How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Six Cousins Spring

Spring is my favorite season. I love watching life and color come back into the world. The Texas spring is one of the things that inspired my novel Six Cousins; to this day, some of the clearest images that come to mind when I think of Six Cousins are springtime scenes: wildflower fields bursting with color, a rainbow of greens in grass and leaves, perfect temperatures and delicate breezes, birdsongs, the scent of earth. This last week of March, in particular, is special to me: my eyes and ears are open to nature because this is about the time Six Cousins is set.

Every spring since I’ve written it, I’ve looked around anxiously to see what stage everything is in, what’s in flower now and what isn’t. I want my depiction of a Texas Hill Country spring to be accurate. Every spring is different (thankfully, I add, since I’ve noticed some slightly different schedules in my novel); this year, for example, growth has slowed down because of cold weather and sparse rainfall. But early springtime is the time of year that I gaze with satisfaction at the things that inspired my book and feel again what I captured in the writing of it.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

Between the garden and the juniper woods was a short span of lush grass dotted with wildflowers. Here was the most beautiful and varied bouquet in any of our fields. There were bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, wild onions, prairie verbenas, wild mustard, and many more species with only a few representatives; small white hemlock tied them all together, like a wild baby’s breath. We waded our way through carefully, making sure not to step on any of the bright little heads. The breeze wafted a delicately sweet scent past our noses, as if only for our pleasure.

“Mmm. Do you smell that?” I asked. “Bluebonnets. Such a fresh, sweet, nectar-y smell, yet with substance to it. I always thought that should be what butterflies smell like.”


Right before the pecan bottoms, there was a green kernel of irresistible deciduous woods. The oaks, elms, and their companions were leafed out in the most beautiful shades of spring verdure, rising high and ethereal as well as low and intimately earthy right beside us. It was a songbird’s paradise, and the birds certainly knew its reputation; the branches were alive with their flapping and chirping.

Praise God for spring!

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

Today is the first day of the Biblical festival, Unleavened Bread, or Chag HaMatzot, in Hebrew. This is one of my favorite times of the year because of the meaningful symbolism that comes with this holiday. Passover, which happens right before Unleavened Bread, is of course what Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated the night before He was crucified. “And as they were eating, Yeshua took bread, and having blessed, broke and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body.’ And taking the cup, and giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood, that of the covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Mat. 26:26-28) The last few chapters from the Gospel narratives -- from the Last Supper to the Resurrection -- are perhaps my favorite part of the Bible. This is what our faith is founded on; it is why we can have hope; it is why we live. How blessed, then, is this time of year that we as believers can practically relive that awesome story in our celebrations!

While the Passover is the most directly meaningful to Yeshua’s story, Unleavened Bread has profound symbolism, too. It’s one week long. It is a leaven-free week -- foods like sandwich bread and Ritz crackers are banished from the house just as they are banished from our mouths. During this week, leaven symbolizes sin and corruption (“Therefore cleanse out the old leaven, so that you are a new lump, as you are unleavened. For also Messiah our Passover was offered for us. So then let us observe the festival, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Cor. 5:7-8) and so we focus on how the death of Yeshua (Jesus) freed us from sin so that we are no longer enslaved to it. We are free to have a sin-free existence! Leaven and the lack of it can have many other meanings, too (such as pride vs. humility), but this is the most powerful.

Passover and Unleavened Bread make up some of the first chapters in the story of Redemption -- the greatest story ever told! Centuries before Yeshua, God rescued His people from the physical slavery of Egypt, just as He would rescue us from spiritual slavery. The specific events happened at the exact same time of year. If you’ve never studied how the Exodus prefigures our redemption, I highly recommend the study! It is such a strong way of feeling, all over again, the power of salvation.

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I like eating unleavened bread (which is like a giant, flavorless cracker) because every bite reminds me of what Yeshua has done for me.

Are you getting excited about celebrating the Resurrection?


Friday, March 22, 2013

Things That Inspire in Me a Story: Abandonment

There’s this house I pass on the highway as I drive to the next town. It’s been there as long as I can remember, and apparently it’s been there as long as most residents of my town can remember, because it’s old. It rests in the middle of a cow pasture, and there are no other houses in sight. A mature tree, perhaps a pecan, grows right up against its front, almost before the door. There are others growing just as close around the other walls. When the trees are wearing their leaves, the house is nearly hidden. The house must have been there first. There’s a hole on one side of its roof that the weather gnaws bigger every year; there’s a board sagging down like the house is growing tired. In fact, the house is starting to lean, as if it’s expecting support to come from something young and strong -- something that is not there, and never will be.

I may be the only person who’s inspired by this old farmhouse. But it speaks to me: of years and happiness gone by, when large families lived in small houses and were content. When they worked the land and derived pleasure from simple things, like new crops, baby cows, and dresses made from feed-sacks. I wish I knew how long this house has stood there. I wish I knew its family and when they left and if its last residents knew they were the last to live there. A railroad slices across the land at a distance behind it; how many trains has it heard chug by? Did this house have companions -- a barn, a chicken coop? It was left standing … as if it held such an important place in the pasture’s history that it deserved the honor of remaining.

Abandoned things speak more eloquently of the past than similarly aged things that still play a role today. They have watched their significance fade away; they live only in the past. They are frozen there. And when they’re pretty or picturesque, they draw me. They inspire in me a story.

What kind of story would you write for this image I found on pinterest?

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I’d intended to share snippets of my novel in this post, but I realized I hadn’t spun enough new words since last time, so that will have to wait. I’ve been editing Adventure in England and just exploring ways I can take steps forward to be a more “successful” writer. By successful, I mean being better at my craft, sharing with more people, having a wider audience, and using my gift to the extent God would have me use it. This has been a year of growth -- not the quiet, unnoticeable kind -- but a growth spurt, and since I’m still in the midst of it I don’t know exactly how much I’ve grown or where I am in the process. And, like all growth spurts, it’s been painful at times. I question whether I really have something to say, and if people really want to hear it, and if they don’t, am I justified in spending so much time and energy on myself in writing? Like I said, painful questions that everyone who wants to do something in this world asks themselves. We all go through it, and yet we all feel so alone while going through it … but I digress. :-)

BUT … PRAISE GOD, He’s sent me a confirmation email. I checked my in-box this morning (for the second time … I may be getting addicted to doing that) and discovered this note from the address “welovebooks,” which belongs to Injoy, Inc., a great business whose mission is to “help authors publish their books.” They had a writing contest for unpublished novels recently in which I entered Six Cousins; it involved sending pertinent information, like a synopsis and other things that would go in a book proposal, and sending an excerpt. I didn’t expect to win, but, while, I was not selected as a finalist, this email informed me, “We have selected you as a semi-finalist.”

I was very happy. This means that I still have a chance to be added to the finalists’ list after I take the opportunity Injoy, Inc. provides to learn how to write a professional book proposal for my novel. They’ll select the best book proposal from the group of semi-finalists and then it will be down to them judging the finalists to pick the grand prize winner. (The grand prize is free publication.)

Now, I’m not sure how hard the contest was, nor how selective, nor how many semi-finalists there were; but I’m glad I entered as it boosts my confidence and, most of all, I’m looking forward to learning how to write a professional book proposal! Even if I don’t need it to self-publish Six Cousins, knowing how the process works will be invaluable for the future. Also, I anticipate learning what to use to promote Six Cousins on my own, because on my own I don’t know how to tell readers why they should read my book!

But God had a reason for me to enter this contest; He knows I need help and He is faithful to provide it. PRAISE GOD.

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Have you ever had any measure of success in a writing contest? Speaking of writing contests, I’m thinking of entering this short story contest on Katie Sabelko’s Whisperings of the Pen. It sounds delightful!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gold Medals on the Silver Screen

In my last blog post, I mentioned I’d be reviewing my favorite dolphin movie. That didn’t seem quite enough for a whole blog post today, so I thought I’d include other movies that would get a “gold medal” from me. These are, more-or-less, my top ten; I’ve enjoyed so many movies it’s hard to choose! As such, these aren’t in any order.

                                                       Dolphin Tale (2011) Poster

Dolphin Tale -- This is the inspiring true story of Winter, a dolphin in Florida who lost her tail to a net. She was rescued and rehabilitated, but she could not live for long without a tail … her rescuers, including two kids who love her dearly, fight to save her with a prosthetic tail.

Winter can be visited; she lives at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit -- These are probably my favorite movies of all. I really don’t need to explain the awe-inspiring story, or anything else that makes this series into the best of epics. (In my opinion.)

Fiddler on the Roof -- I’m partial to Jewish stories, and this musical is the most iconic. It’s set in Russia at the turn of the century. The storyline is engaging -- alternately funny and touching; the characters are entertaining; and the music is both beautiful and catchy.

The Court Jester -- This is my favorite Danny Kay musical: set in the Middle Ages, it has comedy, adventure, intrigue, romance, and triumph of right over wrong. The best part is the way the underdog Hawkins becomes the hero.

The Princess Bride -- This movie explores the age-old story of heroism and true love; it’s gripping, yet funny and adventurous in a somewhat farcical nature. Wesley and Buttercup fall in love but are separated for years … but when Wesley returns, an evil prince stands in the way of true love.

The Sound of Music -- Again, a ubiquitous classic I don’t have to explain … the music is timeless, the family is endearing, and the scenery -- the Alps -- is breathtaking.

Pride and Prejudice (1995, BBC) -- My favorite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice because the characters seem to fit Jane Austen’s characters perfectly and the plot follows the book well. It brings the English Regency to life.

Sense and Sensibility (1995, Emma Thompson) -- My favorite adaptation of Sense and Sensibility because the characters seem to fit and it captures the spirit of the book even though simplifying it. Not to mention the music, the sets, and the scenery are beautiful!

North and South -- The story of Margaret Hale and John Thornton, from Elizabeth Gaskell’s book. John Thornton is a mill owner in northern England and Margaret is an unwilling transplant from the bucolic south; their views clash but romance comes stealing in. It’s way more exciting than just that -- it also depicts the battles between mill owners and workers.

Wives and Daughters -- Another book by Elizabeth Gaskell, this is about an endearing young woman named Molly Gibson, her father, stepmother and stepsister, and the friends who value her. The setting in the south of England is amazing.

Okay, I said top ten, but I just had to include number eleven …

Miss Potter -- This is a beautiful movie about Beatrix Potter at the start of her publishing career and the romance that develops alongside it.

What are your favorite movies?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Things That Inspire in Me a Story: Dolphins

Certain images and ideas transport me to story mode. This may be similar to Emily Starr’s “flash,” and this is my explanation for it in my own life: “As a writer, I have experienced something similar, though not so powerful. I see an object or hear a word, and a whole beautiful scene or story bubbles up around it; I love getting to commit to writing what comes to me, but it seldom satisfies me, and those sensations surrounding the thing stay in midair, always to be returned to and longed after but never fully captured.”

So I thought I would write posts from time to time on “things that inspire in me a story” -- things that have found or will find a place in my stories. Sometimes it’s a scene I have to describe; sometimes it’s an image that conjures a feeling that needs expressing. Sometimes it’s an object I just have to explore more, to know in depth … and, for me, the most comprehensive way to do that is by writing about it. An example of that last one is dolphins.

I’ve recently figured out that I tend toward “delayed gratification.” Some people just like to save for later things they’re looking forward to; the enjoyment of anticipation might have something to do with it. Anyway, that’s me with story ideas -- I like working in order, not moving on to something else until I have a good grasp on the first thing. So that’s why many of my Story Inspirations don’t get touched until I’m good and ready to devote my whole mind to them. Delayed gratification. That is the situation behind dolphins.

I’ve been in love with dolphins ever since I was … I don’t know … six, maybe. I’d never met one, and still haven’t, but my fascination with them has only grown. Intelligence … playfulness … beauty … personality … agility … the ocean. And characteristics that are perhaps anthropomorphic but seem attributable to them: friendliness … devotion … heroism … perseverance …. The list goes on.

They capture the imagination of many. Just look at these paintings, worth a thousand words:
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This is my favorite … it inspired a scene, and almost a whole story. (Who knows? I may use it yet!) I haven’t been able to find the artist or anymore of their work. It reminds me of Christian Riese Lassen.

My imagination captivated, I wish to apply my reason to dolphins, too. I bought a book that explores the mysteries of dolphins because I don’t want to be guilty of “gushing fanatic” stories that have no basis in reality. (Which I am quite capable of writing, let me tell you!) I want to know the real story behind dolphins. I hope one day to meet them, get to know them -- and so be able to write a story that will be a true tribute to them. But in the meantime, maybe this book, and others, will aid a short story or two: Dolphin Mysteries: Unlocking the Secrets of Communication, by Kathleen M. Dudzinki.

When I read it, I may return to the subject of dolphins here to share some things I learned! On my next post, I’ll review my favorite dolphin movie. And, I just had to include this little guy's picture ... the tiniest dolphin ever! And it's mine. : )

What are some things, single objects or images, that have drawn a story out of your heart?


Friday, March 1, 2013

My Short Story

Well, I collected some opinions about my story … I had my mom read it and I shared it at my writers’ group … and, since the opinions were positive, I’m here to say that it’s officially a finished product! (Until I bring it out again in May for my writing class assignment, when it won’t be able to stop me from tweaking it.) This little victory energizes me for the rest of my writing.

                                                     Bluebonnet, State Flower of Texas

Working title: “Field of Blue”

Synopsis: The Crossmans have a treasured yearly tradition to take family photos in a very special bluebonnet field. But what will happen when, this year, life contrives to prevent it?

Length: 2,677

Note: For those of you who don’t live in Texas, it’s a tradition to take photos of loved ones -- especially kids -- in fields full of the state wildflower, bluebonnets. I personally think bluebonnets make one of the most beautiful backdrops imaginable. And it's almost time for them to start coming out!