Friday, April 30, 2010

Classic Fantasy

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

By Shawn Lamb

The kingdom of Allon is ruled by a usurper who is leaning toward the Dark Way. The followers of Jor’el, the creator of Allon, are being silenced. The true king has been hidden from birth in a noble family and has just learned his identity. And the immortal Guardians are emerging to battle their evil counterparts. Allon has all the classic elements of an epic fantasy, but with a fresh enough approach to make it a good story.

Unfortunately, it’s not told very well. Lamb made a lot of amateur writing mistakes and I had a hard time reading the book to the end. The story and setting are complex, but the transitions were awkward or non-existent; I was never sure how each event fit into the overall picture. The characters were real enough, but there were so many of them, it was hard to keep track of them. They popped in and out of the action too quickly for me to get to know them. But I did know what they looked like because each time Lamb introduced a new character, she gave a full description of his or her looks and what they were wearing.

In spite of these, and other mistakes, I enjoyed the end of the book. I had finally sorted out the characters and the events of the story were absorbing and unpredictable. I even came to care about what happened to the people of Allon. Jor’el as the source of goodness, was central to the story, but was only present in a spiritual way. On the other hand, Dagar, the source of evil was all too present. The theme of good versus evil came through strongly and it wasn’t at all certain that good would win.

Pros: A good fantasy story with kings, romance, supernatural beings and battles of good versus evil.

Cons: Poorly written and confusing.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Giving A Photo Critique


Whatever happened to that old saying your mother taught you - "If you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all"? This subject came to me after a conversation with someone who had been extremely affected by a bad photo critique, which brings me immediately to my first point - There is such a thing as a BAD critique. After all, critiques are the opinions of other people, and opinions are subject to all the foibles of the other person's personality, their experiences, both good and bad, and anything else that has affected their life. It is therefore unfortunate when someone allows their judgment to be clouded by the situations in their own past.

Giving a good critique requires an open mind, a good attitude, and careful thought. This doesn't mean that a good critique need be all "sugary sweet", that would simply pad someone's inaccuracies. But it does have to, at its conclusion, build the other person up, not tear them down. The ultimate purpose of any critique is always to help.

Ladies' Tresses Orchid
Ladies' Tresses Orchid


The most important rule of offering a critique is to give it only if it has been asked for. Avoid offering your opinion when you were not specifically addressed. If you can see that photo has several comments already, then your opinion is probably not needed. The one exception to this rule being the nature of the other comments. If you feel they were too harsh, then by all means, say something positive.

I rarely ever request a critique, and I always keep this thought in mind when viewing someone else's work. When I present one of my photos, generally speaking, I am pleased with it. For instance, if the photo was just for documentary reasons, then I usually tell you so. I am my own harshest critic. I know if I personally feel this way, then probably other photographer's do as well. Therefore, I only offer to others what I myself would want to hear.


This brings me to my next point. Any photo critique you give should be kind. Be careful to watch for any attitude you might be expressing. After all, most photo critiques are given in writing and writing can be greatly misinterpreted. Don't type in all caps. Avoid using bold type, italics, or too many exclamation points. These come across as mean-spirited, and once your words have been misread it is very hard to explain them away.

Always give your critique in a positive light. It is important for the reader to take from your thoughts something uplifting. Limit the amount of negativity you offer and end on a high note. Leave the photographer with something they did right. Your words should be a suggestion of how they might improve, not a baseball bat to whack them in the head with. Always remember that that person doesn't know you, or anything about you. Critiques should never be personal.

Ladies' Tresses Orchid


Here's one of the biggest points of this article. Keep your thoughts to the definite rules of photography: aperture, ISO, shutter speed, composition, etc. Express how these rules could have been altered to achieve a different result. Did they need a faster shutter speed? Then give a general opinion on what would have given them a faster shutter speed. Be sure to offer a "how to" in your critique and not just state that it was "bad". They cannot implement your suggestions if they don't know how to do what you are describing. On the other hand, don't automatically assume they don't know how either. You never want your words to come across as high-handed.

Avoid nitpicking on trivial matters. Don't ramble on about what lens that person should have used, or what camera you have that is better. A critique is not a bragging session. Work, instead, with what the photographer has in their arsenal and how they can use it more effectively. This is especially true if you don't have enough knowledge about their equipment in the first place. If this is the case, then keep your opinion to yourself. At this point in my camera-life, you will not find me in a debate about lens quality, as I am not up-to-speed on those topics. Rather, I leave them to those with more knowledge than myself.

Ladies' Tresses Orchid


Lastly, if you are on the receiving end of a critique, be able to know there are good critiques and determine in yourself to move past the bad ones. Some people live off of being critical, and despite their word origins, "critique" and "critical" do not hold the same meanings.

If you are on the giving end, remember that a critique is not an occasion for you to air your grievances. Its purpose is to help the other photographer improve, to answer any questions they might have. Keep in mind also that there will always be people who do not receive what you have to say. Don't let this affect you, but take it with grace. There are times when the best therapy is just to let things go.


*These photos are of this year's crop of Ladies' Tresses Orchids, which is spoke about in my blog last week.

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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, April 28, 2010

Life with Five Boys

Reviewed by Phee Paradise How do You Tuck in a Superhero? By Rachel Balducci

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a parent of boys or a parent of girls or not a parent at all; you’ll love How do You Tuck in a Superhero? It’s a delightful book about a family with five boys. These kids are “all boy” and Balducci relates their exploits with humor and love.

As the mother of five boys, Balducci has written the book to answer the question, “How do you do it?” It consists of short reflections on what makes boys tick and how she learned this from her own boys. But it’s really a lot of hilarious stories about her boys’ adventures and the cute things they say and do. You could pick it up now and then, when you have a free moment, and read a story to get a laugh. I couldn’t do that. I read straight through, enjoying each story more than the last.

The Balducci boys dig holes in the back yard, shoot arrows at the house and climb through windows instead of doors. They always run, make a lot of noise and avoid anything that has to do with personal hygiene. I suspect they are pretty typical boys, but having five of them must multiply the bad and the good. What makes them so amusing is the way Balducci tells their stories. She shrugs when they do something, like hitting the truck with a plastic baseball bat, that would make other mothers lose control. After all, if she hadn’t actually told them they couldn’t do it, how could she expect compliance?

The theme that ties the stories together is not the actions of these boys, but their mother’s love. She likes them, is awed by their creativity and proud of the men they are becoming. The book is not only funny, it’s inspiring.

Pros: Funny, creative and well written.

Cons: It’s not long enough. I want more stories.

About the book

Author Rachel Balducci is no longer surprised when she has to say things in her house like: "I am not a wrestling mat." "Stay off the roof." "You can try to invent a jet-pack, but I will not buy the fuel for it." Or, "Wear something nice—like a t-shirt with no stains on it."

As the mother of five boys, Balducci has her hands full, which makes for some hilarious stories. She shares more than 50 of those tales--from finding her boys climbing through windows, making traps for catching bad guys or rooting through the refrigerator, ever hungry--in her delightful new book How Do You Tuck in a Superhero?: And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys.

Readers will laugh out loud at the antics she experiences on a daily basis, as she pulls back the curtain on what a life filled to the brim with boys is like for one woman. From the curious scenes she catches her boys in, to the entertaining conversations she overhears, to the unimaginable rules she's been forced to make, this laugh-out-loud celebration joyfully explores the sweet and wild side of boyhood.

About the author

Rachel Balducci is a writer and the mother of five lively boys. Her website,, has been nominated for several awards. Rachel is a former staff writer for the Augusta Chronicle and has been published in numerous magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Faith and Family, and The Word Among Us. She and her family live in Augusta, Georgia.

Available April 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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What is a Blog and why should I have One - Part Two

Setting up a Blog
The great thing about blogging is that anyone can do it. There are dozens of sites that offer free blogs and most are simple to set up. I use Blogger which is a popular one and find it easy to use. There are some blog sites that are specifically Christian.

How do I Set up a Blog
Once you have signed up for a blog, the website should guide you through the process of setting it up. It’s not difficult and most people manage without any problems. Before starting the process, however, it is good to consider the following:

· What to call it
· What colors/layout to use
· How often to blog
· What to write about
· What photos to include
· What links to include such as to Facebook, Twitter and any work you have on the internet
· How to get people to read it and follow you

Some Free Blog Sites
I haven’t tried these personally but they may be just right for you. Have a look at some that are already set up and see what you think before deciding:

Blogging is a great way to share stories, testimonies, photos and news. Unlike Facebook, it offers scope for full length articles and even if it is only read by a handful of people to begin with, it’s a starting point.

Have a wonderful week blogging and come back next Wednesday to learn about copyrights.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Live By Grace

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

The Naked Gospel
By Andrew Farley

The author of The Naked Gospel warns his readers that they “might throw this book down in disgust…pick it back up again in curiosity…shake your head in frustration.” I have to warn you that I wanted to throw it down in frustration.

He defines the naked gospel as Grace alone. Okay. But he takes it farther even than Martin Luther did when he started the Reformation. Farley says that Christians are not only saved by Grace alone, we must also live by Grace alone. That means that Christians, who are under what he calls the New, must throw out every law in the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments. We should not keep the Sabbath, or tithe or even confess our sins. In fact, we should not even pray the Lord’s Prayer. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us, and by following any other guide we put ourselves in bondage to the Law. Apparently the Holy Spirit would not guide us to follow any teaching found in the Old Testament. Yet Farley doesn't clarify what means the Holy Spirit uses to guide us.

The reason the book frustrated me so much is that Farley’s apologetics are reasonable. He quotes many verses from the book of Hebrews to support his arguments. He explains the reasons for the Old Testament laws and he explains the meaning behind the original Hebrew terms. His writes well and his message sounds like a profound new teaching that we all need to hear.

Therein lies the problem. There is no new teaching in Christianity. If something seems new, we should examine the scripture to see if it can be found there. If it is found in scripture, it may have been lost by the current generation, but is sure to be found in the writings of the church fathers. In fact, long standing doctrinal statements like the Nicene Creed and the writings of the early Christians should help us determine if the new interpretation is correct. We may find that it is an old heresy in a new guise.

I am not qualified to determine if Farley is teaching heresy. I am just extremely frustrated with a message that denies many of the things I believe. My faith comes from scripture and what I’ve learned about it from older, wiser Christians. If you’re interested in apologetics, or in seeing a new approach to grace and the Law, read it for yourself and let me know if you were disgusted, curious or frustrated. Maybe Farley’s ideas will free you, as he claims they did for him.

Pros: I can’t really recommend this book to believers or non-believers. I can’t give you any reasons to read it.

Cons: It is full of very bizarre teaching about living a Christian life. I believe it is dangerous because its plausible arguments may lead Christian readers astray.

For more information about the book and author, go to Andrew Farley's website.

You can buy the book from Amazon.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Orchids Are Coming!


I had a revelation the other day about just how great my husband is. When we first decided to build our house, we came out one afternoon to walk the property and daydream. You know how that is. Our heads brimming with hope, we star-gazed a bit at the ideas circulating in our thoughts. This was when I first noticed these strange tiny flower stalks shooting up from between the blades of grass.

The ordinary observer might not have noticed them at all, but my husband and I are not ordinary observers. Our idea of a great nature walk involves identifying as much flora and fauna we can. We are forever telling each other of some bird sighting, some rare plant we passed, something that is finally in bloom.

So here were these unusual flowers, their slender, green stalks circumnavigated by seemingly negligible white blossoms. That is, they were negligible until I looked closer and realized that each flower held the perfect shape and form of an orchid.

Ladies' Tresses Orchid
Ladies' Tresses Orchids, Spiranthes vernalis

Imagine that! These tiny insignificant flowers buried in the surrounding overgrown grass were orchids!

It's amazing to me how many beautiful things people walk by every day, blind. Aren't most wildflowers just weeds? I already shared with you the saga of the toadflax, which bloomed and faded just weeks ago. Those are very common wildflowers here and people mow them over all the time, yet for me they were beautiful.

Toad Flax

For most of the year these orchids are invisible. In fact, they are also called "Leafless Orchids". Buried in the grass, you can search and search and never locate one. This is where we have a problem. Because we never know where they will pop up from or how many will blossom, mowing in the spring is out of the question. You cannot possibly mow orchids!

Last year it worked out great. The orchids bloomed for a few days and then faded back into the soil before the grass began its summer growth. But things this year from the very start have been different. When my husband decided to mow the toadflax, his thoughts went immedately to protecting the orchid buds. You see, we had spotted a few already. Setting his blades high, he commenced to the task thinking the buds were not yet tall enough to be damaged.

The good news is it worked! The orchids were coming!

But as time went by we were hit with another problem. The warm temperatures had the grass, and thereby the weeds, really growing. Now what do we do? This is where I say my husband is a great man. He refused to mow the orchids. For two or three days he crisscrossed the field marking every flower stalk with a small wooden stake. He trimmed around the base of each one by hand, to avoid any possible damage, and then spent extra time carefully navigating all those poles.

I have told him time and time again how appreciative I am. What other people might have overlooked, are valuable to me, and to him. And in the coming weeks when the flowers finally open for their brief span of life, he and I together will be the ones who reap the reward of such amazing diminutive beauty.

I am grateful for that, and I can't wait.

Ladies' Tresses Orchid

*These photos were taken last year.

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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, April 21, 2010

What is a Blog and why should I have One

What is a Blog
The word blog is an abbreviation of web log and refers to an online journal or diary entries made by an individual about their life, experiences and hobbies. I did a quick Google search and as far back as 2006, there were over 50 million blogs in existence.

Why do People Blog
Blogging is a popular past time and many people enjoy writing about their daily activities. It is a way of keeping friends and family up to date with what is happening in their lives. Other people blog because they are on a painful journey with cancer or awaiting a transplant for a sick child. The blog is an expression of their feelings and can serve as a therapeutic outlet as well as keeping people informed of any progress or prayer requests.

How can I get People to Read my Blog
The best way is to tell them you’ve set it up and invite them to have a look. Ask permission to email them the link or post it on Facebook, Bebo, Twitter or other social networking sites. It is best to write regularly if you want people to keep your blog in mind.

What can I blog about
Absolutely anything. You can record sad stories, triumphant stories, funny stories, devotions, meditations or family occasions. I have a Suite101 blog where I write about marriage articles and I have a personal blog which I have neglected for quite a long time. However, I did post a story about a miracle God did for me a couple of weeks ago and had such a great response that I’ve decided to make more effort in future.

Come back next week to find out how to set up your own blog and start sharing your stories.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Classic Good versus Evil

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

The Sword
By Bryan M. Litfin

What do you think a society that has forgotten God would look like? I imagine it as godless, but civilized. But in The Sword, Litfin’s Chiveis is pagan, not godless. Four hundred years after a nuclear holocaust, the Chiveisis worship a pantheon of nasty gods. Many of the people are not very devout, but the priesthood is powerful, and no one knows there might be other options - until protagonists, Teo and Ana find a copy of the sacred writings of the Ancients.

Chiveis is an interesting mix of pagan, medieval and modern culture. They are dominated by their gods, but, like the Romans, they live self-centered lives without concern for morality. They are aware that their ancestors had knowledge they don’t, but they are content to live without it.

This is the backdrop for Teo and Ana’s story. It starts with action, when she rescues him in the wilderness and he returns the favor. Their adventures bring them together, but their values are different and they can’t quite admit to the romance that’s obvious to everyone else. As they struggle with their relationship, they also face the consequences of following the creator God.

I expected the discovery of the Truth to be a slowly increased understanding, like the sky getting lighter when the sun rises. But Teo and Ana’s small group of believers grasp the whole revelation of God, including redemption and forgiveness, in just a few months. Even more amazing, they only have access to the Old Testament and have only translated part of Genesis, Psalms and the book of Ruth. They even have time to develop heresy within their small group of believers. In spite of this, this community of believers develops a strong faith.

The Sword is built on a great concept and is worth reading for a lot of reasons. Watching someone discover God for the first time will help you see your faith in a new light. As good battles evil, you will be surprised in the ways God acts – or doesn’t act. This was the most striking part of the book for me. When the evil god attacks, God does not always protect His people in spectacular ways. They know He can, and pray He will, but learn that His ways are not our ways. Yet, they see His action in their small, daily activities.

Unfortunately, the book has some writing flaws. The timelines are unrealistic and the characters act impulsively. Some of the characters are predictable (every woman is beautiful) and the dialogue is a little stiff. Characters use American colloquialisms like “okay” and “how come.” They seem out of place in what used to be Switzerland, four hundred years after a holocaust. This is Litfin’s first novel, and I am sure that the next book will have fewer of these flaws.

Pros: Fascinating treatment of a first encounter with God. The book also has appealing characters and unexpected plot twists.

Cons: The setting is confusing and the dialogue is sometimes unnatural.

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Sword
Crossway Books (April 30, 2010)

Bryan M. Litfin


Bryan Litfin was born in Dallas, but lived in Memphis, Tennessee and Oxford, England, where he discovered that the house of his favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien, was only five doors down from his own. Bryan still enjoys epic adventure stories, as well as historical fiction. However, most of his reading these days is taken up by academia.

After marrying his high school sweetheart, Carolyn (a true Southern belle), he went on to study for a master’s degree in historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. From there he went to the University of Virginia, taking a PhD in the field of ancient church history. He is the author of Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Brazos, 2007), as well as several scholarly articles and essays.

In 2002, Bryan took a position on the faculty at Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago, where he is a professor in the Theology Department. He teaches courses in theology, church history, and Western civilization from the ancient and medieval periods.

On the morning of January 6, 2007, Bryan woke up with an epiphany. Having finished writing his primer on the ancient church, he had the idea of trying his hand at fiction. The thought occurred to him that the writer of speculative fiction typically has two options. He can create an imaginary land like Middle Earth (which offers great creative freedom but is unrealistic), or he can delve into genuine history (which is realistic, yet limted to what ‘actually occurred.’) However, if a writer were to create a future world as in the Chiveis trilogy, it could be both realistic and creatively unlimited.

This little dream stayed in Bryan’s mind while he researched how to write fiction, and also researched the European landscape where the novel would be set. He planned a trip to the story locations, then went there in the summer with a buddy from grad school. Bryan and Jeff rented a Beemer and drove all over Europe from the Alps to the Black Forest with a video camera in hand. With that epic setting fresh in his mind, Bryan returned home and began to write.

Today Bryan lives in downtown Wheaton in a Victorian house built in 1887. He is blessed by God to be married to Carolyn, and to be the father of two amazing children, William, 11, and Anna, 9. For recreation Bryan enjoys basketball, traveling, and hiking anywhere there are mountains (which means getting far away from the Midwest – preferably to his beloved Smokies).


This novel of page-turning action and adventure poses the question, "If a society had no knowledge of Christianity, and then a Bible were discovered, what would happen?"

Four hundred years after a deadly virus and nuclear war destroyed the modern world, a new and noble civilization emerges. In this kingdom, called Chiveis, snowcapped mountains provide protection, and fields and livestock provide food. The people live medieval-style lives, with almost no knowledge of the "ancient" world. Safe in their natural stronghold, the Chiveisi have everything they need, even their own religion. Christianity has been forgotten—until a young army scout comes across a strange book.

With that discovery, this work of speculative fiction takes readers on a journey that encompasses adventure, romance, and the revelation of the one true God. Through compelling narrative and powerful character development, The Sword speaks to God's goodness, his refusal to tolerate sin, man's need to bow before him, and the eternality and power of his Word. Fantasy and adventure readers will be hooked by this first book in a forthcoming trilogy.

Visit the book website at The Sword to see amazing videos and a wealth of information about the trilogy!

To read the first chapter of The Sword, click to HERE

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Even Mothers Can Help Save the World

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

Green Mama
By Tracey Bianchi

Green Mama is essentially a green how-to manual for mothers. Bianchi couches her advice in Christian language, but the book would be right at home on the sustainable living shelf of the library or bookstore. She believes Christians are God’s partners in caring for His creation. As His stewards, we should examine our lifestyle carefully to see how we are damaging His world and how we can protect it. Once she has said that, she moves on to practical ways to live green.

The book has chapters on curbing consumption, spending wisely and planting trees. But it also discusses how to take small steps, ways that green living can improve your budget and how to help your church go green. At the end of each chapter she asks two questions, which she calls an eco-examen. Essentially the questions help the reader decide which suggestions in the chapter they can implement. There is no expectation that readers will make wholesale changes to their lives. Instead, Bianchi explicitly tells readers to only do what they think is possible for them. She offers many small changes, such as washing clothes in cold water instead of hot water.

Bianchi is as committed to the cause as any secular writer might be. It’s packed with green thinking, but the book is easy to read and is filled with the author’s own experiences. As she dispenses advice, she describes the path she has travelled – how she acquired her commitment to sustainable living. She encourages her readers to find their own paths to the same end. If the idea of sustainable living overwhelms you, or even if it’s just not high on your list right now, it’s a good place to find tips about things you can do that won’t take much effort.

Pros: Easy to read manual for green living, with a lot of ideas about how to do it. The Christian viewpoint helps readers to see God’s ownership of the world and our stewardship of it.

Cons: The book is unashamedly in the conservation camp and gently admonishes readers about their bad habits. It assumes a lot about the man made problems of the natural world without offering evidence.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Is A Great Photograph?


The question was posed to me the other day, "What truly is a 'great' photograph?" "Great" is one of those words every English teacher cautions their students against using because they have become a bit mundane and worn out. So for this article, I will concentrate on words that define "great" instead.

Let's phrase the question this way, "What makes up a first-rate, notable, photograph?"

The old saying goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." In other words, what one person likes in a photograph is not always what another person likes. Choice of subject matter is different for each photographer. One person may photograph architecture and another wildlife. Excellent, first-rate photographs can be created from each, so it is not specifically the subject that makes the best photographs.

From a viewer's standpoint, I might prefer photos of birds in their environment whereas you prefer super-telephoto shots. What is "great" to me in that case then may not be the same to you. We all have our preferences.

Yet, there are other factors involved in finding that "perfect" shot. The first thing I look for is exposure. Is the shot too dark, too light, or is it exactly as it should be? Did the lighting in that image set the proper mood for the subject? Did the photographer capture it well? If the overall exposure is not correct, then the image is lacking.

Tri-colored Heron
Tri Colored Heron

The next big thing I always look at is composition. There are many elements incorporated into proper composition, the first of which is the subject itself. For that particular object, is the choice of horizontal or vertical alignment correct? If it is a long, skinny flower, perhaps a vertical image would have worked better. A "first-rate" photograph takes into consideration the "movement" of what is in the image.

By using the word "movement", I am not strictly talking about "moving" objects, but the comprehensive shapes and textures of what you are trying to communicate. Are you trying to show the length of the stream, or the flowers beside it? One might need a more horizontal format than the other.

Palmhenge Florida Sunrise

The proper composition for each image is greatly subjective to the photographer. However, there is a point at which even the photographer has to pay attention to certain rules of placement. A running baseball player placed directly at the forward edge of the photograph will always look like he is running into a wall. But placed towards the backwards edge, he will have "room to run" and look like he is heading somewhere. One photograph will definitely be "better" than the other.

Now we come to the rule of thirds. Much debate has been made over following or not following this rule. I have found that most time it is the proper way to decide on subject placement, yet there are times when it does not work. Round objects, a view looking into the dome of a ceiling, the descending evening sun, and certain flower shapes, often lead to centering in an image. Making an image "work" outside of the rules is a sign of a truly "notable" photograph. Keep in mind though - Yes, you broke the rules, but you broke them knowing them. It is not now a habit you should pick up permanently, laying aside the others.

Crescent Moon
Crescent Moon

There is another popular saying "Everyone's a critic." This statement is unfortunately so true. There is always someone out there who doesn't like what you've done. Take comfort instead in those who do like it, and be wise and don't return there to the place where people didn't receive you.

I have photographs I have taken which I like more than others. I also have those people comment on those that I really don't like quite as much. In this sense, what was "great" to me was different to them. I don't beat myself up about it. When something I've taken that I really like doesn't receive any mention I just take it in stride and move on. For in the end, I am happy with it and that's all that matters.

*Here's an image I took at a local fair and to me there is nothing remarkable about it, yet it has 15 comments.
Discus Fish
Discus Fish

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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, April 14, 2010

Teenage Girls Disappearing

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

Too Close to Home
By Lynette Eason

Note to self: sometimes a book you don’t care about, is worth reading.

Too Close to Home seemed predictable in every way – instant romantic sparks, a workaholic parent, a troubled and rebellious teenager, and most of all, the serial killer point of view. I don’t like crime dramas that show the crime at the beginning and spend the rest of the hour showing the detectives looking for clues when I already know “who dunnit.” That’s the kind story I thought this book was. Between the occasional glimpses into the killer’s mind and the obvious clues scattered about, I was two steps ahead of the detectives and wanted to shake them for being so obtuse.

But Eason is a much better writer than that. Nothing happened the way I expected it to, and by the end I realized I had been set up. Eason cleverly provided the obvious clues and then surprised me with a completely different outcome. What I thought were irrelevant details were foreshadows of the important events at the end of the book.

In the story, Connor Wolfe and Samantha Cash head an investigation into the disappearance and murders of several teenage girls. The case is slow and frustrating because the killer leaves no traces. At the same time, Connor, a widower, is worried about his teenage daughter whom he leaves alone too much. Samantha has some problems of her own, and the case puts them in quite a bit of danger. In the midst of all this, they find themselves attracted to each other. There is plenty of action, but also plenty of character development. Some characters will truly surprise you with their actions.

In the end, my only criticism of the book is that it was a little too much about emotions. I want to get to know the characters in the books I read, but I don’t need to know everything they are feeling. But that’s a personal quirk and you might be one of the people who thinks emotions are essential to a good book.

Pros: Very well written crime story with surprising plot and characters.

Cons: It might take you a while to care about the characters.

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Research Skills and Writing

Learning how to Research
Most forms of writing require research. Factual articles need valid references and novels need believable backgrounds and locations. While writers are often advised to write what they know, there is a limit to this and there are many ways to gain the knowledge required.

Why is Research Needed
Research is used for factual articles, news articles and factual and fiction books. While the writer may have personal experience, this is seldom enough to produce a well-written piece for public benefit.

Best-selling Authors Conduct Research
If you look in the first few pages of a novel, you will often see a list of thanks from the author to people who helped with information on certain topics. Before writing House Rules, Jodi Picoult spent time with parents who have children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Michael Palmer wrote fascinating scenes about an Indian town named Amritsar in The Fifth Vial. He states on his website that he has never been there but wrote a convincing scene by researching the area.

Research Topics that Interest you
To begin with, research topics that appeal to you and have larger volumes of information available. For example, it would be easier to gather information about bipolar disorder than a condition called narcissistic personality disorder. Start off with easier subjects and as your research skills grow, venture into more difficult areas.

How do I Research a Subject
There are several ways to do this depending on the topic:
· Libraries have vast amounts of information available. Find out how to use their computer system to pinpoint what you need. It is best to stick with work that has a publication date later than 2000
· The internet is an obvious source but make sure the sites you use are professional and trustworthy. For example, Wikipedia contains some interesting stuff but is not accepted as a valid reference
· Interview people who have experience in the area. This can be anyone from university professors to people in wheelchairs. Don’t be afraid to ask them as most people will gladly share their expertise or experience in an area

Research adds depth and authenticity to any piece of writing and the learning process can be great fun, depending on the subject. The next time you write a piece that requires some research, make a list of what you need to know and then get to work. The standard of your writing can only benefit from appropriate research.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Win a Copy of Love Mercy

Today, I'm honored to share with you a tremendous new book by one of my favorite authors and her daughter - Lisa and Ty Samson. You can even win a copy for yourself by participating in the writing contest detailed below.

About the book, Love Mercy:

A Mother and Daughter's Journey from the American Dream to the Kingdom of God, having lived a life of plenty in suburban America, Lisa Samson and her eighteen-year-old daughter, Ty, thought they were traveling to Africa to minister to the people and chronicle the AIDS crisis devastating the continent. Their trip, they assumed, would be missional, merciful, giving.
Instead, they experienced a life-changing, soul-rattling journey.

As mother and daughter are confronted with incidents of child prostitution, preventable illness, poverty, oppression, abuse, and death so prevalent it leaves no time to mourn ... their journey takes a decidedly different tack.

Love Mercy confronts us directly with the AIDS crisis in Africa-in particular Swaziland, which has the highest AIDS rate in the world and where the average life expectancy is thirty-two years of age. Offering two unique perspectives, Lisa and Ty share the questions they encountered on their journey and tell the stories of those they met along the way-from the children themselves, to adult AIDS victims, to the compassionate mercy-givers who seek every day to alleviate their suffering.

Smiles in a place of aching sadness. Mercy in a place of heart-wrenching poverty. Two people transformed by God in ways, and places, they never expected, discovering that even in a land riddled with heartache ... Christ's love and redemption are ablaze.

About the Authors:

Lisa and Ty Samson

Lisa Samson is the author of over twenty-five books, including the Christy award-winning novel Songbird. Her novel, Quaker Summer was Christianity Today's novel of 2008. She is coauthor with her husband, Will, of Justice in the Burbs.

Ty Samson loves art, literature, playing upright bass, and baking bread. She enjoys working with children and serving at the East Seventh Street Center in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.
Learn more about Lisa at


Now for the writing contest. Entries should be posted by noon on Monday, April 19th. I'll announce a winner on Tuesday, the 20th. The winner will receive one copy of Love Mercy.

In the comments below, using 100-200 words, answer the following question:

In Love Mercy, Lisa and her daughter Ty expected to be used by God to transform others and were transformed themselves. Even in a place fraught with difficulties and heartache, they found Christ to be alive and his love evident.

When have you unexpectedly experienced God's transformation or seen evidence of his love and redemption in an unlikely place?

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Hope during the Holocaust

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

Wildflowers of Terezin
By Robert Elmer

If you don’t know anything about Denmark or its people, prepare to be impressed and inspired. When the Germans occupied the country during World War II, the Danes did all they could to hide the native Jews and get them to safety in Sweden. The prevailing attitude was “They’re Danes too.” Wildflowers of Terezin chronicles some of the experiences of that time. Christian pastor Steffen meets Jewish nurse Hanne and together they help some of her people escape. Their actions are, of course, risky and they don’t know who might turn them in to the Gestapo. But I won’t tell you the rest; you will want to read it yourself.

The dynamic between Steffen and Hanne is fascinating. Their relationship is impossible, yet they quickly grow to care about each other because of the compassion and courage they see in each other. Knowing Hanne enables Steffen to see the German oppression first hand and he begins to question his passive acceptance of their presence in his country. She, who is not a very devout Jew, sees in him a faith she is missing in her own understanding of God. But Elmer treats both the inter-faith relationship and the concept of Jewish conversion to Christianity very carefully. There is no strong message about these issues, just a gentle story of growing love.

Stories about the holocaust are heartbreaking and I don’t like reading them. Even though they are usually about overcoming, the evil of the Germans and the suffering of the victims overpower any good feelings the story may generate in me. But in Wildflowers of Terezin, Elmer presents the hatred and oppression gently. He is able to show the effects of it without being graphic. This book really is about the triumph of love over hatred.

Pros: Good story about friendship, courage and faith. The setting is authentic and the characters grow through the hardships they face.

Cons: The motivations of all but the protagonists are not very clear and one wonders if some of them are necessary to the story.

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Wildflowers of Terezin
Abingdon Press (April 2010)

Robert Elmer


Robert Elmer is a former pastor, reporter and as copywriter who now writes from he home he shares with his wife Ronda in northern Idaho. He is the author of over fifty books, including eight contemporary novels for the adult Christian audience and several series for younger readers. Combined, his books have sold more than half a million copies worldwide. Like his popular "Young Underground" youth series, Wildflowers of Terezin was inspired by stories Robert heard from his Denmark-born parents and family. When he's not sailing or enjoying the outdoors, Robert often travels the country speaking to school and writers groups.


When nurse Hanne Abrahamsen impulsively shields Steffen Petersen from a nosy Gestapo agent, she’s convinced the Lutheran pastor is involved in the Danish Underground. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But truth is hard to come by in the fall of 1943, when Copenhagen is placed under Martial Law and Denmark’s Jews—including Hanne—suddenly face deportation to the Nazi prison camp at Terezin, Czechoslovakia. Days darken and danger mounts. Steffen’s faith deepens as he takes greater risks to protect Hanne. But are either of them willing to pay the ultimate price for their love?

To read the first chapter of Wildflowers of Terezin, click HERE.

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Basics for Beginning Fiction Writers

I'm excited to announce our next WIES Workshop - I've taken some of Jeanne's classes myself, and she is an excellent instructor. This class is perfect for anyone wanting to learn how to write fiction, so be sure to tell your friends about it.

To write fiction, one must know more than the average punctuation, usage, grammar and style. In the Basics for Beginning Fiction Writers class you will learn the different components of a work of fiction that must be present, whether writing short stories or full-length novels.

Instructor Jeanne Marie Leach uses a concise and methodical system to help beginning writers of fiction to know which step to take next, regardless of where they are in their writing endeavors.

This course will cover the following:

  • Opening hooks and chapter ending hooks
  • For full-length novels – what needs to be shown in the first chapter
  • Point of View (POV)
  • Proper dialogue, including tags and beats
  • Novel formatting
  • Plot development and research
  • Character development and emotions
  • Showing vs. telling
  • Active vs. passive
  • Proper use of flashbacks or back story
  • Consistency in character traits and scene props
  • Preachiness in Christian novels
  • Overused words that mark the writer as a beginner to publishers and agents
  • Over explanation that insults the reader
  • Uncertainty of character actions

This class gives beginning writers a springboard from which they can gain direction and understanding of the basic mechanics of writing. Information gleaned from many sources is arranged in a step-by-step timeline and an order most beneficial to beginning writers.

Course Dates: April 26, 2010 - May 21, 2010

Cost: $100

Register today to reserve your spot. (Deadline to register is Monday, April 19th.)

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Editing Tip #28: Getting Published (part three)

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2010

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.

~ GETTING PUBLISHED (part three) ~

Honing Your Skills

Whatever write, if you want to try to get it published, get some training. The general public tends to figure anyone who can write a sentence should be able to get published. They don’t realize how many skills and techniques are involved.

Study the craft of writing. Read books. Attend classes. Take online courses. Go to writers’ conferences and workshops. Learn how to write really well.

Learn the mechanics too. If you’re planning to write a book, get a copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style (the reference manuals used by book publishers in the U.S.). If you want to write for Christian publishers, get a copy of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Study the rules and apply them to your manuscript.

If you’re writing an article, get The Associated Press Stylebook and Webster’s New World College Dictionary (the reference manuals used by newspapers and journalistic magazines).

The competition is fierce in the publishing industry. There are many talented authors out there who have put in their time and learned how to do their job right. If you expect to join them, you need to study and develop your skill too.

Polishing Your Manuscript

Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking your first draft is going to be publishable. You will need to rewrite, revise, edit, and polish the manuscript multiple times until it's the best it can possibly be.

After you’ve written the best manuscript you think you can, show it to some people, preferably members of your target audience and some published authors, and incorporate their ideas. Join a critique group and get additional suggestions from fellow writers. Hire a professional editor to give you even more recommendations for improvement.

Chances are, you’ll only get one opportunity to impress a publisher and convince them to accept your book. You can’t afford to send them anything that’s not your absolute best.


NOTE: It is an infringement of copyright law to reproduce this
publication, in part or in whole, without the express permission of the
author. To request permission, please e-mail


Kathy Ide has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. Her books include Polishing the PUGS and Fiction and Truth. Kathy is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for authors and publishers. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ends and Beginnings



I guess "all good things must come to an end". Yesterday my husband mowed down my wildflowers. Well, he had my consent. I could see that just as the sun and rain had the wildflowers growing, it was doing the same for the weeds. Pretty soon, the weeds were just as tall as the flowers and all it took was one walk, or I should say attempt at walking, through it for me to admit it was time.

Towards the Sky

It's kind of sad. As I stood there in disgust, I spotted a bee, happily going about his business amongst the flowers. I found myself apologizing for our intrusion into his life. "I'm sorry that we're taking away your food source," I said.

I thought too of the other creatures that enjoyed the flowers, the multitude of butterflies which flitted to and fro, and even one tiny damsefly I had spotted that very evening, gliding along the tops of the stalks. I felt kind of guilty. I reassured myself that these same creatures would move on and find another source, and besides the neighbor's not mowing his yet.

A Close Up

This year's flowers might be gone, but their beauty remains in my images of them. They might not return the same next year (though with all those expended seeds yesterday I can't fail to see why not). The truth is that nothing in the garden is ever exactly the same. Something is always beginning while another thing is ending.

People say I have my grandfather's green thumb. He was a farmer and could grow the most fantastic fruits and vegetables. Row upon row of corn, beans, tomatoes, you name it, crossed his fields. I appreciate the compliments, and I cherish them, but for me it is more than just the end result. It is the change, the cycle of end and begin, end and begin, that I think I like. The end of one thing is always the beginning of another, and beginnings are exciting.

So though spring is ending, summer is beginning, and there are so many more flowers and insects in my future. There are new things to photograph and more moments to share with all of you. I can't wait!

A Panoramic View
Wildflowers In My Yard

*You can view the entire album of these pictures at this link.

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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, April 7, 2010

Collection of Stories

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

On the Road Home: Stories of Life and Love
By Terry Burns

Story telling is an art that I enjoy and admire. I love hearing a well told story and it’s almost as enjoyable to read if it’s well written. On the Road Home is a collection of stories told by Terry Burns. He’s a good story teller if the book is any indication of his art. Although the back cover of the book calls his voice “fluent cowboy-speak,” the stories are not strictly about cowboys. The stories are mostly slice of life with a punch, interspersed with short poems. This is the kind of book you want to keep on your end table, to pick up when you have a minute to read a little something or just want a quick inspiration.

To read more about the book click here.

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Novel Writing Step by Step - Part Seven

Finding a Publisher
This is the last in our series about writing a novel. Your work is polished, edited and complete and now it’s time to look at getting it published.

There are two avenues of publishing –traditional publishers and self-publishing. In each of these groups there are several subgroups. For example, some traditional publishers only accept manuscripts submitted through agents. Others will accept enquiry letters along with a synopsis and a couple of chapters. While it is still difficult for new authors to get noticed by publishing houses, it does happen.

Self-publishing companies also have their differences. Some will only take manuscripts that are ready for printing. Others offer editing services, cover design and more. There are hundreds of opportunities out there and each person needs to sift through what is right for them. The best way to do this is visit the various websites, read their guidelines and decide where to start. Factors to consider include financial outlay, marketing, distribution and networks.

To help you on the way, I’ve included a set of links below:

Traditional Publishers

Ark House Press
Heartsong Presents
Steeple Hill
White Rose Publishing

Self-publishing Companies

Book Locker
Book pros
Foremost Press
Magic Valley
RJ Communications
Wasteland Press

Read Part One here
Read Part Two here
Read Part Three here
Read Part Four here
Read Part Five here
Read Part Six here

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Life in a Religious Commune

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

Somewhere to Belong
By Judith Miller

Books about the Amish seem to be the current trend in the Christian market. Although not strictly about the Amish, Somewhere to Belong fits right in. The setting is a strict religious community in Iowa in the nineteenth century. The twist is that it is communal and the legalism overshadows the love. Two girls struggle with their place in this community.

Johanna has been raised in the Amana communities, and loves it. But she is curious about the outside world where her brother has fled, and wants to visit Chicago, just once. Berta was raised in Chicago by her rich parents who have decided to simplify their lives by moving to the Amana communities. She hates it. The two girls are thrown together because Johanna is expected to teach Berta how to behave. As they get to know each other, they begin to share their inner lives. They also discover that each set of parents is hiding something from their daughters.

Although the book is written well, and Miller brings the Amana communities to life, I found that I didn’t care a lot about the girls and what happened to them. The pace is slow, Berta is not only predictable, her rebellion is extreme, and the people they both encounter are harsh and unloving. Even the mystery of the parents’ secrets wasn’t enough to hold my interest. Perhaps an adolescent reader would find it more compelling.

Pros: Good depiction of an alternative lifestyle, with a little mystery to keep the plot moving.

Cons: Slow start with characters that are hard to care about.

To read more about the book and the author click here.

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