Jodie
March 15, 2002... Fayetteville, NC is socked in with thick, wet fog. And several thousand of us are waiting in the Crown Coliseum for a once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment. The air is more electric than any I think I've ever felt and the expectation is high. The person we've been waiting for has been delayed for more than an hour because fog has socked in the airport, but nobody's complaining. We'll wait and wait gladly, because the payoff will be worth it.

And then... a man in a dark suit steps onto the stage carrying what looks like a dinner plate. The entire arena goes silent. He stops, solemnly affixes the seal to the podium, steps back, and leaves.

The President of the United States is in the building.

Those assembled go wild... and then are faced with another wait as other special guests are introduced.

And then... a voice. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States" and the first chords of "Hail to the Chief." There he is, stepping across the stage to applause and cheers and waves and shouts. The noise dies down, he begins to speak, and the crowd--largely soldiers--begins to scream again. It's amazing, incredible to us all... the President is before us. The highest authority in the land stands feet away from us, sharing the air in the room.





I thought about that this morning, because I was thinking about Jesus' return. On March 15, 2002, I couldn't quite comprehend that I was in the same room as a man I'd seen on TV so many times, who I truly admired, the very President of my country.

What will it be like on the day when the sky splits and the very King of Kings appears? Oh, can you imagine the cheers on that day, when the King of Glory is seen face to face, sharing our air, the highest authority ever will finally be "in the building"?

Am I waiting in holy expectation for that moment? Wondering when the time will come, on the edge of my seat, feeling the delay, but oh so ready for him to appear? When the fog rolls in and it seems like He's never going to come, do I still strain to see him?

I cannot wait for my King to take the stage, y'all. This morning, I wanted to jump up and down thinking about it. How about you?

JB
Jodie
The women's Bible study at my church doesn't meet in December, so a group of us has joined an online Bible study on Ann Spangler's Immanuel. (Excellent, if you haven't done it.) Today she focused on Luke's retelling of Jesus' birth, and it got me thinking.

We read that story, but do we ever stop to picture it? We're so used to sweet nativity scenes with quiet animals and fresh hay in a newly-made manger. But think about it... this was a scared teenager, far from home, with a new husband (whom it's possible she didn't know very well), and she is in labor. Can you imagine their desperation when there was nowhere to stay? Did they stop in front of that smelly, nasty animal barn and look at it, then glance around praying for somewhere else? Only there was literally nowhere else? How panicked was Mary? Did she long for her mother? Her cousin Elizabeth?

The Bible doesn't mention another woman around. Was it Joseph who clumsily delivered that amazing baby, terrified of breaking the tiny Messiah? (I'd have been scared of that!) I'm sure the cloths were not fine, freshly-bleached linen and that the manger was far from antiseptic. How did the animals feel about having their food encroached upon? How many times did Joseph have to shoo away curious creatures who might nip at the infant?

Think about it. And then ask yourself how the picture in your mind lines up with what was probably the reality of the Son of God's birth. He gave up a throne in heaven, you know, and abundant everything. To be laid in a filthy stable.

Amazing.
Jodie
This just in! Fresh from American Christian Fiction Writers, it's the list of new releases for December. Just in time for Christmas. May you find much that piques your interest!

1. A Bouquet for Iris, by Diane Ashley & Aaron McCarver from Barbour Heartsong Presents. Iris Landon travels to Daisy, Tennessee, to care for two Cherokee children and finds romance and danger while aiding one family in the struggle to keep their land.

2. A Lady Like Sarah, Rocky Creek Romance, by Margaret Brownley from Thomas Nelson. He's a preacher. She's an outlaw. Both are in need of a miracle.

3. ANGEL WITH A BACKHOE, by Deb Kinnard from Desert
Breeze Publishing. A small-town widower and a spunky suburban transplant match wits over a church construction project, finding true love can mix with blueprints and concrete footings.

4. Child Finder: Resurrection series: Child Finder Trilogy, 2nd book, by Mike Angley from Total Recall Publications, Inc. Child Finder: Resurrection…the highly-anticipated sequel to the award-winning debut novel, Child Finder, which Library Journal placed on its 2009 Summer Reads list for Christian fiction!

5. Christmas Peril, by Margaret Daley from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. Christmas themed, romantic suspense stories.

6. Cup of Joe, by Teri Wilson from White Rose Publishing. A grieving oman resists the cups of comfort offered by the shy, but handsome, owner of the neighborhood coffee shop.

7. Field of Danger, by Ramona Richards from Love Inspired Suspense. When April Presley can’t remember details of the murder she witnessed, deputy Daniel Rivers must help her recall the event and protect her from the killer determined to silence her.

8. Her Patchwork Family series: The Gabriel Sisters, by Lyn Cote from Love Inspired. In spite of opposition from the rich and influential, can Felicity Gabriel establish a home for children orphaned by the Civil War and heal two wounded hearts?

9. Patterns and Progress series: Michigan historical, book 3, by Amber Stockton from Barbour Publishing. A farmer's daughter would rather turn back the hands of time than accept the fact that advancement in technology could be in God's plan.

10. The Sheriff's Surrender series: #1 of The Ladies' Shooting Club Series, by Susan Page Davis from Barbour Publishing. The men of Fergus aren’t keeping the town safe, so a group of feisty women take matters into their own hands.

11. The Glassblower series: First book in the New Jersey Historical Series, by Laurie Alice Eakes from Barbour Publishing. Colin Grassick moves from Edinburgh, Scotland to Salem county New jersey to take a position as a master glassblower. He loves his work and hopes of bringing his family to America for a better life. But his love for Meg, the daughter of the owner of the glassworks, threatens his job...and then his life.
Jodie
I think I met an angel today. As in a heavenly messenger. A human, but with a heavenly message. So I guess that makes her an angel.

I ran away to Panera to write today, because sometimes a change of scene helps, ya know? Only... I still feel like I'm just throwing letters at the page and hoping they become words which become sentences which become something better than I think they are right now. Boy, oh boy... revising this novel is going to be fun.

During the lunch rush, a lady and her husband sat down at the table beside me, prayed over their meal, and started to eat. All of a sudden, she looked at me and said, "Are you writing a book?"

How did she know that? Panera has wi-fi and all I had done for the bulk of her first few minutes there was stare at the screen, type a couple of sentences, then stare at the screen. Maybe there's a universal blank look that all writers share? Hmm... Something to ponder the next time I can't think of a good scene to write.

Anyway, I told her yes, and she went back to her meal. Then she looked at me again a few minutes later and asked where I was at in the process. Note: she did not ask if I was published. She asked where I was at.

I won't recount the whole conversation, but it went like that, her occasionally asking me questions, us discussing writers we'd read, with lapses of comfortable silence for her to eat and me to write.

It was when she stood up to go that she touched me. She said, "What's your first name?" So I told her. And then she said, "I'd like to pray for you. Would you like me to pray for you?"

This stranger, this amazing stranger, wants to pray for me. Wow. I mean. Wow. How humbling. How like our amazing God to show up and provide encouragement just when we need it the most.

Here is the kicker, the part where God went that one extra step that's sort of like the signature on His postcards to me... She told me her name... and her last name is the same as a dear family friend of ours who passed on a few years ago. He was an amazing, godly man who stepped in for me at one of the lowest points of my life and helped put me back on track, who was among the first to congratulate me when I got engaged to my husband, who kept up with me and prayed for me even when I didn't know he was doing it.

How like God is that? Pretty awesome, I'd say...

--JB
Jodie
It occurred to me a day or so ago that the blog has been suffering a severe case of neglect over the past couple of weeks. You'd think it was because I'm doing Nanowrimo (particularly after my last post which was about, you guessed it, Nanowrimo), but I'm not. I sat down on November 1, opened a blank Word document, and heard God say, "Nope. You need to go back to that scene you're scared to face. Finish the book you started." Alas, no Nano for me this year. I did get a great idea for a novel after the current one is finished, so all is not lost.

If you've been keeping an eye on the progress meter to your right, you'll see that Rearview Mirror, the tentatively-titled second book in the Dellinger Racing Series, is growing. Well, it was growing until today. I had a word goal of 1,000 words today. Wrote 500. Deleted 5,000. Ouch. Still, my goal is to have the first draft done by Thanksgiving. At least, that was the goal before I deleted 5,000 words today. May have to revise that goal. Seriously, about 4,000 of those words will go back in at a later place in the book, so technically they aren't deleted. They're rearranged. That sounds better to my ears. Either way, I'm having a whole lot of fun with Ryan and Kate's story, even though I did struggle for two weeks with one particular scene that brought up some old grief in me. Not fun. But I'm praying Kate's grief is honest.

Other news? I have an amazing agent! You read it right. Consider this the official announcement. :-) Thursday, after our second conversation, I hung up the phone and cried. Something about hearing Sandra say, "I believe in this" humbled me and made me amazingly grateful. I wish I could express that feeling, but I can't. I just can't. Suffice it to say, God is unbelievably gracious and so very good to me.

And now, the blog will probably suffer some more, since I've imposed this huge, immediate deadline on myself this week.

Thanks for reading.

--JB
Jodie
Want to know the top reasons readers stop reading books? Visit K.M. Weiland's blog. The fun part is that she quoted me! :-)
Jodie
Over the course of the past few months, I've gotten the chance to know author C. Maggie Woychik. And to know her is to laugh with her. When I got the opportunity to be a part of her blog tour, I jumped at it.

In all seriousness, Maggie Woychik has been published in a number of Christian magazines including War Cry, Young Salvationist, Wesleyan Advocate, Woman's Touch, Christian Women Today, and many others, and has just released her first book through Port Yonder Press. The book, I Run to the Hills: Reflections on the Christian Journey is her freshman attempt at essays based on her spiritual journey, and it's garnering positive reviews. Try it, you might just like it. You can find it on Amazon.



We decided to offer something a little different here. You can visit other stops on the tour for the "serious" stuff, but we decided to have a little fun. Hope you enjoy the humor, and be sure to check out the book! It's more serious than this interview, I promise.


How did you come to be a writer?
Well, it began at an early age. A teacher put a pen in my hand and said, "Write!" :)


How long have you been writing and when was your first book published?
I've been writing since the first "a" (see previous question).


Can you give us one “do” and one “don’t” for those aspiring to be a writer?
"Do" watch and listen to teacher (though neither may be easy to do); "Don't" pass notes in class or stick your gum under your desk -- never know when you'll raise a knee and be wearing that gum.


What is a typical writing day like for you?
Pen in hand, I sit. Page on desk, it sits. With great determination, much effort, and a little prayer, the two may eventually commune.


What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
It infinitely builds your self-esteem to be able to sign instead of "x" your name on a document.

What is the best lesson you have learned from another writer?
How to draw a pretty decent cow.

Tell us about your latest book. It is holding up "More Than A Carpenter" and leaning against "The Collected Works of C. S. Lewis".

What did you learn while writing this book? That I didn't listen to teacher nearly enough; that though I pretend not to care what others think, I really do; and that though it's exhilarating to have a book on Amazon and store shelves, I never expected to age as much as I did in the process.


How can readers get in contact with you?
I really like the concept of passenger pigeon, but since few of you probably keep them on hand anymore, I suppose you can use cmaggiewoychik@yahoo.com. If you want a glimpse of what $60/yr buys, you can visit my website. But if you want something a little more interesting, visit the Encouraging Emerging Authors blog. Look forward to "swappin' howdy's"!
Jodie
Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NANOWRIMO.

What's the point of Nanowrimo? The point is simply to write. To get words on paper. They don't even have to be the greatest words; revision comes later, but certainly not during the month of November. :-) It's sort of a "just do it" thing.
Write for the pleasure, the joy, the rush of getting the story on
paper. Write even if you don't know how. Write even if you've never written anything before. Just put some words on paper.

I like what the website says:

"Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in
NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze
approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on
the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's
a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving
yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and
editing and just create. To build without tearing down."

It breaks down to, what? 1,667 words a day? That's about six and a
half double-spaced pages. It makes me think of James Scott Bell's "Nifty 350." Get up first thing in the morning and bang out 350 words. You might be surprised at what you get, and it will motivate you to keep moving. It gets you over the hurdle.

I'm looking at Nanowrimo as a break from the novel I'm working on now. I'm
going to do something different, something I haven't tried before. I
give myself permission to fail if I fail, but to have a blast in the
process!. :-)

Go and Nano, whether you're a writer or not. You might find out, like a friend of mine really did, that you go from saying, "I'm not really a writer" to saying "Uh, I'm a writer!"

JB
Jodie
Is America ready to meet the Potluck Catering Club on reality TV? The women of the Potluck Catering Club have a growing business. They even became the subject of a budding filmmaker's class project. Problem is, they didn't read the fine print when they signed off on his documentary. When he enters the club in the reality show The Great Party Showdown, the ladies of Summit View, Colorado, must head to the Big Apple for the unexpected adventure of their lives. Between navigating New York City, dealing with cutthroat contestants, and trying to maintain their close friendship in the surreal world of reality TV, the Potluck women must keep their eyes on the prize--a cool million dollars--and work together if they're going to make it back home in one piece.





Oh my! Where to start on this one? Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson have mixed together the fifth book in their Potluck Club series, and it's perfectly seasoned. (Okay, I think we agreed a few weeks ago I shouldn't write food metaphors. Even if they're true.)

I was disappointed when I got to the end of A Taste of Fame. I wanted it to keep on going. I think I'm going to have to go into my spare room and pull all of my Potluck Club books out to reread now, just to enjoy the ladies' company a little bit longer.

When it comes to the end, by the way, I was fooled. There are recipes from the book included in the back. If your mouth starts to water reading about those Peppermint Patty Brownies, you can go and whip up a batch. Sweet! It's a great bonus, and I've already read them... twice. (Yes, I read recipes. Have been known to sit on the beach and read a cookbook.) But I forgot they were there as I read. When I got to the end of the book, I thought I still had pages left to go! Oh well, I just read the recipes again. And maybe gained a few pounds.

I'm a first-person kind of girl, and this book is all first-person. Each chapter is from the point of view of one of the six main characters. It takes a little getting used to, but getting into the rhythm is quick. It's interesting to follow each of them and to get their personal thoughts on their New York adventures. The format allows you to see how each woman changes and how each one's actions affect the others. I liked it, sort of like reading their journals about what went down behind the scenes.

One thing I've always loved about the Potluck Club is that each of the women is at a different place in life. They are different ages, different stages, different needs, different fears, different desires. There is something for every woman in a Potluck Club book, and that remains true in A Taste of Fame. All of them are sharing the New York reality show experience, yet it's all set against the backdrop of individual lives. For a people person like me, that was fascinating.

And then, as if their personal issues weren't enough to keep you turning the pages... there's a dash of intrigue. Who is trying to knock the girls out of the competition? Why? And what will the saboteur do next?

Take a trip to New York with the women of the Potluck Club and go behind the scenes of reality TV cooking shows. You'll love the journey... and the food.

Speaking of the food... There's a Potluck Club cookbook! We've already establihed how I feel about cookbooks, right? I'm reading it now and seeing tons of recipes I want to try. (After I make those Peppermint Patty Brownies...) After I've made a few and taste-tested them on the family, I'll update you on it.

Want to learn more about the Potluck Club and their catering adventures? Maybe get some tips for your book club? Check out the book trailers? Visit The Potluck Club online!
Jodie
Overwhelmed. There are those moments when life comes crashing in on you and it's all just too much. I've felt that way a lot lately, but mostly about prayer. I look around me at the world and see too much to pray for. When I stop to pray it's like my mind's eye sees bricks falling on me, piling up, burying me... Too many needs, not enough time. Not enough energy. Not enough power.

Too many Bible studies to do. Too many people to comfort. Too many battles to fight.

Oh, isn't the devil a sneaky one? If he can't trick us into doing nothing, he'll trick us into doing too much. He'll make sure every burden on the planet becomes our personal burden. He'll make us feel like dropping the ball for even one second will make everything fall apart. He'll make us feel like we're failing if we are not on our faces in prayer twenty-four hours of the day. (Now, if God has called you into that season of prayer, it's a different story...)

When those overwhelming, treadmill is speeding up, must pray more and harder and better and louder days sock me in, there's one way to combat Satan.

Remember the basics.

Guess what? We are not in charge here. God made it. God did it. God will continue to do it. He was. He is. He is to come.

Want to remember that? Get back to the basics. What are the basics? We all already know music speaks to me. And on those days when Satan wants me buried under the avalanche of too much, when I can't hear what it is God is calling me to and what the devil wants me to think I have to do, it's time to remind myself of The Basics.

Originally written by Rich Mullins, later performed live by Third Day, "Creed" is just that, based on the creeds of the Christian church. It's the basics. What makes us who we are. The things of God that we do not make, but that make us. The basis of our relationship with our Creator. It's humbling. It's mighty. It's sometimes tear-jerking. And it's important.

It's the things Satan can't steal from us, the antidote to "busyness" that destroys our relationship with Him.

We say it by rote often, but take time. Sit still. Listen to it. Let it sink in. Let God make of you what He wishes. Take the time to remember what it is that you believe. It puts all of the rest into perspective.

JB
Jodie
Today I'd like to introduce you to author K.M. Weiland and give you the chance to read the first couple of pages of her new book, Behold the Dawn.



K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released Behold the Dawn. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors.

Behold the Dawn released October 1st!

Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade.

Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.
The sins of a bishop.
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.




An Excerpt from Behold the Dawn:

All day she had stood near the boundary of the prisoner camp, watching the dust of the distant battle beneath Acre’s walls, listening to the muted cries of the combatants.

But now it was growing too dark to see, and as Lady Mairead drifted back toward the tent that had been set apart for her husband, William of Keaton, she watched the Mohammedans usher their latest prisoners through the cordon of guards.

They had brought back only a few today. In the long, sultry weeks since the capture of Lord William’s ship by the infidel blockade, Mairead had watched countless prisoners dragged or shoved into the camp. Thousands of people were confined here already: men, women, and children—mostly Frankish Syrians, the European natives of Jerusalem. By the count of one of Lord William’s servants, Saladin had 2,500 prisoners in this camp alone.

Holding the folds of her shawl to her breast with one hand, she crossed the dust of the camp to where the Moslems had dumped their score of prisoners in the midst of the growing crowd.

A Frank stepped aside and allowed her to stand at his shoulder. “If that is the extent of their prisoners, God be praised. The Christians will take Acre.”

“It is already taken,” said another. “You can hear that the battle is over.”

She scanned the bloodied faces. Most were French, most were wounded. The Turks threw the last of them into the group, then shouldered their way back through the crowd, shouting to one another in their own tongue. Immediately, the prisoners began their call for water.

Mairead sighed. It was always thus.

Pulling her linen shawl free, she went forward to bind the arm of a man—an archer by his livery—who held his hand to a shoulder wound. His arm was red down to his fingertips, and he swayed where he stood. His face had the blanched look of one who was slowly bleeding to death.

He stared ahead, unseeing, as she knotted the shawl over the wound. “God be with you.” She placed a hand on his grimy cheek, then moved aside to allow a Knight Hospitaler to take over.

She stood still, one hand trying to hold her long dark hair from her face, watching as the prisoners ministered to the wounded among the new captives. So many wounded, so many dying. The priests decreed that a Crusader’s death was only the unhindered passage of a redeemed soul into blessed Paradise and should be cause for rejoicing. But all she could see were the falling tears of faraway loved ones and the contorting pains of those who had not yet made it quite across Death’s threshold.

She did not often come to this part of the camp. Lord William, grievously wounded during their capture, preferred her to remain with him, sequestered from the heat and the throngs of strangers. Whenever the infidels brought forth their prisoners, she always watched from afar as other women tended their wounds.

But she had ached to be here, to staunch the endless flow of blood, to hold in her lap the head of a soldier whose wounds she might heal, unlike those of Lord William, who the monks whispered would never recover.

She drew in a deep breath, biting her lip to forestall the tears, and turned away. She had come to the Holy Land to escape her fears. But she should have known better. They had followed her here. They would always follow her.

She started forward, but trudged only a few paces before the sight of another knight arrested her. He lay on his back in the trampled sand, while two brethren of the Hospital struggled to remove his blood-crusted armor.

He was a giant of a man, easily head and shoulders above most in the camp, and the breadth and depth of his chest and arms bespoke a terrible strength. He had a strong, square chin, barely cleft, and a set to his mouth, even in sleep, that revealed an iron will. A white scar rived his right cheekbone and disappeared into the fair hair above his ear.

The blood-blackened hole in the mail above his left breast showed what it had taken to bring him down. The bodkin that had inflicted the wound was gone, pulled from his flesh by his Moslem captor or perhaps by his own hand. His face was pale, his breathing shallow, his body still.

She drew nearer and stopped at his feet. “He lives?”

The Knights Hospitalers turned to look at her. The one on the left inclined his head. “He lives, Lady.” His accent was unfamiliar, possibly from the southern regions of France.

The other, undoubtedly English, laid a knife to the knight’s tunic and slit it up the middle. “For now, he lives. He’s lost much blood.”

“That is why he sleeps?”

“Aye.”

“He is English?”

“I know not. His surcoat bears no symbol, not even a cross.”

She watched their ministrations in silence, feeling once more the bitter cold of anguish rise in the pit of her stomach. They tended so many! Why could they not save Lord William?

As the moon rose full and bright against the murky sky, she knelt and reached out her arms to the Hospitalers. “Please—let me help.”
Jodie
It seems like clouds are a recurring motif in my life this week. Not emotional clouds, but real clouds in the sky and the word clouds itself. And then, as I was driving to the grocery store this morning (because even writers have to eat. We need chocolate. And coffee. And occasionally some chai tea.), I heard Third Day's "The Sun Is Shining." It's on their Wherever You Are CD, which I admit I haven't listened to as much as others. It's still a great Third Day CD, just not my favorite of theirs. It's a little low-key for me, I think.

It's not that the song spoke to me so much as it brought to the front all of the cloud things that have been floating around out there lately. It was raining, I had on the windshield wipers, and when the song came on it hit me: above those clouds, the sun is shining. If I had the ability to get up in the air a few thousand feet, the dreariness would be gone and the sun would be shining. Below me, it would still be raining. All around me, it would be bright and sunny.

Hmm...

How many times in our lives do we set our focus onto the clouds? We see the gray and the rain and the bleak and the blah. I'll go one step further... above every tornado, above every hurricane, the sun is shining down. When the storm is raging and everything about us is shattering, when everything we thought we knew is wrong, when it seems like there's nothing but dark... the sun is shining just a few thousand feet above us. (No jokes about, "Not if it's the middle of the night," please.) Just because we can't see it at the moment doesn't mean it's ceased to exist.

In her Beloved Disciple Bible study, Beth Moore refers to Oswald Chambers. Chambers notes that clouds symbolize God's presence (Exodus 16:10, 24: 15-16, Lev. 16:2, Luke 9:34, and others). Typically, they "shroud" His presence because He is too glorious for human eyes to see.

No, it's not deep theology, but it's truth. Clouds don't make the sun go away. Dark times don't make God go away. He is always there, undimmed and no less glorious than when we see him in our mountaintop times.

JB
Jodie
It's another first! As part of the blog tour for Christina Berry's debut novel The Familiar Stranger, she's answering questions for you guys and even giving away a copy of her book. (More on that in a minute.)

Single mother and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time to write from her busy schedule because she must tell the stories that haunt her every waking moment. (Such is the overly dramatic description of an author's life!) She holds a BA in Literature, yet loves a good Calculus problem, as well. Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, released from Moody in September and deals with lies, secrets, and themes of forgiveness in a troubled marriage. A moving speaker and dynamic teacher, Christina strives to Live Transparently--Forgive Extravagantly!

Her work has also appeared in The Secret Place, The Oregonian, and Daily Devotions for Writers. Find her at www.christinaberry.net and www.authorchristinaberry.blogspot.com

Why do you write?

Because story ideas and lines fly around in my head and if I write them down, I get a little peace and quiet. 

What made you start writing?

Buried deep within my closet, one might find some angst-filled poetry from my teenage years and a very spooky seven pages of the novel I started in high school. Though I was in love with the idea of being a writer, it wasn’t until I finished college and stayed home with my first child that I actually decided to write a book. Truthfully, my mom told me we were going to write one together, and being the obedient daughter I am …

What fun facts may surprise your readers about you?

I was the team captain and second answerer in the speed round for our family on Family Feud in 2000 … and we won! Also, I grew up in Nigeria, West Africa, while my parents were Southern Baptist missionaries. I remember being awed at the selection of toilet paper in the grocery store when we returned to the States.

Tell us about your latest book.
It’s my debut novel, The Familiar Stranger.
Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.
They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, discover dark secrets. What will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

How did you come up with the story?

In the summer of 2006, two stories appeared in the newspaper. One was a huge, national story; the other a smaller, local-interest item. I wondered what it might look like if those two stories conceived a child. Boom! I had the entire plot for The Familiar Stranger. It will be interesting to see if readers can figure out which stories inspired the book.

What surprised you about the publishing process after your novel was contracted?

I knew that titles were frequently changed for publication, but I didn’t expect the title to change before the contract was officially signed. Also, I knew that editors move from house to house fairly often in this industry, but I didn’t expect to lose my dream editor two days after signing the contract. (Hi, Andy!)

After getting over the shock of losing my editor, I was very surprised at how much Moody valued my input, how frequently they communicated with me, and how they lifted my family up in prayer. In fact, everyone from my editor to the marketing manager to the author liaison has been amazing!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

~Read craft books (I have a list of my favorites on the sidebar of my blog
~Write consistently
~Join a critique group
~Attend writing conferences
~By open to criticism. One always has room to grow!

Many thanks to Christina for some great answers!

And now for the giveaways!


You can win a copy of The Familiar Stranger! Just leave a comment on this post and you are automatically entered to win one of twenty copies Christina is personally giving away! She's going to draw ten names on her birthday September 30th and ten names at the end of her blog tour on October 31st.

But wait! There's more! Christina is even giving away a chance to win a 4 GB iPod Shuffle OR free books for the life of her writing career if you sign up for her "infrequent, humorous" newsletter! Cruise over and check it out.


Want to buy the book?




Want to follow Christina to her next stop on the 'net? Check out Deborah Vogts's blog tomorrow!
Jodie
If you do not own the original Glory Revealed CD that came out in 2007, I urge you with everything in me to go and buy it or download it or whatever. Right now.

Trevor Morgan's "He Will Rejoice" is one of my favorite songs on the CD because it is based on one of my absolute, all-time, favorite verses in the Bible, Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV), "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." I may like the Amplified version even better: "The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing."

Do you understand that? Do you get it? Does it really and truly sink into the marrow of your bones? Into the core of your soul? Into the center of who you are?

Read that again. Better yet, listen to the song and hear it. I mean it. Stop right now and take a minute or two to meditate on that verse. Do it now, before you read another word.

Get this... The Lord God Almighty, who made absolutely everything, who is high and exalted and seated on the throne in heaven... that very God rejoices over you. He sings over you. He is with you.

Did you do anything to earn it? Nope. Can you do anything to earn it? Nope. Does He rejoice over you and sing over you anyway? Yep. Because He loves you that much.

We don't get it do we? We can't grasp it. Because we are here on earth, we only catch glimpses of that love. It's like Third Day's "Love Song" (best song ever written!) says, "And I know that you don't realize the fullness of my love and how I died upon the cross for your sin. And I know that you don't realize how much that I give you, but I promise that I would do it all again."

Folks, I can't write words enough to tell you how much God loves you. But please, take a few minutes to sit still at some point today and feel that love, to let Him rejoice over you with singing. To let Him just love on you. Don't talk to Him, don't ask Him for anything, just let Him, for one brief moment, be all about you and His love for you. I promise you won't walk away the same.

JB
Jodie
This lady is awesome. I think all of heaven stood up and cheered for her. Don't you know she made Jesus proud?

Jodie
First of all, this morning I'm showing my age. I believe the Burlap to Cashmere song "Mansions" is probably ten or more years old. It's interesting, since I had never heard of them before, but their CD Anybody Out There? was one of the first Christian CDs I ever bought. It may be the only one they ever recorded. Are they even still together? I heard they weren't. Not that any of that has anything to do with, well, anything.

We lived in Michigan when this CD came out, and I can vividly remember where I was when I heard the line from "Mansions" that starts, "Faithful God like faithful sunrise..."

Don't know why, but ten years ago that line punched me in the gut. I was struggling with a whole lot of things back then, and something about knowing that the sun was going to rise tomorrow and knowing that God was going to be there tomorrow wrapped around my heart and healed something in there.

I can't count the number of times over the course of the past ten years that "faithful God like faithful sunrise" has popped into my head, usually when I needed to know that God is right there.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am definitely not a person who likes to get up in the mornings. I'd a million times rather roll over and sleep as late as possible. But my daughter's bus time and my desire to get everything done in the day necessitates me getting out of bed around six. The house is quiet, the dog is not nosing into the middle of what I'm doing (though the cat is), and there is nothing pressing to do at six in the morning.

And I have come to treasure that time with God. I like to keep the lights off and open the blinds and look at the world and be still with Him. My day feels off when I don't get that quiet time. It's not prayer usually, just sitting with my head on my Abba's knee, ya know?

This morning, I curled up in my chair, reached up, and opened the blinds to see... the most amazing purple, blue, violet sky I've ever seen. There's not a paintbrush in the world that can do that. It actually made me gasp. And it faded from deep blue violet to a purple pink that defied description. At that moment, it wrapped me up in love so tight I could hardly breathe.

God's been working on the love thing with me a lot lately, because it's rare for me to let Him simply love on me. I rush around, pray this, pray that, throw praises into the air and love on Him, but even when I'm sitting still I rarely bask in His affection. Know what? God adores me. And He adores you. You are the apple of His eye (it says so in Zechariah, which, incidentally, is an awesome book), your name is engraved on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49). Those things are just too huge for me to grasp.

It hit me this morning, watching that sunrise, that sometimes I try too hard to love him. Not sure if I can explain that. I strive after it sometimes, and the striving becomes the thing, not the love. Fact is, I will never on this earth be able to fully love my Jesus. Ever. It's impossible. But oh, when I get to heaven... then I will fully know as I am fully known (I Cor. 13). And dare I say, fully love as I am fully loved?

JB
Jodie
I have a question, and I want you to stop and think about it for a sec. Ready? Have you ever been raked over the coals by God? I have spent the past week getting an earful from Him and getting dragged across those coals.

Because I still battle pride. And surrender. Yep, there's more to come about surrender.

And it does not matter if you write, paint, crunch numbers, dig ditches, or build houses for a living, God wants to have control of that. Yeah, we know that, but really, do we give it to God and let Him have total control? Total control?

I think it was Monday of last week when I got the song "Lord, Reign in Me" stuck in my head. It's not that I've heard it recently and it got stuck; it just showed up one day. I've always kind of liked the song, so here I was be-bopping around the house singing it whenever it spun up in my skull.

So here I was in la-la land, singing away, when I got tripped up on the line, "Lord, reign in me... over all my dreams." Oh, yeah. Got it God. You reign over all my dreams. I dream to write these books that glorify you and, yep, you can take them wherever you want, publish them or not, I'm good with whatever. It's all yours. Yep. All yours. Uh-huh. Thumbs up. Gotcha.

And this is what He said: Uh, no. You are not okay with that. You think you are, but you aren't. Because what if I took your book and I picked it up and I put it down somewhere you don't like. What if I put your book out there but it's somewhere you've never even thought of going? What if it goes somewhere that seems contrary to everything I've shown you? (Not that He's doing that, He just got me thinking on it...)

Well, uh, okay? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized... I've got book dreams. Not necessarily to be published, but when I say, "God, take this book wherever you want it to go" I have ideas of where that might be. And what if I'm wrong?

I got a little 'tude. I wondered why He was asking me all of these things. And when I was cleaning the bathroom on Saturday (Yep, chores!), I threw down the rag I was cleaning the sink with and said, "Know what, God? This book, and Nate and Samantha in this book, are my babies. Shouldn't you ask for my approval?"

And do you know what He said? "Isaac."

He threw Abraham in my face. (Sort of.) Abraham had to take His son up on Mt. Moriah and tie him to an altar and pick up a knife and come within inches of that unthinkable sacrifice. This book is not my child in that flesh and blood sense, but God asked me if I was willing to lay it down on the altar and sacrifice it to Him. Wherever, whenever, whatever, however... Is it really and truly His to work with? Or does my mouth just like to say pretty words and pretend that it is?

As of Saturday afternoon, Going in Circles is truly on the altar. God can do whatever He wants with it, whether it is published or not, where it is published or not... It is not for my glory or my fame or my finances or even for my ministry... It belongs to God. Wherever, whenever, whatever, however He decides, that decision will be perfect, and He doesn't need me tainting it.

So, yes, "Lord, reign in me, reign in Your power over all my dreams, in my darkest hour. You are the Lord of all I am, so won't you reign in me again..."
Jodie
Two things have converged for me this week. Once again, God is whomping me upside the head. He likes to do that. Maybe it's His idea of a holy pillow fight?

We're taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Again. We did it right before Paul deployed a few years ago, managed to get within a few thousand dollars of being debt free... Then we temporarily lost our sanity and backslid with two new cars. Oops.

This is one of those "get honest" kind of posts. We do great on one income in this family. We even manage to save some. But here I am, working Dave's "Debt Snowball" and looking at the job I used to have where I earned a regular paycheck. And I'm thinking, "Man. If I still had that job, in three years we'd have enough money saved to buy a house free and clear."

Oh, don't get me wrong. I love writing. I love that God is letting me do this. But there are those moments when I get my focus on what I'm missing instead of what I'm doing. Big mistake.

So, our Bible study at church is Beth Moore's Beloved Disciple. It was the first Beth Moore I did, back in 2005. (Hmm... Another repeat thing for me. Think God's up to something?) This week, most of the lessons have revolved in some way around dying to self, dying to the world, taking up your cross, sacrifice...

Uh, wait a second. God? "You talkin' to me?" (Moments like this make me wonder if God ever says, "Duh" to me.)

Being able to spend my time writing is an awesome gift. But I've been focusing too much on the gift part. It's also a huge sacrifice. It never hit me until this week that God has asked me to give something up for Him. He asked me to give up things like being able to buy a house in three years. New cars whenever I want. Spur of the moment flights to Hawaii. Because we can live comfortably on one income, two would allow us to do crazy fun things and still grow up a huge savings account.

But that's not God's plan. And it is, once again, not His definition of success. He wants me right here, butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard, working for Him. Know what? He'll take care of the rest. If I'm firmly in His will, He'll take care of the house and the savings and all of the rest. And if he wants me to fly to Hawaii on the spur of the moment, guess what? He'll provide the ticket. (But only if He wants me to go...) Because He is God and He can do that.

Writing. This is my blessing. It is also my sacrifice. Funny how God can do that, huh?

--JB
Jodie
How about, today, we take a trip back to 2005. When Kelly Clarkson had the #1 song, when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith ruled the box office, and when Siri Mitchell debuted with Kissing Adrien. (I make it sound like 2005 was so long ago, don't I?



Why am I bouncing back four years? Yesterday, I went to one of my many bookshelves looking for something when my eyes found Kissing Adrien. I have read the book once or twice a year since it was released. I never get tired of it. Yes, I know how it ends. In fact, I can probably tell you every step it takes to get to the end, but boy, it gets me and shakes me every single time.


The heroine, Claire Le Noyer, takes a leave of absence from her nice, stable job and her nice, predictable boyfriend to fly to Paris after the death of a cousin she's never heard of. And she lands smack in the presence of her very nice, very unpredictable childhood friend-she-used-to-wish-was-her-boyfriend, Adrien. I love the line chosen for the back cover of the book: "The French are always up for romance, so when the crowd saw Adrien striding through the Paris airport toward me, I'm sure they were hoping for a good kiss... I was too." And, uh, by the end of the book, Jodie was too!


Siri Mitchell has a gift for description that defies, well, description. Paris is a character in this book, folks. Thanks to the narrative you can see it, you can most definitely taste it, and you can feel the enchantment in the air of the "City of Love." It may sound cliche', but to read Kissing Adrien is to buy a plane ticket to the Paris that the locals know and love. I could see it all to well. And boy, could I taste it all too well. Thanks a lot, Siri Mitchell. Your book made me gain five pounds just reading it. And then it made me want to move to Paris. Food represented a lot of things in this book and seemed to flow with the changes in Claire.

Claire has a dark raspberry chocolate and filet mignon heart, but she's living in a dry toast life. (Great. Now even my metaphors are in food.) The problem is, she's convinced herself she likes dry toast more than dark raspberry chocolate. She has even condensed her relationship with God down to bread and water. What will it take to bring the real Claire out of hiding?

Oh, yes. Meet Adrien, who is all dark raspberry chocolate and filet mignon. He challenges her ideas about faith and life and living. And Claire's heart begins to remember. Under Adrien's tutelage, she begins to awaken to her old passions: art and food and history... and Adrien himself. As she and Adrien dance the dance in their relationship, the tension between them had me sitting straight up to read it. (I started to say something cliche' like, "It would have taken a steak knife to cut the tension between them," but really, did we need any more food metaphors from me today?) I couldn't wait to see what happened, and the payoff? Oh my word. Siri Mitchell wrapped her story around me and had me totally invested in what happened between these two. I will say something cliche' here: She played me like a violin. And I loved it.

Whenever my romance writer soul is feeling a little dry, I pick up Kissing Adrien and let Siri Mitchell remind me what it's all about and how to do it perfectly. This is one of my very, very favorite books for a reason. If you've got a yen for a good romance, find a copy of this book, curl up in a chair with a good cup of coffee, and be prepared to stay until you turn the last page. You won't want to get up before that.


Jodie
I'm sure most of you have at least heard about the Station Fire burning near Los Angeles over the past few weeks. MSN had a Reuters shot of it on their Week in Pictures page last week, and it actually stopped me cold for a minute. It made me think of this:

Mark 9:43 (AMP)--And if your hand puts a stumbling block before you and causes you to sin, cut it off! It is more profitable and wholesome for you to go into life [that is really worthwhile] maimed than with two hands to go to hell (Gehenna), into the fire that cannot be put out.

Matthew 10:28 (AMP)--And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).

The Valley of Hinnom (also referred to as Gehenna) was one awful place in biblical times. In the Old Testament, it is where children were sacrificed to Molech (II Chronicles 28:3). By New Testament times, it had become the giant trash incinerator for Jerusalem. And they didn't just throw garbage out there, either. Dead animals and criminals were pitched into the fire that burned constantly in the valley. The place was so horrible that hell itself was referred to as Gehenna (see the references above). It was so bad that Christians weren't the only ones using it to refer to hell. The Qur'an names hell Jahannam, which is closely related to the Hebrew Gehinnom.

What does that have to do with the Station Fire? You have to wonder if Gehenna looked anything like this (you can click on it to get a larger view):



JB
Jodie
As usual, September 11 makes me stop and remember. I doubt any of us who were alive that day can hear the date or write 9/11 and not think about it. Every time I look at a clock and see the time is 9:11 I think of it. And I remember how it felt. Oddly enough, there was no fear for me that day (and if you know me, you know how I struggled with fear back then.) There was only this overwhelming feeling that nothing would ever be the same again, of putting one foot in front of the other only because we had to do it or drop where we stood. It was one of those moments Beth Moore talks about, when you wish you had a rewind button. You will forever remember where you were standing, what you were doing, how that instant felt.

I was teaching a ninth grade Civics class that was to end at 10:10. It was about 9:50 when the knock came on my classroom door and I opened it. The science teacher pulled me into the hall, and very teacher from my floor was standing there. I'm ashamed to say my first thought flew to one of our students. We had a kid I'll call Johnny who had made quite a name for himself already that year. I couldn't fathom what he'd done to get all of us called out of class at the same time.

The science teacher looked at all of us and simply said, "We've been attacked." Who's we? Fort Bragg? The school? It was early and rumors were flying, and I'll never forget her saying, "The World Trade Center's been hit by a plane. The Pentagon's been hit. There was a car bomb at the Mall in Washington. They think the Capitol has been blown up. And there's a plane missing."

I don't know how long we all stood there and stared at her before one of the English teachers said, "You're lying." But we knew she wasn't. The other English teacher wanted to know if we should tell the students. That's when I looked up and realized that my kids could see me through the window on the door and every single one of them was staring silently. (Twenty-three ninth graders are never silent when the teacher is not in the room.) The decision was made for us. We had to tell the high schoolers.

When I walked back in the room, they all watched me and didn't say a word. I stood there and looked at them with my fingers against my lips, trying to figure out how to do this. The only thing that ran through my mind was, "How do I shatter then innocence of twenty-three kids? What do I say?" It may be the worst position I've ever been in, especially since no less than half of the kids had fathers in the military.

Their reaction was initial silence followed by dozens of questions I couldn't answer. When the bell rang, they left for homeroom and I went outside to try to reach my husband on post, wondering if I'd see him again anytime soon or if he'd be yanked up and sent to who knows where before I could talk to him. I couldn't reach him, so I called my dad and my grandmother. The kids were all outside on cell phones and nobody tried to stop them. They wanted to hear their parents' voices. Who was going to deny them that?

I stood in the parking lot and waited for a few minutes. I honestly thought Jesus was going to crack the sky that day and take us all home.

I can still see my homeroom students, the junior class. They had gone into my closet (usually a no-no) and pulled out my radio to listen to the news. It seems they knew I wouldn't mind that day, and I didn't. We sat in a circle around it and held each other and listened and waited for who knows what. They finally let us into the auditorium to watch the news live, and it wasn't until that moment that I understood that this was no small plane that had hit the towers. I pictured a Cessna. Oh, that it had been a Cessna. We were in the auditorium when the first tower fell and the principal cut the feed so the kids wouldn't be able to see anymore.

That day is like a slideshow of images to me. I was in a bubble at the school and had no idea what I would see on the drive across town to go home. Would the world look the same? Or would there be chaos? It looked the same except for the flags... they were everywhere. Everywhere. And it looked the same except for the sky. Our city is home to a military airfield and is on a major air route, so there are planes in the sky and contrails behind them all of the time. That plane-free silence was the strangest sound I've ever heard. And that perfectly cloudless sky without a single plane in it... I cannot describe how out of reality it made me feel. I stood in my yard for nearly an hour and just looked up. It was the biggest indicator to me that everything was suddenly wrong.

May we never forget. May we never forget that day and what we felt. May we never forget that nearly everyone acknowledged God that day: some cried out to Him and some shouted angrily at Him, but His existence was not questioned, was it?

May we never forget that this is why our Soldiers, our Airmen, our Marines, and our Sailors sacrifice.

May we never, ever forget.

Jodie
So, yesterday I went to look up something on RCR's website while I was doing revision, and I came across this. Near the top in the center, white shirt, is me. That was a great ending to my workday, finding that.

Post driver introductions, Casey was whisked away in a Corvette convertible for his parade lap, circling the track to wave to the fans. Tim and I walked back to the car on pit road to wait for him. (I have to tell you the funny part here. I saw a million and one cool things on Sunday. And the only thing my six-year-old daughter cared about was the fact that Casey Mears was lined up right behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road. All she wanted to know was if I took a picture of Junior. For some reason we can't break her of, she calls him Junior Busch. If you're a race fan, you know that's, uhm... BAD.)



And the waiting began. We stood by the car and waited for other drivers to be introduced and to take their parade laps and for whatever else was happening up on the stage to wrap up. We had no idea what was going on because we couldn't hear a thing except the crowd cheering (or booing) since the stage faced away from us and so did the speakers.

The cool thing was the chaplain from MRO who came down the line and prayed with some of the drivers and their families, including Casey Mears and his very sweet fiance. I liked that a lot. James Dobson did the main invocation (which, again, we could only catch snatches of. I had to come home and watch it on the DVR to hear what he said. Pretty cool that it was James Dobson, though!) and Diamond Rio sang the National Anthem while we all stood line up on pit road, hands over our hearts.

And, then... we hustled out of there. It was time for the drivers to buckle in and, as Tim said, his job with Casey was done at that point. Hands off.

As we walked back to the pit box, I learned something interesting about walking in Sam's shoes. They get sticky. Very sticky. Tim warned me, then pointed to a crewmember who was spraying the asphalt with something. Pure Coca-Cola syrup. Yep, as in the soft drink. It makes the pit stall sticky so the guys don't fall when they go over the wall. Out of all of the "trivia" I learned on Sunday, that might have been the neatest little tidbit. It hasn't found it's way into the book yet, but I sure wish I could find a place for it.

The drivers got the command to start engines and it was way cool to hear them all roar to life from that close. And then they pulled out onto the track and that was even cooler. And then they took the green flag and hit full throttle and thatwas the coolest of all! The ground under my feet shook every time the pack sped by. If I tried to drink water out of my water bottle, it vibrated against my lips. Sweet.

video


Here's the thing about the real-life Tim's job and the fictional Samantha's job: if you want to watch a race, don't be on the team. You can only see about twenty feet of the track in front of you, the bankings in the turns, and part of the backstretch behind you. And the cars go by so fast you can't even tell who they are unless you pop your eyeballs out of your sockets trying to watch them. I actually got a chuckle out of standing in the pits, watching the pit crews watch the race on TV as the cars blew by just about a hundred yards or so from us.

I kept my eye on Tim. His job boiled down to listening to transmissions between Casey and Todd (the crew chief), watching Casey's placement on the board, and generally keeping an eye on what was going on in the pits. Anything of interest, he jotted down in a personal notebook or on a media sheet, then passed the media sheet off to the pit reporters for use during broadcasts. I got video of him talking to some of the media (can't remember if it was MRN or PRN) during one of the pit stops:


video


That's what Sam would look like. I have to tell you that's kind of exciting, to see up close exactly what your character would be doing.

And the race fan in me loved the pit stops! These guys move in choreography. After two pit stops, I knew right where to stand to be out of the way, because they never went anywhere different; they did the exact same things each time. That was cool, like a weird kind of ballet.



Getting to see pit road up close and to follow a real-life Sam around has to rank up there as one of the coolest things I've ever done. I owe a lot of thanks to Tim and Casey and the others who let me tag along and who answered my questions.

God is pretty awesome to give me a gift like that. Like I said, when I started, my prayer was that He'd provide someone to answer my questions. Who'd have thought He'd do it in such an awesome way?
Jodie
I have to tell you something about my prayer life. It's a confession of sorts. I am not very good at praying for myself, at asking for great big things from God. There is this rare ability about me to rationalize myself right out of big prayers. Sometimes I forget that God just wants to bless us. Well, last year, I prayed big. And God answered even BIGGER than I prayed. All I wanted was someone to answer a few questions.

For the first part of this story and how I got to be where I got to be, you can click here.

Sunday, I found myself standing outside of Gate 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway waiting for an incredibly gracious man named Tim. He's the communications manager for Casey Mears, who drives for Richard Childress Racing. In other words... he does the same job as my character Samantha. And he was kind enough to let me follow him around for his workday during the Atlanta race. I owe him my undying gratitude. Got no problem telling y'all that. Here I was worried about being in the way, and he made me feel like part of the team. In fact, everyone I met (and I met a lot of RCR people) made me feel like I'd been there all along. It was awesome.

I'm a visual learner. For a year, I've been corresponding by email with David, who has been wonderful and patient about answering my questions. He couldn't be in Atlanta, so he arranged for Tim to help me out. Visual me grew leaps and bounds in knowledge on Sunday. Everything that David had written to me suddenly came to life. I could see it and hear it and experience it. I walked in Sam's shoes.

Not sure how much I want to say here, because I want you to (eventually) buy the book to really get into Sam's job. But an outline of what I got to do would give a good picture.

The first stop of the day was the RCR media coach. Only about four teams have one, so Sam probably won't get that luxury since she's only with a two-car team. It was a nice setup for the PR people though, and I'm sure Sam would be jealous. Tim sat and answered a ton of questions for me about stuff I needed clarifying. Then we went to the garage area to see the 07 getting prepped for the race and to check out the hauler. I got to meet the engineers who work to make the car go, which was awesome. Honestly, you would not believe how many people it takes to keep a Sprint Cup team running smoothly! I was amazed!



Slid my feet into Sam's shoes when we left the hauler and went to pick up Casey for an autograph signing. Yes! Now I know firsthand what Sam should be doing while Ryan is busy signing away. I kept an eye on the proceedings, then wandered around in the crowd, people watched, and got some great comments. I'm going to tell you what... when it comes to NASCAR fans, it takes all kinds. When I got back to the golf cart, I was able to talk with Donald, Casey's motor coach driver. A very sweet man who looks out for Casey. You can tell he's a great friend to have around.

It was back to the hauler after that so that Casey and Tim could go to the required drivers' meeting. I wasn't credentialed for that, so I stayed in the media hauler. That was a God thing. There was a great conversation with the head of business development, Rick, who gave me some whole other angles for the story (and talked church with me). Also got to meet Jeff Burton's PR lady, Christine. Sometimes there are busy sponsor appearance days and sometimes there aren't. Casey's was slow on Sunday and Jeff's was packed, so Christine gave me some insight into how crazy it can be to run and run before the race even starts. I couldn't even begin to tell you everyone I met while I was hanging out and how grateful I am to them all.

They had Publix lunch meat in the fridge, so I ate a sandwich and then followed Tim back to the hauler to pick up his radio and get ready for driver introductions.

On the way, I got my first step into Sam's race-time world. We stopped off at the pit box. I got to climb up top where the crew chief and engineers sit during the race. Sadly, that's not Sam's domain, but very cool nonetheless. Back on the ground, Tim showed me where he posts himself during the race and gave me a quick rundown of what he does. Like I said, reading it and seeing it are two different things. Sam came to life for me!





And then we crossed pit road to the grass and it was time for driver introductions. Tim went to get Casey and walked with him up to the stage, sort of being a buffer between the driver and anyone who might keep him from getting where he needed to be. (Missing driver intros is a no-no.) And that, my friends, is where the NASCAR fan in me wanted to come out to play. I didn't let her. :-)

(My camera glitched when I tried to get a picture of Tim and Casey, so that one didn't take. I was pretty mad. It would have been cool. Instead I got several others and this one of Mark Martin...)



Next up... Part two of my walk in Sam's shoes: What happens when it's "go" time.

JB
Jodie
It's pretty rare for me to cry in public. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two times in the past couple of years when I've pure ol' let the waterworks turn on in front of other people. Both of those times involved the song "Amazing Grace." (That one and "Butterfly Kisses" get me every time.) Yesterday, God got me good.

God's delivered me from several huge things in my life. Debilitating fear was one of them. Anger was another. Last week, I realized I had another thing gripping me. It's been there over half of my life, and I never recognized it. Very long story short, God delivered me. (Boy, that all sounds so easy, doesn't it?) He delivered me from something that kept me shackled to my past and to things I had been trying desperately to let go of. Freedom has never felt as phenomenal as this. There have been moments in the past week when I have literally jumped up my hallway because there was no other way to say thank you. Lots of exuberance in my house. I'm sure the downstairs neighbors are loving it.

And as if that was not enough, He suddenly opened the windows of heaven and poured out on me. For someone who has been walking through the desert for a very long time, the deluge has been overwhelming. It's raining, folks. It's raining, and what a cleansing, blessed rain it is.

Yesterday, I was in a room full of beautiful ladies at PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel, an awesome international organization for Christian women affiliated with the military). A wonderful sister got up and spoke about coming out of the darkest three years of her life. She didn't go into detail, didn't put the focus on the black night... She spoke of the joy that has followed. Of the dancing that has been going on in her house. Of how her husband has had just about enough of hearing Mandisa's "Shackles" over and over and over and over again. And then she played it. Ah, yes. It's a song I know well. I cut my praising God out loud teeth on the Mary Mary version a few years ago when God wiped away my fear.

But it has never, ever smacked me in the head like it did yesterday. Here I was in a room of women, and all I wanted to do was fall on my face on the floor and weep. Not cry... weep. (Some of you know why that's different.) I felt my God from my head to my feet, to the point I couldn't even raise a hand up to Him. Free. Oh my word, do we really grasp what it means to be free? To be free from the power of sin and death and hell? To be free from the past? To be free from the things that have gripped us and nearly choked the life out of us? To be free from the obstacles between us and God so that we can stand before Him? Free to love Him fully. Free to be fully loved by Him. I had no idea until that moment how tied up I had been and how free He had made me.

How many of us can say through the ages that by the power of Almighty God and the blood of Jesus Christ we've "been through the fire and the rain, bound in every kind of way. God has broken every chain, so let me go right now!"

Never forget... He is the God of freedom. Now go dance before the God who set you free!

JB
Jodie
You read that right. I learned a writing lesson from Weird Al.

I hate to write synopses. I hate it. The first time I had to write one, I looked at my husband and said, "They want me to condense a hundred thousand words into five hundred. There's no way." (That was before I learned about the elevator pitch, which has to be about forty or so words.) My first synopsis was a breeze to write largely because I did it wrong.

Sweet.

As is usual for me, my iPod spoke to me a couple of weeks ago. We were driving home from North Carolina (Yes, again. Third time in three months.), and my favorite random feature was spinning everything from the Lettermen to TobyMac to Brooks and Dunn to Howie Day at me. My husband, who likes order in his world, hates to listen to the iPod with me.

Anyway, random songs were firing at me when a forgotten Weird Al song began to play. Lest you think there are a million Weird Al songs on my iPod, I can reassure you there are only four. I can't help it. And one of them is downright theological, but that's another post.

I started to skip it, but then I started listening. It was "The Saga Begins." For those of you who don't know, he took the tune of Don McLean's "American Pie" and told the story of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. (Classic line: "My, my this here Anakin guy may be Vader someday later, now he's just a small fry.")

What did the good Professor Yankovic teach me? Summary. Synopsis. How to take a two hour and thirteen minute movie and tell the entire story in five minutes. And how to do it in your own voice. The entire movie is right there laid out in music and lyrics from opening to closing credits. You hear that song, you know everything that happened. To boot, you can never deny that the person behind it was Weird Al. It's his style, his voice.

That is what a good synopsis should do. It should take your 100,000 (or less) words and put it to 250. It should tell the whole story. And it should do it in some semblance of your voice.

The next time you think that's impossible, go and watch The Phantom Menace then go google up Weird Al. Let me know if he missed anything.

JB
Jodie
As I said last week, when I sat down to read Eva Marie Everson's Things Left Unspoken, it grabbed me in an emotional place. It took me home. In some ways, I wonder if that's not the best thing someone can say about a book. It took me home.

I'm glad I didn't write this review a week ago. A week ago I didn't fully understand the depth in this novel. It has stewed in me since I finished it and, just this morning, I began to see the layers. It was almost like a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls (the ones that nest inside one another) was set in front of me and revealed one by one. By the time I pulled the last doll out, I sort of stood back in awe of Eva Marie Everson. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to take a book title and make it mean so many things. She weaves the theme through every part of the book like a master craftsman, and she does it in such a way that you don't always recognize it until after you think about it. (That's a good thing, by the way...)

I initially thought this novel was a book about secrets, about those "things left unspoken" in families and communities. Jo-Lynn Hunter sets about to restore her family home, only to find the old farmhouse holds secrets about itself, about her family, and about the town in which she grew up. The things she learns cause her to question the people she loves most, cause her--in some instances--to question the foundations of what she's always known. I have to be honest here... I tensed up right along with Jo-Lynn. My heart broke with hers as the house gave up its secrets.

After I put the book down, more little Matryoshka dolls popped up. There are also "things left unspoken" in our relationships. These things are not always secrets. Sometimes they are simply emotions or thoughts we do not voice. And the words we do not speak can creep in between us and our loved ones, can rip a relationship apart. Sometimes the tear is hard and quick. Sometimes the damage is stealthy and slow. Eva Marie Everson weaves for us several love stories in the book: young love, married love, lasting love, fleeting love, passionate love, forever love... And two of those relationships suffer due to "things left unspoken." One is unraveling. One is riven forever.

And then there are the things we do not even speak to ourselves. Jo-Lynn's Aunt Stella, I believe, buries some unspoken things along with her secret and--except for one near-tragic incident--does not let herself voice the emotions and words even to her own spirit.

Speaking of Stella, there's another thing to love about this book. The characters are wonderful. There are plenty of them, but each is distinct and relateable. They are real. They are so real that I was frustrated at one point; I wanted a grandfather hug from Valentine Bach. Even the old house is written in such a way as to be a character in itself. You can tell this is a story close to Eva Marie's heart.

I'm a girl who hates cliches. (That's come up in a previous review.) As I read, I grew more and more afraid that Things Left Unspoken was going to wrap up at least one of the storylines with a big fat bow of a cliche'. YAY, Eva Marie! It never did. Each plot of the book came to a satisfying, real-life conclusion. No, the desires of most hearts were not fully granted, but the answers God gave were perfect nonetheless. Isn't that just like life?

I read Things Left Unspoken the first time with a reader's eye, for pleasure. I think I want to go back and read it again with a writer's eye to catch the way the theme and the plots are put together, where the knots and threads intersect. That's the kind of tapestry I want to weave.

JB

Jodie
Got ya, didn't I? This would be another one of those instances (see "I Won't Back Down") when a secular song totally gives me a word from God.

I love songs like that. It's like a little bit of God in an unexpected place. A reminder that He really and truly is everywhere.

And, seriously... Take a listen to Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me" and tell me that pretty much every word (except for that part about the phone ringning. I don't believe I've ever received an actual phone called from the actual Almighty) could be sung to the God who loves me.
I couldn't get the song out of my head after church yesterday, because we were discussing the feeding of the five thousand in John 6. (Your'e wondering how my brain could possibly connect Jesus feeds 5,000 and Ashlee Simpson. I know. You can say it.) I learned something new. John makes note that the little boy brought barley loaves to Jesus. At the time, barley was the bread of the poor, so much so that it had a certain stigma about it: You must be dirt if you're eating barley bread.

The bread is distributed and twelve baskets of leftovers are picked up. Ah, but here is where Jesus gets interesting. He says to the disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted."

Hmm... barley bread is poor, cheap, and generally despised. And Jesus wants none of it wasted.

What about the poor, cheap, and despised pieces of me? What about my sins? What about my pit-dwelling, slime-covered bottom-of-the-rain-barrel moments? What about the uglies I want to shove under the rug, nail the rug to the floor, and sit a vicious, rabid wolf on top of so nobody finds them? Could Jesus really want those pieces of me?

Yes, he does. He says, "Let nothing be wasted." In my very own life, I've already watched him do that in a way that has brought me to tears no fewer than two dozen times. I have seen him take the slimiest, most disgusting moment of my life and use it for his glory. Hear me... It. Was. Not. Wasted. I should have been stoned for it. I deserve a thousand punishments. But Jesus didn't waste the poor, pathetic pieces.

What a God! What a God who not only forgives us, but who takes the nasty pieces and actually uses them. No life is wasted. No experience is wasted. No one has ever done anything so bad that God cannot forgive it and use it for his glory.

Did you get that? NO ONE.

And so, yes, I do believe Ashlee Simpson said it quite well: "I hear you and the darkness is a clear view, 'cause you've come to rescue me."

JB