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One of the highlights of homeschooling are the discussions I have with my children in the mornings. Our mornings are not a rush and flurry of breakfast, dressing and scrambling out the door. (note: I’m not saying that every family does that…just that ours would!) Instead, we have breakfast, clean-up and get to the dining room table by 8:30 every morning to do table time–our term for what happens at the table during that time. I know. I’m impressing you with our skill in naming events and habits.

It was at table time this week that a question came up in our faith studies that lead to an interesting discussion about plans for life, goals on how to achieve them and what’s needed to make it all come together.

Despite all my teaching (more thoughts on the ineffectiveness of teaching coming soon) and previous discussions about the importance of having one’s priorities in line, my children didn’t have it figured out yet. When I asked them what was the most important thing in life, they said, “God!” Score one for them.

Next question: If all your goals and dreams, your life’s accomplishments and relationships were to look like a pyramid, where would God be?

Their answer: At the top!

Wrong.

They argued for a moment, but watched as I drew this:

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Question: What’s the problem with putting God at the top? If you put Him there, there is nothing to hold Him up. That’s not to suggest that God needs us to hold him up, but if we are placing Him first, how does He stay up there while we are building our pyramid?

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Instead, make God and your faith formation the foundation. Build that foundation large and thick and sturdy. Prepare that foundation for earthquakes, hail storms, torrential rains and tornados. Keep the seams of the bricks strong with mortar. Check those seams often for leaks and patch them quickly. Inspect that foundation often for cracked bricks and holes that let in the elements.

Working up from that foundation, we can seek and find a thousand different answers as to what should be second, third, and fourth on the levels. My mentors, the people I trust most have encouraged me to focus on the following: First: God. Second: my personal education toward a greater understanding of my purpose. Third: my vocation (Marriage or Holy Orders). Fourth: my family. Fifth: myself (the quiet time to read and write I crave).

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I’m sure there is something in this list you will disagree with. I certainly did when I first heard this and my children were not sure about it either. But when asked to place their priorities on a pyramid with the foundation being the most important, it’s interesting to note that every person has taken TIME to think about it.

That’s the key. Take the time to think about your priorities. Write them down. Then follow them!

My husband and I used this as the foundation for our family meeting last night. It was a powerful conversation that will ultimately direct the family’s activities over the next few months and was formulated on the idea of the pyramid. If, as a family, we are not working toward the same goal, then we are pulling apart at the seams. This doesn’t mean that we must all have the same interests or must all do the same things, but everything we do individually must work for the Schaub Mob (our nickname).

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We, as a family, have a need to work together on a common goal. Using the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, the word “Compassion” came up several times. We decided that as a family, we need to practice showing compassion to each other, participating in activities that promote compassion, and carefully considering which activities will help us respond with passion.

Going back to the pyramid again, we are each building our own structure, but have agreed to strive to set the capstone of ‘compassion’ on the top. We discussed how this looks in daily living and with friends and other family members – striving to be leaders who have a plan of where they are going and how to get there. Compassion as the mission for our family will also guide our decisions in which and how many extracurricular activities we do. We don’t have it all figured out yet, but our goal is clear.

I share this with you because it has become an American tradition to go through life without a goal, without a plan and with no mission. As a result, our society has become complacent, lifeless and even in some circumstances, backwards. This is the first generation in which the children are less education than their parents (resource). If you think that you or your family falls into this category, join us in digging our way out of that. Start by laying a strong foundation on faith in God. Look to your family to help you build the next few levels. Choose a mission, a goal for yourself and your family. Build something great together.

While the Pharaohs built their pyramids out of pride, ours are built in order to create a legacy of faith-filled learners, self-educators and leaders. Who knows, your legacy might be a structure that lasts thousands of years and guides stray wanderers over miles of barren desert.

In preparing for a talk I’m gave to high school teachers this month, the image of a river came to my attention several times. From bible verses to inspirational quotes on Pinterest, the analogies I drew from the picture of a river were nearly endless.

I was going over my presentation one morning with my husband, discussing the different types of personalities and how that determines where we are in life. The more I thought about it, the more meaningful the analogy became.

This is not one of those ‘What kind of (fill-in-the-blank) are you?’ quizzes I’ve seen on Facebook, but more of a reflection that will hopefully help the reader identify how the flow of life, the stream of communication, the tributaries of distractions can determine how we are effectively functioning.

Are you the water in the river? Do you go with the flow, riding out every rush, every stagnant corner, following the crowd to whatever destination is at the end?

Or are you the river bank, watching the action from the (supposedly) safe sideline? Are you a muddy bank, steep in your convictions to not become a part of the rushing waters? Watch out for mudslides!

Are you that giant boulder planted firmly in the center of the river, stubbornly resisting change and forcing everything that comes near you to get out of the way?

Are you the tree on the edge of the river gripping the bank tightly as to not fall in, but gaining the nourishing waters from the current?

Are you the fallen tree that landed in the river and is now collecting debris?

Are you a slow, muddy river whose surface is difficult to see through? Are you a crystal-clear stream with light trickling noises as your water slides over a pebble-bed?

Are you a white-rapids river, daring rafters and kayaks to survive?

Are you a tributary river? A Delta? An Amazon?

Are you the Nile, flooding the surrounding area with life-sustaining nutrients?

I do not believe anyone can be stuck as one type of river. As we grow, we move from stagnant waters to rapids, from the watchful tree to the fallen debris-collecting corpse of wood.

Yesterday I was a dammed river who was stumped and couldn’t get past an obstacle. Today I feel like a surging river in the spring, filled with energy and charging forward. Tomorrow? Whatever river I will channel (pun intended) it will lead me toward greatness or ruin. I choose greatness.

As I read this passage this morning, I was suddenly caught by the question that came to mind:

How would I know if I was a weed?

Matthew 13:24-30

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning’ but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ”

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The parable implies that some people in the world are planted here by the evil one. I would prefer not to believe that Satan would create people for the sole purpose of evil, but my preferences have little to do with anything that goes on outside my own household. I do believe that God blesses every birth and fills us with the potential to be blessings to the world. Yes, that includes all children from every situation, background, race, and creed. But Satan does have power, can bend our perceptions, and warp our understanding of what is good, what is necessary, what God’s plan for us really is. In doing so, Satan plants seeds of doubt, which grow into weeds of discontent at the requests of God. If those seeds are given enough time and space to grow, we become weeds in the field. Weeds choke out the wheat.

But what is a weed? Weeds are any plant that grows among a crop, in this case, a field of wheat. A weed takes more energy from the soil than it needs, choking out the wheat. When I think of weeds, I think of all the hours I spend in my garden, pulling the unwanted plants up by the root, tossing them into the wheelbarrow and hauling them off to the weed pile–a ever growing mound of grass, dandelions and stray prairie plants that will destroy my strawberry patches and clutter up the rows of beets and tomatoes.

While the weeds in the parable are gathered and burned, the grain is ground into flour to make bread, the most basic meal, the most filling. But it’s ground into flour. How often do we feel ground between the milestones of faith vs. the world? How often do our choices to attempt to be Christians leave us feeling more like dusty flour than a whole grain?

What types of weeds are cluttering our world? The population can’t agree on what is a weed and what isn’t; even in a garden, some of the weeds do have beautiful flowers. How can we pull the sprouting menaces up by the root if we can’t even agree on what needs to be taken out and what needs to be given time to grow.

Abortion is a weed, choking out the newly planted seed of life.

Bullying is a weed that poisons the gentle hearts of children and adults.

Jealousy is a weed that alters our vision into seeing that what other people have is so much better than what we have.

Hatred is a weed that we plant in our own hearts. If it’s fed enough, it destroys our lives while leaving a trail of deadly seeds along the way.

What can counter these garden pests? Love. Abortion is stopped when a mother realizes that that clump of cells isn’t just a random growth formation, but an intentionally forming human being with a heartbeat and the potential to be a great person.

Bullying is the result of low self-esteem and is cured when self-love is nourished. Parents, teachers and other friends can help. The victims of bullying need more love than anyone. Words and physical abuse take years to heal, but if love is present in a never-ending supply, there is a cure.

Jealousy disappears when we learn to love the gifts and blessings we’ve been given. Sure, we might not have that car or those shoes, but we have what we have. Look around and see that you have things that others don’t. Jealousy is perspective. Love where you are.

Hatred is the opposite of love. Just as the darkness ends when the sun rises, so too does the blackness of hatred.

As a nation, we need to harvest a nourishing crop of LOVE. Then and only then can we identify the weeds.

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I was recently in a position to overhear a conversation at a book store concerning the quality of books for young adults. The statements regarding concern over the quality of recent young adult books was at the heart of the conversation. Teen romance is scary enough in real life, the idea of reading about it was enough to send one woman over the edge. The other woman tried to defend it, stating that the character qualities in the books were actually more mature than what the average teenager would experience and that by reading such literature (a term I use loosely when referring to teen romance books) it might actually help young hearts as they tramp through the dating scene.  Having never read teen romance, I must admit that I cannot declare an educated decision on this matter. In all honesty, both women are probably correct. When they caught me listening in, they asked me my opinion: What do you let your children read? How do you select books for teenagers? How do you make your children read? All good questions. booksI gladly climbed aboard my soapbox and shared.

What do I let my children read?

Books with integrity. Books with strong characters in nearly impossible situations who overcome odds to become great heroes. Books based on history–the ugly parts: The Holocaust (The Diary of Anne Frank or Number the Stars by Lois Lowry), Slavery (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson or Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas), War (The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne), Family Issues (Almost Home by Joan Bauer).

Books that allow escape: Fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende), Historical Fiction (The Little House of the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson).

Books that teach, encourage by example (Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour).

When I’m asked to give my opinion on how to select books for young adults, I can only offer suggestions. I encourage the reader to consider books that allow them to put on different skin, view through a different set of eyes, see a part of the world they would never otherwise see. That’s why we read or watch TV or go to the movies: for the experience of the story. My personal opinion will probably carry little weight with parents who are simply thrilled when their children read anything. The concern of the quality of the literature isn’t considered important, but it is. Just as people fawn over mass-produced or organic produce, the quality of literature is even more important because it effects the health of the soul. If detoxing your body is difficult, imagine how much more effort goes into detoxing a soul. If the Bible isn’t something a young adult reads regularly, then that is a great place to start.

When my children were young, I had grandiose plans of reading every book before they did. This worked until I was outnumbered three to one. As the stack of books for me to pre-approve grew taller than me, I realized that I needed a different strategy. It came down to a three-step process of approving books before I could read them.

  1. Read reviews of the book on Amazon. By reading a few of the 5 star and a few of the 1-2 star ratings and reviews, I could gather any potential inappropriate themes that I would not approve of.
  2. Post a request to friends for thoughts on the books we want to read. I used to use Facebook for this quite a bit. It generated some really great discussions.
  3. If a book passed the first two steps, then my children were allowed to read it, with one rule: If it ever felt inappropriate, they were to bring it to me for a discussion.

By doing our research and giving my children the authority to determine if I would approve of a book or not, we’ve discovered that they are much more cautionary than I am about what they read. Any book with a swear word is brought to my attention. I’ve even read books after my daughters have and have found words and sometimes phrases blackened out. Censorship at its best!

The last question, How do you make your children read?, really stumped me. Simple answer: I don’t make them read anything. Long answer: years of modeling reading, giving them time to read, providing time at the library for browsing, giving books as presents, rewarding good behavior with an extra story at bedtime. We turned off the TV years ago. Instead of the furniture arranged to watch a screen, it’s arranged around book shelves and tables with books and big comfy reading pillows.

Remember your teen years? Did anything your parents make you do become fulfilling? The typical answer is no. It comes down to putting your actions where your mouth is. You say you want children who are strong readers, then you must practice reading strong. If you want children who gravitate toward books instead of video games, then you must do the same. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t give your young girls romance novels! What good can they possibly glean from such books?

In all these qualifications of what to read and how to encourage teens to read, there was nothing that would classify a teen romance novel as a good choice.

The idea of taking a pilgrimage came up twice today in our homeschooling readings. First, in Matthew Kelly’s Decision Point Program, he defined a pilgrimage as a “spiritual journey to a holy place” and list the top ten Catholic Pilgrimages.

 

The second mention was in the YouCat–the Youth’s Catechism of the Catholic Church–where a pilgrimage was defined a “a prayer with your feet”.

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Both definitions intrigued me, partly because it was odd that we read about it twice in one day and partly because the idea of taking a pilgrimage seems out of fashion. Both of these books are recent publications–within the last 10 years, but so rarely–okay, never–do I hear of people taking a pilgrimage. I’ve known professors and scientists who will go on sabbatical. I wonder if that’s similar. But no, a sabbatical, while sounding like a Sabbath, is really more of a vacation from the duties of work so one can explore and research a specific interest related to that work.

 

Images of the Canterbury Tales come to mind. Stories of the stories people told during their pilgrimage toward a holy place. The movie, The Way, detailing one man’s walk on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, is another. I could go to the Vatican, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, or Jerusalem. My question is this: in flying, taking a train or taxi to any of these places take away from the journey of praying with my feet?

 

Part of the beauty (because there can be beauty in conflict) of a foot-styled pilgrimage is the obstacles that one must overcome in order to reach that Holy destination. If it is sped up, simplified, and too easy, would that take away from the potential of my holy experience? Has going on a pilgrimage been traded down for tourism? I don’t want to be a Christian tourist–buying the knick-knacks of faith, photographing the cathedrals, and staying in my faith only long enough to be caught on film smiling and tanned. The pilgrimage of true faith seems like it would be gritty and difficult. Not like Jesus’ pilgrimage to Golgotha–nothing like that. But is a pilgrimage truly a pilgrimage if I don’t suffer a bit?

 

I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I can worry about taking a month to walk the Camino de Santiago or flying to Rome to visit the Vatican, I must first afford such luxuries. Because that’s where my abilities are limited–or at least my beliefs in the ability I have to take a month, or even just a week, away from my life as a mother. Sure, I could take the kids. That would likely increase the potential for holiness. How would Bill manage a month away? As a self-employed business owner, if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

 

All that brings me to this question: Until I can afford to steal Bill and the kids away from our life for a month, can I find a way to make a pilgrimage? How can I pray with my feet as I walk through the grocery store, behind the vacuum, or between the sink and the refrigerator? Where can I go to seek a holy place that will get me there and back on one tank of gas?

 

That is my new mission.

 

And the answer to that is found in scripture–of course. Pray always. Pray unceasingly. That means that in everything I do, in every step I take, I do everything with the intention of bringing my thoughts, words and actions to God as praise for his mercy. It means that every meal I cook, every dark hour I’m not sleeping, every book I set down to help someone else, I’m offering up my tiny sacrifices to God. It also means that when I accomplish my dreams, that the glory of that accomplishment goes to God. The more I learn about Him, the more I realize I can’t do a thing without Him.

 

Until I can set foot in Italy or Spain or Portugal, until I can take a vacation that has a purpose, I will make my daily tasks my pilgrimage.

 

 

 

The sequel to Gateways is finally here! To celebrate this release, I’m answering some of the more common questions readers ask.

front cover Elder's Circle

What is your book about?

Picking up right where Gateways, Book I of The Elemental Chronicles left off, Victoria believes that she’ll be home tomorrow. After all, she defeated Ona, the mage who killed her father, and essentially saved the world. Or did she? Ona may be gone, but her followers are not. While they try to track her down, trouble brews in the Sphinx City where Elder Parnassus has been stripped of his elder-ship and the political atmosphere is tense, made worse by rivers turning to blood, fly infestations, and a plague of frogs that defile the city. Parnassus knows that the Mage Societies most valued possession – Faith – is at risk. But without Victoria to help, his hands…um, paws are tied.

Who would enjoy this book?

I wrote this for young adults, but students from sixth grade and up will enjoy it. It’s a fantasy, so obviously if you prefer a realistic story, this might be a stretch. The Elder’s Circle continues the adventure that Victoria Nike has found herself in–this episode takes her to other terraces and introduces more of the backstory that was hinted at in Gateways.

“The Chronicles inhabit a very rich and detailed universe filled with beautiful and poetic writing. With echoes of The Hunger Games and more fairytale-like stories such as The Magic Brush, the books weave Christian fiction ideals with adventure and magic for young adults.”  – Cate Baum, Self-Publishing Review

From where did the idea of this story come?

I always appreciate this question. It tells me that people are aware that the stories are not only crafted, but searched for, found, given inspiration, then fine-tuned. I especially appreciate it when students ask this question. I can always identify the budding writers in the group based on this question.

In answer, the idea for the first book in The Elemental Chronicles, Gateways, came to me when I was nine.  I had a dream that I found a secret city hidden between the walls of our house. It was such a detailed dream that it consumed my thoughts for weeks. That led to my fascination with miniatures–little doll houses, tiny reading nooks, even miniature books. The idea that there could be a different reality hidden in plain sight stayed with me. Gateways Mockup

Fast forward a good many years…I read Philip Pulman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. I was appalled to discover that he wrote those books with the express purpose of turning today’s youth away from God. As an acclaimed Atheist, he saw it as his duty to pull as many teens as possible away from the goodness of God, the teachings of faith and morality, and leave them with the idea that God is dead and we must become our own gods. That seems to be a growing belief in our society, but it leads to the total destruction of our world. That’s a strong opinion, I know. But I firmly believe that there is a right and a wrong and I go to my faith when I question a choice or need to make a decision.

I was shocked to learn that someone would want to turn people away from Truth, that I decided to do the same…if Pulman’s books were designed to draw young minds away from God, then my writing would bring them back. Without preaching, but with the promise of God and His eternal plan for our happiness, I am writing The Elemental Chronicles. The Elder’s Circle is the second installment in that series. A third book is coming.

You haven’t written on this blog much lately. What’s up with that?

You noticed that, huh? Much has happened in the last seven months. My husband and I have moved our four children from the city to the country. Until our house is built, we are living in a tiny house, made more tiny by the fact that we down-sized quite a bit to make this move possible and we still are homeschooling – our dining room table is in the family room. We do like to sit together when we eat, so the table needs to be constantly cleared off. More often than not, we simply stack our school books on the floor or on the center of the table during meals.

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To add to the challenges of being a writer who is supposed to work at marketing her own work, we don’t have internet. That’s how out-in-the-country we are! I’m sitting at the local library right now, my new favorite place. I come here once a week to use their internet access and try to catch up with the world.

A surprising benefit to not having internet at home is how much more I can accomplish in writing, reading and homeschooling without the ease of distraction. Unplugging from the World Wide Web was probably one of the best things I’ve done since cancelling cable T.V. six years ago.

What’s next?

Outside of working on book III for The Elemental Chronicles, I’m polishing two other manuscripts for submission to publishers, waiting for my house to be built, and preparing for several speaking engagements I have this winter.

I pray that what’s next for you is a trip through a painting with Victoria!

God Bless!

Jessica

 

 

“A Christian Author? Really?”

That was the response I received at the park the other day as I talked with a woman I just met as our sons became quick friends in the sand box. I’ll admit, I didn’t know how to respond. In a heartbeat, several scenarios ran through my mind:

Lady: “A Christian Author? Really?”

Me: “Right? I’m mean, there aren’t many of us.”

Which lead me to think, Why aren’t there more of us?

or…

Lady: “A Christian Author? Really?”

Me: “I know, can you believe it?” said with a negative tone.

But, no. This isn’t the correct response. I hope that if you ever met me, it would completely make sense. What else would I write about?

 

My actual response:

“Yep.”

 

Her next question: “Why? I mean, haven’t all the stories about Jesus been told in the Bible?”

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Me: “No. It’s likely that all the stories about Jesus aren’t even in the Bible. We have a few, but he was 33 years old when he was crucified. He lived, traveled and taught his Apostles for three years. There is no way ALL of that is included in the Gospels. Besides, if Jesus is who he says he is – the Savior – and he is; if he taught us that we can find forgiveness and mercy in our belief in him – and we can; if he promised us Heaven – and it’s real, does his story end with his Resurrection and Ascension? No. If Jesus is the Son of God, then he is just as active in the lives of people today as he was when he walked the earth. There are millions of stories there. I try to tell just a few.”

Unforgettable Roads Front Cover

She liked my answer, but lamented the fact that so many writers today write to shock, to sell, to entertain, to fall into a popular trend. Her comment lead me to prayerfully consider what we as a community of people are called to do. Where do we find the list of goals and instructions for our lives? Yeah, the Bible. Below are the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. The bullet point listed in blue is what I’ve added specifically in regard to my purpose as a writer, but the question should be asked of every person in every career.

 

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Counsel the doubtful.

  • Encourage the youth.
  • Speak kindly and honestly.
  • Spend time with those who doubt the faith.
  • We are not called to relax in our faith, but to strive toward bringing the faith to others. Faith in God is Truth. Share it. It will change the world.
  • Write stories that inspire those who have been hurt, those who have seen terrible things. Write the truth.

Instruct the ignorant.

  • Teach by example. Not only your own children, but everyone you come in contact with.
  • Read and share. If you haven’t read a book in the last week, you have nothing new to share.
  • Tutor
  • Be a mentor.
  • Write about the time you learned humility. What about that time you learned what it meant to be virtuous? Does your writing instruct (without being preachy) or do your characters simply react to situations without an overall guiding belief?

Admonish the sinner.

  • Again, teach by example.
  • Be gentle in your words of correction.
    • When Ben Franklin was young, he was an unkind know-it-all whom no one liked. When this was pointed out to him by a good friend, Ben started tempering his statements with:
      • I might be wrong, but I think…
      • It seems to me that…
      • What do you think will happen when/if…
      • (I’m going to add this one) I think I know what you are going through. Can I tell what you happened to me?
  • Admonish, according to the dictionary.com means: to caution, advise, or counsel against something. Although this has a negative connotation, it doesn’t have to be practiced in that way. Admonishment can – and should – be encouragement.
  • For writers, the rule is “Don’t preach. Entertain.” No one appreciates being told they are wrong. What story helped you understand how to make good decisions? What can you share that will help others learn from your (or a characters’) mistakes? The best experience is someone else’s experience.

Comfort the sorrowful.

  • Hug those who need you.
  • Write letters to friends. Good old-fashioned letters with hand-written messages sent with a stamp.
  • Bring food to friends who are sad.
  • Cry with them.
  • Listen.
  • Text, Facebook, and Twitter encouragement.
  • What does your writing – fiction or non-fiction – do to support hope? The world is full of sorrow, conflict, and death. While death is in our future, it should never be a way of life. Offer life.

Forgive all injuries.

  • Forgiveness is the greatest medicine of all! You know that thing that so&so did all those years ago? Yeah, that. You felt your skin flash with heat at the thought of it. Let it go. (Don’t sing the song, just let that feeling go.) Forgive them. Forget the event. Learn from it, don’t repeat it. But don’t allow that event to dictate your future.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t make you weak. Think about what it means to forgive. It means that you aren’t going to harness a mistake to another person. If you believe that slavery is a horrifying human existence, then you would never pierce another person with the irons of un-forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness not only helps the other person move forward, but it does the same for you. Un-forgiveness chains you to the past.
  • How does your writing reflect the power of Forgiveness? Do you know the power of forgiveness? Explore it in your writing.

Bear wrongs patiently.

  • People who have strong character have high expectations for themselves, but are easy on others. Those who have a weak character have really high expectations for everyone else, but are easy on themselves. Think of the last big football game you watched with a big crowd (at the stadium, tailgating, or a Super Bowl setting). Was the person shouting the loudest and most passionately at the players bearing a less than athletic physique? Who are we to impatiently watch others try and fail if we are just sitting on the sidelines?
  • Even if we are actively involved, we must allow for error because someday it will be our turn to sit in the hot seat.
  • Writers practice this always… with those agents and editors that don’t know how amazing we are :)

Pray for the living and the dead.

  • Who can’t use more prayer?
  • The Catholic Church teaches that we can still pray for those who have died. There are three different levels of existence: The Church Triumphant (Saints in heaven. And not just the Saints the Catholic Church celebrates, but every soul that has made it to heaven); The Church Militant (Us. Now. We living souls in the World who struggle to survive, to believe, to have faith); the Church Suffering (those who have died and are in Purgatory. Purgatory is to be feared, but it’s like the ultimate cleansing before heaven. Based on my studies on this topic, I would much prefer to go straight to heaven and skip the cleansing fires of Purgatory. But if it’s between the cleansing fires of Purgatory and the damning fires of Hell, I chose Purgatory.) All that to say, the Church Triumphant prays for us (Militant) and for the Suffering (Souls in Purgatory). We can do something similar. We can pray for the Suffering (to reach Heaven soon) and ask the soul in Heaven (because they have already triumphed) to pray for us in our sufferings. Just as we pray for our family and friends, so too can those in heaven pray for us. As a writer, or in choosing books to read, do I choose Triumphant literature (steeped in Truth), Militant literature (stories of those striving for Good and Right), or Suffering Literature (stories that change how I see suffering, sacrifice, pain, and difficulty as a means to beauty). If I write anything outside of these, I am choosing to fill my mind with stories that do me no good.

I would be interested to hear your opinion on these Spiritual Works of Mercy. It’s not a question of faith, but of intent. What is the purpose of your writing, or your career, your hobbies?

 

There was a day in my past when I truly believed that I needed to know how to do everything. And then I became a mom. I realized I knew nothing.

Nadda.

No thing.

I wish I had read Deliver Me: Confessions of Motherhood, a compilation of essays edited by Laura Diamond. Mothers are a species unto their own. Stories of labor and delivery are bonds of friendships – those personal battlefields of brining forth life when we struggle against the pain to receive the joy of motherhood. And the pain doesn’t stop there… as I’m typing this, there is a four-year-old loudly singing as he rifles through the box of Legos for just the right piece. In the background, my three daughters are all practicing their instruments. And now the dog is barking. As much as I would like to run screaming from the house, I also know that these days are short and precious. There will be a day when my house is too quiet and I will crave this chaos. I wish I could bottle up this noise so I can savor it on a day when I would truly appreciate it.

Laura Diamond understands this. Deliver Me is just the beginning. This girl is going places! Watch for her name. This might be the first time you hear of her, but it certainly won’t be the last!

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  1. Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood is one of those books that make the reader laugh and cry. What was the inspiration behind the project?

 

The inspirations for this project were my two little boys, and the talented writers of the L.A. Poets & Writers Collective.

As a stay-home mom with two little boys, I yearned for a creative outlet. I wanted to make something, other than sandwiches. I was lucky to be in a writing class with members of the L.A. Poets & Writers Collective, taught by the poet Jack Grapes. Every week in class, students read from our most recent work. And every week I was blown away by what I heard. Some writers, like me, wrote about parenthood. I thought, why not put some of these together to capture many voices on the same life-changing experience of parenthood. I put out a call for submissions, and the stories started coming in. I chose two of my own pieces, and selected work from nineteen other women to create this anthology.

Headshot, hi res

 

  1. I noticed on your blog that you list (and presumably support) several non-profit organizations that help women and the disadvantaged – One Billion Rising, Kiva.org, and A Window Between Worlds – to name just the first three listed. How are you involved with these organizations? What is it that drew you to include them on your blog? What is the ‘Call to Action’ you hope for from your blog readers?

Growing up, social action was part of our family’s life and values. My parents were always involved in politics, and that naturally became part of my world view. In Judaism, “Tikkun Olam,” or healing the world, is central.

I thought that a blog about motherhood should highlight organizations that help women and girls. I chose organizations that I have personally donated to because of their mission and their effectiveness. One Billion Rising, for example, is a multinational movement started by the playwright Eve Ensler, focused on ending violence against women worldwide. A Window Between Worlds, brings art therapy to women and families in Los Angeles who have suffered domestic violence. Kiva.org makes microloans to women in developing countries, so that they can start small businesses. Evidence shows that when women thrive, their families and villages benefit.

The organization I am most committed to is PATH Beyond Shelter, which is dedicated to helping homeless families get back into permanent housing, find employment, and rebuild their lives. Every mother should have a place to tuck in her children at night, no exceptions. I joined their Board when my younger son was one year old, after I had met a homeless woman with a child his age. Over $2,000 in proceeds from sales of Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood has been donated to Beyond Shelter. Also, my forthcoming novel, Shelter Us, touches on the plight of homeless families.

 

  1. As the editor of a book dedicated to mothers, would you share one of your favorite stories from your own experience as a mother? (happy, sad, touching… you choose ;)

 

My mother-in-law says, Men tell war stories; women tell birth stories. Here’s one more.

Contrary to public perception, just because you’re nine months pregnant doesn’t mean you know the first thing about giving birth. Thank goodness the baby knows what to do. You just have to stay out of the way.

Still, when I was nine months pregnant with my second child, you might think I’d be well versed in the experience. Not so. Even though I had given birth once, I had no idea what it felt like to go into labor. I had been induced the first time. So it was with some bewilderment that I said to my husband one Sunday morning, the day before my due date, “I feel…funny.”

“Are you in labor?”

“How should I know?”

So we went on with our day, taking our 3 ½ -year-old son to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, with its ponies and live music and, of course, farmers. An hour later, I felt “funny” every twenty minutes.

“I think we should go home,” I said.

“Can I have ice cream?” our son said.

“Sure,” my husband said, prompted by guilt over bringing a new baby into our family, as well as by a hankering for Phish Food.

They sat in Ben & Jerry’s enjoying their cones. I paced outside. I felt like an octopus was inside me, pressing on all my parts and levers, seeing how things worked. I had to keep moving to stay a step ahead of it.

When we got home, I called my parents who lived nearby to let them know it was time for them to come over. They came, as did my sister and nieces. They were all there to care for and play with our little boy so we could scoot out to the hospital to give him a brother.

As we said our excited good-byes, my little boy had these parting words: “Mommy, play with me.” He sat on the hardwood floor surrounded by wooden Thomas-style trains, with dozens of track pieces spilled around him. That wood floor had never looked so hard and unwelcoming. “Play with me?” he asked again. How could I say no to this child who I loved more than anything in the world, who would soon be second fiddle to a needy newborn?

My husband stood at the door holding my bag. My parents, concerned for their own baby, said, “Go on, we got this covered.” I looked from them to him. The sweet green eyes, the crown of brown ringlets – how to resist? I wobbled over, sat down on the unforgiving floor, and played trains until the next contraction lifted me off my feet and out the door.

 

  1. What kinds of marketing techniques have you implemented? What has worked…what hasn’t?

 

Book readings! These are the most fun, and when you have 20 authors in one book, each has a long list of friends to invite to different venues. It’s important to only go places where you know you have enough friends or family to show up. I approached independent bookstores in cities where I have lots of family and friends, and they were all welcoming. I used direct e-mail to get people to come, as well as some giveaways.

 

  1. Your bio on your blog mentions that you didn’t enter the world of adulthood seeking a career as a writer, but have always kept a journal. I have two questions: First, what drew you to keep a journal? Second, what led you to writing? (was it a hobby or did you start writing with a mission in mind?)

 

My first journal was a Hello Kitty diary, in which I wrote about the daily travails of a fourth grader. I still have it. I was pretty funny. The next journal I had was a gift to me when I was 13, from one of my mom’s oldest friends. That marked the beginning of my adolescent journal-keeping, a practice that kept me sane and centered through high school and college. Writing in my journal was a way to sort out the tangled emotions of adolescence. To figure out who I was and what I wanted.

I loved the way I felt when I wrote, the way it awakened my senses and powers of observation, both to the outside world and my inner self. I kept writing a journal through law school and while practicing law, but never thought of it as something more than a hobby.

When my first son was 2 ½ years old, I decided to pause my law career. I realized with excitement that maybe that would also give me more time to write. I wrote whatever was on my mind – which was a lot mom-stuff and kid-stuff and nap-stuff. Frankly, I was disappointed in myself. I thought I should be writing about something more substantial, more worldly. That is, until another writer, who was not a parent, told me that my writing brought them into a world totally unlike their own life. So I said, to heck with it, I’m a woman with two little kids, and this is what’s on my mind. I write what I write. And the rest of the book unfolded.

My muses came in human form, my two boys. Before they were born, I was a lawyer who had always liked writing. After they were born, I became a writer. I recently returned to practicing law, but I’ve kept writing. Now I do all the things I love: lawyer, writer, mother.

 

  1. What writing resources do you find valuable? (conferences, books, magazines, blogs?)

One of my current favorite websites/blogs is Writer Unboxed. Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird is a favorite, as are Carolyn See’s The Literary Life, Stephen King’s On Writing. One of my favorite writing resources is to read great writers.

 

  1. What snippet of wisdom – a quote or a saying your parents spoke frequently – would you like to share to inspire?

 

My parents didn’t speak aphorisms, unless you count “What am I, chopped liver?”

My Dad did often say to me and my sister when we were bickering about something silly, “Remember, girls, you are the only sister each of you will ever have. You will be sisters for the rest of your life.” He meant, you are family, you must value and support each other. She is one of my biggest supporters, and Writers need as much moral support as we can get. I now tell my own children, “Remember boys, you have one brother for the rest of your life,” to remind them to stick together and support each other.

My parents always made sure I knew that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. That didn’t mean it would be easy. But believing in yourself is necessary to stick with a project until you achieve it.

 

Upcoming Events:

My debut novel, Shelter Us, will be published in June 2015 by She Writes Press. I look forward to sharing more events then!

 

Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and select Indie stores.

www.ConfessionsofMotherhood.com

Twitter @LauraDiamond1

 

Ready for something fun? Sandra Bennett is it. Her book, Gingerbread Aliens, is wonderfully crafted to draw even the most reluctant reader into the literary world. I am thrilled to introduce to you, a great lady fro Down Under, Sandra Bennett!

Sandra Bennett

Your book, Gingerbread Aliens, had my son in a fit of giggles! He loved it. You clearly have a talent for sparking joy and laughter in the young at heart. Where does this wisdom come?

I have always felt laughter is the key to encourage children to develop a love of reading, so that makes me delighted when I hear that my book has tickled someone else’s sense of humour. Our own house has always been full of laughter and entertainment with my boys and all their friends. I notch up a lot of my ideas from the wonderful experiences they have all brought to my life. I believe it is being constantly surrounded by my family that has enriched my ideas and kept me young at heart. I also regard myself as lucky in that I taught Primary school children for many years, my favourites were always the Kindies and year ones. In that respect I always considered myself like a “mother hen,” all clucky, wanting to embrace and cherish them all. I began writing stories for them and about them in a bid to engage them in the learning to read process. Having also taught English as a Second Language and Literacy Assistance I have a strong belief that stories need to be easily relatable to children if you expect them to want to learn to read and that we only have a small window of time to turn them into life-long lovers of reading.

Cover Gingerbread Aliens

I was particularly impressed with the illustrations. Who is your illustrator? How did you connect?

Hayley Welsh was the illustrator for Gingerbread Aliens. She is a young artist living in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. At the time we were introduced she happened to be working for my husband on an oil and gas project. He saw some of her drawings and asked if she would be interested in reading my manuscript and the rest as they say, is history.

 What was your greatest moment in your writing career?

Two memorable moments come to mind quite quickly. Firstly, the moment I opened the email from The Australian National Eisteddfod requesting the use of Gingerbread Aliens in their 2013 Championship Section of Speech and Drama for Ten years and under, to when I was finally able to watch the performances of the children on stage reading from the book. I feel it was a great honour to watch the children perform exerts of my book. It gave me such delight to see they were obviously really enjoying themselves onstage reading my words, that truly was a great moment. The other great moment was the time when I arrived at a school for a book reading during book week to discover one of the students dressed up as my main character (David Bradberrie), complete with a cardboard cut out of a gingerbread alien and his copy of my book. It was such a lovely feeling to see that a reader had decided to choose one of my characters to dress up as instead of a more famous character.

 As an educator, what are the top three things you suggest to parents who have struggling or reluctant readers?

First and foremost relax! The more stressed you are, the more stressed they will be! All children learn to read at their own pace but with a little encouragement, motivation and time spent reading together they will eventually get there.

Find books that will pique their interest or curiosity. Provide a wide variety of genres, including non-fiction, magazines as well as science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, especially books that have great hooks at the end of each chapter and make then laugh so that they want to read more.

Play lots of word games with them, simple things like memory and scrabble to begin with. Even Karaoke on the console may seem like just a game, but as they sing along they are reading the words and having a whole lot of fun and learning along the way. Mix it up a lot but keep it interesting and fun. For an extensive list of ideas you can visit my blog “Raising Awesome Readers.” Here’s the link to two of my blogs to help get anyone in need started.

http://gingerbreadaliens.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/the-awesome-value-of-picture-books.html  http://gingerbreadaliens.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/how-do-i-turn-pages-on-my-reluctant.html

Sean with his homemade Gingerbread Aliens

 

Describe your writing community, your typical day, what you do to enhance your writing output, editing, and revising.

I live out in the country amongst the kangaroos, native birds and other wildlife and I don’t drive a great deal these days so my writing community has to be online. I joined writing.com several years ago where I was encouraged to further my writing career when I won several competitions I entered and received amazing feedback from many other wonderful writers. It really is a great community to develop your skills, receive reviews and helpful hints. Through Linkedin and Facebook I have become friends with some other wonderful authors as well that continue to inspire me with their enthusiasm and motivation. This year I also joined another group of wonderful writers online that encourage one another with their writing, revising and editing through an author magic spreadsheet where we are encouraged to list our word count each day. It keeps track of your weekly and monthly output helping you to strive to stay on task. Authors can seek advice from each other and generally tend to be quite helpful. I usually try to squeeze in a couple of hours writing during the afternoon after taking care of the usual house hold routines, any work I may need to do for my husband’s company and chasing around after tradesmen working on the building of our home. (This is a long term project that is taking much longer than I ever anticipated.) I am also spending quite a bit of time away from home while my husband works in Darwin, I am hoping this will provide more opportunities for longer hours on my laptop without as many daily interruptions from home.

 

What recommendations do you have for other writers? (this can be a mention of a few books about writing, blogs, habits, conferences, frame of mind…)

Writing is like any craft it takes practice, lots of practice. I use to tell my students that it is ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, writing is the same. Don’t worry too much about how a first draft reads, just write, you can always go back and edit later. The key is to get your ideas down on paper (or computer) fast, before you lose the thread of an idea. Too many of my students would worry about grammar and spelling and then stumble on the main idea or plot. It is more important to form good writing habits than to be concerned with perfection. Also read a lot. Whether you read books on how to write or you read books in your chosen genre you can still learn so much from studying other author’s techniques. Look for a style and flow that suits you, search for what you feel works or doesn’t work in a story. Observe their use of intrigue, adventure, chapter hooks, climaxes and resolutions but it is also important to take the time to develop and find your own voice. In fact I only recently read a great article on this subject, the link is below.

http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/08/11/nailing-genre-by-studying-successful-authors/

Reading to an intrigued class

In the world of marketing, what habits have brought you success? How do you find readers?

In the world of children’s books most of my book sales have come from school visits. As a former teacher I have had the opportunity to be invited to do readings at various schools throughout Canberra where many of my former colleagues are still teaching. Once introduced to a class of students it doesn’t take long for them to become hooked readers. I have been planning to add to my blog a series of classroom activities to enhance the reading experience. Hopefully these will start to appear soon to build on the marketing through the use of my books within the classrooms. Word of mouth has always been good for me as well, parents spreading the word when their children enjoy the story. I encourage parents and children alike to write to me on my website or Facebook page with a review or a photo of them cooking a batch of Gingerbread Aliens, this always seems to help.

 

As a published author, what were some of the lesson (good, bad, and memorable) that you learned in the process?

As it is all such a huge learning curve, especially as children’s books have illustrations to include, I decided to enlist the aid of a small self-publishing company here in Canberra to show me the ropes so to speak. While I would say in many ways they have been very helpful and supportive they still leave all the marketing up to me and have not managed to gain a great deal of access to bricks and mortar book shops leaving me wondering if it has been worthwhile having a middle man? My other issue is that they control the price of my book on Amazon making it difficult for me to sell it at a sale price. When I asked the self-publishing company to reduce the price of my e-book, they made a separate link on Amazon which I can’t seem to link back to the original page where you can see the reviews and my author profile. This has not helped with sales at all. I would much prefer to be in control myself. Most of my sales come from hard copies via my website.

http://www.amazon.com/Gingerbread-Aliens-Sandra-Bennett-ebook/dp/B00H5WD2NI

http://www.amazon.com/Gingerbread-Aliens-Sandra-Bennet-ebook/dp/B009G4BDEI

The book launch they organised at a local bookshop was fantastic though and as a result Gingerbread-aliens stayed number one on the sales chart here in Canberra for over month when it was released. I hope the second book in the series Alien Shenanigans does as well when it is released in the coming months.

I am currently in the process of editing the illustrations for Alien Shenanigans, the Bradberre Brothers Alien Adventure continues. Also book three Brussels sprouts and Alien Brains, is in the final editing stages. To top it off I have just completed a collaboration with a wonderful illustrator here in Canberra on a picture book, Emma the Eager Emu. It was one of the short stories I originally won an award for that encouraged me to pursue my writing career. Now the gorgeous illustrations are complete and the Australian birds have come to life so beautifully, I look forward to it being published soon.

 

http://sandrabennettauthor.com/

http://www.gingerbread-aliens.com/

https://www.facebook.com/GingerbreadAliens

 

Peter as David Bradberrie

 

Lois, please start by telling us a little about yourself. You know, the typical first date conversation :)

Probably the most fun way for your fans to learn about me is by watching this little video I made called: My Life In Pictures, posted at: http://tales2inspire.com/?page_id=79

But here’s a little ABOUT THE AUTHOR snippet taken from my Tales2Inspire™ books:

After twenty years as an active educator, I continued to pursue my love of writing, soon becoming co-editor of a popular Long Island web-zine. As I created and authored my column Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, I solidified my special niche of investigative journalism and put those same talents to work while writing Sex, Lies and Cosmetic Surgery. I followed up with my second book, Tick, Tock, Stop the Clock. Getting Pretty on Your Lunch Hour to address many of the less invasive paths to beauty.

You can Watch this candid interview of me on The Writers Dream Show to learn more about these books.

Tales2Inspire™ began a whole new chapter in my life. . . . Another story for another time.

Lois W. Stern

Lois W. Stern

 

Your story collections, The Topaz Collection, The Emerald Collection, and now, hot off the press, the Sapphire Collection remind me a little of Chicken Soup of the Soul. What is the story behind your desire for this project?

I’ve gotten that same comment from a couple of people, and I guess in a way it’s true. Oh, if only one day Tales2Inspire would be the new Chicken Soup of the Soul. That would be a dream come true. I’m working on it!

I created this project as an Authors Helping Authors Project and also a contest. I wanted to help talented authors (including me) get some recognition for their talents and help them build their author platforms. It has become a passion truly, one to which I devote hundreds of hours a week.

 

Is there an ‘Opal’ Collection in the works?

Opal? I hadn’t thought about that stone although I do love Opals! But the one I’m working on right now is the Ruby Collection ~ Gifts of Compassion. I’ve already received some smashing, unbelievably inspiring stories for that one. Ruby might just top them all, but then again, as I publish each new collection, I think that’s my best one yet. I think I just fall in love with so many of these stories.

 

How would someone submit to you? What types of guidelines and suggestions do you offer?

Here are a few things they should know right off the bat:

  • There is no submission fee. it is free to enter.
  • Each submitted Tale must be an original, non-fiction story.
  • Authors are encouraged to include author owned, relevant images (Note: The impact of the images is factored into the final scoring.)
  • Each submitted story must have an inspiring or motivational message.
  • Each author must include a signed release form granting me first North American rights to publish their story.
  • All of the specific guidelines to submitting a story are on my website. Just click on the word CONTEST in the top left of screen. Since information such as entry and deadlines dates and wanted themes do change, the best way to keep updated is GUIDELINES, named Steps-to-Success.

T2I Poster_new

 

It’s clear from your work that your goal is to offer inspiration to people. What specifically do you hope for these books? Describe the perfect reader of the Tales2Inspire™ series of books.

People who are tired of picking up the newspaper or turning on their TV only to be bombarded with the latest uprising, rape, murder or other calamity. I want my books to give hope and optimism to those who need that perspective and simply feel-good messages to those who enjoy a good, uplifting read.

 

Is there one story in particular from these collections that really struck you?

Oh, my, I’m always afraid people will ask me that question and the short answer is, “Yes, I do.” But I’m really more interested in learning about my readers’ favorites. As a matter of fact, at the end of each Tales2Inspire book you can find a letter I have written to my readers asking them that very question. I hope some of them take the time to respond.

winner_mint

Suppose you were speaking to a group of writing hopefuls…what are some gems of advice you would offer?

Write because you love writing and think you have something important to share.

Don’t fall in love with your words.

Join a critique group and listen, listen, listen. Keep an open mind and you will learn from your peers.

Writing a well crafted book takes enormous energy and skill, so authors tend to think they have done their deed once their book is published. If only that were so. Be prepared for stage to: Marketing with a capital ‘M’.

 

What types of resources have you found useful in this career of writing/editing?

Books:

On Writing – A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne LaMott

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., E. B. White

My critique group

 

Want to learn more about Lois W. Stern? Do you have a story to submit to The Ruby Collection, visit:

 

My website for Tales2Inspire: www.tales2Inspire.com

My Inspiring stories YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/WinningTales

My websites for my beauty books: www.sexliesandcosmeticsurgery.com

http://www.ticktockstoptheclock.com

LinkedIn page:http://tinyurl.com/qyoj73q

Amazon Author page: http://tinyurl.com/q2qlzg5

 

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/tales3inspire/beauty

Twitter page: http://www.myfabbeautyblog

My beauty blog: https://fabulousbeautyblog.wordpress.com

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