Saturday, August 30, 2008

We Have a Winner!

The winner of this week's Drawing Near to God is:

Carolyn Kenney!

Eva Marie Everson sent me the following e-mail:

Miriam and I visited Pix-N-Pens this morning. And we have chosen!!! The one we liked was "Sunset over the Sea of Galilee" though to be honest with you, we loved them all. We both have such a love for the Sea of G. so, that helped in our decision a bit. But we thought they were all well done! Good submissions!

Congratulations, Carolyn!

A very special thank you to Eva and Miriam for being our guests this week. We appreciate you, and pray God's blessings on you both, and on this GORGEOUS book!

Pixels - we have a new contest, and new guest judge coming up Monday, so come on back for your chance to win!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Entry #4: Drawing Near to God

This entry also comes from Pixel Rachel Winslett:

"Then God said, 'Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.'" Genesis 1:20

"Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind'; and it was so." Genesis 1:24

"God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. " Genesis 1:25

Entry #3: Drawing Near to God

These photos are submitted by Pixel Rachel Winslett:

"Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said,
'Let there be light'; and there was light." Genesis 1:2-3

"Then God said, 'Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear'; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:9-10

"Then God said, 'Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them'; and it was so." Genesis 1:11

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From Throbbing to Sniffling

Last week I had a throbbing headache and this week I have a raging cold. Add to that the start of school, my husband and I's new house half built, and too much on my desk at work, and you begin to see what I'm up against. Ah, but I'm not here to complain!

I recently read an article entitled "How to Make Great Photographs" and in that article the writer stated "Your camera has NOTHING to do with making great photos. You have to master technique of course, but that's just a burden to get out of the way to free yourself to tackle the really hard part. The hard part is saying something with your images." I think my goal with each photograph has always been to say something, something about myself, something about that location, object, or animal. I am doing more than creating visual imagery; I am communicating.

Photography is all about communication. And the essence of that communication is knowing what will draw the viewers eye. On a recent photography outing with my daughter, I took a handful of images of our local town. For the most part, they didn't please me - too dark, not sharp, too busy. It seems I have been concentrating on bugs so much that I am out of step with taking city scenes.

Then I found this shot. So, okay, it's a restroom sign. But the starkness of the sign against the darker background really makes it jump out at me.


Still, it's not likely I'm going to go around taking photos of restroom signs. On the other hand, this shot I taken a number of years ago at a local garden comes back to mind. I still find it pretty funny!

Great Advice

But this blog is not about restroom signs either. It's about communication. So what do those two pictures communicate? Perhaps just that I have a lighter side sometimes, or perhaps that this nature photographer needs to work on her city scenes.

Each opportunity to take a photograph should, correctly, be studied for exposure, depth of field, and composition, and I do this by rote now without thinking about it. But it is really easy to get yourself into a box, where all you take are the same types of scenes, Part of what helps communication is variety. I "see" more about a photographer with the variety of images they produce, and sometimes also with what they do not.

Inspiration comes mostly from what you love, so I don't think I'll ever forsake my adoration of the natural world. But watching my daughter take photographs along side taught me something, that photographs are constantly speaking and telling stories. The old adage really is true, a picture DOES paint a thousand words.

Juvenile Red shouldered Hawk

Juvenile Red shouldered Hawk

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Equipping Freelance Writers

Equipping Freelance Writers
by Debbie Roome

Apart from the obvious pen and paper, there are basic items and equipment that can make the life of a freelance writer (FLW) much easier. Some of these are indispensable while others are nice-to-have extras. Start off with the essentials and add to your collection as you progress.

Office Space
In general, FLW work from home. It is important to have an official office area where you can work in peace and your papers won’t be moved around and interfered with. The ideal situation is a spare room or study with a desk, shelves and filing cabinet but many writers make do with a desk in the corner of a bedroom or a table in the kitchen.

Make sure you have all the basic requirements for an office. Include things such as a stapler, punch, scissors, pens, pencils, glue, sticky tape, erasers and of course, paper. Keep these in a cupboard or easily accessible place.

A FLW needs to be in touch with the world and this connection is often through the telephone. Look for features that will work with the type of writing you do. If you conduct interviews over the phone, a speakerphone will make life much easier. If you do a lot of faxing, buy a fax-phone combo. If you move around the house while talking, invest in a cordless phone. One with a built-in answering system is vital if you receive a lot of incoming calls. When out and about, make sure your mobile phone is always switched on and charged up.

These are very useful if you do a lot of interviewing. You can buy the handheld ones quite cheaply – either digital or with a small cassette tape inside. Make sure you ask permission to use them as not everyone likes being taped.

These days, a computer is probably the most essential tool that a writer has access to. The ideal situation is to have a desk top and a lap top and keep all information backed up on both machines. Make sure you keep your documents in logical, easy to find folders.

Internet Connection
A FLW can’t go wrong with a fast broadband connection. A huge amount of work is sourced and conducted over the internet and slow speeds can become a real hindrance. Look for a connection that gives a good speed as well as offering a reasonable cap.

Work processed on your computer may eventually need to be printed. With a small home office, a good idea is to invest in a printer/scanner/copier combo. This saves space and money and all the features come in very handy.

Photography and writing often end up as partners. A good quality photo can add the final touches to a well written article or story and will add to its value. A digital camera with at least 3.2 megapixels and an optical zoom will suffice for basic journalistic and internet work.

Prospective writers often have a lot of this equipment at home and it’s just a case of getting organized and setting it up into a home office. It really does make a difference to have a dedicated work space so make it your goal this week to arrange your space or if you have one already, improve it.

Next week, we’ll look at the 4 W’s of writing.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

Blog Tour: A Passion Redeemed

This week, the

is introducing

Revell (September 1, 2008)



Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She is a commercial writer for Maritz Travel, a published poet and a Golden Heart Finalist. Julie has a heart to write “Mainstream Inspirational,” reaching the 21st-century woman with compelling love stories laced with God’s precepts. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. A Passion Most Pure was her first novel.


No man can resist her charms. Or so she thought. Charity O'Connor is a woman who gets what she wants. Her stunning beauty and flirtatious ways have always succeeded with men. Until Mitch Dennehy, that is.

Brilliant and dangerously handsome, Mitch is a no-nonsense newspaperman who wants nothing to do with her. Charity burned him once, destroying his engagement to the only woman he ever truly loved. He won't play with matches again. But Charity has a plan to turn up the heat, hoping to ignite the heart of the man she loves. And she always gets what she wants--one way or another.

Or does she? Will her best-laid schemes win his love? Or will her seductive ways drive him away forever? Book 2 in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Redeemed will captivate your heart and stir your soul with a story of faith and redemption rising from the ashes of temptation, desire, and shame.

Praise for the first book in the series:

"Full of romance, humor, rivalry, and betrayal, A Passion Most Pure will captivate readers from the first page." --Historical Novels Review "Superb! Incredible!

"I loved Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure from the second I picked it up until the very last moment I stopped reading." --Armchair Interviews

"I devoured this book and loved every single page. . . . This is a thick, juicy read, and one I would pick up again in a heartbeat."

To read an excerpt from A Passion Redeemed, click HERE.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Entry #2: Drawing to God

This entry comes from Vicki Buchhold.

Blue Ridge Sunrise

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Entry #1: Drawing to God

This entry comes from Carolyn Kenney - three photos from the Holy Land on one of her recent trips there.This entry comes from Carolyn Kenney - three photos from the Holy Land on one of her recent trips there.
The Sea of Galilee taken from the Mount of Beatitudes.

Jesus' birthplace in the Church of the Nativity.

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee.

Updates and Contest Reminder

I'm crawling slowly back into the land of the connected after a computer crash last week. We have many activities going on here at Pix-N-Pens, so here's the latest update:

1) Be sure to get your photo entries in this week, for your chance to win Eva Marie Everson's GORGEOUS new book Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel. You can read the details below, or by clicking here.

2) Pix-N-Pens is getting a makeover! I'm so excited, and look forward to introducing our new design. It will be more user friendly, and easier to navigate between all the different options we offer here at PnP. Until then, we're going to continue posting our reviews, contests, and columns from Suzanne and Debbie, but the other weekly columns will be put on hold until then.

3) I'm still searching for bloggers. If you are a writer, and would like to blog here once a week in your own column, send me an email and we'll discuss the possibilities.

4) I'm thinking of announcing a new special contest when I introduce the new blog design, so tell your friends, and stay tuned!

Happy weekend, y'all!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Pounding of My Head

I am generally okay with last minute blog postings, though I do prefer to think them out in advance. This one crept up on me after I spent yesterday evening with a tremendous headache. Hence the title of this posting! Currently "it" is sitting behind my eyes just waiting to come back out.

My other topic of choice for today would be our really crappy weather. Tropical Storm Fay decided to meander across Florida and drop tremendous amounts of rain. The estimate for Melbourne, Florida (which is east of me) is up to almost 30"! Fortunately for us, we have been on the outskirts of it from every direction. But the results of this has been several days of wind, clouds, and rain.

So I am out looking for the sunshine and finding it only in photographs. When trying to visually represent sunshine in a photograph, I often prefer to allow some of the highlights to "blow out" more than normal. It is a fine line to walk because I still like to have a little more contrast between the shadow areas and the highlights.

In this image taken in 2002 with my previous digital camera, I chose to focus my exposure on the fern frond and let the background fall where it may.



You can also create the feel of sunlight by using it to backlight your subject. In this more recent photograph, I used the sunlight to enhance the colors of this tiny spider. Spiderwebs are themselves great subjects for this type of image.

Orchard Orbweaver

Charlotte, Orchard Orbweaver

This final example is one of my favorite photographs. I took this early one morning at a local game reserve. To capture the streaming sunlight, I had to spot meter on the brighter areas and allow the surrounding trees to expose a bit darker. In this case, I did not want to allow the highlights to "blow out" too much. If I had metered instead on the darker areas, the bands of sunshine would have been lost entirely in this image.

Morning Sunlight in the Oak Hammock

Morning Sunlight In The Oak Hammock

Often it is a matter of trial and error. It never hurts to take more than one photograph at different exposures, perhaps even using exposure bracketing. The more experience you have working this type of image, the better you will become at knowing how to meter for the effect you are trying to create.

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Defining Freelance Writing

This week, we wish to introduce a new regular columnist at Pix-N-Pens. Our regular Pixels will recognize the name because Debbie Roome has been a regular here at PnP since its debut.

Each Wednesday, Debbie will post a column about freelance writing - touching on topics for all skill levels - from beginner to professional. Please give Debbie a warm welcome with her first weekly column. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and one of us will provide an answer for you.

Defining Freelance Writing
by Debbie Roome

I began writing at the age of six. At seven I wrote my first “novel” - a fairy story in a spiral-bound note book. At eight I landed my first paying assignment - The Star newspaper in Johannesburg paid me $10 for a story they printed on their children’s page. From those early beginnings, I have diversified into many areas of freelance writing and find it a very fulfilling way to make a living.

What Does a Freelance Writer Do
There are many areas in which a freelance writer (FLW) can find work. Many of these are not immediately obvious, but can be quite lucrative. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

· News reporting for publications/radio or television
· General feature writing
· Specialized writing in specific areas of expertise
· Column writing
· Reviews
· Sports writing
· Compilation of manuals
· Ghost writing
· Newsletters for clubs/churches etc
· Advertising copy/brochures/fliers
· Speech writing
· Short stories for magazines
· Editing and proof reading
· Web site content
· Annual reports

Can I Become a FLW
Writers often have a natural aptitude for language, spelling, punctuation and grammar. English may have been their strongest subject at school and they love to write. This love is evident in the way they live. Do you keep a journal, write stories for your children or enjoy writing letters to friends? If so, you probably have the potential to become a FLW.

Do I Need Training to Become a FLW
Yes and no. There are many gifted writers who have no formal training in their art. They have built their careers from the bottom and have acquired the necessary skills on the way up. Having said that, training is available in myriad forms. If you have the chance or means to get some instruction, grab it with both hands. Look for opportunities such as these:

· One day writing seminars
· Local writing groups
· Correspondence courses
· Night school
· Degrees in communication and media studies
· Journalism courses
· Books about writing
· Competitions that offer critiques

What Characteristics Do I Need to Succeed as a FLW
There are several qualities that mark a successful FLW. First of all, you will need patience and perseverance. It takes time and effort to build up to a place where your writing can support you. You will also need a thick skin. Actually, a very thick skin. Even the best writers get dozens of rejections and you have to learn not to take them personally. If the editor rejecting your work gives you a reason, learn from it. It may be that your grammar was weak or it could be that the publication printed a similar piece of work quite recently. A successful FLW also has an enquiring mind and looks for opportunities. These can be as simple as writing a letter to a newspaper or approaching a club to see if they need someone to compile their monthly newsletters.

Writers have the potential to reach millions through their words. Words can shape lives, change thought patterns and bring healing. It is a great privilege to write and although there are days when the words just won’t come, I know that it’s only temporary. I have also learnt that God can take secular writing and open amazing opportunities for ministry...more about that in weeks to come.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions or if anything really struck a chord. I’d love to hear from you.

Next week, I’ll be looking at how to set up a home office and the basic equipment needed to work as a FLW.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Take an Armchair Tour & Photo Contest

I'm so very excited to tell you about today's guest judge and her latest release. The release of this book has been especially exciting for me, and when you see the beautiful photographs that pull you in and transport you to another time, another place, you'll probably feel that way, too.

Our special guest judge this week for a unique contest is Eva Marie Everson.

Eva Marie Everson grew up in a rural southern town in Georgia just outside of Savannah. She is married, has four children and four grandchildren, and lives in Central Florida. She taught Old Testament theology for six years at Life Training Center in Longwood, Florida and has written numerous articles for (including the acclaimed Falling Into The Bible series), and has had articles featured in numerous publications, including Christianity Today, Evangel, Christian Bride, Christian Retailing, The Godly BusinessWoman and Marriage Partnership magazines. Eva Marie has been interviewed by radio, television, newspaper, and Internet media outlets. In 2002 Eva Marie was one of six Christian journalists sent to Israel for a special ten-day press tour. She was forever changed.

Eva Marie’s work includes the award-winning titles Shadow of Dreams, Sex, Lies and the Media, and The Potluck Club. She has written and seen published over twenty titles including the recently released The Potluck Club Takes the Cake and Oasis: A Spa for Body & Soul. In 2008 & 2009 & 2010 look for more Potluck. 2009 will see the release of Things Left Unspoken and in 2010 her novel This Fine Life will be released. Eva Marie is a contributing author and/or editor to a number of other publications.

Eva Marie is a graduate & student of Andersonville Theological Seminary, past-president of AWSA’s (Advanced Writers & Speakers Association) steering committee and the recipient of their Member of the Year Award for 2002, past president of Word Weavers, a graduate of CLASS, a past panelist for The Writers View-2, and a member of a number of organizations for writers. She speaks and has spoken both nationally and internationally for women’s groups, churches, and at writers’ conferences & workshops.

Eva's co-author for today's featured book is Miriam Vamosh. Both authors are pictured above: Miriam on the left, Eva on the right.

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh is the author of Food in the Bible: from Adam’s Apple to the Last Supper, Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, Israel , Land of the Bible, Pathways Through The Land of the Hart, and Women of the Bible. She is a contributor to Fodor’s Travel Guide to Israel and is on staff as a text translator and contributor to the English edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz. Born in the U.S. , Feinberg has lived in Israel since 1970. For the past 30 years, she has been a tour educator, specializing in Christian pilgrimages. She has an MA in the field of Archaeology and Heritage.

About the Book:

This unique armchair tour of Israel includes four-color photographs, related scriptures, historical and archaeological information about each area, and a description of what it looks and feels like to be there today. Providing more than a coffee table book of slick photographs, authors Everson and Feinberg-Vamosh (one Christian, one Jewish) enlighten readers with a deeper understanding of the land of Israel-the land that holds not only God's story but the story of His people.

The Contest:

The intent of this book is to draw people to the heartbeat of God...through photos of His Holy Land. We realize not everyone has been to Israel, so we want you to show us either photos of Israel OR photos that reflect, for them, a drawing to intimacy with God.

Three photos per entry, please, but you may enter twice if you wish.

This is a 2-week contest, so you have until midnight Friday, August 29th, to get your entry to me at tracyruckman[at]gmail[dot]com. I'll post entries as they arrive.

The winner will receive an autographed copy of the beautiful keepsake book! So hurry - get your entries in soon!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Sound of Chickens

by Suzanne Williams

My life the last week has been very hectic. In short, I am running around like a chicken, scattering everything before me into the wind. But personally I am all about peace. I live for those still, quiet moments when no one is bothering you and there is nothing special you have to do.

Sometimes finding peace amidst the busyness of life is very difficult, and this week I have been very guilty of doing too much work. I knew one evening I had over done it when I realized my feet were hurting so badly I could not walk without tilting. So I have strengthened my resolve to let more things slide off my back and re-dedicated myself to locating quiet time.

This brings me to this week's topic, and no, it's not chicken photography. Can we photograph sound? I was thinking about this the other day and it seemed to me that sound or the obvious lack thereof could, in fact, be photographed.

I joined an online group in months past whose members are dedicated to recording natural sound. Listening to their recordings has been a fascinating journey through the senses. Just today I heard a bear sniff at the microphone, tumble over a seed feeder, and begin to lap it up. There was no picture, except for the one in my head, and he sounded as if he was in the room.

Another of my favorite recordings is of a thunderstorm. The first time I heard it, the crack of the thunder had me leaping out of my chair because it sounded so real. Yet a third favorite was a series of insect recordings. You'd think that would be mundane, but trust me by the end I was sitting there swatting at invisible mosquitoes.

In reverse, I realized a lot of my photographs depict sound. I believe that it is as much a product of the imagination to "hear" a photograph as it is to "see" a recording. A common example of this would be photographing waterfalls. There are 2 techniques, to stop the water in motion, using a fast shutter speed, or to slow it down, through the use of filters. Both have their place and can be used effectively.

These 2 photographs were taken at the same location. My daughter took the top shot and I the one beneath it.

Amicalola Falls, Georgia

Tumbling Waters, Amicacola Falls, Georgia

Just the same, there is the lack of sound. How can we depict quietness? Again, I think of water. The smooth texture of water can indicate peacefulness. I have always liked the following photograph. I took it several years ago while walking down a local trail. The perfect reflection broken only by the suspended leaves is a sign of quiet.

Saddle Creek Park, Lakeland, Florida

A Moment's Reflection, Saddle Creek Park, Lakeland, Florida

I have a challenge for you this week. I'm interested in how you'd photograph sound. Post a photo or a photo link to an image you've created that visualizes sound. Perhaps it is a bird singing, or a band playing, or children's laughter.

And don't forget to find quiet time for yourself. I think my quiet time writing this blog is about up as I just checked the clock. Gotta go...

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Blog Tour & Review: That's (Not Exactly) Amore

I was so excited when this book arrived - it's one I'd heard about for some time, and I looked forward to reading it. I loved it! That's (Not Exactly) Amore was entertaining and lively, the setting vivid and real, and the characters quickly became my friends. One problem though - when the story ended, I still wanted more! Great book, excellent read, fun escape - get it, read it, tell your friends!

This week, the

is introducing

FaithWords (August 14, 2008)



Tracey Bateman published her first novel in 2000 and has been busy ever since. There are two other books in the Drama Queen Series, Catch A Rising Star (#1) and You Had Me At Goodbye (#2).

She learned to write by writing, and improved by listening to critique partners and editors. She has sold over 30 books in six years. She became a member of American Christian Fiction Writers in the early months of its inception in 2000 and served as president for a year.

Tracey loves Sci-fi, Lifetime movies, and Days of Our Lives (this is out of a 21 year habit of watching, rather than enjoyment of current storylines.)

She has been married to her husband Rusty for 18 years, has four kids, and lives in Lebanon, Missouri.


When Laini Sullivan lands a job designing Nick Pantalone's coffee shop, there are two problems: one, Nick's nephew Joe hates all of her ideas and two, Laini has to admit he's right--she's a disaster at design. Still, she can't risk losing the job. To compromise, Joe brings in help on the project, while Laini continues to bake the goodies that keep his customers lining up.Their relationship is moving along, so when new guy Officer Mark Hall implies that Joe's family is tied to the mob, Laini doesn't want to believe it. But things spin out of control when she meets the family, including "the uncles," who seem to confirm Mark's suspicions. To make things worse, Nana Pantalone makes it clear Laini isn't the kind of girl she has in mind for her grandson. Laini's not sure if she should give Joe the benefit of the doubt or just set her sites on Mark and fuhgetaboutit.
"Tracey draws us into the world of family and friendship with a few surprising twists along the way Bravo!"~RACHEL HAUCK, author of Diva NashVegas and Sweet Caroline

To read the first chapter of That's (Not Exactly) Amore, click HERE.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beyond Me

I'm pleased to welcome friend and prolific author Kathi Macias as our special guest judge this week.

Kathi Macias, popular speaker and prolific author, is an Angel-award winning writer who has published twenty-one books and hundreds of articles. Whether keyboarding her latest book, keynoting a conference, or riding on the back of her husband's Harley, Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias is a lady on a mission to communicate God’s vision. Her insightful words—filled with passion, humor and soul nourishment—can be found weekly in both English and Spanish in the devotional section of, and her newest book, BEYOND ME: Living a You-First Life in a Me-First World, is available online and in bookstores everywhere. To book Kathi for your next event, email For more information, visit

From the Back Cover:

See Past Yourself. Come face-to-face with the cause of Christ.

Just as you peer into a mirror and see your reflection, author Kathi Macias in Beyond Me invites you to delve into Scripture and come face-to-face with the power of God's word as He reveals to you the image of a true disciple. If you are dissatisfied with your present spiritual condition, Beyond Me will help you understand the calling, the costs, and the benefits of true discipleship. As you read the powerful stories and embrace the practical insights on how to model a life focused on God and others, you will begin to reflect the image of a true disciple - one who seeks an intimate relationship with the Lord and His people, and one who serves Him and others with your whole heart. Those around you will see the reflection of Christ.

What others are saying:

Kathi Macias’s Beyond Me gently reaches out to readers and says, ‘There is more for you in the Christian life.’ No matter where we are on the spiritual pathway, she warmly encourages us to keep moving forward. Her section on the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, contains some of the most insightful writing I’ve read in a long time.

“With any book by Kathi Macias, I read along, nod, and agree with what she writes. Without warning, she hits me with an insight or an observation. I pause, I smile and say, ‘I hadn't thought of that before.’ I don't have that kind of reaction from many books, and Macias's little nuggets make the book worth reading.”
—Cecil Murphey, co-author of 90 Minutes in Heaven and more than 100 other books.

Now for the contest.

In 250 words or less, tell us "What Makes a 'Beyond-Me' Christian?"
Submit your entries to me at tracyruckman[at]gmail[dot]com by Friday, midnight, for your chance to win an autographed copy of Kathi's book.

And feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What are YOUR comfort foods?

Comfort Foods

by Tracy Ruckman

Saturdays are now fun days, so you’ll read many different subjects in the coming weeks. As I was thinking about the today's topic, food kept coming to mind, and I decided that “comfort food” is something we all identify with.

What are your comfort foods? Making most people's lists are mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, banana pudding. But one day years ago, my mom, siblings, and I were discussing our own comfort foods and I realized the only thing our lists had in common were none of our choices were the same as others!

Top comfort foods for me are:

  • my homemade spaghetti (recipe and photo below)

  • pizza - all different kinds, but I especially like thin crispy crusts with double pepperoni!

  • Chinese food from Peking Palace – specifically Moo Goo Gai Pan, Wonton Soup, and an egg roll. When I'm in Georgia visiting my boys, I try to get by Ming Moon in Cartersville - Tony makes the BEST Chinese food ever made!

  • Russia tea (recipe below)

  • My “Italy” hot chocolate (recipe below)

Hope you enjoy my recipes. Share with us some of your own comfort foods, and I may be in touch with you to share YOUR recipes!

Tracy’s Homemade Spaghetti

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion,chopped
Garlic Powder
2 cans, 14-15 oz., diced tomatoes
2 cans, 14-15 oz., tomato sauce
Salt & pepper, to taste

Brown and drain the ground beef, add onion, and cook until soft. Add the seasonings next. I purposely didn’t put amounts, because I don’t use regular measures. For the garlic powder, sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons over the ground beef and onions. Add more if you like lots of flavor. For basil and oregano, pour about a teaspoon of each, one at a time, into the palm of your hand, and crush before putting in the pot. I do this three times for each herb. Crushing the dried herbs brings out more flavor, and heating them quickly with the browning meat flavors the meat before mixing in the sauces. After the seasonings have been added, stir for a couple of minutes to mix and heat, then add tomatoes and sauce. Stir well, then cook on low heat a minimum of two hours, but three to four is even better. Longer than that, you’ll want to add about ¾ of a can of water when you add the tomatoes, otherwise the sauce will get too thick. Serve over your choice of pasta.

Grandma’s Russian Tea

½ cup instant tea (I try to get lemon-flavored, unsweetened if possible – not just sugar-free, but completely unsweet)
2 cups Tang
1 package of Country Time lemonade (or equivalent powder from canister to make 2 quarts)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all ingredients together and store in airtight container. For each serving, place 2-3 teaspoons of mixture in cup and add boiling water. Stir until mixed well.

When I visited Venice, Italy several years ago, I chose hot chocolate for breakfast the very first morning and I was hooked. Their version was so rich, so thick, so creamy – I could ALMOST stand my spoon up in it. Every day for a week, I drank it, and when I got home, I started having withdrawals.

I searched online for recipes and went to work in my testing lab. Nothing compared. I do realize atmosphere might have something to do with it, but FINALLY, I created a version very close in taste to the original. I realize the only resemblance to the real thing is the heat, but the taste satisfies me just the same.

Tracy’s “Italy” Hot Chocolate

½ cup Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup Splenda
Heavy whipping cream

Mix the cocoa and Splenda together in a container or plastic bag to use as needed. For each cup of hot chocolate, put 2-3 tablespoons of cocoa mixture in a pot and one tablespoon of water. Stir over low heat until blended well. Add one cup (I usually measure it in the cup I’ll drink out of so the amount of milk is just right) of heavy cream for each serving, and heat to desired temperature, stirring frequently.

Hope you enjoy my recipes. If you try them, let me know what you think!

Share with us some of YOUR comfort foods in the comments below, and I may feature you and your recipes in an upcoming column!

Friday, August 8, 2008

First Impressions

First Impressions

© 2008 by Virginia Smith

Last year I critiqued a novel for someone I’d never worked with before. When he sent me his manuscript, he warned me in the cover letter, “It starts out a little slow, but the story really gets going in chapter 5.” I told him, “Throw away the first four chapters. Your story begins with chapter 5.”

As writers, we have only a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention and pull them into our stories. In his book, The Art of Fiction, John Gardner says of readers:

We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images…

Five words! That’s how quickly our readers begin forming impressions of our stories. Our job as fiction writers is to make the first words of our novel the best we can write. Some authors go so far as to say the first line of a book should be the best in the entire book, and they spend hours crafting the perfect opening.

You’ve probably heard the ‘bookstore shopper’ talk. Put yourself in the shoes of a reader. (And if you’re a writer, I certainly hope you’re an avid reader, too!) You go into the bookstore, scan the shelf, and pick up a book that catches your eye for one reason or another. You read the back cover to see if the story sounds interesting, and then you open it up to the first page.

Your impression of the story begins with the first sentence. If the story grabs you immediately, there’s a good possibility you’re going to buy the book. If it’s a little slow starting, you might read a paragraph or two before you make your decision. You do not, however, read half the book to see where the story really gets going. If it doesn’t engage your interest right away, you’re going to put the book back on the shelf and pick up another one.

How does a writer make a good first impression? First, let’s talk about what not to do:

Don’t start with backstory.

A common mistake of beginning writers is spending the first few pages, or even chapters, trying to give all the background. They indulge in an information dump to describe how the main character got to the point where the story starts. This doesn’t create a good first impression. Consider a story that begins with an airplane trip. Do you really want to read about the plane being fueled, the passengers filing on to find their seats, the flight attendant giving the ‘how to fasten your seatbelt’ talk, the plane rolling down the runway, gaining speed, lifting off, and finally, soaring into the clouds? Of course not. Skip the boring details! Instead, begin with the plane at 32000 feet when the main character glances out the window and notices flames shooting out of the right engine, the oxygen masks drop from above, and the lady in row three screams, “We’re all going to die!”

Don’t start with a biography.

The reader does not need to know everything about your character’s past right up front. Nor do they need a physical description immediately. Instead, consider starting with a statement that relays the character’s personality or current intriguing situation. Then you can relay those other details naturally, a few at a time, as the story unfolds.

Don’t start with a weather report.

Do you remember when Snoopy sat down at his typewriter to write the great American novel? How did he begin? It was a dark and stormy night… Starting with the weather has been done over and over, until it’s now considered cliché, and boring. Above all, you want to avoid boring your reader.

So, now that you know what not to do, how should you start your story? From our airplane illustration, we’ve seen how effective plunging the reader immediately into the story’s action can be. But what about that critical first sentence?

Introduce the character’s personality.

You don’t want to slow the story down with dull biographical details, but you may want your reader to feel drawn to your main character right up front. Angela Hunt’s Christy nominated novel, Doesn’t She Look Natural, begins with this sentence:

A grieving woman, I’ve decided, is like a crème brulee: she begins in a liquid state, endures a period of searing heat, and eventually develops a scablike crust.

That opening line grabs our interest. It makes us curious about the kind of woman who would make a statement like that. We wonder what loss she is grieving, and what the period of searing heat was for her. And it also gives us an idea of this character’s tongue-in-cheek humor, which establishes the tone of the book. A good beginning!

Set the tone.

In Crimson Eve, Brandilyn Collins starts with this piece of dialogue:

“Really, is a heinous murder any reason to devalue such a glorious piece of real estate?”

This is a totally different feeling than Hunt’s book – we immediately know we’re in for a different type of story with this one. The phrase heinous murder tells us that. We’re curious to know about the piece of real estate that was the setting of such a gruesome crime. We want to know more about the character who made this chilling statement – who could dismiss this crime so casually? It’s a good beginning!

Pique the reader’s curiosity.

One of my all-time favorite beginnings comes from C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

In that opening we’re introduced to one of the main characters, and we see right up front that we’re not going like him very much. There’s a touch of dry humor apparent in the statement that I find appealing. I’m eager to meet this boy, to find out what he could possibly have done to deserve such a horrible name. Another good beginning!

If I pick up any of those books in a bookstore, I’m hooked. I might buy the book based on that first sentence alone. If not, I’m at least going to keep reading to see if the rest of the writing appeals to me. But that first sentence has served its purpose – it has snagged my interest.

Spend some time on your opening. Consider the tone, the character, the feeling you want to relay to your reader right off the bat. First impressions do count!

Virginia Smith left her twenty-year career as a corporate director to become a full time writer and speaker with the release of her first novel Just As I Am. Earlier this year she was honored to be named Writer of the Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. She writes mystery/suspense novels, such as her upcoming A Taste of Murder, as well as humorous heart-touching stories like Stuck in the Middle and Sincerely, Mayla. Visit her website at

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Entry #1: White Wolf

This entry comes from Pixel Debbie Roome:

Brian and Tommy make a plan to go out for the day and track down Windwalker as they want to hear more about the legend of the white wolf. They leave a note for their parents saying they have gone for a hike in the woods. As dawn breaks they set off with backpacks and enough food to last the day. Brian is unsure of where Windwalker’s cabin is but eventually the boys stumble across it.

Windwalker tells the boys he knows they have come to hear more about the white wolf. They share a meal as he tells many stories about this ancient legend. As mid-afternoon approaches, Brian says they need to set off on their return journey.

He chooses the wrong path and soon they are lost in a thick forest area. After hours of walking, they are tired and distraught. Brian admits he doesn’t know what to do next so they sit down to have a snack and discuss the options. Night falls and they decide to seek shelter and resume their search the next morning. They find a cave and enter, not realizing it is home to a vicious bear. She corners the boys and after throwing their provisions to her, Brian cries out for the white wolf to save them.

It appears and distracts the bear while they escape. It then leads them through the trees until they hear a search party calling their names. The wolf melts quietly into the midnight darkness.

Don't Forget Your Manual

By Suzanne Williams

I bought a new camera this year, an Olympus SP 550 UZ. As do all digital cameras, it has its good points and bad points. Its good point would be the 18x zoom capabilities. I have been able to capture photographs that I could not with my previous digital camera. There is nothing like standing a great distance away and taking a photograph that looks like you were much closer. On the other hand, one of its bad points involves automatic focus.

I probably don’t need to point out that focus is extremely important in a photograph. The choice of what gets the sharpest focus can make or break a photo. Well, I realized early on that given a small subject in front of a busy background, this camera becomes incredibly confused. The background will be sharp while the actual subject matter is totally lost.

I suppose one shouldn’t give inanimate objects a personality, but somehow my new camera has taken on one. It’s either hopped up on zoom, “Yeah! Awesome!” or incredibly confused by where to focus, “I can’t find it. Where’d it go?”

I am all about buying the latest gear, the best camera, the longest lens. DSLRs for the masses, I say. But even given you own one, which I do not, all cameras have their flaws. A good photographer will always learn to work around their camera’s capabilities. If your camera has a situation that it particularly doesn’t do well, then focus your attention on what it does do well instead. However, there will always be times when you just “have to have” an image, but you find that your camera won’t let you have it.

So I asked myself how I could overcome my camera’s shortfall; how can I help it overcome its confusion? And as a result, I began playing around with manual focusing settings. Now to go from being able to stand 10 feet away and still zoom in macro close to that dragonfly, to using manual zoom takes quite an adjustment, and the biggest adjustment is body position.

Whenever you are using manual focus, you will have to move your physical location. To put it simply, walk backwards or forwards until the subject is in focus. Sometimes it is only a matter of leaning your torso and at others you have to physically get up. I soon discovered that this turns photography into a physical sport. After an hour in the grass chasing the tiniest of damselflies, I was exhausted, my knees hurt, and my back ached.

But I will say this, I just can’t argue with the results. I would never have been able to capture this damselfly wheel without using manual focus. By fixing the focus distance at about 3 feet, adjusting where I was sitting in the grass, and paying close attention to my LCD screen, I was able to take a photograph I would have missed otherwise.

This method also works well for moving objects. One afternoon I sat and photographed bees nectaring on pickerel blossoms. Using manual focus enabled me to not worry about focus at all, but concentrate instead on the movement of the bees to and from particular flowers. And it eliminated the waiting time I would ordinarily have between photographs.

I feel like we have overcome a great obstacle, my camera and I, and she is grateful to me. Okay, maybe not, but I did learn something. There is a reason the manufacturer puts all those manual settings in there. And as a photographer, I need to learn to use them and, more importantly, remember to use them because sometimes they are the best way to achieve optimum results.

Rambur's Forktail Damselflies in a mating wheel

Rambur's Forktail Damselfly Wheel

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Blog Tour: All Through the Night

I haven't yet finished this book, but I'm loving it so far, and I've NEVER been disappointed with a Davis Bunn novel! At one point several years ago, I'd read every one of his books that the library owned in the town where I lived - I used to beg them to hurry and get more!

This week, the

is introducing

(Bethany House - July 1, 2008)



Davis Bunn is an internationally-acclaimed author who has sold more than six million books in fifteen languages. His audiences spans reading genres from high drama and action thrillers to heartwarming relationship stories, in both contemporary and historical settings.

Honored with three Christy Awards for excellence in historical and suspense fiction, his bestsellers include My Soul To Keep, and Full Circle . A sought-after lecturer in the art of writing, Bunn was named Novelist in Residence at Regent's Park College, Oxford University.

He and his wife, Isabella, make their home in Florida for some of each year, and spend the rest near Oxford, England, where they each teach and write.


A loner, trying to forget. A community--and a woman--who need for him to remember...

Broken relationships and unfulfilled promises scatter themselves across Wayne's past like burned-out craters. His background in military special-ops is something he's trying to forget. But when he gets himself sweet-talked into helping a quirky group of seniors who've been scammed, he discovers it will take a lot more than muscle and nerve. Breach a conman's high-security estate to recover stolen money? No problem. Become part of community? Love again? Not on your life.

A lawyer with her own painful past is intrigued by Wayne and asks him to take on another unusual case--Tatanya's wealthy employer believes he's been visited angel? Did a messenger from God in a pinstripe suit truly bring a divine warning, or is this merely another cruel hoax? Tatanya is willing to trust Wayne with her boss's life, but she's not sure she's ready to trust him with her own wounded heart.

With a financial analyst's skills and a warrior's tenacity, Wayne races to unmask dangerous forces hiding behind a corporate veil. But he will need all his resources--and then some--against an unseen enemy bent on destroying his fragile bid for a second chance at life...and love.

All he wanted was to put his past behind him.

But now it's the only thing that will save them...

To read the first chapter of All Through The Night, click HERE.

Freelance Writing: Measuring Up

Measuring Up
By Amy Brozio-Andrews

I loved participating in summer enrichment programs when I was a kid. Whenever possible, I’d always want to sign up for the writing classes; anything from journalism to screenwriting to creative writing – that’s where I wanted to be. Most of these programs offered open enrollment town-wide, and included kids from about a dozen different school districts (I grew up on Long Island, where the townships are pretty big). Most years, I enjoyed the six weeks I spent learning and writing with new friends, and once the class was over, promises to write and call (way before email) usually fell by the wayside as early as Columbus Day, as we all got wrapped up in our school-year activities and 'regular' friends. Summer classes and summer friends weren’t usually thought of again, until the next June, and by then, new classes and friends quickly replaced old ones. Except for one class…

I was about fourteen when I signed up for a creative writing class. There were about twelve of us in the class, and we were a pretty tight group. We all lived relatively close, and were able to hang out socially a couple of times; it must have been a really quiet summer, or we were really annoying teenagers to be able to get our parents to drive us places… I’m still not sure which it was.

We did daily writing exercises in class, went on field trips, and put together one issue of a literary magazine (hey, it was only six weeks!). Our final project was to write a short story on anything we wanted. These were read and critiqued by the whole class, and printed in our magazine. I don’t even remember what I wrote about, although I must have a copy of it in a box somewhere, but I vividly remember the story written by one of my classmates whom I’ll call Joe.

Joe wrote the kind of story I’d only dreamed about. It had suspense, a dramatic narrative, great descriptive language, and a completely surprising conclusion. After reading it, I believed that Joe was a great writer, and that of all of us in that class, I was sure he would go places. Joe’s was the story of a young man who was thrilled to finally get to sit and eat holiday dinner with the grownups, instead of being sent to play with the younger children outside. At the end of the meal, he picked up the playing card next to his plate along with the others, and found himself in trapped in a macabre family tradition. The family member who was randomly dealt a specified playing card at each annual family dinner was sacrificed on a large old stone with deep grooves on it in the backyard.

Sound familiar? Like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery? I hadn’t read that story, and I don’t know if anyone else in the class had either. If anyone knew that Joe’s story was liberally borrowed from The Lottery, they weren’t telling. It was several years later that I did finally pick up a book of short stories by Shirley Jackson, and after reading The Lottery, I almost dropped the book. I felt like I’d been had. While we hadn’t kept in touch, I’d always thought of Joe as a remarkable writer. I’d dreamed of writing a story like that. I had pages of stories, poetry, notes, and character sketches written and stuck in notebooks and desk drawers over the years. Joe's work had stuck with me through all that time, like some kind of standard I'd held myself up to, and now I felt like he really hadn’t written it at all. He may not have plagiarized her work word for word, but I felt like hers was such a unique plot, that his kind of rewriting was still so much like the original that it should have come with a disclaimer – ‘based on the short story by Shirley Jackson’ – or something to indicate what a strong influence she had on his work.

I haven’t seen nor spoken to Joe since that summer we were in class together, over ten years ago. I don’t know what I would have said, if anything, if I had seen him since I read The Lottery. I don’t feel shocked about his story anymore. I do feel a little disappointed, though. But not so much in Joe; I’m disappointed in myself. Why was I so quick to believe that he was a better writer than I was? Perhaps he was, but why did my thinking he was a good writer mean I couldn’t be one too?

I sometimes wonder what ever became of Joe. I wonder if he still writes. I try hard now not to compare myself with other writers. It's an effort to keep the comparisons limited to the craft and technique of writing, and not wonder whether I'm a better or worse writer than someone else. While my writing may be judged, compared, liked, disliked, built up or torn down, I have finally matured enough to be confident in the fact that I am simply a writer, and that is enough.

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. She brings more than five years' experience as a readers' advisory librarian to her work, which is regularly published by Library Journal, The Imperfect Parent, and Absolute Write. Her reviews have also been published by The Absinthe Literary Review, ForeWord Magazine, January Magazine, and Melt Magazine. Amy is also the managing editor and an international markets columnist for Absolute Write. Visit her online at