Monday, April 29, 2013

Meet Author Bette Lee Crosby

Hello, Bette, thank you for stopping by today to share your thoughts about books and writing. I’ve read a couple of your books and plan to read some others. I noticed that you worked in Advertising before you began your career as a novelist, and that your mother was quite a storyteller during your growing up years.

Q: Your way of making characters come alive and stick in the reader’s memory is unique. Spare Change had some unforgettable characters. Tell us about Ethan Allan and Olivia. For example, Olivia was extremely superstitious. Did this characterization come from your southern roots?

A: Most likely. Southerners are by nature believers in folklore and superstition. I almost always give my characters some kind of quirky twist, such a superstition or habit, I think that’s why they stand out from the crowd and are more fun to read about.

Q: My heart went out to the little boy in Spare Change, who came from a very dysfunctional family. Even though this book is not listed as a Christian book, I found Christian overtones throughout. Tell us about this aspect of your writing.

A: Let me start by saying I am a staunch Christian, in fact I teach Sunday School to First Grade children. But I am also a realist. And, the truth is that people come from all walks of life and they are not always perfect, nor are they always cognizant of God’s word. In Spare Change, Ethan Allen came from a very imperfect household and he used cuss words. But the important thing about this story is not where he started, but where he was going. After Olivia took him in, she gave him a love he never knew and that changed the boy. We’ve all heard it said a million or more times—God works in mysterious ways. If there were no sinners, there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to give his life for us. We are all imperfect, some more so than others.

Q: Thank you so much for your testimony, Bette. I appreciate it greatly. As I read Spare Change, I could see how Olivia’s love changed a little boy who desperately needed a person to love him. I saw children like this during my career as an elementary teacher. Children can't choose who their parents are, and many times they start out at a huge disadvantage, as Ethan Allen did. Each of his parents had their own agenda, and it was NOT raising a child.

Q: What drove you to write Cupid’s Christmas? 

A: It started out to be a very different story, then somewhere along the line I decided that Cupid would be the best and most fun storyteller. Cupid is, as you can tell by the story, an angel who reports directly to The Boss, who you come to realize is God.

Q: And it was fun. Which type of book do you write most often?

A: Heartfelt stories that enable readers to close the book with a sigh of contentment.

Q: Tell us about your new book “What Matters Most”.  I understand the main character in this story is a quilter who doesn't want to leave the ladies in her quilting group. 

A: What Matters Most, released on April 15 is a fun story that deals with a middle-aged husband who wants to retire and move to Florida and his wife who wants to remain right where she is. It’s a fun read about how different people view life-altering changes and how sometimes the very thing we dread is the thing that brings us the most happiness.

Q: What do you want readers to take away from this book?

A: A smile, a few giggles, a new acceptance of different types of people and perhaps a look at how they might react if standing in Louise Palmer’s shoes.

Q: As a multi-award-winning author, what advice do you have for people who are trying to get started today as a writer?

A: Read constantly. You learn something from every book you read and you can’t possibly be a writer unless you are a voracious reader.

Q: Thank you so much, Bette, we appreciate hearing from you. I hope many people will be checking out your books to see what they think about them.

If you'd like to learn more about Bette and her books, look for her at Enter her name in the “search” box and you will find a listing of all her books.

Bette's new book, released on April 15, can be yours if you comment on this interview, or if you just sign in and say you want to win it. Don't miss this opportunity to get a free autographed copy of What Matters Most.

Winner will be announced on May 10. Be sure to get your name in the drawing. Bette offers the winner her choice of Nook, Kindle, or paper version. It will be sent directly to your device if you choose an electronic copy or mailed to your address if you want a paper copy. Leave your email address so I can know how to reach you if you are the winner and ask you which version you want.

"Subscribe" or "Follow me" for extra entries in the drawing for the book. Mention in your comment that you have done this, and you get an extra entry for each. You'll have a better chance at winning the book.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Writing Your Story -- April 26

How are you coming along with thoughts about writing your memories to leave for your family? I have talked with many people who say, "I really should write my memories down," but not many have begun.

You may say, "Who would be interested in my stories?"

People in your family would. And so would those who enjoy reading about real people. I have read many books written by people I did not know and have found great pleasure in finding out how they lived. For example, I read a book by Calvin Miller titled Life is Mostly Edges and was amused and encouraged by it. It told about his family when he was growing up, his marriage, and his children. There were stories of hardship as well as victory and even though Calvin Miller was not a personal friend, I enjoyed his book.

Mike Huckabee's A Simple Christmas: 12 Stories that Celebrate the Holiday Spirit contained stories of his childhood that were fun to read and I enjoyed his book, too.
I just love reading, though. If you are an avid reader like me, you probably would enjoy other people's stories. After all, what is a novel other than a book of made-up stories about imaginary people? I think probably most novels contain more truth than fiction as people draw from their memories to write the stories we love to read.

Today my story from my memories is one from my husband's early days, before we married. All these stories were ones he told me or that he used as sermon illustrations. This one took place in the "wino" district of Fort Worth, Texas. Please remember that my husband, Marvin Nobles, was introduced to me as "Charlie" Nobles. That's what I've called him all these years, so don't get confused and think I'm talking about some other man.

On Monday nights, during the time my husband was beginning his studies in theology at Decatur Baptist College, he and several other young preachers made a habit of going down into the "wino" section of Fort Worth to the rescue mission. They would stand on the corner and preach as they invited people to come in. If the desperate people on the street went in and listened to a preacher for about half an hour, they were given a bean sandwich and a bed for the night. Many of the homeless men and women on the street went into the Rescue Mission for the little bit of food and warmth, and they endured the preaching to get it.

One night as Charlie preached on the street and invited people into the mission, he held a little Gideon New Testament in his hand. After he finished, one of the men came to him and said, "I sure wish I had a Bible like that. If I just had something to read, I think it would help me."

Charlie had always been a giver, so he handed the little Bible to the man. He noticed that the man left quickly after that and went across the street, rather than going into the mission for the night. He watched as the man entered a bar. He thought "I'm going to follow him and see what he does."

Charlie noticed, as he entered the bar, that the bartender was holding the Gideon New Testament in his hands. The man had traded it to him for a drink. 

My husband continued to be a giver. To this day, he loves to help others. I don't think that little New Testament helped the wino very much, but perhaps the bartender read it. We'll never know for sure.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Time for Second Chances

Katie Ganshert's new novel, Wishing on Willows, is another inspirational read about people who need a new start in life. This one centers around three main characters in Peaks, Iowa, a little town that is slowly dying: Robin, a young widow who runs a café there, Amanda, Robin's sister-in-law, and Ian, the developer for a real-estate deal for the town.

We see into the heart of Robin, a pianist who loves her son and her café, though she lost her husband before Caleb was born. Amanda suffers from the loss of a fiancée, and Ian regrets his divorce and the fact that he has not had a child, something he wants very much. The author clearly draws from her own experiences as she brings Caleb, Robin's three year old son into the story, because of the funny examples she tells. Anyone who has ever been a mother will chuckle at the humor as she reads.

The plot centers around the mayor's desire to build condos to boost the town's economy, Ian McKay, representative for the building company, and the owners of several small businesses who do not want to sell. The author introduces the characters and their loved ones as she weaves a beautiful story and intricately draws out their hopes and dreams, as well as their sorrows.

Everyone needs a second chance occasionally, and Katie Ganshert has woven a beautiful story of people trying to make something of their lives after circumstances have messed them up. I liked the way Ganshert inserted stories from Scripture and kept this a true Christian novel. As I read near the end, I turned the pages slower and reread some of them, because I did not want it to end.

This book was provided to me free from Waterbrook Multnomah for my honest review.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Questions, Insecurities, and Thinking about Life

IS FAYE ADAMS OF DeSOTO, MO. Congratulations, Faye!!!


Our son, David, wrote this early in his career as a backpacker. He was insecure and worried about three days on the trail with a guy who must have been a Super-Christian. The italicized words are my emphasis, trying to show David's insecurity at the time this was written.

I approached my first backpacking trip with quite a bit of trepidation. Would my knockoff pack from my last trip to Vietnam and my cheap Academy tent get the job done? Would I be able to carry all that gear the miles and elevation we planned? How would I keep up with Berry, who had done this quite a bit and runs marathons for goodness sake? Would my cheap little stove actually heat water above 8000 feet? And the biggest question of all, what in the world was I going to talk to Berry Simpson about for THREE DAYS?
Fortunately, another friend came to the rescue when it came to gear. Paul Ross wanted to go with us but was unable get time off work. So, he encouraged me to borrow some of his equipment. I went over to his garage one Sunday night after church and we set up his tent and went through his checklist. I was impressed. I wondered just what the difference could be in my tent and his, and I discovered that one of the biggest differences was about three pounds. In backpacking, every ounce matters so that was huge. His sleeping bag was perfect for the season, and it packed smaller and was lighter than mine. He had a small cookset designed just for backpacking, while mine was aimed at car campers. He insisted I take his hiking poles, and I’ll admit I was reluctant to use them (“Those are for old guys”) but in the end I was more grateful for the poles than almost anything else I took. I hadn’t planned on using a sleeping pad, but he encouraged me to take his. “If you can’t be comfortable on this, you can’t be comfortable,” he said. He was right and it was more than worth the weight.
On the morning we were to start, I picked up my loaded 68 pound pack to carry it to the front door and one of the straps broke. Recriminations. Despair. You can’t go backpacking without a backpack! What am I going to do now? Paul had offered his, a very serious and very nice internal frame job, but I had wanted to try mine so I turned him down. I knew he went to work early and was pretty sure he was already gone. Fortunately I called just minutes before his wife left for the day and she agreed to leave his very expensive pack sitting unguarded on the front porch for me. I hoped that was alright with Paul and that it was still there when I got there, and I got there as fast as I could.
Now everything is in Berry’s truck and we’re on the way, with about three hours of truck time ahead of us. I had spent some time thinking of Really Clever Questions and Topics, and trotted out the first few. Great conversation followed. “Hey, maybe this will be all right,” I thought. “But I’m going through my list too fast. Gotta slow down, Dave, get more in-depth with these topics. Remember its THREE DAYS.” Things were going well but I was still nervous.
The problem is I’ve never thought of myself as Clever or Interesting. I’d rather talk about football than philosophy and Berry’s a philosophy guy. I read Clancy and Grisham and he reads Yancy and McManus. He’s been to John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” Boot Camp and I’ve never even read the book. He’s written a book and is working on another, and my college Great American Novel dreams died years ago in the law library as I grew sick of writing legal memos. For years I’ve read and enjoyed and been challenged by his weekly essays, constantly telling myself one day I would get off my duff and write but deep down believing that day would never come. I had even tried to journal on mission trips to Costa Rica, Germany, and Vietnam, and on my sabbatical to Israel earlier this year, but everything just degenerated to lists and notes on the Israeli guide’s excellent lectures on the places we visited there. I had four really nice journals, each with a page or two filled in then nothing. Another friend went on a mission trip to India last year and I read his journal, which was full of insight and candid thoughts and it was captivating. Once, again, I just didn’t measure up.
When you get down to it, that’s the problem. I do too much measuring. Another guy in our church just happens to have a similar story to mine: he is a preacher’s kid, he went to Baylor, he married a nurse, he pursues a life of ministry, and we even enjoy many of the same hobbies. Unfortunately, he is smarter, taller, skinnier, hipper, and better than I am at everything. I heard him speak recently and he talked about the importance of finding what you’re passionate about and what you’re great at, and I knew this was from The Enemy but I sat there thinking I’m not great at anything, and there really aren’t very many things I’m even pretty good at. In my woodworking I have learned the critical importance of accurate measurements and dead-on measuring and marking tools. I often tell my kids “If you ask the wrong questions, you will always get the wrong answers.” In woodworking, you have to measure to and from the correct points or the information you get doesn’t match the question you’re trying to answer. Yet, in my life, I constantly find myself using poor tools and measuring from the wrong points. I know I’m to measure myself against Jesus Christ and not people, but it sure is easy to compare myself to others, and once I start down that path I always come up lacking. I need to listen to my own advice—“If you ask the wrong questions, you will always get the wrong answers.” I was measuring myself against Berry, and I needed to stop and just be myself.
So I started listening, and I didn’t detect any condescension in his tone or his words. The more I listened the more I began to realize he didn’t think of me as The Guy with No Expertise. In fact, he asked me some questions that told me he thought of me as knowledgeable, intelligent, and a person who has opinions worth listening to. The conversations continued and I began to realize that while he is pretty sharp, we had a lot to talk about. We even got around to football and although he is pretty spiritual in almost all of his life, he went to the pagan University of Oklahoma and just can’t see the truth that any school that names its teams after cheaters (what, after all, is an Oklahoma Sooner?) doesn’t deserve all that devotion. I, on the other hand, as a longsuffering fan of the Baylor Bears, am surely earning jewels in my crown in Heaven for following and suffering with God’s favorite team.
Since talking with Berry was turning out to be a positive experience, I began to wonder if plowing through “Wild at Heart” might be worthwhile as well. I had taken far too many pounds of books, I realized when we got to the campground at the end of the first day, and one of those was “Wild at Heart.” I was determined to read some from each just to justify, at least in my mind, bringing them all. I read the first chapter and it grabbed me. I finished the book shortly after the trip and I’m looking forward to sitting down with Berry to talk about it (OK, actually I’m a bit nervous about that but I’m working on it). I learned a lot from the book but there are several things I want to try to sort out with Berry’s help. I have most of Eldredge’s other books and I am eager to get started on them as well.
And if you’re still reading, you’ve figured out by now that I am writing. I wrote my first piece the day we got back. Berry dropped me off at my house and only after he took off did I realize no one was home and I hadn’t brought a key. Fortunately, Jason’s Deli is just down the street and I did have a debit card so I grabbed my journal and over soup and a sandwich the words just flowed out. I wrote about trying to eat the fruit of a prickly pear and I thought it turned out OK, so here I am six or eight entries later still writing. I am hoping these are helpful to someone, not just writing for the sake of writing. I think the jury is still out on that one but I’m still willing to work at it, so we’ll see.
Hope you enjoyed our son's guest blog today. If you did, please leave a note. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Friday Again

It's Friday again and these last two weeks have been too busy! First, I had a sick husband all last week, then he was admitted to the hospital last Thursday and stayed until Saturday. Then I had a doctor's appointment which led to an all-day stress test yesterday. I hope they found nothing, but I will learn the results today or Monday.

We came back home to flooding in our town and no electricity. The east side of DeSoto had been evacuated, and many people were at our church, First Baptist, which had been set up as a welcome center to house those who had no place to go. We live on a hill, so our house was safe, at least the main floor was, but our basement was very close to taking in water. Thankfully, my husband had bought a generator three years ago. It had never been used, but it was prepared, and he put it into use quickly, and that saved our basement from another major flood (it has been flooded before--I even have a story about that.) Our neighbor put out his rain gauge, and he says we got close to 8 inches of rain yesterday. As we were in St. Louis, getting from my appointment to lunch and back again, I wondered if anybody might be starting a new business-- that of building some arks.

I'm happy to say the electric came on during the night, but all this has set me back. I didn't get my post done for today. I usually tell a personal experience on Friday. I'm going to let that be my personal experience for this week. (sigh--quite an experience, and a very long day).

Yesterday Margo Dill interviewed me on her blog:
Click on that link to read the interview and to register to win a copy of my book, A Heritage of Faith.

Thanks to Margo Dill for her complimentary words and for introducing me on her blog.

I hope to be back to normal next week.

You can still comment to win Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise Jones.
Scroll back to her Monday interview or see the side bar and click on it.

Next Monday I'll announce the winner, and will have another entry by guest blogger David Nobles, our son who lives in Midland, Texas.

Have a great weekend! Let's hope the ground begins to dry up and Spring gets closer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Several Book Reviews -- Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I have read some great books recently. Here are a few titles you might want to check out.

What Matters Most by Bette Lee Crosby   
      This book is about a woman who wants to stay at home with her friends and her quilting group,
while her husband wants to retire and move to Florida. It is filled with funny incidents as well as the angst the woman goes through as she tries to come to grips with her husband’s desire.
            I enjoyed this book and it left me with a smile, even though there is some offensive language in it. I am a quilter, like the title character. This will be the give-away for my blog interview with Bette Lee on April 29. Winner can choose paper or e-book.

The Reunion by Dan Walsh:
            The 5th title by Dan that I have read since Christmas may have been the best. This one is about Aaron Miller, a Vietnam war veteran, lost and forgotten and working as a handyman in a Florida trailer court, estranged from his children and family, and Dave Russo, a divorced newspaper reporter, also alone except for his mother.
            As Dave searches for veterans to interview for his book about the Vietnam area, he discovers Aaron and several other people who add to the plot as the reader turns the pages faster and faster.
This is a great read that I hope you will pick up. You will love reading about believable characters and situations. Dan Walsh says there is talk about a movie deal for this one. This book left me with a feeling of satisfaction.
             I will interview Dan on my blog in June. The give-away that week will be another of his titles, The Deepest Waters, that I discuss in the interview.

I’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock:
            I have read at least five books by Ann Tatlock, and this is another great one. She writes historical novels about America in the twentieth century, each in the voice of a young girl who lived through that era. In this book, the girl is Nova who is a nine-year-old living in the late 1940s during the polio epidemic.
            Nova and her brother Dewey live with their mother in a rooming house, where their aunt is the owner/operator. The author introduces many colorful characters who board there. There are two old ladies who used to do Vaudeville, a German man who survived Auschwitz, and several others. Nova idolizes her older brother and wants to be with him all the time, and he is very caring toward his little sister. She loves to look through Dewey's telescope and learn about outer space.
            The author does a good job of getting into Nova’s head as she tries to understand the current events, and as she longs for a dad of her own.
             I highly recommend this book and hope you will read it for yourself. You can download it on your Kindle. A paper copy of this book will be the give-away when I interview Ann on my blog in July.

Angels at the Crossroads by Ann H. Gabhart:
            Ann’s husband sings in a gospel quartet, and he met Jerry, the main character in this book, at one of the churches where he sang with his group. After hearing Jerry’s testimony, Ann decided to write a book about him, and this is the result of that meeting.
            Jerry was a troubled youth who found himself in some undesirable situations. The ultimate was his arrest. Along the way, he met people he later called “angels” because they kept him from harm and even death, until he finally met Jesus and made Him his Savior.
            I read this book on my Kindle and found it to be very uplifting, and yet compelling. Ann’s interview on my blog is coming up in August. The give-away will be one of her books.

Into the Free by Julie Cantrell:
            I downloaded this book on my Kindle several months ago and re-read it this week. It is about Millie Reynolds, a young girl tossed and turned by the situations of her life. Her journey as she searched for freedom leads her to look for love and acceptance where she can find it.
        Though downtrodden, Millie keeps trying. She loves to climb the tree in front of her house, where she can look out on everything below and think about how big the world is.
            Her mother, an abused wife, has given up on life, but Millie perseveres, finding people to share with her—an old black slave who lives in a cabin near her, the town librarian who encourages Millie to experience life through books, a young Gypsy who travels through her southern town once a year, Mr. Sutton, the man who owns the place where she lives, and Bump, a young cowboy who worked with her dad.
             This is a book of sadness, yet victory, a coming-of-age story that deals with both hardship and hope.

Two books about abused children:
Castaway Kid by R. B. Mitchell and Amelia’s Story by D. G. Torrens
I read both these books on my Kindle.

Castaway Kid is about a boy whose mother took him to an orphanage when he was three and left him there. The book relates his memories and adventures throughout his life as he searches for understanding as to why she did this. One of the people who endorsed the book said, "The book starts out as a little boy's struggle with abandonment but quickly becomes the reader's own stuggle with universal themes of loneliness, fear, rejection, anger, bitterness, and how to forgive others and ourselves."

            Amelia’s Story: A Childhood Lost is about a girl whose mother neglects and abuses her and her siblings. It is very sad. I read the whole thing, even though it was difficult at times. It is a true story by a woman who wrote her memoirs so that her daughter could understand her better. It left me wanting to know what happened next. The sequel is titled Amelia's Destiny.

Readers, you still have time to go to my most recent interview Monday, the 15th, with Denise Jones and enter the contest to win her book Secrets Over Sweet Tea. Comment on that blog and leave your email address to be in the drawing. Follow my site to receive an extra in the drawing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Meet Denise Hildreth-Jones, author of Southern Fiction

Hello, Denise, Looks like you have been a busy lady since you invented Savannah in 2004. With both non-fiction books and novels to your credit, readers can enjoy your “down home Southern” writing as well as your spiritual wisdom with life events.

Q: I first met you when I read Flies on the Butter. Of course, I devoured it, being unable to put it down. Then when I read The First Gardener recently on my Kindle, I had an even harder time putting it down. Though it was a book describing deep grief, it held hope and promise, and a good foundation of faith in God. I’d like to ask you about some of your characters in Gardener.

A: First Juanita, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you. I’m delighted to answer some questions for you about this book that was a sweet gift to my own heart.

Q: Jeremiah, the old gardener who had been at the governor’s mansion for twenty-five years, was surely someone you had known. I loved his down-home wisdom and thoughts in between chapters. I looked forward to hearing his take on events in the chapters preceding each of his appearances. Was he a composite of people in your past or did he come from your imagination?

A:  Jeremiah was just a gift. I heard his voice first and he was actually why I wrote this book. He was a reflection of God to me, the heart of my Father to my heart. And I hope that is what the reader can see him as too.

Q: I enjoyed the way you characterized Eugenia, the mother-in-law, and her friends. Surely you were visiting nursing homes or retirement communities to get your take on these three. And you kept them in perfect character throughout the book. What was your purpose for these three ladies in this story? What did you want readers to feel as they read about them?

A: Wow! These are some crazy characters aren’t they! Actually the theme of the book was such a heavy topic that I knew the reader needed a place to exhale. I had written Eugenia as a character but realized that she needed a more dominant presence along with her friends so that a lightness could be added to the novel. I wanted readers to enjoy their presence and enjoy the ability to breathe for a minute before they went back into the heaviness of the rest of the story.

Q: I almost shot up out of my chair at the end of the book when you told about Jeremiah’s background.  This surprise ending was more dramatic than in any other book I have read. What caused you to come up with this ending?

A: Thank you. I was hoping it would be. I just knew I needed Jeremiah’s story to have maximum impact. And so the thought came to me to write the ending the way that I did. I got the idea for the ending in the middle of writing the novel and I felt it made the whole book make sense.
Q: And it certainly did! I reviewed this book on my blog and one comment from a reader was that it was too sad for her to think about, since she was the mother of a young child. I think the sadness was for a purpose. What was that purpose?

A: I didn’t write it for the sake of simply being sad. But pain is never easy to experience or to watch. What I wanted people to see was the value of their hearts in the middle of their pain. Many people focus on trying to hide from their pain. Whether that is in shopping, eating, television, porn
addictions, medication, or something else, there are any number of ways in this day and age to hide from our pain. But I wanted to show what people go through in their pain. That is the only way pain heals. If we hide from our pain, trust me, it will come out eventually and the eruption is never pretty.
Q: After listening to your videos on the internet about the Bible Study Reclaiming Your Heart, I was encouraged to hear you talk about getting through life events that sometimes turn us upside down. All of us have had them. Have you known women who experienced infertility as Mackenzie in The First Gardener did?

A: Yes, I’ve had some precious friends who have gone through the pain of not having children. I also knew, because of different circumstances of my own story, the pain of not having children. It is a heart breaking journey. God created us to bring forth life. When that doesn’t happen it is something that has to be grieved.

Q: Did that knowledge and experience help you as you wrote about the problems of infertility?

A: Absolutely. It was invaluable.

Q: It was fun how you included southern cooking in the book, especially as Eugenia thought of it. Are you a Southern cook? Do you use recipes for southern food like okra and “home-cooked” foods when you cook for your family?

A: I am ridiculously southern in my cooking. My poor husband told me when we got married that he couldn’t gain weight. Well, that didn’t last long after I introduced him to fried chicken and country fried steak. I love people through food. A lot of people do. I love my five bonus-kids through food. And they love my fried chicken! It is the one thing they all five agree on. Oh, and my biscuits too!

Q: I also enjoyed your references to flowers and what they mean, as Jeremiah gave flowers to Mackenzie to try to cheer her up. Do you have a background in gardening?

A: No, I don’t have a background, but I love to get out there in the dirt and dig things up and plant things and watch them grow. There is something holy about that to me. I had to do a lot of research on this one. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

Q: I did, too. I enjoyed knowing the meaning for some of those flowers. Having experienced both depression (myself) and infertility (my daughter), I related well to this book. You dealt with so many subjects here. Was The First Gardener based on actual events?

A: I think this book was part of the healing process of my story about not having children of my own. I think it was also just a gift from the Lord. Whenever I finish a book I’m never sure how I wrote it or how I thought about all of the things that I did. That is when I am just grateful that God is such an exceptional story-teller.

Q: Tell us about how you got started in the writing profession.

A: Honestly, writing found me. I moved to Nashville, Tennessee to become a Christian singer. Found out pretty quickly that no one wanted to hear me sing. (My mom still does though) I was working in the parts department of a heating and air conditioning company and having no idea why God had sent me to Nashville if it wasn’t to sing. I was attending a large church at the time and had written an article for their church magazine about an organization called Mercy Ministries of America. The founder and President, Nancy Alcorn, read that article and asked me if I would come help her finish her book Echoes of Mercy because she wanted it to read like my article. I said, “Nancy, I don’t write.” She said, “Yes, you do.” That day Nancy Alcorn called me into my destiny.

Q: What advice would you give to new, aspiring authors today?

A: To tell the story God has given you to tell. Write it in the way that is true to your heart. And write a little each day. If you show up…He’ll show up. That is the promise He gave me quite a few years ago. And He has.
Q: What books should a new writer have in her/his library to help with a good start?

A: You know, I didn’t come into writing in the traditional way. I didn’t study it in college, so I’m not well versed on the “how-to’s” of writing. What I would encourage people to have in their library are books that they love. Then figure out why you love them and write that kind of story. Not the same story. But write with the heart to impact others the way those stories have impacted you.

A: Thank you, Denise. It has been a blessing to hear from you today. Since we did this interview, I have read your newest book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Readers, if you have not read my review of Secrets Over Sweet Tea, please go to the sidebar and click on that entry.

Blog readers, would you like to win an autographed copy of Denise's new book, Secrets Over Sweet Tea?  Scroll down and comment on this blog, or just say "Pick me!" or "I want to win!"Your name will be entered in a drawing and the winner will be announced on Monday, April 22 (one week from today).

You can get an extra contest entry if you "Follow Me" or "Subscribe to my blog." Just let me know in your comment that you have done that.

Leave your email address or I cannot enter your name in the contest. I have to know how to contact you. In the contest for Mona Hodgson's book, some names could not be entered because the commenter did not leave an email address.

I'll let the winner know and get her address, then Denise will mail your complimentary book.

Thanks for reading!

Reclaiming Your Heart, Bible Study by Denise Jones

Secrets Over Sweet Tea, Denise's newest novel

Friday, April 12, 2013

We Almost Slept in a Snake Pit

ANNOUNCING: The Winner of Mona Hodgson's book, Two Brides Too Many, is Wendy Newcomb of St. Cloud, Florida. Congratulations, Wendy!

Look for an interview Monday April 15 with Denise Hildreth-Jones. Comment along with your email address and you will be entered in a contest to win her newest book: Secrets Over Sweet Tea.

Today I'm posting a story about an exciting adventure we had long ago, when our children were very small. It was when we had only three kids, and the oldest was not quite five. LivingfortheWhole published this story in their Summer 2011 issue.

We had been camping "on a shoestring" for a few years when we decided to take a trip across the country. It was summertime, so we thought we would just camp out in the open. We had our little camp kitchen to cook our food, the tarp would provide protection if it rained (since we did not yet own a tent), we had our sleeping bags and air mattresses, and we were ready for a new adventure. My husband was a cowboy before we married and he had spent many nights outside, sleeping on the rolling hills of a ranch in Texas, so he saw no problem with our family having a great experience sleeping under the stars. Our short supply of money would pay for food, gasoline, and the fee to get into Carlsbad Caverns, a place we had dreamed about seeing one day.

I look back now and cannot believe we set off on that trip with three children under the age of five and no place to stay at night. However, we were young and foolish at the time. We were excited about seeing a natural wonder we had never seen before. It was one of our first big vacations and we felt fortunate to be able to go.

Mary, a young teenager in our church who sometimes baby-sat for us, went along to help us with the children. My husband was her pastor, and her parents thought he had enough sense to keep us all safe. None of us had any idea of the danger we would face on that trip!

We drove from Bogard, Missouri, to Dallas where my parents lived, and spent a free night at their house. The next day we headed down I-35 south, then turned west toward our destination.

As we drove down a lonely two-lane road in West Texas that would someday become Highway 10, we began looking around for a place to stop for the night. There was nothing but sagebrush, sand, rocks, and an occasional yucca plant on that road that seemed to go on forever. My husband saw a gravel pit that looked spacious, so he decided we would just camp there. We had stopped earlier and picked up some sticks and firewood so we could cook our supper. The white sand and gravel glistened in the Texas sunlight as we pulled our car down into that gully during the late afternoon. I was a little apprehensive about sleeping under the stars, but my husband and the kids were excited.

            A pile of rocks was the first thing we saw. Thinking that would be a good place to cook our meal, my husband built a fire there. He filled the coffeepot with water we had brought along in our plastic container, and placed it on the pile of rocks, then we began blowing up the air mattresses while the coffee perked and filled the air with its wonderful aroma. As we organized and prepared for the night, we piled our belongings on the ground around the car. There was quite a pile of gear there.

The children were walking around, exploring the area. Nobody was there, no cars were on the highway, and we thought everything was safe. The children, aged about 2, 3, and almost 5, walked near the rocks and occasionally dropped down on the sand to play. My husband poured a cup of coffee and reveled in the beauty of the countryside. We were happy, not suspecting the danger lurking as we went about the business of getting ready to camp for the night. The sun began going down and dusk was nearing.

            After I got our food out I had the frying pan in my hand, about to put it on the fire to prepare Hamburger Helper for our dinner, when I heard our oldest son, Steve, said, “Daddy, there’s a snake over there.” He was playing with a little flashlight in the growing darkness.

My husband took the flashlight to check out what our son thought he saw. He did see a snake as he flashed the light around the edge of the place where we stood. Then he saw another one, then another and another. Nests of snakes coiled on every rock, under the bushes, and in every spot we could see, their beady eyes reflecting the beam of the flashlight as they watched every move we made. We were stunned as we quieted, turned and looked, and heard the rattle of many snakes surrounding us. In horror, we quickly realized the gravity of our situation. We were in a gravel pit in the sandy Texas country where diamondback rattlesnakes made their home. And many of them had made their home in that spot. I think we must have been in Rattlesnake City. Their nests in rocks and bushes circled the area where we stood, stunned. Darkness was nearer and the snakes' eyes gleamed when Charlie shined the flashlight around again.

My husband, ever the optimist, said, “They won’t hurt you if you stay away from them.”  I knew my husband was easy-going, but that was the ultimate of ‘laid back’.

I stared at him, as if to say, “Buddy, you’d better think again.”

Then common sense set in and he said, “Let’s get everything back in the car and we’ll go somewhere else.” That suited me just fine. We blindly reached for whatever gear was closest to us and started trying to get it all back into the trunk of the car. We had to pour out the freshly made coffee.

Mary grabbed the two youngest kids, one under each arm, and jumped into the back seat of the car. My husband picked up Steve, our oldest son, put him in the front seat, and said, “Stay there!” With Mary and the children safe inside the car, we frantically tried to get the air out of the air mattresses, piling them into the trunk half-full along with our suitcases, cooler, and other gear, and struggled to get the trunk lid closed.

 It was completely dark when we pulled out of that gravel pit, back onto Highwas 10, that lonely West Texas road far from any evident civilization. We drove until we came to a roadside park furnished with concrete picnic tables and benches. It was very late by then, and my husband said, "I think we might be able to sleep here."

 I put my sleeping bag on top of one of the tables since I couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping on the ground. Mary and the children slept in the car. Thus the night passed, with my brave cowboy husband sleeping on his air mattress on the ground. I woke up many times. Cars passed occasionally, and every time I heard the noise of a car I jumped with a start, thinking about all those snakes and what could have happened to all of us. I nearly fell off that concrete table a couple of times. Fortunately,the table was larger than my sleeping bag. 

We made it to Carlsbad Caverns and walked the three miles through it. My husband and I each carried a child in our arms, and Mary held Steve’s hand all the way. As we left, our four-and-a-half- year-old son, Steve, looked up at us and said, "That's the longest walk I ever took."

Back home again, we bought a tent as soon as we were able to afford it. We didn’t want to ever again have an experience like the one we had out on that West Texas Highway.

We camped for many years. Later, we bought a pop-up camper, then graduated to a used fifth wheel camper. We had some nice camping rigs before my husband’s health made it impossible for him to drive the RV. Our last rig was a 35-foot Prowler fifth wheel with three slide-outs, pulled by a Ford V-10 dually, a fantastic combination we never dreamed we would be able to afford in those early days.

            We came a long way from our humble beginnings. Air conditioning, TV with surround sound, a plush queen size bed, a beautifully equipped kitchen with a microwave and other appliances in our fifth wheel trailer replaced our little camp stove, the tarp, and the lantern we hung over our oilcloth covered table. 

            In our retirement, we used our RV to go with a group of people to Arizona or Florida each winter where we worked, building churches or volunteering in some capacity to help those less fortunate to get better worship facilities. We spent ten years working in this way, going to a different place each winter to help a church or group.

            We had some wonderful adventures in the different RVs we purchased, but we never forgot that first trip when we almost slept in a gravel pit, the home of all those rattlesnakes. That was an experience we will never forget. By God's mercy, we escaped death by snakebite, which would have surely happened if our son had not been playing with a flashlight.

Our daughter Debbie sleeping on the ground in her sleeping bag on one of our camping trips

Camping without a tent

Readers if you will comment, you will be entered in a contest to win a copy of my book Heritage of Faith which contains this story and many others. Get extra entries in the contest by clicking on "Follow blog" or "Like my blog."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise Hildreth Jones

This delightful new book by Denise Hildreth-Jones is filled with fun and southern humor. I laughed out loud on the second page. If you have not yet read one of her books, I hope you will check them out.

Scarlett Jo Newberry, the main character is a loud, outspoken pastor's wife who tries to fix everyone. She loves to walk, she loves the early morning sunrise, and she loves to wear bright colors. So she takes her walks early as she thinks about and prays for each neighbor, and sometimes she gets into their business.

As each new character is introduced, Ms. Jones has the author thinking they are old friends. The reader becomes inmeshed in the joys and sorrows of each couple, most of whom are members of the church where Scarlett's husband is pastor. (Need I say that she loves Tara and Scarlet O'Hara, and she even named one of her five sons Rhett? This is about as southern as you can get.)

I won't give away the plot, but I will tell you that if you read this book, you will not put it down. You'll love reading about Grace and Tyler, Zach and Caroline, and their friends in Franklin, Tennessee. Each couple has their own unique situation, and each one has secrets, as we all do, ones that we don't want to tell. Scarlett calls each woman Baby, Honey, and Sugar Pie, all the southern names for friends as they discuss their problems over gallons of sweet tea.

But when her own secrets are revealed, Scarlett has a surprise for the reader. Her whole personalily becomes different as the friends she has helped try to help her.

This is a book you don't want to miss.

The author will be interviewed on my blog April 15.

Author Denise Hildreth-Jones
Watch for interview on April 15.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Organized Religion

Our son David, and his wife, Margaret

Today's post is another one by our son, David, who lives in Midland, Texas. This one has a lot to say and I hope you enjoy reading it. Makes me proud to be his mom!
A few days ago I preached at the memorial service for Jeff, a college professor from our community. Have you seen those TV ads featuring ‘the most interesting man in the world’? They are based on this guy’s life. He truly had some amazing experiences. I met Jeff one time, at the home of one of our church members who is also a college professor. It was this church member who asked me to preach his funeral. The service was very well planned and attended and was a fitting tribute.
I talked to several people about Jeff as I prepared. They said he was a Christian, but that he didn’t go to any church because he didn’t believe in ‘organized religion.’ I never learned the reason behind Jeff’s attitude, but I’ve met many people over the years with this same opinion. Sometimes they are people who have been seriously hurt by someone from church—sadly, usually a minister or other church leader. Sometimes they are people who have a well-developed independent streak, and don’t want to be told how to do anything. Sometimes they are people who know they have issues in their lives, but they don’t want to be told their behavior or attitudes don’t square with the Bible.
I was thinking about this as I put in my 40 miles on the bike yesterday. At the halfway-point I stopped at a 7-11 and refilled my water container. When I stopped, my legs felt pretty strong. After the break I got back on the bike and started to pedal—and wow, did that hurt. I was 20 miles from home and I wondered if I could go two more. But, since the options were ride or call and get a ride, an embarrassing prospect to be sure, I decided to ride. I was struggling along into a headwind, going about 12 or 13 mph when a bike zipped by me. “Have a nice day,” I thought—or something like that. The cyclist was young and skinny and his bike looked like it was worth three times what mine was. A few minutes later I was passed again, but this time by a guy older and fatter than me! My pride kicked in and I decided to see if I could ride with him for a while.
I caught up and he was going about 17 or 18 mph, a very good clip under the conditions. I positioned myself so he was blocking the wind for me, something we call “drafting.” When cyclists ride together this is the usual strategy. We take turns as the lead rider, who works the hardest. When we combine like this, we can ride much faster than we could alone. This is one reason the riders stay together in the “peloton” in the Tour de France—everyone stays fresher and stronger. When a rider or a group of riders break away from the group, they are working much harder and this is why they are usually “caught” by the peloton late in the day’s stage.
After drafting a while I started to feel guilty—I knew it was my turn to lead. “I’ve taken advantage of you long enough,” I hollered. “Let me lead a while.” I pulled ahead and he moved to the position I had taken when he was leading. I was surprised that I was able to keep the speed up, but there’s that whole male ego thing which most likely accounts for it.
We stayed together from the edge of Odessa to FM 1788. When we came to the light, my legs were jelly. I told him to enjoy his ride and dropped my speed back down.
Coming out of Odessa, I knew—I KNEW—there was no way I could go more than 12-14 mph into the wind. But, when teamed with another rider, I rode at 17 or better, getting as fast as 19, for a long time. On my own, I never would have been able to do it, but when pushed, encouraged, pulled, or motivated, however you want to put it, I did it. With a partner, I rode better and faster than I would have alone.
That’s when it hit me. Organized religion is like organized riding. As a team, we can do much more than we can alone. I think most people need the discipline of regular church attendance and enjoy the camaraderie and strength felt as they serve together rather than individually. It’s the whole concept of synergy, the idea that what we can do together adds up to much more than the sum of what we could do individually. I am constantly telling anyone who will listen that church is a team sport, that all of us have a role to play, and only when we all work together can we begin to accomplish what God has planned for us to do.
What’s your role? Are you striving for excellence? Do you encourage and support your teammates? My encouragement to you is that you don’t have to do life alone. One of the reasons we exist is to “share the journey” of life together. As a group, we want to help each other as we journey through life. When you're struggling, pull in behind someone and draft a while. When you're strong, take your turn in the lead and help someone else keep going.

Thanks, David, for your wisdom today.
David is Lead Counsel for Dawson Petroleum in Midland, Texas. For several years he served as Minister to Singles at First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas, and in two other similar positions. The articles I am featuring are ones he wrote during his time as a Singles Minister. They were published in papers given to the people in his church.

David's wife, Margaret, is a professional quilter who works from her home. If you are interested in checking out her work, go to

Margaret and her Long-Arm Quilting machine

Here's a T-shirt quilt she made.

This is a quilt I made. Margaret will quilt it for me and it will be even more beautiful.