogue, symbol, theme, getting an agent, etc. etc.

    Part 3 - tells what was going on in his personal life while he wrote the book (the middle craft part). He wrote the first part and then in self-doubt put the ms. aside for a while. In this last part he also shows how he edits his own work by quoting a partial first draft of a story and shows that same segment edited. Finally, he answers the question that people continually ask - 'What do you read?' by listing recent favorite novels he's read in the last 3-4 years ('recent' as in 2000 and before).

    Reading his book has inspired me to simply spend more time writing. I've spent too much time spinning my wheels on the internet. I'd like to build up my writing muscle to do some steady and uninterrupted writing each day. He talks about the time the writer writes with the door closed as a time of creative dreaming or sleep. You block out distractions and interruptions as you would if you were physically sleeping. He suggests starting for an amount one could realistically write, and building up writing stamina as a runner conditions for longer and longer runs.

    More excerpts from On Writing.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    publishing surprise

    The designer Metropolitan Frock didn't ask for permission to use my poem "In Stitches" on her Etsy Page - but then she attributed me as the author, and included the copyright date so I'm not complaining (I look on it as free advertising). Plus I love her clothes - so we'll call it win/win.

    Sunday, August 09, 2009

    Book review: Mohamed's Moon by Keith Clemons

    Title: Mohamed's Moon
    Author: Keith Clemons
    Publisher: Realms, May 2009, Paperback, 302 pages.

    Beautiful medical student Layla thinks she loves Matthew Mulberry enough to accept his ring. Yet she senses there is something he’s not telling her. One day she comes face to face with Mohamed El Taher. He’s Matthew’s double but also a ghost from her past. After that, hers and Matthew’s relationship gets even more tangled. However, in Mohamed’s Moon Keith Clemons doesn’t only create a love triangle but brings the world of these Egyptian expatriates into collision with a cell of calculating killers that has infiltrated America’s highest office.

    Clemons’ deft storytelling captivates as he whisks us between the present and the past, Egypt and California, and the viewpoints of Matthew, Mohamed and Layla. Through Mohamed we come to appreciate how even a belief system even intent onmurder can make sense and have a steely grip on mind and heart. Somehow using his writer’s sleight of hand Clemons makes us sympathetic toward all three of the main characters, even though two are bitter rivals.

    I especially enjoyed the parts where Clemons portrayed life in Egypt. Passages like the following have earned Clemons the label “atmospheric” storyteller:

    “The wind blew incessantly, painting the sky a dirty brown. It had come up suddenly, a desert storm, whipping the sand into a froth, tearing at clothes, twisting hair, and scouring lungs. The man hid behind his camel with his head buried in the animal’s thick fur, using it as a wall against the assault. Smelly matted hair, like old rugs, soiled and musty and full of ticks, but the insulation kept him alive. The beast knelt with its eyes closed its legs folded underneath, hunkered down to ride out the storm.” p. 1

    Clemons deals with some significant themes – inequality between rich and poor (including the amusing irony of the Lexus-driving Mohamed pontificating against America’s wealth to his rival, who drives a beat-up VW), forgiveness, and the clash between Christianity and Islam. Mohamed is thoroughly versed in the Qur’an and he and the cavernous-eyed professor Omar quote it often. When Mohamed obtains a Bible, its message of love and forgiveness shocks him. Could this be true?

    Mohamed's Moon is full of surprises and suspense – a book with a taut beginning, middle, and end that’s hard to put down. This is the first of Clemons’ five books that I’ve read, but I’d definitely read more. It’s not every day you find a writer who tackles a timely and controversial issue in a story so riveting and with such literary finesse.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Book review: Fires of Fury by Donna Dawson

    Title: Fires of Fury
    Author: Donna Dawson
    Publisher: Awe-Struck Press, 2009
    eBook ISBN: 978-1-58749-171-9

    Katherine Matheson’s husband Darryl has been found dead in a burned-out car, a suspected suicide. But Jason Wolfe, the local police investigator, is sure that it was murder. Katherine has mixed feelings about Darryl’s death because he was cheating on her. When Jason’s presence stirs strong feelings she’s tempted to surrender to his advances until she finds out that Bev, the woman who stole her husband, has her claws into Jason too. A break-in at her house, an energetic puppy, and an attempt to make a new start are all elements that make Donna Dawson’s romantic suspense, Fires of Fury, a captivating read.

    Katherine, the sensitive and grieving main character, is mostly sympathetic, though more than once I felt like giving her a good shake and telling her to talk rather than just flee the scene. Wolfe, the attractive bachelor, has his own hang-ups. The chemistry between them makes for a sometimes rocky, hide-and-seek romance. Dawson uses Katherine’s meddling though well-meaning sister Jasmine and the thoroughly bad Bev to add elements of warmth, humor and conflict.

    Katherine’s main issue after being betrayed by her husband is trust. Can she trust Jason, any man, even God? Though the characters’ faith in God isn’t a big part of the story, it is foundational. Another main theme is communication – why it’s necessary and what happens when people misunderstand each other because they never talked.

    Dawson’s writing style seemed more flowery in Fires of Fury than in two other books by her that I’ve read (Redeemed and Vengeance). Passages like the following are not uncommon: “A sigh found its way from the lowest part of her hurting heart and erupted through lips that still tingled every once in a while at the memory of Jason.” I suppose such writing is typical of this brand of dissect-every-moment romance. It's not my favorite genre.

    A bit about the format – the book is only available as an e-book. I don't know whether one can read it on an e-reading device (Kindle or Sony Reader). My disk of the book down-loaded a pdf file which I then printed. The printed pages have no numbers on them so it's important to keep them in order! (I tried to print the book double-sided. It was a mess.)

    For lovers of romantic suspense this story, with its attractive characters, tastefully dispensed spiritual wisdom and satisfying ending, won’t disappoint.

    READ AN EXCERPT of Fires of Fury

    ORDER Fires of Fury

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Book Review: Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World by James A. Beverley

    Title: Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World
    Author: James A. Beverley
    Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers; SuperSaver Edition edition (Feb 3 2009), Hardcover, 644 pages.

    (Click on cover icon for this book's listing)

    To read that Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World is “the product of over thirty years of study and teaching” (p. ix) is no surprise. To discover that the actual project took author James A. Beverley a mere ten years from inception to publication is, in some ways, amazing, considering the extent of the book.

    In this encyclopedic volume, Beverley, a long-time Professor of Christian Thought at Tyndale College in Toronto, gives readers an overview of the main religions of the world. The mere 19 chapters (encompassing Baha’i to Witchcraft) are deceiving. For within them he explores the themes and variations of each main belief system, so that the actual number of faiths he discusses adds up to hundreds. (In the chapter on Protestantism, for example, Beverley discusses 28 denominations and historical movements within the protestant stream of Christianity.)

    Beverley takes his cue on how to tackle each religion from the religion itself. For example, his discussion about the short-lived and relatively recent Branch Davidians cult is brief with a focus on news reports surrounding the controversial raid of their Waco Texas headquarters in 1993.

    Buddhism, on the other hand, with its modern resurgence in the west and its history spanning centuries, gets much longer treatment and includes Beverley’s description of his meeting with the Dalai Lama.

    Information about each religion includes names of its key people and describes the roles they played, details beliefs and worship practices, traces the religion’s history in a time line, and suggests websites and books to consult for more information.

    The author makes no claims that this is an objective appraisal of the world’s religions, however. In a must-read introduction he states that he presents his material from the perspective of an evangelical Christian scholar. He writes:

    "I realize that many readers will not share this paradigm or worldview….I recognize that this book would be different if written from a Buddhist, Muslim, esoteric, or other tradition. It would also be a different book if it adopted the standpoint of relativism, or postmodernism, or the perspective of the so-called objective academic." (p.7)

    Though in many places Beverley sounds like he’s trying to be cooly objective and present both sides of an argument in a diplomatic way, in others he is outspoken in voicing his opinion. For example, after quoting a criticism of Brian McLaren (Emergent Church) by R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptists, he says, “This is far too harsh and distorts McLaren. However, McLaren should be more aware of the epistemological complexities …. and be more careful in argument, rhetoric, and treatment of major Christian doctrines." (p. 538)

    For the Christian reader, it is exactly Beverley’s bias that makes Guide to Religions valuable. For included within the discussion of each religion is his evaluation of how it relates to Christian orthodoxy as he understands it. We may not agree with him, but he has done his part to make our choice easier with his explanations and analysis.

    Also included in the book are several valuable lists: 10 things to consider when studying a religion, 10 points of Christian response to religions, 20 basic tenets of the Christian faith, and 10 tests for truth in religion. The book ends with four appendices and an exhaustive (100+ page) index. Color photographs add information, interest and beauty. From the viewpoint of design, though, the shaded fill of the text boxes and the blurred borders of the photos give the book an old-fashioned look.

    For me, a layperson and no student of theology or world religions, Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions is a most helpful reference. Though not exhaustive, its information about the world’s main religions and their offshoots is more than adequate to give me an understanding of the faiths of my neighbors and friends. Should I want to find out more, I need only consult the book’s numerous lists of resources for further study.

    This readable reference book would be a valuable addition to any home, school or church library.

    James A. Beverley's website.

    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    New reviews up

    In the last couple of weeks I've posted three new reviews at Blogcritics. Note that two of the three are by Canadian authors!

    • Exposure by Brandilyn Collins - Christian fiction / Suspense

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Poetry Friday - serendipities

    All kinds of nature poetry serendipities are begging for a blog post.

    On July 1st my monthly Poet's Classroom column, "Nature Poetry," came online. Of course I mentioned Mary Oliver in it.

    Then on Monday, I came across this wonderful piece about Mary Oliver's hometown, Provincetown: "The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown."

    Also on Monday Miss Rumphius posted a Monday Poetry Stretch, where she challenged readers to write nature poem recipes!

    Yesterday, a poem mentioned in the Mary Oliver article is featured on Writer's Almanac:

    The Place I Want To Get Back To

    is where
    in the pinewoods
    in the moments between
    the darkness

    and first light
    two deer
    came walking down the hill
    and when they saw me

    they said to each other, okay,
    this one is okay,
    let's see who she is
    and why she is sitting

    on the ground like that,
    so quiet, as if
    asleep, or in a dream,
    but, anyway, harmless; the rest here

    As for nature, I've been enjoying not deer, but wild bunnies. This one (or one of his look-alike siblings) has crossed our walking path every morning for three days in a row. Of course the minute after I took his photo, he disappeared.

    Which of nature's treats or serendipities have you been enjoying?


    This post is part of Poetry Friday, which is hosted today at jama rattigans alphabet soup

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Mr. Domingo's garden is in love

    I've been working on an article about nature poetry for a monthly column I write. Since nature is one of my favorite poem topics, it's been a lot of fun listing the types of nature poems poets write and finding examples of each kind.

    In my search for poem examples, "Mr. Domingo's Garden" by Pat Hegnauer caught my eye. I used it as an example of a poem that shows humans and nature in collaboration or working together. It's a fun, luscious poem that I'm sure you'll enjoy. (Maybe it will even spur you on to sing opera to your onions!)

    Mr. Domingo's Garden

    Between garage and fence
    the garden wakes and waits
    for Mr.Domingo's attention.

    He fawns in her seasons,
    adores her harvest and fallow.
    She responds greening for love.

    Leaves shiver as he nears,
    sprout to fruit reaching
    to kiss the old man's hands,

    soothe the arrogant arthritis
    and the thin fiery bone
    that digs and seeds and tends.

    Read the rest...

    (The article about nature poetry will be online in July)


    This post is part of Poetry Friday, which is hosted today at Critique de M. Chompchomp .

    Wednesday, June 03, 2009

    Imaginative retelling of a religious classic

    Title: The Bark of the Bog Owl
    Author: Jonathan Rogers
    Publisher: Broadman & Holman
    Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy
    ISBN: 080543131-4

    Take places like Tambluff Castle, Feechiefen Swamp, Bonifay Plain and Greasy Cave. Now mix them with characters like King Darrow, Bayard the Truth Speaker, Dobro, Aidan Errolson. a contingent of scheming Pyrthens and you have The Bark of the Bog Owl, the first book of Jonathan RogersWilderking Trilogy.

    In this series Rogers retells the story of David from the Old Testament. However, with the exception of the main plot line there is little else predictable about the story. The reworked characters have been transplanted to a medieval fantasy land which includes symbolic alligators, a tribe of outcast Feechiefolk and a seer who goes around with a pair of goats.

    The book is a lively read. Twelve-year-old Aidan, Dobro, the Feechiefolk, his brothers and the Pyrthens mix it up in play, celebration, arguments, hand-to-hand fights and even a genuine battle. The action and adventure are also delivered with generous doses of humor in silly songs, rhymes and Mr. Rogers’ droll way with words.

    Themes that come out in this tale are love of God and country, bravery, honor and on Aidan’s part, a thirst for action and adventure.

    Though we get to know Aidan best, there are other interesting characters as well - the mysterious Dobro, Aidan’s somewhat jealous and condescending brothers and my favorite, Bayard the Truth Speaker.

    It is Bayard’s wisdom, delivered in the mysterious voice of an authentic but weird prophet that had me, adult that I am, reaching for my highlighter. “Live the life that unfolds before you,” he tells Aiden on their first meeting. Later he reassures him, “Do not ask, ‘Am I being a fool?’ Ask, ‘Am I being the right sort of fool?’” It is this sage foundation that expands the story from being just an entertaining tale and gives it value beyond the hours of entertainment reading it will provide.

    Kids in Grades 3-6 will enjoy this series. If I were the parent though, I wouldn’t give it to one of them to read. Rather I’d read it aloud to them myself and join in the fun.

    The book is available from

    Monday, June 01, 2009

    Find the right poetry contest for you

    If poetry contests are a blur to you, the latest article in Poet's Classroom should help.

    Read "How to Find the Poetry Contest that is Best for You" by the editor of Winning Writers Jendi Reiter.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    poems of work - sewing

    Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect blog is hosting/posting a collection of poems of work.

    I will post an old poem about sewing - something which I haven't done a lot of lately. But I have made a few things in my time - enough to know how it feels to be a novice (very novice!) seamstress.

    In Stitches

    I am in the choice of pattern
    and in my fantasy
    of how the suit sketched in tweed
    will be incarnated in velvet

    I am in tissue pieces
    laid precisely, pinned snugly
    facing the right way
    on the wrong side.

    I am in the concentration of my tongue
    and in the rhythm of my heart
    as scissor blades
    crunch, crunch, crunch.

    I am in the synapses that pass
    from instruction sheet to brain
    to fingers, in spaces
    filled with the conductive medium of faith.

    I am on the rolling highway of stitches, even and perfect
    seams, smooth and straight
    then in the pin-prick that sees
    something is wrong; I must rip and return.

    I am in the mirror
    reflecting shoulders that bag
    a waist too tight
    and a skirt that sags.

    Then at last, after being in gathers, easements
    overcast hems and under the hot iron
    I am, snug and snazzy
    in this garment I have made.

    © 2006 by Violet Nesdoly
    First published in Poets Online (Archive: February 2006 - "In The Moment" prompt)

    Read more poems of work here.

    This post is also part of the KidLitosphere's Poetry Friday. This week it's hosted at Irene Latham's blog Live. Love. Explore!

    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Non-fiction Monday - Learn how to think

    Book: The Thinking Toolbox
    Authors: Nathaniel Bluedorn & Hans Bluedorn
    Genre: Young-adult non-fiction
    Publisher: Christian Logic, paperback, 235 pages
    ISBN: 0-9745315-1-0

    The Thinking Toolbox is a 35-chapter book written by brothers Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. Its purpose is to help kids and adults develop reasoning and thinking skills.

    The book is divided into three main sections: "Tools for Thinking," "Tools for Opposing Viewpoints," and "Tools for Science." Each chapter is a lesson and the lessons build on each other in a logical (of course!) way, though each is self-contained.

    The lessons are short. They are introduced with an example or problem to solve, then the concept is taught, and this is followed by a sum-up statement of what was learned. The lesson concludes with exercises, giving the reader practice in applying the concept to real life situations (answers and explanations are at the back of the book).

    After the brief introductory "How To Use This Book" chapter, the first main section – "Tools for Thinking"– teaches (Lessons 1 - 8) concepts like what is the difference between a discussion, a disagreement, an argument and a fight; when is it appropriate to argue; what are fact, inference and opinion; and how does one state a premise and come to a conclusion.

    I found Lesson 6 in this section, which taught about listing and sorting reasons, the weakest in that the example used to illustrate how this was done was more confusing than helpful. But Lesson 7, "How to Defeat Your Own Argument," was excellent in the way it suggested anticipating objections to arguments. I also appreciated the way Lesson 8 "When Not to Use Logic" taught the importance of knowing when to hold one’s tongue:

    But sometimes a different logic takes precedence; the logic of human relationships and emotions. When we realize we should not speak our thoughts we are not being illogical. We are being logical in silence.
    The second main section "Tools for Opposing Viewpoints" (Lessons 9 - 21) includes lessons on recognizing opposing viewpoints, evaluating the quality of evidence, defining primary and secondary sources, and recognizing and analyzing circumstantial evidence.

    In this section I found myself arguing with the sum-up statement of Chapter 12, the rule for analyzing sources: "If you don’t know how a source obtained his information – how he knows what he knows – then the source should be considered unreliable." Come now gentlemen, do you even follow that advice yourself? In this day of information glut, is such a thing even possible? I doubt it. Some tips here on the hierarchy of, say, web and print sources, may have been helpful in explaining how to realistically put this principle into practice. On the plus side, a highlight chapter in this section was Chapter 18, which uses as its example the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. story from American history.

    The third main section (Lessons 22 - 32) teaches "Tools for Science." It covers topics like what are scientific tools, observing, brainstorming, forming hypothesis, setting up experiments and analyzing data.

    The book ends with a three-chapter section of games and puzzles. (And if you want more, the authors have set up a web site: where they invite questions on logic)

    The book’s target age range is 13 to adult, although I think younger kids could read and benefit from at least parts of it. It is written in a light-hearted, friendly style with lots of humor and the text is broken up with Richard LaPierre’s cartoon illustrations. I can see this book being a welcome resource not only for home school kids and their parents, but for any kid or adult who is bombarded by 21st century media and its "Believe Me!" messages.


    This review is part of Non-Fiction Monday.

    Visit Miss Rumphius Effect for the rest of the Nonfiction Monday posts.


    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    What it takes to be a children's book writer

    Do you have it?

    Jon Bard, editor of Children's Book Insider tells us what it takes to be a successful children's book writer in this 5 minute video.

    CBI Clubhouse

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Are your feet ugly?

    Author: Debra Beck

    Publisher: Beaufort Books, April 2007

    Genre: Self-help, Youth nonfiction

    ISBN: 082530542X

    If Debra Beck ever meets the guy who told her, at 15, that her feet were ugly, I hope she thanks him for us. Because if it hadn’t been for that mean remark then, we might not have My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself from the Inside Out now.

    Debra’s goal for writing this 130-page self-help book for teen girls was to give them a hand in achieving the self-esteem and healing she missed when she was their age. The long first chapter talks about learning to like oneself by doing things like living with integrity, finishing projects, taking care of personal health and appearance, and being a good friend. The following eight chapters relate that foundation of healthy self-esteem to the many other challenges modern teen girls face in areas of conquering fears, risking creativity, maintaining physical appearance (including a discussion of eating disorders), encountering drugs, resisting suicide, dealing with the physical changes that accompany adolescence, and developing a healthy outlook toward sex. She also lists web links to help-agencies in appropriate sections.

    Debra’s understanding of and love for teens shines through. From a girlhood plagued with low self-esteem, the mothering of two teens of her own, and continuing to work with young women in Spirited Youth comes a voice that is part big sister, part mentor, part cheerleader and always encourager. In a warm, chatty style she shares her own struggles, lists fears, tells lots of stories from her life, and through it all challenges girls to be their own person.

    The inviting cover, cartoon-type illustrations (by Maggie Anthony - bottom), and Debra’s own occasional lapse into humorous girl-speak (e.g. talking about street drugs: "One big problem is that a lot of them are made in someone’s lab at home mixing the ingredients [a guy probably high out of his gourd]") make the book a lot of fun. It is interactive too with numerous journal prompts, lots of space to write, lists, and quizzes sprinkled amongst blocks of text.

    If the book seemed weak in one area it was in the discussion of spiritual health. Described as "moving forward, evolving and growing . . . . taking care of business" the subject appeared little different from all that had already been said about gaining healthy self-esteem on one's own – as opposed to joining with God or a higher being in this quest, which is what I expected to find when I read "spiritual health." However, the way Beck doesn’t take sides on religion may turn out to be an asset, in that the book’s neutrality would make it easily adaptable to girls of many faiths.

    All in all, I would have no problem recommending this book to any 10- to 16-year-old girl – or her caregiver. For as well as providing a great way for teen girls to gain confidence and a sense of who they are on their own, I think the book could be an excellent discussion starter between girls and parents. I wish I’d had it when I was a thoroughly self-conscious and self-loathing teenager.


    This review is part of Non-Fiction Monday.

    Visit ACPL Mock Sibert for the rest of the Nonfiction Monday posts.


    Saturday, May 16, 2009

    Drinking from the Twitter stream

    Picture 1

    Twitter is a never-ending source of goodies - if you're following the right people...and I have some wonderful follows. Here are a few goodies gleaned in the last little while:

    • @susanwrites: "Don't be afraid of backstory. I've written 100+ pages of backstory to learn about my characters - I just won't put it in the book."

    Book Review: Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You by Bonnie Grove

    Title: Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You
    Author: Bonnie Grove
    Beacon Hill Press, February 2009, Paperback, 192 pages

    If you're one of those people who have looked at your life and thought, I need to make some changes, Your Best You is the book for you. Not to worry if there is a secret addiction, a hurtful past or even a history of failed attempts at change. Author Bonnie Grove, a program developer and trainer, covers all those angles in this compact but complete self-help manual

    Grove starts out by explaining her strength-based approach and how it differs from the commonly used method of effecting personal change by working on one's areas of weakness. Using questionnaires, quizzes, self-tests, personal inventories, and journals she guides the reader in discovering personal strengths and then shows how to exploit them to make the desired changes.

    In fifteen chapters Grove moves the reader step by step from identifying personal strengths and determining what really matters to him or her, through making the actual changes, to establishing long-term goals. All along the way she stresses the importance of being patient with oneself and acknowledging the progress already made.

    Though her method is complex, Grove's instructions are always clear. She uses word pictures to clarify her ideas, e.g. she compares trying out new behaviors to trying on clothes in a store - a visualization which takes some of the heavy seriousness out of what can be a stressful process. She precedes each assignment with a detailed example of the kinds of answers the reader might give when dealing with a variety of issues (e.g. lose weight, stop smoking, deal with a difficult relative). She also states how much time each assignment should take and if it should be done in one sitting or spread over several sessions.

    The multi-week program described in Your Best You is built on a solid biblical foundation. Grove explains how acknowledging and using one's strengths is a form of worship. She demonstrates the place of prayer and encourages the reader to be aware of God's presence in every aspect of the change process. Her own transparency in describing her relationship with God serves as an inspiring and encouraging model.

    My one small quibble is with the physical design of the book. Though I didn't do the assignments, the book, with its lines, charts and tables to fill out, is meant to be written in. However, the tight paperback binding make that awkward and the small boxes in the tables and charts are too tiny to hold all that's required. A workbook-sized coil-bound book would have been more practical for such a hands-on program. Of course there's nothing stopping the reader from using a separate notebook instead of the paperback textbook to do all that writing. And that would preserve the book for more readers too - always a good thing.

    Though I only read through the book and didn’t actually do the program, I wouldn't hesitate to try it in the future or recommend it to others. It is designed primarily for individual use but I'm thinking it might also work well with groups. Each person could work on their own issues with the group members to fall back on for encouragement, feedback and accountability.

    From the already successful person who wants to maximize their potential to the one who desires to change destructive lifestyle patterns, Your Best You is a detailed and versatile roadmap to a fulfilling tomorrow.

    Read a sample of the book here. Check out the Your Best You blog for news and promotions.

    • Would you like to WIN an author-signed copy of Your Best You?
    • To enter just leave a comment (including your name) in the comments section of this post.
    • Contest ends May 31st. I'll announce a winner here on JUNE 1st. (Sorry, Canada and U.S. residents only)

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    Scenes from childhood

    A few days ago I went through all my books. That's because in early February a water pipe burst outside our townhouse, water seeped onto and under the laminate in the den, and all the flooring had to be replaced. The books, which live in that room, were packed into boxes and moldered in the garage for weeks (funny how you NEED them when they're not available). I only moved them back a few days ago.

    And so I got to revisit all my books, like the ones I saved from when the kids were little. The battered old board-book - A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson - is one.

    I'll bet you can recite with me:


    The Swing

    How do you like to go up in a swing,
    Up in the air so blue?
    O, I do think it the pleasantest thing
    Ever a child can do!

    Up in the air and over the wall,
    Till I can see so wide,
    Rivers and trees and cattle and all
    Over the countryside -

    Till I look down on the garden green,
    Down on the roof so brown --
    Up in the air I go flying again,
    Up in the air and down!

    And remember...


    Of speckled eggs the birdie sings
    And nests among the trees;
    The sailor sings of ropes and things
    In ships upon the seas.

    The children sing in far Japan
    The children sing in Spain;
    The organ with the organ man
    Is singing in the rain.

    And finally, this one kids throughout the northern hemisphere must be thinking, if not reciting, at this time of year:

    Bed in Summer

    In winter I get up at night
    And dress by yellow candlelight.
    In summer quite the other way
    I have to go to bed by day.

    I have to go to bed and see
    The birds still hopping on the tree
    Or hear the grown-up people's feet
    Still going past me in the street.

    And does it not seem hard to you,
    When all the sky is clear and blue,
    And I should like so much to play,
    To have to go to bed by day?

    I must keep this old relic of a book handy so that I can introduce it to my grand-baby when he next comes to visit (although at 15 months, he may be a little young... oh well).


    PFThis is a post for Poetry Friday.

    See all the Poetry Friday blogs at Kelly Polark