Friday, May 30, 2008

Entry #2: The Arts - Tragedy at the Theatre

Tragedy at the Theatre
By Karri Compton

Derek didn’t know when he entered the theatre that night, his life would change forever. He settled into his cushiony red seat and leafed through the program.

Grandma Penelope patted his arm. “Isn’t this exciting? Your mother will certainly get rave reviews for this performance.”

“Sure, Grandma, but I’ve seen lots of these musicals. I’m used to it now.” He didn’t know much about singing and dancing and acting, but he knew his mom had talent. Grandma Penelope always said so.

Presently the heavy black curtain swished open and the lights went down in the audience. Show time. Derek watched his mother act and sing her way into Thalian Hall’s history. He yawned as the show neared its end. Soon he could kiss his mom and give her the flowers he and Grandma Penelope had brought her. But now he had to go to the bathroom. Bad.

“Grandma, I have to go to the bathroom. Now.”

Grandma Penelope grimaced, but whispered for him to go quickly. It wouldn’t take him long and he knew his way around Thalian like his own home.

“Be back in a minute, Grandma,” Derek whispered. He scooted his way past the others on their row and ran-walked to the lobby restroom. When he exited, he snuck around the corner and down the stairs to test the backstage doors. Sometimes his mom brought him here during dress rehearsals where he could look at the wardrobe room, scenery and orchestra pit. He knew a nine-year-old shouldn’t be backstage, but he couldn’t help it.

He crossed his fingers and pulled on the heavy door. Open! The hallway led past the orchestra pit and dressing rooms. He trotted up another set of stairs that opened to the backstage area. There would be a lot of people there, but no one would notice him. They were always hurrying to change costumes or set props or something. He circled around to offstage left to eye his favorite part of the theatre--the fly rigs. He hid behind a set piece and watched the stage hands secure the long row of levers for backdrops and curtains. He wished he could control something cool like that one day.

He focused his attention onstage to the finale, which was the last scene and big song at the end. His mom entered stage right and he grinned from his hidden place. Suddenly he heard a loud whoosh. A huge, flown-in piece sailed at an angle across the stage, obviously out of place. Derek gasped as a frayed rope swung loose, hitting the floor.

Time seemed to slow as the wooden piece hit his mom squarely on the head, knocking her to the black floor with a thump.

“No!” He raced towards her. Chaos ensued, actors scattering in every direction. The crowd buzzed, the music petered to silence. Someone closed the thick main curtain and a nervous voice announced something Derek couldn’t understand.

“We need a doctor!” One man shouted.

Several cast members huddled around Derek’s mom. He pushed to the front and tried to hug her. One of them stopped him, hugging him so he couldn’t see her.

Someone shrieked, “I think she’s dead!”

Submitted by
Karri Compton

Entry #1: The Arts - The Audition

(Tracy note: I've bumped up this entry - it was getting buried under announcements.)
The Audition
by Amy Barkman

Reggie Tate and her mother watched from the front row as Glenda Taylor took center stage. She explained that her friend from New York would play the Wicked Witch but the rest of the cast would consist of Simpsonville people.

“We are going to begin with the Flying Monkeys.” She called off a list of names. Most came to the stage immediately but one child had to be dragged by a red faced mother. There were six prospective monkeys, all around five years old. Glenda told them first to get in a circle, then line up in a straight line, clump together in a group, and make their arms flap like wings. She had them repeat several lines. They all did what they were told with the exception of the little dragged-in boy who stood with his finger in his mouth looking terrified.

Reggie realized Glenda was assessing the ability of the children to follow directions. Soon the monkeys were told they could return to their parents, and that group was excused for the night.

Next she called for those interested in being Munchkins, Dorothy, or Toto. Sandy, the music director, had them line up and give their names.

She sang the first few lines of “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead” and told them to repeat it. After a few times of that she divided them into two groups. One sang “Which old witch?” and the other responded with “The wicked witch!” Then she had them do it several more times with increasing enthusiasm. Reggie noticed that she was walking among them listening and making notes.

After Sandy was finished, Glenda came back up to the stage and put the group through some exercises. “Look like somebody hurt your feelings”, “Look like somebody gave you a new bicycle”, “Look like somebody said they were going to hurt you.” It was obvious that some of the young people were more adept at expressing emotion than others.

“Now,” Glenda said. “I want you to start at this end and each of you in turn say ‘Help! Help! I’m stuck in the tree!’ Again it was clear which of them had natural talent.

Several were asked to read a few lines from the script before that group was dismissed.

Tryouts for Glinda the Good began.


Reggie’s heart was pounding. She knew she’d done well, better than the other two teenagers. She wondered why no grown women auditioned for the part of Glinda the Good. She also wondered why they had her read some of Dorothy’s lines. She was way too grown up to play Dorothy.

Glenda Taylor was talking again.

“We didn’t have many adults audition as you can see. If you know anyone who might be interested in playing the Tin Man, Scarecrow, or Cowardly Lion, please have them contact me. Thank you for coming out. The list will be posted tomorrow evening after five.”

When Reggie and her mother got up to leave they saw that Carolyn Simpson Brock and her daughter Margaret, who tried out in the second group, had not left when they were dismissed but were at the back of the room. Mrs. Brock walked over to Glenda Taylor, and Reggie could hear their conversation.

“Excuse me. You had the older girls read some of Dorothy’s lines. Does this mean that you are considering them for that role?”

Glenda Taylor’s face betrayed no emotion. “No. I just wanted to see how much variety they were capable of.”

Margaret was pulling on her mother’s arm, obviously anxious to leave but Mrs. Brock continued.

“That Crenshaw child was not bad when she tried out as a Munchkin. It’s a shame that her family is so undependable. I just thought I’d drop a word to the wise!” She smiled and turned to leave.

Margaret’s face was flushed and her head drooped as she followed behind.

That must be what they mean by a stage mother!

Reggie leaned over and hugged her own Mom.


Glenda’s eyes flashed as she looked around the table.

“The nerve of the woman! I can’t believe she was putting down that family because their child did a good job. She is obviously determined that her daughter get the role of Dorothy.”

Brandon laughed. “Well, there are several good reasons to cast…” He picked up a paper from the stack. “Margaret…in that role. First, she was the best of the bunch by far, didn’t you all think so?” He looked around the group but continued without waiting for an answer. “And second, her family is influential and could muster a lot of community support for this production and for the ongoing welfare of the theatre.”

Glenda sighed. “You’re right. But if there was anyone nearly as good as Margaret, I’d choose them, influence or no influence. I can’t stand the thought of having to deal with Carolyn Brock for six weeks. But the child is perfect for Dorothy.”

Brandon nodded. “You may think I’m nuts but I kind of like the little kid who didn’t do well. He was in the younger bunch but I think that he might be perfect as Toto, all by himself, just following Dorothy around.”

Nobody expressed displeasure so the Board President continued. “What about the girls who auditioned for Glinda the Good? Are we going to make the other two Munchkins?”
Glenda tugged at her hair. “I don’t know. I guess we all agree that Reggie Tate gets the part?”

The nods were enthusiastic and unanimous.

Sandy said, “We could tell the others we need their voices to lead the younger children in the music. It’s the truth and they’d feel important even though they’re not Glinda the Good” She laughed. “Too many Glendas.” She turned to Glenda Taylor. “Glinda the Good and …”

The director rolled her eyes. “I’m afraid that after the cast list is posted, there will be those who think of me as exactly that - Glenda the Bad.”

Submitted by
Amy Barkman

House Essay Contest Update

Noon today is the deadline for our "Small Town U.S.A." essay contest to give away the house in Selma, Alabama. We have not had enough entries, so the contest is cancelled.

We actually had only one entry. One entry to win a house. I've emailed the contestant - who is from Missouri - and have asked permission to publish her essay here on Pix-N-Pens. If she grants permission, we'll be publishing it soon, so watch for it. I'm returning her money order, and also sending her a small package of books so she will at least get something for her efforts.

I'm still exploring what we did wrong. At this point, I just don't know. I sent out over 400 press releases, and contacted local radio, tv, and newspapers. From some of the comments I received by email and phone, cynicism is running rampant in this country.

A very special thank you to the judges who agreed to participate. Popular and prolific authors Virginia Smith, Allison Bottke, and Mary DeMuth would have narrowed down the essays to the top 25 finalists, and Holly Miller, Senior Editor at The Saturday Evening Post was scheduled to choose the winner.

A very special thank you to all those who helped promote our contest: Tiffany Colter, Delia Latham, Hope Clark, Rose McCauley, Ann Knowles, Laurie Crown, Mary DeMuth, Virginia Smith, and Melanie Dickerson. All of you went above and beyond the call of duty, and I am forever grateful.

Pixels - please stop by the websites of all of these writers and show them your support.

NOTE: The contest for "The Arts" continues through midnight tonight, and your entries will be posted as they arrive. Cara Putman is our special guest judge this week, so get your entries in soon! Read details of this contest here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blog Tour: Ruby Among Us

This week, the

is introducing

(WaterBrook Press May 20, 2008)



Tina Ann Forkner writes contemporary fiction that challenges and inspires. Originally from Oklahoma, she graduated with honors in English from CSU Sacramento before ultimately settling in the wide-open spaces of Wyoming where she now resides with her husband and their three children. Tina serves on the Laramie County Library Foundation Board of Directors and enjoys gardening, spending time outdoors with her family, and works as a full-time writer.


Sometimes, the key that unlocks your future lies in someone else’s past...

In Ruby Among Us, Lucy DiCamillo is safely surrounded by her books, music, and art─but none of these reclusive comforts or even the protective efforts of her grandmother, Kitty can shield her from the memory of the mother she can no longer remember. Lucy senses her grandmother holds the key, but Kitty seems as eager to hide from the past as Lucy is eager to find it.

From the streets of San Francisco and Sacramento, to the lush vineyards of the Sonoma Valley, Lucy follows the thread of memory in search for a heritage that seems long-buried with her mother, Ruby.

What she finds is enigmatic and stirring in this redemptive tale about the power of faith and mother-daughter love.

“What an incredible story. As both mothers and daughters, Ruby Among Us struck a special cord in each of the four of us. Tina writes in a way that makes us feel like we’re there; from the first line, we were captivated and drawn into an intricate weaving of the precious and fragile relationships that define us.”~Point of Grace~

“Reading is a passion of mine, and when I find myself identifying with the characters, anxious to get to the next page to find answers to my questions, I know I’m into a good book! The daughter-mother-grandmother theme in Ruby Among Us pulled me in. Wonderful story-telling.”~Jordin Sparks~, 2007 winner of American Idol

“Highly recommended. If you’re a mother or daughter, you’re going to love Ruby Among Us. Forkner does an extraordinary job…. I look forward to more from this author.”~Ane Mulligan~, Novel Journey

“Don’t miss this one! Tina Ann Forkner is a strong new voice in fiction and Ruby Among Us is an amazing story of trials, regrets, and, ultimately, redemption. Lucy and her family history in the historic wine country of Sonoma bring to life the Scriptures about the Vine and His branches.”~Kristin Billerbeck~, author of The Trophy Wives Club

If you would like to read the first chapter go HERE.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Contest: The Arts

We're very pleased to welcome prolific author, attorney, and new mom, Cara Putman, as our special guest judge this week.

For our contest, you can enter one of two ways: 1) submit a scene, up to 1000 words, involving some form of "the arts" or 2) submit an essay, up to 1000 words, telling how you support the arts in your local community. I'll post the entries as they arrive.

Deadline is this Friday, May 30th, midnight. The winner, announced over the weekend, will receive an autographed copy of Cara's latest book, Deadly Exposure.

About the book:

When a murder took place in the theater box next to TV news reporter Dani Richards, she was completely shocked. She hadn't heard or seen a thing. And when her coverage of the story led the killer to stalk her, police officer Caleb Jamison-Dani's ex-flame-insisted on protecting her. Should she let him close again? or risk her life with a killer?

About our guest:

Since the time she could read Nancy Drew, Cara has wanted to write mysteries. For years she asked God if this dream was from Him. Her life was full. She graduated with honors from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Go Huskers!), moved to the Washington, DC area, married the man of her dreams, worked in the non-profit world, went to George Mason Law School at night while working, and then started having children. While her life was far from empty, the dream wouldn’t die. Then she followed her husband to Indiana. Talk about starting over!

In 2005 she attended a book signing at her local Christian bookstore. The rest, as they say, was history. There she met Colleen Coble. With prompting from her husband, Cara shared her dream with Colleen. Since those infamous words, Cara’s been writing books.

Heartsong Presents is publishing a three book series of World War Two romances: Canteen Dreams (October 2007), Sandhill Dreams (May 2008), and Captive Dreams (September 2008). Love Inspired Suspense published her first romantic suspense in May 2008. Now she’s working on the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Law (don’t ask!) and the first book in an Ohio World War Two series.

Cara is also an attorney, lecturer at a Big Ten university, women's ministry leader, and all around crazy woman. Crazy about God, her husband and her kids, that is.

She has also contributed to Generation NeXt Parenting and Generation NeXt Marriage and is a weekly guest blogger at GenXParents and Craftie Ladies of Suspense. You can visit Cara on the web and subscribe to her blog.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Pixel is a Winner!

Remember last week, during our Keyword contest, when special guest judge Virginia Smith announced that she was going to draw names from people visiting her website and letting her know which blog tour the person thought was the most fun? Read about it here.

Well, I'm thrilled to announced that one of our very own Pixels won that contest - Jessica Nelson! Congratulations! Pixels ROCK!

I asked Jessica to give us a brief bio, and she shares with us:

I'm a stay-at-home mommy of three beautiful little boys and wife to an awesome man. I love to read romance that glorifies God and changes lives. It's also what I love to write.

Visit Jessica Nelson on the web at MySpace and on her blog.

A very special thanks to Virginia Smith for holding this contest, for being our guest, and for choosing a Pixel to win! May the Lord continue to bless your ministry and bless your writing in abundant measure.

And if you haven't read Just As I Am, or Sincerely, Mayla, or Stuck in the Middle, or Murder by Mushroom, or Bluegrass Peril - you're missing out!! You can even get autographed copies of all her books at Signed by the Author! These make great gifts for friends, coworkers, Sunday school members, daughters, mothers, sisters, and MORE!

Spring in New Zealand

Although it's almost winter in New Zealand, Pixel Debbie Roome sent in the following Spring pictures this week:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blog Tour: Broken Angel

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing

(WaterBrook Press (May 20, 2008)



Sigmund Brouwer is the author of eighteen best-selling novels for children and adults. His newest book is Fuse of Armageddon and his novel The Last Disciple was featured in Time magazine and on ABC’s Good Morning America. A champion of literacy, he teaches writing workshops for students in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner city Los Angeles. Sigmund is married to Christian recording artist Cindy Morgan, and they and their two daughters divide their time between homes in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and Nashville, Tennessee.


Her birth was shrouded in mystery and tragedy.
Her destiny is beyond comprehension.
Her pursuers long to see her broken.
She fights to soar.

A father's love for his daughter…a decision that would change both their lives forever. But who is she really─and why must she now run for her life?

Caitlin's body has made her an outcast, a freak, and the target of vicious bounty hunters. As she begins a perilous journey, she is forced to seek answers for her father's betrayal in the only things she can carry with her─a letter he passes her before forcing her to run, and their shared memories together.

Being hunted forces Caitlyn to partner with two equally lonely companions, one longing to escape the horror of factory life in Appalachia and the others, an unexpected fugitive. Together the three will fight to reach a mysterious group that might be friend or foe, where Caitlyn hopes to uncover the secrets of her past...and the destiny she must fulfill.

In the rough, shadowy hills of Appalachia, a nation carved from the United States following years of government infighting, Caitlyn and her companions are the prey in a terrifying hunt. They must outwit the relentless bounty hunters, skirt an oppressive, ever-watchful society, and find passage over the walls of Appalachia to reveal the dark secrets behind Caitlyn’s existence–and understand her father’s betrayal.

Prepare yourself to experience a chilling America of the very near future, as you discover the unforgettable secret of the Broken Angel.

In this engrossing, lightning-paced story with a post-apocalyptic edge, best-selling author Sigmund Brouwer weaves a heroic, harrowing journey through the path of a treacherous culture only one or two steps removed from our own.

If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Critique Auction for Fellow Author

Morning, Pixels! Monday came and went without a contest announcement, didn't it? Life got so busy yesterday, and I'm still catching my breath. Instead of a contest this week, let's do three things.

1) Read the review below about Lisa Samson's Embrace Me. Tremendous book. Then buy it and read it!

2) Send in photos of spring where you are. Send up to 3 photos each. This week, they won't be judged, just admired for their beauty.

3) Participate in an auction to help a fellow writer.

Kelly Mortimer, literary agent, is coordinating auctions and pledge drives to help fellow author Robin Miller pay her mortgage for the rest of this year while her husband is unable to work. I have volunteered my critique services as one of the auctions - you can bid on a 3-Chapter Critique from me and help out Robin in the process.

Visit the ebay page Kelly set up to bid on my services. Bidding starts at just $19.99, or you can purchase now for $200. If someone buys it now, therefore ending the bidding wars, I'll donate another critique for bidding, too!

You can also bid on a one chapter critique from fellow writer Cheryl Wyatt, and a professional one-sheet/bookmark design by Dineen Miller.

Help spread the word, Pixels, and let's help this special lady and her precious family.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Embrace Me is a Must-Read!

Lisa Samson's latest release, Embrace Me, is this week's featured book on the CFBA blog tour. Before I give you all the book details, I'd like to share my own thoughts about this book.

I read so much - more than most average bears. It's a rare book that surprises me, entertains me, delights me - but Embrace Me met the challenge with flying colors. The characters were fresh and original, the storyline unique, the plot surprising, and the setting vivid.

Lisa Samson is one of the greatest writers of our generation, and can weave a story like no one else. Embrace Me was one of those books that I could not and would not put down - and was sad to leave it when I reached the final page. Lisa created a world so different to my own experiences that I was refreshed and energized by her imagination.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough - definitely a must-read!

Now for all the formal stuff (and a link to read the first chapter!):

This week, the

is introducing

(Thomas Nelson March 4, 2008)



Lisa Samson is a Christy Award-winning author of 19 books, including the Women of the Faith Novel of the Year, Quaker Summer. Lisa has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a talented novelist who isn't afraid to take risks."
In Embrace Me, the latest novel by acclaimed author Lisa Samson, readers are privy to the realization that regardless of outward appearances…hideous, attractive, or even ordinary…persons are all looking for the same things: love, forgiveness, and redemption.
This story explores a world that is neither comfortable nor safe, a world that people like Valentine know all too well. Masterfully crafted by Samson and populated by her most compelling cast of characters yet. It is a tale of forgiveness that extends into all spheres of life: forgiving others, forgiving oneself, forgiving the past.She lives in Lexinton, Kentucky, with her husband and three kids.


Biting and gentle, hard-edged and hopeful...a beautiful fable of love and power, hiding and seeking, woundedness and redemption.
When a "lizard woman," a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster...and improbably close to grace.
Valentine, due to her own drastic self-disfigurement, has very few friends in this world and, it appears as if she may be destined to spend the rest of her life practically alone. But life gives her one good friend, Lella, whose own handicap puts her in the same freakish category as Valentine. As part of Roland's Wayfaring Marvel and Oddities Show, a traveling band of misfits, they seem to have found their niches in an often curiously cruel world.
Residing in a world where masks are mandatory, Valentine has a hard time removing hers, because of her disfigured face but more so because of her damaged soul. It is much easier for her to listen endlessly to different versions of a favorite song, Embraceable You, and escape reality. Yet, life has more in store for her when she meets Augustine, replete with the tattoos, dreadlocks, and his own secrets. With his arrival, Valentine's soul takes a turn.
If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

We Have a Winner!

Our guest judge this week, Virginia Smith, sent the following announcement by email:

Tracy, this was a wonderful contest. Thank you for taking part in the blog tour for Sincerely, Mayla. And congratulations to all the writers for the most creative bunch of contest entries and stories I’ve ever read! I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a contest so much. The way everyone tackled the challenge of spinning a tale that seamlessly wove those words together is an inspiration!

Selecting a winner from among these entertaining entries is nearly impossible. Karri Compton’s “In All Things” demonstrates a great lesson with compelling characters and situations. Jim Cook’s “Dolphin Link” gave me a fascinating glimpse into a future that is both scary and easy to imagine. In “A Time to Dance,” Maxine Thomas painted a poignant picture of a much-loved grandmother. I love the friendship depicted in Jessica Nelson’s “ Maui ”. Donald James Parker’s essay, “The Ego has Landed” really spoke to me—I’ve struggled with some of the same issues. The lady Mary describes in “My Trip to New York ” sounds like someone I’d like to meet. The story Debbie Roome created, “Time for a Change” drew me right in and made me want to live in that cottage, walk along that beach. Sally Chambers’ “River Reverie” is a beautiful story with a profound message. And Katie’s “Dear Diary” made me long to swim with the dolphins in the Bahamas .

But I have to select only one. It is a tough choice, and I’ve read several of the entries three or four times each. In the end, I kept coming back to “Dolphin Link” by Jim Cook. He successfully transported me into a future setting that was both fascinating and thought-provoking. That holographic monitor is an awesome gadget. To quote Will Smith in the movie Independence Day, “I got to get me one of them!” I loved the message – God is sovereign in ALL time periods.

Thanks to everyone for participating. I’m entering all of you into the drawing I’m conducting on May 19th. (For details, see Tracy ’s post below entitled “Attn Pixels: Shhhh! Another Way to Win!”) You’re an absolutely awesome bunch of writers. May God bless you as you pursue your writing endeavors.

Congratulations, Jim!

About our winner:

Jim Cook is 64-years-old. He has been married for 43 years, has one married daughter and two grandsons (Elijah and Jonah, of course!).

The son of a pioneer missionary to Utah and the Navajo Nation, Jim attended Moody Bible Institute, is active in his church, where he teaches Adult Sunday School and Bible Study from time to time. He also preaches occasionally and participates in services at the Rescue Mission of SaltLake.

Jim is an active member of the Utah Christian Writers Fellowship. He has a completed young adult novel seeking a publisher. You can read the first chapter online.

For more information, visit Jim's Web site.

Special thanks to Virginia Smith for judging this contest - I know your job was difficult choosing just one winner! Pixels - get a copy of Sincerely, Mayla - or any of Ginny's books - you'll soon have a favorite author to recommend to all your friends.

And special thanks to all participants - you are what makes Pix-N-Pens so special!

More contests and books coming up next week - and don't forget about the house essay contest! Get your entry in now - deadline for entry and fee is MAY 30th. You could win a HOUSE!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Entry #9: Keywords - In All Things

In All Things
By Karri Compton

I hated it when Trey was right.

"God has seen us through hard times before. He's not going to let us down now."

Clamping my hands over my ears did no good, since I couldn't do that and hold the brown paper bag over my mouth simultaneously. Why did I always have to hyperventilate when I was stressed?

"I know that, honey, but four kids on your miniature salary in a two bedroom house? We'll have to sell furniture, move, beg on the streets…" I had a knack for hyperbole. Trey was unfazed, as usual. "I'll look like a whale on the beach this summer."

"Being pregnant is a blessing. In all things give thanks. And you'll look cute as can be pregnant on the beach." With that, Trey exited the bedroom.

I kept my head and swallowed the sarcasm that threatened to erupt. Cute. Yeah, right. Lovely thoughts, but I detested the words. Twins did not fit into my plan. My two existing children taxed my sanity and bank book enough. I had been unemployed since my first child was born, if you can call being a full-time stay-at-home mom unemployed. More kids meant less money. What was God thinking?

Trust me. Oh great. First my husband preaches at me and now God. Were hormones making me batty already?

I placed the brown bag down on the bed and inhaled a calming breath. Fine. If God destined us for the poor house, great. I would submit. That didn't mean I had to like it.

From the other room, Trey's cell phone twittered. What a grand time for a phone conversation. Moments later, he stole back into our room. His face told me the other shoe had dropped.
"Dear God, what is it now?" I fought to maintain what little composure I had left.

"It's my grandmother Austyn. They've put her in hospice. We'll have to drive up the coast right away. She may not last the night." A lone tear leaked from his eye.

I sat there, open-mouthed and red-eyed. Talk about shock. Grandmother Austyn had been my favorite relative ever since I had met her ten years ago. She often told us stories about her youthful adventures, about her surfer husband and wild vacations they had taken. I thought about the dolphin necklace she had given me last year as an early bequeathal. She got it from Hawaii over thirty years ago during a vacation/surfing competition and wanted me, her only granddaughter, to have it.

I snapped out of my reverie and went to give Trey a hug. I had almost forgotten that he would be grieving, too.

"Remember what you just told me, hon," I whispered in his ear. "God has not abandoned us. In all things…" And we held each other.

Submitted by
Karri Compton

Entry #8: Keywords - Dolphin Link

by Jim Cook

“Fifteen hundred solars.” The old man rubbed his hands together, skinny wrists thrusting out of colorful robes, and flashed a toothless grin. His shouted words were almost lost in the unremitting clamor of the bazaar.

Behind the merchant, a thinly-veiled woman danced and whirled to inaudible music that was lost in the cacophony, a distraction, Elijah knew, intended to break the concentration of the wealthy tourist.

Not that distraction was needed. Even though light years removed from the primitive planetary souk, the sensitive probes of the holographic monitor brought the market to him, complete with a full realization of the pressure and excitement of the shouting, frenzied crowd. He felt even the stifling warmth of the narrow rug-covered corridor, the pressing bodies on all sides.

And the smells. Chief among them was the scent of the decaying goat’s head in the meat corridor behind the bauble merchants, a delicacy he was glad to avoid. Holographic flies swirled around his head, validating the facsimile. The scent of the female tourist’s perfume, no doubt a defense against the stink of the market, made him want to sneeze.

Leaning forward, he focused on the object in the woman’s hands. The merchant’s eyes flickered as the movement caught his attention, then resumed his quick patter. The intruder was of no concern to him.

The remote projection of the holographic unit was camouflaged as a burqa-wearing female, and was thus practically invisible in the androgynous third-planet culture.

Fifteen hundred solars seemed to Elijah a reasonable price, perhaps even low, as he peered over the woman’s shoulder and examined the 14-carat gold dolphin link bracelet she held. The beautiful craftsmanship seemed to bring the tiny sea creatures to life. He wondered, as on other occasions when similar jewelry had been sold, why the old man had not begun the haggling at a higher level.

They settled at a mere one thousand solars, the woman arrogantly jubilant with her victory over an ignorant hawker. As she moved away clutching her prize, the elderly merchant snapped his fingers. Two young men quickly rolled up the intricately woven tapestry that formed the booth, disappearing quickly along with the owner and the dancer in the opposite direction from that the departing customer had taken.

“Disconnect.” The bazaar disappeared at Elijah’s command to be replaced by blank walls. As used to it as he was, the sudden change was still disconcerting. Automatically, he reached for a tube of synthstim laced with pain blocker. The total submergence in the holoprojection always left him with the mother—no, the grandmother—of all headaches for up to an hour afterward.
He dimmed the lights and leaned back against the command couch, eyes closed, as he let the drugs do their work. Time to consider what he had seen. Time to use the little gray cells, as his favorite armchair detective would say, to put resolution to the Pisces project.

On more than thirty planets across the galaxy, he had witnessed the same transaction take place again and again. The setting changed, sometimes a bazaar, sometimes a shopping mall, a private solon, even a beach, but always it was the same. An exquisitely crafted dolphin link bracelet was sold at a fraction of its value by a trader who was never seen again. One per planet. No more, no less.

And in each case, within six months time the planet had disintegrated into social chaos. Religious institutions had emptied by the score. Governments had fallen and millions had died in the aftermath.

Elijah had arranged to have one of the bracelets examined discreetly by technicians, whose reports had been indeterminate.

A few things he knew. A micro-needle hidden in the sculpture was triggered by body heat to inject the wearer with a stream of nannites. All attempts to analyze their function had failed. It was assumed, but not proven, that the self-replicating micro devices were somehow transferred from person to person until an entire population was infected, perhaps through bodily contact such as handshaking.

All of the technicians were agreed that the structures bore the mechanical design signature of the ProtoGnosis cult whose evangelical zeal was sweeping the galaxy despite all reason. This was consistent with the appearance of a large ProtoGnosis following on each of the thirty target planets shortly before the descent into chaos.

Members of ProtoGnosis had become commonly known by the nickname “the Antis” because of their doctrines of existential and empirical rationalism, ultimately characterized by disavowal of the concepts of God, creation, supernatural influence and absolute morality. Inevitably, some wit had immediately attached the moniker “the Uncles” to Christian communities whose interplanetary growth had stagnated.

A gentle buzzing sound terminated his brief vacation from unpleasant reality. With a sigh, he waved at a hidden proximity switch and the room became a tropical beach. Water fell from a high cataract to a pool in the white sand below, and plumes of cooling mist rose into a brilliant diamond-blue sky.

“About time, Uncle Elijah.” The young woman standing before the waterfall grinned teasingly, hair moving slightly at the touch of a gentle zephyr.

“What’s up, Elli?” Elijah was in no mood for verbal jousting. Uncle was a title, not a relationship. Elli always seemed to want to push it. Part of him tried to focus attention on the pulse of the ocean and the scent of seaweed as a distraction. Elli was more than appealing, and therefore more than dangerous.

“Jonah picked up a rumor.”

“We need more than rumors.” Distraction wasn’t working. It never did. One minute alone with Elli, even in a hologram, and he began to think how well she would fit the description of the woman of Proverbs 31. He wondered if the probes were sensitive enough to pick up pheremones.

Elli ignored the interruption. “Jonah followed up. He was able to hack one of Antis’ mainframes and got a full download of something code-named ‘Evangel’. It appears to be a project chart for spreading the ProtoGnostic gospel to the rim worlds using technology.”

“The nannites.”

“Exactly.” Elli cocked an eyebrow. “There were also some diagrams, specs and even code for the nannites. Apparently, they attack certain specific areas of cognitive function and plant false information. Anyone they touch becomes a believer.”

“Or a disbeliever.” The whole point of the ProtoGnostic cult seemed to be to produce a godless society. Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? It made no sense to him. Who would challenge the Almighty? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

“We suspected something like that.” Elijah felt anti-climax at the confirmation.

“There’s more. Jonah found a report. Long-term exposure to the nannites causes insanity.”

“How long?”

“Six months.” Elli looked at him significantly.

“Just long enough to destroy a planet.” Elijah pictured the chaos on the planets he had observed, the mindless descent into anarchy. The pain. The suffering. At the present moment, six planets were on that path. Plus, of course, the one about to begin its slide after today’s transaction at the souk. “Is there no cure?”

“None.” There were tears in Elli’s eyes now. “Why do they continue? Why let all those people die?”

Elijah shrugged. Why indeed? “Because Satan is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. He kills believers to prevent them from serving God. He kills unbelievers to prevent them from becoming believers. He always has. The Antis are just his latest surrogates.”

“But whole planets at a time!” Her face was pregnant with pain, and he knew he had nothing to counter the awfulness of it.

“Has Jonah any recommendation?”

“He suggests a virus.”

“Have him do it.” A virus would buy time. Time meant lives saved. Time to reach people for Christ.

Elli shuffled her feet in the sand. “Have you ever wondered?” she asked wistfully. “If there’s an easier way? Evangelism is so slow. People think they don’t need God. Maybe Jonah could alter the code to make people listen to the Gospel.”

She didn’t mean it of course. He could see it in her face.

“Does God need mechanical help? We’re to teach. He prepares hearts. No media, no cleverness can change that.”

“I know.” Elli said quietly. “Salvation is personal or it isn’t real.” She quoted softly, “It is the gift of God.”

The compassion on her face broke through his barriers. As though by themselves, his hands and arms which had been unemployed until now, moved to embrace her. She might be parsecs away, but in his arms she felt real. And right. Who can find a virtuous woman?

“Take the next transport,” he said. “I need you here.”

The battle with the Antis would continue. But suddenly he knew what he had almost forgotten. Priorities. God is in His heaven. The command was preach the Gospel, not fight the Antis. Let God be sovereign.

He wondered how long it would take for Elli to arrive home.

Submitted by
Jim Cook

Entry #7: Keywords - A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance
By Maxine Thomas

It was at times like these that she missed Charlie the most. The times when siblings and cousins got together to celebrate a new birth, a graduation or a birthday; the occasions when family willingly set aside the challenges of building careers and raising children and chose, instead, to relax in each others’ company. Today’s celebration was extra special, for she, Lily Richards, matriarch of the Richards clan, was the guest of honor. Scattered around the fireside room of the Blue Dolphin Inn, four generations of the Richards family had gathered to celebrate her birthday. But their presence only emphasized Charlie’s absence. How she wished he could be here with her, his chair next to hers, her hand snuggled within his warm fingers. But it had been nearly twenty years since Charlie had gone home to Glory, and she was left to celebrate her 90th birthday without him.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice from behind her interrupted her introspection. . Lily tried to turn her wheelchair in the direction of the voice, but someone at her shoulder beat her to it. Her grandson, Chuck, she guessed. He hadn’t left her side all evening. He really was a dear child though, according to his mother, he’d dropped out of college and in an attempt to find himself.

“A toast to our beloved Lily,” the voice continued. Someone stuck a glass in her hand. She sniffed at it and quickly set it aside with great disdain.

“Charles,” Lily waved a gnarled hand in Chuck’s direction. She refused to call him by the nickname. “I shall have a proper drink, if you please.”

“But Gram, your heart…your pills?”

Lily gave him her sternest stare over the top of her glasses. She would not drink a toast with apple juice. Not today. “Young man, I’ll have you know that my doctor authorized a drug holiday for the weekend”

“A vacation from your medication?”

“Precisely, and since it is my birthday, I shall have a glass of wine, please.”

The twinkle in her eye belied the sternness of her voice, and Chuck gave her a cheeky salute before going off to fulfill her wish. As Lily watched his retreating figure she wondered if this grandson of hers would ever overcome his gangly gait. He reminded her so much of Charlie. Same lanky arms, same loping stride. No wonder she felt a special affinity for the lad.

In a small platform in the corner, a jazz quartet began to play. In his day, Charlie would have been first on the floor, twirling her around two or three times before pulling her close. He loved jazz; loved to sing it, dance to it and play it on his old clarinet, and though he’d never had formal lessons, it was that love of jazz that provided the extra income when he found himself unemployed after leaving the army. Those had been lean times. They were married less than a year when she became pregnant with their first child. And he had no job. But Charlie was never one to give up hope. ‘Where’s your faith?’ he’d chide, his forehead warm against hers, his eyes burning deep into her soul. ‘Where’s your faith?’ Then he’d fold her into his arms and gently stroke her back.

Lily’s chin quivered at the memory. If she closed her eyes she could feel his lips brush her hair; relive the scent of his aftershave. I miss you Charlie.

“Dance, Gram?” Chuck asked, returning with a glass of champagne. Lily took the drink from his hand but shook her head. Dance? Of course not. She was in a wheelchair. What was the boy thinking?

Like a cloud, sadness began a slow descent upon Lily. Valiantly, she tried to shrug the feeling away, but it persisted. Her body curled against the back of her chair and her chin fell closer to her chest.

She must not be sad. She must not spoil the party.

“You’re missing Grampa.” Chuck’s words called her back. How did he know? It was uncanny how this grandson of hers was so tuned in to her feelings that he sensed the slightest change in her mood.

“I wonder what he’s doing up there?” Lily didn’t think she’d spoken out loud, but Chuck quickly knelt beside her and took her free hand in his.

“Well, Gram, I guess by now he’s all through walking those streets of gold. I bet he’s singing, playing some jazz, probably chatting with Peter or asking Paul to clarify something he wrote in one of his epistles.”

“Think he’s watching us celebrate?” Lily drained her glass and handed it to Chuck.

“I bet he is.” Chuck set the glass aside.

Lily’s eyes swept the across the sea of faces, loving each one. She and Charlie had done well. Of the people here at this party she was mother of six, aunt of seven, grandmother of eleven, great-grandmother of three with two expected to arrive at any time. She was blessed.

Charlie had gone home. Her own home-going was probably not far off. In the meantime she would enjoy the pleasures of family. She was truly blessed.

“Charles,” she squeezed the fingers linked with hers, “about that dance…”

Submitted by
Maxine Thomas

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Entry #6 - Keywords - Maui

By Jessica Nelson

"Grandmother's at it again." Sarah popped a carrot in her mouth. The crunch rolled through the restaurant. A few heads turned our way.

"What's Elaine done now?" Knowing Sarah's propensity for drama, it couldn't be too bad.

Sarah rolled her eyes. "She's going on vacation to Maui. Wants to meet a man."

I swigged my drink, trying to think of a suitable response while the Coke bit at my throat on its way down. Were Elaine's plans a big deal to me? No. But Sarah needed to be cajoled. No sense in her getting unemployed trying to rescue dear grandma from the sharks.

"Well," I said, tapping my fingers against the restaurant's plastic tabletop. "It could be worse."

"Sorry, Nikki." Sarah's blue eyes flashed like my diamond necklace does when I twist it under the church lights during service. "But finding a boyfriend? Ugh. She's seventy."

I shrugged. "Hey, at least she's not going to Cancun. That would give her a heart attack."

Sarah glared at me.

I looked away. Sarah wanted her grandma on a leash. But it wasn't right. We'd been friends since kindergarten and she'd always been the same. A little on the controlling side. She didn't believe in God and thought she was in charge.

But this was pushing it. Elaine had almost died last year from a stroke. She'd worked hard to get her independence back and I couldn't let Sarah take it away. Not that Elaine would listen to Sarah. But my headstrong friend wouldn't think twice of leaving her job in the dust to follow her grandma across the world.

Sarah took care of Elaine. I took care of Sarah.

"We could hire someone to watch Elaine." I smiled. The air conditioning vent behind me blew icy waves across my neck. It wasn't as cold as Sarah's eyes.

"Look, grandmother almost died. Died." Her voice rose with the d-word. "I'm quitting my job. She's not going anywhere without me."

Sighing, I reached out and took her hand. "Sarah, your grandma needs a break. You need to let her do this."

She yanked her hand away. "Sorry. I already gave my notice. In two days I'll lazing away in the sun, floating with dolphins." Annoyance made her voice higher than normal.

I sat back in my booth, crossed my arms, and bit my lip. "Who's gonna watch Jamie?"

A startled look crossed her face. I should've known she'd forget about babysitting.

I felt like crying so I bit my lip harder.

"I'm sure there's someone else." She tilted her head, gave me one of her sunny, I-love-you-so-much kind of smiles.

"Pickings are slim at midnight." I tried to keep my voice light. Didn't want her on the defensive.
As irresponsible as she could be, I've always known she loved Jamie. When I'd had Jamie we became roommates so that I could stay home with him during the day and she'd be there at night.

Now, a year later, it looked like my luck might've run out. I cleared my throat. "But if you really need to follow Elaine, go ahead." The words almost got stuck at my lips, but I forced them out. It wasn't her fault I'd had a baby young. Not her fault I'd departed from my values for a handsome face and smooth moves.

I shifted because my neck was freezing from the air conditioning vent. Sarah picked at her salad.

I picked at mine.

She'd go. We'd been friends long enough for me to know that she wouldn't stay. I blinked. My eyes were burning but I was afraid to cry. Tears might change her mind and that was the last thing I wanted.

And I didn't want my sister asking questions. She'd offered to watch Jamie so Sarah and I could go out. She'd feel guilty if she knew I'd need a babysitter at night. Would offer to watch Jamie despite her twelve hour shifts at the hospital.

No way. I blinked again. Seeing Brad Pitts's latest movie held no appeal now.

"So maybe I shouldn't go?" Sarah's voice was hesitant.

I bit some lettuce so I wouldn't have to answer. My foot tapped against the floor. I suppose I could hire a nanny at night, but the thought of trusting my child to a stranger scared me. There was always a day job. But then I'd lose my precious time with Jamie.

I finally looked at Sarah, hoping my eyes didn't look teary. She wet her lips.

"I guess Grandmother needs to do her thing." Sarah offered a slow smile.

My heart kicked into overdrive. But I took a deep breath. Sarah was spontaneous. I shouldn't get my hopes up.

Sarah's long, rose-pink fingernail tapped her chin. "You're right. She'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" I asked it slowly, hesitantly.

"Of course." Sarah's hands waved in the air. "Besides, I can't just leave you hanging like that. Grandmother has friends going, too. So she'll be fine."

"Okay." It didn't hurt so much to smile now.

Sarah winked at me. "Scared you, didn't I?"

"A little." Actually, my pulse still pounded in my ears and my fingers still trembled.

She wiped at her mouth, then pushed her blonde hair away from her face. "You know, we have a good thing going."

I nodded. "I don't know what I'd do without you." She'd really been a lifesaver for me and Jamie. "I hope you know how much I appreciate you," I added, my voice warm with relief.

"That's good." She grinned. It was the wide, beautiful smile she gave unsuspecting guys. Usually it amused me to see them do double-takes. But now it made me suspicious.

I felt my eyebrows lift. "Glad you know it."

"No," her grin grew wider, if possible. "I'm glad you realize how much I do for you, because I need to call in a favor."

My eyes narrowed. Had all of this been an act? "What?"

She leaned forward, eyes sparkling like little gems. "I'm pregnant."

Submitted by
Jessica Nelson

Attn Pixels: Shhhhh! Another way to win!

Hey Pixels - Virginia Smith just announced another giveaway for her books, and I'm letting all my special Pixels in on the secret! Her post reads:

My fifth novel, SINCERELY, MAYLA is on a publisher-sponsored blog tour this week. You can participate in the tour, and maybe even win a copy of both books featuring my quirky heroine. I'm conducting a drawing to give away copies of both JUST AS I AM and SINCERELY, MAYLA. Entering is easy - just tell me which review or interview you enjoyed the most. Some of the bloggers are - Peg Phifer, Sherry Kyle, Vicki Tiede, Tracy Ruckman (hers is the essay contest). The drawing occurs on Monday, May 19th. Details are here.

So hope on over to her Web site, and tell her you ALWAYS have the most fun at Pix-N-Pens! You could win BOTH books!


And keep those entries coming - don't we have some great ones already? Deadline is tomorrow.

Blog Tour: Healing Promises

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Healing Promises
(Multnomah Publishers - April 15, 2008)
Amy Wallace


Amy Wallace is the author of Ransomed Dreams, a homeschool mom, and a self-confessed chocoholic. She is a graduate of the Gwinnett County Citizens Police Academy and a contributing author of several books, including God Answers Moms’ Prayers and Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Diabetes. She lives with her husband and three children in Georgia.


Facing a new threat.

When FBI Agent Clint Rollins takes a bullet during a standoff, it might just save his life. But not even the ugly things he’s seen during his years working in the Crimes Against Children Unit could prepare him for the overwhelming powerlessness of hospital tests revealing an unexpected diagnosis. If only Sara weren’t retreating into doctor mode…he needs his wife now more than ever.

Frozen in fear.

Sara Rollins is an oncologist with a mission–beating cancer when she can, easing her patients’ suffering at the very least. Now the life of her tall Texan husband is at stake. She never let the odds steal her hope before, but in this case, the question of God’s healing promises is personal. Can she hold on to the truth she claimed to believe?

Faith under fire.

As Clint continues to track down a serial kidnapper despite his illness, former investigations haunt his nightmares, pushing him beyond solving the case into risking his life and career. Clint struggles to believe God is still the God of miracles. Especially when he needs not one, but two. Everything in his life is reduced to one all-important question: Can God be trusted?

If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Entry #5: Keywords - The Ego Has Landed

The Ego Has Landed
by Donald James Parker

"Space, the final frontier", starts out the memorable TV series Star Trek. I'm convinced that is a correct statement–if being applied to the space between our ears. Our brains are unbelievably powerful and complex computer-like machines. And one of the most amazing things about our ability to think is our capacity to analyze the perceptions that strike us and the opinions generated by those insights into the way the world works. In my many years of pondering the universe, I've come to the conclusion that truth is like an onion. Just when I think I've peeled away the last layer, I discover another one. My recent foray into the world of writing and publishing has caused me to do some more peeling. This layer I've exposed contains some very hard to swallow moral fiber. As I broach this topic, I feel like perhaps Einstein did when he revealed his theory of relativity. Some people got it, but most shook their heads. What I'm about to write will not be extremely popular and may alienate you. Do I care? Yes, but not enough to preclude doing what I feel led (hopefully by God) to say.

Ego is a very dangerous element of life. People such as Oprah are touting the importance of stroking the ego and feeding it. That perhaps fits perfectly into the mold of 'The World', but we as Christ followers are supposed to keep ourselves unspotted from "The world." How does ego come into play with that Heavenly directive, and what does this topic have to do with entertainment? I'm so glad you asked that question. I've come to the conclusion that the words Christian celebrity should constitute an oxymoron. Do they? I look around at the behavior of the modern world towards the few individuals who have the opportunity to strut their talents in front of the population of the globe. The term worship can be applied in some cases. I have a sneaking suspicion that God is not thrilled to see his children worship siblings because their visage appears on the big screen or the boob-tube or they've written best-selling books. Of course, I'm somewhat of an outspoken radical. I find a problem with clapping for someone who performs a beautiful song at church. I'd like to mentally clap for God for creating music and giving that person the beautiful voice and remain in an attitude of worship. We shouldn't attend church to inflate the ego of any pastor, teacher, performer, etcetera. We are called to love and encourage people. How does one do that without encouraging their ego? I'm afraid there is a very fine line.

I've dug into this dilemma fairly deeply, but believe me, I'm learning more as I type these words. As a writer, it makes me feel good to have people say nice things about my work. Is that the fuel that keeps this engine going? It shouldn't be, but I realize how hard it is to withstand the natural desires we have to be appreciated by other humans. If God gave me the talent to write, how can I claim any right to boast or even feel proud about what He wrote through me? There are a couple of examples that I wish to use to illustrate my point. Peter said that he perceived that God was no respecter of persons. But God loves everybody, right? How can he love without respecting? What did Peter mean by "persons?" To me he meant position: mayor, movie star, author, singer, etcetera. God does not think you are more special because you've risen to the top rung of the ladder in a field of human achievement. His interest is having you descend to a level where you don't consider yourself above the people around you. Jesus said the greatest among us would be the servants of all. Evangelists and preachers are no exception to the rule. Instead of seeing men in flashy clothes and jewelry strutting their stuff on the stage, I want to see people washing the feet of a homeless nobody, not to show how humble they are (another ego trap), but to demonstrate true love that they have for God's adopted offspring. We, my friends, are called to be like the perfume that Mary Magdalene poured out on Jesus. In order for that aromatic scent to flow, we must be broken like the alabaster jar. That container goes by another name: the ego – the insatiable ego. I don't think it can ever be filled and therein lies part of the danger. If we are not set on letting it starve to death, we'll fill our days fighting to pamper it. I watched the movie of Peter Seller's life. He was one of my favorite comedians and a very funny guy. His real life was far from humorous, due to his incessant ego trips involving ballistic tantrums whenever people didn't treat him like the "star" he was.

One of the things that used to bug me was autograph seekers. I did that once as a young lad (my target was a football player named Bobby Bell). Later I had a chance to meet Ken Griffey Jr., who at the time was THE major league baseball star. I passed up the opportunity because I'd arrived at a position where I realized that seeking autographs is part of the vanity spoken about in Ecclesiastes. When I became a writer and the book signing thing was foisted upon me, I had a shift in attitude. My signature blurb is not an autograph but rather a little piece of me given willingly with a blessing upon them. When I get a book signed by an author, that is what I want to take away as well.

I recently sent a letter to a friend of mine who is in the movie profession. My letter was not complimentary. I challenged him that if he indeed was involved in spreading God's word, he needed to improve the quality of his product. Our ego tells us that what we've done is wonderful, and we stand up against the critics. The word "mine" echoes through our heads as we even contemplate someone else tampering with our work. Believe me. I am sitting here now imagining people criticizing my writing and how defensive I would probably be. I was on pins and needles for days after I sent that letter. A zillion questions went through my head. Would my friend still be my friend afterward? Did I hurt his feelings? Was I being a spokesman for God, or just doing a fleshly thing? He has not responded.

The human body is composed of about 75 trillion cells. Some of them comprise the hand, some the foot, some the heart, some the brain, etcetera. They don't strive to become a portion of a body part which is more important and brings more glory. Can you imagine the chaos in our system if the foot cells decided the heart was the cool place to be and migrated up? For example, how I wish every Christian in the limelight could grasp this vision. I think it would revolutionize our planet if those in positions of honor, will honor only Him who put them in those positions. Perhaps you can direct some of your prayers for our representatives in Hollywood and Nashville, etcetera, so they might get the vision of how their talents are to be used to serve, not to win admiration and glory for themselves. And please help those poor folks who make it to the top by not placing them on pedestals where they don't belong.

My own journey is far from complete, but I see the destination. I realize for me to really produce something that is beyond human criticism, it has to be delivered by the Holy Spirit, which means that I really would not be doing it at all. All I would be doing is emptying out the pipeline so that I could be a conduit for the pure words of God. That is not an easy task, and I need encouragement. The competition for men's attention and respect is unbelievable. I've come to the conclusion that just like the game of Thermonuclear War can never be won, so too is the game of satisfying the human ego. Everybody loses. Instead of waking up every day with the question, "how can I enhance my reputation today", I want to say, "Lord, what can I do today to lighten the burden of someone else's yoke?" On Christ the solid rock I stand – all other ground is sinking sand. The ego trip is an arduous climb up a slippery slope, one more slippery than helping your unemployed Grandmother play midwife for a pregnant dolphin on vacation from SeaWorld.

Submitted by
Donald James Parker

Entry #4: Keywords My Trip to New York

My Trip to New York
by Mary

On my way to New York, I ran into a woman who looked like she could be as old as my Great Grandmother. She was so full of wisdome and grace, she looked like she had seen everything there is to see. Sure enough she had seen the world and been through some tough situations. I could not believe I was sitting next to such an amazing person.

She began to tell me about her childhood, living in Florida she was able to have dolphins in her backyard and she knew them by name.

She got to learn about their life, including how they ate. In fact when she grew older she taught the world their secret ways of eating. She was a marine Bioligest untill the depression struck. When half of Americe as unemployed, she was too. This brought so much distruction to her family and eventually she got enough money to move to Ireland, who seemed to be doing fine at this time. She claimed it was only going to be a few months of vacation untill America got back on thier feet. This, though is where she completely changed. She met a sailor soon after her arrival and was trying to not fall in love.

She recieved a job at the local college as a Marine Biology Professor. She commited to herself that she would stay focused on her work and keep the sailor out of her mind.

A few months went by and she could keep him in the back of her mind and have no problems, but soon she became lonley and liked to talk to him for the company. Soon, he was all she could think about and they got married. They traveled the world together and had visited most every country. They decided to settle down when the woman became pregnat. So they decided to live in Spain.

After they had their family and their children grew up, she wanted to move back to the United States, right after the Vietnam war ended. They lived together for quite some time untill 1995 when her husband died. So the now much older woman began traveling through out the U.S. and sharing her story. She wants every one to travel and to see as much of the world as they can.

Now I have made it my goal to travel and be just like the woman I met on my trip to New York.

Submitted by

Entry #3: Keywords - Time for a Change

Time for a Change
by Debbie Roome

Grandmother had always been quirky, but her after-death instructions really took the cake. Mr Tomkins, her portly little lawyer, called me into his office. “Ah, Miss Jarvis.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve summoned you to discuss your grandmother’s will. There are some unusual stipulations that we need to discuss.” I leaned forward in my seat as he proceeded to read them out. “I leave my house to my granddaughter, Jenny Jarvis, on the condition that she lives in it for the next twelve months. I also leave her my cat and all the furnishings.” The bit I really wanted to hear came last. “Jenny is to be paid a monthly allowance until the year is up. If she does this, the house, along with my investments are to be transferred in to her name.”

“And then?” I pushed. “If I want to sell the house after a year, can I?”

Mr Tomkins peered over half-moon spectacles. “Yes. That would be in order.”

So there it was; the choice between bowing to Granny’s controlling wishes or continuing my humdrum existence in the city. I did what any self-respecting young woman would do. Resigned, gave notice on my apartment and hopped on a bus to the coast.

Did I mention that Grandmother’s house was in a village by the sea? And that it was more of a cottage than a house? It was actually one of the original dwellings in the area; a delightful structure of stone and dark wood. I had no intentions of staying longer than a year, but there was a certain charm about it.

Mr Tomkins had given me instructions on where to find Grandmother’s cat. She hadn’t owned a cat last time I visited but that was a few years ago. “Come through.” the attendant at the kitty hotel invited me. The cat was a large ginger by the name of Squat and greeted me by raking her claws down my arm. The young girl pulled a face. “I think she’s pregnant. Must be having a bad hormone day.”

I left with Squat in a cage and the details of the local vet in my purse. “He’s a dream.” the attendant told me. “His name’s Lyndon Clark and he looks like a cross between Brad Pitt and Jude Law.” I was more worried about the fat ferocious beast I would be sharing my home with.

Days passed and I settled into Grandmother’s cottage. To begin with it was like being on vacation. I lazed on the beach and took long walks in the silvery sand. Occasionally I would see a dolphin arching gracefully through the waves and would sit for hours, searching for more.

It was on the beach that I first met Lyndon. I was actually dozing on my towel when a hurricane of fur and sand launched itself at me. “Down, Mack! Get off the lady!” The deep-toned voice belonged to a gorgeous man who looked like a cross between Brad Pitt and Jude Law.

Half asleep, the words just fell out of my mouth. “Are you Lyndon Clark?” To cut a long story short, he said he was and I don’t know who was more embarrassed; him or me. Eventually he agreed to come and examine Squat in exchange for a mug of coffee. “The dog will have to stay outside.” I instructed. “Squat hates me as it is.” So Mack was tied up in disgrace while we idled an hour away, sipping coffee and chatting. We sat in the living room which had an expansive view across the ocean and watched ripples of peach, apricot and burgundy as the sun began to slide lower and lower.

Eventually Lyndon rose and said he needed to go; that he had an evening clinic. I coaxed Squat out of the spare room and he ran tapered fingers across her belly. “She’s definitely pregnant - probably has a week to go.” He smiled at my worried expression. “She shouldn’t have any problems. Cats do this all the time. Just give me a call if you have any concerns.”

After the excitement of his visit, life gradually took on a pattern and the novelty of a permanent vacation wore off. Being unemployed wasn’t as great as I thought it would be so I started watching the situations vacant column. Sadly, there was nothing that caught my eye. Hairdressing assistant, waitress, accounts clerk…nothing appealed.

To keep busy, I took to spending more time on the beach. I told myself I was looking for dolphins but deep down I knew I wasn’t. I was looking for a handsome vet who looked like a cross between Brad Pitt and Jude Law. He was a no-show and after a while, I knew I would have to make another plan.

For the first time, I was grateful for being lumbered with Squat. Ten days had passed since Lyndon’s visit and still no kittens ; a perfect excuse to book an appointment with him. I maneuvered the cat into her cage and off we went. “So no kittens yet?” Lyndon was even more gorgeous than I remembered and we ended up talking for twenty minutes before Squat got another mention. It was as I was leaving that he asked if I would be on the beach the next day.

“I’m there most days although I’m looking for a job at the moment.”

He paused. “My receptionist is leaving at month end.” he said. “Would you be interested in taking over?”

Would I ever! I danced home on a cloud and even when Squat produced seven kittens on my bed that night, it didn’t upset me at all.

Well, as they, the rest is history. Lyndon and I got married today and I won’t be selling Grandmother’s cottage after all. It’s the perfect home for newly weds with a cantankerous ginger cat and a rambunctious mongrel. I think Grandmother would smile if she could see us; maybe even say we were a little quirky.

Submitted by
Debbie Roome

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Entry #2: Keywords - River Reverie

River Reverie
by Sally Chambers

Callie stood alone on the weathered dock gazing out over the Indian River Lagoon. A light wind was all that made Florida’s oppressive midsummer heat bearable. She studied the western horizon as the sun slid down between earth and sky, gilding the edges of everything in its path with golden rays.

The dock paralleled the “thinking tree” of her youth. Like the tree had, the dock drew her to a comforting solitude, to a place she could think and pray.

She pushed her sunglasses back up on her nose, remembering one late fall morning in particular when she’d stood here alone, musing. She’d just received a phone call with the news she was pregnant, a late-life pregnancy she and Alan considered an “Elizabeth, Zacharias miracle.” She’d been filled with happiness, but also apprehension, at the thought of becoming a new mother. How many years ago? Michael, their only child, calm, quiet, strong, passionately firm in his faith—a mirror of his father—which didn’t make things easier for her.

Where was her faith? Apprehension tugged at her again. What did the future hold? Change was inevitable and had already impacted her life. Widowhood had seen to that. The good Lord willing, her move south from Ohio would be her last. She didn’t qualify as a snow-bird anymore, coming and going each year. The sale of their Ohio dream house-on-a-hill had been final two weeks ago, and Florida was home now.

She tugged on her wide-brimmed hat to keep it from sailing into the water as the breeze blew damp silver tendrils across her cheeks. She brushed the hair aside, uncertain whether the dampness was from perspiration or her tears. It just couldn’t be tears! She breathed in the moist air, determined that she and the Lord could hold things together.

A lone dolphin sounded off to her right. “Hello, Jack.” Callie spoke the words into the wind as the familiar dolphin broke the water again, shattering the reflected sunset into wiggling fragments.

Shattered. The word described Michael’s life—and now—hers too because she loved him so. She cringed at the unfairness. He’d returned from Afghanistan only to find he was out of a job, unemployed by a firm with no patience for dealing with an injured veteran.

Callie shook her head. Neither, apparently, did his wife of ten years. Julie had walked away from Michael and three-year-old Mary, leaving only a terse note. It had been a crushing blow. Tears had streamed down Michael’s face as he shared what had happened, “I’m on permanent vacation, Mom,” he’d told her from his wheelchair, “and I have a new assignment—a bum-legged, rolling, full-time dad.” His try for humor had wrenched her heart.

The fading sunset blurred along with Callie’s emotion, and she gripped the splintery wood railing as hard as she gripped her faith. Talk about sunsets, Lord, I’m in the sunset of my life! What can I do to help my son? It was a question she’d petitioned God about a thousand times. But she knew the answer. Every winter, she rattled around in the rambling house she and Alan built together long ago, here on the edge of the water. Two homes had become difficult to keep up. It was time to rethink the future of this one—and her own future. Could she do this? Could she deal with restructuring the house to accommodate a wheelchair and a little girl so full of energy and curiosity?

Nothing is impossible with God. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, Callie.

She’d trusted with all her heart before. Why should it be any different now. Her life had been full of joy, and walking through the joy-part was easy. But she’d also walked through heartbreak many times before with broken health and broken dreams—even losing Alan. She could do this.

I will never leave you or forsake you.

A low-flying jet heading north toward nearby Patrick Air Force Base interrupted her thoughts. The pilot ripped through the sky, leaving a white contrail in his wake. Callie watched deepening sunset colors claim the contrail, and the rumble of jet engines died with distance. She shivered in spite of the warmth as a light breeze pressed around her. As she had so many times in past winters, she sensed a quickening in her spirit as peace and strength enveloped her like a holy hug.

Thanks, Father. I love you.

Dock lights flickered on, illuminating the length of heavy wooden boards. The noise from the jet dissipated leaving only the sound of water lapping at the barnacle encrusted piers. But it had lingered long enough to cover the bouncing, tip-tap steps of a child, a little girl with a cloud of thick, red-gold hair, dressed in a pink and white checked sundress.

“Grandmother! I’m here! Mary’s here, Grandmother Callie!”

Callie heard the sweet lisped words before she saw Mary, and turned. A rush of red-gold, pink and white flew into her waiting arms. Michael was right behind his tiny daughter, wheeling toward them with a look that took Callie back to his little-boyhood. It was all she could do to maintain her composure. For the first time in months, he wore a smile on his face and quiet happiness shone in his eyes.

Mary didn’t stay in her grandmother’s arms for long. In seconds, she was on her tummy on the still sun-warmed boards with her hand out toward the bottlenose of the dolphin. Once again, Jack had made it his business to bring happiness to a child. Michael pulled his chair up beside Callie, laughing, looking toward the effusive gray mammal.

“Hey there, Jack. Nice welcome! Thanks.”

And Callie smiled, feeling fresh energy surge into her mind, body, and spirit as she put her hand on her son’s shoulder. With a deep breath and silent joy, she gave herself with her whole heart to God’s plans for the three of them, ready to welcome this new season of life.

Submitted by
Sally Chambers

Update: Win A House Entries Arriving

Entries for our Win-A-House Essay contest have started arriving! Only 17 days until deadline, so get your entry in soon! If you need contest details, click here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Entry #1: Keywords - Dear Diary

Dear Diary: I have just found out that I am six weeks pregnant! I am so happy! I haven't told John yet. Even though he is unemployed for now, we still have enough money stashed away to take our vacation to the lovely Bahamas. His Grandmother was celebrating her 68th birthday and that was when we both decided to take her along with us. My Mother told me she would watch our three year old son, so we were free to go! So off we went! As John and his Grandmother lay on the lovely beach soaking up the sun, I decided to take a refreshing dip in the ocean. As I was swimming I felt something nudge my leg. Oh my, I thought it was a shark but as I looked frantically around, I saw a beautiful dolphin swimming with me! What a wonderful vacation this turned out to be all of us. Until next time Dear Diary. The end.

Submitted by:

New Contest: Keywords

Our Special Guest Judge this week, Virginia Smith, chose the theme for this fun and unique contest, and she's inviting everyone to submit a SHORT STORY or an ESSAY - 1500 words or less - for your chance to win. Your story must naturally include all of the following five words in the story:


Get your entry to me at tracyruckman [at] gmail [dot] com by this Friday, May 16th, for your chance to win an autographed copy of Virginia Smith's latest release Sincerely, Mayla - the long-awaited sequel to Virginia's extraordinary debut novel, Just As I Am.

I'll post the entries as they arrive and announce the winner next weekend.

These novels, Just As I Am and Sincerely, Mayla are two of my very favorite books of all-time by any author. Mayla Strong is a character you won't soon forget, and a character you want to befriend, hang-out with, and emulate. I give these books away as gifts every chance I get, and after reading them, I bet you will, too!

Here's the back cover blurb for Sincerely, Mayla: (and don't you just love that cover?)

Will Mayla Strong’s life ever resemble normal? Just as she settles into a great place with God, everything else falls apart. In the course of a single week she loses her job, wrecks any chance at a relationship with Pastor Paul, gets the cold shoulder from her friend Stuart, and learns that Lindsey—the teenage sister of her late friend Alex—needs a place to stay. What good is being a control freak if nobody will do what you tell them?

Taking advantage of her newfound “vacation time,” Mayla flees to her grandmother’s house in Florida. But one by one, her problems follow . . . literally. In this touching sequel to Just As I Am, quirky Mayla Strong comes face-to-face with the responsibilities and joys of friends and family. As she tries to help her loved ones, Mayla begins to realize that God has all the answers—the trick is letting go long enough for Him prove it.

We have a winner...

Special Guest Judge Camy Tang sends the following email:

I pick number 6, because it makes me go, Why in the world is this person keeping someone's ashes on his kitchen table? If he loved her, wouldn't he have buried her? If he didn't, that promises an interesting story.

Congratulations, Debbie Roome. You are the winner of an autographed copy of Only Uni.

Great job to the other contestants - you made Camy's job difficult to choose this week! We appreciate your participation - may God bless your efforts and your writing.

Another contest announced momentarily, so stick around.

Thanks, Camy, for being our guest this week - you're always a blast!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Entry #12: First Lines

This First Lines entry is the second submitted by Jean Kinsey:

Thunder rumbled and lightning illuminated the far off sky as the first drops of rain splattered against the glass windowpanes. Kristi, oblivious to the approaching storm, stared into the night, clutching Danny's Teddy bear, moving her fingers lightly over its velvety brown fur. Her mother had given Danny the bear before he was born. God, how she missed her mother. She needed someone wise and loving to tell her she was doing the right thing, but her mother was gone. Kristi would have to rely on herself and God to find help for Danny.

Entry #11: First Lines

This First Lines entry is submitted by Jean Kinsey:

Nola read the credit report from the Internet. "My God, what's going on?" She owed thousands of dollars to credit cards she'd never even seen. Holding her breath, Nola keyed in her savings account password. Even though she half expected the figure before her eyes, she had to blink several times to let her brain focus on what was happening. Her Internet banking balance read fifty dollars!

Entry #10: First Lines

This First Lines entry is submitted by Carla Gade:

Rachael trod briskly down the frosty path. Her tightly lacedleather boots trampled crunchy leaves as they rustledunderneath her urgent steps.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Entry #9: First Lines

This First Lines entry is the second submitted by Delia Latham:

“I cannot believe I’m doing this!” Gypsy Lovell gazed in something akin to horror at the handsome oak doors before her. But it wasn’t the elegant entryway that made her tummy clench in distaste, nor was it the tiny barred window, which brought to mind horrid prison cells of yesteryear. What made her break out in tiny droplets of perspiration was the inscription up over the door: Solomon’s Gate. Your true love waits.

Entry #8: First Lines

This First Lines entry is the second submitted by Lynda Schab:

First let me say, my name is not Desi. But don’t tell my readers or they’ll start writing in to the Spring Lake Sun Times demanding to know the real name of their beloved columnist of “Single and Saved in the City.” Now, my little column tucked into the newspaper’s small Religion section isn’t exactly a magnet for hullabaloo. But if there is one thing I’ve learned in my two-year stint as Christian advice columnist it’s that religious people can get feisty from time to time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Entry #7: First Lines

This First Lines entry is a second entry submitted by Debbie Roome:

I failed my driving test four times. That was years ago and each time it was for silly little things. My biggest mistake was telling my offspring. As they moved into their teens, the subject popped up with embarrassing regularity and every error was pounced on. A hesitation, an amber light, a wrong choice of lane were all opportunities to laugh at mother.

(Yes, contest rules state you may enter up to two entries on the shorter pieces.)

Entry #6: First Lines

This First Lines entry is submitted by Debbie Roome:

Violet sat on the kitchen table, two kilograms of ash cocooned in polished rimu. She’d been there for five weeks now. Alone. Secluded. Guarded by his watchful eye. It was a temporary measure for soon Katy would insist on taking her; insist on bearing her off to do the right thing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Entry #5: First Lines

This First Lines entry is submitted by Carolyn Kenney:

What is the color of sunshine? The color of the sunshine is intangible in its physical characteristics. However, it produces an ethereal quality that fills us with inner peace. The color of sunshine is somewhat similar to the love of God. Although neither can be seen with our physical eyes, both are felt in the deep recesses of our heart.

Entry #4: First Lines

This First Lines entry comes from Dee Stewart:

If I didn’t know Jesus, I would’ve sold my soul a long time ago for a hot-looking man, who made me feel pretty. Instead on Friday mornings, I clung to the chancel rail and prayed that God would fill me up and help me forget what it felt like to be kissable. Yet every time after I stood up from that altar and walked out of that sanctuary I felt lonelier than I did when I came in…except for today. Today I felt my change coming.

Entry #3: First Lines

This First Lines entry is from Donald James Parker:

Brian felt a pair of strong hands seize him from behind immediately before he suffered the heat of being slammed into a brick wall, followed by the coldness of steel pressed against his throat in concert with a voice saying, "I don't know what your game is mister, but you're not one of us."