Tending our forest

This year, our scraggly apricot tree bore fruit for the first time in 15 years

This year, our scraggly apricot tree bore fruit for the first time in 15 years

We forest dwellers have a dilemma tending our forest.  The Rim Fire taught us that proper forest management can save our property and our lives. We may disagree about how to manage the forest, but most of us are diligently whacking our weeds and limbing our trees.

The forest is stressed from drought. Trees are conserving what resources they have at their roots, letting their leaves turn brown. Despite the assault of fire and no water on the forest, the wildlife seems to be thriving. The humming birds and finches are back, and my scraggly apricot tree that hasn’t born fruit in fifteen years is full of apricots this year!

Jays are in a pecking fury; deer rip the bounty off branches and chomp noisily; red fox, a family of five, bounce around under the tree, and  frightened Clyde has relocated to the La-Z-Boy recliner downstairs.

The fox are a bit too close for comfort. Fun to watch, I wonder why they are suddenly scampering around in the daytime and what we are going to do about the cat. Clearly Clyde feels threatened, but we hired him to keep the mouse population on our property at bay, not to be a permanent indoor guest.

We live in the forest, without fences. We work at maintaining defensible space around our house to discourage fire. Cute as they are, we are going to have to figure out a way to discourage the fox before they make a meal of our mouser.

The Lyre and the Lambs cover reveal

LyreLambsFront_smallToday is the day; the Lyre and the Lambs cover reveal!

 Approving a book cover is a highly emotional event for an author. So much is involved; images, fonts, colors. When all is said and done, the cover has to appeal to an audience of varied ages, tastes, and experiences. It has to engage book browsers’ curiosity long enough so they will take the next step; pick up the book and flip it over or click to read the blurb. 

Since much of the drama in The Lyre and The Lambs centers on the young people  I think this cover fits, and I love the colors and the stylish font.

The sequel to The Sheep Walker s Daughter, this book explores the passions that draw people together and the faith it takes to overcome trauma.

 A mother and a daughter, both newlyweds, decide to set up housekeeping together. Dee and Valerie move with their husbands into a modern glass house Valerie built in a proudly rural Los Altos, California neighborhood. When their relatives start showing up and moving in, the neighbors get suspicious. Then a body is found in the backyard and the life they are trying to build comes undone.

Father Mike is back to guide Dee through a difficult time with humor and grace, even as his own life is unraveling. Now he’s going to have to take some of his own advice about love. 

The Lyre and the Lambs will be released on September 3, 2014. What happens before and shortly after release day largely determines how many people will be exposed to the title and have the opportunity to choose whether to read it or not. Pre-orders and early reviews are a big determinant. 

  1. Pre-order The Lyre and the Lambs Your copy will ship on September 3, 2014.
  2. Mark as a To Read on Goodreads

 

A soothing refreshment

When your nerves are frazzled and your mood is dark, where do you turn for soothing and refreshment?

 

A meditative walk in woods?

A meditative walk in woods?

 

A steaming cup of fragrant tea?

A steaming cup of fragrant tea?

 

A meaningful selection from The Good Book?

A meaningful selection from The Good Book?

 

A hearty laugh with a good friend?

A hearty laugh with a good friend?

 

When King Saul was troubled, he would ask David to play his lyre. The lyre is an ancient stringed instrument found in many cultures. You might think of it as a portable harp.

Peter Pringle  replicated a Meddigo lyre similar to the one David would have played. Take a listen.

About-face and Focus

When life sucks the joy out of you, it may be time to do an about-face, a turn heel, out with the old, in with the new complete change. Such is the call from evangelical pastor Rick Warren and fundamentalist turned Anglican turned Catholic priest Dwight Longenecker. As disparate as their paths seem to be, I highly recommend reading both their books at the same time. 

The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and BeautyThe Romance of Religion, Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty maintains that “to really see something, you have to see something more.” The cynic, Longenecker says, is the man with a short focal point who sees only glass when he looks at a window. As a writer of literary fiction, I often stand on the other side of the window waving my arms and pleading with the cynic to look through the glass and consider the landscape, its goodness, truth, and beauty. This book thrills my soul.

The author gives the best definition of faith I have ever read (see page 188). He challenges those who tend to see faith as a warranty (agree to the terms and you’ll be protected) to embrace the total transformation that true faith requires. Please don’t let the fact that the author found his spiritual home in the Catholic Church after that body invited disaffected Anglican priests who were married with children to minister in the Catholic Church stop you from reading his passionate call to a faith worth living and dying for.

The Daniel PlanThe Daniel Plan, 40 Days to a Healthier Life, preaches what we all know. A healthy life is only achieved through commitment and balance. Call it what you will, the essentials involve some kind of faith, the right balance and portions of food, a fitness program you will actually do, friends who encourage and motivate you, and the proper focus.

The chapter on focus is especially powerful. Before you can change your health you have to engage your brain. As he did in The Purpose Driven Life, Warren excels in common sense exposition that cuts through a lot of  noise around healthy living that sends us straight to the frig for the ice cream.

Next I’m reaching for lighter fare some of my friends have given me, The Novel, by James Michener, a somewhat dated but probably still true fictional treatment of the publishing industry, and The Living Room, by Robert Whitlow, about – a novelist.  I wonder if this is a healthy focus?

What’s on your summer reading list?

Nature, God’s Primary Text

Tuolumne River in Yosemite

Tuolumne River in Yosemite

Before we had the written word we had nature, God’s primary text. We learned about God from the seasons of the year, the stars in the sky, the action of the ocean, and the soil of the earth  I pondered this as I lay on a rock beside the Tuolumne River and gazed up through a pine tree at the clouds.

As adults, we understand the physical nature of clouds, but as children, we delighted in spotting familiar shapes in cloud formations.

“Can you see that rabbit chasing a dragon,” we would ask a playmate.

“No, where? I don’t see it.”  As we tried to explain, it dissipated.

A rabbit chasing a dragon. Hmm, what does that mean?  The thought might lead to a journal entry. “Am I the rabbit or the dragon? What am I chasing or fleeing?”

Most of believe that clouds are simply a vaporous phenomenon, but could they also be a medium God dips his brush into to paint a picture for us to contemplate?

What message do you see in this cloud?

What message do you see in this cloud?

I’m reading The Romance of Religion, Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty by Dwight Longenecker, a lovely treatise on the unseen world that runs parallel to ours. The author maintains that great stories enchant the hero with whispers that ordinary life contains portals into the unseen.

Perhaps Yosemite National Park is so beloved because it contains so many portals that transport us. I hiked Pothole  Dome yesterday to get the kinks out. My body was kinked from maintaining an unnatural posture in front of my computer day after day. My brain was kinked from an ongoing discussion of what is off limits as subject matter and expression for authors who are Christians and the consequences for those of us who see that boundary differently than the gatekeepers.

Taking a day to walk through a portal and  work out the kinks has brought me peace.

 

Tweetables:

Before we had the written word we had nature, God’s primary text.

Perhaps Yosemite National Park is so beloved because it contains so many portals that transport us.

 

 

 

 

Eyes on the Prize

chocolatefactory

Authors these days are Charlies in the chocolate factory trying to pass a test of resolve to win the prize. The test is how hard we are willing to work to build our writing business. The prize is real estate in desirable neighborhoods bordering authors with stratospheric book sales stats. Resolve is the trump card. Good marketing can sell most any product but a strong product without good marketing hasn’t got much of a prayer—nothing new here, but it’s a painful situation for those of us who are drawn more to the art and less to the commerce involved.

In our twittery, in your face, instaworld, not-so-new ideas are repackaged daily and pushed to us with dizzying speed. All the elements of business success are available for a mere click:

  • 12 steps to becoming a bestselling author
  • 18 must have spreadsheets that put you in control of your writing career
  • 1001 ways to market your books

But, what if you prize writing less modified for general consumption and more like heirloom seeds cultivated in an organic garden?

Organic Writing

farmersmarketHeirloom seeds are passed down through generations to preserve wide varieties of produce that feature different flavors and unusual colors.  Some literary traditions are like that. Richard Thomas said works of literary merit should stand the test of time, have realistic and layered characters and complex emotions, and be concerned with the truth.

In an organic garden, weeds you don’t want are allowed to grow alongside healthy plants.  Careful tending produces food that hearkens back to the days we picked fruit off trees, popped it into our mouths, and let the juices run down our chins. To produce a strong work of literary merit is a slow, labor intensive process as well. You have to get down into the weeds in your soul to produce memorable characters that stand the test of time. Complex emotions, like flavorful fruit, must be allowed to ripen on the tree, not a market-driven timetable. As for truth, digging in soil to separate roots that intertwine is slow work.

It strikes me that God is like an organic gardener. In the parable about the weeds growing among the wheat (Matthew 13: 24-30) the weeds are allowed to grow because their removal might disturb the healthy roots of God’s heirloom crop. Perhaps that’s why the market is small. The price is high. To control the cost, we prefer to deal with the weeds using our own methods, but the results are often tasteless.

You can’t shortchange the organic process. It is slow. It is dependent on environmental factors beyond our control. There are crop failures. But when I see our organic farmers feeding our local community healthy, nourishing food I am encouraged to go and do likewise in my writing.

A friend sent me an email today. She wrote:

The last read in my time with our Lord was out of your companion book on page 44. Deuteronomy 4:9. I felt a new challenge in “Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.”  I’m going to look for opportunities to that with my great grandsons. Thank you for this little book.”

If my words nourish hearts, if they become seeds for posterity, that is a reward greater than any prize.

horseraceDon’t get me wrong.  I love to win prizes…for about thirty seconds it is a great feeling. But a prize is awarded in a competition. I consider my writing a journey instead of a race.  If I finish my journey well, I do hope to be rewarded with readers.  What blesses a gardener more than watching people enjoy the fruit of her labors?  I welcome the work that invites a reward, but I would rather work in the field than the factory.

 

Morning Read

morningreadMy morning read is one of the most inviting times of my day. I confess, I check email and Facebook first, make a Words With Friends play against my sister, and record a sentence in my Five Year Diary, but then I reach for inspiration.

This year I’m following our pastor’s sermon series on Jesus in the gospels in the NLT One Year Chronological Bible. Today Jesus told his disciples, “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you: rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). My writer brain said, “Ah, it’s not about power, it’s about position.” That’s a thought I can carry through my day. Am I  working from my position of strength or just powering through?

Next I reach for The Valley of Vision, a Puritan prayer book, a thoughtful gift from a precious friend. Those Puritans were so practical and they had a beautiful way with words. Yesterday’s prayer was for Sincerity.

May I not be inattentive to the design

of thy dealings with me,

or insensible under thy rebukes,

or immobile at thy calls.

If I could discern God’s hand in my writing journey, understand the discipline in the disappointments, and respond to the call with more energy, what joy.

To polish off this spiritual breakfast, I reach for a poem. I’m enjoying local author Joy Willow’s Soma Song.  Her poetry awakens all my senses.

Oh, look—

Crystalline morning

Platters of sunshine

Slanting and slicing through haze

Sparkling daylight knock-out engagement ring

And promise of things to come.

 

What’s on your bedside table?

 

 

Discoverability: What’s the buzz?

bee21-sDiscoverability is the latest buzz word in the book biz. Like African killer bees in search of new territory, social media sites are attempting to nest in writer psyches with promises that they will help readers find us. With The Sheep Walker’s Daughter approaching sales that will help validate my publisher faith in me and a second book on the way, I’m looking for ways to make readers’ fingers itch to push the Click Here to Buy button.

Giveaways

I tried a Goodreads giveaway this month and true to promise, it was easy and fun. Easy to set up and fun to see the stratospheric number of people who clicked to win a free book. Congratulations to Christine Hewitt in Ontario, Canada and Matthew Thompson in North Yorkshire, Great Britain. Your books are on their way.

How does this help me get discovered? It puts my book in front of voracious readers who are building their collections with the aid of free book contests. I wish they all could win, but I can’t afford the shipping costs. In theory, if a contest winner likes my book they will tell others. In this case, they will tell others in Canada and Great Britain and I will be discovered internationally! I’ll let you know how this plays out.

Guest blogs

Another way to get discovered is guest spots on other people’s blogs. You meet the nicest people that way, and they introduce you to their friends. I am very impressed with the preparation Fay Lamb of Florida did for the three feature spots she offered me on her blog. She read my book and then tailored questions for an interview with my main character, Dee. Now keep in mind, Dee is not the most forthcoming person you will ever meet. Fay drew her out and Dee surprised me with her candor. Read Dee’s first media interview here.

Coming up next:

Wednesday, May 28, Author Interview: I dish on the challenge Christian writers face in making choices between being real and risking offense.

Friday, May 30, Guest Post:  Faith Lessons from Father Mike. Where do you start if you don’t know God? The new TV drama Black Box aired a thought provoking segment in which science types were trotting out tired arguments against the existence of God (can’t prove what you can’t observe) and the bi-polar heroine said in effect, “Well that’s the thing about faith; it’s believing something you can’t see.” That is the point at which Father Mike begins with Dee. Make an assumption. In science that is called a hypothesis, right?

Going for it

Visit me today, Wednesday and Friday on Fay’s blog. Leave a comment on one of those days and we will send one random person a free copy of The Sheep Walker’s Daughter. Your comment doesn’t have to be clever. Just make sure we have a way to get in touch with you.

 

The Streets of Home

Mountain View, CA

Mountain View, CA

I walked through the streets of home last weekend, looking for venues where I might hold a book signing. It was not a déjà vu experience.

The Mountain View I cruised on a Friday night after a football game now bustles like the streets of Budapest. In Los Altos, school kids still spill into town after the last bell rings, but town feels more like a print of the original that has been embellished for commercial purposes.

Fifty years ago I floated between these two worlds; one hearkened to the future, the other clung to the past. Now that I’m enclaved in the mountains with a tribe of elders who have opted out of the next round of reinvention, finding my place in my home town is not so easy.

Who in my home town  is interested in a social history set in the Valley of the Heart’s Delight where the seeds of Silicon Valley were nurtured? More specifically, who would come to my book signing? Not the current residents whose global interests are deep,  but whose roots in the Santa Clara Valley are shallow.

The book stores I visited were amenable, with caveats: The community relations manager at Barnes and Noble said that no one turns for an event featuring fiction — business, maybe, but still attendance is weak; at Books, Inc. the bookseller went on an impassioned diatribe against Amazon.com (my book is currently printed by CreateSpace) but offered that they would work with me if I could arrange to have my books shipped in a box that has never been touched by Amazon (I can).

Other options are in the works to get The Sheep Walker’s Daughter  on Local Author shelves in the Bay Area towns where my story is set, but if I want to do a book signing in the venues available to me, it’s a party I will have to throw myself. What worked in Bakersfield will not work as well in the Bay Area.

I just got word that the Mountain View Public Library is adding my book to their catalog and putting it into circulation. It will take a few weeks to hit the shelves, but I am grateful. Fifty something years ago I was a Library Page in this very library. Now my book will be on their shelves. Maybe you can go home again.

Signing Books at Barnes and Noble

Signing books at Barnes and Noble in Bakersfield on Saturday was not a champagne affair, it was business. The friendly staff prepared a book table for me and told me I could sit behind the table, stand and do a meet and greet (my style) or be more of a barker and grab shoppers as they came through the door (not my style).

I stood by my table feeling very much like the perfume girl at Macy*s, the one who tries to catch your eye in hopes you will offer your wrist for a spritz. I gave myself a pep talk. You are not a wallflower at the prom, this is business. You are doing your job. Then I prayed. God send me one person to talk to. Okay, God, I would like to sell at least one book; okay, five books. And, could you somehow make this fun? God sent Julie.

Julie had attended my morning creative writing workshop at the main library and promised to come to the signing in the afternoon.  She buzzed through the door like a freight train on fire and beelined to my table.

“Are you going to sit in that chair?” She pointed to the chair behind the table.

I shook my head.

“Well, can I sit there? I’m a little tired.” She settled in. Then she began shouting out to customers like a street vendor, leaving the chair to pull browsers away from other tables and lead them to me.

“This is author of The Sheep Walker’s Daughter,” she told them with a voice of authority, “she’ll tell you about her book and then you are going to want to buy it!”

Julie gave me instructions. “Don’t tell them so much about the book. Just hook ‘em and sell ‘em.” She talked about my book as if it were the greatest gift any mother could expect to receive on Mother’s Day, and she hadn’t even read it.

At the end of the day, Julie had sold three times the average number of books an unknown author can expect to sell at a book signing event. It was fun!

I told this story to a friend of who owns a shop. “What will I do when I go to the Bay Area and I don’t have Julie?”

My friend’s eyes sparkled. “Take me! I can do that. It will be fun!”

In all the books I’ve read on marketing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the suggestion to take a barker with you, but they are literally work their weight in gold. A good barker has no shame. They have the gift of exhortation. They love to draw attention and people respond.

If you need to sell and lack silver-tongued savoir faire, befriend a barker.

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