Wednesday, December 30, 2009 Finding Christian fiction the easy way

ACFW launches new free online resource to search for titles

PALM BAY, Fla. — With over 500,000 books published each year, it is harder than ever to find a new book that’s just right. A simple Amazon search in the Christian literature and fiction category yields more than 17,000 results. Consumers wading through the exhaustive, seemingly endless list of choices now have a more manageable resource to help them purchase their next book.

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), the nation’s leading Christian fiction writers’ organization, is launching, a new free resource for retailers, readers, media and other Christian fiction fans to search for authors and books. The search engine allows users to sort by author, title, genre, topic, publication date, and target audience.

Cynthia Ruchti, president of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), believes this trusted, easy-to-use resource is a significant development in the search for Christian fiction authors and new titles.

”The idea rose from a roundtable discussion between the ACFW leadership team and Christian booksellers looking for a better way to connect their customers with great Christian fiction,” says Ruchti. “ACFW responded by rolling up our sleeves and creating a comprehensive database to serve readers, booksellers, publishers, authors, book club coordinators, librarians and others on the hunt for information and inspiration.”

The site also allows readers to learn about the nature of the content of each book. Each title is rated for action, conflict, humor, mystery, romance, spirituality and suspense, in addition to more sensitive issues like language, sensuality and violence. Users can also post reviews to the site and learn more about soon-to-be-released titles.

The database is the first of its kind and is not limited to books written by ACFW members. The organization is also working with publishers to ensure Christian novels by other authors are incorporated as well.

ACFW’s presence as the voice of Christian fiction and its industry prowess has long been recognized, and its authors are a mainstay on bestseller lists. is the organization’s latest effort to make finding the best in Christian fiction as easy as possible for fans around the world.

Quick facts about

* Book information pages include facts about the publisher, main themes, setting and the author’s other titles.

* A special “similar books” section offers other titles the user may be interested in reading.

* Users can create an account with their preferences, making it easier to find new favorites.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Jesus, Thank You for coming to earth. For spending nine months in your mother's womb. For suffering the indignities of being a human. For living without sin so You could be the perfect sacrifice for my sins. Thank You for choosing to die on the cross and becoming the sacrifice for all. Thank You for caring about me. For caring about each of us. For loving us so much.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Holiday Called Holiday, by Terri Blackstock

It’s Christmas Eve 2009, and as I work in the kitchen, I’ve had the TV on. I can’t help being amused and a little irritated at the efforts by the media to keep from saying the word “Christmas.” A few days ago I heard a morning talk show host talking about “the spirit of the Holiday,” and I thought, what holiday? Columbus Day? Labor Day? I’m sometimes a little dense, but I need her to be more specific. I didn’t know a season of days could actually have a spirit.

Then today, as I’m watching HGTV, I see a man decorating a house for “The Holiday.” He puts up the tree, decorates the tables, and hangs things on the wall, very carefully avoiding the word Christmas. And he shows us how he painted big letters to hang on the wall, spelling out the word “H-o-l-i-d-a-y.” Really? Are we really celebrating a holiday called Holiday?

It makes me wonder what people who are allergic to the word Christmas say to each other on that day. Do they show up at their families’ homes with their arms loaded with Holiday gifts (wrapped in Holiday paper), and say, “Merry Holiday”? Do they stand around their Holiday tree and sing Holiday carols and eat a Holiday meal? Does no one ever say, “But what holiday?”

We’re not afraid to utter the name of any other holiday. We’re very brazen about saying Happy New Year, Happy Halloween, Happy Labor Day, Happy Columbus Day, Happy July 4th. But to say--gasp!--Merry Christmas is just the height of rudeness? Millions of people around the world are celebrating it with traditions that go back 2000 years, yet we Americans are not allowed to say the word?

You just have to laugh. Those poor people are working so hard to remove the obvious from their … ahem … holiday, that they miss the joy of celebrating Christmas. Yes, I said it. Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas! I love Christmas, and I love the spirit of Christmas, and I love the joy of Christmas. And most of all I love that it all centers around the Christ child “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6) I guess that’s what they’re really trying to avoid.

I hope you all celebrate Christmas boldly and passionately, and never be afraid to say the name of Christ. We’re not celebrating a holiday called Holiday.

Merry Christmas! And Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My books through a 9 year olds eyes

Eric and the kids have been reading A Promise Born -- a chapter or so a night.

That's not enough for our nine year-old, so she's been reading it on her own at night. And letting me know exactly what she thinks!

The other day she let Eric and me know that she'd read the end and knew how it turned out. "Really?" Eric asked. "Yes, I had to know what happened and now I do." That works until something unexpected happens.

"Mom!" She ran into the office the other night. "How could you?"

"How could I what?"

"You let them fight!" Ah, the drama of historical romance. And now she's begging for Kat's story. Kat is the heroine in A Promise Forged and shows up in A Promise Forged and A Promise Born. She'll just have to wait until February like the rest of you.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

Today is my Grandpa's 90th birthday. Can you imagine all that he has seen during his lifetime? We're celebrating with a big party. And I want to celebrate here, by giving away one copy of Canteen Dreams for every ten comments left. While Canteen Dreams is my first novel, it is based loosely on my Grandpa and his experiences during World War Two.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Author Holiday Home Tour

Some of my amazing writer friends put together a tour of their homes -- all decked out for the holidays. I didn't get organized enough this year to join. Something to do with deadlines :-) But if you'd like to check out where your favorite authors live and work then start the tour with Angela Hunt's site and follow along. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Virtual Christmas Cookie Exchange

Virtual Christmas Cookie Exchange

A couple people have asked for it, so here it is...One of my favorite cookie recipes: Hazelnut Crinkles (makes about 4 dozen)

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. hazelnut spread (Nutella)
1/2 c. butter or margarine (softened)
1/2 t. vanilla
1 egg
1 34 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3 T. course white sugar crystals or regular sugar

1. heat oven to 375. beat sugar, Nutella, butter, vanilla and egg in large bowl. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt.
2. shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar crystals. place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until puffed and edges are set. Cool on cookie sheet 1 minute. Remove to wire rack. cool.

Cindy, the ones you had were a little crunchier than normal. I made more two days ago that were soft. LOVE them that way. And this is a REALLY EASY recipe. Tasty too.

What's your favorite recipe?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two Suspense Reviews

In Under the Cajun Moon, the author has done it again. She drops the reader into a fresh locale -- New Orleans -- and completely had me there. And it had a different feel to other books I've read set in that locale. Chloe Ledet is called home to New Orleans after her father is shot in a remote bayou area. The next morning she finds herself smack in the middle of a murder scene -- with no memory of what happened. Then that murder leads to another murder and Chloe is running to find answers and stay alive. Fortunately, she isn't alone. She has a Cajun friend to help her find more than the truth. I thoroughly enjoyed this book -- and the clash of cultures. The book had high tension, but also moments of humor that kept the mood from getting to dark and heavy. And there was more than just a mystery to solve. Romance, family conflict and more.

Through the Fire is the debut release from Shawn Grady. There is much to like, even love, about this book. A firefighter from Reno, Nevada, Shawn writes what he knows.

Aidan O’Neill is a firefighter who’s either overconfident or has a death wish as he races from fire to fire taking risks that sometimes get others injured. Add a rash of arson fires that noone can solve but leaves the brass and the public demanding answers. Aidan wonders what happened to his gift to read fire at a time when the city needs it and him.

The author pulled me into the fire fighter life. In the scenes at the fire station or fighting fires, I was completely planted in the environment. There were enough details to make it feel real, without bogging down. I could easily imagine the firehouse, the trucks, even smell the smoke and taste the fear of being surrounded by the flames. There is a hint of romance, a layer of faith, and plenty of great supporting characters.

There was one part of the book that almost became a stopper for me. The problem was that it was early in the book, and I had to fight to come back to it. Once I did I was incredibly glad I did. But beware that there’s what appears to be a detour in the first quarter of the book that becomes key at the end. That’s all I’ll say because you need to read the book for yourself…just keep reading!

Even with that detour, I look forward to Mr. Grady’s next book. His attention to detail, twisting plot and way with words will have me buying his next book.

I received both books from the publishers to review.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

CFBA Tour: the Familiar Stranger

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Familiar Stranger

Moody Publishers (September 1, 2009)


Christina Berry


Single mother and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time to write from her busy schedule because she must tell the stories that haunt her every waking moment. (Such is the overly dramatic description of an author's life!) She holds a BA in Literature, yet loves a good Calculus problem, as well. All that confusion must have influenced her decision to be team captain of a winning team on Family Feud.

Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, released from Moody in September and deals with lies, secrets, and themes of forgiveness in a troubled marriage. A moving speaker and dynamic teacher, Christina strives to Live Transparently--Forgive Extravagantly!

Her work has also appeared in The Secret Place, The Oregonian, and Daily Devotions for Writers.


Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.

They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, they discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child?

But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Familiar Stranger, go HERE

I have not finished this book yet, but I can tell you the writing is compelling, deeply emotional, and will plunge you so deeply into the perspective of each character that you will be sucked into the story. This books would count as women's if you're looking for a light romance, this isn't it. However, the characters and writing will pull you into the story.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Power of Prayer

This week I've been thinking a lot about the people who have prayed for me at strategic times in this writing journey. A couple stand out:

  • Brandilyn Collins praying for me at the commissioning service at my very first ACFW conference in Nashville in 2005. Wow! The words she prayed still encourage and challenge me -- and it probably didn't last more than two minutes. But the's lasted a long time.
  • Grabbing a group of women to pray for me at the 2007 conference when I was convinced I was losing our baby who became our precious Rebecca. Little is scarier than being alone hundreds of miles from home and to start bleeding early in a pregnancy after I'd lost a baby earlier that year. But those women banded around me and held up my hands when I was scared to death.
  • There are countless other people who have spoken words of wisdom and prayer into my life. But this past weekend I had an unexpected blessing while participating in the Masters Seminar on Marketing. I'll talk more about it next week. But for now, I'll say that in the midst about talking about me and my brand/future in publishing, this precious small group stopped everything, ignored the agenda and prayed for me.
This is what I love about Christian publishing. We all know it's a ministry. And if I succeed or help someone else succeed, then we all celebrate because that means God is honored. And if one of us needs wisdom or direction, we'll stop to pray for each other. Precious!

The members of our seminar: Conlon Brown, Jim Rubart (presenter), me, Nicole O'Dell, Cindy Thomson, Kit Wilkinson and Chip MacGregor (presenter).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Interview with Jenny B. Jones

Jenny is a delight and a gal that I seriously wish lived around the corner rather than across the country. I LOVED her women's fiction title Just Between You and Me, and she's agreed to stop by to answer some questions. And be sure to read to the end for a very gracious offer from Jenny!

Jenny, anyone who has read my blog knows that I inhaled and adored your recent book Just Between You and Me. While that was an adult novel – and snort out loud funny — most of your books are young adult. What’s the biggest difference between adult and young adult fiction? And be honest — which is your favorite to write? ( You know I had to put you on the spot :-) )

Aw, thanks for the book compliment, Cara. So glad that you enjoyed Just Between You and Me. And I love hearing that it induces snort laughs. Those are the very best kind. Writing Just Between You and Me was a little intimidating (and when I say little, I really mean a lot). It was my first book that wasn’t YA, and I felt a tad bit out of my comfort zone. But when I really got into the book, I realized that writing a romance about a 30 year old and writing one about a 16 year old are very similar. Life is still more complex than it needs to be. God is still the key to it all. And boys are still confusing.

I think the main difference is that at 30 we’re supposed to act like we know what we’re doing. At 16 there’s a little more grace allowed to be clueless. But at 16 there’s more zits and a curfew, so it’s a tradeoff.

Both are fun to write (you knew I’d say that) and have their perks. I love the freedom of writing YA. A teen can and will say anything, so that is fun and liberating. While we have to be a little more controlled and “polite” as adults. But I like the complexity of relationships in writing “big girl” books. I like that you can take the romance further as well. But both are a lot of fun.

You have an incredibly funny style in your writing. Is it effortless — a natural extension of you — or is it something you have to work hard at pulling into your books?

Wow, thank you.

That’s a hard one to answer. Close friends and co-workers who read my books tells me that it takes a while to get my voice out of their head as they read. So apparently the books tend to sound like me. That’s not necessarily a good thing. ; )

I think the humor is both an extension of me and hard work. The humor element in the books is one of the most important things, whether it should be or not. I’ve become convicted in the last few years that humor is a ministry, so it’s vital that there are plenty of laughs in the pages. It comes from a combination of letting it flow and trying really hard. Ha. And the book is never as funny as I’d like it to be. I think it’s like all elements of a book—at some point you have to realize it’s not going to be perfect and let it go.

Tell us about the So Charmed series. I love the covers — talk about funny! -- what gave you the idea for Bella? And could you not think of a better way to put her completely out of her element? There are animals on the covers!

A Charmed Life series is about Bella Kirkwood, a sixteen year old Manhattan socialite. She has everything—her rich father’s credit cards, Broadway in her backyard, and a permanent spot as queen of popularity at her elite private school. Then her parents split, Mom finds a new man online, and at her remarriage, Bella is moved to the tiny town of Truman, Oklahoma. Things go from bad to worse, and Bella finds herself on the very bottom of the social food chain in her new high school. She gets stuck on the school newspaper, where she clashes with the cute editor Luke, but also stumbles upon mysteries in Truman High that she must get to the bottom of.

I got the idea for Bella after seeing my ninth grade students (I’m a teacher by day) and kids even younger reading the Gossip Girl books. And these books were a little disturbing to me. I’m not the most conservative reader, but when I’m reading about teen girls throwing up their lunch like it’s just part of the culture (versus it being a plot point to teach what NOT to do), I got disturbed. Yet these books were everywhere at school. The kids loved them. So I thought wouldn’t it be funny to take a Gossip Girl type of character (the PG rated variety) and throw her into a small, rural town. I love contrasts and putting people in the environment they are least likely to be in. About that same time one of my favorite shows—Veronica Mars—went off the air, and I was bereft. I love reading/watching amateur sleuths. And this show had it all—humor, sarcasm, romance, and mystery. So I decided to make Bella a Nancy Drew as well. Besides, she needed something to do to replace all that shopping that wasn’t happening.

I’ve learned that with each book, God teaches me something as I write it. What did you learn as you wrote this story and what do you hope readers learn afresh as they read it?

Learning something with every book--isn’t that the truth? With A Charmed Life series, it was about God pushing me out of my comfort zone and writing something I knew nothing about—mysteries. I think I had read two in my entire life. And aside from watching some Murder She Wrote in the 80s and some Veronica Mars, I had no experience with mysteries. So that was a huge challenge. And struggle.

With the big girl book Just Between You and Me, God really spoke to me about being fearless. The theme of the book is about living beyond our fears, something I’m no expert on. So I just saturated my days with scripture on trusting God and being bold and fearless. My prayers were wrapped around this theme as I wrote. I have never depended on God more for a book, never felt the weight of communicating a spiritual message more. And the whole time, God was not only speaking to me as a writer, but also to me personally. Every book has a spiritual theme, but they always seem to be just what I need myself at that time.

What is your favorite part of writing? The great people you meet? The time staring at a computer screen? And how do you fuel your all night writing frenzies?

I love staring at a computer screen for hours! Especially when at the end of these hours there’s STILL nothing on said screen. Well, nothing except Facebook. And Twitter. And YouTube. I think the best part of writing is connecting with readers and hearing their feedback. I love to hear how a book made them laugh or led them to hear from God. That’s the best. I also love the friends I’ve made in the biz. It’s hard being a writer (somebody should’ve told me this before), and it’s so great to get support from people who understand. And want to help. And I love just being involved in the ministry of fiction. God can use anything and anyone to spread the message of Christ, the message of hope. Even a story about a spoiled sixteen year old girl who finds herself doing temp work in a maxi-pad factory. Yes, even there, the Lord is present. ; )

What do your students think about the fact that you write books? Are you a rockstar on campus? :-)

I’ve got to work on this rockstar thing. I’m probably a little too good at separating school from writing. When I’m at school I’m Ms. Jones the Teacher. (Actually I’m Ms. Jones Your Favorite Teacher and Don’t You Ever Forget It.)

And when I’m at home writing, I leave school behind. And rarely do the two intersect. I give books and bookmarks to English teachers to with every new release, so the kids are definitely exposed to the books. But because I rarely talk about my books in class, they don’t always connect me with the books. A few months ago, I asked all my kids to suggest a great book to read. One of them said, “In Between. It’s good.” This was the first book I wrote. After class, after she had learned I was the author of the book, the student came up to me and shook her head. “I can’t believe I just told the author of In Between to read her own book.” And walked away. So I could probably be a bit more forthcoming with details about the book writing. At the end of last school year, I had a book come out, so they got their bookmarks from their English teachers and they heard a book talk or two. Then a dozen or more came up to me on the last few days of school and said, “You were our teacher this whole time, you wrote these books, and I didn’t even know.” Oops. I think I’m paranoid about those kids leaving my class at the end of the semester and feeling like I tried to sell them anything. I don’t ever want them to feel like I pushed the books. That’s not my job there, you know? But I could probably push a bit more, but mostly I let other people do that. So thanks to our awesome junior high and high schools in our district, the kids get exposed to the books. . .but often don’t realize the author is just down the hall.

Finally, if you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and who would you take.

Oh, love to travel. It’s one of my favorite things. I think I’d probably go to South Carolina and Georgia if I could right now. I’m writing a book set in Charleston (tentatively), and I have never been. I’d really like to go check it out. I have it penciled in for this summer, but it’s a little late. I’m considering making a quick trip over Christmas break, but I don’t know that time-wise it’s going to work out.

Aside from that, I think I’d like to go somewhere warm. With a beach. I’m a few months away from turning in a book and getting that familiar “Omigosh I have a book due and things are not where they need to be and I need some peace and quiet and Jimmy Buffet music” anxiety. I think just some quiet time away from work, the house, and my mentally challenged cat would do me and the book a lot of good.

I am so up for joining you on the trip to Charleston! Thanks for stopping by, Jenny!

Thanks so much for letting me stop by, Cara. I’m a card carrying member of the Cara Putman fan club, so it’s so cool to hang out with you and your blog. And I can’t wait to see all 400 of your new releases on the shelves this year.

See why I like her, folks. And Jenny has offered to giveaway a copy of I'm So Sure. So leave a comment telling us why this sassy YA novel is something you'd like to read or give to a teen in your life.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Couple Reviews

I've recently read a few great books. Here are two (and for the FTC: the first one I bought and the second I received from the author as a thanks for helping with some legal aspect of the novel -- one I can't even remember helping with!). Both of these are wonderful books...and very worth your reading time -- though very different genres.

I loved each book of this series and literally could not wait to read the finale. Piece de Resistance was the perfect way to end a delightful series. Lexi's back in the states and trying to make a go of a bakery - only problem, she has 12 months of capital and hates the business end of baking. Add in her love life, and she's got lots of fun challenges. I loved this book and watching Lexi grow through the series. My only regret? That it's the end of the series.

Let Darkness Come follows a murder trial that is handed off to a young attorney who has no business defending a murder case on her own. As an attorney and author, I often find it hard to get sucked into a legal story without being distracted by either legal errors or my editor's eye. With this book, neither was an issue. Instead, the world stopped while I read Briley's quest for justice. And the twists were a lot of fun and kept the pages turning -- especially at the end. And if you've come to expect the unexpected from Angela Hunt's books, you will not be disappointed with the questions she raises as she wraps the book up. I hope she writes more legal suspense!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Finding Historical Hooks: by Amber Stockton

Hi! My name is Amber Stockton and Cara has graciously invited me here to her blog today to talk about my writing inspirations. Specifically, where I find my writing hooks for my historical novels.

I can’t think of a topic that’s more fun to discuss. J

Far too often, authors are asked where they get their ideas. Well, the short answer is from real life. That can get you started, sure, but there is a lot more that goes into writing a book than merely an idea. Nevertheless, an idea is where it all begins.

For me, in writing historical fiction, I start with real life. I observe people, experiences, news stories and conversations as I go about my day-to-day routine. Once I find something that piques my interest, I start looking for a setting that would best showcase that idea or tidbit.

My first book was the result of a house I passed while driving almost every day. One day, I stopped the car, rolled down the window and looked at the historic marker with a notation that said, “circa 1740.” I thought to myself, “If only those walls could speak.” What a story they would tell! So, being the writer that I am, I took a literary license and … made it up!

The ‘what if’ moment came when I developed the story line. I mused out loud, “What if a heroine with no siblings also loses her parents, then finds herself as the sole owner of land in a new world where women have no voice, feeling as if God has forsaken her?”

And thus, Promises, Promises was born!

The two books which followed featured the next 2 generations in the family who occupied that same house. Each heroine was the daughter of the heroine from the book before it. I highlighted the Great Awakening, the French & Indian War and then the Revolutionary War, while also delving into the lives of women from three different generations of the same family.

In my second series, my editor asked me to pick from a few options and develop 3-book series from them. The one she loved the most came from a series set in Michigan. I have always loved Mackinac Island, but my publisher had a series set there recently, so I had to move it elsewhere in the state. With all of the talk at the time about Detroit and the auto companies there, I thought it might be fun to explore that city over 100 years ago to showcase what it once was. So, I picked the Industrial Revolution, highlighting the factory growth, the financial crisis of 1893, and ended the series with a focus on the Model-T Ford.

Those 3 books released this year, and the 3rd is out this month.

One of most common bits of feedback I receive from readers is how much they love the historical tidbits I include in my books. With such a great love of history, it’s both a challenge and a fun exploration to find those unique snippets to add flavor to my stories. I love introducing readers to new and unknown facts about certain areas or geographic regions.

If I help just one reader become a greater fan of history or even discover a hidden love for history, then I’ve succeeded in my writing. I know Cara shares my love of history, and her World War II stories have received rave reviews.

So, I hope those of you reading this will also come along a journey into the past and discover the worlds of days gone by. We can learn so much from those who have gone before us. And if it’s told in story, it makes the discovery that much more fun!

Thanks for having me here, Cara. Be blessed!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Try out a couple Christmas Books

Today, I'm bringing you first chapters from two Christmas books. One is The Unfinished Gift -- I interviewed the author Dan Walsh on Wednesday. The other is The Christmas Dog. I love the cover on that one. The dog is so cute!
The Christmas Dog: In The Christmas Dog, Betty Kowalski is not looking forward to Christmas at all. Disgruntled over her neighbor’s home “improvements” which involve an old pink toilet parked in his yard, Betty is sadly lacking in the good cheer department. And when a scruffy mutt keeps coming to her door, Betty gets fed up. Add to this a runaway granddaughter, and Betty feels like she’s up to her ears in troubles. But sometimes it’s the difficulties that bring the biggest rewards. I hope you’ll enjoy this story and be reminded of what matters most this Christmas. Happy Holidays!

Melody Carlson

The Unfinished Gift: The Unfinished Gift is set in 1943, a week before Christmas. Patrick’s mother has recently died in a car accident and he is being sent across town to stay with a grandfather he’s never met while the Army tries to locate his father, a bomber pilot in England. Patrick’s father and grandfather haven’t spoken since before Patrick was born. The book explores the surprising things God uses to affect powerful changes in our hearts; like a little boy’s prayers, a shoebox full of love letters, and an old wooden soldier collecting dust in a grandfather’s attic.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Interview with Dan Walsh & Giveaway of his Debut Novel

I am delighted to introduce you to Dan Walsh today. Dan and I share an agent, and for the last year she has told me about his debut novel with Revell, The Unfinished Gift. It's set during World War Two, as y'all know my favorite time period. So when I received a copy of The Unfinished Gift, I was eager to dive into it. I was not disappointed. This book lived up to every beautiful thing my agent said about it. But even more important than the wonderful writing in this Christmas story is the man behind it. Dan and I got to meet at ACFW in September. He's a pastor in Florida, and it was a delight to get to know him. He is a gentle soul. So it is my pleasure to introduce you to this man and debut author. You can read the first chapter of this book here.

Cara, thanks for allowing me to spend some time with you and your readers. This is my favorite time of year, especially the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course in Florida, the weather doesn't help much. Even in December on any given day we can be found wearing shorts and flip-flops. Cindi and I make up for it by an overflow of Christmas decorations and residual memories of snowy Christmases as children when we lived up north.

Dan, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading The Unfinished Gift. Usually I’m not into holiday specific books, but The Unfinished Gift has an underlying emotional depth that kept me turning the pages. How did you get the initial idea for this book?

Every Christmas I love watching those classic stories on TV, the ones that grab your heart and really affect you ("It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol"). I wanted to write a story like that, one that at least had the potential to affect others the way these stories affect me.The Unfinished Gift actually came to me just after Christmas in 1998. I started praying and thinking about it, then the whole thing came to me over two or three days. I actually saw the ending of the book first, like a scene from a movie playing in my thoughts. Over the next two days, different parts of the story kept dropping into my head. I kept stopping and writing them down. In a few days, the whole story was there, from beginning to end. Like a detailed synopsis. From there I sat down and started writing the book. Though many more details emerged as I wrote the book, as far as the story itself, what you see in the book is exactly what came during that burst of inspiration back in '98.

I love that. My first book, Canteen Dreams, came to me in much the same way as I prayed and thought about it. I love how God whispers ideas in our heads. You’ve set it during World War Two, which is one of my all time favorite time periods...but isn’t necessarily a big setting for books yet. Why did you pick that time? Was there something about it that demanded that your book be set then?

You've partially answered this question in your question. WW2 is perhaps my all-time favorite period too. My shelves are filled with books from this era, both about the war itself and life on the homefront. As I answered in your first question, this may explain why the story--when it came to me--came in that setting. Sometimes I feel, as the saying goes, as one untimely born. If I were ever sent back in time, it's probably the one period where I feel I could blend right in. As the book unfolded, I realized another benefit for this setting: the country was so different then, so patriotic and faith-centric, that I could move in and out of faith issues in dialog without it seeming the least bit forced or preachy. It's allowed the book to crossover to unchurched audiences quite easily. I've gotten so many emails from readers saying they can easily buy the book as a gift to someone they're trying to reach for the Lord.

See, Dan, this is why we clicked immediately. I joke that I'm an old soul in a young body because I love movies and music from the 30s and 40s. One of your main characters is a seven year old boy. What a challenge to write in that perspective. I have a six year old boy and kept imagining him as little Patrick. Who was easier to write: Patrick or his grandpa Ian?

Great question (no one's asked this yet). One of the challenges writing as Patrick was the emotional affect it had on me. I cried numerous times while writing his chapters. The father-side of me kept wanting to jump in and help him, protect him, or at least comfort him. When I first started the book, my son Isaac was the same age as Patrick, which made the connection even stronger. Which character was easier to write? Sadly, the mean old grandfather, Ian. I'm much closer to his age than Patrick's. And after five decades on this planet, it's much easier for me to get in touch with the grumbling, cynical impulses and emotions of an old man than the wonder and innocent outlook of a little boy.

You said you got the idea for The Unfinished Gift in 1998 and even started writing it then. Why is it just coming out in 2009?

I'm not sure why the Lord gave me the inspiration for the story in '98, but I know why I had to set it aside. Back then, my children were much smaller, and I was the lone pastor of a growing church. As I began to write the book, it grew from a enjoyable pastime to a full-blown obsession. That's just me. I don't multi-task well. I realized I had two choices: finish the book or be a bad dad. So I set it aside and didn't pick it up again for 10 years. By the summer of '07, my children were grown and I had much more help at the church. My wife urged me to pick the book back up and finish it. That's what I did. As I read it through to refresh myself and reconnect with the story, I realized I had left poor Patrick sitting on a bench in a blizzard...for 10 years (you'll have to read the book for that to make sense).

I’ve learned that with each book, God teaches me something as I write it. There is a rich spiritual thread to this book — yet it never gets preachy — a balance that I loved, appreciated, and know is hard to strike. What did you learn as you wrote this story and what do you hope readers learn afresh as they read it?

Thanks for your kind words. One thing I learned that might help newer writers of Christian fiction...don't force the message into the story. Pray about it and wait for the right time to emerge. I've read too many books where the gospel message or biblical truth is inserted in a way that feels forced or artificial. Like someone trying to evangelize in a pushy, awkward way. How much better when the person is in a situation where they are asking for help. I knew I wanted to share the gospel in my story, but I just waited until the right time emerged, and it did. I've just finished my 3rd book, and it's happened that way each time.

What do I hope readers learn from the book? I suppose this: Forgive as we have been forgiven. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the gospel, but one we often fail to grasp. We are happy to receive God's forgiveness but then find it very easy to withhold from those who've wronged us. The alternative to forgiving others is not complicated. We become bitter and start to pull away. As the book shows, we can stay on this path for years, growing harder, becoming more isolated and more unhappy. This is why Christ came at Christmas, to set in motion God's redemptive plan, to reconcile us first to Himself, then to each other.

You did a great job of making the World War Two era come to life without bogging down in the details. As a fellow World War Two lover — I just got really excited when I realized our library had the WPA book on California — what was your favorite, new fact that you learned as you wrote the book? And do you have a favorite research trick?

Perhaps the hardest part for me, were all the details I had to leave "on the cutting room floor." I think writers of historical fiction all have this struggle. We love research and love all the details we discover. But some of these things can become bla-bla-bla to our readers and really slow the story down. Let's see...what fun fact did I learn? During WW2, women all across America saved up every ounce of fat and lard they could get their hands on, then stood in lines at the butcher's shop so they could exchange these jars for a few more ration points of meat. This lard was converted to nitro glycerin to make bombs. And this gave them a sense of pride that they were directly contributing to the war effort. As Mrs. Fortini pondered, "How can fat ever be a good thing?"

I don't really have any research tricks. But I'm continually amazed by the vast wealth of research material on the internet. All there for free and most of it just a few clicks away.

Finally, if you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and who would you take.

If I was being selfish (although Cindi would actually love such a trip), I'd like to tour the areas around England, France and Belgium most directly involved in WW2. I would take my wife Cindi and only Cindi. If I was being unselfish, (although I would also love this trip), I would tour New England in a mini-Cooper with Cindi, when the leaves were changing. This will likely be the setting for my 5th book, so this might actually happen, if God allows (not sure about the mini-Cooper part).

Where can people find you on the web?

They can find me at my website: or on my blog at On my blog, just under my picture, there's a spot where they can send me their email address. I won't give this to anyone, but it will update them on new blog posts and allow me to inform them when the sequel to The Unfinished Gift comes out in June. It's called, The Homecoming (also published by Revell).

Thanks again Cara for this opportunity to interact with your readers.

I think y'all can see why I enjoy this man's heart. And this book is a holiday treat. I ended up with an extra book from the publisher, so I would love to give it away. Here's how you can be considered... since Christmas is a comment about your favorite Christmas memory or miracle. Thanks!

Monday, November 30, 2009

God Gave us...Reviews

The publisher sent me these two delightful picture books. I've received a couple earlier books in the series awhile ago, and the kids enjoyed them so much, I was eager to see what these titles were like. While we enjoyed the message and wonderful illustrations in both titles, I love the emphasis in God Gave Us Christmas. Sometimes it's hard to remind children that Christmas is not about presents. Instead, the best gift is Jesus. So if you're looking for thoroughly enjoyable children's books that will delight children, I recommend these two titles from Lisa Tawn Bergren.

God Gave Us Love: As Little Cub and Grampa Bear’s fishing adventure is interrupted bymischievous otters, the young polar bear begins to question why we must love others… even the seemingly unlovable.

In answering her questions, Grampa Bear gives tender explanations that teach Little Cub about the different kinds of love that is shared between families, friends, and mamas and papas. Grampa explains that all these kinds of love come from God and that it is important to love others because… “Any time we show love, Little Cub, we’re sharing a bit of his love.”

This sweet tale will warm the hearts of young children as they learn about all the different sorts of love, while the gentle explanations of each provide a valuable opportunity to encourage children to share with others a “God-sized love.”

God Gave Us Christmas: As Little Cub and her family prepare to celebrate the most special day of the year, the curious young polar bear begins to wonder… “Who invented Christmas?” Mama’s answer only leads to more questions like “Is God more important than Santa?” So she and Little Cub head off on a polar expedition to find God and to see how he gave them Christmas. Along the way, they find signs that God is at work all around them. Through Mama’s gentle guidance, Little Cub learns about the very first Christmas and discovers that… Jesus is the best present of all.

This enchanting tale provides the perfect opportunity to help young children celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and to discover how very much God loves them.

Lisa Tawn Bergren is the award-winning author of nearly thirty titles, totaling more than 1.5 million books in print. She writes in a broad range of genres, from adult fiction to devotional. God Gave Us Love follows in Lisa’s classic tradition of the best-selling God Gave Us You. She lives in Colorado, with her husband, Tim, and their children, Olivia, Emma, and Jack.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More with the Munsons...

Here's our second installment of the interview with the Munsons. Read to the bottom for a synopsis of one of their latest suspense novels.

You write your books together. How does that work in a practical way? Do you take turns writing scenes? Each write different character’s scenes? Etc.

David loves to tell readers that we have discovered a unique writing format: Diane starts at the beginning and he starts at the end and write backwards. When we meet in middle, we’re done.
It is good for a laugh. In reality, it is not so tidy. We aim to first build the characters, to ask what are their dreams and conflicts, and then forge a compelling story about what our characters are facing. Then we create a mini-outline where we hope to go.

Because we each have our areas of expertise—David worked
undercover for years convincing drug cartels that he was one of
them and Diane both prosecuted and defended cases—we each write the scenes where we feel the skills coming forth. Then we read each others’ scenes or chapters and edit using track changes. What a marvelous invention. One of us gets to do the final edits so the voices are consistent. Can you guess who?

Anything else you want to tell us about your books?

The novels highlight many of the things we’ve done, fictionalize cases we’ve been involved in or places we’ve traveled, so the settings and agents, police officers, judges, and lawyers are realistic.
In our next release, Hero’s Ransom, watch for such intriguing places as Kazakhstan, where we got embroiled in a murder investigation by the KGB and Thailand where David survived a wild encounter with an elephant.

Where can readers find you on the web?

All readers are invited to read more about us, our writing, and appearances at They can sign up for our free e-mail newsletter or enter an occasional contest. It’s a family-friendly site with some Q&A about the justice system.

Last question: if you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and who would you take (other than each other :-) ).

Diane – Maybe the Sudan? Alaska. Go with David, but if he was away on his own trip, my sister Michele who practices medicine in Texas.

Here are the blurbs on these books:

The Camelot Conspiracy: The Camelot Conspiracy rocks with a sinister plot even more menacing than the headlines. Former DC insiders Diane and David Munson feature a brash TV reporter, Kat Kowicki, who receives an ominous email that throws her into the high stakes conspiracy of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. When Kat uncovers evidence Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, she turns for help to Federal Special Agents Eva Montanna and Griff Topping who uncover the chilling truth: A shadow government threatens to tear down the very foundation of the American justice system.

CIA Agent Bo Rider (The Camelot Conspiracy) and Federal Agents Eva Montanna and Griff Topping (Facing Justice, Confirming Justice, The Camelot Conspiracy) return in Hero’s Ransom, the Munsons’ fourth family-friendly adventure. When archeologist Amber Worthing uncovers a two-thousand-year-old mummy and witnesses a secret rocket launch at a Chinese missile base, she is arrested for espionage. Her imprisonment sparks a custody battle between grandparents over her young son, Lucas. Caught between sinister world powers, Amber’s faith is tested in ways she never dreamed possible. Danger escalates as Bo races to stop China’s killer satellite from destroying America, and with Eva and Griff’s help, to rescue Amber using an unexpected ransom.

Based on their exciting careers, Diane, former federal prosecutor, and David, former federal agent, blend insiders’ savvy and surprising plot twists to ratchet up the tension in Hero’s Ransom, captivating readers. You won’t blink from page one until the end.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Meeting the Munsons...Interview Part One

I'm delighted today to introduce you to some new-to-me suspense authors, Diane and David Munson. They have graciously agreed to participate in an interview. And look for reviews of their two latest books to come in the next month or so. So without further ado, for those who are looking for some new suspense, read with enjoyment!

You were a federal prosecutor and federal agent prior to becoming authors. Why did you decide you wanted to write novels?

Diane has loved reading and writing since she was a child. David didn’t particularly enjoy reading or writing, but he liked telling stories. After studying her genealogy, Diane wrote an historical novel set in the days of Gutenberg. While publishers liked it, one suggested with Diane’s background as an attorney and a prosecutor, she should try suspense.

After learning David was a former Federal agent, that publisher was even more certain this was a winning idea and Diane came home from the writer’s conference with a searing questions: How would David feel about writing a suspense novel with Diane? His reply was swift, “Let’s try it.” The rest is “His-story.”

Tell us a bit about your latest novels. What “what-if” got your minds spinning and your fingers typing?

With our legal backgrounds, we’re intrigued by why people do what they do, which helps us build real characters. In Facing Justice, the story sizzles with several key “what-ifs.” What would it be like to be a respected person running a non-profit is accused of aiding terrorists? What would happen if the federal agent’s twin sister died on 9/11 and that agent finds a family from her church is accused of helping terrorists?

Then in Confirming Justice we flesh out what it’s like for a federal judge who tries to hide a medical secret when he’s nominated to the Supreme Court and his enemies seek to derail his life-long dream. In our most recent release, The Camelot Conspiracy, we blend historical fact from the JFK assassination and weave it into a modern tale where rogue government-types target Kat Kowicki, a young television reporter who is brash, but also naïve about what some will do to keep their power. Our previous two novels were set in Washington, DC, the Middle East and Florida, and since we had spent much of our lives in the Midwest, we wanted to write an international thriller with Chicago as a key hub in the suspense.

Camelot Conspiracy steps back to the JFK assassination in some ways. What inspired that plot?

David was a college student in Chicago when JFK was assassinated. He attended school by day and worked nights at the FBI office with plans to become an FBI agent. On the night of November 22, 1963, David took an ominous call from FBI Dallas—they had just found the rifle that killed the President, which had been purchased from Klein Sporting Goods right in Chicago. Someone had to get Klein’s to open their records that night to determine who bought that rifle. David was denied the opportunity to go with the agent to find the records because he was a “mere” college student who had to remain behind and answer the phones. But he remained in the office long enough to see the mail order form that Lee Harvey Oswald had used to purchase the rifle, using an alias. Also, Diane had studied the assassination in college and after reading the Warren Commission Report, wondered how Lee Harvey Oswald could have acted alone. After traveling to the Dallas Sixth Floor Museum and researching the record, we decided to build a novel around a fictional Chicago Police detective who went with the FBI agents and who found additional records that the FBI did not release to the public or find relevant. Readers will be fascinated by the detective’s discovery as well as recently-released evidence we season throughout Camelot through the television reporter, Kat Kowicki.

Your books bring the same characters together in fresh high-stakes races to investigate or stop terrorism. Should readers read them in order or do they stand independently? What’s the challenge of writing books with reappearing characters? Which of these characters has become your favorite?

Each of our novels can be read independently. Some of the characters move through, but in each we introduce new characters. Once we created Eva Montanna, the feisty Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, and her task force partner, FBI agent Griff Topping, who have separate lives but work well together, we didn’t want them to end. Married and struggling to spend time with her family, Eva’s faith wilts and then grows as she faces the pressures from her career. In Facing Justice, she wants another child, but is warned by her doctor to slow down. Will she be able to have another baby? Griff is a young widower who loved his wife. While it takes him time to recover, in Confirming Justice he meets a federal probation officer who is a widow…

The more we wrote about Eva and Griff, the more we became attached to them as real people. They are too cool to let die. Some readers want to know if Diane is Eva and David is Griff. The answer is they are a blend of our personalities and some of their own to boot! To our readers’ delight, we found a way to get these courageous agents from fighting terrorists in the Indian Ocean, battling the bureaucrats and media in Washington DC to the alligator infested swamps in Florida, then to the gritty streets of Chicago.

I’ve found as I write that each book teaches me something. What lesson has surprised you the most as you’ve written?

Years ago as we studied our families’ histories, it seemed God was prompting us to move from the field of law into writing.

How we can be ready for that still, small voice and the changes that might come is the challenging aspect. The source of inspiration can be a mystery and where our ideas flow from often surprises us.

It might flow from a vivid dream, a snippet of a story we hear at a book signing or watching God’s creation as we hike trails that brings forth wonder and delight. We place every writing project at the feet of Jesus and aspire to glorify Him in all we do. Each of our lives has purpose and we hope to infuse that miraculous idea in our writing.

To be continued...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bon Voyage, Sam I Am: Guest Blog by Susan Meissner

Imagine this. You’ve opened your heart and home to half a dozen troubled souls. You’ve taken on their burdens and practically made them your own. You’ve stayed up nights with them, pondered solutions with them, headed down bunny trails with them, intervened for them, stuck up for them, listened to them and gone out on a limb for them. You’ve helped them work through one of the most difficult times they will ever know.

And at the end of that journey, when it’s clear there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them, you finally take step back and realize, they’ve just about driven you crazy. Any novelist will tell you, when you finish a book, you are tired. Tired of writing, tired of thinking, and tired of those people you’ve carted around in your head month after month.

You need a break from them. You really do. You might think the best thing an author can do when he or she finishes a book is turn around right then, while you are still in the moment, and begin the tedious process of editing, but as Paul Kirby said to Amanda in Jurassic Park III, that’s a bad idea.


There’s a little maxim that goes like this: “Familiarity breeds contempt” which I admit, I always thought sounded rude and arrogant. Actually, it just means if you know someone very well you can easily stop respecting them. You don’t hate them. But they no longer wow you.

Any book worth editing should contain characters that still surprise, thrill and inspire you.

I remember mentally sending my characters off on a little vacation once. They needed the break from me as much as I needed it from them. I packed their little virtual suitcases, virtually hugged them goodbye and told them I’d see them in a week or two. And no postcards or text messages, please. No joke. And then I pretended that’s where they really were. Away. Gone. Unable to communicate with me.

Clarity is good. Sometimes it comes when everything is still and quiet – and that means the characters have to shut up and leave you alone for a pair of minutes.

I don’t always have the luxury of sending my characters off on a month-long cruise. Sometimes all they get is three days at Disneyland. But any distance from them is better than no distance. I am always glad to see them when they come home. I welcome them back, I toast their health and suntans, and then we get work.

Sometimes, it isn’t until I see them relaxed and rested that I understand the difference my story made to them.

And by golly, that surely surprise, thrills and inspires me! And makes editing less a chore and more a celebration.

Susan Meissner is the author of ten novels, including The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2008 and the newly released White Picket Fences. She lives in southern California with her pastor husband and their four grown children. Visit Susan at her website:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things Novelists Do When Writer's Block Abounds...

My friends have been at it again. In honor of NaNoWriMo, Angela Hunt, Terri Blackstock, Kristin Billerbeck, and Robin Lee Hatcher. Last week I read Angela's latest, a wonderful legal suspense titled Let Darkness Come. WOW! This woman can write. Actually, all four can. Intervention, Terri Blackstock's latest is on the NYT bestseller's list very deservedly. Kristin has a wonderful style, and Robin Lee Hatcher is amazingly diverse in historical fiction. Between them, they've written 200 books, so you don't expect them to have writer's block. This video is a very fun look into their personalities. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What the Bayou Saw & Giveaway

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

What The Bayou Saw

Kregel Publications (March 24, 2009)


Patti Lacy

Be sure to read the interview when Patti Lacy stopped by in July. I have an extra copy of this book I'd love to send to a good home, so be sure to leave a comment. One copy will go to one lucky home.


Though Patti's only been writing since 2005, she thinks her latest profession of capturing stories on paper (or computer files) will stick awhile.

The Still, Small Voice encouraged Patti to write after a brave Irish friend shared memories of betrayal and her decision to forgive. In 2008, An Irishwoman’s Tale was published by Kregel Publications. Patti’s second novel, What the Bayou Saw, draws on the memories of two young girls who refused to let segregation, a chain link fence, and a brutal rape come between them.

The secrets women keep and why they keep them continue to enliven Patti's gray matter. A third book, My Name is Sheba, has been completed. Patti's WIP, Recapturing Lily, documents a tug-of-war between a Harvard-educated doctor and an American pastor and his wife for a precious child and explores adoption issues, China's "One Child" policy, and both Christian and secular views of sacrifice.

Patti also facilitates writing seminars in schools, libraries, and at conferences and has been called to present her testimony, "All the Broken Pieces," at women's retreats. She also leads a Beth Moore Bible study at her beloved Grace Church.

Patti and her husband Alan, an Illinois State faculty member, live in Normal with their handsome son Thomas, who attends Heartland Community College. On sunny evenings, you can catch the three strolling the streets of Normal with their dog Laura, whom they've dubbed a "Worchestershire Terrier" for her "little dab of this breed, a little dab of that breed.


Segregation and a chain link fence separated twelve-year-old Sally Flowers from her best friend, Ella Ward. Yet a brutal assault bound them together. Forever. Thirty-eight years later, Sally, a middle-aged Midwestern instructor, dredges up childhood secrets long buried beneath the waters of a Louisiana bayou in order to help her student, who has also been raped. Fragments of spirituals, gospel songs, and images of a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans are woven into the story.

The past can't stay buried forever Rising author Patti Lacy's second novel exposes the life of Sally, set amid the shadows of prejudice in Louisiana.

Since leaving her home in the South, Sally Stevens has held the secrets of her past at bay, smothering them in a sunny disposition and sugar-coated lies. No one, not even her husband, has heard the truth about her childhood.

But when one of her students is violently raped, Sally's memories quickly bubble to the surface unbidden, like a dead body in a bayou. As Sally's story comes to light, the lies she's told begin to catch up with her. And as her web of deceit unravels, she resolves to face the truth at last, whatever the consequences.

If you would like to read the first chapter of What The Bayou Saw, go HERE

Watch the Book Trailer:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Christian Vampires? Thirsty on...

WOW! Initially, the idea of a Christian vampire book scared me. I've never read a vampire book, and didn't expect to like it. I was wrong! In Thirsty Tracey has drafted a suspense that is richly layered. Nina Parker is an alcoholic and alcohol has destroyed her life. No, she has allowed alcohol to destroy her life. But now she's been sober 90 days and has an opportunity to start over...but that requires her to go home. A place she left in the middle of the night 17 years ago and has avoided since then.

Nina returns home with her daughter. Back in Abbey Hills, Missouri, weird deaths are happening. The kind that would normally have law enforcement exploring cults and Satanists. But nothing seems to explain them this time.

Nina is a richly drawn character as are the other point of view characters. I cared deeply about her and wanted to know how she was going to grow and how the events would turn out. There is a complex interplay between Nina and her daughter -- who secretly hopes she can someday have a relationship with her mom, but has been hurt too many times. And what about Nina's neighbor? The man seems to know her in ways he shouldn't.

I was leery as I read this about what the vampire angle would be like. It really read like a supernatural suspense where shades of evil were colored as vampires instead of other supernatural elements. The way Tracey developed the story, the vampire angle worked and added a depth to the story. Now, I can't compare it to other vampire books -- I've never read them. However, I can't wait to read the second!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Chat Over Coffee w/ Sandra Glahn

Most of you know I love Bible studies. I'm not always as disciplined as I should be, but I love a study that allows me to dive into the Bible, and pull apart the text. One series that has intrigued me is the Coffee Cup Bible Studies. With titles like Frappe with Philippians or Kona with Jonah, what's not to like?

I was asked if I'd like to participate in a blog tour and receive a copy of Frappe with Philippians. I jumped on the opportunit
y since I'm always looking for new studies to use at church. I haven't had time to dive into this one yet, because we're working through Beth Moore's Esther, but I love the idea. Philippians is a book packed with riches, but it's easy to glaze over them. Hence a study could be the perfect solution.

Below is an interview with the author, but be sure to scroll to the end for some GREAT ideas on how to jumpstart a unique Bible study.

Women who typically feel they don't have the time to do Bible Study find your studies relevant and easy to use. What's the secret to making
the study inviting?

I don't know if there's one secret. Different things appeal to different people. But I do know that with my own personal Bible study time, I've been able to stay fairly consistent Monday through Friday when my daughter is at school. But on the weekends everything changes in our household. Sometimes we travel. Or we sleep later on Saturday. And we rise and go to church on Sunday. Result: my routine gets disrupted. For this reason I often have a more difficult time doing Bible study on the weekends. So I designed the series for Monday-through-Friday study with only short devotional readings on the weekends. The weekday time can require twenty minutes or more; the weekend readings take less than five minutes.

I think the studies also appe
al to the right-brained person. As an artsy type, I sometimes engage more with the Bible if I can write out a prayer, draw, view a related video, compose a story, sing a song... And I wrote this series with that person in mind. The devotionals are also full of stories, which most of us love to hear.

In addition (and this is probably the main reason), when I was working full-time, I wanted a study I could stash in my purse without having to lug a Bible and a commentary. I wanted to use my lunch break for a quiet time without parading my resources in front of people. And I think it helps that the Coffee Cup series books don't look like typical Bible studies; they're all-inclusive (text, commentary, questions included); they're small enough to throw in a briefcase or diaper bag; and they're both spiral and bound--making it easier to use on a treadmill or fold in the lap and write on while sitting. In short they're designed for the multi-tasker. I heard from an ob-gyn who uses them as she's sitting in the doctors' lounge waiting for babies to arrive.

And one more thing--I also include a prayer at the end. I heard from an eighty-something man who told me how much those prayers meant. All his life he had struggled with prayer, and that guidance helped him respond to God. I'm glad that a series directed to women didn't scare him off!

In Jonah with Kona, what do you hope participants will take away and apply to their own lives?

We tend to like our own causes best; we like our own country best; we like our denomination best; we like our own families best; we prefer the schools we attended, the neighborhoods where we grew up, our own political party or cause, our gender--even our brand of peanut butter. And somewhere along the way we cross the line from preference to prejudice. We pray for our loved ones but rarely, if ever, our enemies. Mention atheists, opposing politicians, humanists, materialists, homosexuals, and radical feminists in most churches today, and the response you'll evoke will sound nothing like, "Let's pray right now for God to pour out his love."

Genesis tells us that humans are fellow creations of one maker. The qualities of God that so angered Jonah are the very qualities we most need: grace, compassion, patience, mercy, abundant love, and truth. And not just for those we love--but for those we hate. For those who have wronged us. For those who want us dead. For those with whom we strongly disagree. The only possible way we can demonstrate such remarkable goodness is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The focus of Frappé with Philippians is the life of Paul and the early church. What kind of historical research did you do and did you learn any surprising facts as you compiled your information?

I think it's enormously important to understand the world in which Paul was writing. Let's take the view of women, for example. The Jews were the most conservative. The Greeks were better, though greatly influenced by Aristotle's low view of women. And the Roman women had the most freedom--even owning property and supervising gymnasiums. Knowing a city's predominant citizenship helps us understand Paul's letters on such issues.

My PhD work relates a lot to the Greek pantheon and Greek and Roman history. The historical backgrounds for the Bible books are essential, and fortunately they interest me.

I also love getting a sense of the geography, if I can. I had the advantage this summer of taking a clipper to follow the journeys of Paul. Some of our stops included Corinth, Troas, Neapolis, Philippi, and Athens.

One sentence out of the mouth of a guide in Corinth really stuck with me, as she provided a key to understanding the cities we visited. She mentioned that while American visitors seem generally uninterested in talk of gods and goddesses, knowing which member of the Greek pantheon a city worshiped is essential to understanding that city's mentality. The more I thought about this, the more sense it made:

ATHENS. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, so citizens of Athens wanted their city to reflect culture, religion, and philosophy. And sure enough, in Acts 17 we find Stoic and Epicurean philosophers hanging out at the Areopagus (Mars Hill). Paul affirms them for being religious, and rather than dissing their many false gods, he zeroes in on their altar to the unknown God and tells them about this Almighty one who was not made with hands--One who is never far from any of us.

CORINTH. Corinth was the home of Aphrodite, goddess of love (and not the agape version). Behind the city ruins stands a towering hill at the top of which sat Aphrodite's temple. One could not walk down the street without being conscious of its prominence. Might that explain why the Corinthians had so many issues with sexual immorality, and why Paul tells them that it's good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Cor. 7:1)? For the sake of the kingdom, he encourages them to consider embracing sexual abstinence rather than marrying. How fitting that in a city that prides itself on being a center of love, Paul pens the beautiful definition of true love--known to us as the love chapter (1 Cor. 13).

EPHESUS. Ephesus was home to the virgin Artemis who loved her virgin status and was immune to Aphrodite's love arrows. Among other things, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt. If you take a close look at the Artemis statues from the first and second centuries, you find her legs covered with numerous animals and flanked by a couple of deer. Now, usually we think of women as gatherers and men as hunters. And the fact that Artemis was a hunter suggests she had a less-than-feminine persona. In Ephesus we find stone work with the Amazon story (these women were way independent!), and guides tell visitors that the city was founded by an Amazon queen. The Book of Ephesians was probably intended for more than one city (like Laodicea), so we don't find much that points to a specific city's mentality in that book. But we do find 1 Timothy directed to Paul's protégé in Ephesus, and in it we find an emphasis on widows, women teaching false doctrines, and the need to marry and have children.

When reading the New Testament, I think it's important to find out something of its geography and certainly what member of the Greek pantheon each book's readers were up against. How its authors approached the cities' demons can provide insight for us into engaging a culture that's in love with worldly wisdom, immorality, and a low view of family.

Creative Ways to Have Girlfriend Bible Studies

· Get ripped with Ruth. Meet at the health club and walk side-by-side on the treadmill with your BFF. The study’s spiral binding and modest size lends itself to being stashed in a gym bag. You won’t even have to pack your Bible. The text is included.

· Inhale the aroma of java as you enter your favorite coffee shop. Order yourself a cappuccino, and then hang out around the table with friends discussing Colossians.

· For your friend’s birthday, give her chocolate-covered coffee beans and a Coffee Cup Bible study. Promise her an hour every week of your time for building your friendship on what lasts.

· Invite the person who does your nails to consider the words of Jesus. Provide a copy of Mocha on the Mount, and every time you’re together discuss what you’re both learning as you go through it.

· Schedule an extended “Spiritual Spa Day” together by watching and discussing a movie about Esther as you kick off bi-weekly meetings around your kitchen table. Contemplate what the Hadassah spa—Esther’s year of beauty treatments—must have been like. Then consider the part of her beauty that was deeper than skin.

· You don’t have to sip your cuppa joe in a shop that starts with an “S.” Grab some colleagues and organize a small group study. You can nurse your favorite beverage in the company cafeteria, the hospital coffee shop—even your local McDonald’s.

· Brew a pot of coffee in your church kitchen and meet one evening per week with members of your congregation. Engage in a lively discussion about Deborah, Jael, and Samson’s mother as you go through Java with the Judges.

About the Books:

(Dallas, Texas)- There's nothing better than curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee--and there's no better book than the Bible. Sandra Glahn continues her series of Coffee Cup Bible Studies, presenting Kona with Jonah and Frappe with Philippians. Using creative teaching resources, including the Internet, art, online study groups and more, Glahn provides a special blend of bold and flavorful experiences that will bring participants back for a second cup of God's Word.

Kona with Jonah begins with a brief history of Jonah and Ninevah. Merging historical event with current modern day practicality, Glahn invites readers to take a walk in Jonah's sandals. Coffee sippers will find it hard to escape the similarities as these two worlds collide. Prayer, mercy, city revival and other strong themes will perk the interest and heart of diligent students.

Frappé with Philippians brews for five weeks of strong, powerful conversation about Paul and the heroes of the Philippian church. With detailed study time spent examining the letters of Paul to the Church, readers will come away feeling like they have met with the man himself. With sections entitled "That God Will Get me Out of Here, and Other Prayer Requests Paul Doesn't Make," Glahn keeps the tone of the study light, without disrespecting the seriousness of the study of God's Word.


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