Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

None of us knows what the year ahead holds, but we can know the One who holds the year. And that's enough.

May you have a wonderful New Year. Enjoy the holiday. See you next week.

Monday, December 27, 2010

After Christmas...What?

Okay, I know I said I was going to take a break from blogging, but on this day after Christmas I kept thinking about some things, and it occurred to me that perhaps they're worth sharing.

My own Christmas was good, although tinged with sadness. We had my family together on Christmas Eve for a wonderful meal, an exchange of presents, and enjoyment of almost-two-year-old Cassidy Ann. It was one of the best times we've had together since Cynthia passed away eleven years ago.

The next day we spent some time with Shelly and her sons. This is their (and our) first Christmas since her husband, Kay's oldest son, Phil died tragically this spring. We cried. We laughed. We got through it. And this "year of firsts" moved one notch further toward a close.

Then we went to the home of Ann and Benny, where my son-in-law cooked enough for several small armies, my daughter directed the controlled chaos, and the noise level never got below a dull roar. And it was nice.

Sunday we attended church, followed by another meal (courtesy of Kay) at the home of her younger son, David, the first time he and his wife have celebrated Christmas together as a family. A total of six adults and five children filled the house with laughter, conversation, and remnants of wrapping paper.

Now it's the Monday after Christmas, and life goes on. To quote the late Don Meredith, "Ain't nothin' as over as Christmas." But is it really? We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but shouldn't we keep Him in our hearts all year long? We give gifts, but shouldn't we exercise a spirit of giving throughout the coming year? We are a bit more tender, a bit more loving at this time of year, but what's keeping us from trying to maintain that for another twelve months?

I hope your Christmas was great. Moreover, I hope it really isn't over.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Here's my Christmas post from prior years--I still don't know how to say it any better.

"Do we go to your parents' house or mine?" "Where did you put the extra string of Christmas lights?" "Which stuffing recipe are you going to use?" "What can we give him/her?" "Where is my Christmas tie?" "Why doesn't this sweater fit anymore?"

Have these become the sounds of Christmas at your house? I hope not. As the blessed day sneaks up on us, I've wondered what to say to those of you who read my random jottings from time to time. What can I say that's new and inspirational? Finally, it dawned on me...I don't have to find something new. Better to stick with something written about 2700 years ago by the prophet, Isaiah. The words bring as much hope now as they did then. May it be ever so.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned....For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Hiatus From Blogging

Christmas is almost here. I'm sure everyone has completed their shopping, mailed their Christmas cards, bought the groceries for the family meal, decked the halls, and in general prepared for the holiday. Then again, perhaps some of us haven't.

I've been blessed with the promise of yet another published novel, but I'm fast approaching the deadline for its completion.

I've been greatly honored by the American Christian Fiction Writers by being chosen as the Vice-President Elect, taking office in January. That means that in December I'm following the activities of the Board while working with the current VP, Becky Yauger, and learning the position.

For these and several other reasons, this blog will be on hiatus for the next couple of weeks, with the exception of signing back on to make important announcements. And don't be surprised if that happens.

Meanwhile, may your Christmas be Christ-centered and your new year filled with all the blessings He has already prepared for you. Thanks for following my Random Jottings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Texas Christmas

In searching for artwork for this post, I came across this striking picture from artist and fellow Texan Colby Jones. I hope you'll visit his website to enjoy the art he produces. And in this one, he's captured the spirit of the story I want to tell. Take off your spurs, put your feet up on the porch rail, and listen.

                A CHRISTMAS STORY

The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did.

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It wasn’t a bunkhouse, it was a stable. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God in blue jeans, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Negative Review

Every writer expects it. It's part of the human condition. Something I heard years ago has stuck with me through times like these: "I cannot expect to be universally loved and respected." And that's a phrase I've had to repeat like a mantra since reading a recent one-star review of my debut novel, Code Blue. The reviewer's complaint--it was a "Christian novel."

To fully understand my frustration, I have to remind you that Code Blue has been available as a free download as an ebook at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the past week (see note at the end of this post). Well, one person took advantage of the free download and then gave the book one star because the novel is "Christian fiction."

What is "Christian fiction" anyway? I went back and copied what I said in an interview on Writer Unboxed after the release of my first novel. I think it's as good a definition as I can give for my own version of "Christian fiction":  The primary difference I see is that (these novels) don’t have cursing or explicit sex, and portray a Christian worldview... The books portray characters that are flawed, as we all are, and who struggle with their relationships, both with God and their fellow man...What I’ve frequently said is that the only difference I really see is that these novels are written from a Christian worldview and don’t contain anything I’d hesitate for my mother, wife, or daughter to read.

In the discussion of the negative review, a couple of people suggested that they wouldn't have taken advantage of the free download if Code Blue had been labeled "Christian fiction." My question, in turn, is whether some novels should be labeled "Smutty fiction" or "Fiction containing lots of cursing." It just seems silly to me. If I don't like it, I stop reading. I do the same with a TV program I don't like. There's no mystery to discovering what a book's about. You can usually tell the nature of the book from the blurb (back of the book, or on the website of an online bookseller). Failing that, it's possible to thumb through the book (in a store) or read excerpts (online at Amazon). Why have labels?

Some people will want to read what I'm comfortable writing, some won't. But the question remains: Should Christian fiction carry a warning tag, so people who are uncomfortable reading it (and I wonder why that is...hmm) can avoid it? You tell me.

Note: This is your last day to get Code Blue, the first medical suspense novel in my Prescription For Trouble series, for your Nook at Barnes&Noble's website. The Amazon offer has apparently expired. If you or someone you know would like to take advantage of this offer, click this link and take advantage of the generosity of Abingdon Press in making it available. Thanks.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Without Them

Many of you know that I started writing after the death of my first wife. I used segments from the journaling I did to craft a book with chapters dealing with the situations I faced in the months afterward. I pulled no punches, detailing my failures as well as the victories I eventually won. That book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, is still in print and continues to help thousands of grieving people each year.

Because I know how difficult the holidays can be after the death of a loved one, and because our family is still reeling from such a tragic loss just a few months ago, I decided to post this article which I wrote for a small local paper several years ago. I hope it helps those of you who are facing this situation. If you know of others who need it, please forward it to them.


    After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

    After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

    Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

    The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

    For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

    When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.

Important Note: My first novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, Code Blue, is supposed to be available from Amazon as a free Kindle download through this weekend. For a while there was a glitch at Amazon, but the link is now fixed. Go here to get the free download. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, December 06, 2010

CODE BLUE Available As A Free Kindle Download

My first novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, Code Blue, is available until December 13 from Amazon as a free Kindle download. If you'd like a copy, or know someone who would, please take advantage of Abingdon Press's generosity and check it out by clicking this link. It's also available as a free download to Barnes and Noble's Nook at their site. Think of it as an early Christmas present. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas Cards and Christmas Letters

As Thanksgiving disappears in the rear-view mirror, countless households consider the question, "What about Christmas cards? Do we send a Christmas letter this year?" Those questions, if answered in the positive, are generally followed by a spirited discussion of designs or a search for cards purchased in previous years and not sent, along with a scramble to produce an accurate list of names and addresses. And, of course, there's the annual question of holiday stamps. (When will the Post Office get real about those designs?)

Sometimes I wish I were a member of the younger, electronic generation. Some people of my acquaintance do a little magic on their computers, hit a button, and presto--electronic Christmas greetings spring forth into the air like Santa's reindeer departing a rooftop after a too-long stop. Somehow, that just doesn't have the same magic as paper upon which someone has taken the time and trouble to write words, then gone to the expense of affixing a stamp and mailing it. Then again, I don't have a Kindle or eReader, preferring my books (as well as my Christmas cards) in printed form.

I'm sure we'll send out cards again this year. The issue of the Christmas letter is yet to be solved. But I'd like to know what the verdict at your house is regarding this issue. Cards? Letter? Electronic greetings? Or just ignore the whole thing?

Meanwhile, to everyone who reads these Random Jottings, whether on a regular or irregular basis, to each of you who've bought one or more of my novels this past year, to all whom I consider my cyber-friends--my very best wishes for a wonderful, meaningful holiday season. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Tap On The Shoulder

I've just been elected incoming Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers. The two women who were also nominated would undoubtedly have served with distinction, and I'm a bit overwhelmed to be selected. It's a signal honor, and one I don't take lightly.

I'll probably keep you, my readers, informed in the days ahead as I "shadow" the current Vice-President, Rebecca Yauger. I just hope I can maintain the standard of service to the organization that Becky has set.

What does a Vice-President do? There are a number of things in the "official" description, but the one I like best is attributed to a prior Vice-President of the US. He was asked about his duties, and his reply went something like this: Well, when I wake up every morning, I ask how the President's feeling that day. If he's okay, I figure I can sleep a little longer. I'm not sure that fits this job, but as time goes on, I'll keep you posted.