Wednesday, January 31, 2007

News Flash: Update on the HPV Vaccine

You may have already read my column on the HPV vaccine. In case you haven't, I've reprinted some of it below, complete with annotations, because something is in the works and you need to know about it.
Read on.
For months now, almost every time I’ve opened a magazine I’ve seen a colorful ad, complete with postcards, urging me to “tell someone” that cervical cancer is caused by “certain strains of a common virus.” The ad, which is also featured in a nearly ubiquitous television commercial, might lead you to assume that science has just discovered that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The ads would have you believe that the HPV virus is common (it is) and lurking to assault the unwary at every turn (it isn’t). I visited a web page where one woman wrote in to complain that the ads had convinced her that “catching” HPV was as simple as picking up a common cold. [1]
Wrong. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, and its link to cervical cancer has been well-established. In his 1985 book, 1250 Health Care Questions Women Ask, Dr. Joel McIlhaney wrote, “This explains what doctors have known for years about the character of cervical cancer: it is more likely to occur in women who started having intercourse early and who have had many sexual partners . . . If she has had two sexual partners, she has doubled her chance of having this type of change of her cervix. If she has three sexual partners during her lifetime, she has three times the normal risk. This pattern continues up to as many sexual partners a woman might have . . .”[2]

Why the sudden publicity about HPV? Simple. Merck, a pharmaceutical company, has developed Gardasil, a vaccine for four strains of the HPV virus, two of which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.[3] They can afford to spend advertising dollars—the vaccine, when it becomes available this fall, should cost between $350-500.[4]

The fine print: in order for Gardasil to be effective, it should be administered before a woman becomes sexually active. A federal advisory panel recommended that the three-dose vaccine be given to all eleven and twelve year old girls.[5] Never mind that the rate of cervical cancer is dropping[6]; never mind that the virus is defeated by most people’s immune systems without causing any symptoms whatsoever.[7]

Advocates of the vaccine want to vaccinate nearly four million girls[8] in this country to prevent a cancer that will affect less than ten thousand American women this year.[9] Yet there are more than 100 types of HPV, and Gardasil only protects against four. Other strains of HPV can cause other cancers. I would list them, but if you’re like me, you’re reading this over your breakfast.[10]
Okay, now the update: Merck is putting lots of money behind efforts to pass state laws REQUIRING girls as young as 11 or 12 to receive this new vaccine. They are funneling money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators.
We must not let ourselves be dumb sheep, herded into fuzzy thinking and illogic by those who talk about "cures for cancers" when the facts show that this vaccine is far from that.
Read up. Stay informed.
Given our sexually-themed culture (seen any teen movies lately?), I can understand why
a parent might think it logical to provide their children with contraceptives and vaccinations.
But what are we teaching by providing such things? We cannot remove all of the consequences—there are other strains of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases--so we may be fostering a false sense of invulnerability.
I’m of the opinion that we get what we honor . . . and, to a large degree, what we expect. No mere human is perfect and we all have our weaknesses. But part of growing wise includes learning how to exercise self-control.
So yes, tell someone. Find someone close to you and tell them that you believe in their ability to make good decisions.

[2] Dr. Joel McIlhaney, 1250 Health Care Questions Women Ask, Baker Books, 1985.
[5] Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 2006,
[8] Calculated from US Census data—there are approx. 3,915,276 11-12 year old girls in this country.
[9] In 2006, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 9,710 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the United States, and that about 3,700 women will die from the disease.
[10] : Does genital HPV cause any other diseases?
A: Yes, certain “high-risk” types of HPV can cause other cancers and consequences, including cancer of the vagina, vulva, and anus.

Good Things Come in Threes . . . even Movies!

I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes because I've just watched the trailer for Francine Rivers's THE LAST SIN EATER. Wow.

You can find trailers for three great movies produced by Fox Faith here:

For a long time, Christians have complained that typical Hollywood movies either ignore, mock, or deride our faith. It's time for us to put our money where our mouths have been; it's time for us to support these films. When they come out in your area, find them and go see them. Yes, they'll come out on DVD, but Hollywood pays a lot of attention to box office, especially opening weekend.

My friend Rene Gutterson wrote a novel based on the screenpay for THE ULTIMATE GIFT, so be sure to look for that book, too. And I hear this is to be James Gardner's last movie--he's retiring after this.

Enjoy! and join me in supporting these films!
Tomorrow: Book of the Month begins again! February's book: THE JUSTICE.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another Community Column -- on HPV.

In my "inbox" this morning I found letters referring to a column I wrote months ago--so long ago, in fact, I thought the paper wasn't going to print it. But they did, and the link is above.

I found one email particularly interesting:
Dear Mrs. Hunt:
I appreciated your article regarding the Merck HPV immunizations. May I refer you to an article, Manufacturing Need, Manufacturing "Knowledge", by the National Women's Health Network Writing Group. 2002, Adrainne Fugh-Berman, MD, et al.
In it they speak of Merck's early campaign for its drug Fosamax, by giving a large grant to a leading consumer group for older women with the understanding it would be used first to "educate older women with the message they should worry about osteoporosis. They then purchased and marketed cheaper bone density testing equipment. They gave a grant to the National Osteoporosis Foundation to create a toll free number to access locations of the testing sites. Then through lobbying they enticed federal policy via Medicare to pay for bone density screening. The drug Fosamax was then introduced. (excerpt, The Truth about Hormone Replacement Therapy: How to Break Free from the Myths of Menopause, by National Women's Health Network, Prima Publishers, Rosedale, CA.) Given the current Merck/Moffitt deal, one must turn a critical eye to these types of endeavors. It may well work to the service of cancer patients, but I can assure you there will be many stockholders and medical establishment players who will profit as well.

As an employee of *** I must remain silent but very concerned, and alas anonymous for this comment. We depend in part on journalists and columnists for advocacy, so keep up the good work.

Angie here again: do you see the pattern? We suddenly begin to hear about the dangers of a condition, then we're given the "cure." And all of it is hype, manufactured for the purposes of lining wallets.

We have to be so careful in matters of health. Do your research and make your choices wisely.


Monday, January 29, 2007

More on the Colts' Coach Dungy

I sat down and opened our Sunday papers, then ended up weeping over both of them. Both the Tampa Tribune (front page) and the St. Pete Times (front page, sports section) featured long articles on Tony Dungy: not his record, not his skills (though those were certainly mentioned), but on the man's character.

I talked to my hubby about it. "You know, everyone knows he's a Christian," I pointed out, "but he's not a preacher. He simply demonstrates the things he talks about: he is humble, he's consistent, he's good at his job, and he's devoted to his family and his community. He doesn't get in anyone's face, he simply lives the life, singing in the church choir, working in Bible School, driving in his kids' carpool."

That's what we need more of. Quiet, consistent men (and women) of God.

So when the superbowl rolls around, I'll be rooting for the Colts . . . a long with a LOT of other people in Florida. You think I'm exaggerating? Just read the articles: here and here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pray for Jane

Photos: me and Jane last summer, Jane

If you've been reading this blog a while, or even if it's your first time, I'd like to ask you to pray for my friend Jane. Jane is a Christian novelist, an editor, and one of the wittiest women I know. She's a Texas gal, she's a wife and the mother of boys, and she loves baseball. She's a fan of 24, and she's the one who turned me on to Alias. There's so much I could say about Jane, but right now I need you to know that she specifically needs some blood cells to grow.

A few months ago, Jane learned that she's suffering from leukemia. She's (about) my age. She's endured chemotherapy for some time now, and her immune system is weak. She's tired, and she needs our prayers.

So if you would please lift Jane to our Father, I'm sure she and her family would appreciate it. I know I would.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

WSJ's take on 24

I'm so excited I have something to watch on TV again! Monday nights, Jack is back. Oh, how I've missed him and the CTU gang!

And no less an entity than the Wall Street Journal was singing Jack's praises today. Brian M. Carney, a member of the Journal's editorial board, wrote an insightful editorial about 24 . . . and Jack Bauer, of course.

Mr. Carney begins with a description of this season's opening dilemma--an ordinary citizen must cooperate with terrorists in order to save his family. Mr. Carney says that such an ordeal "points with profound implications for our current real-world moment. You don't need to watch "24" as a kind of primer on moral philosophy, but you probably should."

And for those who scoff at Jack's indefatigable character (which I adore), Mr. Carney adds, "Which is not to say that the characters in the show always see things as difficult; it would stretch credulity if every character had a knack for moral subtlety. The show's characters--good, bad, and in between--can be judged by the extent to which they are able to weigh these countervailing demands."

You see, Jack never has to choose between good and bad--he has to choose between saving the ones he loves or the entire world. Or killing one bad guy with a bomb versus taking out the bad guy holding the nation hostage. Moral dilemmas, yet Jack always seems to come out on top, usually by sacrificing himself.

"The most interesting complications that ensue as a season of "24" unfolds are the moral ones. And the show's great virtue is that it never pretends that these dilemmas are simple or false."

That's why we LOVE this show!

Now, if I could just convince my hubby that Jack doesn't ALWAYS whisper. I've heard him yell "Get down!"

As long as their are no cougars, no amnesia, and no Kim, I think this'll be a GREAT season. :-)


Friday, January 26, 2007


Since Monday I've been back at work on the WIP, tossing six thousand words per day on the computer screen. Of course they're stinky words! But as long as I have something to work with, I can go back and work.

This book, the second in the Fairlawn series, deals with issues of life and death (of course), as well as several other things I'm keeping under my hat. One thing I'm using is the TRUE fact that back in 1961, a bunch of families in Mt. Dora (the city where the books are set) pooled their resources and built an elaborate bomb shelter under an orange grove. They thought of everything, and laid in enough supplies to last them at least six months.

The shelter still exists, though they turned off the dehumidifiers long ago and now everything is covered with mold, and I'm going to use it in my plot. No, I don't really know where it is, and the present day townspeople aren't talking. But it's been kind of fun to send my book's teenage boys off on a search for what is known as "the Catacombs."

Want to tell you about a book that arrived at my house the other day: HOLDING HEAVEN, by Jerry Jenkins, with paintings by Ron DiCianni. The book is a simple story, but so lovely. I thought I'd read just about every imaginable slant on the Christmas story, but Jerry has written one I hadn't considered--the story of Joseph and Jesus as father and son. It is truly lovely!

Well, I still have 6,000 words to write today, so I'd better get busy.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mandisa's book is put to bed!

Drum roll, please. Last week Mandisa and I finished her book and handed it in. IdolEyes, her story, should release in June, just in time for the American Idol season six finale.

I've never been more than a hit-and-miss viewer of American Idol--the early episodes are like a train wreck (excruciating, but impossible to turn away from), and I don't get the whole vote-as-many-times-as-you-want thing. Seems undemocratic that anyone should get more than one vote, but I suppose it's impossible to regulate.

But I learned a lot about AI while working on this book, and I was very impressed with Mandisa's spirit and her testimony. Best of all, the girl never missed a deadline! Whoa!

For those of you who are curious about how a book is co-written, the process went like this. Carol, our editor, and I flew up to Nashville and spent a day with Mandisa, and she told us all about her AI experience. I sketched out a rough outline and together we figured out a work schedule.

Then I went home and wrote up everything she told me in the interview. I sent her draft one, which came in at something like 38,000 words--not nearly enough for a full book. Carol and I suggested some places where she needed to "write more," and she did. She took a couple of weeks to do so, then sent it back to me.

We ping-ponged the manuscript this way through November and December and finished up last week. I think you'll find this story informative, entertaining, and yes, educational. Veddy interesting, especially if you're a fan of Idol.

So look for IdolEyes later this summer!


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Face from Space,-110.1141&spn=0.004875,0.013561&t=k&iwloc=addr

Visit the above link, then come back here. I'll wait.


Okay--isn't that too cool? It's a satellite image of a spot in Canada-- I only know that because I clicked on the link to get driving directions from my house to that spot, so if I ever feel the urge to visit the face, I'm all set.

But it won't look like that when I'm standing on that soil. I won't have the benefit of perspective.

I won't be able to see that lovely face (quite artistic, don't you think?), because I'll be surrounded by all that lonely, arid land.

And there's a metaphor in that. When we reach those lonely, arid places of our lives, we may feel that we're standing in the middle of a desert, but we don't have the benefit of perspective. We won't be able to see the lovely work that God has created and that he sees from HIS perspective.

Reminds me of a short essay I wrote yesterday for my class in the OT prophets. My assignment was to take a passage from Isaiah and extrapolate meaning for today. Here's part of it:
Isaiah 45:1-13.

1This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,
whose right hand he will empower.
Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.
Their fortress gates will be opened,
never to shut again.
2This is what the Lord says:
“I will go before you, Cyrus,
and level the mountains.
I will smash down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
3And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.
4“And why have I called you for this work?
Why did I call you by name when you did not know me?
It is for the sake of Jacob my servant,
Israel my chosen one.
5I am the Lord;
there is no other God.
I have equipped you for battle,
though you don’t even know me,
6so all the world from east to west
will know there is no other God.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7I create the light and make the darkness.
I send good times and bad times.
I, the Lord, am the one who does these things.
8“Open up, O heavens,
and pour out your righteousness.
Let the earth open wide
so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together.
I, the Lord, created them.
9“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
‘How clumsy can you be?’
10How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father,
‘Why was I born?’
or if it said to its mother,
‘Why did you make me this way?’ ”
11This is what the Lord says—
the Holy One of Israel and your Creator:
“Do you question what I do for my children?
Do you give me orders about the work of my hands?
12I am the one who made the earth
and created people to live on it.
With my hands I stretched out the heavens.
All the stars are at my command.
13I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose,
and I will guide his actions.
He will restore my city and free my captive people—
without seeking a reward!
I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”

Isaiah’s message to Israel must have shocked many people—for the first and only time, a Gentile ruler was proclaimed “anointed” by God, in fact, Isaiah used the same word we translate “Messiah.” Just as Saul and David had been anointed at God’s command, so Cyrus, king of Persia, would be divinely “anointed” for a holy task: to restore Israel to the Holy Land. He would free the people from Babylonian captivity (at the appointed time; after the seventy years of captivity) and bring judgment upon unbelievers.

History tells us that Cyrus conquered the mighty Babylonians easily--by an ingenious strategy, a Persian contingent diverted the course of the Euphrates River and entered the city on the dry river-bed. Once inside the city, the Persians opened the gates to the main army from the inside. Thinking their city impregnable, the Babylonians were easily overrun. Seventeen days later, Cyrus entered the city in peace as a victorious conqueror, thus bringing an end to the Neo-Babylonian Empire.[1]

Historians may believe the victory belonged to Cyrus or his engineers; God tells us the victory was his doing. God made it easy and God rewarded Cyrus with treasures. Cyrus did not know the true God, but the Almighty aided him as he conquered Lydia and Babylon. Though Cyrus did not worship God, God called him by name and aided him in his conquests for two holy purposes: first, to restore Israel, and second, to reveal himself to Cyrus and to the world at large. “I am the Lord; there is no other God.”

This passage has profound application for today. First, it demonstrates that all world events are in God’s hands. Even leaders who do not know or worship the true God are known to him and used by him for his purposes. God is sovereign over all creation, and just as he used Cyrus to accomplish his divine purpose, he can use an ayatollah, a president, or a common citizen to accomplish his holy purposes today. He can protect Israel and his church, and he can reveal himself to the world whenever he chooses.

Second, this passage demonstrates that everything—the things we consider good and the things we consider “evil” or “disastrous”—also come from the hand of God. Verse seven tells us that he is the one who creates light and darkness; who sends good times and bad. He does all things; nothing escapes his notice or his control. John 1: 3 tells us “God created everything through him [Christ], and nothing was created except through him.” Therefore, even the situations we perceive as “evil” are brought about by God to serve his designs, though we may not understand the reasons behind them.

This “evil” is not moral evil, but the opposite of peace—what we consider disaster or calamity. God does not and cannot sin, but he uses all world events, good and bad, to work his sovereign will.

Third, this passage illustrates the human tendency to argue about God’s sovereign design. Realizing that some of the Jewish people might have wondered why God didn’t raise up a Jewish warrior or king to lead them from captivity, God rhetorically asks, “Does a clay pot ever argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop you are doing it wrong!’”

We clay pots are still prone to argue with our creator. When disaster strikes, we want to blame it on Satan, or global warming, or we imagine that God must have been sleeping when the disaster occurred. We are happy to allow God to be loving, but we find it hard to surrender our right to self-governance to the point where we can admit that we are but clay pots in our creator’s hands. We are so intent upon seeing God as loving and life-preserving that we tend to forget that judgment and justice as also his to wield. We forget that his ways are high above our ways.

We can see evidence of this in our lives—we worry about world affairs, for instance, when this passage clearly indicates that God is firmly and irrevocably in control. We argue with God and create theodicies where he is equal to evil, helpless to overcome it, or bound by self-limitation to tolerate it for a time. Yet God clearly states that he will do what he pleases, when he pleases, to accomplish his purposes.

Finally, in this passage we find hope for the future. “Open up, O heavens, and pour out your righteousness. Let the earth open wide so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together. I, the Lord, created them” (vs. 8). In verse 17, he continues: [I] will save the people of Israel with eternal salvation. They will never again be humiliated and disgraced throughout everlasting ages. For the Lord is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos.”

One day, in the new heaven and the new earth, the New Jerusalem will be inhabited by the children of Israel and by Gentiles. Salvation and righteousness will grow together, and we will live under the Lord’s eternal messiah, the anointed king Jesus Christ. As Isaiah prophesied, the world will be filled and lived in, without chaos. And we will know that the Lord has done it.

So the next time you feel beset by your circumstances, think of yourself as standing in the center of that lovely face.


[1]KJV Bible Commentary, 1374 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1994).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Yippee for the Colts!

I'm not what you'd call a football fan. My "boys" (husband and son) are sport lunatics, but I'm usually content to sit downstairs while they whoop and holler (and moan and groan) during whatever season it is.

But Tony Dungy can bring me out of seclusion when his team plays.

We all became acquainted with Coach Dungy when he became coach of the Tampa Bay Buccanneers, our local NFL team. I'd never really rooted for the Bucs, but I began to hear good things about Tony. First, he was a committed Christian. Second, he encouraged his players to become involved in the community, and suddenly there were Bucs everywhere--speaking to youth groups, speaking in churches, hanging out (and being nice) at the baggage carousel at the airport. Seemed like there were fewer stories about our team's professional athletes running down their wives and being arrested for similar unsavory activities.
I began to root for the Bucs. And became all the more impressed with Tony, the man who simply stands by the sidelines--not panicking, not swearing, not foaming at the mouth. Solid, stable, dependable.

He made a real team of the Bucs, took them to the playoffs, and almost made it to the superbowl. Because the team's owners thought he didn't have what it took, they fired him and gave us someone else. The next year, our team did go to the Superbowl and win . . . and I've always been convinced that win should have been on Dungy's scorecard.

Tony went to Indianapolis, where he did the same thing with the Colts. Took a team, took them to the playoffs, and in two weeks he'll take them to the superbowl. Ordinarily I wouldn't care, but our paper has been filled with Colt stories because WE LOVE TONY! The man made an impression on everyone here. He's been away five years, but we still love him and root for him.

When Tony lost his teenage son, Tampa mourned with him . . . and saw the deep character of a Christian who walks with God.

And what a game last night! I didn't watch it, but I heard about the incredible come-from-behind push, the two touchdowns made by LINEMEN, and the generous way Tony deflected any and all praise. You gotta love a man like that.

So on Superbowl Sunday this year, I'll be rooting (and praying) for the Colts. Don't have any ties to Indiana except for a friend who lives there (Hey, Colleen!), but I'll be rooting for Tony. If you have no ties, come on and root for the Colts!
Here's a link to a great article on the Coach:


Monday, January 22, 2007

A Christian Writers' Workshop

There are many wonderful writers' conferences held each year in the U.S., but I wanted to let you know about something different--a Christian writers' workshop. What's the difference? A writer's conference features teaching, editor meetings, agent meetings, etc. A writer's workshop features teaching and WRITING.

At the end of February, in the beautiful area of Colorado Springs, at an actual CASTLE, Nancy Rue, Kathryn Mackel, Alton Gansky and I will be leading a Christian writer's workshop. Read all the details here.

Last year Nancy and I taught a three-day weekend, and we had so much fun the workshop has been extended to five days! We are offering tracks through which you can study novel writing, writing for children, public speaking, screen writing, and writing nonfiction. No matter what you want to know, come, and we'll do our best to answer your question. And we promise this will be FUN and unlike any conference you've ever attended!

So please, if you're interested in any of the aforementioned topics, plan to join us at beautiful Glen Eyrie. I promise it will be an unforgettable experience.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Procrastination Made Perfect

(I took a blog post from a few days ago and tweaked it for my newspaper column. Here's the finished product.)

A few days ago I read an Associated Press article about the dangers of procrastination—dangers with which I, a self-employed writer, am well-acquainted. In order to pace myself and meet an impending deadline, I give myself a daily assignment . . . and then I fritter the morning away with email and Spider Solitaire. When it becomes apparent that I’ll be up late unless I get to work, I open my word processing file and begin to write.

University of Calgary professor Piers Steel, a Canadian industrial psychologist, recently completed a study on procrastination and its effects. The ten-year-study—which, interestingly enough, was supposed to be completed in five years--discovered that procrastination makes people poorer, fatter, and unhappier.

Professor Steel’s thirty-page report, published by the American Psychological Association, found that only 5 percent of the American public thought of themselves as procrastinators in 1978 while today the figure is closer to 26 percent. Why the surge in dedicated delayers? For one thing, we have more distractions than we did in ‘78: instead of working, Americans can watch TiVo, surf the Internet, talk on our cell phones, play video games, listen to our iPods, and email friends with our Blackberries.

Steel estimates that the U.S. gross national product might rise by fifty billion dollars if our computers lost the “You’ve got mail” .wav file and the envelope icon that appears at the bottom of our screens when new email arrives. I didn’t intend to test Mr. Steel’s theory, but during a major computer malfunction last week, I lost my .wav file and the new mail icon. The result? I’m neither thinner, richer, nor happier. In fact, I’m probably wasting more time than usual because I keep checking my inbox.

How does procrastination make us poorer? According to Professor Steel, a delay in filing taxes on average costs an individual $400 a year. Since that seems like an unusually high figure for interest on a delayed refund, I can only assume he’s referring to those who file past the deadline and have to pay penalties along with their taxes.

I can easily understand why procrastination results in weight gain. I’ve lost count of the oversized “last suppers” I’ve enjoyed before the diet which always begins tomorrow. Diets were designed for New Year’s Days and Mondays. Ditto for exercise plans.

Does procrastination make us unhappier? Only if we’re forced to pay $400 in back taxes and penalties, I suspect. Or late fees on the loan payment or credit card. But for every man who suffers regret because he waited too long to snag an opportunity, I’m sure there is another who is glad he took time to look—and play a game of computer Solitaire--before he leapt.

A wise person knows better than to procrastinate in certain situations—if you are sick, you should go to the doctor. If you spot a leak, call a plumber. If you notice raging flames, dial 911. Delay will only compound obvious problems.

Yet procrastination has undeniable benefits. Creativity often needs time to flex its muscles, so if you hit a wall while working on a perplexing problem, stop. Take a walk, play a game of Minesweeper, file a fingernail. The more mindless the alternate activity, the more brain cells available to your subconscious.

Procrastination can be an ally when dealing with emotional situations. Problems that looked insurmountable at six p.m. often resume manageable proportions after a good night’s sleep. Raging tempers can cool when left unattended. Even grief eases when life settles back into its daily rhythm, which is probably why people who have lost a spouse are encouraged to wait a year before making drastic life changes.

Even the intellect can be aided by procrastination. The gems of knowledge are often unappreciated until we are able to put them in the proper setting. I couldn’t enjoy the study of history as a high school student; now I am fascinated by people of the past. Why do college professors routinely praise continuing education students? Because adult students drink deeply at the fountain of knowledge while their younger counterparts gargle.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine admitted that even his prayers were laced with procrastination: “Da mihi castitatem et continetiam, sed noli modo,” he prayed, or, in words that would probably make Professor Steel shudder, “give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”


Saturday, January 20, 2007


I am one of at least seventy-five Christian novelists who have become increasingly concerned and dismayed about the practice of ghostwritten novels. Though most publishers do not do this, we know the practice is ongoing in the Christian publishing industry (because some of us have been offered these jobs), and we believe the situation is deceptive, a form of false advertising, and ultimately demeaning to the work God has called us to do.

Erickson’s Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology defines honesty as “truthfulness, openness, and fairness in all of one’s representations and business dealings.” Scripture tells us: “False weights and unequal measures—the Lord detests double standards of every kind” (Prov. 20:10). Ghostwritten novels deceive the book buying public, and scandals arise when it occurs even in the secular marketplace. Why should it be condoned in the Christian publishing industry?

What are we talking about? A ghostwritten novel lists one person as the author when someone else has actually written the book. It’s tantamount to plastering one of our names on a Picasso painting and taking full credit (and the sales price) when we don’t know the first thing about painting. Even if one of us said, “Picasso, why don’t you paint a one-eyed blue man?”, that’s not enough. Even if we supplied the paint, that’s still not enough to take full credit for work we didn’t do. Even if we paid Picasso for his labor, that still doesn’t give us the right to claim that we created the painting.

We are not talking about dual author teams where one person supplies ideas and research and another does the writing. We’ve seen many of these duos in recent years, and we have no complaint when the writers’ name is listed with a partner’s. We trust that they have come to an equitable arrangement to share the work, the reward, and the responsibility.

Our concern is with the purely ghostwritten novel. A novel is an art form that arises after years of work and studying the craft. We are committed to excellence in our fiction, and we write to glorify God. For a publisher to propose that a novel be cranked out, stamped with a celebrity’s name, and sold to an unsuspecting public demeans our work and dishonors our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Truth and tells the Truth.


Friday, January 19, 2007

How Good is Your Grammar?

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

Everyone makes a grammar slip now and then, but this was a fun quiz. I'd like to see another one with lie/lay, that/which, and the really tough choices!

And--happy birthday to BABE, our newest mastiff! She's three years old today.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

From my Guestbook . . .

Dear Ms. Hunt;

I was reading your reply to one of the emails that is published in the [Reader's Mailbag] and I honestly think that if you weren't an author you'd make a very good pastor or youth leader're very good at explaining things. The question that April asked is something that I've often wondered myself and I haven't been able to answer it whenever my non christians intentionally or unintentionally try to challenge my faith. You said, "He often ordains that men carry out evil deeds according to his will (example: the crucifixion of Christ)."

My question is - and I hope that I won't sound disrespectful, but in your opinion, if it God who ordained for men to do evil even if it is for His purpose, then why are they punished for something that is beyond their control? When I say punish I mean in an earthly sense. I understand that no matter what one has done if they confess and believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior then they will be saved from the fires of hell but that doesn't mean that they're exempted from being punished as according to the law. And if it is God who uses the evil for His will, then is it no longer something that is evil? For God is perfect, I would think that He'll be...incapable of doing evil. I understand that because we're only human, we can't possibly fully understand God and the things He does but I was just wondering what your opinion will be in this. God Bless You!! ^0^ P.S Please continue to write more biblical historical fiction novels, I was so disappointed when I finished 'Shadow Women' and the 'Legacies' series. Soooo good ><

Dear Esther:

Thank you for your question. It's a tough one, but I think we have to realize that this is something we won't fully understand for a while. God's thoughts and reasons are so far above ours. But lest that seem like a cop-out, I've come to realize that it works a little like this (an idea I tried to express in The Novelist): we are like characters in a story. God has created our characters, our personalities, our "bents." He knows what we will do in any given situation, and he directs our path and orders our steps. As the Author of our lives and of Eternity, he is completely sovereign.
Just this morning, my gaze fell upon Proverbs 20:24: "How can we understand the road we travel? It is the Lord who directs our steps."

We live on a lower plane. On our plane, we live and work and move and make decisions, often completely unaware of how God is working. We have--and we exercise--our free will. We are responsible for our decisions, because we freely choose to do good and evil. We cannot escape responsibility for our actions, nor do we deserve to. Yet God offers grace and forgiveness for those who trust Him.

So--though men crucified Christ according to God's plan, they weren't aware of that plan. They acted, on their own "plane," of their own volition. They exercised their own free will, even though it was all part of God's plan.

And--you mentioned that Christians believe in Jesus, they'll be saved from hell yet still be punished . . . no, thank the Lord! The Bible says "there is no condemnation waiting those who are in Christ Jesus," so when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, we will be clothed in His righteousness. We are forgiven, and our sins have been removed "as far as the east is from the west." We will be judged, but for our works, for the good deeds we have done--did we do them for the glory of God, or for the praise of men? On earth, we may suffer the consequences of our sin (if you steal, you have to confess, repent, and make things right), but in eternity we will not be punished for sin.

God is perfectly holy and he does not sin . . . and he is sovereign over all of his creation, including evil and the evil one. Nothing can touch the believer in Christ without God's permission.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Revision Time

I had some spare time last week, so I opened up a text file from a novel I wrote eleven years ago--DREAMERS. I wanted to go through and "clean it up" a little . . . thought it might benefit from a little sprucing.

LOL! This is proving to be a hilarious experience. First, on a whim, I did a search for the word "suddenly," a word I try to avoid. I found 65 suddenlies. Sixty five! I reviewed each instance and ended up keeping four. (After all, if something happens, it happens, whether it happens "suddenly" or not).

I have encountered myriad examples of things like "She stood to her feet." Duh. What else is she going to stand to? I have found myself cutting dozens of speaker attributions (unnecessary when there are only two people talking), and bucketfuls of adjectives and adverbs. In fact, I am finding that I don't write in the same way at all! The tone of this book is a little detached and formal, and that's okay, because the ancient Egyptians were detached and formal. But ohmigoodness, are there things to cut!

Exclamation points--way too many. "That's" and passive verbs--they're going. In fact, I've already cut more than 2,000 words, and I'm not even 1/3 of the way through the book. And I haven't changed a thing, plot-wise.

I've also noticed that eleven years ago I tended to begin chapters in the omniscient POV and then move into a character's head. It's okay, but it leaves the reader (including me, who can't remember much about this story) wondering whose head I'm in for a page or two. Time to repair that little problem.

If there's a moral here, it's that we learn as we do, and we never stop learning.

Now I'm wondering how I'll revise my current WIP ten years from now. When I'm finished cutting, there might not be anything left!


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mental Mayhem

Scientists tell us that the human brain can only hold so much information . . . and I think I passed the saturation point long ago. So when the brain's "hard drive" becomes too crowded, older, rarely-used "files" are compacted and placed in deep storage.
Some of mine are in deep, deep storage. I have a girlfriend who is always saying, "Remember the time this happened and you said . . . " I look at her and blink. "No." I'm amazed that she can remember every word I said ten years ago and I don't even remember the situation!

Yesterday I got an email from Jim, who I knew in high school as "Jimmy," the little brother of my friend Tom. Well, Jimmy is grown up now, hence the "Jim," and he sent me this message:

Hello. I hope this finds all well. We are fine, here. Just saw your mother yesterday and tried to get her to help me, but she couldn't. I had a song pop into my head the other day and can't seem to find it into any hymnal I have access to. I know some of the words. It was an invitation hymn and I think it was called "What About You". . .
Jim went on to give me a few of the words, and they did ring a distant bell. I seemed to remember singing that song at a James Robison crusade, so I gave Jim that tip and sent him off to Google.

He wrote back later and said that Google wasn't helpful. So I said I was sorry, but I couldn't remember anything else.
And then I went to bed. And somehow the little men working in my brain accessed the file and brought it up. I sang the song all night in my dreams, and woke up with every word--and the tune--in my head.
What about you? What will you tell the Lord
When you stand before him on that day?
What about you? Will your life be in full accord?
Or will you turn from Him to darkness and dismay?

Have you forgotten . . . his love so true?
Have you forgotten how he suffered just for you?
When will you trust Him? What will you do?
You’re hearing now the call to Jesus, what about you?

I sent the words to Jim, and I hope he can rest easy now.

Have you ever searched your mental filing cabinets in your dreams?


Did You Pay Attention in High School?

You paid attention during 97% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

HT to Lisa Samson for this fun quiz. I'm amazed I remembered anything at all!


Monday, January 15, 2007

Procrastination Creates Problems . . . tell me something I didn't know!

Last week I read an AP article on procrastination, a concept with which I am more than familiar. (And boy, that's an awkward sentence!)

According to a Canadian industrial psychologist who completed a five year study in ten years (ha!), procrastination is on the rise . . . and it makes people poorer, fatter, and unhappier.
University of Calgary professor Piers Steel wrote a thirty page study published by the American Psychological Association. In 1978, only about 5 percent of the American public thought of themselves as procrastinators. Now it's 26 percent. Why? So many other things to do: TV, the internet, cell phones, video games, iPods, Blackberries.

He estimates that the U.S. gross national product would probably rise by fifty billion dollars if the icon and sound that notifies people of new email would just . . . disappear. "People who procrastinate tend to be less healthy, less wealthy, and less happy," Steel said. "You can reduce it, but I don't think you can eliminate it."
For instance, a delay in filing taxes on average costs a person $400 a year, Steel found.
I can easily understand why procrastination results in weight gain. How many "last suppers" have you enjoyed? I've had more than my share, because it's always easier to begin a healthy eating plan TOMORROW. Ditto for the exercise plan.

But I have to rise to procrastination's defense. I don't procrastinate when it comes to things like cleaning house, paying bills, and dealing with taxes--the sooner those things are done, the better. But when it comes to work, I've found the following to be true:
1) I work better under pressure. Not crushing pressure, but steady pressure. If I build in too much lead time, I'm too relaxed.

2) Sometimes the old creativity gets a workout while your brain is occupied with a procrastinating activity -- an engaging game of Spider Solitare, for instance. Whenever I "hit a wall," I put off the work and piddle with something else. When I return to work, the problem often melts away.
3) Some ideas/concepts/characters need time to ferment. I call this "back burnering." Sometimes I know I'm onto something, but I just can't grasp the big picture. So I set the idea aside and work on something else for as long as it takes.

So--despite Mr. Steel's study, I would urge you to rethink the matter. Begin to eat right and pull on those sneakers and sweats, but remember that Procrastination wants to be your friend. It can charming . . . as long you don't spend too much time in its embrace.
Speaking of TV, I'm so excited: JACK'S BACK! I love 24! Are you as hooked as I am?


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Financial Planning

I'll never forget the year I was asked to help edit a book on caring for your aging parents. One chapter hit me hard--it was about the importance of planning for your retirement--yes, now. The earlier your start, the better prepared you'll be.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that people are living longer these days. Remember several months ago when I featured a link to a life expectancy quiz? Lord willing, I might reach 92, and I don't want to be cranking out several books a year when I'm ninety. (I'd like to be able to, just not required to. I'd also like to be thirty pounds thinner, but you know what they say about wishes and beggars).

Anyway, I just read this story in the New York Times: On May 1 of this past year, Timothy J. Bowers went to the bank, handed the teller a stick up note, and got four $20 bills. On his way out, he handed the bills to a security guard and said it was his day to be a hero.

He was arrested, of course.

At his trial in October, he told the judge that he was about to turn 63 and had lost his job making deliveries for a drug wholesaler. With only minimum wage jobs available, he preferred to draw a three-year-sentence, which would get him to age 66, when he could then live off Social Security.
So that's what he got. Three years at the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio. Three meals a day, room, and medical care.

The prosecutor, Dan Cable, told the AP: "It's not the financial plan I would choose, but it's a financial plan."

Eeek. So . . . as tax time rolls around and you pull out those facts and figures and read up on IRAs and such, make plans to start investing in yourself. With every paycheck, tithe ten percent and pray about what the Lord would have you send ahead to heaven by investing in things that will matter for eternity--the souls of men and women. Then save ten percent for your retirement.

I wouldn't want to have to visit you in Rikers.


(January 7, 2007, NYT, p. 19, Sunday Business section).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

News Alert!

Oh, my! I've just discovered the Everyman's Library Children's Classic set! I have to get this for when I have kids!

Wait-- (LOL--I forgot I've already had kids). Okay, I'll get it for when I have GRANDchildren! Or maybe I'll get it because I LOVE all these books to read even now!

Amazing collection!


Saturday Musings (typed on Friday night)

Have you ever had one of those weeks when you seem to get nothing done? I've just come through one. It was accompanied by a migraine that lasted for six days, and I suppose I did get some things done--read a couple of nf research books on funeral services, tried--and ditched--a new internet security program, had a four-hour lunch with dear friends from out of town, and managed to keep up with the blog. Even managed to revise a few pages of a ten-year-old book in dreadful need of tightening now that I'm older and wiser.

And I had several of those stare-into-space moments where you just think . . . and I suppose we all need more of these.

I started thinking about funerals and about how everyone (well, most people) wants to be loved. At our funerals, we all want a packed house and lots of mourners who will stand up and proclaimed how universally well-loved we were.

Well . . . what do you have to do to be well-loved? You have to love well. And deeply. And often. Selflessly. And there's a story in that.
And then I was looking through some clippings, and chased a story idea down a trail. It petered out, but for a moment there I felt that frisson of excitement that always comes when I contemplate creating a new story, a new world--I could make it happen! I hope that feeling never goes away. Reminds me of that delicious shiver I used to get after a great book or movie ended. I'd hug myself and wish the story world could continue forever . . . been a long time since I felt like that with the current crop of films.

Last week I was offered a chance to ghostwrite a novel. I declined, and I can't tell you how wrong, wrong, wrong this practice is. If people want to write novels, let them go through the time and trouble it takes to learn how to be a good novelist. Let this person sink or swim on his/her own merits. Why pay someone else to participate in the charade? I hope everyone turns the offer down. I really wish the practice would just DIE and go away.

And that's about it for today. I'm mused out. What have you been musing on lately?


Friday, January 12, 2007

Everyman's Library

An article in the Jan. 9th Wall Street Journal reminded me of the Everyman's Library, published by Random House. I'd seen these books, of course, but not in a long time. Reading the article pushed my bookaholic buttons, so I immediately went to the web page
and subscribed to their newsletter. As soon as my "spending fast" is over (some friends and I are NOT spending in January as a way to atone for December), I'm going to order some of these books.

To recap: Everyman's Library began in 1906 when bookbinder/publisher Joseph Malaby Dent wanted to make great books available to the general public. And these were nice books--the kind with sturdy bindings and ribbon markers. They were also affordable--"For a few shillings," says Dent, "the reader may have a whole bookshelf of the immortals; for five pounds . . . a man may be intellectually rich for life."

Founder Dent died in 1926, but his library thrived. In 1990, British publisher David Campbell acquired hardcover rights to Everyman's Library and told his friend Sonny Mehta, president of Alfred A. Knopf, that he wanted an American partner. So Random House UK and Knopf picked it up. Since then they have done 500 titles and sold 12 million books.

They have a set called "Everyman Essentials" that's sold by . . . 100 books that help people build an instant library of classics. (Oh, I'm coveting!) Check out the complete list on Amazon.

Best of all, the books are NOT those fancy-schmantzy volumes that sell for hundreds of dollars (I know, those are beautiful. But they're just not practical.) Everyman's books are competitively priced. The line now includes contemporary classics by authors such as Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy. And quality? From the Amazon description: Everyman's Library continues to maintain its original commitment to publishing the most significant world literature in editions that reflect a tradition of fine bookmaking. Everyman's Library pursues the highest standards, utilizing modern prepress, printing, and binding technologies to produce classically designed books printed on acid-free natural-cream-colored text paper and including Smyth-sewn, signatures, full-cloth cases with two-color case stamping, decorative endpapers, silk ribbon markers, and European-style half-round spines.

So . . . when you feel the need for a book, check out the Everyman's Library. Or Everyman's Anything. I've a hunch you can't go wrong.
Goodness, I sound like a commercial! Sorry.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Amniotic Fluid Stem Cells Save Lives?

Yippe for the LA Times for reporting that researchers have found that stem cells in human amniotic fluid appear to have many of the "key benefits of embryonic stem cells while avoiding their knottiest ethical, medical, and logistical drawbacks."

Haven't we been saying all along that stem cells are also found in umbilical cord blood? Only makes sense that they'd be found in fluids. But there's more:

"Unlike embryonic cells [taken from human embryos], which can form tumors when implanted in lab animals, anmniotic fluid stem cells do not appear to do so." Two Swiss scientists, Dorthe Schmidt and Simon Hoerstrup, have used amniotic fluid stem cells to grow heart valves and are testing them in sheep.

You may recall that I've written on this topic before. If you need a refreshing of the facts, here they are:

While scientific debate swirls around us, certain facts are indisputable: first, those who debate when life begins are arguing the wrong question, for life does not “begin” even at conception. An egg and sperm are alive before they meet. Rather than “beginning,” life is passed from one living human to another. The thread of life winds back through generations and originates at the point where the Creator breathed into the first human.

A fertilized human egg will not grow to be a fish, a bird, or a monkey. It will become every bit as human as the mother and father who hold their baby in their arms. The difference is not in the quality of personhood, but size. Given time and opportunity, the embryo will grow.

Stem cell research has been in the news of late, as it should be. But let’s be clear about the exact nature of the research involved. Those who argue for stem cell research are usually talking about fetal cells when adult stem cells are far more useful for treating disease. Proponents of fetal stem cell research, which typically uses so many cells from frozen embryos that it destroys those lives-in-waiting, cite Ronald Reagan and Michael J. Fox as reasons why we should experiment on living human beings. Yes, we should feel concern for those who suffer from diseases, but should we not feel the same concern for those who are held in a state of cryogenic suspension?

Stem cells, which are valued because they are “plastic,” or able to transform into multiple cell types (blood cells, kidney cells, etc.), are not found only in preborn humans. They are also available in umbilical cord blood, children’s baby teeth, hair follicles, placentas, and even liposuctioned fat.

The Scripps Research Institute has recently reported that a small molecule called reversine allows mature cells to become “plastic” again. Researcher Dr Sheng Ding said: "This [approach] . . . will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."

Scientists have now discovered that stem cells can be taken from amniotic fluid, , but those who lobby for the removal of restrictions on stem cell research are actually pushing for the right to use unborn humans for experimentation—a bizarre situation, considering that our government protects the rights of eagles and manatees to live free from human harassment. Should we do less for babies who have not yet reached a healthy birth weight?

The conflict at the heart of the debate involves the rights of already-born humans versus the rights of preborn humans. Yet researchers currently have access to adult stem cells, which have been successfully used to treat spinal cord injuries, regenerate heart tissue, and reconstruct corneas. Adult stem cell therapy has shown significant results in the treatment of diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, anemias, leukemias, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s disease. No embryonic stem cell treatment to date has come close to the success rate of adult cell therapies.

Out of mercy and compassion, we ought to try to discover cures for disease. Scientists and medical researchers have a moral responsibility to do what they can to improve the quality of human life. Out of the same mercy and compassion, however, we ought to forbid all uses of embryonic humans for spare parts. If the restrictions on embryonic research are lifted, the temptation to create human embryos for the purpose of experimentation may prove impossible to resist.

So what should be done with “extra” embryos created by couples who are battling infertility? Why not encourage couples to adopt them? My husband and I waited years to adopt our two children. If embryonic adoption had been an option when we were younger, we’d have signed on in a heartbeat.

The psalmist assures us that God designed the delicate, inner parts of our bodies. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. Embryos that have been frozen in the process of being miraculously woven and spun are continuing lengths in the thread of life.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

From the news desk . . .

Now that we've completed another BOM cycle (and I hope the change of pace was enjoyable--I certainly enjoyed looking at those children's books again), let's go to the new clippings that have been piling up on my desk.

From the American Dialect Society--"Plutoed" has been chosen as Word of the Year. (Didn't we just hear that another group picked "truthiness" as Word of the Year?) In case you haven't heard, to "pluto" is to "demote or devalue someone or something," referring, of course, to the fact that Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

"Plutoed" won in a runoff against "climate canary" (An organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon). Other words considered: murse (a man's purse), flog (a fake blog that promotes products), and macaca (a U.S. citizen treated as an alien). You have to know a bit of Spanish to "get" that last one, but I do and I do. :-(

Since apparently anyone and everyone can nominate a word of the year, I think I'll join the game. My word? (Goodness, so many to choose from!) Okay: notorious. (I choose this because I see it used incorrectly all over the place.) To be notorious is to be famous for doing something BAD. It is not a compliment.
More news later . . .
Have a great day!

Monday, January 08, 2007

BOM: Howie Hugemouth

Howie Hugemouth is another favorite of mine . . . and another that was inspired by my son (he had an exceptionally loud voice as a baby).

I wanted to write an adoption story, but, as always, when you write for children, the message has to be delivered inside a charming tale. So I wrote about Howie, who was adopted by a family who had to learn how to deal with his huge mouth. The story is told from the older sister's point of view, and she's not quite sure how she feels about Howie, either.

In any case, the book was published by Standard, it's now out of print, but you can get it for a quarter on Amazon! Whee!

Tonight was supposed to be a meeting of my book club but . . . .the Ohio State championship game knocked it back a month. My husband has been wearing OSU shirts for two months, so he can't wait for the game. Onward, Bucs!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

BOM: Calico Bear

I have a girlfriend who can't read this one without crying. It's an inter-generational tale about a child's "lovey"--and the idea came to me because my son had a duck that he carried EVERYWHERE for about two or three years. The music box fell out, then the stuffing fell out, and I kept patching it and re-stuffing it. Tyler couldn't sleep without it, so we took good care of it.
The story is told from the bear's POV--he is in the arms of a little boy who loves him, and he grows old with the boy. Then the boy goes away and a young woman turns the bear into a quilt . . . and the next thing he knows, he's in the arms of a little girl (the boy's daughter), who loves him.
I also wrote a lullaby for this book, and I was able to actually sing it in the audio cassette version. Jeff Johnson did the music and wrote the tune to fit my lyrics, and it's a perfectly lovely tune . . . one that I used to sing to my own children.
This book is also out of print, but it'll always mean a lot to me because I see my children in it. And yes, my son's duck is tucked safely into a memory box in the attic. One day I'll pull it down and share it with his children, Lord willing. In time . . .

Saturday, January 06, 2007

BOM: The Singing Shepherd

Leslie asked a good question (and don't feel silly because people ask it all the time): Why is my name sometimes "Angela Elwell Hunt" and sometimes "Angela Hunt"?

In the beginning, all of my books said "Angela Elwell Hunt." The name is always the author's choice, and I had this thing about how there aren't many Elwells and no boys in my family, so I thought I should use the Elwell.

I kept it as I moved into writing adult historicals. But as I began to write adult contemporary novels, one of my editors pointed out that my name could be BIGGER if I dropped the "Elwell." Hmm. Good point. So I dropped the "Elwell" on the adult contemporaries, and a lot of people thought I was two people.

Lately, however, I've noticed that the three name thing is being overdone, so I'm going more and more by the simple "Angela Hunt." And I think that people are finally realizing that the historical writer, the children's writer, and the contemporary novelist are all the same person. At least I hope they are.

On to today's book: I love The Singing Shepherd because it's about a boy who loves to sing . . . and can't carry a tune. The idea sprang from a nativity story. I began to think about the angels appearing to the shepherds, and I thought, "What if one of the shepherds decided NOT to go and see the child . . . and later regretted it?

So I created a child-shepherd who suffers from a lack of courage . . . and goes to find the child in Bethlehem much later than the other shepherds. But when he straggles into town, the angel has already appeared to Joseph, and soldiers are already checking people at the city gates, looking for a baby.

So the shepherd takes the baby and slips him into his shepherd's sling, and helps sneak the baby out of the city. The lamb of God carried in a sling for lambs . . . I love the image.

This book is also out of print now, but it will always be one of my favorite stories. If I had to write it over again, though, I think I'd cut out a few words. It's a wee bit too long for my tastes . . .


Friday, January 05, 2007

BOM: A Gift for Grandpa

The other day someone asked me about writing children's books and I had to point out that there are several different kinds, and each has its own "blueprint." There's a vast different between picture books, read-alouds, chapter books, and illustrated story books. All of the books I've featured this week are picture books (32 pages, equal balance between words and text, designed to be read to children).

I wrote A Gift for Grandpa when I wanted a way to illustrate that God supplies our financial needs . . . usually in unexpected ways. So I came up with a little boy who lives with his grandparents. They really need a new horse, but there's no way they can afford one, so they decide to get Grandpa a watch chain for his birthday.

As they sit on the front porch, a variety of people come by--all of them with a need, which Grandma is happy to fill. But in filling that need, Grandma is blessed, and by the end of they day they have a new horse . . . and the perfect way to get Grandpa the watch chain they wanted to give him for his birthday.

I actually made a big mistake in the first draft of this--I had Grandma come up with the bright idea at the end of the book. But then I caught my mistake--in children's books, the CHILD should always be the one who solves his problem. After all, he or she is the protagonist.

A Gift for Grandpa is out of print, but you can still find copies available on Amazon. It will always be one of my favorite stories because even though it's fiction, it's very true. :-)


Thursday, January 04, 2007

BOM: Pretzels by the Dozen

Pretzels by the Dozen is a bit of a departure--it's a nonfiction picture book that relates the true history of pretzels. I read somewhere that the first pretzel was created in order to teach children about God, and that was all it took to send me on a quest to learn everything I could about pretzels.

They actually have an amazing history! So I created this picture book and combined elements of counting, rhythm and rhyme, and history--and even included a recipe for pretzels at the end!

You can even sing the book, if you know the tune to "Sing a Song of Sixpence." That's how I checked my meter in each verse--I sat there and sang it!

My favorite fan letter about this book came shortly after its publication--from Auntie Anne, of Auntie Anne's pretzels (those kiosks you see in lots of malls).


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

BOM: The True Princess

Clyde asked if these books will be reprinted--sadly, it's often very difficult to get a book reprinted after it's declared out of print. Publishers figure that if Company Y couldn't sell it, then they probably won't be able to, either.

However--many of them are still in print or are available through's used books. Only the ones which are rare (like "Long Hair") are expensive. Another good source is or

The idea for The True Princess came to me as I was thinking about what makes a person a Christian. A lot of people claim to be, yet Jesus said that people will come up to him, claiming to be his followers, and he will say, "Sorry, but I never knew you."

So--what makes the difference? Some people look like Christians and talk like Christians, but do they really love the King?

So I turned the idea into a parable about a king's daughter. The king has to go away, and the daughter is left in the care of her nanny, who teaches her how to dress herself, feed herself, and serve others.

And when the king returns many years later, other girls in the kingdom try to pass themselves off as princesses--by dressing in beautiful robes and acting the way they think a princess should act. But the father recognizes his daughter at the back of the room--not because of what she looks like, but because she is willing to serve him out of a heart of love.

The book was first published by Chariot/Victor, and has recently been picked up by Charisma Kids. It's one of my favorite books, one that teaches through parable, which is still my favorite way to teach. As I said, I've never liked didactic children's books. Kids are far brighter than we think they are.

I remember once talking about this story to a group of students. I asked who the nanny represented, and a young boy flung up his hand with the correct answer: "the Holy Spirit!" I've known adults who couldn't figure that out, but it was clear to that boy. :-)

That's one of the reasons I love working with kids. They're brilliant.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

BOM: The Tale of Three Trees

After the publication of IF I HAD LONG, LONG HAIR, I sold another picture book to Abingdon--NAT THE BRAT. The book made it to galley stage, and then the publisher decided to pull the plug on their general market picture book line . . . and so not only did NAT never make it to press, but LONG HAIR would never be reprinted.
Well . . . that's the way the business sometimes works. I learned the hard facts early in the game.
And so I started looking for another book to write. Now--I really dislike didacticism in any book, including children's books, and a lot of Christian children's books are not my style at all. And then I remembered the old story about three trees--I'd heard it in a song and heard it told verbally in a much longer format.
So I changed it in several ways and put it into picture book format, then began sending it out. As Providence would have it, I sent it to Lion Publishing, a British publisher with offices in the U.S., whose goal was to provide "spiritual stories for secular people."
Perfect. After all, the story is centered around Jesus but never even uses his name. (Because of that, I've been able to read the story in places where more overt religious books would not have been welcomed).
The book was published and began to sell steadily. Most children's books go OP rather quickly, but The Tale of Three Trees has staying power. It's been translated into more than twenty languages and has literally gone around the world. I've received so many letters and cards from people who've been touched by this simple story.
I think of it as a God-thing. I didn't originate the tale (and freely admit this in the foreword), I
simply retold it in pared-down language. I love Tim Yonke's art, and the fact that Jesus looks like a linebacker when he's carrying the cross. No cartoon images here, but beautiful realism.
This may be the book that long outlives me. And for that, all the glory belongs to Jesus.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Books of the Month: If I had Long, Long Hair

Happy New Year!

I thought I'd start out 2007 in a different way and talk about picture books. I don't write many picture books these days because I'm concentrating on novels, but I got started in picture books and they have a special place in my heart.

Most people think that the way to get started as a writer is to write a picture book. After all, you'd think it'd be easy--they're short, they have pictures, and kids are easy to please, right? Wrong.

My experience was a fluke--more on that later. But you need to understand that picture books are among the most difficult books to write and sell because they're so expensive to produce. The art is expensive, the printing is expensive, and most of them are done in nice hardcover editions, often even with a dust jacket, so you're talking a pricey book. And unless you have a household name like Jamie Lee Curtis or Madonna, you're going to have to have an absolutely STELLAR story in order to sell it.

If I had a nickle for every man or woman who has come up and said that they've written a few stories for their kids or grandkids, so would I please explain how to get them published . . .

Or a mom will come up with a story that she intends to use as a moral lesson, and because "kids really need this," she's convinced her story will sell . . .

Without even reading the first word, I can tell that they haven't done their homework.

Don't even try to write a picture book without getting a book on writing picture books and studying the blueprint. Most picture books are 32 pages long, less than 1200 words, and they don't contain adjectives, etc. (or shouldn't), because the ART carries half the work load. You don't have to describe Mary's blue dress if the picture shows it. Picture books are like poetry (and I don't mean they have to rhyme), nor are they vocabulary-restricted. They are designed to be read by adults to children.

And children don't like to be preached at any more than adults do. The story must entertain first and foremost. It must be delightful fun for the child . . . and the adult who has to read it.

Back to my story: After I'd been freelancing articles, brochures, and whatnot for FIVE YEARS, I saw an article about a contest for unpublished children's picture book authors. Abingdon Press wanted to honor Lorna Balian, one of their authors, so they were going to publish the winning book.

Since I was unpublished in any book format, I ran to the library and got 1) books on how to write picture books and 2) every picture book I could find by Lorna Balian--not to copy her, but to see her style and tone. Because Abingdon was a Christian publishing house, I wanted to ascertain the level of Christian content.

My children were also wee ones at the time, so I had picture books galore in my house. I had a good feel for how they worked, the length, and the tone.

I discovered that Lorna Balian wrote books centered on Christian values, not a Christian message, which was fine with me. And so, after studying the blueprint, I sat down and wrote a story called If I had Long, Long Hair. Then, because the contest required three sketches and I can't even draw stick people, I found an adventrous artist, we talked, she drew three sketches, and we sent in our package.

Fast forward about three months. Etta Wilson, who was the children's editor at Abingdon at the time, called to tell me we'd won first place. Out of 531 entries, a panel narrowed it down to two books. They let a nine-year-old boy choose the winner . . . and it was us. (God bless that boy!)

Yes, I know this ranks right up there with the parting of the Red Sea--to me, anyway.

Suddenly I was a children's book author. And that first night I could barely sleep because until then, I'd been doing what I thought of as "transient" writing--things people read and tossed. But books live forever, and they change lives. They've certainly changed mine. I begged the Lord for boatloads of wisdom, because I certainly didn't want to mess up any kids . . .

And with fear and trembling, I set out to write another picture book.

Rest of the week: different picture books, including The Tale of Three Trees, A Gift for Grandpa, The True Princess, Calico Bear, Howie Hugemouth, The Singing Shepherd, and Pretzels by the Dozen. If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments and I'll answer them the following day.