Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Disappearing Act



So... I kind of dropped off the face of the earth for the past week or so. I know I should apologize for the huge blogging faux pas, but can I just say that I've had a wonderful week?!? I never intended to turn off my computer for eight days, but life just got in the way of emails, blogging, Facebook status checking, and all the other "work" I do online. If I had a "Gone Fishing" sign, I would have hung it in my metaphorical blogging window. But that wouldn't be entirely accurate, because I wasn't fishing at all. Instead, I was...

  • Scooping out from under two feet of snow. What a blizzard!
  • Playing in said snow with my kids. It was so soft and powdery white we could swan dive off the steps and sink a foot into the snowy fluff.
  • Celebrating Christmas! Church was cancelled because of the blizzard, but we still sung carols, read Luke 2, ate like kings (and queens), and shared gifts. My favorite Christmas gift? A SonicCare toothbruth. I know, I'm a dork. But I love clean teeth.
  • Swimming at an indoor waterpark during our three-day family getaway. The Baarts took a mini-vacation this year in lieu of fancy presents, and we loved every minute of our time away. I still smell like chlorine.
  • Cuddling our sweet, spayed puppy. Poor thing has eleven staples in her tummy and she just can't leave them alone. It's my job to hold her. It's rough, but someone's got to do it.
  • Writing! I am having so much fun with my third and final installment of Julia's story. And my aunt just (inadvertantly) gave me the pièce de résistance, the scene and symbol that will tie the whole book together. I'm pretty excited. Thanks, Auntie Julie! 
Well, I think that's about it. I am sorry for disappearing on you, but I hope my reasons are understandable. And I hope you had a fantastic Christmas week, too! It's your turn: What have you been up to this past week? What was the highlight of your Christmas? What was your favorite present (to give or to get)? I'd love to catch up with you...

Merry (belated) Christmas!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

How to Brand (a stab in the semi-dark)



I know it's Christmas week and I should be waxing poetic on the snow (we're going to be dumped on), the season (it is magical) or how excited I am to see my kids' faces on Christmas morning (they're going to be so excited!). But instead of getting all sentimental on you, I'm going to be diligent and finish the conversation I began in Branding (not the cow kind) and Author Branding (a needle in a haystack). I'm not done inflicting my half-baked ideas on you. Merry Christmas. ;)

Anyway, after bringing up the issue of branding, what it is and why we do it, I thought it would be helpful to talk about some practical ways that author branding is achieved. I've seen it done poorly, and I've seen it transform careers. But whether or not you think it's a great idea or a pathetic attempt to peddle more books, I do believe that having a working understanding of branding is helpful to both aspiring authors and readers. Why? Well, if you hope to be a published author someday, I think you will be well served to have a firm grasp of who you are, what you write, and what sets you apart from the other 95% of the US population (yes, that's a true stat!) that longs to write a book, too. And if you read, I hope that this conversation opens your eyes to some of the marketing strategies authors and publishing houses use, and that the information you glean allows you to become a more informed reader eager to seek out the books and authors that will truly stir your soul (not necessarily the ones with big bucks behind their name).

So, how are authors branded? I honestly think it's part perception, part accident, part divine appointment, and only a small part intention. Let's deal with perception first.

Perception
Like it or not, it only takes a moment for someone to form a first impression of us. Our God-given looks, our self-imposed hairstyle, make-up application, and wardrobe, our personality, social skills and shortcomings are all pretty evident within the first five minutes we meet someone new. For an author, these things are summed up in a head shot. Or a video-interview. Or an encounter at a booksigning. And whether or not it's a true reflection of who we are, it is carefully orchestrated. Take a look at these author headshots. Can you guess who writes mystery/thrillers? Literary fiction? Women's fiction? (Do you know who these authors are? Take a guess in the comments!)







How others perceive us has to have something to do with our brand. I don't think I'd ever succeed as a female Stephen King. I'm not spooky enough. Nor do I want to be. Maybe this aspect of branding is much more organic to who we are than I'm giving it credit for.

If you're an aspiring author, ask yourself: Who am I? How do others perceive me? What about my looks/personality/interests/hobbies/etc. can I play up? What about me might readers be able to relate to? And if you're a reader, it doesn't hurt to be aware of what you're drawn to... The lovely lady in the final picture above (the one with the candy) so intrigued me that I bought her book simply because I loved her website and who I believed she was... And she remains a dear author to me because of her charm, whimsy, and wit. (You can see that about her in the photo, can't you?)

Accident
The second thing that I think contributes to brand is accident. Maybe that's not the perfect word for what I mean, but I do believe that at least some part of branding is more or less fated. It's who we are, like it or lump it. I consider these contributions to branding almost accidental because it's not like we set out to write this way. It just happened. For me, these characteristics of my writing include several things. The literary, almost poetic quality of my prose is not something I try to do. It's just how I write. In fact, when reviews started coming in for my debut novel and "poetic" seemed to be the buzzword, I was honored and completely stunned. I had no idea I was writing such lovely prose. My work also has a certain dramatic flair, an ability to connect deeply with human emotions. Again, I didn't set out to do that, and I was blown away when I started receiving emails from people telling me that I had written the words of their heart. Really? Cool.

If you're an aspiring writer, I advise you to take some time and try to identify those things in your writing that are just a part of who you are. Maybe you can't discern that for yourself... and maybe you shouldn't. I thought I was capable of writing humorous vignettes--until a few friends were kind enough to tell me that I simply wasn't funny. I'm not sure that we can always see ourselves clearly. Do you have a writing partner? Someone who critiques your work? Ask them what things stand out in your writing. What things set you apart that you may not have even realized? And if you read, what things are you drawn to in a good book? I long for lovely prose (maybe that's why it comes out in my work), a story that lingers in my heart long after I close the final chapter, and moments of vivid truth and beauty. How about you?

So this doesn't get too long, I'm going to finish the last two components of branding (divine appointment and intention) on Wednesday. Then, hopefully, I'll wrap this all up and move on to new things in the New Year. Believe it or not, I do think about more things than just branding. :) In the meantime, join the discussion! Am I right on or way off-base? If you're an aspiring author, are you beginning to piece together an "author identity" for yourself? If you're a reader, have you ever bought a book because you felt an affinity with the author? Do tell!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winner!

My son just picked a number between one and fifteen, and LORI is the winner of my Christmas giveaway! We didn't make it to twenty comments, but I'm going to give our winner two of my books anyway. Lori, please email me ASAP with your snail mail address and your choices of books (you may have two of the same one if you'd like).

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Giveaway



I have to interrupt our ongoing branding discussion (see my last two posts) to offer my readers an apology. The 15th of this month slipped by with nary a mention of my regular installation of The Grapevine--an author introduction and book giveaway that I launched this past July. Believe it or not, I had a post set to go, but unfortunately I programmed it to publish on the 25th of this month instead of the 15th. Oops. I must have been sleepy (or fat-fingered) when I typed that in. Any-hoo, I sincerely apologize. The following is a quick summary of what you were supposed to read on the 15th.

Since it is the holiday season and everyone is busy with parties, baking, gift-wrapping, get-togethers, and much-needed visits to both the chiropractor and family counselor, I'm not going to introduce you to a new author this month. Instead of asking an author friend or acquaintance to answer interview questions and send out one more gift package, I'm going to do it myself. I know a lot of you already have my books, but I do think they'd make a good Christmas present. :)

So, here's the deal. If 10 people leave a comment for a free book, I'll give one book away (reader's choice). If 20 people leave a comment, I'll give two books away (to the same person). If 30 people leave a comment, I'll give away my entire collection to someone. Signed, of course, with bookmarks and a Christmas card to top it all off. Since I'd like to get this package to you by Christmas, I'm going to have to make this one short. You have until Friday at noon to comment, then I'll announce the winner and send out the package on Friday afternoon (Saturday at the latest). You should have the books by early next week. Sound good? Leave a comment!

Author Branding (a needle in a haystack)



I brought up some issues in Monday's post that I'd like to revisit. To use my husband's #1 most reviled catchphrase: let's unpack this concept. Doesn't it just make you wanna gag? ;)

Back to branding... A few weeks ago I spent some serious time trying to identify themes in my body of work. As you may or may not know, I have three books in print, one awaiting publication, and two half-written. So who is Nicole Baart as an author? What does she write? And if I've read (and enjoyed) her first book (or her second or third), why might I also enjoy reading her other work? These were questions that I seriously wrestled with over the course of a long, contemplative weekend. Not because I want to make my name (or my brand) great, and certainly not because I want to diminish my art to some palatable tagline. My reasons are much more varied and complex. (Though I'd be a big, fat liar if I said all my reasons are pure as the driven snow. What author doesn't want a break-out bestseller???) From a statement I wrote after that soul-searching weekend:

"Branding is a concept that I’ve shied away from since signing my very first book contract three years ago. It seemed somehow unctuous, false and ingratiating as if I was trying to package and sell myself as a product. And I do think that some branding has that certain identifying trace of salesmanship that seems unnecessarily smarmy. But since the release of my debut novel, I’ve learned that proper packaging is not so much greasy peddling as it is truthful marketing. It’s about distinguishing the strength and passion of your work, and helping the right audience to discover the art that has been created just for them.

To that end, I’ve given a lot of thought to my own brand, and though I haven’t nailed down the perfect essence of what I write and why, I think that the body of my work is beginning to have a specific shape and purpose."

My brand (though I hate that particular term) is not something that I'm creating as much as it is something that I am discovering. I'm learning about myself and my work. I'm taking my passions seriously and trying to make connections between the many threads that tie my books together.

Why do I think this is so important? Well, my agent, editors, and other friends and professionals in the industry have told me so. But really, I think it's rather commonsense. Most people don't walk into a bookstore and say, "Where can I find Ford County?" They say, "I'm looking for the newest John Grisham." Or Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Michael Crichton, James Patterson, Anne Rice, Mary Higgins Clark... You get my drift.

There are certain authors whose books I will always and forever buy just because of the name on the cover page. Elizabeth Strout, Leif Enger, Sarah Addison Allen, Anne Patchett, Donald Miller, and Robb Bell are just a few of the authors who have (for one reason or another) stolen my heart. I want to own all of their books, lined up neat and pretty on my bookshelves, even if every book isn't a five-star. Why is that? The answer isn't necessarily easy to ascertain, but I think it's partly because there is something honest about their writing that resonates deep inside of me--even if I'm not always wowed by the story.

What I would like to do is find the readers that are going to resonate with what I write... Like a needle in a haystack, right? Stay tuned--I'll explore different ways to do this on Friday.

If you're a writer: Have you spent some time struggling through these questions yourself? Can you identify even one thing that sets your writing (your books) apart? What aspect of your identity as an author do you think you could play up?

If you're a reader: What authors are you "loyal" to? Who gets shelf space in your home, even if the books aren't necessarily your all-time favorites? Why do you think that is?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Branding (not the cow kind)



Growing up in a rural, farming community, my definition of a brand included a hot iron and a cow's backside. Granted, this may have more to do with cowboy movies than reality--I'm not sure I've ever seen a cow being branded in real life. Thank goodness. Sure I dehorned, immunized, wrangled and medicated my fair share of bovines in my brief and never realized (but very exciting) journey to becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine, but I never participated in the act of branding one of my four-legged friends. I think if they could, they would thank me for that small act of grace.

Funny thing is, in my two years working as a ranch hand on a dairy, I never gave branding a second thought. And now, as a veteran wife, mother of two, and fledgling novelist, the concept of branding is something I wrestle with on a regular basis. Of course, my definition has changed a bit.

So what is branding? I found this excellent (and concise) definition at BusinessDictionary.com: Branding is the... "Entire process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product (good or service--books, in my case) in the consumers' mind, through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers."

There are lots of words in that definition that jump out at me: unique, consistent, significant and differentiated presence, loyal customers. The more I write, and the more I deal with publishers, agents, and other industry professionals, the more I'm starting to understand that if I hope to do this gig long-term, I need to figure out just exactly who I am and what I write. What makes my books unique? What about my writing will help me create a significant and differentiated presence in the vast (and ever-growing) publishing market?

According to R.R. Bowker's publishing statistics, there were 407,000 books published in 2007. That's a significant year to me because it is the year that my first book, After the Leaves Fall, was released. My sweet, little debut is lost somewhere amid that overwhelming mass of books. Think about it. How many books do you read in a year? I manage probably one a week. That's 52 books a year--only a miniscule fraction of all that was available in 2007. And more books just keep coming and coming and coming...

Okay, I do have a point to all this musing, but it's going to take me a couple of days to flesh it all out. In the meantime, I want to leave you with some questions to mull over.

If you are a writer: What is unique, different, or attractive about your writing? What sets you apart? If you had to write a one or two-line branding statement, what would it be?

If you're a reader: Do you notice different "brands" in books? What brands are you drawn to? Do you think that creating a brand is a good idea? Or does it limit authors and create cookie-cutter books?

Join the conversation! I can't wait to hear what you have to say.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gift Ideas



So I wrapped presents for an hour straight yesterday and I can officially say: I'm done! Well, almost. I have one more itty-bitty thing to wrap, but I'm not counting it. I can do that. It's my tally.

Anyway, as I think I've already shared, we're pared back Christmas at the Baart house this year. Not that it has ever been a big, extravagant ordeal, but somehow it made sense to simplify even more in 2009. So why did it take me an hour to wrap our presents??? Mostly because we love the little things. Books, slippers, games for the family... Five to ten dollar items that quickly become treasures. I'm all about the small stuff, but I have to admit that whileI adore scented lotions, boxes of gourmet chocolate, and bottles of special wine, nothing fits the gift-giving bill more perfectly in my mind than a good book. Don't have all your shopping done this year? I have a few good ideas for you. The following are some of my favorite reads of 2009. There's a little something for everyone...





For Anyone & Everyone
After the Leaves Fall (Nicole Baart)
Summer Snow (Nicole Baart)
The Moment Between (Nicole Baart)

What?!? You don't own my books yet? What's wrong with you?!? They'd make a perfect Christmas present--to give or get. Okay, I'm done with my shameless plug now.



For the Kids
Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid (Megan McDonald)

Judy Moody's little brother James (Stink) is the perfect misfit and a source of great delight for my boys. Though my youngest is only three, he loves the slapstick gags and cartoonish pictures. And my six-year-old is riveted by the storyline. A great way to introduce slightly older kids to reading.



For the Family Theologian
The Furious Longing of God (Brennan Manning)

A self-proclaimed ragamuffin, recovering alcoholic, and former monk, Brennan Manning offers wisdom, insight, and moments of grace in this beautiful, beautiful book. I wept throughout, and felt like a changed women when I turned the final page.



For Mom
Land of a Hundred Wonders (Lesley Kagen)

A perfectly delightful story about Gibby, a young woman who is NQR (Not Quite Right) after a tragic accident kills both her parents and leaves her suffering the side effects of a traumatic brain injury. Determined to become QR (Quite Right), this tenacious, self-proclaimed reporter finds herself enmeshed in a small town tangle of lies, deceit, and murder. This is a fast, fun read that reminded me of a grown-up Nancy Drew. (However, be forewarned that this book is not rated G. Some language and sexual references might make it inappropriate for your mother.)



For Your Erudite Older Sister
The Master Butcher's Singing Club (Louise Erdrich)

Gorgeous prose and a story steeped in heartbreak make this book a powerful read. It's epic in scope, and so hauntingly well-told that I ached reading it in parts. Our main character, Delphine, is caught in the middle of impossible relationships where she is both exquisitely loved yet agonizingly alone. A must read. (Also not rated G.)



For Your Hubby
In the Woods (Tana French)

This creepy, psychological thriller kept me turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. That's no small feat--I like my sleep. When a young girl is murdered near a small town in Ireland, Detective Rob Ryan is put on the case. It doesn't take long for him to realize that the case he's working is frighteningly similar to his own childhood horror--a night twenty years ago when two of his best friends went missing and he was found blood soaked and incoherent, with no memories of what had transpired. Though the ending of this book is a little to vague for my liking, the book itself was compelling enough for me to consider it a great read.



For You (& Me)
The Help (Kathryn Stockett)

I haven't read this book yet but my agent (and numerous others) told me that it's hands down one of the best books she's read in a long time. It's on my list, but I haven't put down the dough for it quite yet. Maybe it'll be a little Christmas present to myself.

Happy holiday shopping!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow & Sweets



Talk about a winter wonderland. There's a blizzard raging just outside my window, and with an afghan on my lap and the Christmas tree twinkling away, I couldn't ask for a prettier sight. I absolutely love winter. For the duration of a storm or two. Then I hate it. Fickle, aren't I?

I may curse snow come January, but right now I'm really enjoying the swirling flakes. They're piling up slowly but steadily--we're supposed to have 7-10 inches by tomorrow morning. Makes me want hot cocoa, a good book, and a batch of warm Christmas cookies.

Thankfully, I have all those things. And some bonus goodies too--a puppy asleep beside me and my boys playing games on the floor.

Anyway, I'm going to share my favorite Christmas recipe with you. I made a batch of these this morning and as soon as I'm done blogging you can bet I'll have one. So yummy... They combine my two holiday favorites: turtles and shortbread. Wish I could pass one through the computer to you.

Hope it's winter wonderlandy wherever you are!

*     *     *     *     *




Turtle Shortbread

1 cup butter, softened (no substitutes!)
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups flour
caramels
4 premium chocolate bars
pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Add egg yolks. Stir well. Add flour. Incorporate flour with a wooden spoon or spatula. When you can't work with the dough anymore, turn it onto an unfloured surface and knead until smooth. (If the dough is too sticky to do this, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes or until firm enough to knead.) Form the dough into small balls. Place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball of dough. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven. Fill thumbprint with 1/2 a caramel. Return to the oven for 1-2 minutes more. Let the cookies cool completely. While the cookies are cooling, melt 4 chocolate bars (I use Dove Dark Chocolate). When the cookies are cool, dip the tops in chocolate or use a spoon to drizzle chocolate on the cookies. Immediately place 1/2 a pecan in the chocolate.

These are sinfully good. If I were Catholic, I'd have to go to confession after eating one. ;) It would still be worth it!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Scrooge



An 8-foot balsam pine is twinkling in the space between our dining room and family room. The short banister is wrapped in great swags of evergreen, twined with crimson cords and sprinkled with snowflakes that leave glitter on my shoulders when I pass. I've resurrected the Christmas CDs and downloaded them to our iPod--even now Third Day serenades me with O Come All Ye Faithful. I've already made cookies (Peanut Blossoms, the best ever), sought out my favorite toffee recipe, and ordered the requisite Christmas cards. They're beautiful, by the way. Everyone is smiling just so...

Christmas is in full swing at the Baart house. And I love Christmas. So why am I feeling so... blah?

I could blame it on the fact that right now I'm facing uncertainty in both my professional and personal life. That's enough to throw someone off-game, right? Or I could lament the sad truth that Aaron and I have been busy with a capital B, something you know I've been struggling with (and working on) for some time now. Maybe it's that as the holiday season approaches, we are apart from family and friends in British Columbia... Any way you cut it, Christmas does have a certain bittersweet edge to it, doesn't it?

Whether it's warranted or not, I can't help feeling like a bit of a Scrooge. It's not that I didn't relish picking out and decorating our tree with my sons. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't close my eyes every time I bite into one of those perfectly Decemberish peanutbuttery cookies... Bliss. Yet even with these quiet sparks of cheer, I know that this season I more closely resemble a bah-humbug recluse than Christmas Barbie with a Santa apron and a maxed-out credit card.

Guess what? I'm okay with that. Go ahead and call me Scrooge. Remember the story? He faced himself, dug deep and learned things about himself and the world that most people don't have the courage to confront. It was a journey, but he was a changed man after he walked that arduous path.

I feel like I've been doing a lot of waiting this year. How fitting that as we journey through Advent, I'm waiting yet again. Waiting for news. Waiting for a positive report. Waiting for the days to pass... Waiting. Expecting. Hoping. Worrying. Praying.

Believe it or not, it's a good place to be. A hard place to be, for sure. But I'm hoping that a journey of refinement is just what I need. I'm already looking forward to Christmas Day... In a quiet, reflective sort of way.

How about you? Do you ooze candy canes and tinsel from your pores? Or are you a quiet Christmas observer? How is the holiday season hitting you this year?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twilight



It's true. I've read the books. I've even watched the movies--both of them. And though I've spent a rather significant chunk of my life (hours I can never get back!) immersed in Stephanie Meyer's monster-laden world, I'm still at odds with myself. Do I love the Twilight books? Hate them? Is it possible to be somewhere in between?

Even as I skimmed entire chapters, rolled my eyes at the one-dimensional characters, and looked over my shoulder obsessively to make sure that no one was taking note of my choice of literature (term loosely applied), I couldn't stop myself from reading. Getting caught up in the Twilight books was like watching a train wreck--I couldn't look away, even when I wanted to.

Mrs. Meyer knows how to string an audience along, that's for sure.

But the longer I read (and watched), the less I could ignore the slightly sour taste in my mouth... It was easy to dismiss my misgivings as natural disdain for the billowing plot, the gag-inducing love scenes, the tepid characters. And yet, those were the same things that kept me reading. The implausible twists and turns, love-you-forever moments, and bumblingly (is that a word?) endearing characters drew me in. It was something else that made me chew my fingernails as I experienced Meyer's fictional world.

It wasn't until I saw New Moon in the theater this past week that I finally put my finger on it. For two hours I watched Bella Swan abuse herself, risk her life, and alienate everyone around her when she sunk into an obviously destructive depression after the love of her life, Edward Cullen, left her. It was supposed to be romantic. I thought it was moronic. And it unraveled for me the root of my unease when it comes to the Twilight series: it's got love all wrong.

I could categorize all the things I think this series screws up when it comes to love and relationships, but I'm going to point you in the direction of a well-written and funny blog that already does just that. I encourage you to take a moment to check out 20 Unfortunate Things Girls Learn from Twilight. The writers highlight many of the frustrations I have with the Twilight books, from "it’s OK for a potential romantic interest to be dimwitted, violent and vengeful--as long as he has great abs," to "if a boy tells you to stay away from him because he is dangerous and may even kill you, he must be the love of your life. You should stay with him since he will keep you safe forever." Check it out.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing this post to bash the Twilight books or Stephanie Meyer. I think it's pretty obvious that she's reached an enormous audience with her unusual love story. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the books. But I'm not ready for the young women of our world to swallow this tale whole. Bella might swoon when her vampire love tells her that he's been following her, watching her, and creeping uninvited into her bedroom at night. But, Honey, if your boyfriend tells you that, I suggest you skip the swoon and file for a restraining order. Just my two cents...
 
What do you think? Have you read the Twilight series? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Grapevine: Winner!



Thanks to http://www.random.org/, we have our winner. Laura was the 11th person who commented on Lisa's post... Congratulations! You've won My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay. Please email me with your snail mail address. And please do so soon! Lisa is off to Australia next week... Lucky girl.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Hope it's filled with family, gratitude, and, of course, turkey.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Up to Speed

I'm going to take a little time today to clear up some odds and ends. It's been a while since I've blogged because our family... (wait for it)... finally got sick! I've been bragging that we're so healthy this year--and of course, no sooner are the words out of my mouth than my oldest spikes a fever. Poetic justice, I suppose. Anyway, I've hardly left the house much less spent time on the numerous projects I've got on the go. Including my blog. Sorry for the silence.

Anyway, I'm a bit bummed to see that only seven people have commented on Lisa's post! I don't think you realize how amazing this book (and this author) are. Come on, winning a free book would be like getting a Christmas present before December! Like treating yourself to a much needed mani-pedi! Like taking a bubble bath for hours on end replete with champagne and strawberries! Like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... I'm babbling. Just go back to the Lisa McKay post and leave a comment. I'll draw a winner tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon.



Also, I wanted to take a few minutes to revisit my musings on the contemplative life. It seems that this is a theme I keep coming back to--both in my blog and in my day-to-day life. I guess I really do long for simplicity. At any rate, I believe that these sorts of undertakings (like most anything in life) are better explored within the context of community. So you're my on-line community, and I'm going to share some of the changes I'm making with you.

After much prayer and contemplation, I've decided that there are some very specific things I can do to slow myself down. Here are a few that I'm committed to:

*I will spend no more than 45 minutes on the internet every day. This is a big thing for me--I tend to get sucked into the abyss that is the world wide web. Doing what? you ask. Here's the kicker: I have absolutely no idea. Reading blogs, checking my email, goofing around on Facebook. What a waste of time. My new mantra is: Do what you need to do as quickly as you can do it and get out! So far, it's been awesome. I spent an hour yesterday playing hockey with my boys instead of staring at my computer screen.

*I will shut off all electronics at 10:00pm. Computer, TV, iPod... you name it. The Baarts go unplugged at 10. That leaves me time to read, talk with my husband, take a long bath, or go to bed early.

*I will focus on meaningful face-to-face contact whenever I can. Our high tech society makes it so easy to hold our friends and family at arm's length. I commit to chosing the phone conversation over the quick email as much as possible, and I commit to making face-to-face interactions my top priority.

*I will stop being so hard on myself. I'm the queen of family meals--it means a lot to me that our family comes together at the end of every day and has a meal together. But I need to realize that it doesn't have to be gourmet every night. My son told his teacher a few days ago that so far this week we had eaten French, Korean, and Thai. She told me, "Wow! You're a busy mom!" It was a moment of epiphany for me. At least once a week I think the Baarts would survive with sandwiches and soup (from a can--gasp!). Of course, this is just one area where I need to lighten up, but you get the picture.

Okay, so there are a few things I'm working on. How about you? Do you have any tips, tricks, or ideas for a woman seeking a little simplicity? I'd love to hear what works for you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Grapevine: Lisa McKay

It may be a few days late, but, believe me, this month's edition of The Grapevine was worth the wait! ;)



Today I'm introducing the beautiful, talented, and extremely witty Lisa McKay. Lisa was my very first author friend, and she remains my writing BFF. We met online, and then met in person a couple years ago at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing. It was (for lack of a better word) serendipitous. We think alike, write alike, and are passionate about similar things. I can't say enough good things about her!

Lisa was born in Canada to Australian parents, but she grew up in Australia, Bangladesh, the States, and Zimbabwe. She has also been, quite literally, all over the world working for the Headington Institute (a non-profit organization that provides psychological and spiritual support to humanitarian aid workers). Lisa has trained in forensic psychology and has her masters in international peace studies. Are you intimidated yet? You shouldn't be... Though her intellect is astounding, so is her heart. Lisa is simply amazing.



Her debut novel My Hands Came Away Red is a work of art. From the back cover copy:

Thinking largely of escaping a complicated love-life and having fun on the beach, eighteen-year old Cori signs up for a ten-week trip to help build a church on a remote island in Indonesia.

Six weeks into the trip, a conflict that has been simmering for years flames to deadly life on the nearby island of Ambon. Before they can leave, Cori and her teammates find themselves caught up in the destructive wave of violence washing over the Christian and Muslim villages in the area. Within days the church they helped build is a smoldering pile of ashes, its pastor and many of the villagers dead, and the six teenagers are forced to flee into the hazardous refuge of the mountains with only the pastor's son to guide them.

As the team hikes through the jungle, Cori's search for spiritual answers and emotional stability proves just as difficult as the physical journey home.

I loved this book. Simply loved it. It's like nothing I've ever read before, and Lisa handled the unknown with grace and compassion. Though I've never been to Indonesia, I was with Cori in the jungle of Ambon. Not only is the story compelling, Lisa's prose is beautiful. There's a reason Publisher's Weekly called My Hands Came Away Red "one of the best Christian fiction books of the year."

Lisa has graciously agreed to give away a signed copy of her excellent to one of my readers! Leave a comment--you don't want to miss this one. And please takes some time to check out Lisa's fantastic website. Her essays are sometimes poignant, sometimes light-hearted, but always hilarious.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Refreshed

Sigh. Retreats are wonderful...

I just got back from a couple of days at a cabin in Minnesota. Amazing company, great conversation, gourmet food, beautiful views, and restful nights all worked together to make me feel like a new person. It was awesome.

I'm so relaxed that I'm not going to worry about blogging right now. Instead, I'll leave you with a few photos and the promise that the November edition of the Grapevine will go up on Thursday. Thanks so much for your patience. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bubble bath waiting... ;)



This was just one of the gourmet entrees we enjoyed. It's Mary's special chicken in a white wine and garlic sauce. Sooo yummy. We also had Tosca's Korean ribs and potstickers, crab and asparagus quiche, crepes with Nutella and rasperries, crusty breads, rich soups, and fresh salads. In short, we feasted.



This is the view from an island where we went hiking. The weather was beautiful for November in Minnesota--sunny, still, and almost warm. Well, I thought it was warmish. Mary (a Texan transplant), not so much. :)





Tosca talked me and Mary into posing for a few promo shots. I was stiff as a board and miserable to photograph, but Mary was gorgeous in every way!



Here we are posing for the ten-second timer on my camera. I set it on a park bench, propped it with a stick, and voila! A digital masterpiece.

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Question for you: Where is YOUR favorite place to retreat? I'd love to hear what leaves you feeling refreshed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Checking in...



Thanks so much for all your thoughtful responses to my post on the contemplative life. It seems I'm not the only one who struggles with balance! I want to respond to all of you more in-depth, and I'd like to share a few changes I've decided to make in my own life, but I'm afraid that dialogue will have to wait. Ironically enough, I'm too busy right now to blog about un-busying my life. He-he-he!

The truth of the matter is, I'm on my way to a cabin in Minnesota for a much-needed writer's retreat. Some good friends are joining me for a few days of conversation and fellowship, as well as a little shop talk and maybe even some work. Anyway, I had grand intentions of blogging before I left, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen. I'm going unplugged! There's no TV and no internet at the cabin, so I'm off-radar for a few days. Wow, that sounds good.

In addition to putting our conversation on hold, I'm going to have to postpone our monthly edition of The Grapevine. Don't worry--it's coming! It's just going to be a couple of days late. You're mid-month, book-giveaway, author introduction, and all-around pick-me-up blog post will be coming Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. Stop back then to meet another amazing author and her equally fabulous work (plus a chance to win a free book, of course)! And stay tuned for more on trying to unravel the contemplative life. I think we have much to offer each other... I read this passage once about iron sharpening iron...? ;)

Hugs!
Nicole

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Contemplative Life



I've known for a long time that I am operating at a pace that is undeniably unsustainable. I run hither and yon, usually well-dressed and put together in a car that I keep tidy and gassed up, with a neat list of To-Do items penciled in a planner that is both cute and practical. Affix smile to my face and voila! I am Superwoman, or at least, a small-town, Midwestern version of a modern day Everywoman.

When I'm not writing (which is only twice a week), I'm cleaning, doing laundry, getting groceries, cooking, baking, shuttling kids to and from activities, leading one Bible study, attending another, heading up the children's church ministry, blogging, walking the dog, potty training the three-year-old, working on One Body One Hope media (including capital campaign packets, blog, website, and mailings), assisting in the 501(c)3 process for tax-exempt status from the IRS, playing hockey with my boys, and trying to find time to cuddle with my equally busy husband. It's ridiculous.

And it's unnecessary.

Aaron's chapel message yesterday was called "Suffocation." It was exactly what I needed to hear... Almost all of us in today’s world feel the pressure of deadlines, the shrinking of free time in our schedules, and an all round busyness that exceeds sustainability. So why is it that amidst the most advanced time-saving devices ever created, we have less time than ever before? In fact, we often feel scheduled to the point of suffocation. Some call it burnout. Where does this need for busyness come from and what aspects of it are really within our own control?

I learned that there are two reasons for my overly scheduled, outrageously busy life. #1 - I am lazy. #2 - I am vain. Ouch. That's not exactly what I wanted to hear. But it was exactly what I needed to hear.

In Eugene Peterson's book The Contemplative Pastor, he outlines two reasons that we find ourselves stuck in the grind of a hyper-busy schedule. The first is that we're lazy--we don't have the discipline to put first things first in our lives. Instead of getting our priorities straight, we pick away at the little stuff because the big things (relationships, true worship, giving ourselves to our calling, etc.) are big and scary and sometimes seem insurmountable. So, instead of writing, I check email. Instead of spending time with my boys, I wipe the kitchen counters for the bazillionth time. I've decided I'm 40% lazy. But there's another part to the equation: Vanity. Vanity sneaks in when we want people to think that we're important, that our lives are worth something. That we are irreplacable. Thus the long list of duties that I vainly included at the beginning of this blog post. Though I don't like to admit it, that's my pride shining through. See what I do? See how busy, how important I am? I think I'm 60% vain.

Sad, isn't it? I've been so proud of my busyness... Of my ability to balance everything and still have time to wash my hair. But it's not the way that I want to live. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels dissatisfied with a pace of life that only seems to get faster and faster.

So, what to do? Unbusy myself, of course. But how??? Any suggestions? Ideas? Is your life simple? Or do you fit somewhere on that Lazy-Vain spectrum? Care to share?

I feel like this dialogue is far from over--both in my personal life and beyond. I'm not sure what that means, but I do promise to pass on any great ideas that crop up, offer encouragement, and let you know about any changes that are working in my life. If you'd like to join the conversation, I'd love to hear from you. You can listen to Aaron's chapel here if you feel so inclined. Or you can point me in the direction of somewhere that you've gained wisdom and perspective. Goodness knows I need it. ;)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

National Adoption Month



November is National Adoption Month, and you had to know that I wouldn't let the month pass without writing about something so close to my heart!

Adoption has been a part of my personal landscape for as long as I can remember... I think God just puts a call on some people and you're stuck with a deep love for orphans from a very young age. Thankfully, Aaron's heart beats in tune with mine, and--small as our contributions may be--we work hard to do what we can.

I strongly believe that if you are anti-abortion then you have to be pro-adoption. And it doesn't work to say, "Well, adoption is not for me and my family..." because then you're in the murky water of choice. Isn't that sticky little word what got us in the pro and anti mess in the first place? I'm not necessarily saying that every God-fearing family should be an adoptive family (though I do think that sometimes). But I do believe that every God-fearing family has a calling (yes, you read that right) a calling to care for the orphans that death, disease, unplanned pregnancy, poverty, and brokenness have left behind. The Bible is pretty clear on it. Check out this excellent blog if you want to know what God specifically has to say about the plight of the orphan.

Anyway, I encourage you this month to spend some time discerning the call that God is placing on your heart concerning the 145 million orphans in the world. Did you catch that number? 145 million. It's staggering. Maybe he's asking you to prepare your heart and your home. (Adoption is awesome! Better than beaches, rollercoasters, kittens, Christmas, and ice cream all put together.) Maybe as Thanksgiving approaches you're being asked to examine all you've been given... And to contribute in some way to an orphan ministry. Maybe your future holds foster parenting, or a mission trip, or volunteer hours in a crisis pregnancy center. I believe with all my heart that the answer will never be: "No, I don't need you here." Of course he does.

I'll leave you with a few stats to chew on and some great links. I encourage you to spend some time checking out these websites and awesome ministries. It may not be as fun as checking Facebook for the hundredth time today, but it'll be a lot more meaningful.

Blessings to you.

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Total international adoptions to the United States: 17,438
Guatemala: 4,123
China: 3,909
Russia: 1,861
Ethiopia: 1,725
Thailand: 59
(Source: Intercountry Adoption, Office of Children's Issues, US Department of State)

  • The most recent estimate is that there are approximately 145 million orphans in the world (UNICEF 2008). For this number, an orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents.  
  • More than 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, over 11.6 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In 2007 67.5 million Children in South Asia and East Asia had lost one or both parents due to all causes.
  • The UNICEF orphan numbers DON’T include abandonment (millions of children) as well as sold and/or trafficked children.
  • The UNICEF orphan numbers DON’T include many non-reporting nations (namely, Middle Eastern Islamic nations) where shame and divorce abandonment are rampant. 200,000 + orphans in Iraq, for instance, are not part of the count.
  • According to data released in 2003 as many as eight million boys and girls around the world live in institutional care. Some studies have found that violence in residential institutions is six times higher than violence in foster care, and that children in group care are almost four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children in family based care.
  • As of 2002 in Europe and Central Asia, over one million children lived in residential institutions.
  • Worldwide an estimated 300 million children are subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse, including the worst forms of child labour in communities, schools and institutions, during armed conflict, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage.
  • In the US there are approximately 500,000 children in foster care (Based on data submitted by states as of January 16, 2008)
  • 130,000 of those children in foster care are waiting and available for adoption. Children waiting to be adopted include children with a goal of adoption and/or whose parental rights have been terminated. Children whose parental rights have been terminated, who are 16 years old and older, and who have a goal of emancipation are excluded from the “waiting” population. An individual child is included in the count for each year that he or she has these characteristics on the last day of the year.
  • Approximately 51,000 children are adopted from the foster system each year.
  • That leaves 79,000 children annually in the US needing an adoptive family.
 (Source: ABBA Fund Blog)

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Links:
Katelyn's Fund - We received a grant from them to help fund our adoption.
ABBA Fund - An excellent adoption resource.
Lydia Fund -We also received a grant from this great organization.
Acacia Village - Our adoption agency founded this important project.
One Body One Hope - Our non-profit.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

News, Take II

I promised I'd post more news today, and though it may be late in the day I'm keeping my word! I know you've been waiting by the computer with bated breath. Ha. Hopefully, you've spent your Saturday like I spent mine: basking in the November sun. Yup, it was 70 degrees in my little corner of creation today. We had burgers for supper and I made wine spritzers in honor of our quasi-summer day. It was bea-stinkin'-utiful. Wow.

Anyway, you've already heard my personal news: the launch of our One Body One Hope capital campaign. Very exciting stuff. But now I'm dying to share my professional news...

I get emails on a weekly basis from readers who have enjoyed After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow. It's so much fun to hear from people who connected with my Julia DeSmit. She's a honey. But at some point in the conversation or correspondence, I'm always asked the same question: Are you going to write a third book and finish the series? The answer, 18 months after the release of Summer Snow is...

YES!

I'm currently working on a third Julia book, due for publication in 2011. I know that sounds like it's far away, but Tyndale and I have lots of fun things planned in the meantime... You're just going to have to be patient until this spring. I'm eager to share more details with you, and I promise I will a bit at a time. The two things I can tell you right now are that Julia's story will finally find resolution and you will play a part in it. I'm soooo excited! :)

In the meantime, if you haven't read Leaves or Snow, now's the time! The third book is going to be full of suspense and surprises... I think you'll want to be a part of it. Maybe you can even help me title it. In light of the first two titles, what should I call the final installment of Julia's story? I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions!

Have a blessed Sunday.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

News, Take I



Well, I told you a while ago that I had some fun news. Things that were going on in my professional and my personal life. Instead of inundating you with everything at once, I'm going to break it up a bit. A little today, a little Saturday, and maybe a smidge more after that. We'll see. Sorry to be so cryptic! I don't mean to tease...

Anyway, we're going to get things started today with the official announcement of our One Body One Hope capital campaign! Woot-woot! For those of you who have been reading my blog for any amount of time, OBOH isn't new. But the growth and direction of this ministry is continuing to amaze us! It feels new every day. For those of you who haven't heard of OBOH, let me explain.

OBOH began nearly three years ago (almost to the day!) when Aaron and I were in Ethiopia bringing home our son. We stayed in a missionary guest house with a group of people from all over Africa who were in Addis Ababa to attend a Lifewater International conference. One of the gentlemen there was a man named Robert Bimba, a pastor from Monrovia, Liberia. Aaron and Robert became fast friends, and when we left Ethiopia we cemented our relationship with a promise to partner with Robert in any way we could. At first, we helped by starting our own one-on-one sponsorship program--basically Aaron and I sent aid directly to Robert for his family and his church. Then the dry season hit and Abide in the Vine (Robert's church) was full of people who were quite literally starving. Our first food drive happened in February of 2007. We raised $1500 to buy rice for the church and the community. In the summer, we sent another $1500 for rice. Soon, this developed into a quarterly food drive program. From there, things snowballed. People started to get excited about what we were doing, and they asked how they could help. When even more donors stepped forward, we contacted Robert and asked him where the greatest need was. Without pause, he told us about his brother, Immanuel, and the orphanage that he and his wife ran. We listened in horror as we learned about children who were found clinging to dead parents after the civil war that ravaged Liberia. We heard of child soldiers, guerrilla warfare, AIDS, and epidemics. We learned that they slept three to a bed, ate one, scant meal a day, and suffered from malaria and other unidentified illnesses without proper care or medication. It broke our hearts, and led to the creation of One Body One Hope.

You can learn more about OBOH at our website (currently under construction!) or on our new blog. We are so excited about this ministry and where it is going that we've launched a $50,000 capital campaign in addition to the $1,500 a month we currently transfer to Liberia. I invite you to spend some time learning more. Head on over to the blog, click on Our History, Our Vision, and Our Invitation. Or peruse the selection of Christmas gifts that we're offering this year. Please join us in praying for these beautiful people and this amazing country, and become a follower of this blog so you can get regular updates and learn more.

Thanks so much for your time and interest! Blessings to you...


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finally Fall



The sun is shining, the breeze is light, and the leaves are gorgeous in all their autumn glory. I love fall, and it's finally here...

I should be writing. I should be working on fundraising calendars for One Body, One Hope. I should be revamping the OBOH website. I should be cleaning or cooking or washing the last of my windows... But I can't. It's too lovely. So I'm going to take my puppy and my kids for a walk, kick my feet through the perfect crunch of fallen leaves, and love the fact that the sky is so blue it cannot be described. Sigh.

I hope the sun is shining wherever you are...




Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review of TMB



Though it pains me to admit this, I don't think that The Moment Between is selling very well. It breaks my heart a little--not just because I want to sell books and keep writing, but because this is a book that I put my very soul into. And I believe with all my heart that The Moment Between deals with topics that are worthy of earnest discussion. I can't help feeling like I'm having a one-sided conversation. Boo-hoo for me, eh? ;)

Anyway, I never, NEVER do this, but just this once I'm going to wear my hope on my sleeve (or on my blog, as it were). If you've read TMB and liked it, would you consider posting a review? Or buying an extra copy for a friend? Or recommending it to a book club, your library, or strangers you pass on the street? Would you consider joining my Facebook page? And if you haven't read TMB, maybe you could slip it on your Christmas list in between a resort vacation and new undies... I'm just sayin'. Of course, you can always click on over to B&N, Amazon, or CBD and just buy it yourself.

Yargh. I did it. And I can't help feeling just the tiniest bit smarmy. But I love my job and I want to do it until I'm no longer capable of holding a pen. Only you can make that possible for me. In the words of He-Man: "You have the power!" He-he-he...

I'll leave you with a couple of reviews that I tuck close to my heart. They're lovely, and they're just enough encouragement to keep me striving to write better and better.

"All I have to say is "oh my goodness!" When I picked up the book at Borders yesterday, the first thing I noticed is that Francine Rivers gave it a fabulous review. Knowing Francine to be a beautiful authoress whose pen has blessed me with Truth warped in lyrical words, I decided to buy it. I was taken aback on the first page. I have never read a Christian novel so stunningly written! The lyricism of the words, the emotion welling up in me as I read of Abigail’s painful journey, the stark poetry of describing both joy and pain—wow! So many times people have a stereotype of Christian fiction being simple minded, poorly written, and idyllic. This novel, along with a few others, have broken that stereotype for me--forever. I can only hope our sister writes much more in the years to come." (David Alves, posted on CBD)

"Nicole Baart has dug a knife into the chilling fibers of habitual practices in humans. Stringing obsession, intent to kill, self-mutilation, and mental illness in the same line of thread, Baart crafted a story of redemption, discovering grace, and reconciling forgiveness amongst her heartbreaking tale of two broken sisters and a family unraveling with age. Her writing is lyrical, honest, and daring; her literary approach refreshing. She births characters so powerfully and animatedly, it's hard not to believe they are real, genuine people. Hailey Bennett was perhaps the most crafted and thought-provoking character. Baart welded a harrowing battle of spiritual pursuit within Hailey, that answered every "why" question concerning her motives and actions. Though, psychologically crooked and nonsensical, Hailey is marvelous in her faith and aggression. You'll root for her journey and she will ultimately break your heart, but she initiates a journey for her sister, Abigail, who will find an acceptance and peace that makes up for Hailey's sorrow." (Eleym Beigh, posted on B&N)


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ongerijpt



So I had to share the awesome cover of the Dutch translation of The Moment Between. Isn't it beautiful? Haunting somehow. I just love it. And I love the translated title... I had a hard time tracking down the meaning of Ongerijpt, but I finally managed it. The Dutch title? Unripened. Cool, eh? If you've read The Moment Between, you know Unripened is extremely fitting. And if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? It's only a click away... Come on, you know you want to. Save a struggling artist and all that jazz. ;)

BTW, stay tuned for a very exciting announcement this weekend!!! I'm dying to share, but must drag out the suspense a smidge longer. See you then!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cherry Cream Pie

In light of creating something from nothing (my last post) I thought I'd share my most recent culinary creation. I love messing around in the kitchen. Notice I don't say "cooking" or "baking"--mostly because I love doing them both, but also because sometimes my results are tragically messy. And sometimes they're pretty stinkin' good. Like this one. :)

On Sunday morning before church I had this wild notion that I just had to bake another pie for lunch. We go to my parents for traditional "Sunday Dinner," and I had already made a French Silk Pie. It was plenty for the ten of us. But as I showered I couldn't stop thinking about another pie... So I raided my pantry and refrigerator and came up with a frozen pie shell, a can of cherry pie filling, and a block of cream cheese. I created Niki's Cherry Cream Pie. And I'm so glad I did! Some friends of ours showed up unexpectedly in church and our lunch crowd grew exponentially. Now tell me that wasn't God nudging me with visions of pie!

Enjoy! This is really, really yummy...



Cherry Cream Pie

1 frozen pie crust
1 can cherry pie filling (reserve 1-2 tbsp. of sauce)
1 8 oz. block cream cheese
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar (less or more to personal taste)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 carton whipped cream (divided in half)

Fill pie crust with cherry pie filling and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. The pie is done when the crust turns golden brown. While pie is baking, let the cream cheese soften on the counter. When it's soft enough to whip, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a small mixing bowl until creamy. Add the reserved cherry sauce to turn it pink. Blend in half of the whipped cream until the mixture is light and fluffy. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled cherry pie. Top with remaining whipped cream. Serve each piece with a maraschino cherry.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Something from Nothing



Thanks for putting up with my snarkiness this past week or so. Praise the Lord, the sun shone bright and brilliant for the last few days and I'm a new person. I had no idea I was so affected by the weather... Maybe I do need to move south. Possibly Tahiti? ;)

Anyway, I have lots of news and updates, some changes in both my personal life and my writing life, but they'll have to wait just a bit. Exciting stuff, all of it, and as soon as I can spill the beans you'll be the first to know. In the meantime, I'm writing a new book. No, not the airplane one (you can read about that idea here). This is a totally new and unexpected idea. I think you're going to like it.

But as I sit before a blank sheet of paper, new pen gripped firmly in hand, I'm astounded once again at the act of creating something out of nothing. I have ideas of course (in fact, I have pretty much the entire story straight in my head), but breathing life into all these abstracts is an overwhelming endeavor. Exciting, but intimidating. Thrilling, but terrifying.

It's not just a matter of getting the characters right. Or the setting, or the plot. It's not about having a great hook or meaningful symbolism woven throughout. It's about the things you can't quantify--the cadence of the words, the sweep of the story, the unique tenor that only my voice can pitch properly. I was called to write this story, and while I'm honored beyond description, I'm equally as humbled.



We all have opportunities to create. As friends, mothers, teachers, students... fill in the blank. Part of the process of being human is being plugged into the creative energy of our God. But do we really create something from nothing? I don't think so. Only God spoke stars and mountains and people into being when before the awesome sound of his voice there was nothing.

I can't tell you how comforting that is to me. As I sit before my blank legal pads (six of them, I've found that's what it takes for me to write a book) I rest in the realization that I'm just a part of the fabric. This story is universal in some small way, it has already happened and it will happen again and again... Woven with pain and brokenness and, always, amazing grace. How cool is that? My creation is a way of adding my voice to a song already playing in round. Oh, I'm so so grateful to be a part of it.

Sing on, friends.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grumpy



I know nobody likes a whiner, but my frayed edges have unraveled so far I'm downright grumpy. The sun won't shine, my kids are feeling cooped up and crazy (me too!), and winter seems soooo long--and it hasn't even officially started!

Anyway, I'm usually a pretty optimistic person, but just this once I feel like indulging my inner... You fill in the blank. Maybe it'll be cathartic. Maybe I'll make myself laugh. Here's hoping.

Without furthur adieu, a list of things I hate.

  • Soggy leaves that turn to sludge on the sidewalk. They're slippery, stinky, and all around miserable. Plus, it's impossible not to track them into the house.
  • Earwigs. Even the name makes my skin crawl. I secretly believe that they can't possibly be a part of God's good creation--they've got to be the brainchild of some mad scientist (heavy on the mad) who intended to use them for the purpose of mind control. I mean, why else would you call them earwigs? Their obvious, sinister intent is to crawl inside our ears and penetrate the inner sanctum of our minds. Thus, I scream and run like a woman possessed whenever I see one.
  • Being stuck in my house. I'm an outside girl, and though I know I'm not made of sugar and won't melt in the rain, enjoying the great outdoors when it's 35 degrees and drizzly isn't much fun. Boo-hoo.
  • Dry hands. Because I wash them so often, my hands get so dry in the fall and winter that they crack at the knuckles when I bend my fingers. Very painful and not much fun.
  • People who complain. And the irony is not lost on me: I'm being a big baby. Whether the sun is shining or not, life is good. There's a puppy curled up on my lap, a child sound asleep upstairs, and my handsome husband is beside me. My house is warm and cozy, I have mint tea in the cupboard and pork thawing for a stir-fry tonight. I'm halfway through a fantastic book, and I have a date with my tub and bubble bath tonight. What right have I to be grumpy? None at all.
Well, I think it worked. Indulge your inner whiner and realize that you have absolutely nothing to whine about. A little humbling, but at least the clouds outside seem just a bit lighter...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Winner!



Thanks to Random.org we've got our winner! Carmen 7351 is our lucky gal. Unfortunately, we didn't quite make it to 30 entries... 29 is soooo close, maybe we'll have to make an exception. If so, I'll let you know ASAP. In the meantime, congratulations Carmen! Please email me with your snail mail addy so Travis can send you your book.

Thanks for stopping by everyone! November 15 is just around the corner... Another author, another giveaway. And I'm featuring another lovely lady of fiction. You're gonna love her. ;)

*Wait a sec! I just got a comment on Facebook from a friend who tried to leave a comment on Travis's post but couldn't do it... I think that counts as 30, don't you? Anyway, we met our goal so I picked another winner. Melissa (m & amp; m) is our second book winner! Ditto what I said to Carmen: email me your address, please!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Catching Up



The above picture is a pretty close approximation to me these days. I guess I'm still playing catch up from our work-cation last week... Not feeling my Wheaties. Did that just date me? Do any of you even know what that little catch phrase means?!?

Anyway, in spite of my frazzled state, I wanted to quick pop in and encourage SEVEN more people to sign up for one of Travis's books! Did you not read the fine print? The part where I mentioned the books are free? Or am I one of the few true giveaway gluttons? I'd take a colonoscopy if it was free. Okay, maybe not. But I'd seriously consider it. You never can be too careful...

At any rate, go to Thursday's post and leave a comment. You don't even have to have a Blogger account to do it. Just sign in annonymous. I'll be posting the winner(s) tomorrow at noon.

With that said, I'll leave you with a few funnies from my day. It's been a fiesta, let me tell you.

From my five-year-old:
"Feed me to the crocs, where the blood flows down..." (his interpretation of Hillsong's Lead Me to the Cross. I tried to correct him, but it was no use.)

From my three-year-old:
"Look, Mom!" (Thrusting a finger in my face.)
"What's that, honey?"
"A boogie!"
"Oh, yucky. Let me get you a Kleenex."
"No! I want to keep it. It came from my nose."

From my five-year-old:
"I think I'm smarter than you. Does that make me the boss?"

Sure, Sweetpea. You can be the boss. But that means you have to do the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, carpooling, kissing, cuddling, diaper-changing, potty training, puppy patroling, phone answering, email reading, blogging, writing, agent chatting, book planning, kid's church organizing, Bible study leading, hockey fundraising, yard working, story reading, song singing, boogie wiping, and nightmare consoling. Does that make me the kid? Oh please, oh please, oh please?!?

Phew. Anyone wanna be my mommy for a day? ;)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Travis Thrasher



Quick interview with Travis

One sentence bio:

Have wanted to be a writer since third grade and have proven that persistence is a lot more important in publishing than talent.

Why should somebody read your books?

Name another author that started his career with sweet love stories and now writes bloody ghost tales. Somewhere in between, you’ll see what happened to my demented mind. (okay, not really, but that’s a good marketing hook to get people to read, huh?)

Two authors you respect:

Francine Rivers, for showing me how to be a graceful bestselling author, and Jerry Jenkins, for never doubting I would get published (or at least never showing it!)

Last great book you read:

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Dark, mysterious, and amazing. There’s also The Moment Between by an author you might know . . .

What’s next on the publishing slate?

I wrote a love letter to my daughter that’s called Every Breath You Take. It’s coming out this winter. In May, Broken will be released by Hachette. It tells the story of a woman on the run. Then in August, Solitary will be released by Cook. It’s the first of a four-book supernatural series for the teen market.

One bit of advice for writers out there:

Write out of love and passion. Write for yourself. Separate the personal side of why you write with the professional side of the business. They’re two different animals. The more you understand about both, the easier it will be. At least that’s what I tell myself every day.

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It's not too late to win one of Travis's awesome books! Just leave a comment on Thursday's post... Right now we have 17 entries, but if we can make it to 30, Travis will give away TWO of his books. The odds are in your favor... Tell your friends! I'll draw the winner(s) on Tuesday at noon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Grapevine: Travis Thrasher



I don't remember which one of you guessed TT were the initials of my next spotlight, but you were right! ;) You should get a prize or something, but I'm afraid bragging rights will have to do.

I met Travis when I signed my first contract with Tyndale House Publishing. He was the director of Author Relations at the time, and I made a total fool of myself by not realizing that he was also a multi-published author. Poor guy had seven or eight books under his belt at the time--sadly, I can be pretty clueless. Anyway, he forgave my oversight and was incredibly kind and helpful as I bumbled my way through interviews, photo shoots, and video-tapings.

It was only after I left Chicago that I started to get to know Travis as an author. I started off by reading his debut novellas, a two-books-in-one printing of The Promise Remains and The Watermark. They're both totally tender love stories with endings that make you sigh. So I have to admit that I was shocked a year later to read his latest release, Isolation. Do you like Stephen King? Then you'd love Travis Thrasher's horror stories. Creepy, psychological, and spine-tingling... And a 180 degrees different from his love stories.

Travis writes horror, romance, suspense, mystery... A little bit of everything. I both love his versatility and envy his ability to write masterfully on so many levels. No matter what you read, I think you could find a book by Travis you're bound to love. Check him out! And don't forget to leave a comment... Travis has agreed to give away a book (or two!). All you have to do is comment on this post. Let's make it interesting... Follow this link and let me know which one of Travis's books most appeals to you!