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Practice of the Presence of GodBesides conversations recorded by others, Brother Lawrence also connected with friends via letters. Some of these have been included in the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Below is the essence of his fifth letter, and responses that come to my mind.

 

 

 

 

FIFTH LETTER

Concepts:

* Firmly resolve to be wholly devoted to God.

* If you continually practice the presence of God, you will soon become spiritual.

* The first step to practicing the presence of God is to empty your heart of all else. This is what God requires in order to work in your life.

* Practice of the presence of God involves a continual conversation with Him.

* This continual conversation with God is sweet and delightful, but we do not seek devotion to God for the pleasure it will give us. We do it because of love.

* The delight in God’s presence can’t be adequately explained to those who haven’t experienced it.

* We often have no idea how much we need God’s grace and assistance in our lives.

* Commit yourself now, never lose sight of Him, “spend the rest of your days in His sacred presence,” even if this commitment requires great sacrifice.

 

Our Responses:

* We have to want to commit to spending my time in the presence of the Lord. We may see the need, the necessity, the comfort and delight, but still avoid the commitment. Why?

—perhaps I see the effort as too great

—perhaps I don’t think I can manage it

—perhaps I think it will interfere with my life

—perhaps I think I’ll miss something if I empty my heart of all else

—perhaps I feel I’m doing fine as I am

Note the “I” in each of these hesitations. Brother Lawrence has continually encouraged us to think on Christ, not on ourselves. Our society influences us strongly in favor of self. It’s a hard habit to break, but that’s the only way we’ll ever make the commitment to practice the presence of God.

* We may have a misconception of the purpose of life. As a very old song states: “It’s a battlefield, brother, not a recreation room.” Yes, God blesses us and wants us to enjoy His blessings, but those are bonuses. This life is short and I need to continually focus on what’s important.

* Those brief soul-bursting insights into close companionship with God—I call them glimpses of Glory—should overwhelm us and inspire us to practice His presence daily, hourly. Yet we give up so many opportunities of walking closely with Him.

* We may forget how very much our Father loves us, and how much He wants us to return that love. But there’s always a new starting point. That would be now.

* We often forge ahead on our own instead of seeking and accepting help from Almighty God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), but He always has our best interests in mind.

Writes Brother Lawrence: “Set heartily about this work, and if you do it as you ought, be assured that you will soon find the effects of it.”

 

41m1l-bX5hL._AA324_PIkin4,BottomRight,-57,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_Tess works part time as a receptionist for Dani at the Crystal Mountain Spa near Buckneck, West Virginia (pop. 1000). When Dani decides to build an outdoor pool, excavation unearths female human skeletons, some old, some recent. Detective Tucker, an old acquaintance of Tess’s mother-in-law, arrives to solve the crime and Tess helps by keeping track of who and what goes on inside the Spa. She soon realizes she is in danger herself as more women are murdered.

We gather from snippets of backstory that Tess has recently been involved in helping to solve a previous murder case. Now she has a husband and toddler and is happier than she’s ever been. Will she risk her new life to help Detective Tucker or stay safe as Thomas prefers?

Apparently, Tess has dealt with her unhappy childhood (her mother is in prison on drug-related charges) with the help of her relatively newfound faith in God, and the solid support of the Spencer family.

Tess regularly visits her old friend, Miranda, in the nursing home, and keeps up with her best friend, Charlotte, Miranda’s daughter. But there is an undercurrent of danger at the nursing home too.

The story is written in the present tense, which makes it up-close and personal. It begins in medias res. The reader must pay attention to put all the initial pieces together, and it’s an interesting game. Trial by Twelve can be a stand alone novel, but it’s even more fascinating when you have read the first Murder in the Mountains book, Miranda Warning.

What caught my attention right off is the book’s format. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a letter written by an unnamed man to his child, who is apparently in foster care. He speaks of his love, and promises to collect his child when he/she turns sixteen. Then they can hunt together. The bits of letter reveal an increasingly unhinged and dangerous man who eventually admits that he’s not made to be a father.

The author, Heather Day Gilbert, manages to throw suspicion on many of the characters in the book, leaving Tess more vulnerable than ever, and the reader wildly turning pages / tapping the screen. Great cliff-hanger chapter endings.

I read the ending of this novel last night before I went to sleep. It was tension-filled, answered the necessary questions, but kept me awake long after I had turned off the Kindle. I think that’s cause for another star in the ratings.

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Besides the Murder in the Mountains books, Gilbert has written a historical fiction called God’s Daughter (A Vikings of the New World Saga Book 1), and Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. CLICK HERE.

 

 

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, a variety of genres can refresh our writing. I’ve always considered myself to be a fiction writer. I live and breathe story. If I’m not reading a novel, then I’m snatching minutes here and there to follow an e-book on my iPhone Kindle app. And if I need to be in hands-free mode, I plug in my earbuds and listen to an audiobook or watch a story on TV. That is, if I’m not writing a story of my own.

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Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve committed to writing a weekly blogpost on my website, as well as a few guest posts for others, so I’ve been challenged to pen some non-fiction. What surprised me is that I enjoy writing inspirational and how-to articles. Whoda thought?

In the midst of creating and editing my novels, both historical and contemporary, I’ve had to consider how I might connect with readers non-fictionally, outside of story.

 

 

Here’s how I’ve done it.

* Devotional / Inspirational Articles

The first week of each month I write a devotional thought or comment. I love finding a spiritual parallel to ordinary everyday events.

Example: I notice people’s shoes and their corresponding personalities and how we are all uniquely made.

* How-to Articles

Mostly, these are directed toward fiction writing. The second week of each month I offer a continuing mini-course on fiction: Fiction Writing 101. This past year I have considered such topics as theme, research, editing, submission, social media, etc. I pick my own brain to uncover all I already know of the topic, then search for more information, cite it, and add live links to helpful articles.

The third week of the month I post another writing column titled Tools of the Trade, where I analyze various concepts like time management, resource books, ideas and where they come from, public speaking for promotion, etc.

* Book Reviews

This has been a favorite writing form for years. In the past, I reviewed a book a month for the newsletter of a Canadian Christian bookseller, Living Books Inc. Lately, I’ve incorporated a review a month into my blog. Last year I also interviewed authors and posted these interviews once a month.

* Thankfulness

I have a theme a week, four in total, for each month, but when a month has a fifth Tuesday, I write an off-the-cuff list of things I am thankful for. It’s encouraging for me and I hope also for my readers.

I encourage you to try some of these types of writing to broaden your scope. If you normally write long fiction, try a short story, or vice versa. Try non-fiction to capture ideas that float through your head from time to time. Use these ideas and writings to help and motivate others. The end result will always be beneficial to you, just like the fact that a teacher always learns more in preparation than the student learns in class.

And besides all this, you can probably use bits and pieces from all of the above for your fiction!

Marketing requires research. In order to put together a publication package (which I recommend for traditional or independent publication), we need to categorize our stories.my library photo

Comparison

What other books or writers does your writing resemble? I’m talking style more than genre here. Do you write like Stephen King? Or perhaps Kate Morton? Or Alice Munroe? Is your style flowing and epic or minimalist? Is it straightforward or flowery, filled with figurative language? What is your worldview? Is this book a stand alone or part of a series?

Here are a few key questions that might help in finding comparative stories:

* Genre

The concept of genre, while not specifically under scrutiny here, helps us to make these choices. For example, if you have written a cozy mystery from a Christian worldview, what other authors have done the same?

* Mood

If you read Stephen King, you know the writing is full of tension, fear and dread. If you read Kate Morton, you will need to unravel layers and layers of backstory and motivation to find the heart of the story, rather like a treasure hunt. Is your story lighthearted or serious? Witty or sober? What other authors write in a similar mood to what you write?

* Worldview (this will be examined in more detail next month)

We all see our world through a unique set of filters. It’s unavoidable. It’s who we are. For example, because I’m a Christian I write from a Christian worldview. Also, since my home life was loving and nurturing, that filter finds its way into my worldview. As writers, we are vulnerable people, and we allow our vulnerabilities to show in our writing. What other authors write from a worldview similar to your own?

* Purpose

Do we write to entertain, to inspire, to teach (through story), to motivate? What other authors do the same?

While our publisher, or our readers, want to know where our book falls in with others, they also want to know how it stands out among these others.

Contrast

Perhaps my book resembles Jan Karon’s Mitford Series. That gives readers a comparison. But what makes mine stand out? Why should they buy my book in addition to or instead of Karon’s?Unknown-1

Does my book offer more or less of a spiritual focus? Are the characters more or less quirky? Is the ending of my story sometimes sad instead of happy? Is my setting in another country instead of the U.S.?

I suppose the most telling questions to ask regarding contrast are:

* Can I identify a subgenre that extends the categorization?

* Is my book witty rather than just silly? (I’ve started reading a few of those silly ones)

* Is my series chronological or is it a Nancy Drew it-all-happened-when-she-was-sixteen idea?Unknown

* Is my setting unique yet believable?

Once you’ve answered these further questions, you can make a shortlist of books that compare to yours as well as a list of those that contrast. This will also help you focus on your marketing tactics. Every refining of category, style and purpose helps us as authors to define our ideal target market.

Note: Although this topic came up late in this series of blogposts, it is something that can and should be considered at all times from the novel’s conception to the final marketing stage.

Practice of the Presence of GodBesides conversations recorded by others, Brother Lawrence also connected with friends via letters. Some of these have been included in the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Below is the essence of his fourth letter, and responses that come to my mind.

 

 

FOURTH LETTER

Concepts:

* In this very personal letter, Brother Lawrence uses the word picture of faith as a rushing river. When we neglect to think on God, “we hinder [Him], and stop the current of His graces.” But when we allow our faith freedom, “He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully. There they flow like a torrent…”

* We must practice “to be always with God; and to do nothing, say nothing, and think nothing which may displease Him.”

* Results of living in the Divine presence:

– continual comfort and peace

– joy and delight

– contentment and satisfaction

* Even if we are committed to living in the presence of God, we will sometimes stray from thoughts of Him. Then He recalls us to Himself.

* When we refocus on God, “He rests in the depth and center of [our] soul,” and we are “beyond doubting it.”

* We are often, unfortunately, content with much less than God has for us.

* We have no guarantees of length of life. “There is no room for delay.”

* We must always work out our faith. “…not to persevere in the spiritual life is to go back.”

* “If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord who reposes in it. He will quickly calm the sea.”

Our Responses:

* Why am I content with less than God offers? Do the things of this world that drown out the sound of His voice really offer me anything like the comfort, peace, joy, delight, contentment and satisfaction that living in communion with God promises? Let us reach for the best, which is to live continually in the presence of God.

* It takes practice and perseverance to learn to recognize God’s voice in our lives. I believe the noise around us often overwhelms us. I believe that the more we listen to God’s voice, the more easily we will recognize it. The more often and willingly we respond to His voice, the more sensitive we will be to it.

* Let us remind ourselves, and others if we can do so in love, to do, say and think nothing that may displease God.

* Let us remember to call upon the Lord of the wind and waves when we are afraid of life’s storms.

I will close this devotional thought with Brother Lawrence’s own words:

“I will pray for you. Please pray also for me, as I am yours in our Lord.”

I admit it. I’m a sucker for a good romance now and then. I like it even better is if there’s more to the story than romance, more depth of character and plot.517EweYbSwL._AA324_PIkin4,BottomRight,-54,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_

All for Anna is just that. Author Nicole Deese offers realistic characters, clearly established settings, engaging dialogue, and a plot that keeps twisting. The kind of book that keeps the reader turning the pages/tapping the screen.

Victoria Sales, better known to most as Tori, has been involved in a devastating car accident, and her guilt has escalated to the point of severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her family can’t reach her. She has distanced herself from social situations. Her chosen method of coping is to bury herself in her job as an ER nurse and to run long distances in her off hours. No time to think, no time to feel…and although she doesn’t realize it, no time to heal.

Tori moves back to Dallas to stay with her sister after a self-imposed seventeen-month “working exile” in Phoenix. Her sister is pregnant, and since her husband must be away for an extended time, Tori agrees to stay with her. The situation works well, as long as Tori continues to drown out the pain with work and running.

Then she meets Kai Alesana, a hunky EMT, and her determination to hold her pain inside begins to crumble. Will he be able to draw Tori out of herself? Will she learn to trust him?

Just as she begins to gain confidence that her inner devastation can improve, flashbacks drag her back to square one. As her friends and family do their best to support her, she begins to open up to the possibility that God cares about her. We think we see an upward trend, until Kai reveals a secret that sets Tori against him and everyone else in her life.

Author Deese has obviously researched PTSD extensively, and has successfully shown the progress of the disorder through the character of Tori. I appreciated the author’s realistic approach, in that Tori experiences no sudden miraculous turnaround that leaves her healed. As in most cases, the comeback is slow, unsteady, riddled with obstacles to healing.

I was so intrigued by the story I had to stop everything else to finish reading. A well-written story, a memorable plot, a lovely romantic line, recommendable to anyone who likes Christian romance.

Only one issue kept me from giving it the full five stars: after the halfway point, there were a number of grammar and usage glitches that interrupted the flow of the narrative. Although there were apparently many beta-readers involved in the proofreading, there could have been a couple more, in my opinion. Other than that, I loved the book and look forward to more from Nicole Deese. See below for the second and third books in the Letting Go series.

Books Two and Three of the Letting Go series can be read as stand alones, but they involve characters from Deese’s first book.

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When I realized back in 2002 that my first novel was actually being published, I came up against another thought. One that scared me silly. I would have to speak about the book publicly.

I am an admitted introvert, but that does not mean I lack determination. I wracked my brain as to how I could handle this looming obstacle to my career. Two ideas sprang to mind:

  1. Dale Carnegie Course
  2. Toastmasters

I didn’t know anything about Dale Carnegie besides that it cost a lot of money, which I didn’t have, and I had no idea if or where it was offered. I checked the websites of various towns and the small city nearby, and discovered a Toastmasters Club forty minutes away. Gathering my courage, I joined.Unknown

One of the first things that happens at a Toastmasters meeting is the introduction of members and guests. As I drove the forty minutes to the meetings, I would rehearse my simple introduction. Nine years and many speeches later, I had achieved my Advanced Communicator Silver and Advanced Leader. This accomplishment still surprises me sometimes, except when I look back at what it’s done for me. I have confidently launched four books, presented book readings, classes, workshops and a keynote speech. There are still butterflies and an introvert’s nagging mantra: “how did I get myself into this?” But beyond this, I have the experience of many speeches and presentations to remind me that I’ve done it before and I can do it again.

In my opinion, Toastmasters is a solid and valuable tool for any writer. A different mode of communicating than writing, public speaking draws me out of myself to become involved with others.reading

How does Toastmasters work?

* The first manual consists of ten speeches. You choose the topic, the speech is timed and evaluated by your peers at the meetings.

* Each speech involves a new communication skill to be incorporated into your speech: eye contact, body language, gestures, vocal variation, visual aids, etc. And every speech presented gives you more confidence that you can do it again…and better.

* One aspect of speech evaluation that I regard very highly is the timing issue. A speech at a Toastmasters meeting is docked for being under or over the time allotted. If you’ve ever sat through an endless address or attended a meeting that went on for hours, you know how important timing is. If you are given fifteen minutes to speak, then you learn to time your presentation to between fourteen and sixteen minutes. The way you assure the length of your speech is to practice it aloud. More than once. After a while it becomes second nature to ask for time allotment and to gauge your speech accordingly.

* You learn to organize your material with a beginning, middle and end, whether it’s a speech or a Table Topic (unrehearsed two-minute speech).

* After the first manual, you are free to choose the next manuals from an extensive and interesting list. As you progress in your manual, you are worked into the meeting schedule in other aspects, including timing, counting “ahs,” leading the business portion of the meeting, and evaluation, to name a few. I often found evaluation experience as valuable as speaking.

* Besides local meetings, Toastmasters offers many opportunities to enter speech and evaluation contests at higher levels of the organization. All along the way, members are friendly, encouraging and inspiring.

So if you are an aspiring writer, get into the action ahead of time by signing up with a local Toastmasters group and learn public speaking in a warm, accepting environment. If you already have some books or articles published, it’s never too late to analyze and improve your presentation skills.

Take a look at this site for more information, and search out a Toastmasters Club nearby.

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