Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vanity, Vanity

I am so not photogenic. In fact, quite the opposite. If someone brings out a camera anywhere near me, I cringe and can't stop myself from pulling my famous photo-face (think pained, slightly constipated half-smile--if you're lucky you'll catch my eye twitching). Don't know what made me that way, but I'm blaming the "scared of pictures" gene on my dad. Handsome man, for sure, but even more petrified of cameras than me. And that's saying something.

Anyway, I've been in an ongoing conversation for the last few months with a couple of author friends about many different aspects of publishing. A hot topic we keep coming back to is why people buy (or don't buy) books. What sells? Cover? Title? Name power? Topic? Writing? One of these lovely ladies noted that her publicist has chosen a particular image for her, a hook that will hopefully brand her and help sell her books. Hmmm, me thinks. Do I have an image? Do I want one?

If I did have an image, I suppose it would be the harried, newish mom. At least, that's me at my most raw. Or maybe I could be branded as a philanthropist, a passionate young woman co-heading a growing non-profit. The small town girl next door? The got-it-all-together pastor's wife? The truth is, I'm all of those things. And none of them. Funny how that works.

An image, at it's most literal, is exactly that: a picture, a representation. I've been noticing lately the amazing photos that most authors have gracing their websites and the backs of their books. Check out my friend Lisa McKay's site (she's so pretty!), or Tosca Lee (granted, she is a professional model so the gorgeous part is a given), or even Travis Thrasher (love the different looks he can pull off). Have you ever read a Brandilynn Collins book? I haven't, but I'd know her picture anywhere--her over-the-shoulder, wide-eyed gaze is a brand in and of itself. And the truth is, there is something really cool about all of their pictures, beyond the obvious aesthetic appeal: when I look at a well done portrait, I feel like I know the subject. Cliched as it sounds, a little piece of that person is preserved in an artful rendering.

So all of this begs the question: Am I, photo-phobic that I am, capable of taking a truly revealing shot? Get your mind out of the gutter, I don't mean revealing that way. :) I mean, could someone photograph me in such a way that a person picking up one of my books, or finding my site on the web, could feel an instant connection with me? A sense of commonality? A feeling of, I want to know what she has to say? Because I can relate to her, or she intrigues me, or I like the spark in her eye... whatever. Fill in the blank.

Welcome to my personal experiment.

I have a very dear friend who happens to be one of the most talented photographers I've ever met. Amazingly enough, so far she only takes pictures of her kids. But the images she has gracing the walls in her home rival that of any professional studio. Since she's interested in seeing where the Lord is leading in this area of her life, I put myself in her very capable hands for a morning of fieldwork. We packed the kids in her mini-van, put on a video, pacified them with snacks, and then drove around our community and shot a ba-jillion photos. When the rugrats got sick of that, we drove through McDonalds and went home. Then she proceeded to do my make-up, hang a black sheet over her banister, and snap at least a ka-trillion more photos with five children screaming in the background. She should be sainted. Not only for putting up with all those kids, but also for being patient with me. A typical conversation:

"Smile, Nik."
"I can't."
"Come on..."
*Sickly half-smile*
"A real smile."
"That was a real smile!"
"Uh, okay then, give me a fake one."

I know, I'm pathetic. But my friend, like I said, is very talented. She managed to capture some pretty cool photos. Unedited, shot on my camera, and downloaded for your perusal. What do you think? Do you feel like any of these portraits capture a bit of who I am? Does it matter what an author looks like? Or, more accurately, what their author photo looks like? More to the point: Is it all just vanity? A selfish preening in the hope that someone will find us interesting, attractive, compelling, handsome...? Or do we all long in some way for people to see us as we truly are? Oooo, now we're getting deep. Are my musings going overboard? Do I sound too much like Carrie Bradshaw? Will this post ever end??? :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Traditions

If you live in the Midwest you know that the past week has been a wild one for the prairies. We're buried under a few feet of snow (help!) and the temperatures have been lethal. But, oh, how I love it! We've been sledding, sipping cocoa, playing games, watching movies, and even sneaking under the Christmas tree. As my oldest tells anyone who'll listen: "We have so many presents under there it's embarrassing." I have to quickly add that our Canadian family spoiled us by sending boxes filled with presents. After all, it's not my fault our modest Christmas is... well... not so modest.

Any-hoo, blogging is the last thing on my mind. The Baarts are too busy playing trains, building Lego, and enjoying a soothing glass of Bailey's on ice. But I am able to pry myself away long enough to direct you to TitleTrakk. This week your "Christian Book, Music, & Movie Terminal" is featuring a Christmas author interview. 27 authors (including myself) have been asked the question: What is your favorite Christmas tradition? The answers make for some fun reading. I encourage you to check it out! And when you're done, take a minute to share. I'd love to know what your favorite Christmas tradition is. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's coming... The Moment Between

I am in such a fantastic mood today. The sun is shining, there is half a foot of blindingly white snow on the ground, and I have a mug of English toffee laced Ethiopian coffee in hand. Life is good. Okay, so it's like 30 below zero outside... at least I can... uh... enjoy(?) it from behind warm glass. It's amazing to me that a patch of sunlight is still warm when it's so freezing cold outside. Anyway, I digress.

Part of the reason I'm in such a good mood today is because my next book, The Moment Between, is creeping ever closer to a book shelf near you! I'm so excited. I was browsing Amazon for Christmas gifts the other day and typed in The Moment Between on a whim--I wanted to see what other titles out there were similar to my next offering. Lo and behold, I discovered that my third book is available for pre-order! There's something very fun about having three books out there, even if one isn't quite official yet.

I find it fitting that things seem to be happening in harmony with my budding book excitement. Today the novelist Trish Perry is hosting my first interview about The Moment Between. Pop on over to her site for more info about the book as well as a giveaway! This is a fun giveaway because you have two chances to win. I'll be signing a copy of Summer Snow and sending it off next week to one lucky winner. But I'll also send an Advanced Reader Copy of The Moment Between to one reader who is willing to help spread the word. The catch is, you need to have a blog or website where you can review the book. We'd also appreciate it if you'd post your review to the major bookselling websites (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). I'm not 100% sure when I can send the ARC out, so the contest will require a bit of patience on your part (I hope you're good at delayed gratification). I think the wait is worth it!

Finally, I have one last exciting thing to share with you... The cover! This isn't a finalized cover, there will be a lovely blurb squished in somewhere, but you get the idea. Isn't it gorgeous??? I just love it. Cheers to the very talented artist, Jessie McGrath. Her work is amazing.

Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Liberia (the second)

Okay, so I could forego all the book talk and spend the rest of my life blogging about Liberia. But I won't. At least, not now. Maybe after I go you'll see a definite change in subject matter around here. Until then, this will be my last Liberia post. Thought you might like to know what One Body, One Hope actually does.

Abide in the Vine

This is the church we support. Robert Bimba is the pastor and our original contact (we met in Ethiopia). We now provide quarterly food aid for the church and basically help out in any way we can (from paying surgical costs when someone gets sick to buying Bibles for church members). When Aaron was in Monrovia he led a pastor's conference for 120 Liberian pastors.

Christ Our Hope Orphanage

I call this our orphanage, but it's not. We just provide monthly sponsorship for the 54 kids here. Immanuel and Fatu Bimba run the orphanage and the children couldn't ask for more loving "parents."

Rice Farm

Through CHAP (Community of Hope Agricultrual Project) we were able to help Abide in the Vine secure over 30 acres for a rice farm. The very first head of rice was harvested when Aaron was overseas. After the photo was taken, they cut the stalk and gave it to Aaron. We're having it framed.

Lifewater Liberia Compound

While in country, Aaron and the rest of the team helped finish (or almost finish) a Lifewater Liberia compound. LL digs wells in Liberia and through mutual contacts and friends we became excited about their ministry.

Well, that's it in a nutshell. If you're interested in getting involved, we have a website (One Body, One Hope) that is in desperate need of updates, or you can simply email me. We are currently looking for people to sponsor the incredible teachers at the Christian school our kids attend. These selfless people are all Liberian nationals and university grads who are dedicated to making a difference in their country. I could not admire them more. Anyway, I'd better get back to writing. But I'll leave you with one last photo. This young man has stolen my heart.

Monday, December 8, 2008


He's home!!! I'm no longer a single mom! Hooray!

Aaron's only been home two days (today is the third) but already my world is 100% better. Amazing how those husbands worm their way into your life and nothing seems good or real unless you can share it with them. The nerve.

Anyway, it's been a feverish reunion filled with late nights and lots of updating... I'm trying to fill him in on two+ weeks in the life of the Baart boys, and he's trying to get me up to speed with all that's about to break open at One Body, One Hope. Exciting stuff. I'll pass the juicy tidbits along once they've all been deciphered. In the meantime, enjoy a few pictures snapped by my National Geographic-worthy, photo-journalist husband. Who knew he could take such awesome shots?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stuck in Brussels

So my husband has been working his hands to the bone in Liberia for the past two weeks plus. He's held a pastors' conference for 120 pastors, documented, photographed, and cataloged every one of the 54 children at the orphanage our non-profit supports, worked on a Lifewater Liberia compound, met with the head of the Ministry of Health, visited the soon-to-be adopted son of our friends, battled chemical burns, heat exhaustion, and heat rash, and all-around managed to be Supermanly. I'm so proud of him. And now I want him HOME. Do you hear me? HOME. I wasn't cut out for single-momhood. (Nor am I very good at dealing with the envy I feel every time I think of him hugging the kids I've come to love.)

Forgive my insitence and the tinge of desperation you might hear in my online voice. But I can't help myself. I was supposed to be sharing my bed with my hubby tonight (did I mention I strongly dislike sleeping alone?). Instead, he's stuck in Brussels and I'm wearing long johns and two pairs of socks for one more night (my bed is cold!). I hope. It better not be more than one more night. I'll scream, and wherever you are, I bet you'd hear it.

Life's not fair, is it? Here's Aaron, probably sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Brussels, sipping a frothy Belgian beer, and enjoying a pretty little corner of Europe.

And here's me, single mom extraordinare, though a lot less sexy and chic (think tangled hair, drool stained shirt, and tired eyes--though the cooking, reading, mothering, working, telephone-talking, exercising, grocery-buying part is pretty true to life. All she's missing is Bible study leading, children's church planning, 4th book writing, and snow shoveling.) As far as I'm concerned, the life of the modern mom is far less Zen-like than this lovely young lady suggests. No less busy, mind you.

Anyway, I'm pouting. Bad habit, I know. The truth is, we survived just fine and I'm sure he's as homesick for us as we are for him. Plus, it's winter in Brussels, too, so the sidewalk cafe thing is the product of my overactive imagination. Though I don't doubt the beer part for one second. And I don't blame him a bit. Cheers to you, Aar. I'll see you tomorrow sometime. You'd better have Belgian chocolates in one hand and French wine in the other. ;)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whistling in the Dark

Whistling in the Dark ~ Lesley Kagen

It's the summer of 1959 and Sally O'Malley is looking forward to a few fun-filled months with her younger sister Troo. But things don't always work out as planned, and when the girls' mother gets sick and is secreted away in the hospital, Sally and Troo are left to fend for themselves. An alcoholic step-father, a lovestruck older sister, and a neighborhood filled with people who have their own worries leave the girls to find their own way. There's more than enough drama to go around, but when a predator sets up camp in their relatively peaceful Milwaukee neighborhood, the girls are in a fight for their very lives.

I picked up this book on a whim because I liked the cover (wow--covers really do sell books!). Okay, it wasn't just the cover that caught my attention. I was also interested in reading a book about sisters since my next book, The Moment Between, is all about that mysterious genetic bond. Anyway, I ended up loving Lesley Kagen's debut. Sally and Troo are endearing heroines and I adored the wide-eyed innocence of the story from their perspective. I thought Kagen really nailed their voices and I laughed outloud throughout the book. Surprisingly, though Whistling deals with child molestation, murder, and other various forms of abuse, it really is a rather lighthearted read where the eventual outcome of the story is never in doubt. I usually like my stories a bit messy, but for some reason when children are concerned I'm all for the happily-ever-after ending. Whistling doesn't disappoint.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Daisy Chain

Daisy Chain ~ Mary DeMuth

When his best friend and self-proclaimed future wife disappears, it's up to fourteen-year-old Jed Pepper to find her. But as even as the trail begins to cool, Daisy's disappearance uncovers a minefield of dark secrets in the small, Texas town of Defiance. Before long it seems as if everyone must shoulder some of the guilt for her alleged kidnapping. Emory Chance, Daisy's mother, deals with accusations of alcoholism and neglect. Ouisie Pepper, Jed's mother, is haunted by dreams. Even Jed himself is consumed by regret for not protecting Daisy the way he feels he should have. And the secrets don't stop there... A prophet, a madwoman, a child, and a seemingly soulless preacher all play an integral part in Mary DeMuth's haunting tale.

Daisy Chain is filled with unforgettable characters and a gripping plot. I was so anxious to uncover the mystery behind Daisy's disappearance that I had to remind myself to read, not skim. And when I took the time to savor the words, I was completely drawn in to the world of Defiance, Texas. Written in a comfortable, down-home style that invites you in, Daisy Chain brings up tough issues and examines them beneath the lens of scripture. Though the ending may not be nice and neat, it is hopeful--and it left me wanting more.

*Daisy Chain has not yet been released. Zondervan has slated this book for a pub date of March 1, 2008.