Author: Sharon Hughson

Sharon Lee spent her youth talking to animals, who never replied, until she escaped to Narnia, where animals did talk back. The magical portal of reading made her a dream weaver. Now, she invites fantasy addicts and dreamers to time travel into immortal, mystical realms.

More Straight Talk from Editor Kristen Hamilton

Last week, we started this interview with Kristen, owner of Kristen Corrects, Inc. in Idaho.

I asked Kristen if she had any especially disagreeable authors (other than me) and what she would do when an author argued with her about her suggested changes.

KRISTEN: I’ve had authors disagree with edits I’ve made to avoid a blatant error (usually with capitalization or grammar). In most cases, I’ll explain why the edit is necessary, and the author will agree. But sometimes, the author disagrees. These instances are harder to let go, because it reflects poorly on the author and on me, the editor. Still, the author’s in charge, and I’ll leave the error in if they request it.

Wow! I want to insert that this MIGHT not be true if your editor is with a periodical or publishing house. Most of the time, those editors have the final say on small things like this.

Kristen’s been an editor for many years. Nosy authors want to know: What’s the most difficult part of being a book editor?

KRISTEN: It’s tough to deliver bad news to authors, especially when I know they’ve already been through several rounds of self-editing and revisions. This usually occurs in the manuscript critique process, where I’m reading their manuscript and pointing out any big-picture issues in pacing, character development, or plot and story structure. There’s no secret formula to create a good book, but if the book simply isn’t engaging, something’s off. It’s not always easy for an author to see this, as they’re so close to their work. I always focus on the manuscript’s strengths and offer constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement in the areas that aren’t working, but it can still be difficult to deliver that news.

I’m always a little scared to open a manuscript from my editor. In my experience, you do a great job of offering balanced feedback. We’ll see if I feel the same way once you get a look at A LABORING HAND in September.

Now that the negative is out of the way, what do you find to be the most satisfying part of your job?

KRISTEN: Books have always just done it for me, you know what I mean?  (I’m nodding here because I DO know.) I’ve had a lifelong love affair with books. And to know that I’m personally improving every book I edit…well, that’s a powerful feeling. These books will exist forever, in some capacity. That’s a pretty big job. And that’s pretty satisfying.

Ah, books. It’s so satisfying to have a conversation with a person who loves them nearly as much as I do.

The publishing industry has undergone a huge transformation in the past few years, and it’s still changing. How has your experience as a freelance editor changed your view about self-publishing and traditional publishing?

KRISTEN: I’ve had the pleasure of reading, editing, and critiquing hundreds of books by unknown and unpublished authors. There are some incredible stories out there! Since self-publishing is a relatively new thing, it’s opening up an entirely new platform to give a voice to everyone—what an incredible thing. And trust me, as I mostly work with fiction novels and memoirs, both forms of creative writing, I can say with certainty that everyone has a story. So when some traditionalists scoff at the idea of self-publishing, saying it’s “not real publishing,” I just smile and move on. Traditional publishing is great for the masses, but if you want to hear real stories, self-publishing is where it’s at.

I’m a little floored by that answer. In fact, I’m going to use that last line in a quote graphic that I’ll be sharing on social media.

Real stories: find them at the indie bookstore not on shelves stocked by big presses.

Now that we’ve come to the end of our “chat,” I can’t say “thank you” loud enough and long enough to express my appreciation for Kristen. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer questions for a bunch of authors who sometimes wonder if they’re writing in the dark.

I’m looking forward to watching Kristen’s expertise make my indie published series REFLECTIONS shine like a diamond among the millions of books available in this new publishing paradigm.

If you have a question about editing, comment below. I’ll make sure Kristen sees your questions so she can respond.

Straight Talk from Editor to Author

Editors do important work. In fact, my choice to pursue traditional publishing has as much to do with getting quality editing for my work as it does to the whole avoiding marketing ideal. (Sadly, there is NO way to avoid that irksome task regardless of an author’s path.)

I’ve worked with half a dozen editors. Three of them I chose myself and paid out of my pocket. The others were assigned to me by the publishing house. In my experience, some editors are fantastic and as relentless in their pursuit of a perfect manuscript as I am.

Others? They’re breezing through the manuscript and finding the obvious errors, but they aren’t passionate about polishing the story to the next level.

Recently, I hired Kristen Corrects, Inc for a three-manuscript independent project. She was one of the first editors I interviewed when the first manuscript in this series was an unborn dream. And although I didn’t hire her then, I have experienced her critique skills with a more recent project, MOMMY’S LITTLE MATCHMAKERS.

Welcome, Kristen. You’re an independent editor with a pretty full schedule and a broad range of editing projects, so I know you’ll have insight my fellow authors will want to hear.

What is something authors commonly forget to do before handing over their manuscript to the editor?

KRISTEN: Self-edit their work.

I cannot stress the importance and the difference in quality authors will see if they invest some time in improving their manuscript before sending it off to a professional editor. Unless authors have unlimited money to pay a freelance editor for many, many editing passes (spoiler alert: most don’t!), authors can really improve the quality of their final book simply by self-editing their work.

Me: That’s great advice, but I’m sure some readers are wondering what that entails. What does self-editing mean to you?

KRISTEN: This means recruiting beta readers and implementing their suggestions, and reading your manuscript several times to catch as many errors (continuity, grammar, spelling) as possible. I’ve been a freelance editor since 2012, and one thing I know to be true: the most successful self-publishing authors are those who self-edit their work. Simply handing your raw first draft manuscript to your editor and hoping they’ll make it into gold after one or two editing passes just isn’t realistic.

Me: I can’t even imagine sending my raw first draft to anyone. I even revise and give it a quick edit before I send it to my beta readers.

Let’s face it, there are a TON of editors out there. Not only that, there are several types of editing. How is an author supposed to find a reputable editor?

KRISTEN: Do your homework. Make sure the editor has a contract. Check out their portfolio and look up those books on Amazon (if there are a lot of negative reviews mentioning a story that doesn’t make sense or typos, move on). Read testimonials of the editor’s previous clients.

Most editors will offer a sample edit free of charge, so take advantage of this to see if you like how the edited passage of your book. There are a lot of editors out there, so do your research!

Me: I know that when I first interviewed you, I was hoping to find someone who had experience editing in my genre (historical fiction). In fact (along with price), this is the reason I went with someone else for that first project. Do editors prefer to work in certain genres?

KRISTEN: I’m a fiction book editor, but I haven’t “niched down” yet to a specialty (romance, fantasy, etc.). There’s a robust world in fiction writing, and I enjoy all of it—the variety makes my job so interesting. There’s a big difference between fiction and nonfiction writing, though, which is why I rarely accept the nonfiction project.

Me: At the end of the day, authors don’t have to take your recommendations. Every editor I’ve worked with has reiterated this to me (yes, even the ones with publishing houses). How do you manage issues when the author disagrees with your advice/recommendations?

KRISTEN: The majority of my clients are self-publishing authors, which means after I’m done editing their manuscript, they upload the books to Amazon Kindle or other self-publishing platforms. The book is their baby—it has their name on it, their ideas, and their story. And as such, I always tell my author clients: “You’re the author, so you’re in the driver’s seat!” (It’s kind of become a mantra.)

I’m here as their editor to make the book the best it can be—but if the author disagrees with my recommendations, I’m totally fine with that. That’s the beauty of self-publishing—it’s the author’s story, nobody else’s.

Me: Come back next week and find out if Kristen deals with a client who disagrees with changes she suggested.

For my part, I’ve worked with several editors, and I’ve never had any arguments. There were times I disagreed with my editor and cited the Chicago Manual of Style to them as to WHY I didn’t accept their changes. Amazingly, they thanked me for pointing those errors out to them.

Next week, I’ll open up the comments at the bottom of the post and ask Kristen to check in and answer any questions you have for her. In the meantime, why not check out her blog and see if she answers them there.

FINDING FOCUS: Mentoring

Mentoring is God’s plan for passing along Christianity and the example of Jesus Christ himself.

This month, the blog will take a closer look at this important calling. As in the study book (no longer available for purchase), the study starts with a Portrait.

Mentoring is becoming a lost art. As you’ll see in the Bible study segment, we should be more serious about this focal point of Christianity.

What follows is my attempt to paint a portrait of one of the best examples of mentoring given in scripture. Because the details of the arrangement aren’t spelled out in scripture, plenty of license was taken in the fictionalizing of the account.

Air stagnates in the women’s section at the rear of the Ephesian synagogue. I open my mouth to join the recitation and nearly gag when the body odor of an elderly woman in front of me wafts my way. Lord, help me!
Yes, that is a prayer. I find myself uttering three- and four-word petitions all day long. And the gracious Lord I serve hears and answers.
In this moment, I don’t heave the contents of my stomach onto the women around me. Nor does a retching sound emerge in place of the scripture. God has answered again.
My tongue forms the ancient words from Deuteronomy. Feminine voices embrace me on every side, joining and blending with the deeper tones from our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.
I tilt my head to the side, searching for my husband Aquila. My father is dead, my brother remains in Rome, uninterested in the Way, and the Lord has never blessed me with sons, only two daughters, both married.
Aquila is more than enough. We serve Jesus Christ together, just as we make tents together.
A male voice begins the first song of degrees. Other voices join in. I twitter out the high part my mother taught me so many decades past. The soprano notes complement the lower voices of both women and men.
A woman behind me joins on the high harmony. My heart leaps as I’m transported back to childhood, learning the part with my younger sister.
I turn my thoughts toward the Lord, voicing each word from my lips to his ears.
“The Lord is thy keeper,” we sing (Ps. 121:5). Praise Him for keeping us safe when Caesar evicted us from Rome.
“The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” (Ps. 121:7). Yes, Lord, you have preserved Aquila and me too many times to recount.
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1).
Tears clog my throat. King David, author of this psalm, wrote of the tabernacle, but I have never seen the temple in Jerusalem. I squeeze my eyes closed to ease the burning.
When the singing ends, several men pray aloud. Their voices make a tuneful backdrop to my own thanksgiving and supplication.
The rabbi reads from Isaiah. It is one of the three books outside of the Torah that this synagogue has available, along with sacred scrolls.
A stranger, dark skin naming his origin from parts to the south, perhaps even Egypt, stands and speaks. The tone of his voice is cultured, smooth like cream. His words are fine. He expounds on the passage from Isaiah’s prophecy before speaking of other prophecies.
I nearly topple over when the man mentions the teaching of John the Baptist. I straighten against the hard seat, nothing more than a plank of wood set atop cinder blocks.
He speaks of the Messiah. My heart thrums in my throat until his honeyed words are nearly drowned by the pounding. Does this man know of the Way?
Many members of the synagogue are believers, but others claim Jesus of Nazareth was not their Messiah. The topic is dangerous to discuss in this Jewish place of worship.
I couldn’t discern whether the young man knows the Way. His focus seems to be validating John as the forerunner, the prophet to make straight the path before Messiah.
A chorus of murmurs from the men interrupts his fine speech, keeps me from hearing what more he says.
Several other men stand to read or recite scripture. No one else expounds on the passages. After another hymn and prayer, the rabbi dismisses the gathering with the traditional Shalom blessing.
Outside the domed building, I breathe deeply, watching the men file out. Aquila comes, head bent close to Benjamin, one of the members of our house church. Aquila’s leanness makes him appear taller than the stout cobbler. They exchange nods before Aquila extends his hand to me.
I take it, amazed that it can be cool and warm all at once. I press my back against the wall of the synagogue, raise on my toes to speak directly into my husband’s ear.
The crowd leaving the worship service is quiet, but the street around us teems with commerce. It is Ephesus. The trading never ceases.
“Who was that man? The one who spoke of John?”
“Apollos, an Alexandrite Jew.”
“Does he follow the Way?”
Aquila shakes his head, a slight move. I stare into his rich, brown eyes and see the motion wasn’t a denial. He thinks the younger man might be a believer, but it is dangerous to assume this. Apollos hadn’t spoken openly of Jesus, like Paul the Apostle had done when he visited here a few months past.
“We should invite him to break bread with us.”
Aquila nods. He scans the trickle of worshipers still emerging from the synagogue. A royal blue cloak swirls at the doorway, and the dark-skinned man emerges. Behind him, the rabbi shakes his head vociferously. My stomach clenches at the sight of the synagogue leader’s stern visage.
My husband shuffles toward the two men, waiting a respectful distance apart. The rabbi looks at him expectantly, but Aquila nods toward the stranger. Apollos stands half a head taller than my husband. Their lips move, but the bustle of the city and my distance from them makes hearing the conversation impossible.
Soon, Aquila is nodding. Both of them step toward where I’m waiting, hands folded over my queasy stomach. Lord, don’t let this be a mistake.
Trivial conversation follows us through the crowded market and into the quieter trade district. I fall behind the men, trying to listen to snatches of their conversations.
Lord, protect us if this man is not sent from you. Grant us wisdom to teach him Your Perfect Way. Move in his heart. Touch our tongues and lips. You promised your Spirit’s aide.
I could not hear much from the men, but I know the Lord hears every syllable of my fervent prayers.
A faint odor of tanning hides greets us when Aquila swings open the door to our home. It is nearly impossible to keep the stench away when our trade requires us to handle cured hides and skins every day.
The men sit on the couches in the center court of our small shop. My feet glide soundlessly across the mosaic and into the storage room. I fetch a skin of new wine and three cups. I place some bread and olive spread onto a large platter beside the cups, and carry all of it to the men.
I pour wine for both men, meeting Aquila’s eyes when I hand him his drink, ducking my head when I pass a cup to our guest.
Aquila swallows before asking, “What do you know of John’s baptism?”
Apollos sips his beverage, reclines on the pillow-covered arm of his couch. “His immersion of believers in water prepared men and women to become part of something greater.”
They discuss this subject. I swallow a mouthful of drink, but the knot in my stomach won’t allow more than that. I continue to pray until I feel a nudge from the Spirit.
“What of Christ?” I say.
Both men turn to stare at me. My husband’s eyes widen. Apollos holds my gaze, sipping from his cup before setting it on his thigh.
“Has Messiah come?” The dark man’s eyebrows press together, creasing his wide forehead.
I keep my eyes pinned on our guest, but I still see the slight shake of Aquila’s head. The witness of Christ within me prods me to ignore the wordless warning from my spouse.
“Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. He called an assembly from the body of those baptized by John. We were baptized by Paul the Apostle in Corinth a few years past.”
“I heard rumors about this Jesus. Why do you say he was the Christ?”
Aquila and I take turns quoting prophecies of old which Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled. Prophecies everyone agrees spoke of the coming Messiah.
Aquila asks questions and nods at our explanations. His attendance on my words sends a flush to my cheeks. This man is a powerful orator. If he follows the Way, many people will turn from the path leading to eternal destruction.
Light fades. I bring a lamp from an inner room and light the wicks floating in pots encircling the terrace. A sense of peace envelopes me, a blanket of assurance as real as the curtain of darkness falling around us.
Today I have discovered another way Aquila and I can serve the Lord together. A young man will be saved from destruction. In turn, his persuasive speaking will convert many more to the Way.
Thank you, Lord.

You can still join the LIVE study in my Facebook Group by clicking here. That’s where you can download a FREE copy of the book and interact with others who are interesting in finding their God-given focus for life.

***This excerpt was first published in 2016 in the first edition of FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson

From the Archives: “I’m Not a Playwright”

Republishing a post from the early days of my blog…back when I was earning my college degree and had to write a “Ten-Minute Script.”

This was first published on my middleagedcoed WordPress blog on February 9, 2013.

What do you think?

Words well within me, an unquenchable passion, until my fingers transfer them to the page. Writing, flying for my soul and spirit, frees me like nothing else.

Penning a play – especially one that must be performed within ten minutes – just doesn’t offer the same joyful release.

Two Problems

Story line: Really, what sort of story that has any plot development or character arc can be told in ten minutes? Solely with dialogue. In a single setting and make it a simple one. It can only be a snippet of a story and yet, the instructor expects it to have the richness of a full-length work.

Stage directions: I am bogging my script down with stage directions. Even as I know this, I feel the only way to develop my characters is to show their facial expressions and body language. So much can be said in narrative. My story seems empty if I don’t insert these specific emotions and actions for the characters.

I’d Rather Write a Story

I keep telling myself that the only difference between what I’m writing for this workshop and what I love to produce is the format. Instead of using paragraphs and quotation marks and endless lines of prose, I’m typing stage directions and parentheticals and character names.

I’m not fooling myself. I’ll be surprised if I pull the wool over the eyes of my professor and classmates.

The story is shallow and the characters don’t have time to be fully developed. They will appear onstage as completely formed, speak their lines and exit.

In the end, I’m hoping for a few chuckles over my preposterous premise. If I could change the world in ten minutes I would have some sort of dedicated following, wouldn’t I?

Have you ever written in a form that felt uncomfortable and unworkable? I’d like to hear your story.

Join the Discussion

Discussion holds the power to enlighten and inform. Of course, it needs to be a two-way conversation where listening happens as often as talking…and from both sides.

In our crazy “You Can Do it All” world, it can be difficult to maintain the focus needed to accomplish any task well. That’s one of the things I mention in my study guide Finding Focus through the Lens of God’s Word.

Eight Bible lessons to help you discover your focus

For the rest of this year, I’ll be offering the content of that book FREE to members of my Friends of Author Facebook group.

This is the table of contents from the book.

Session One:  Your Life in Pictures

Session Two: Where’s the Auto Focus?

Session Three: Choosing what to Focus on

Session Four: Focus-Helping

Session Five: Focus-Mentoring

Session Six: Focus-Teaching

Session Seven: Focus-Mothering

Session Eight: When Life’s out of Focus

To kick things off, we’ll start at the beginning, but I won’t go through every chapter. If you’re interested in joining with this study and discussion, go here to join the group. Then follow this link to fill out the poll where you select the top three topics from the book that you’re interested in reading and discussing. The four topics that receive the most votes will be discussed beginning in September.

Why Am I Doing This?

First of all, I’m trying to see if there is a market for this information.

Secondly, I need to build a platform of active followers if I want to convince an agent to take on the proposal I’ve been working on. More about that later once I decide if I can make a “course” out of the information that people might be interested in paying to obtain.

And finally, I don’t get a lot of traction here on my blog. A few people comment. If Google Analytics are painting the best picture, a few more are reading the blog without leaving any feedback.

But mostly, my writing here goes into the Virtual Ether and that’s the end of it. So why do I keep posting here?

A New Focus

Speaking of focus, I promised earlier this year that the blog articles would take on a new focus. But I haven’t really delivered on that.

Now is the time for that delivery.

Next year, all the content on this blog will be either research related to the REFLECTIONS series, book reviews or opinions that relate to either the genre of Biblical fiction or Christian living. At least once each month, I’ll share an article that relates directly to the topic  of grief and grief recovery.

If you’re a regular reader, I’d love to hear your input on these changes.

As always, thanks for reading.

A Glimpse Inside What I’m Writing Now

The cover for the second book in the REFLECTIONS series will be unveiled soon.

A Laboring Hand is the story of Jesus told by Martha of Bethany. And it’s a story that’s had a profound effect on the author writing it.

I’ve always teased my sister about being bossy, but Martha has taken flak from preachers for a couple thousand years about her tendency to be bossy. We’re familiar with this scripture from Luke 10, right?

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

But what did it look like in Martha’s life?

Here’s a glimpse from A LABORING HAND, chapter four.

I washed my hands and began to chop the handfuls of pungent herbs I would add to the beans. The pestle in my hand smashed the beans with rhythmic efficiency. Mary pressed together more flour, salt and olive oil, intent on baking more bread.

“The stone was hot.” The words had barely left my mouth when Lazarus limped in followed by a boy carrying a jug on his head.

“Leave it in the shade outside,” I waved a hand to the boy. “We’ll draw out into my pitchers half-filled with water. That will make it last.”

Laz nodded to the boy, gesturing to a place further along the house, away from the cooking fire and the chimney. I heard the jingle of coins.

“It’s already watered.”

“What proportion?” My brain estimated the amount of drink a dozen thirsty men would need.

“Fifty percent.” Lazarus slouched against the wall. Weariness etched his features, but I knew he wouldn’t rest. He was more eager for the visitors than any of us.

“We can safely add another twenty percent. Will you see to it?”

“I’ll need to draw more water.” Mary’s hands hesitated over the dough. “They’ll need what I drew for washing.”

“They aren’t zealots.” I returned to my chopping. “They won’t care about washing before they eat. Could you reach me the bowl of olives?” I gestured to the line of pottery on the wall overhead.

Mary shoved Abba’s weaving stool into place and stepped up to grasp the bowl. “I intend to wash their feet.”

I froze. Why would she insist on doing that? It was a servant’s job, and since we didn’t have servants, none of our guests ever expected this service.

“They’ll just get dirty again when he leaves on Sunday.”

“But they’ll be clean for Sabbath.”

Like that really mattered in a small synagogue like ours.

“There isn’t enough water.” That would solve it.

“I’ll draw more.”

“The bread needs baking. And the floor should be swept and the cushions beaten. Plus, we’ll need to get out all the extra rugs.”

Lazarus sighed and pushed away from the wall. “I’ll get started on the cushions.”

I shook my head. With only one arm, it took him much longer to clean them. “I’ll do it. Draw out the wine.”

Laz blinked at me, sharing a look with Mary. It was an apologetic look. He’d tried to aid her plan, but the bossy big sister nixed it. Something gnawed at my heart, but I ignored it. There was work to be done.

Soon enough, the laughter and banter of a crowd of dusty men filled the room. I welcomed them with a small bowl of water and a clean linen cloth. Well, it was clean for the first man or two.

Yeshua reclined at the head of the table on the largest cushion. My parents had often shared it. John bar Zebedee, one of the Boanerges, sat on it with the master while the others filed onto other cushions, some choosing to lean against the wall on the rugs Lazarus had pulled from his room and ours. The dirt floor could hardly be seen once all of them sprawled around the room.

Mary and I circulated with pitchers of wine. Once we finished, I began to distribute the bowls of spiced beans and packets of bread, still warm from their place on the hearth. I turned to ask Mary to assist me, but she’d folded herself cross-legged at Yeshua’s feet, staring up as he started to talk.

I blinked hard. What on earth was she thinking? Was this her rebellion since I hadn’t let her get water for foot washing? She was certainly positioned in a way she could wash his feet if she had the supplies.

I continued to serve. His authoritative voice, usually so soothing, fueled the ire inside me. He could make her help me. I glanced at Laz, but my brother was watching the master and scribbling on a piece of parchment. Mary never once looked my way, even when I nudged her with my ankle as I passed to refill John’s cup.

With a careful eye, I glanced at every cup and bowl. They would need continual watching. Matthew raised his cup in my direction, and I sidled through the sprawled bodies to fill it, nearly tripping on another man’s filthy feet.

They weren’t drawn out of the way, so I turned and topped off his cup. He stared through me, as if I were invisible. I was used to that from working in the Pharisee’s home, but usually Yeshua’s friends were more gracious.

The unrest stirred inside me as I shuffled around, refilling cups and then fetching more bread to replenish the diminishing stacks. Soon, I would need to bake some more.

And that’s when it was too much. I strode toward Yeshua with my pitcher and jabbed my sister with a meaningful kick. She blinked.

As I filled his cup, I said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

A hush descended in the room. I heard the wine trickle against what was in his cup. Our eyes met.

“Bid her to help me.” Couldn’t he see how much work I was doing? Why should she just be sitting there?

“Martha.” His voice was quieter than it had been, almost gentle.

At the sound of my name from his lips, the turmoil loosened inside me. Why had I waited so long to ask for his assistance? His dark eyes filled with understanding and concern. He would help me because he cared about me.
“Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things.”

The comfort turned to a prickle of conviction. Worry was sin. My father had told me so.

“But one thing is needful.”

One thing? I wanted to jerk my hand around at the crowd of hungry men who needed food, drink and places to sleep. There were many things that needed to be taken care of. I knew he could see that.

Yeshua sighed. His fingers rested on the handle of the pitcher beside mine. They were square and scuffed. Working man’s hands.

“And Mary hath chosen that good part.” His voice rose slightly, but not with anger or impatience, and his hand dropped to his cup. “And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Everything warred within me as I struggled to comprehend his words. Mary was sitting there while our guests needed things. How was that better than helping me meet their needs?

“A certain man,” his gaze scanned the rest of the room.

I recognized the beginning of a parable. Usually I loved his stories, they always carried so much spiritual significance. I couldn’t listen though because his words stung my heart.

I filled cups, my eyes lowered. Tears burned at the back of my eyelids whenever I blinked, but I widened my eyes, pulling my shawl which had dropped to my shoulders, up to cover most of my face.

Mary sat at his feet doing nothing, but Yeshua said she’d chosen the good part. The words kept echoing all evening.

Even now, as I’m writing all this, they sting me somewhere deep in my soul. Was there something wrong with my desire to make the men comfortable? Did Yeshua not want a meal and refreshment while he was talking?

What do you think? How had you imagined Martha in this moment that gets so much negative attention? Should women be more like Mary?

If you’re excited to learn more about the REFLECTIONS series, make sure you’re a member of my newsletter. I’ll be running special (including FREE audiobooks of A PONDERING HEART) to my subscribers FIRST!
Sign up here

Happy Independence Day: A Look at Freedom

July 4,1776, a crowd of rebellious patriots rally around a document written by Thomas Jefferson and sent to a king thousands of miles across the sea. This king taxed the “colonists” but in return they received nothing from him.

Today, I’ll celebrate our independence with a collection of links to posts with the title “Why Freedom Isn’t Free.”

I don’t endorse any of the products these posts might be selling. I am not saying I agree with all of the content. But, in the spirit of “free speech” I am sharing diverse opinions about this subject.


We’ll start with an old post of mine. I wrote it when the hubs and I walked the “Freedom Trail” in Boston.

Next up is a post from a life coach. He translates freedom in your personal life to freedom in your career and finances. Read it here


I especially agreed with the first line of this next post: “Years ago back in my days at the academy and in the military, I used to hear the phrase ‘freedom isn’t free’ over and over again. Not because I heard it in my military days, but because I think it’s a phrase that’s going out of style.

Read the rest of this post here

This final post has a religious bent with a text from Genesis chapter two. I’m including it because, I believe, that’s when this struggle for freedom truly began for mankind.
Read it here.

As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on freedom, but please don’t quote the other articles as if I stated them or agreed with them. I am only sharing them to offer some diversity.

Don’t you get tired of hearing only MY opinion on this blog?

Do you agree that “freedom isn’t free”? What price have you paid for freedom?

The Power of Discussion

In May, I spent most of the month working as the substitute teacher in the freshman global studies class at our local high school. My favorite days were the ones when we had discussion prompts and they voiced their opinions.

These days reminded me of the power inherent in discussion. Note, I’m not talking about arguments or one-sided lectures.

Discussion involves a sharing of multiple viewpoints.

I admit, I played the Devil’s Advocate when I could. I took portions of what they offered up in their claims and twisted it to represent the opposite viewpoint in a better light. Sound perspectives from early classes were used to foster discussion in later ones.

And it made me smile. The eight hours of constant interaction generally zap me. I leave the high school feeling like a zombie in need of a long hibernation.

But not on those discussion days. Because the brain-stimulating charge from the discussion kept the fatigue at bay. Powerful and empowering: discussion.

Power of Thought

Some topics are thought-provoking.  Other topics might not be all that interesting until presented in a way that speaks to the place a person lives.

In either case, discussion requires a brain to wake up and get to work.

Believe me when I tell you the youth I interact with in public school don’t do as much thinking as they should. Instead, they’re spoon fed information to regurgitate as test answers.

Not the case for a discussion. Although, I can tell you it was clear when students supplied a regurgitated answer. When asked questions about it or to give a logical path between the question and their answer, they were stumped.

Deep thinking requires analysis and evaluation. Information is input into our brain and when it comes out our mouths it’s been synthesized through our worldview, experiences, values and additional knowledge.

Power of Understanding

One of the biggest powers of discussion is its ability to impart understanding. This isn’t in the form of facts. It’s in the form of mind-expanding.

In a discussion, another side we hadn’t considered is presented. The reasoning behind that viewpoint is explained. A lightbulb goes on.

Even if we aren’t convinced by this shared information, we’re suddenly aware of where the “other side” comes from.

We understand their way of thinking, the process of their logic. Suddenly, there isn’t just a right way and a wrong way. Or even a my way and their way.

True understanding opens the avenue of compassion. This isn’t the road to tolerance or even acceptance. It’s a path that says, “You can get there a different way.” Even if it isn’t the shortest or fastest route, it isn’t wrong either. Just different.

And diversity should be appreciated.

Power to Compromise

Most things in the world don’t have to be one way. This is the biggest outcome to open discussion. Open discussion being that where everyone listens and everyone has input. People talk and their words are heard and considered as valuable.

Compromise is rarely the path of least resistance. Its very nature requires concessions from both sides.

As long as either side sticks with an unbending will, there can be no meeting in the middle.

However, compromise can agree to disagree. We don’t have to think exactly alike to be able to work together for a better world.

To work together, though, we’ll have to put a sock in our pride. We can’t look down our nose at the other side because that breeds contempt and resentment.

If I have the cure for cancer, does it matter if the cancer patient believes the same way I do about politics or religion or even the best way to administer the cure? Won’t it cure them no matter what they believe?

But if I withhold the cure to use as a “lever” to sway those other beliefs, I’m guilty of inhumanity.

What do you see as the powers of open discussion between people with various viewpoints?

The Power of Three

With a title like that, this article could be about Charmed or the Trinity or any number of things. Instead, it’s about the way many things are segmented into “just do these three things” and you’ll find success.

In the Book Proposal workshop I wrote about last week, the agent/instructor told us a major way we could build our platform was to write three articles.

Yes, the power of three strikes again. (Not the power of three strikes. All that gets you is OUT.)

Why Three?

It could be an arbitrary number. But there is some method to choosing three.

Three articles on one topic (but not the same elements of that topic) offer enough diversity that it can make your knowledge appear broad. In some cases, maybe broader than it is. Don’t get me started on that “pretending things” avenue.

These articles need to represent the “best” of my topic. They should showcase my hook and also what’s different about my approach to a common and well-covered topic.

They need to be well-written in the style of my book. And they need to be edited to perfection

Then What?

Now that I have three well-crafted articles showcasing my expertise on this subject, I’m set.

For what exactly?

To get the content out there.

I should pitch these articles to sites with large followings that would be interested in the topic. Maybe send the articles out to a magazine.

Yes, I have to be careful about reprint and copyright infringement, but that’s the main reason I have three articles. I can use some of them in forums that don’t require first or exclusive rights, and save one of them to sell to an exclusive market.

Also, I should reformat the information into live videos or coaching sessions. Anything that can get the information out into the world.

What’s the Point?

Other than getting my information out there, this exposure establishes me as an expert.

Which I’m not. However, every agent and editor will do an online search of me. These articles on so many different channels will show up as hits. And that looks like I have a large reach.

This is part of platform building that we often overlook. Especially since my experience is mostly with fiction platform building. That doesn’t lend itself in the same way.

As I mentioned last week, I’m not thrilled to spend all my energy talking about working through grief. It isn’t my primary gifting or calling.

But if I want to get a traditional contract for this book, I should do everything in my power to “follow the rules.”

That’s the main reason you’ll see my blog and my Facebook group focused on nonfiction topics for the rest of the year. It’s not because I’m not writing fiction, because you know I have five projects in the works.

My goal is to build a platform that appeals to a publisher. In reality, I’d rather talk about fictionalizing Bible stories and how that can further spiritual growth. Yes, everyone grieves, and I would be willing to speak on that topic too, but my passion is for the other.

Apparently, if you write a book, it’s because you’re an expert in that field. And from then on, you’ll only be seen as someone who can address that subject.

That’s so limiting. Especially for someone like me who can’t even decide on a single fiction genre to write in forever.

What is a topic you wish someone would write a book on?

Book Proposal Workshop Woes

A professional spends time and money on education. It’s no different for me as an author. I’ve spend money on conferences, retreats, online classes, books and most recently a workshop. This particular workshop claims to show me the best way to write a book proposal.

Fiction writers don’t generally have to write proposals. As the instructor of my workshop—literary agent Wendy Keller—is fond of saying, a book proposal is like a nonfiction book’s business plan. Because a nonfiction book is selling knowledge and the publisher who puts it out there wants to be sure the plan is sound (meaning has a good hope of making money).

This spring, I attended an online writing conference and one of the sessions advertised this workshop. Of course, like any good marketing campaign, it made it sound like there was a decent chance any sound proposals would be snapped up by the agency presenting the course.

Or not.

But what’s $199 among friends? Or would that be agent and possible future author client?

Or maybe, it’s a six-session course that gives feedback on every part of the proposal. By the time I finish, the whole proposal will have been seen by this agent and multiple editors. It should be as close to perfect as I can make it.

After that, I’ll be able to actually shop my nonfiction book Through the Valley of Shadows to my top agency choices. It might have the chance to be sold.

And this is one of my writing projects for 2020.

If only I wasn’t in the middle of writing first drafts and revising beta drafts and working eight-hour days teaching freshmen about refugees and imperialism.

If wishes were pennies, I’d be rich.

The Sessions

The first two webinars were horrible. Not because the information shared wasn’t good, but the first one had such horrible audio quality that it gave me a headache. The second one, the slides that the presenter shared weren’t actually shown. Not helpful if you’re trying to take notes.

After that, it wasn’t too bad. There was a combination of ideas and encouragement, but I didn’t feel encouraged.

Seriously. She basically said if you didn’t have a platform, her agency wouldn’t pick you up. And if you self-published your book, you were only hurting yourself. Unless you had a ready-made clientele.

I got the message…but not the T-shirt

Yes, she did give the framework necessary for writing a proposal. She had a few unique tips I hadn’t heard elsewhere, but in reality, there wasn’t much here.

Unless the idea that I “fabricate” speaking dates (nine to twelve months in the future) is to be considered an excellent piece of advice for a Christian author. (I wish I was joking.)

The Homework

The assignments were directly related to the lessons. The coursework divided the proposal into parts and each lesson covered one of these. The corresponding homework involved writing that part.

One of the pieces of the proposal that I hadn’t completed before was the comparative analysis. This involves reading as money books similar to the one you’re writing as possible. Our first week we had to find these books in the top 150,000 on Amazon.

During the following six weeks, we were supposed to read these six to eight books.

Yeah. Right.

A re-enactment of one of my THREE TBR piles before they collapsed

I read two books per week, but I didn’t want to read six books on the topic of grief. Not when the skies were gray and I had writing to do.

So, I’m still working on the last two of those books. Because I need to have read the by the time I send my proposal out. I can hope that the books will STILL be on the Amazon charts at that point.

The End Result

At the end, I had every piece of this proposal written. All except the final piece—Marketing Plan, also the second most important section of the document—had been read and reviewed by professional editors. I’d had the opportunity to rewrite each section according to the recommendations from said editors.

The entire proposal had final input from an editor. After implementing these suggestions, I would have the best book proposal I could possible write.

What I didn’t have was an agent.

But then again, did I truly expect the road to be easy? It hasn’t been this far.

And no matter what this agent says, if I don’t sell this book to a publisher, I’ll create an online course for it. I’ll get it out to people because I believe it has a needful message.

I know it’s helped me in the aftermath of grief, and I believe God can use it to help others find hope and healing, too.

What is something you’ve signed up for that didn’t have the expected outcome?