28 Aug 2013

Guest Post by Tamara Shoemaker

Another guest post by Tamara Shoemaker. Obvious really as I don't have any children of course. Thanks Tamara for agreeing to a guest post and sending me this. 

I always said I would never have an odd number of children. It would either be two or four, preferably four, most certainly not three.

Funny thing about decisions; they have a way of changing. I am the proud mother of three children, not two, and (according to my husband) most certainly not four.

I've admittedly resigned myself to the number three with somewhat poor grace. I protested the number all the way to the hospital doors as I dropped off my husband for his “snip-snip” surgery. I think I even remember a few tears shed.

As my children have grown, I've watched the family dynamics with a wary eye. Part of my reasoning behind the number four was that they could pair up for their play times. One could almost always have another one with which to team up without feeling left out. If two ganged up against someone else, the other one could pull the fourth one in on his side. (Of course, this is all speculation. My children would never be unkind to each other). ;)

With three, I've been concerned, because there are always two of them playing together, and there is always one that is left by themselves. Granted, it hasn't seemed like the end of the world. My oldest daughter and my son (the middle child) are best buds. They go everywhere together. They do everything together. My oldest daughter is the imaginative one in the bunch. She makes up scenarios, then she and my son have to act them out. They spend hours doing role play.

My youngest daughter stands in the living room in front of the couch with a book open in front of her. She spends scads of time “reading” aloud. I'm thrilled that she seems to have developed an exceptional interest in books, but I'm also concerned that she has little to no interaction with her sister and brother.

This past week, my daughter started Kindergarten, five days a week, all day. That left my son and my youngest daughter at home, and suddenly, they had to learn how to play together. The first day of school, both of them were bored stiff. They rolled around on the floor of the den, moaning about how tired they were, and was their older sister ever going to come back? There was nothing to do. It was so boring.

I sent them to their rooms and told them they could come out when they figured out how to be less bored. Or if they were still bored, they couldn't come out till they could figure out how to be quiet about their boredom.

That was the first week. The second week, I began to see a change. Where my oldest daughter up to that point had always been the ringleader in imaginative play, my son began to take the initiative. Instead of playing separately from his little sister, he invited her to come and play “house” or “camp” or “build” or “garden” with him. Today, I looked in our backyard and practically skipped in a circle at the sight that met my eyes.

They had taken the laundry basket, pulled it under one of the sheets I'd hung on the line, arranged the ends of the sheet over the basket, then climbed in the basket and played in their “tent.” This occupied their time for an entire hour. No fussing. No crying. No screaming. Can I get a hallelujah!?

My children teach me lessons every day. Sometimes I learn them. Sometimes I'm just plain stubborn. This one, I'm choosing to learn. How do I step up to fill the roles that need to be filled? If someone leaves a vacancy, and I'm not necessarily talking about a professional work-place, how can I work to fill in the gaps that need to be filled? If something needs to be done, do it. If someone needs a hug, hug them. If a letter needs to be written, write it. Mail it. If a phone call needs to be made, punch those numbers on that dial pad.

If that book needs to be written, write it. For years and years, I was a writer who did not write. What is a writer who does not write? Frustrated.

God's given us all talents. Some are flamboyant, awe-inducing, colorful. Some are behind-the-scenes, hidden, secret. But they are all talents, and they're all necessary to our character; the practice of our talent shapes us in to whom we were designed to be.

Stop waiting for the grass to grow. Take initiative.


Tamara Shoemaker is the author of the Shadows in the Nursery series, which includes the best-sellers Broken Crowns and Pretty Little Maids. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and three young children. She writes fantasies and Christian thrillers between diaper changes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Click the Link to see details of her latest book, pictured above here http://amzn.to/13Mnii1

21 Aug 2013

Guest Post by Author Deborah Heal

No, I haven't suddenly become a published author and not told anyone, this is in fact my first Guest Post by Author Deborah Heal (her bio can be seen below the post). Thanks Deborah for sending me this, and I'm inclined to agree with many of the views expressed. So without further introduction here it is....


Writing Christian fiction is not for the faint of heart. As my friend Tom Jones (the pastor not the pop star) recently told me, if you’re going to be a writer you have to grow a thick skin because people will criticize.

A few weeks ago, I received a criticism of my young adult trilogy from a friend of mine who is a deacon in
the Episcopal Church. She said that teenagers are going to roll their eyes at my characters Abby and John for their commitment to sexual abstinence. She assured me that mainline denominations believe that concept is misogynous and outdated, and that as long as the couple is mature enough and respect each other enough, sexual activity is suitable and even assumed—especially if they are engaged.* See more below.

A recent (3-star) review of Every Hill and Mountain by SKJAM! REVIEWS closely mirrors her view.

“This book is aimed at the Christian young adult market, so there is quite a bit of God-talk …The sexual prudishness of the protagonists will probably have older teens, particularly ones not raised in more conservative Christian communities, rolling their eyes. Conservative Christian parents, on the other hand, are likely to approve of Abby and John’s chaste relationship.…”

This same reviewer jumps to the conclusion that the reason my characters are so “prudish” is because they’ve been the victims of an abstinence-only sex ed program. He continues:

“And [Ryan’s] reasoning for having sex with Kate shows the perils of abstinence-only sex ed and purity culture–a more streetwise woman than Kate would have noticed how bogus the logic was.”

Speaking of bogus logic. Modern sex-ed programs do everything but assist teens into bed with so-called “safe sex” instructions. It is the abstinence-only programs that teach girls (and boys) to be “street smart,” to warn them of the perils of listening to their hormones talking.

Of course, I was quite conscious as I wrote the trilogy that our culture has taken the position that abstinence is passé, uncool, unnecessary, and an impossibility. (And possibly even dangerous to the health of its practitioners.) No one could watch contemporary TV or movies or read secular novels without realizing that “dating” (if the word is used at all) equates with a sexual relationship. Actually, “relationship” itself equates with sexual activity.

And I knew that many contemporary mainline denominations are silent about what the Bible says about sexual purity. My deacon friend actually asserts the Bible doesn’t even teach this.

But I have to admit I’m more than a little shocked that this reviewer and especially my deacon friend would find Abby and John’s commitment to abstinence a negative. After all, even if you believe that it is impossible to live a sexually pure life wouldn’t you still want novels to present this ideal to teenagers? I would say that although it is impossible to fully live up to any of the Bible’s commands we still need to hear what they are. (And turn to Christ as the law’s fulfillment.)

I once read an article in which young people had been interviewed about teen novels that adults write for them. More than one complained that adults seemed only to write about teens having sex and using alcohol and drugs. “We think about more than that,” one girl said. “We think about lots of other things, important things.”

I respect that and try to offer teens substance in my books. I believe they are looking for heroes and role models such as my fictional characters, Abby and John. I disagree that my characters are sexually repressed prudes. Here is the passage from Every Hill and Mountain that apparently offended my critics. Abby and Kate’s boyfriends are stuck at Abby’s house and spend the night downstairs in the living room. During the night, an emergency comes up and Abby must find her boyfriend John quickly.

The tricky part would be finding John. Pat had brought a sleeping bag from the hall closet for him, but Abby had no idea where he put it. Other than the soft snores coming from the vicinity of the couch, the room was completely quiet.
She discovered the answer to her question when a hand came out of the darkness and grabbed her ankle. She stumbled and landed on a warm chest. A bare warm chest, from which came a soft whoosh of air. Right after the whoosh, a large hand covered her mouth. The precaution was unnecessary. She had recognized John’s cologne and knew in an instant that it was no nightmare monster attacking her.
He put his mouth to her ear and whispered, “What are you doing here? I thought [Ryan] Turner was the one planning on nighttime shenanigans.”
Abby pulled his hand away from her mouth and tried for indignant, which was difficult when whispering. “Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Roberts. If I was inclined to get into your bed, and I’m not, it wouldn’t be with Ryan in the room.”
“Well, you are in fact in my bed, and you’d better get out of it quick. I know the Bible says God will never give us any temptation stronger than what we can handle, but…”
“Just to be clear, you are the one who dragged me into your bed, and—”
“Abby. Please. Have pity. What is it you want?”
If felt wonderful being in John’s arms, but she had promised him and God that she wouldn’t intentionally tempt him to break his commitment—their commitment—to abstinence.
“Come up to the computer room,” she whispered. “There’s something you have to see.” And then she rose less than gracefully and stood looking down at him. “And don’t wake Ryan.”

I think they’re being heroic, not prudish. After all, they certainly think sex together would be pretty wonderful. Consider another passage that exemplifies the thinking more typical of our culture today. Here, Abby’s friend Kate tries to convince her that premarital sex is okay.

“Ryan said virginity is like a tamper-proof seal on a bottle of aspirin. It’s meant for the man you’re going to marry. And now that we know we’re getting married, what’s the point of waiting. You’ll see when you’re engaged, Abby.” Kate turned on her side away from her. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Abby lay staring up at the blinking red smoke detector light on the dark ceiling, wondering if she even really knew her roommate any more.

How sad that Kate has fallen for that line. It’s not that she lacks “street smarts.” She just forgot to run away from temptation, something that John becomes quite adept at in Unclaimed Legacy.

It would be wonderful if everyone who read my books loved them (and posted glowing reviews for them.) But as they say, you can’t please all the people all the time. However, I really listen to every comment I receive about my books, whether positive or negative. Sometimes I learn some pretty good stuff that will help me to be a better writer.

But not this time. I pray that I will remain firm in my commitment to please God rather than reviewers.

By the way, I am a prudish and happy member of a radical, extremist, and conservative denomination that still believes premarital sex is sin.

*But back to mainline denominations. Is my deaconess friend even right about their teachings on sex? Do you have experience with such churches? I sincerely would like to know their various positions on sex. Wait! that came out wrong. I mean, I would like to understand what churches are teaching about sex today. You may leave your answer in the comment section of my blog. Click here to go to the article.

You can read more about my books by clicking on this link.
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History, Faith, and Fiction Woven Together
“Particularly interesting is how the past and the present are woven together to bring history to life and to make the story complete.”
--Amazon Reviewer

To that reviewer and others who said similar things, I say, “Thank you, very much. I do try to be a good weaver.” 

I loved researching the "Olden Days" for my young adult trilogy. It would have been so much easier to do if I could go back in time to see what it was really like. The characters in my books find a weird computer program that lets them do just that. Abby calls it "time-surfing." It's only virtual time travel because I didn't want them to accidentally mess up the whole space-time continuum thing. But it's amazing all the same. 

Some Christians might be a bit uncomfortable about this fantasy concept of time-surfing. But as Brother Greenfield says in Every Hill and Mountain, "Our God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Hallelujah! If he wants to give us a gift like that, he can.” 

It's an amazing gift, all right. Except sometimes Abby and her friends learn more than they ever wanted to know about people from the past. Still, studying their lives of people teaches them about God's love and goodness in a new way. From the distance that only time gives, they clearly see that God has a plan for his people, that He's in the business of redemption, that He makes all things new. I hope my readers get that. Writing about it reminded me, too. 

Deborah Heal, the author of the Time and Again time travel mystery series, was born not far from the setting of her book Every Hill and Mountain and grew up “just down the road” from the setting of Time and Again. Today she lives with her husband in Waterloo, Illinois, where she enjoys reading, gardening, and learning about regional history. She has three grown children, three grandchildren, and two canine buddies Digger and Scout (a.k.a. Dr. Bob). She loves to interact with her readers, who may learn more about the history behind the books at her website www.deborahheal.com and her Facebook author page.

Her books may be purchased at Amazon.com.

10 Aug 2013

Why do I read (and write) critical Reviews?

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”  
Winston Churchill

Critical reviews, that which may be the bane of an author’s life. Seeing the work over which they may have meticulously laboured for hours, months or even years verbally ripped apart by a critic who has not a good word to say may be a hurtful and negative experience for any author, but perhaps one which few are never subject to. 

Such a thing may lead some to believe that critical reviews are the singular worst thing which any writer may be confronted with- and it may be hard to believe that critical reviews have any value, let alone a useful purpose, but I am here to argue in their favour, and perhaps challenge some of the negative beliefs about them.
Visitors and followers may know that I am not exactly liberal in my awarding of star ratings for the books I read. By far the most common rating I give most books is three stars. These usually apply to books I thought were alright, but would probably not read more than once.
 A few exceptional titles that I enjoyed enormously may get five, or books that I really cannot get on with dislike intensely, or have some serious issues with may get a lower rating, but generally I seem to be a middle of the road kind of girl where my opinion of Christian fiction works are concerned. 

Yet I notice that with many of the titles to which I grant my three stars usually have mostly glowing five star reviews. I may stand alone, or among a minority in giving a lower rating. Am I just a stereotypically reserved Brit who sets my standards too high? Perhaps, but I really cannot gush over a book I didn't enjoy that much. I try to be honest in saying what I think of books. If I enjoyed a title moderately, but didn’t think it was the best thing since sliced bread I normally let this be known, and why. Also (and this may be a source of some contention) I see the need to comment in inaccuracies and other inconsistencies in historical fiction.
Finally, with Christian Fiction I consider it to be important to comment on any content which does not seem consistent with Orthodox mainstream Christian or Biblical  teaching, or draw attention to that  which may seem dodgy and dubious for some reason. That’s just me and hopefully goes some way towards answering the question of why I write critical reviews. 

Whilst it may prove irksome for fans to find a person criticizing a work which they love, I earnestly believe critical reviews may have an important, useful and valuable purpose. Not all of them perhaps, but some. When looking up a new title Amazon is usually the starting point, and I generally tend to look at the critical reviews first, or only these, why? The reason is that these can highlight the shortcomings of a work in a way that a glowing panegyric could not. I’m not suggesting that fans of Christian fiction who give books they love high rating are being dishonest, but when  totally engrossed in the latest title by a beloved author we are all probably less likely to approach the title objectively, or notice its shortcomings.
Maybe I’m stingy, but I’m not keen on the idea of forking out money for a book I may end up disliking, so in some ways, seeing that a person has mentioned some of the things about a work which are not so good can be something which is useful and helpful to me. Especially if reviewers draw attention to the very same kind of issues I may have such as historical inaccuracy, bias, questionable spiritual content, a writing style which may not be engaging or some other deficiency. 

One thing which is likely to get my back up in a work of fiction is extreme anti-English sentiment. I know we are not perfect and have done many bad things in the past, but the systematic vilification and demonization of every person who happens to hail from the region bordered by Scotland and the Atlantic Ocean or English Channel simply by virtue of their nationality or because of their governments ‘tyrannical’ or unfair policies is something I have serious issue with.   This is likely to just make me angry, so I would rather not buy a book which adopts such a perspective, and may consequently be grateful  for a review which mentions this.
One such reviewer on Amazon.co.uk spoke of the depiction of the English in the works of one well known American author of Christian fiction novels as ‘mild racism/xenophobia’. Strong words, but maybe true.
Another reviewer who gave a work by this author 2 stars said of the book:

"It also over-Christianizes and mythologizes the outcome of military battles that, in truth, were far more messy and degraded than the author lets on. For example, the claims God was behind America's victory over the British at the outset of the War of 1812. But check your history books: Every side had some degree of selfish motives, resentment and other sentiments Scripture speaks against."

Now I am not discounting the notion that God did in the past enable and allow one side to be victorious over another in warfare, but I fully understand where this reviewer is coming from, and the perspective of both of them would be useful in helping me choose not to spend money on a book that would probably just leave me angry and annoyed. 
 Another blogger and reviewer expressed her opinion of on the subject thus: I won't look at a book that has only four and five star reviews unless it's an author I know and love, or the recommendation has come from a trusted source. I'm also suspect of reviewers who only ever rate five stars.” 

Does this mean there's some kind of a conspiracy afoot to promote certain books and authors? Probably not, but again I can understand what this lady might be getting at.
When looking at the reviews of a series of books by one particular author (not the same one as mentioned above) I noticed that the same names seemed to crop up time and time again. It would appear that a not insignificant number of the reviews were written by the same people- a group of devoted fans, and  one or two individuals who may have been friends of the author.
Some books may be worthy of the hosts of high star ratings, but not all, and lower ones may provide a valuable alternative viewpoint from people who don’t perhaps have the affiliations or loyalty of some fans. 

At the end of the day, doesn’t seeing both sides allow us to make a more informed decision over what we choose to buy and read? It may be not be pleasant to see a person lambasting our favourite book or movie, and we may strongly disagree with them, but as I am learning attacking them doesn’t do much good. Their opinion is their opinion, and they may perhaps have good reason for holding the opinion they do. 
Nowadays I try to refrain from questioning sentiments expressed in  a critical review unless I believe them to be incorrect or factually inaccurate in some way. Ultimately, such reviews may be useful in helping another person make a decision on the basis of what they like and don’t like.
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