Monday, September 29, 2008

CDs and Books and Massive Anxiety Attacks, Oh My - Arends

There is a lot of talk these days about the perilious future of both recorded music and book publishing. As a recording artist and author, I furrow my brow in the general direction of both topics. I was intriguiged by this recent article by music journalist Chet Flippo. He refers to a "massive anxiety attack" that has plagued the music industry for some time and discusses specifically his concerns that commercial uncertainty is breeding an artistic insecurity that is robbing recording artists of their "mojo". (I think one can draw some parallels to what is happening to many authors in the world of book publishing as well.)

I just began recording my 10th CD in August, and I have difficulty giving a solid business rationale for the undertaking. Digital distribution models (both of the legal and pirate variety) have radically changed the income potential for artists, which is a nice way of saying I won't make very much money. And my plans to record songs that would fit neatly in the direction my speaking and touring career has been going were all shot to bits when a passle of new songs literally showed up and wrestled me to the ground -- songs that remind me of a line from an old Mark Heard song: "I'm too sacred for the sinners, and the saints wish I would leave."

So what am I doing? Why am I doing it?

The other day an acquaintance asked me (in a non-threatening, interested way) what my objectives were for the new recording I was working on. And I hemmed and hawed for a bit and then finally told the truth.

I want to sing honest songs. I want this cd to be better than the last one--a deeper pocket or a sweeter line. I want to record some bit of something that gives me and maybe someone else goosebumps. I want to be moved, and to move someone else.

Like most artists who are also Christians, I walk a fine line between calling and indulgence; I could not honestly tell you the ratio between flesh and spirit at any given moment. But this is what I know. We must all tell our stories, as truthfully and as beautifully as we can, and God is such a good God He can and will use our efforts. I've seen it more times than I can count. And I don't know if that gives me mojo, but it gives me motiviation. And I can't wait for the next recording day.

I think the Flippo article reaches a pretty fine conclusion:

"So what can we as individuals do? I try to follow the advice of my high school Latin teacher, who I have increasingly realized was a very wise woman. 'Just tend to your own garden," she would say. "If we all do that, things cannot help but get better.'"

I don't know the future of recorded music or book publishing or painting or sculpture or theatre. But if we tell our stories, as honestly and beautifully as we can, things can't help but get better.


I blog, therefore I am at:

Songville (brand new site for songwriters) (where I muse on Stuff That Matters)

Wrestling with Angels (where I park my Christianity Today columns and other pieces)

Carolyn Arends Newsblog (where we post goings on, twitter updates, and other news relating to my work as a recording artist and writer)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Changing Times - Harris

I can barely watch the news these days. That would surprise people who knew me as a teenager. Back then, I absorbed everything I could about Canadian politics and government. I scoured the papers for in-depth reports of world events.

But these days, I often find myself reaching for the 'off' button when pundits start talking. I can't get through any of our three national newscasts on most nights. I find them jaded, narrow and without vision. I’m just not interested in the Bay Street, boring stories they are reporting on. I also get the impression the pundits hope Canada has a bad future.

Have I changed? Probably. Or has the media become more negative and out of touch? I think it has.

It appears that mainstream media no longer captures the interests of large segments of our population, especially youth and women. Advertising executives have told me that clients who want to target female buyers often don’t place ads in daily newspapers. Apparently, few women read these rags anymore. Many youth have also turned to alternatives sources of news – such as the Internet.

What is it about the major mainstream newspapers and newscasts that apparently turns off large demographic groups in our society? I can't say for sure. But here's an idea:

It may be that our nation is looking for salt, light, vision, grace and hope.

Who is better equipped than us, Christians working in the media, to provide Canadians with articles and books that do inspire them, even when other media sources don't? Maybe no one.

One thing is certain: If our audiences are not inspired, they will leave. In fact, I think I hear them already moving in the distance. But they are still near enough to hear us calling.

Now the hard questions: How do we write a news story that does that? What news stories do we cover? What stories are the major newspapers and newscasts missing that we can pitch to them? My guess is that there is a lot to write about. And that we can find it.

Better get our ears to the ground.

Jane Harris Zsovan

Jane Harris Zsovan writes in both mainstream in Canadian publications about faith, business, arts, and contemporary Canada. She is the author of Stars Appearing: The Galts' Vision of Canada. She contributed "Jessie's Generation: Canada's Firebrands of Mercy and Justice" to Hot Apple Cider: Stories to Warm the Heart and Stir the Soul. Jane writes Vision of Canada Blog, on contemporary and historical Canada.

Mentors - Grove

I love the concept of mentoring. It makes a million miles of sense. When I talk about mentoring, I feel all warm and fuzzy, I sigh a secret smile and think, "Ah me, what a wonderful thing, to help and be helped."

Then reality smacks me upside the head and says, "Hey, girly-girl, wake up! You know better!"


Oh yeah, I know better. I know the difference between giving mental ascent to a concept and living that concept out in real life. Take Christianity. Wowee, there's a concept. Total redemption, forgiveness, salvation, peace like a river. I'm all in! (and I am - all of me). But when it comes to living out the life Christ demonstrated for us - well, warm fuzzies flee. The Christian life is "simple", but difficult to live. It takes a moment to moment relationship with Christ, a second by second checking with the Spirit connection. It takes every part of us. The wonderful concept of salvation, played out in the life of any one individual is complicated, intricate, messy, involved - and sometimes a struggle. (Which is why I don't waste my money buying books by preachers who would have us believe that God is a great big sugar-daddy in the sky just waiting to hand you all the money, power, and SUVs you deserve - but that's another blog).

So what has this got to do with mentoring?

I recently received an e-mail from someone who took a bold and courageous step outside herself and reached out to me, asking if I would consider being a writing mentor to her. She's a big fan of my blog, and she's looking for someone to offer a guiding friendship to help her on her way. Flattered, I'm sure. Who, me? Gosh! But that feeling quickly faded.

Two things hit me in quick succession: 1) This woman's courage is to be admired. How many of us would look at something (in this case a blog), admire it, and say - I'm going out on a limb and ask the author if she would consider helping me? How many of us? I think that takes guts!

2) Mentoring is hard work. It's the ugly girl at the dance that everyone feels sorry for but never asks to dance. It's the job we all know could be done, should be done, but no one can seem to find the time to do it (like discipleship - or confessing our sins to one another - or submitting to the spiritual authority of our pastor - or any other spiritual discipline we don't like doing and so have conveniently cut out of our faith with a clean razor and walked away from).

And I suppose it would make sense if I ended this blog post with a pithy truism, or at the very least, a tidy concept that cleaned up the theme and put it in a tidy pile. But, I don't have any good ending - no one-two punch that makes it all make sense. But I suspect you will forgive me for that. And I hope that you and I can stroll this road together awhile as we take in the scenery, and think thoughts.

Bonnie Grove is the author of three upcoming books: Non-fiction - Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You (March 1, 2009. Beacon Hill Press). Fiction - Talking to the Dead (Summer 2009) and Talking to Angels (Spring 2010 - both from David C. Cook). You can visit Bonnie at her website and her blog, or follow her on Twitter (just add BonnieGrove).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recognising God’s Guidance—Lawrence

As Christian writers, we ask for God’s guidance in our daily lives. Jesus directed us to do so in his words, Ask, Search, and Knock. Matthew 7:7. We say that we do ask, search and knock but that we do not always receive, find or have the door opened to us when we do. In fact, we do receive answers when we ask, find that for which we are looking when we search, and have the door opened when we knock. The problem is that we do not always recognise the answers to our asking, searching and knocking. Perhaps this is because we have preconceived ideas of the form God’s guidance will take, even should take, and therefore we miss His guidance when it comes.

An example of this in my life is that a fellow TWG member recently telephoned to remind me that the deadline had arrived for sending in our information for the TWG Professional Directory. I told her that I had decided not to participate in it. She reminded me that it was free but I insisted that I did not wish to be included in the directory.

A few days later, a second invitation to send my information in for the TWG Professional Directory arrived by e-mail. It said that the deadline had been extended. I was being given a second chance to participate in this project. I again procrastinated. Finally, on the very last day, I filled out the form and sent it in. It took three tries on God’s part before I realised that God was guiding me to participate in this opportunity. I had not recognised His guidance and did not follow it until the last moment.

In her book, Entering the Castle: An Inner Path To God And Your Soul, Caroline Myss says, Acknowledging the divine means that you have to act when you receive guidance and action means change. God’s guidance is no good to us if we don’t act upon it and, many times, it is the fear of having to change our behaviours, our habits, and our lives that prevents us from acting on God’s guidance.

I see, now, that it was the ego’s reasoning that prevented me from recognising God’s will and caused me to put in jeopardy God’s purpose for my life. Though I do not know what God has for my future nor what God’s intention is for the information that is now in the TWG Professional Directory, I do know that God has my best interest at heart and that there is no cause to fear what He has in store for me.

God uses books, other people, and opportunities to show us His will. We have to be always on the look out for His guidance and pray to God that we recognise and act on His promptings.

© Judith Lawrence

Author of Glorious Autumn Years: Meditations for the Wisdom Years and Grapes from the Vine, a book of mystical poetry; both available at

Monday, September 22, 2008

Can good come from closing Christian bookstores?

 I was on vacation in Tennessee when I received the news about R. G. Mitchell Christian bookstore going into receivership. I admit that I was surprised but not shocked. There has been so much discussion recently about the failure of Christian bookstores in today’s market.
While I am concerned for those who have been depending on these markets for their livelihood, I have also been wondering if there is not something in all of this that might be shifting us out of our comfort zones, as Christians involved in the creative arts.
It seems that for many years instead of being in the mainstream of society, as Christians we have had a tendency to isolate ourselves from the mainstream culture. We have Christian recording companies, Christian media, Christian publishers and Christian bookstores. I have even seen Christian motorcycle groups.
These are all good things, but they remind me of a story told by John Stott about church people sending up rockets to let the world know that they were around. They congregated on one side of a great abyss, while those outside the church were on the other side. The rockets went up and made a great noise, but they landed on the same side of the abyss, and apart from the noise, those outside the church were untouched by them and their message.
Perhaps some good can be salvaged even in the tragic loss we experience in the failure of Christian bookstores. This may force us to find opportunities to impact those who are not a part of our subculture. Many of us are well aware of the spiritual hunger so often expressed in the movies and songs and art forms of the wider culture.
We know that the longings expressed can be satisfied in a relationship with Christ, yet our peers seem to be rejecting that option. Why? Perhaps the reason for rejection is that we who inhabit the subculture have given an unintended message. To welcome our message means that one must opt to become a part of the Christian subculture and reject the mainstream culture. Our friends find this inconsistent with a desire to be authentic, unable to understand how they could embrace eternal values yet acknowledge the reality of the world in which we live.
If as creative Christian people, what we offer is presented in the arenas of the mainstream culture, not only may we reach people who would never venture into the Christian counter-culture, we may discover ourselves that we have nothing to fear. Our faith is not so fragile that it cannot stand quietly and confidently on the truths upon which we have based our lives, in a world that so much needs to know there is solid ground. When it is authentic, it fears only God.
One day last spring, my hairdresser told me she was looking for a gift for her mother for Mother’s Day. She heard there was some kind of Christian bookstore in the mall where her shop is located. She thought she might go there to try to find something, since her mother was quite religious. As she talked, I sensed her fear of going into this strange place that was part of the religious subculture.
My prayer is that this young lady and many like her will discover not only books for her mother, but books to encourage her to journey toward the arms of a loving God who longs to embrace her. She might find him in her local bookstore.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Will Happen to Christian Books?

I often have people come up to me and ask me how to get published.

I guess they figure I know, since I've done it, but the truth is that there isn't a formula. I took out books from the library, followed what they said exactly, but then I just caught some lucky breaks.

Hard work and professionalism always help, but they're never a guarantee. Neither is having a good manuscript! Much of what gets published isn't particularly good, or particularly memorable. And it can be frustrating when you have something more profound to say. But that's the way it is. The deck is stacked against new writers, and against writers in small markets (like Canada). We have to fight even harder.

And that's not the only opposition we're facing. I loved Denyse's post below about the death of freedom of speech in Canada, which I am also extremely concerned about. The Human Rights Commissions are perfect Newspeak: they do the exact opposite of what they purport to do. Instead of defending human rights, they erode them. Much of what we as Christians want to write about is now suspect, because it can be seen as offensive and judgmental.

And into all this mess comes the news this week that R.G. Mitchell's, Canada's largest Christian book distributor and a major Canadian retailer, has gone into receivership. That's heartbreaking, especially for all the employees.

So where does that leave Christian books? It seems that we have the perfect storm working against us: the difficulty in getting published in the first place; the chilly political climate; and now the difficulty in having our works distributed.

I don't think all is lost, however. With the election coming, political speech can once again be brought to the forefront. I know I've been talking to my Conservative MP about it, and the HRCs aren't particularly liked in many of those circles.

But I also think the Mitchell's crash, as sad as it is, provides opportunity.

One of the problems, from my point of view, was that Mitchell's had gotten too big. It was a behemoth. And when you're huge, it's hard to do anything well. It represented dozens of book publishers, so how are you going to adequately represent any of them? When you're sitting down for a sales meeting with a bookstore, and you have sixty lines to present, you're not going to present them all. You're just going to show the few that you think will be best sellers.

In the process, Canadian Christian bookstores become quite uniform. They all carry the same books, and there isn't necessarily a lot of individualization for the region, or an attempt to search for the hidden gems. Especially in fiction I find some of the writers that churn out a lot don't say anything particularly profound. But some of the smaller firms, who are publishing fiction, just can't get the ear of the booksellers because the distributor was too big.

Canada has great smaller distributors, and I hope they will resist the urge to pick up all of Mitchell's pieces, thus recreating their problems. I hope, instead, that firms will stay personalized and small. That's how the gems will be unearthed. And that's what our field needs to shake it up a little, and to let the truly talented, but unknown, writers shine.

So I don't think this is the end. I think we are on the cusp of something very different and very new. I pray for the Mitchell's employees, and for the stores, and I hope that the communities where they are located will still have a Christian witness. But there is a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather them together. They're being cast away right now, but perhaps, in the gathering, something better will emerge in Canada.

Sheila Wray Gregoire is a national speaker, syndicated columnist, and author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. Find out about her online book club here!

She blogs at

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What happens when intellectual freedom dies? - Denyse O'Leary

George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty Four, a post-World War II novel that tried to describe a Britain in which fascism had won, explains that the death of intellectual freedom changes the language:
Newspeak was the official language of Oceania, and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles of the Times were written in it, but this was a tour de force which could only be carried out by a specialist, It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile, it gained ground steadily, all party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech. The version in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of Newspeak dictionary, was a provisional one, and contained many superfluous words and archaic formations which were due to be suppressed later. It is with the final, perfected version, as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the dictionary, that we are concerned here.

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought -- that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc -- should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.
This change especially impacts concepts like "free."

Principles of Newspeak: To give a single example - The word free still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as "The dog is free from lice" or "This field is free from weeds." It could not be used in its old sense of "politically free" or "intellectually free," since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispenses with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.
You can read more Principles of Newspeak here.

By the way, the idea of Newspeak is by no means farfetched. In The Spiritual Brain*, Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I discussed quite serious wishes to purge from the language words that imply that people have inner lives or free will (p. 119).

Tellingly, Frank Furedi cites - as another recent example - the term "mentally ill." It is to be replaced, he informs us, by "user of mental health services." Notice the underlying assumption that persons deemed mentally ill do use such services ...

Hat tip to reader Dave Gosse for reminding me of Newspeak.

See also "Free speech and intellectual freedom - some thoughts"

Here is the Introduction to The Spiritual Brain.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Coming Apart for Awhile vs Just Coming Apart - Smith Meyer

We had a lovely trip from Ontario to Alberta and back. Four and a half weeks of seeing the beauty of our beautiful country in its many-splendoured diversity. We had time for reminiscence, for visiting family and friends and even for finishing up Not Far from the Tree, the sequel to Not Easily Broken. We arrived home on six o’clock Friday night.
Less than an hour later we got a phone call to let us know a very dear friend had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Ten minutes after another call informed us another dear friend had been found to have a mass on a kidney. By 930 the Saturday morning I was in a meeting trying to support a young husband whose second wife’s breast cancer has now has returned to her bones and liver. They have four young girls ages 7-14. They have carried the lead in the ministry for which this committee had gathered and we had some hard issues with which to deal. In the next six days, there was a speaking engagement, four more committee meetings, with more hard issues to be discussed and dealt with as creatively and with as much discretion as possible.

Tucked in somewhere amidst the trauma and heavies were the pockets of joy: deciding on a cover design which included some precious parts of people dear to me, hearing the positive comments from my sharing at the speaking engagement, the positive testimony from those who are facing such difficulties. But those seemed so brief and small compared to the grave and weighty difficulties of the week.

By following Thursday I felt completely snowed under. Everywhere I turned, I saw something I needed to do, something that had been waiting too long, something I neglected, and it all seemed very important. I don’t think I am unique in having a host of UFOs (UnFinished Objects) , but whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed or overburdened, those UFOs raise their heads and glare at me with their evil, beady eyes and scream “You procrastinating failure!”

At this period of our lives, we have two homes, an hour apart from each other. Since our marriage in 2005, we have had enough medical problems that we haven’t decided which of our houses to keep and which to let go. Some have wondered how we do it and why. Friday morning as we left one for the other, I still felt heavy and overloaded I wondered how I was going to accomplish everything for which I was responsible. As we drove the familiar route and the picturesque countryside, we passed harvested fields, dairy cows grazing , black-eyed susans,mums and other fall blooms in aradiant explosion of diverse colours, the tension melted away. By the time we reached our destination, I wondered what was so important for me to be doing? By that evening, I had done the immediate necessities and asked God to just feed me the tasks as they need to be done. I went to bed and slept well.

Sometimes, leaving the scene of frenetic activity and taking time to breathe and pray gives a different perspective!

Ruth Smith Meyer
Not Easily Broken, Word Alive Press . Coming soon: Not Far from the Tree

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Poiema: A New Poetry Collection — Martin

It’s here! All the years of hard work have finally been rewarded! Poiema (Poy-emma), my first full-length book of poetry has just come off the presses at Wipf & Stock in Eugene, Oregon. If I’d known how long it would take, and how much of me it would take, would I have persisted through all of these years? Perhaps I would have opted for something easier. God knows my weaknesses and has kept this goal just out of reach, on the ever-receding horizon, and that has kept me striving. Now it is here!

The title Poiema is the Greek word in Ephesians 2:10 that is often translated workmanship. Another way the verse could be translated is: We are God’s poem. This says so much about us and our world, and is an insight that fits well with much of what I seek to capture in my poetry.

You’ve got to be stubborn to be a poet, or you’ll never stick with it through the rejection and marginalisation. I easily have enough rejection slips from publications and publishers to wallpaper. That’s because publication is very much about having the right piece in the right place at the right time. You’ve got to be arrogant too — arrogant enough to believe that despite it all you have something to say, and the ability to say it well. On the other hand, I must also say that for me, poetry is a calling — something I have been prepared to do through nature, nurture, inclination, inspiration and perspiration.

Of the poems in this collection the earliest was published in Radix (Berkeley, California) back in 1992 — although I did have poems published earlier, that have not been included. Since that time my poems have appeared in dozens of magazines, including secular Canadian literary journals such as: Arc, Canadian Literature, Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead and Queen’s Quarterly; and American publications with a Christian slant such as: The Christian Century, Christianity & Literature, The Cresset, First Things, and Mars Hill Review.

In March 2007 Rubicon Press (Edmonton, Alberta) published my first chapbook, So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed — a collection of fifteen poems about my grandparents who had been missionaries in China between 1923 and 1951. That step certainly helped to open doors, and prepare me for this time.

And now Poiema is here — a collection of 64 poems, most of which have appeared in periodicals. I invite you to celebrate with me. I will be reading at Redeemer College (Ancaster) on September 25th, and at Nasagaweya Farm (Milton) on October 19th. Please check my website for other readings and events as they are arranged.

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his new poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), and his chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed are available at

Friday, September 12, 2008

P-Pep! Dashing for Deadlines - Guest blog post

“More haste, less speed.” That byword has proven very true for me. We’re more likely to make mistakes when rushing. Our fingers become thumbs and we drop things. Or we dash out of the house, jump into the car, pull out of the driveway, get half-way round the block, then realize we’ve left our driving licence. By the time we turn around, fumble for the house key, open the door, and retrieve the forgotten item, and get back to the point where we remembered we forgot, we have a net loss of time. More hurry, less progress.

Deadlines appear to accelerate the nearer they draw, finally rushing upon us, bellowing in our minds, “Ready-or-not, here I come!”– especially when we’ve a train or plane to catch. Deadlines come and go, regardless of one’s state of readiness. You know the feeling? Unreadiness catches me all too often. When I opened up last week’s Guide to check over P-Pep! I was embarrassed to see that I had some really bad sentence construction. Mistakes were overlooked in my rush to get it off to the newspaper office.
Then I thought of the Guide staff; they don’t have just one little article, but many articles, advertisements, and news reports to formulate, typeset, and arrange layout. “Ready-or-not, here I come!” yells the weekly deadline for getting the whole thing off to the printers.

Now, whether we talk in terms of a deadline coming to us, or view it as though we were approaching it, it’s relative–even a moot point–as to which of us moves. Have you ever been on one of those huge people-moving conveyor belts at an airport? Once you’re on it, even if you stand still and do nothing, you’ll eventually find yourself at the other end. Imagine if that thing could talk: “The end is a-coming, my friend, so you’d better have your luggage and passport in hand and your feet ready for action to take that final step off, or you will have an embarrassing trip when you get there!” Some people have tripped and fallen at the end of those things.

Perhaps you’ve seen cartoons portraying a bearded religious guy bearing a sandwich-board with such messages as, “The end is coming ...Prepare to meet your doom!” Now the Scripture does talk of a challenge presented to ancient Israel for them to “prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12). That’s good advice for us, too. We don’t know just when life’s conveyor will pitch us off. It’s a deadline (no pun intended) that’s coming, and we are coming to it. We may back-walk a little on this conveyor of life by keeping fit, ensuring we have good nutrition, and have the best of healthcare, but the end is still a-coming.

We prepare ourselves for many things in life, but are we prepared to meet our Maker? All excuse and self-commendation will be as “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals” on that day; the beating of a worthless, hollow drum. How much better to be able to say, “Dear God and loving Heavenly Father, I thank You for the gift of Your Son, through whose sufferings, death, and resurrection You’ve granted the forgiveness of all my sins and failings. I’ve placed my trust in Him completely and continue to rest in Your mercy for my eternal welfare. Amen.”

This Gospel–the Good News–of our Lord Jesus Christ is a marvellous “Lifeline”!

Peter A. Black - Writing to Raise the Gaze

"Parables from the Pond"(Shortlisted in Word Alive Press' 2007 Contest.)
Meet Nancy Newt, Francis Frog, Cecil Snake, and all of their friends.

Available from Christian Booksellers and the author. ISBN 1897373-21-X

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Consider Carefully - Laycock

“Therefore consider carefully how you listen.” Luke 8:18

It never ceases to amaze me how you can read a passage of scripture that is very familiar and suddenly see - or hear - something that you’ve never seen or heard before. Such was the case when I read Luke 8:16-18. It’s a familiar passage, one often quoted in the context of gifts and talents. But that is not the context. The context is talking about hearing and receiving God’s word.

It comes immediately after the parable of the sower – that wonderful and somewhat convicting passage about those who were hearing the word but received it in different ways, under different circumstances. For a while I wondered how these two passages were connected. They seemed isolated – one about hearing, the other about sharing. But as I pondered it, the light began to dawn. You cannot have one without the other.

You will not have a light to put on a lamp stand or anywhere else if you are not receiving that light from a pure source. If you are not hearing from God, you have nothing worth saying.

Now I’m not talking about divine revelation in the same terms as we would consider scripture divinely revealed. I am talking about the everyday, ordinary way God speaks to us. I’m talking about how we listen. That is a difficult thing to do in these days that are so full of busy-ness and stress, but it is an essential thing, especially for those who would dare to be writers.

I remember a day some time ago when I realized how important it was. The day couldn't have been more perfect. The sky was clear, the sun dancing off the water. The beach slowly filled with parents and children, out to enjoy a day at the beach. After an overnight camp out, my friend and I had brought a few girls from our church's Kids' Club to have a swim and a picnic. We stretched out on the sand and chatted as we watched the children play. Little ones were busy making sand castles. An older pair tossed a frisbee above their heads.

A little red-haired girl caught my attention. She had wandered in front of us a few times, as she dashed from the edge of the lake to her mother, sitting in a lawn chair not far away. I watched as she stood still, her small head bent studiously over something in her hand. She turned and started toward us, stopped and peered at her hand once more, took a few more steps and stopped again. Her progress was slow as this pattern was repeated. As she approached, I could see a moth cupped in her palm. She tilted her hand each time it moved, stopped when it crawled dangerously close to the edge and moved slowly forward when it was secure again. Eventually the little girl reached her parent, holding her hand out for her to admire the precious treasure.

My delight in watching that little girl deepened as I heard God’s voice. “That’s how I carry you, to my Father’s delight.” The depth of Jesus’ love overwhelmed me in that moment.

I know I could have missed His voice that day. I could have been anxiously watching the little ones under my care. I could have had my mind on all the stresses that come with being a pastor’s wife and mother. I could have let all of “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” get in the way. But somehow He broke through. I heard and was blessed and several times I have used that story in written form to illustrate God’s care for us.

We must take time to listen, consider the circumstances in which we have placed ourselves and see to it that we find a place that is conducive to hearing God’s voice. Then we will indeed, have something worth writing about.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Never Forget Your Dreams - Meyer

Please indulge me while I reminisce about our wonderful summer vacation. In June, my husband finished his first year of teaching after working for almost 30 years as a mechanic. The biggest bonus of this new job is that he has the whole summer off!

We took full advantage of this and traveled for all of July and August visiting our grown children, grandchildren, and many friends we hadn’t been able to see for way too long!

We traveled by motorcycle, tent-camping along the way and cooking our own meals. It’s a pretty cheap way to go and we were able to see a lot of country that way.

A few places really stand out. We did see Mount Rushmore for the first time, but we were much more impressed with the monument to Crazy Horse. It is a work in progress that began in 1947 by Korczak Ziolkowski, a man who was orphaned and grew up in foster homes and was a self-taught sculptor, architect and engineer. The work was commissioned by Chief Standing Horse who said, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.”

The monument is of Crazy Horse, a man who witnessed the breaking of a treaty that was made by the US government, a treaty that stated, “As long as rivers run and grass grows and trees bear leaves, Pahu Sapa – the Black Hills of the Dakota – will forever be the sacred land of the Sioux Indians.” Of course this treaty was written before the white man discovered there was gold in them there hills! Crazy Horse was asked in a derisive tone by a white man, “Where are your lands now?” The monument depicts Crazy Horse with his left arm extended, pointing as he answers, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

The nine-story-high face of Crazy Horse has been completed and over a period of 60 years, millions of tons of rock have been blasted away from the mountain. The entire project has been run as a nonprofit educational and cultural project with no federal funding whatsoever. There are gift shops, a restaurant, the Native American Cultural center, the Indian Museum of North America and many other interesting displays. Although the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, died in 1982, his wife, Ruth, and seven of their ten children continue to work on the monument. Korczak’s motto was, “Never Forget Your Dreams”. For more information, you can go to the website:

My husband and I were also very impressed with the Sicangu Heritage Center in Mission, South Dakota ( ), and I was totally blown away by the number of Native American authors represented at the Sinte Gleska University Bookstore (, also in Mission, South Dakota.

Another amazing thing we saw was this giant buffalo (named “Mac”) all made out of scrap metal. We were actually stopped on the side of the road taking pictures of the beautiful “bad lands” when we saw “Mac” coming towards us on a flatbed behind a truck with two very friendly people inside. Brett and Tammy Prang, the owners of “Incredible Metal” are a truly incredible couple.

Besides their wonderful artwork, they are cattle ranchers, own an art gallery and also run a cozy little guesthouse. Their other sculptures include this 38 foot cross and a horse sculpture (also made out of scrap metal) that looked so real that the ranch’s horses “hung out” with it (I guess they thought he was the strong silent type). For more photos of Tammy and Brett’s artwork, you can go to

And for those of you who are dying to know, we gave the Sturgis bike rally a pass. We’re a bit on the wild side but we’re not that crazy!!

Dorene Meyer

Author of Deep Waters, a compelling contemporary novel that will give you the opportunity to “walk a mile in the shoes” of Gracie, a First Nations residential school survivor, and experience her reconciliation to Sarah, the daughter who had been taken away from her at birth.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Privilege, Pleasure,and Purpose - Mann

Journaling is sharing one’s soul, what Luci Shaw often called journeying. Finding a way to bare our will, intellect and emotions is no easy feat. I suppose I scribed my life, beginning in my little red diary with the lock on the cover, that, as a child, I hid under my mattress. Why? Because at that time, I wouldn’t want anybody to know how I felt. Yet, those remarks would have been a treasure to me, had I kept them. How else could I see into the mind of that little child? Lucy Maud Montgomery writes, “ . . . I would have thought it a kind of crime not to write daily in it—nearly as bad as not saying my prayers or washing my face”(Sept 21, 1889).

Is it accountability that confirms who we are? I’ve often wondered, yet I’m so consumed when I find something that I’ve written in a particular time of stress or victory. How else would I ever capture those moments and those feelings?

If “journal writing is a voyage to the interior” as Christina Baldwin says in Life’s Companion then it can hardly be self-centered and egotistical as I’ve heard some people discuss. And yet, sometimes when I’m writing, I tell myself, “Oh, don’t whine.” But, I’ve come to realize that if that’s the way I feel, then so be it. It’s who I am at that particular time and place and if I write it down, I’ll not miss a snapshot of putting it into words.

As a writer, other people’s entries have blessed me. Edna Staebler writes in her journal, “A writer must have many, many hours of solitude and silence when ideas can be incubated”(July 15, 1984). I find reading this eases my guilt, just a little, as I hear the dishes rattle in the sink as hubby Doug prepares supper.

Friend Angie tells me she hopes what she enters into her journal everyday will someday be gathered into a devotional. Friend Glynis writes herself through the difficult days of appointments and treatments into her blog – great potential for a book. Some manuscripts develop from humble beginnings. I know these kinds of things happen.

When I wrote my first book, Take Time to Make Memories, I dug deep from my old journals. It simply could not have been written without them. And don’t forget all those emails where you pour out your heart. This is real. So, there is privilege, pleasure and purpose in journaling. Happy writing!

Donna j mann
Keep in touch through:
Take Time to Make Memories (1996)
WinterGrief (2003)
Aggie's Storms (2007)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Is There Still a Need for Christian Bookstores in Canada? - Lindquist

A recent letter from the president of Mitchell Family Books urging customers to buy books and other product from them has, I’m sure, caused more wringing of hands about the state of Christian bookstores in Canada. With the Blessings chain now gone except for four stores in western Canada, and Mitchell obviously considering changes, one wonders what the future holds and how many other bookstores are either struggling to keep going or already gone. Of course, the Canadian branch of the Christian Booksellers Association disbanded a couple of years ago, so perhaps few are keeping track.

Now I know that difficulties in bookstores aren’t unique to the Christian sector. I am one of those who mourn every time any bookstore closes, and over the past ten years various issues have caused all kinds of fluctuation in the bookstore community across Canada. And though I may at times mourn, and at other times want to knock some sense into someone’s head, at the end of the day I have to ask myself if, in the great scheme of things, it really matters? Has the day of the brick and mortar bookstore come and gone? And most particularly for this blog, is there still a need in Canada for bookstores that have a Christian focus?

As I thought about this question, several very different ideas popped into my head, and I realized I need to answer this question in two ways: objectively, as a Canadian small-business owner who is also the daughter of a small-business owner and the wife of a business change consultant, and who therefore has some awareness of the principles of effective businesses; and subjectively, as both a producer and a consumer of the products in the bookstores.

Since including both my objective and subjective ideas on this situation would make for an awfully long blog, I’m only going to do a small part here: my objective thoughts.

Objectively speaking, the first question that comes to me is, “Why do Canadian Christian book stores exist in the first place?”

In the broadest sense, Christian books have always existed. From Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Whimsey Mysteries, books with a Christian faith perspective grace the shelves of most bookstores and libraries. The truth is, through the ages, many of the greatest poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists have written from a Christian faith perspective. Agatha Christie would fit here. So would John Grisham.

But there are also other books that were more overtly “Christian,” whose focus was less on being great literature and more on educating and teaching people on the faith.

A lot of these books date back to the late 1800’s, when people such as Dwight Moody saw that there were few available materials for helping Christian grow in their faith. Dwight Moody began producing small books to fit this void.

By the 1930’s, there were books and other materials being produced by a number of publishers in the United States, including Moody Publishing. Slowly, stores sprang up across the US and Canada to sell these materials. Even in Canada, these stores for the most part had American roots.

So on an ideological basis, Christian bookstores came into existence to provide resources for Christians to help in their growth and their ability to witness to others. On a practical level, they also separated the good from the bad so that customers could trust that the books before them weren’t going to be offensive. (I am not concerned here as to whether that was a good idea or not - just the facts.)

The number of Christian bookstores slowly increased in both the US and Canada, and the number of publishers also increased—in the United States. Unfortunately, while Canadian publishing, aided by government funding, began to flourish in the 1960’s, Canadian Christian publishing barely existed. True, a few denominations published a few books, but they were predominately “in-house.” A few publishers such as Wood Lake Books and Novalis managed to work within the mainstream. A few small publishing houses sprang up and tried to do royalty publishing. And there were also a few vanity or subsidy publishing houses. But for the most part, Christian products came from American Publishers.

In the 1950’s, R. G. Mitchells became the first Canadian distributor, bringing books up to Canada from Christian publishers in the United States. Eventually, several other distributors came into existence, all either offshoots of American publishing house or relying on American products: Ausburg Fortress Canada, Cook Communications Canada, Word Alive, Foundation, etc. Some small distributors have come and gone including Rainbow House, my first distributor. And of course, more stores opened and were sold or closed, and so forth. But, basically, the situation remained unchanged until the advent of the internet and the fallout from having a few “Christian” books sell in large quantities, thus alerting the mainstream publishing houses and book outlets that there might be some money to be made in Christian publishing. But we’ll get to that later.

So it seems to me that objectively speaking there were three key reasons for having Christian bookstores in Canada:

1. To provide a place for American Christian publisher to sell their products

2. To provide overtly Christian products to help Christians grow in their faith and ministry

3. T
o provide “safe” materials for the Christian consumer and his (or more likely “her”) family

But times have changed. How are things going now? I decided to do a SWOT analysis to discover what I think.

Strengths of Christian bookstores

They have generally been safe places to find books to give as gifts – you knew you could trust a book from Moody, Zondervan, etc.

They can carry a number of books on each topic, and not just the bestsellers

If you are looking for a book on a specific topic – prayer, marriage, raising children, you should be able to find something good.

Because many see it as ministry, staff will often do all they can to help you find the perfect book

There is a sense of belonging, rather than just being in a store, in many of them

You don’t have to worry about the content of what your kids pick up

Weaknesses of Christian bookstores

Many of them are small and don’t actually have a lot of books - may have more giftware and other items

Popular books are often higher priced than on the internet or at Costco

Some of them are more gift stores than bookstores

Some of them are dangerous for small kids because of all the breakable giftware: at Walmart, your kids are in a cart and you can relax more

You may well have to order the book you want and sometimes it’s not available or takes a long time to come in

Many stores are in out-of-the-way locations

Many of them don’t have the finances to keep up technologically

Many of them order one book at a time and therefore may not have adequate stock

High reliance on American books

Threats against Christian bookstores

Higher overhead and smaller orders lead to higher prices on books

Because of the almost complete reliance on books published in the US, the change in the value of the dollar created massive problems for most bookstores, and many haven’t quite recovered yet

Walmart, Costco and other stores often carry popular books at much lower prices

If you can get a book while at the mall, why go to another place and pay more?

More and more people are buying from the internet, where you can find pretty well anything you might want

Used bookstores on the internet make getting older materials easier

The younger generation isn’t reading as much, or they’re reading on the internet or on book readers.

The ability to download music has decimated CD sales

Some churches bypass bookstores and buy materials in bulk directly from the publisher

Photocopying of materials

Use of projectors instead of hymn or chorus books

Churches having their own on-site bookstores

Statistics have long shown that very few Christians have been going to Christian bookstores

Reliance on doing things as they have always been done, and not looking for new ways to do them

Opportunities for Christian bookstores

Some of them are good at
fostering a sense of community

Cater to those who are not comfortable ordering from the internet

Foster loyal customers who are motivated to keep the stores open

Cater to people who prefer to hold the book and look at it before buying

Create reasons for people to come in because it’s “the place to be”

Go back to their reasons for existing and study the validity of those reasons in today’s market, and determine whether or not there might be new reasons

Use new technology to their advantage

Cater to, and create, an atmosphere conducive to those who LOVE books

Can you add any strengths of Christian bookstores? Weaknesses ? Threats? Opportunities? Please do comment.

This blog kind of grew as I started writing it. To read my subjective thoughts and my ideas for what we might see in the future, please go to my own writing blog,

N. J. Lindquist is a Canadian author, publisher, and speaker who is a God-follower.

If you want to know what N. J. is thinking about life in general, go here.

If you want to find out about N. J.'s upcoming workshops, go here.

If you’ve read Hot Apple Cider and want to comment, go here

N. J. writes a regular column on the body of Christ for Maranatha News.

N. J.'s main website is here.

N. J. is on facebook, myspace, linked in, shoutlife, crimespace, twitter and other internet spots if you want to link up

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Haberdasher: A Story about the Value of Art-ARENDS

There has been a lot of talk lately about the plummeting value (or perceived value) of creative work. It's gotten me thinking about a great story my musician buddy Spencer used to tell about a renowned haberdasher (hat-maker).

A woman walked into the haberdasher's shop and asked if he would make her a hat. He agreed and told her to pick out a swath of ribbon. She selected some striking gold ribbon; in a matter of moments the haberdasher's experienced and gifted hands had transformed the material into a beautiful headcovering.

The woman was delighted--until she asked the haberdasher what his fee would be. When he named the price, the woman gasped. "You want HOW MUCH for a few meters of ribbon?"

Carefully, the hat-maker unravelled his handiwork, transforming the hat back into the raw material he had made it from. He smiled, folded the ribbon neatly, and handed it to the woman. "Madam, the ribbon is free."

All you authors and musicians and actors and painters out there--keep making hats. And all you who enjoy the work of creative hands, value it. In tough times we can still use the dollars we have to vote for truth and art and beauty. And really fine hats.


Carolyn Arends

now available: Wrestling With Angels
"Carolyn observes keenly, reflects deeply, and renders it all poetically. Wrestling With Angels is a book I can give to almost anyone with confidence it will speak truth in the inmost places." -- Mark Buchanan, author

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Forging Ahead

The long hot summer is over. Thank God.

The last time I posted to this blog,I was wiping away those artist's tears. Someone's off-hand comment about the futility of my efforts, had me doubting whether or not I could succeed at my work. I even wondered if maybe I should quit and try something else.

I've heard many such comments from friends, relatives, and strangers over the last decade; comments like, "What is it that you do, exactly?" and "Do you get paid for that?" and the ever popular "You're still writing?"

Normally these comments make me laugh. Because, yes, I'm still writing. I get paid for it. What's so difficult to understand about that, anyway?

But,in the heat of August, in the midst of the dead weighted summer lull, the comment stung me. I cried. For a few minutes anyway.

I was dehydrated and tired enough to let the discouragement set in. Fatique was stripping me of creativity and energy.

It wasn't easy, but I managed to move past the discouragement. I wrote my grant proposal, several queries, and a couple of articles. I kept working on my books.
I also took time to revise my business plan.

Best of all, I started to put a little more balance in my life -- exercising, eating right, praying, and planning my days.

My efforts bore fruit. The assignments are coming in. And I feel great.

Forging ahead with wisdom, even when we don't feel like it, makes the difference between "wishing for" and "making" a future. Staying on track is essential. So, is focusing our time and efforts more efficiently.

When blank pages stare at us, we must fill them. When dark thoughts fill our mind we must push them out with light.

Doing is the best antidote to a negative world. We must speak life, when the world speaks death to us. And remain single-minded and focus upon our work because 'a double minded man is unstable in all his dealings.' (James 1: 8)

Jane Harris Zsovan writes in both mainstream in Canadian publications about faith, business, arts, and contemporary Canada. She is the author of Stars Appearing: The Galts' Vision of Canada

She contributed "Jessie's Generation: Canada's Firebrands of Mercy and Justice" to Hot Apple Cider: Stories to Warm the Heart and Stir the Soul

She writes Vision of Canada Blog, on contemporary and historical Canada.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Bones of Posing - Grove

The song goes "Take another picture with your click, click, click, click camera" (Bishop Allen, Album: The Broken String, 2007).

Watch the video as a fun diversion, or skip it, or watch it later.

So, I had my own click, click, click camera experience recently. I'm officially an author now, so I have to have author type pictures, right? Right. Seriously. It's a rule. You can look it up.

Anyway, I spent the summer interviewing photographers (yes, I recommend interviewing photographers and finding the person you feel most comfortable working with), and finally found one in late August. Hurray! His name is Grant and he's a wonder boy with a camera (actually he's a grown up man with a wife and kids and bills to pay, but his infectious sense of fun makes him feel like a boy wonder).

We chose an outdoor setting (in a park near the river in the evening - ah, twas lovely!) and Grant made the fantastic suggestion to bring my hubby along. And for good reason!

Grant photographs all sorts of things/people/and occasions, but the bread and butter of all photographers is weddings. He showed me several engagement pictures he had done. On his computer screen there was a lovely, smiling bride to be. Grant said, "Okay, here she is smiling at the camera." Nice. Then he showed me another picture of the same bride-elect. "This time," said Grant. "Here she is a split second after she smiled at her finance." WOW! She was lit up! Everything about her (which was lovely to begin with) was improved. Her smile, her posture, her sparkling eyes.

I brought my hubby along. He carried my shoes (sandy terrain, rocks, fences to climb - I needed to kick the heels off from time to to time), and did his level best to keep me smiling. By the way, my hubby is a pastor, but he is nut-bar too. For over an hour he did a soft-shoe routine that cracked me up so badly my face hurt by the time we were done. He did puppet hands, told jokes, did rabbit-ears to the photographer, anything to remind me how much I love him and to make me smile. Grant clicked away, giving tips and calling for me to change poses (tip your chin down SLIGHTLY, Bonnie, no need to put your head down like you are about to charge through the entire defensive line!)

When we were done, the sun was setting, I was exhausted, Steve was giddy, and Grant had taken over 400 frames. Keep in mind we are only looking for ONE shot here. But, like Mama used to say, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince charming. Well, I wasn't kissing frogs, but I was posing my head off, knowing that in the midst of all that movement, planning, staging, and capturing the "perfect" light, there was THE shot. The one I will use on my book covers, web site, blog, newsletters - everywhere. Uber-Bonnie.

I don't have the picture in my hot little hands just yet. Soon. And I'll use it here when I do get it, so you can have a see. For now, if you like, you can check out Grant's amazing site (he's gifted!) at:

So, would I recommend taking an entire summer finding a photographer, and an entire evening trying to get THE picture? Yes. Absolutely! A well thought out photograph, that captures who you are and sends the right message to your readers will go a long way. It's worth the time, money, and effort to get it right!

Bonnie Grove is the author of three upcoming books: Fiction, from David C. Cook: Talking to the Dead (coming summer 2009), and Talking to Angels (spring 2010), and the Non-fiction book from Beacon Hill Press: Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You (March 1, 2009) you can find out more at her website and her blog

Monday, September 01, 2008

Author of the Impossible - Guest Blogger

Have you ever had a title of a book jump out at you and beg to be read? Not long ago I was in a bookstore and I noticed a book called "The Dream Giver" by Bruce Wilkinson. The feather on the cover also piqued my interest, perhaps because it reminded me of writing, something I enjoy doing when life doesn’t get in the way.
In the book, a ‘Nobody’ named Ordinary lived in the Land of Familiar. One night Ordinary was visited by the Dream Giver and challenged to pursue a dream that had been dormant for some time.
As I read each page I felt the author was writing about me, about the dream I had tucked away in my heart, something I’d locked away for safe keeping and never drawn out to examine it in all my adult life.

Like Ordinary in the Land of Familiar, I had used excuses why not to pursue my dream. If asked to put into words why I hadn’t started pursuing my dream earlier in my life, I’d have argued I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I lacked the courage to face my personal giants.

My dream was to be a writer but for 35 years I resisted the idea of becoming a writer, doubting my own abilities and not tapping in to God’s. One morning I sat up in bed and let the rays from the early morning sun warm my back. Before my toes met the floor, an inner voice seemed to say, “What are you going to do about your dream?” It was a fleeting thought but one that had been darting in and out of my mind for months. More out of frustration than conviction, I remember saying, "Okay God, I agree, I'll never know until I try." Since then I’ve written six books and several hundred devotionals and inspirational stories.

Too often we are tempted to see the giants in our lives as immovable obstacles but the reason for this may be because we are looking up at an ugly giant instead of looking up to God. We may battle with doubts and wonder how God can ever use what little we have to offer but if we obey His call I believe we’ll discover a marvelous truth – God is the author of the impossible.

Elaine Ingalls Hogg - author, speaker

From Heaven and Earth (Spring 2008), Joey's Secret Wish (2007), Historic Grand Manan (2007), Christmas in the Maritimes (2006) best seller, When Canada Joined Cape Breton (2005), Remembering Honey - winner of the Marianna Dempster Award

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