Category Archives: Reading

Posts about books

Step By Step

So much in life is about taking the next step. Something I’m not great at doing. In one of my numerous attempts at procrastination this weekend, I found a description of my Myers-Briggs personality type (ENTP, The Inventor). True to this, I’m great at ideas and getting started but not the best at following to completion.

In overall life accomplishments, I don’t have a lot of loose threads. Mostly because I force myself to finish. But it is the last step that is the hardest for me. I think it has a lot to do with fearing failure. With that in mind, Saturday was a big deal. I am halfway through my half-marathon training and I competed my first race, a 10K. It was scary until I actually started running.

This race happened to be a loop that started at the highest elevation and ended with an uphill climb. I figured out how I should feel running and adjusted my pace. It felt like a normal training run. I finished pleased with my final time of 1:06:41. That averaged to 10:38-minute miles. I was thrilled to average faster than 11-minute miles.

This week on my to do list, i  have three things I want to mark off as complete: one is professional, one is writing related, and one is a craft project.

The apostle Paul tells us our Christian walk is a race, and we need to race to win. We can’t win if we don’t finish. What part is hardest for you? Starting, staying the course, or finishing?

Life in the Fast Lane


Last weekend I posted about our lazy Saturday. This Saturday was a one-eighty. The weekend kicked off with me making a passably decent shrimp saag for dinner Friday night. The secret is to utilize a blender and crock pot. I stayed up too late, and my 5:30 wake-up call came way too early for this night owl. It was the city garage sale and we had a very successful day. Making money wasn’t as much the goal as finding a good home for the last of our baby stuff and the kids’ outgrown clothes.

The dynamic duo set up a lemonade stands and brought in about a quarter of the day’s profits. We didn’t realize how successful it would be and ran out of lemonade mix. My son is an innate capitalist. He raised the price and we still sold out. My daughter has a future in sales. She managed to sell several cups of water when the lemonade ran out.

After the yardsale, we went to a business expo then came home. Our church picnic was scheduled for the afternoon but it poured down rain at our house. I texted a friend and found out it wasn’t raining at the park, so I prepared the coleslaw and off we went. Fashionably late, we had dinner and visited with our church family.

We were home long enough for me to grab my snack for my mom’s night out paint and sip session at a the new art supply store in town. I came home a little after ten! Whew what a long day!

Are you a night owl or early bird or someone in between?

Relax

I’ve come to realize my definition of relaxing may be a bit different than others. If you’ve followed my blog very much, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a pretty high energy person.
Saturday, I hit my limit. The energy tank was empty. And in an extremely rare occasion, we had absolutely nothing planned. No games, practices, festivals, meetings, nothing. I even forgot to order Bountiful Baskets. I hated that part, but it was nice having no plans. We walked into town. Taking the shortcut, it’s only two miles. We stopped by a furniture store, the farmer’s market, ate lunch, and visited the pet store (only looking; two black cats are plenty). We even made a stop for a chai latte.
Our trip was 4 miles roundtrip and we still made it back in the early afternoon. My husband and I had an at home date and watched The Book Thief, which is an excellent adaptation of the book. I settled down to write but it was still early, so the four of us played Settlers of Catan. I ended up putting a few words to keyboard before bed.
To some, I’m sure this sounds like a packed day, but truly I have to say it was very relaxing!

God’s Not Dead

Call me old school, but I’ll always be a Peter Furler as front man Newsboys fan. “Shine” and “Breakfast” rank as a couple of my favorite songs of all time. That said, the Michael Tait led Newsboys are pretty great too. Per usual, the title is only a hint at my post’s content. This time it’s a review of the movie God Is Not Dead.

This movie appealed to me. I like going to see movies that are faith-based. I love seeing God glorified as the source of power and strength for the characters. That said, I like salt (preferably jalapeno-flavored) and butter on my popcorn but too much, and it’s inedible. That goes for movies too. I paid money to see a movie not a sermon. I get those free on Sundays and save up money for retreats.

How did God Is Not Dead measure up? I give it four stars and one Gouda wheel on the cheese factor. The acting was good. The characters believable and multi-dimensional. The best part of the movie is how the main character defended his faith. He went outside of “The Bible says” argument. Instead, he jumped off with the assumption that the Big Bang Theory is correct, quoted Darwin and Steven Hawking as well as other leading secular scientists, and ended with something the atheist viewpoint of the professor didn’t offer. My husband and I really liked this. We’re engineers so the scientific arguments had to hold weight. I lean toward the “old earth” (millions or billions of years) theory rather than the “young earth” (6000 years based on the Genesis timeline) theory. My argument is that the Bible is a history book. It’s meant to tell a story not explain science. I also say that if I found out the earth really is 6,000 years old, it wouldn’t shake my faith.

The other part I liked was the character Mina. She is arguably the most central person, a complex character, and a believer who’s shown purchasing a bottle of wine in her first scene. Without saying much more, this gives you an idea that Christian movies are daring to widen the concept of what a Christian looks like. Not to mention there are characters of various cultures, faiths, and ethnicities, which made the story deeper, richer, and more real.

What I didn’t like. There were a couple of places where the dialogue was a bit stilted and a little preachy. That said, these are a few minutes out of two hours. Most of the movie wasn’t like that. My biggest complaint is that one of the main character’s story went a step too far. If his story had been wrapped up with him pulling out a letter and looking at the newspaper, the audience would have come to the right conclusion. However, there was a “but wait there’s more”, just-in-case-you-didn’t-get-it scene. That’s where the Gouda wheel makes its appearance.

I understand wanting to share the gospel but to me faith-based books and movies should serve one primary purpose – to entertain. If the audience member is a believer, then they don’t need the message. If the audience member isn’t they’ll either be offended, enjoy it but be unaffected, or ask questions. That’s where we as the Christian friend who recommended the movie comes in. We ask our friend how they liked it. What they thought about such and such scene, character, theme. I repeat, you don’t pay money to listen to a sermon.

Now on to another related topic. This year there have been a lot of Christian, inspirational, and Bible story-inspired movies. Son of God, Noah, God Is Not Dead, Moms Night Out, and Heaven Is for Real come to mind. Some of these movies have generated a good deal of controversy. I’m not going to weigh in on that beyond these words from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18, ESV).

That passage is wedged between the oft-quoted verses about thanking God for our fellow believers and that we can do all things through Christ. It might not be as popular, but it’s no less scriptural. Whether or not you choose to see any, all, or none of these films is a personal decision that I hope you make with an open mind and prayerful heart. Remember the saying “the book is better than the movie”. So such-and-such flick might have taken liberties with God’s word, but if it encourages people to read the Bible, then maybe it’s worth it. Not to mention movies are made to make money. This means if we as Christians support faith-based movies, more will be made.

Which of these films have you seen? Which ones do you want to see? Are there any you won’t watch?

 

Hip to Be Square

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Yes, I’m wearing argyle socks with suede sneakers from Payless that I bought 7 years ago because that’s how I roll. The other day I commented that I’ve never been smarter, prettier, or cooler. It’s not that I think I’m some sort of genius in a killer body with a gorgeous face. I mean if that’s your opinion of me, I’m flattered, but it’s not what I meant. It’s that I look in the mirror and like what I see. And the part I don’t see. That I’m truly comfortable being me. And this year, I’ve been on a mission to set up better habits. This has become the year of goals.

But the whole thing is realizing I’ve always been cool. We’ve been eating Greek yogurt for nearly a decade. Way before it hit the shelves of Safeway. Everyone on Facebook seems to be into ethnic food. My husband and I have been frequenting Indian, Middle Eastern, and other cuisines our entire marriage. It wasn’t borne as much from being foodies or overly adventurous but because those are the restaurants with two-for-one deals in those giant coupon books. Now we go for ethnic food coupon or not because these are places we don’t have in our small town.

It’s not just eating habits but music, games, and movies. Sirius XM has, at least for the next few weeks, not one but two stations dedicated to my favorite musicians. I’ve been a Parrothead since childhood so Margaritaville has been on my favorites stations from the beginning. I mean I know deep tracks of Jimmy Buffet’s by heart. Ones that aren’t even on Beaches, Boats, Bars, and Ballads. “Come Monday” and “Incommunicado” (both on Ballads) are still my favorites. But so is “This Hotel Room” and “Ringling, Ringling” two songs that remind me way too much of childhood vacations off the beaten path.

Now they’ve added the Billy Joel channel as a limited engagement. I’ve been a fan of The Piano Man since my tweens. In college there was a rather funny incident about my being a Billy Joel fangirl (before there was a word fangirl) and a guy’s failed attempt to ask me out. I blew the guy off and totally forgot about it until two years later I spotted a fake advertisement referring to it. Some mutual friends had turned the episode into a meme (before we actually used the word “meme” or pictures of the Dos Equis guy to make them).

The Goonies, The Princess Bride, and Pretty in Pink were movies I’ve loved since they were released on VHS, way before they became cult classics. Actually, I saw Goonies in the theatre. The Settlers of Catan (which we’ll be playing as a family as soon as I hit schedule) has been one of our favorite games for a decade. That doesn’t exactly make us original settlers or anything since the game was already nearly ten years old before we learned about it.

While I can hardly lay claims to being some sort of hipster, and I never have been the coolest cube in the tray, I like it when things I love become cool and popular. It’s kind of fun.

What are some of the quirky things have like all along that have all of a sudden become “cool”?

Lawyers In Love

Neatly Arranged CoverA few weeks ago, my debut story, Neatly Arranged, was published. Last week I participated in a blog hop about my writing style and mentioned that I want to write speculative fiction for those who hate it (or at least think they do). Neatly Arranged is a great sample of exactly what I mean. The No Revolution Is Too Big series created by Mike Lynch is about a shape-shifting, time traveler named Stelfson. He’s a revolution broker. That is he will start a revolution – for a price. It doesn’t get more sci-fi than that. Yet, I describe Neatly Arranged as “Downton Abbey” meets King of Torts with hover cars. Neatly Arranged is about Arianne, a corporate lawyer from a noble family whose parents are encouraging her to enter an arranged marriage to an earl. Arianne and Stelfson pair up to win a simple legal case and end up uncovering something much bigger.

While Stelfson does morph once or twice, and admits to time-traveling, it’s not to kill his grandfather or create some other conundrum but to snag a table in the VIP section of the hottest new restaurant. My writing style focuses on my belief that character is king, and if the characters are interesting and most-likely snarky, then they can do things as mundane as discuss unicorn polo and popular novels over dinner. Naturally, there’s the other camp that is fine with characters out of central casting as long as there’s suspense and action. I got that covered, too. No, there aren’t any high speed chases or kidnappings (well, not exactly since the main character is compliant), but there are nefarious villains, deception, and the morally ambiguous Stelfson.

This short and sweet post is all about promoting a great series and hopefully snagging a convert or two over to speculative fiction. If you click on the No Revolution is too big link, all nine stories come up. They all take a unique approach to Stelfson. Necessary Evil was written by one of my writing partners, TJ Akers, and is about an accountant and a computer virus of sorts. Two things people love as much as lawyers. A Sirius Revolution was written by another writing partner, Lisa Godfrees. Lisa incorporates an unusual Bible story, a classic movie, and a couple of great legends to wrap up the series with Stelfson’s back story.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go and what would you do?

 

At The Hop

My writing partner Lisa Godfrees talked me into participating in a blog hop on my writing style. If you read her post, you’ll see I’ve paired this post with a song title, albeit I went outside of the 80s for my inspiration.

So here it goes.

What am I working on?

A few weeks ago, my first story was published. It’s an installment of a science fiction series created by Mike Lynch called No Revolution Is Too Big. It’s about a time-traveling, shape-shifter named Stelfson. Mine is called “Neatly Arranged” and is available on Amazon (shameless plug). It’s the story of Arianne, a corporate lawyer whose parents want her to enter an arranged marriage with a not-so noble earl. I describe it as “Downton Abbey” meets King of Torts with hover cars.

I’m editing my first manuscript, Acid. It’s a speculative YA story that examines the idea of the fountain of youth, panacea, and the concept of going to mineral baths to “take the cure”. I’ve made good progress in the first draft of the sequel, Catalyst as well.

My tagline is Spec Fiction GEKE- Everything from steam punk Elves to the dystopia of high school. Acid covers the dystopia of high school.

As for the steam punk Elves, I’ve written two short stories, and I’m working on a third that are set in a Victorian-Edwardian world of Elves. For NaNoWriMo 2013, I worked on a full-length novel within this time-frame and story world.

 How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I describe my brand of speculative fiction as real-world setting with a supernatural twist.

In “Neatly Arranged”, it’s set 200 years in the future but the technology is identifiable with those of us in the 21st century, except for the hover cars. My steam punk Elves are pretty much humans with pointed ears although some have enhanced hearing or eyesight. Their world is similar to other steam punk worlds with early 20th century (I write on the Edwardian end of the steam punk era) technology stretched to its limits. Acid is set in the real world.

Why do I write what I do?

Here’s the deal. I hated, loathed, and despised science fiction and fantasy until a couple of things happened in my 20s. Our church put on a play of this book called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The same title that I’d been running from since fifth grade. Well, I saw the play and was hooked. About the same time a series of books about this boy named Harry Potter were released. A speculative fiction fan was born.

My reluctance to embrace the genre influences my writing. I want to write stories to convert others to speculative fiction. My reader is the girl I was from about 15-25 (and still am). The one who knows what she believes but is also a bit cynical. She might read Christian fiction, but her preference is the latest and greatest in YA. She likes stories that stretch who she is but is frustrated by the way Christianity and it values are often mocked.

I’m a chemical engineer and my characters tend to be engineers, scientists, or medical professionals. Character is king with me so don’t expect pocket protector wielding Trekkies who captain the Math Counts team. There might be one or two minor characters like that but the main characters are actors, athletes, and artists who set the curve in chemistry or calculus.

Because my stories are aimed at someone with faith, I write to deepen faith and paint realistic characters. Struggles they face include ethics, fighting perfectionism, and learning to depend on God not themselves. Rather than avoid denominations, I embrace them with various church types represented.

How does your writing process work?

I try to write or edit a little bit each day. I don’t take Sundays off as a day of rest because to me writing isn’t work. Also, I’m more likely to have time. Like today. The weather was windy, and I had an afternoon where one child was at a friend’s and the other played by herself while my husband watched March Madness.

I wrote my first manuscript in a crazy frenzy pretty much spending all of my free time writing completely by the seat of my pants. In the strictest sense, I’m a pantser because I don’t write down plots. However, I have it all in my head. Like dumping a jigsaw puzzle on the floor, I have to write out the story then tweak it.

Short stories have been beneficial to me because I tend to overwrite. Whether it’s a 1,000 or 8,000-word limit, those boundaries help me hone my stories.

So that’s a little about my writing style. And I’m sharing the wealth with two of my writing partners and one of the duo behind my favorite hero-centric site.

Linda Samaritoni – I love why she calls her site “My Second Nature” because it reminds us to be more like Christ. If character is king, then Linda is the queen mother. She creates amazing characters and captures the subtleties of her settings. I find myself smiling and saying “spot-on”.

TJ Akers – His story Chocolate Eyes was a well-deserved 2013 Genesis Award finalist. One of the founding members of The Scriblerians I squeed when he invited me to the newly formed group. TJ makes me laugh with oh-so-awkward middle school characters who manage to get into humorous situations. Do not read his work with a mouthful of food. You’ve been warned.

Joy Doering – She joined Nancy Kimball as the second face behind Fiction Hero Features. This is my go-to spot to find my next hero fix. She has a solo blog at More Than Words where she does more great book reviews.

She Blinded Me With Science

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Or in this case, he. Two weeks ago, my son won a first place ribbon at the school science fair and advanced to regionals. I’m not sure who was happier. My son or his parental units.
As I was helping my son put together the poster board and write the report, I finally figured out a way to describe what I do for a living. I do science fair projects for various corporate and government clients. We collect data (environmental samples), put the data in tables, graphs and maps, and write reports.
Friday was the regional competition and my son didn’t score very high. That too is like my job. There were specific criteria and he didn’t meet it. When you propose work each potential client wants something different. Sometimes you’re a fit, and sometimes you’re not. It doesn’t always mean you did a bad job. Sometimes it’s about meeting a client’s needs, personal preference, and the element of subjectivity in the concrete world of science.
It’s also like the subjective world of writing. The scales tip more to subjectivity, but there are rules and guidelines. In contests, I’ve gotten high and low scores for the same entry.
Like the MC told the kids at the regional science fair, they all did well but there were winners and losers. Just like in real life. So whether it’s a science fair, a contract, or writing contest, you’ll win some and lose some. But that’s only one event. It doesn’t define you as a winner or a loser.

Another Brick in the Wall

Last week I went on a short-term missions trip. And when I say short-term, I mean four hours. I was there to support a couple of sibling missionaries. They’re young and I’m not sure their faith is at the point where they should even be in the mission field. OK, they’re technically not serving as missionaries but “students” as teaching God is forbidden in this small city-state. It was a difficult decision but education really wasn’t an option in their homeland. The independent city-state where the older of the two started his education was excellent and God was worshiped, not forbidden, but after much prayer, their parents decided to send these young believers to the godless mission field. Their entire community has been putting money into a scholarship of sorts for citizens of this godless city-state. The parents didn’t need to raise support so it made sense for them to go to there as students.

Let me tell you about serving in this mission field albeit my experience is limited and (dare I admit it, my heart wasn’t exactly thinking mission trip when I went). The best time to do short-term trips to this city-state is during their holidays. My first visit was during a holiday where the residents dress in elaborate costumes and enjoy sweet treats. It’s a holiday that is somewhat controversial in Christendom but in the proper perspective, enjoyed by others. My first glimpse into their world was watching a parade of them, most in costumes. Throughout the day, the citizens smiled and laughed and ate way too much candy. It ended with a carnival. I moderated one of their games. Oh the delight on their faces when he or she won a big prize. To some, the small stuffed toy was the highlight of their day, their week, maybe a highlight of their year.

My second visit, they celebrated another holiday. It’s much like the one we celebrate in Christendom. In fact, the origin is based around the birth of our Savior, but that’s a small facet. Most involves this fat guy, harnessed wild game, and a miniature version of elves that look nothing like the steam punk ones of my stories. Except for the pointed ears. The citizens sang songs, some of which shocked me because they mentioned the Savior. Most were about the fat guy. And one was about the furlough all residents would go on. See, the citizens don’t live in the city-state but are either employees or students. The city-state actually shuts down during various parts of the year.

Now my last trip was to work a different kind of fair. One to sell books. This trip wasn’t as happy as the first two. I wasn’t there to give out toys or enjoy their culture. I was there to take money from those who could afford books, pens, and erasers and turn away those who couldn’t. Some were students whose family had the money but chose not to give extra to their child, remember the citizens are mostly minors. Others were turned away because there was no extra money. They are sent to the city-state because it’s the only place they have to go. Some of these minors come from lands where the only meals they get are when they’re in the city-state. The only time they’re warm enough, full enough, given any attention. There’s no money for books or erasers when they don’t get the eleven meals their homeland is supposed to provide. For all of its shortcomings, this godless realm is in reality a much better place than their homeland. Yes, in theory, the homeland has the means to provide the basics. But we know how governments, no matter how big or small, waste money and mistreat its residents.

In fact, this city-state is only one of many under the umbrella of a larger government. Many of these city-states are well-run (this one is) but a lot of them are wastelands that frustrate the millions who pour money into them. They make those of us who are forced to pay for them want to do everything in our power to pull money away from them. Keep out the missionaries. Pray they go away or some sort of coup will fix what’s broken.

I sit here today thinking yes, but a coup will never happen. I had a similar thought 25 or so years ago about the land behind the Iron Curtain. I was happily wrong. So maybe if the big government gets its act together, these city-states will be reformed. Maybe even have their religious freedom restored. But even if not, I must do what I can. Pray for those missionaries, I mean students and those government leaders (there are some although they’re mostly forced into hiding) who believe as I do, and serve on mission trips when time allows.

See, when I was younger my circumstances were similar to these two missionaries. I served as a student in a series of these city-states for 17 years. Unfortunately although I was a believer most of my student years, I never really thought of myself as a missionary until my last few years and even then not wholeheartedly.  Like these two, I was fortunate to be assigned to a series of excellent city-states. In fact, the leader of the first city-state I attended as a student (he’s now retired) is a devout believer who attends church with my family back in my hometown.

Voices Carry

Yes, another song about domestic violence and another post about fiction that deals with this sad but real problem. A few months back I mentioned Rajdeep Paulus’s Swimming Through Clouds in my post Luka. If you haven’t snapped up this book, you are missing a fantastic story. And Rajdeep’s sequel Seeing Through Stones is even better. I almost deducted a star from my 5-star review of Swimming Through Clouds because there were dangling threads. But my reader-sense tingled and I knew there had to be a sequel. Glad I have that super-power, because both Swimming and Seeing are 5-star reads.

Without giving away anything for those who haven’t read Swimming Through Clouds, Seeing Through Stones picks up where the story left off. Well, not exactly. Chapter 1 adds a new POV character, Talia’s brother, Jesse. So minimal background. Talia and Jesse are the children of Gerald Vanderbilt. For those of my generation who saw Mommy Dearest and cringe at “no more wire coat hangers”, this generation will say “no more hot tea”.  Talia and Jesse’s father make Joan Crawford look like supermom.

In Swimming, Talia gains an ally through a sticky note friendship with classmate Lagan. Life looks promising for Talia but what about her brother Jesse? In Seeing Through Stones, Rajdeep binds those loose ends with the skill of a master seamstress. While I’m sad this is only a two-book story, the ending is so satisfying that any more would be too many beads on the perfect dress.

I’ll ask it again, do you prefer escapist stories or those that cover gritty topics or a little of both?

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