Tosca Lee on Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen

tosca

I had the privilege of meeting Tosca Lee at a writer’s conference in May. Not only is she an incredible writer and speaker, but she is one of the sweetest, most genuine, and helpful women I have ever met. (Not to mention tall and gorgeous too!) I jumped at the chance to read Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen, and it is my favorite novel of hers so far. Her books keep getting better and better. Her writing sings, compels the reader, and entertains in equal portion. I am pleased and excited to welcome her on the blog today to talk about her new release. Stay tuned til the end for a gift from Tosca and a chance to win a copy of her new book!

Me: Hi, Tosca! My first question always revolves around Christian fiction and the authors who write it. You’re known for your controversial points of view and pushing limits of the category of Christian fiction. What is it about your books that you believe resonates so much with Christian readers?

TL: I think it’s that I’m willing to go there and get gritty. To admit that halfway through the writing of Iscariot, I realized I was no longer writing his story… but my own. Havah is also my story. They all are. And we’re not that different, you and I. I like writing about these maligned characters because even though we may not want to, we can often identify with them far more readily than the good guys, who seem so untouchable. We all feel let down at some point by the way God fails to adhere to our agendas for Him. We all have moments when we think, “if you knew me—really knew me—you would not love me.” We all fail with the best of intentions, and we all want to be embraced exactly as we are. We are all as capable of darkness as we are of light—and often the darkness is far more tangible. The stuff in the Bible isn’t sterile—far from it. It’s gory, violent, sexual, and messy. But so is life. I want to be honest about fear and compromise as I am about hope, beauty and redemption.

Me: I completely agree. Give me gritty fiction any time. But what do we actually know about King Solomon—I understand that the academic opinion varies quite a lot from the biblical account.

TL: We know more about the region, people, language, culture and ethnic history of the Israelites than anything, archaeologically-speaking, of the king himself. It would be such a help if something were unearthed from the City of David or the Temple Mount that could be linked to Solomon’s temple or directly to Solomon himself! There was an item—a small ivory pomegranate that was once thought to top the scepter of a priest of this time period, with an inscription indicating so… but this was later ruled to be a forgery, though the carved pomegranate did date to the correct (early to mid-900s BC) time period. I say more about this question in the Author’s Notes of Legend of Sheba.

Me: The queen is a very minor character in the scope of the biblical narrative, but you assert that her famous visit to King Solomon is vitally important in the scope of Old Testament history. Why?

For two reasons. If the story of the United Monarchy (the kingdom of David and his son/successor, Solomon) is not true, then the bedrock of three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) collapses into fiction, and the claim of Jews to the land of Israel with it. Perhaps the authors of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles knew that, because they took the opportunity to basically say, “Hey, this queen from the ends of the earth, that famous Queen of Sheba, came and brought tribute to our king, and blessed him and our god and said ‘All that I heard was true, and I never even heard the half of it!’” This is fascinating. It begs the question: what was it that was so great about this female sovereign—in a time when the world was ruled by men—and a pagan, no less… what was it about her that was so outstanding that her endorsement of Solomon, his riches, wisdom, and god, held so much weight as to be included in the Old Testament narrative? Who was this woman who matched wits with the wisest man in the world—whose throne was so secure that she could leave it and make the 1400 mile journey of half a year to visit this king… before making the long trek back? Well, this must be a woman worth knowing something about.

Me: LOL. Yes, indeed, although I heard it was hard to find much about her during your research…

TL: After a year and a half of hard research for Iscariot, I thought research for Sheba would be much easier. Not so! It is much harder to fill in the historical record of 1000 years earlier than the time of Christ due to the dearth of archaeological progress in history-rich and troubled Yemen, natural phenomena such as the encroaching sands of the desert, and a lack of historical records recording any queen in the Southern Arabian region.

Me: Well the book is brilliant, and I know readers will enjoy it. What are one or two things that we don’t know about you?

TL: I danced semi-professionally as a classical ballerina in my teens. I also used to be a concert pianist. I have the greatest fans in the world, am terrible at math, can’t work if my house is messy, and am a crack shot with a deer rifle.

Me: I’d love to hear you play the piano. Maybe someday. :) What are you working on next?

I’m taking a break from biblical historicals. My next two books will be something different. And then I’ll delve back into the biblical world again.

You can follow Tosca on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreadsPinterest, and Instagram.

ismeniAnd now, Tosca has left us with a free gift! Ismeni—a free eBook short story prequel to The Legend of Sheba—is be available. This is the story of Sheba’s mother, and sheds some light on the man who would become the queen of Sheba’s right-hand councilor. It’s about 34 pages long, and also includes a preview of the Prologue and first chapter of The Legend of Sheba.

 

Sheba

 

NOW, WHO WANTS TO WIN AN E-BOOK COPY OF LEGEND OF SHEBA? Comment below and tell me if you’ve ever seen a camel in person. :) 

Must be 18 to enter. No purchase necessary. Winner announced September 9th.

 

 

 

How well do you know King Solomon?

 

photo credit: zeevveez via photopin cc

photo credit: zeevveez via photopin cc

When we think of King Solomon from the Bible, we think of the young man who, when asked by God what he would like, asked for a discerning mind (1 Kings 3:9). God was pleased with his request so gave him not only a wise and discerning mind superior to anyone’s before or since, he also made him the greatest king of his generation. Power, riches. Solomon had it all.

The Bible gives us an example of Solomon’s wisdom in the tale of the two prostitutes, one with a living child and one with a dead one, both claiming the living boy as their own. He quickly figured out who the mother was when he commanded the guards to cleave the infant in two.

The Bible tells us of the magnificent Temple that Solomon built and dedicated to the Lord. Of his wonderful prayer for the nation of Israel. And that he placed the Ark of the Covenant within the Temple so the Lord could reside forever with his people. Conditionally. If they obeyed. If Solomon obeyed…

The Bible also chronicles Solomon’s downfall.

Solomon is famous for having 700 wives and 300 concubines. He had a thing for foreign women, despite God’s prohibitions about intermarrying with foreigners who worshiped other gods. “But Solomon was irresistibly attracted to them.” (1 Kings 11:2). In other words, like all of us, he did what he wanted regardless. And we know Solomon knew better. He knew better than anyone, because he was the wisest of us all. And “When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been” (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon worshiped Astarte, Milcom, and even built shrines to “the detestable Chemosh.” 

I don’t know about you, but a couple of things strike me with Solomon. How could the wisest man who ever lived do such stupid things? I mean, really, he obviously had a thing for the ladies, but 1000 women? How could THAT have been a wise decision? And with all his wisdom and God’s repeated warnings about what would happen if Solomon didn’t obey, why would he let his wives worship their own gods? And why would he follow them?

ShebaAnd that’s what I love about Tosca Lee’s new story, Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen.  

The Legend of Sheba follows the story of the queen who ruled Sheba (modern day Ethiopia) during the reign of King Solomon. A queen every bit as intriguing as Solomon himself. While we learn a lot about the country of Sheba (Saba) and their social, religious, and political beliefs in this book, what will draw Christian readers is the conundrum of King Solomon. What Tosca Lee explores in this epic piece of historical fiction is the reasons King Solomon might have fallen away from God’s teachings and how and why King Solomon might have rationalized his choices.

This book is a creative adaptation of biblical characters drawn from the Bible and other ancient writings. It is realistic and rings of truth. It is beautifully written and achingly lovely.

Stay tuned. On Wednesday, we’ll have an interview with Tosca Lee, a surprise gift, and a chance to win Legend of Sheba!

NOW YOU: DID YOU KNOW THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT KING SOLOMON? ;) 

A bad joke for my friends

Many of you already know my sense of humor. If so, you can stop reading here. :) Anyway, this joke came to mind after watching my very second Dr. Who episode (are they all so creepy?). The first one featured manikins coming to life and the second one was about very scary weeping angel statues.

photo credit: Madison Berndt via photopin cc

photo credit: Madison Berndt via photopin cc

One day a very rich Cajun decided to build a new house. He found a piece of land, hired a contractor, and told him just what he envisioned for his new place. The contractor did all the man asked, but wasn’t sure about one of the requests. The Cajun had told him that he wanted a “halo statue” in each room. The contractor scratched his head, asked people about it, but still didn’t know what a halo statue was. He finally decided that with most Cajuns being Catholic, the man must be referring to angel statues. So he bought one small angel statue for each room and put them in innocuous places.
 
The day came. It was time for the Cajun man to see his new home. The contractor toured him through the house and the Cajun made said a lot of positive things. But at the end of the tour he said, “It be lookin’ good, but I didn’t see no halo statues in any of the rooms.”
 
By this time, the contractor was too embarrassed to ask for clarification on the halo statues. He figured, maybe the angels were too small, or maybe he hadn’t displayed them prominently enough. He assured  the man he would have the problem fixed immediately. He got on the phone, called the place that furnished the angels and exchanged them for the biggest ones they had. This time, he even bought statues for all the bathrooms, storage rooms, and closets and put them in the most obvious places in all the rooms. Then he invited Mr. Thibodeaux back to look at his house.
 
This time, Mr. Thibodeaux didn’t say anything as he toured through the rooms. In fact, with each room they went through, Mr. Thibodeax’s frown increased as did the furrow on his brow. Finally, he burst out, “What’s wit all dem angels? And where are the halo statues?”
 
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Thibodeaux. I thought when you said halo statues you meant angel statues.”
 
Mr. Thibodeaux shook his head. “No, no. I meant one o’ dem tings that goes bring bring and then you pick it up and say ‘Halo statue?'”
 
See, bad joke, but it still makes me laugh. And before any one gets offended, I heard this from one of my Cajun uncles. ;)
 
And for those of you who didn’t get it. Here’s a clue: 
photo credit: jgh_photo via photopin cc

photo credit: jgh_photo via photopin cc

 
AND NOW: REALLY, ARE ALL THE DR. WHO EPISODES CREEPY?
Of the Persecuted (ebook cover)

Introducing Angie Brashear and Of the Persecuted

Author ANGIE BRASHEAR

Author ANGIE BRASHEAR

Angie is a great author and friend with a fantastic new novel. Not only does it have a DRAGON in it, but it’s a cool new world to hang out in. And there’s some romance too–just enough to keep things interesting. The book cover does a great job of capturing the tone of the book and its subject is appropriate to this day and age where our Christian brothers and sisters are facing persecution. The great thing is, in both instances, there is hope. :)

Anyway, help me welcome Angie as she tells us about her writing. And stay tuned to the end for a chance to win an e-copy of the book.

Hi Angie! Thanks for joining us today. The first question I always ask is this: do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?

AB: I consider myself a Christian author, because above all things, I am a Christian. As to the difference, I believe anyone can write Christian fiction for various purposes, such as targeting a certain audience for sales or even to present Christianity as a fantasy.

What was your inspiration for writing Of the Persecuted? Did you start with a setting, or a character, or a theme?

AB: My inspiration for Of the Persecuted was three-fold. First, as a child, a reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis opened my eyes to God, and inspired a desire to write. But I chose not to follow that path for too many reasons to explain in one interview.

Second, in January 2012, my assistant and I exchanged late Christmas gifts. During the exchange, we discussed the various challenges of our jobs and the “what ifs” of other possible employment endeavors. Cue the violin, right? I mean, a lot of people face stressful situations in the workplace on a daily basis. As we talked, my assistant said, “The longer I work with you, the more I imagine you as an author.” My jaw dropped, for I’d NEVER shared my deepest dream with her, or anyone else for that matter. I squeezed the lovely gift in my hands. She smiled and glanced at the journal. “Whenever you’re ready,” she said as she walked out of my office. For the next three months, I prayed.

Third, an image of a teenage girl awaiting death by hanging surfaced repeatedly as I sought God’s guidance. A torrent of fright, insecurity, anger, and determination filled her eyes. And Laila Pennedy was born. So, a character was the final component of my inspiration. Once I understood her, the setting and theme fell in place.

Sounds like you were meant to be a writer. :) One of the things I liked best about your book was the story world you created. How long did it take you to put it together? How much did you have before you started writing and how much came to you as you went along?

AB: Well, I’m a pantser not a plotter. As I wrote Laila’s story, which took seven months of late night writing, the world fell in place around her. From one scene to the next, her emotions—insecurity, fear, anger, curiosity, disbelief—compelled me to imagine the world from her perspective. Though, as I wrote, I did keep story world notes to ensure consistency from beginning to end.

When I first read your book, it had a different title and cover. I like both the title and cover much better now. Especially the cover, because it is very compelling. Tell us about the process of designing the new cover. How much say did you have into the concept and final product?

AB: Thanks Lisa. At the last minute, I chose to make many changes to the release of my debut novel, including a transition from a traditional to an indie publishing route—all prayer led, of course. I was never crazy about the original title, Never Let Go, but also couldn’t think of a better alternative. The original cover belonged to the traditional publisher. When I made the switch to indie publishing, the new title, Of the Persecuted, pretty much just slapped me in the face one evening, and then I stumbled upon—okay, God led me to—an amazing cover designer, Christa Holland at Paper & Sage Design. And by amazing, I mean AMAZING. I told her I imagined a close-up of a girl (not a full face) with a noose around her neck. She imagined something more abstract, a design that allowed readers to look at the scene with the main character rather than readers just looking at her. She read selected portions of the story and created the cover. As soon as I saw the design, I fell in love with it.

It is a fantastic design. Now, can you tell us something about Of the Persecuted that you know but isn’t in the book? Perhaps something about the dragons?

AB: Oh, yes. I love to drop hints about upcoming storylines. In Of the Persecuted, Gus is thought to be the only living dragon, or at least the only dragon seen in many years, and the only dragon to ever work on behalf of the Maker. In Legends of the Woodlands: Book Two, Of the Coldblooded, an army of dragons exists. Whether they fight for the Faithful or the Clan, well, I’ll keep that to myself for now.

What are you working on now?

AB: I’m working on Of the Coldblooded, and am halfway finished with the first draft. The story picks up with a blissful, over-confident Laila. But circumstances force her to embrace darkness. I expect to release the novel at beginning to mid-2015.

And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

AB: I’m a work in progress, but aren’t we all?

Yes, yes we are. :D

You can connect with Angie at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

And now, an excerpt.

Of the Persecuted (ebook cover)

Laila Pennedy’s heart pounded.

The noose pinched her neck. She struggled for breath. Muffled voices drifted from the crowd up to the gallows. To her left, a long line of captives trembled. And right, past her brother, more than fifty Faithfuls hung limp, swaying above the platform. She stood on a large wooden barrel in the middle of the line. Too many would die today.

Beyond the mass of enemies, archers congregated amidst scattered stone cottages and log homes in the quaint village. Dilapidated, individual gallows dotted the hillside. Farther in the distance, the morning sun shone on the peaks of the Willow Mountains, her refuge since Faithfuls lost the War of Submission. Oh, what she wouldn’t give to be in the coolness of the upper forest, in exile with other Faithfuls. Safe from the enemy.

If only…. Instead, rivulets of sweat trickled down her thighs inside wool leggings, into knee-high leather boots. Her sleeveless, broadcloth dress clung to her skin, the once beautiful cloth ragged and cinched at her waist by a dingy belt. Her long, matted blonde hair stuck to her face and neck. So much for the gorgeous locks her mother once adored.

“Laila,” her older brother said, his raspy voice tugging at her heart as he too awaited death.

She forced herself to look into Niles’s tear-filled, deep green eyes and shuddered at the noose around his neck. If only she could reach out to him one last time, but her arms were bound behind her back. Soreness strained her shoulders. Her raw wrists stung under the taut rope, which had ripped open her skin.

“I’m sorry, Sissy,” Niles mouthed.

Sorry? She shook her head. No, this was her fault.

I bet you can’t wait to read what happens next. I know but I’m not telling. :p

SO TELL US, HAS SOMEONE EVER TOLD YOU THAT THEY COULD SEE YOU IN A DIFFERENT TYPE OF JOB? IF SO, WHAT?

GIVEAWAY: COMMENT BELOW AND TELL US YOU’D LIKE TO BE ENTERED IN THE DRAWING. Winners announced August 25. Must be 18 or older. No purchase necessary.

 

 

new ACFW logo

Demystifying Contest Scores

I’m blogging at the American Christian Fiction Writers blog today. Here’s a sample:

We’re writers. At some point in our careers, we entered a writing contest.

Some of us found encouragement there. Maybe we received kind remarks from a judge that gave us courage to continue. Maybe we semi-finaled, finaled, or won. Maybe an agent contacted us because they were impressed with our entry.

Some of us came away discouraged. Maybe a judge was particularly harsh. Maybe our scores were low. Maybe we weren’t ready to receive criticism. Maybe we decided to give up on writing…or on contests.

But I think we all share one thing in common-confusion over what to make of our scores…

Read more at the ACFW Blog: http://www.acfw.com/blog/demystifying-contest-scores/

God behind-the-scenes on Chasing the Lion

nancy color 2014 reduced

author NANCY KIMBALL

Every book is a story, but there are often stories behind the book that we never hear about. This is one of those times. I love seeing God work in the lives of others in unexpected ways. I’ve invited Nancy Kimball here today to talk about her new release, Chasing the Lion and to share a couple of behind-the-scenes God stories. Chasing the Lion is not speculative fiction, but it is epic with lots of swords and fighting so I think it would appeal to readers of spec fic. More than that, I think it would appeal to any reader who loves a good story with great writing.

Help me welcome Nancy to the blog. And read through to the end for an exciting giveaway!

Hi, Nancy! The first question I always ask authors is this: do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?

NK: I’m an author of Christian fiction. I believe the difference is the clear presence of Biblical truths and/or a faith journey in the finished work. I know and admire several Christian authors that don’t write Christian fiction, but as a personal choice I do.

God’s hand is often behind the scenes making things happen and reaching people’s hearts for him. Would you share with us a way that God used your story to touch lives on its way to publication?

NK: The first was my own. At the time I wrote Chasing the Lion, my life looked like the stories of Job and the Prodigal Son in one. But God used the writing of this book, together with the people it brought to my life to heal, restore, and draw me closer to Him. As I took the pain in my past and infused it with God’s word to help shape this story, it shaped me also. This book became an altar built from suffering as a testament to God’s mercy and unfailing love.

Then during beta reading (where hand-picked early readers give feedback on the almost finished novel) a few of those readers were really touched by the story. One shared with me that several times she had to stop and pray, convicted by a scene or moment in the story. Another shared that after finishing reading Lion, she started going to her local church again. And yet another was in tears across the table with Mexican food between us as she shared all the pages she’d flagged to talk about and how this story had ministered to her. I ended up crying with her, again humbled and grateful that my story was being used by the Lord like this for others also. It not only reaffirmed why I choose to write Christian fiction, but also how sovereign and actively the Lord is working through us, when we’re obedient and paying attention.

The most recent was my narrator. This is the short version, shared with his permission, because giving the Lord the glory and praise is as important to Joseph as it is to me. The day after Lion released I posted it to ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange). I felt it might be premature, but reached out to a particular narrator and asked my writing partner to pray for God’s will. About that same time I would learn later, Joseph was prayerfully seeking his first project on ACX. He wanted a project that would be a memorial to his work as a storyteller, that would please the Lord, and that he could look back on with thanksgiving. He’d chosen two but encountered technical difficulties and creative interference that kept him from completing the auditions.

A week later, I had zero auditions and no response from my requested narrator. I told God if the audiobook wasn’t to be, I would accept that and trust His plan. Again at about this same time, Joseph was again praying for God to lead him to the right project. He found my book almost immediately, recorded, produced, prayed, and hit send. When I saw the audition in my inbox, only hours after my prayer of yielded obedience, I knew God had done something. I played the audition and the performance blew me away. Not only that but I sensed this narrator truly understood my hero and the heart of my novel.

As Joseph and I worked together to complete the audiobook, parts of Chasing the Lion were resonating deeply with Joseph. He would sometimes share when that happened, but I could also hear it in the recordings. Masterful performances layered with authentic emotion and saturated with the Lord’s favor. Trust me when I say while I really like the excerpt we chose it doesn’t come close to those deep scenes that have to be heard in context to be appreciated. Witnessing how God was using this story to touch another’s life that deeply humbled me beyond words. Now we get to share the finished audiobook in praise to our God but also with a prayer that God continues to use it for His glory in the lives of those it reaches.

What a neat story of answered prayer. What are you working on now?

NK: The sequel, Charging the Darkness. That and trying not to kill my new aloe Vera plant.

And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

NK: That their enthusiasm for the sequel means so much to me, but that I also just can’t “write faster.” I’m writing for my own transformation and as a means to knowing God, as novelist Ted Dekker encourages. That takes time, and lots of “chiseling” as my narrator says. But I hope and pray when Charging the Darkness is ready, you find it worth the wait as Chasing the Lion was.

You can connect with Nancy on Facebook or at her webpage.

?????????????????????????????????????????????

Click on cover to hear an excerpt from the book

LET US HEAR FROM YOU! COMMENT ON HOW GOD USED A BIBLE OR FICTION STORY IN YOUR OWN LIFE FOR A CHANCE TO WIN AN AUDIOBOOK COPY OF CHASING THE LION.

Entrants must be at least 18. Winner announced on August 18th. No purchase necessary.

Glass Girl & Perfect Glass – interview with Laura Anderson Kurk

 

author LAURA ANDERSON KURK

author LAURA ANDERSON KURK

When I read for me, I read either Sci-Fi/Fantasy or YA. I promote books that I enjoy and think you will too. The reason I’ve asked Laura Kurk here today is because her books touched me. (You might remember me writing about Glass Girl in a previous blog post.) And because I like Christian fiction that doesn’t skate around tough issues.

Please welcome Laura to the blog and stay tuned at the end for a book giveaway.

Hi, Laua! The first question I always ask is this: do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?

LAK: I’m an author who happens to be a Christian. I’ve been a bit outspoken lately about this topic. I worry that the category of “Christian fiction” has actually contributed to the demise of literature of belief in mainstream fiction. (see http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/christian-fiction-may-contribute-to-demise-of-mainstream-voices-of-faith-in-literature .) I think that when Christian publishing separated out of mainstream and called this thing “ours” that we ceded ground and are now finding it difficult to regain territory. I believe my place is in representing belief in my fiction without alienating mainstream readers. I could argue that the theme of both of my books is something like “find one lost sheep and the angels rejoice,” but that theme is woven through pretty quietly.

I’d like to see a resurgence of literature of belief that follows in a long, rich tradition in mainstream works.

Me too. :) 

Glass Girl deals with some pretty hard-hitting issues: survivor’s guilt over a school shooting and a parent with an emotional imbalance. Why these issues? Where did you come up with the idea for this story?

LAK: In 2010, when I first began working on Glass Girl, our country was seeing a rash of school shootings—in middle schools, high schools, and on college campuses. The questions that occupied a lot of my thinking at the time were – What did the siblings of school shooting victims feel like as the surviving child? What did this kind of loss do to their place in the family and the formation of their personhood?

I read an interview of Craig Scott years ago that stuck with me. Craig’s sister, Rachel, was the first victim in the Columbine shooting. I worried about Craig, although the Scott family is tremendous and he had plenty of support. It did make me wonder about survivor guilt in this new, horrible phenomenon of school violence. This was, to some degree, an unprecedented psychological turn that this country faced. Children were dealing with the violent deaths of their friends and siblings in the halls of the places they had felt most safe. Children faced their own post-traumatic stress disorders because they’d had to cower under desks and in bathroom stalls to survive. These were issues faced by families in war torn countries, not here.

I wrote about the anguish of intractable depression and anxiety in Meg’s mom because it’s a very real part of so many teens’ lives. I’m encouraged to see that our country is beginning to try to remove the stigma of mental illness. School shootings and the discussion of mental health go hand in hand and these topics allowed me to step back and forth between affected characters. We have many, many miles left to go on this issue, but I fervently believe that if we, as writers, depict the realities of mental illness in a way that shows readers they aren’t alone and there is help available, we will provide a little light to those who struggle. This is important, though—we can’t drop in characters with psychological diagnoses like we’re ticking off the boxes of diversity in our character lists. We must work hard to speak authentically and respectfully about a disease that hurts so much and kills so many.

perfect glassIn Perfect Glass, we learn more about the hero of the first book, Henry Whitmire. In Glass Girl, he seems like the perfect guy. In Perfect Glass, we learn he has real life struggles just like anyone. What can we learn about relationships and dating from studying Henry’s life?

LAK: In the sequel, Perfect Glass, I had some clear questions in mind – What happens to “perfect” all-American kids when they suddenly face adversity in an international setting? What happens when we are stripped of all the crutches we’d leaned on? How does calamity sharpen and focus us more than anything else? What does loving the “unlovable” look like? In Glass Girl, Henry is seen through Meg’s eyes and she’s love-struck, for sure. He does seem awfully good in that book.

Moving Henry to an orphanage in Nicaragua happened when I heard the very true and heartbreaking story of Programa Amor. This government closure of privately run orphanages really happened, and it affected some dear friends of mine who were directors of a home for children there. They watched as their children were taken from them and then they spent months trying to locate them again. I felt like this was a story that needed telling, and that Henry’s character needed to taste a bit hardship so we could see what he was made of. Turns out, Henry struggles like the rest of us to overcome failings, but what makes him great is that he sees things through and is loyal to the end. Things didn’t work out like he wanted them to, but he surprised himself with his acceptance of that.

What can we learn from dating from studying Henry’s life? That commitment and promises are important no matter how naïve you were when you made them. That living according to one’s principles deepens relationships and reflects character. That, when looking for the person you want to date / marry, you should watch how he or she treats those who society calls unlovable. Watch how they treat a hungry child or a fussy brother-in-law or a gang member turned orphan.

What are you working on now?

LAK: My next project will be a standalone YA contemporary. I can’t say too much because I’m always afraid I’ll jinx my own creative processes, but it deals with a subculture that hasn’t seen a great deal of discussion in recent years. The tagline is something like – A daughter who believes she’s finer than her origins learns that living on the surface is impossible when the boy who holds her heart is underground. I’m asking myself this—Do “place” and “belonging” shape identity, and who are we if we hate the place and never belonged?

And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

LAK: That I’m a complete dork. And I’d love to hear from them.

You can connect with Laura on Facebook, Twitter, and at her website.

Laura has kindly left us with an excerpt from her first book:

glass girl

Chapter One

Wyatt told me once that if tenderness were a disease, I’d be terminal.

“You’re just a little glass girl,” he’d murmur every time I blushed or cried or stared too long at someone.

I didn’t mind it so much. The point was he knew that one day I’d break—not my heart, but all of me. I suppose he was right. I feel physical pain when I see a stranger hurting. When it’s someone I care for, I come undone.

Robin, my counselor, had been trying to fill the fissures that opened on the day Wyatt died. Her voice no more than background noise, she tried to coax me into talking. I did my best to block her, but something she said at the beginning of this session slipped in, called to mind a memory as sharp as razor wire, and suddenly I was there again—in a happier time and place. I was little, and Wyatt sat next to me, all warm and alive.

“Meggie, you’re drooling on me! You’ve gotta wake up. Meg, we’re here.” His whispered words smelled like the waffles he’d had for breakfast.

I couldn’t have been more than seven on this vacation because I’d just finished the first grade. Wyatt was ten and tall for his age. People treated him like he was much older, and he usually rose to the occasion.

Dad got a wild hair and decided his East Coast family needed to see the South. So we’d driven a rented black Suburban from Pittsburgh to Nashville, Tennessee. Mom insisted that if he planned to torture us like that we had to at least stay somewhere decent. We ended up at the Tennessean Hotel, a garish testament to the fact that Nashville considered itself the Hollywood of the South.

Every hotel employee patted my head and told me I would be blown away by the laser light show. I started believing them. The first night, after my bath, I begged Mom and Dad to let me stand outside our door to watch the show to beat all shows.

Even at seven, I knew it was overplayed. Locals crowded into the atrium waiting for it to start. Then the lights went low, the fountain started dancing, and a few lasers changed the color of the water in a predictable pattern. Somebody banged out a patriotic song on a white baby grand.

Misplaced histrionics—that’s the only way to describe the crowd’s reaction.

“Mom, haven’t they been to Niagara Falls?” I clearly remember asking.

“It’s human nature to make a big deal out of something if you’re told it’s a big deal,” she’d whispered. “You just remember to let your own mind form your opinions.”

I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as she pressed her finger to my temple.

I didn’t ask to see the show after that night.

That memory wasn’t the one eating at my heart. On our second day in Nashville, Dad insisted we go to the local theme park. Wyatt and I thought it had potential—he was into roller coasters and I was into cotton candy.

We pulled into the parking lot that morning, ready to hit the gate as soon as it opened. It was July, and every paved surface in Nashville steams in July. I could already smell the asphalt around us heating up as Wyatt handed me the sun-block and bug spray. I copied the way he put them on himself.

Loaded down with maps, cameras, and illegal water bottles, we piled out of the car and started the mile-and-a-half walk to the park gate. Ahead of us, I could see a crowd gathered around an older red pickup truck. I worried that they were looking at a dog that had been left in the truck in this heat. The spectators jeered at whatever was in the truck’s bed.

Wyatt told me to put my hands over my ears, and I did, but I left slits on each side between my fingers. I never wanted to miss anything important.

Male voices whined in the heat.

“Hey, big girl, did they drive you to town and forget about you?”

“What’s your dress made out of? A hot air balloon?”

“There’s a weight limit on this axle, lady.”

Three men were speaking—three men who looked and sounded alike to me. They were thin and sunken-chested, and they had the twitchy look of dogs with fleas. Mom and Dad crossed us quickly to the other side of the row of cars, and Wyatt watched my face intently to make sure I couldn’t hear them.

Did Wyatt know what was in the truck? I couldn’t see it yet, because I was too short. And then, just as we were directly behind the truck, the crowd walked away laughing, and I saw her.

She was gigantic. She must have weighed five hundred pounds. Her body filled the entire bed of the truck. In fact, parts of her bulged over the sides, and I think that must have been painful.

Her short black hair had probably been cut with dull kitchen shears, because it stuck out in greasy, spiky strands. She wore what looked like a blue bed sheet sewn together, with holes cut for her arms. More tragic still, it was too short, or maybe it had been pulled up when she slid into the truck. No one would have been able to settle it down around her knees if she was sitting on it. It fell awkwardly just to the very top of her thighs.

She fiddled with a bag of malted milk balls—my favorite candy—and when she finally opened the bag, it exploded. The chocolate balls flew into the air in a thousand directions and fell. They made no sound, falling on her soft body or on the hot asphalt.

Her eyes have haunted me. I only caught them for a second as she glanced our way, wondering what we had to say to her.

“Don’t stare, Meg, it’s rude,” Wyatt said through his teeth, taking my hand in his and tugging me along gently.

But I wasn’t staring to be rude. I was intensely curious about the emptiness I saw there. I caught no hint of interest, no flicker of emotion. I looked back over my shoulder to make sure she was breathing.

She turned and tilted her head as she watched me and then, most amazingly, she smiled. And it wasn’t a malicious smile meant to scare me into not staring. Hers was a smile with sweetness in it. She liked children—she must have children, grandchildren—and she liked me.

Her eyes softened when I smiled back and waved, and she held her hand up to wave.

And because I was there, she was happy.

I repeated this story to Robin when she asked me, again, why I would feel guilty about Wyatt’s death. I couldn’t explain away my guilt; I just knew that I’d played a role. I’d touched the stage before the actors had entered and my touch had screwed something up. Wyatt died and I lived.

I pleaded with Robin to understand.

“My mother would be able to function if Wyatt were here instead of me,” I said.

Robin shook her head and put her pen to her lips. “That’s not true.”

“Wyatt’s death is connected to everything ugly in the world,” I added. “How can you not see that?”

The fan, buzzing away in the corner, oscillated my way, blowing long strands of my hair across my face. I left them there as an excuse to close my eyes.

“Why is your brother’s death part of a worldwide tragedy, Meg?”

Through my hair, my gaze met hers in a look that I hope conveyed serious disdain. “Nope. Not what I said. You’re doing that thing where you turn my words around and try to feed them back to me.” Every adult in my life did that and I hated it.

“Then tell me what you meant when you said—” She stopped to read from her leather-bound notebook. “—‘Wyatt’s death is connected to everything ugly in the world.’”

I chose to be long-suffering to speed this session up. “I meant that the hatred of that July day in Nashville was alive and well on that horrible day in Pittsburgh. People hate others so they strike like snakes. It’s all connected—we’re all connected, bumping around into each other, some of us good, some bad, most a mixture. Every thought acted upon has consequences. Every one.”

I cleared my throat, surprised that I’d put into words what I’d concluded on the day Wyatt died. I’m sure my surprise registered on my face because Robin studied me for a moment. Then she adjusted the throw that she had over her crossed legs—she used these visual cues to relax me—and looked at me calmly.

“Meg, you’re feeling pain, and it’s palpable; you’re feeling guilt, and it’s normal. But these feelings don’t define you. They are false constructs that your mind has created to make sense of your loss.”

She clicked her pen several times and took a long time considering what to say next, what I would actually hear.

“This assumption you developed when you were little—that you are somehow responsible for the happiness, or even the safety, of others in your life, whose paths you cross, that woman in the truck in Nashville—is wrong, and it’s dangerous for you. That’s something you need to come to terms with.”

She turned back to her notebook, thumbed to a page in the middle, and read quietly for a minute. Maybe she was waiting for me to say something. I cracked my knuckles, trying to stop myself from filling the dead air with more words. Words don’t change anything.

A smile flickered at the corner of her mouth and her eyes softened. I flipped my hair out of my face so I could see her better.

“When we first met,” she said, “I asked you to tell me about the Meg before Wyatt’s death.”

“I remember.”

“You told me about how she wore her skin inside out. I found it interesting that the people in your life have always treated you like you’re breakable. What was it Wyatt called you? A glass girl?”

The familiar protective impulse snagged the threads of my mind. Wyatt hadn’t meant any harm. He hadn’t known how sharp I’d be when I broke¼how I’d cut someone if they got too close. My eyes burned with the effort of staying dry.

 In an unprecedented move, Robin stood, letting her throw fall to the ground with a soft whisper of cotton and fringe and air. She knelt next to my chair and touched my arm like she meant it.

“Meg…you have to let that go. You’re tougher than you think. For goodness’ sake, you are not responsible for Wyatt’s death. Your mother doesn’t wish it had been you. And the woman in the truck? She was trying to make you comfortable, not the other way around. You were the child, Meg…she was the adult.”

I shifted away from the invasion. It was uncalled for, really, so I studied the black-and-white print on her wall, a picture meant to inspire her clients. The girl in the print had just reached the top of a mountain. She stood peacefully and looked at the sky. It said, “Gratitude” under it.

Robin followed my gaze, sighed, and backed into her chair again, like a film editor had suddenly rewound her.

“We all have a gap after we lose someone,” she said. “We think that we will always have this hole that’s obvious to everyone around us. We won’t. The hole will be filled with life. It will be something entirely different, but at least it won’t let the wind in anymore.”

“You say all this like you think I should move on.” I leaned over, curling into myself. “So I’m failing therapy now, too?”

Robin stood again and paced. She seemed at loose ends today. “Here’s what I’m saying. Your whole life is a much bigger story than this terrible thing that’s happened.” She stretched her arms out wide in illustration. “Yes, your story will be shaped by that moment, but you were already well on your way to living a profoundly meaningful life. Wyatt’s death gave you even more perspective. You get to see the world more clearly than the rest of us.” She stopped and mumbled something to herself that I didn’t catch.

“What?” I said. Her burst of passion intrigued me. In my recently extensive experience with therapists, they preferred equilibrium to passion.

“I said I think you’ve always seen the world more clearly.” Hands on her hips, she stared at me for a minute, lost in thought.

I could tell, then, that she believed there was hope for me. I sat up a little straighter.

Robin nodded. “It’s just like when you chose to tell me the story about being in Nashville on vacation. That story had nothing to do with Wyatt’s death. But in choosing to tell me, you showed your hand.”

“What hand?” I squirmed under her scrutiny.

“The hand you have to play,” she said. “You see things that others miss. That is who you are and it’s what consumes your time and energy. It’s not a bad thing but it’s a tool that you’ll have to figure out how to use. Your story is bigger than a mentally ill kid with a gun.”

“There’s nothing on earth bigger than that.”

“Right now it seems that way, I know.” She sighed. I think she struggled with her own non sequitur.

“Think of it this way,” Robin said. “You’re different. You’ve got an advantage over others your age because you know how precious life and relationships are. But—here’s where I give you my professional opinion—you had that knowledge, that wisdom, before Wyatt died.”

“Yes,” I said. “Hence the glass girl thing we previously discussed.” I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. I knew what Robin was trying to say and the part that scared me was that it kind of made sense.

She shook her head. “No, the nickname is off the table. I’m not talking about that. One of these days, you’ll find that someone recognizes your strength and wisdom and loves how very big your spirit is. That person will want to be part of your story because it will be beautiful.”

Excerpt used by permission.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? WANT TO WIN A COPY?

ENTER OUR Rafflecopter giveaway!

hashtag your prayer journal

photoDo you keep a prayer journal? If you don’t, you might consider trying it out. It’s easy.

I use a spiral notebook and fold the first few pages in half. On the left column you write the date and the prayer requests and leave the right side open for the answers. Keeping a prayer journal has some great benefits:

  • You know how you tell people you’re praying for them? This way, you’ll remember to do it. And not only do it, but check back with them to see how things are going.
  • It keeps you organized. One stop shopping for all your prayers of intercession.
    • I recently started using #hashtags as a quick reference for what I was praying. For instance, I have a friend that has a great job opportunity but it would require him to move his entire family to another country. So he’s on the list and I’m praying for his situation, but what I’m asking God to provide him is #wisdom. I could also have put #discernment or #bigflashingneonsign, but you get the idea.
  • Proof that God answers prayers. 
    • This particular prayer journal I started recently, so only a few things on the right column have answers. I’ve gotten out of the habit, but in our small group a couple of years ago, I would journal our prayer requests. It was amazing to go back and look at the pages of answered prayers. Spiritual encouragement. A wonderful place to go and see God’s work in your life. Pages of love, hope, and faithfulness at your fingertips.

What I noticed today as I #hashtagged the prayer requests is that over half of my list is requests for healing. It’s not surprising–when someone is sick, especially if they are very sick, we ask people to pray for them. But what about the other things in life? Paul admonishes us to

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Not that you’re going to ask just anyone to pray for all the nitty-gritty sticky personal stuff going on in your life, but don’t be afraid to ask the people you trust to pray for things besides just #healing. Get personal. Get real. God answers prayers.

DO YOU KEEP A PRAYER JOURNAL? HOW DOES IT WORK FOR YOU?

Need prayer? Post below or message me and I’ll add you to my journal.

demons and spiritual warfare

Do you ever think about spiritual warfare? I mean really think about it? Do you think the forces of good and evil are warring somewhere in another dimension where they can see and influence us but we can’t see them? Do you believe the biblical accounts of angels and demons and satan? What about Hebrews 12:1 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” And if we can entertain angels without knowing it, might we also entertain demons without knowing it?

Is it just me, or is this a subject that none of us discuss because it makes all of us at least a little uncomfortable? How many of you have heard a sermon about this at church? If you’re from a protestant non-charismatic background (like me), how many of you have heard sermons about this at all? Except maybe in passing as something that occurred back in Old Testament times.

I’ve had the opportunity to read two books recently, both on the subject of demonology. One non-fiction, one fiction. One for class, one for fun. Both excellent.

rainforestThe first is Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman’s Story by Mark Ritchie. This book is not for everyone, but I enjoyed it because it transported me back to college when I was studying for a BA in Anthropology. Why anthropology? Because I love learning about other cultures. The way we think is largely based on what we were taught and the rules of the society where we live. If you grew up in a different time or culture with different parents, friends, and experiences, would you be the same person you are today? Seems to me the answer is no. But it’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

The Yanomamo are something of a time-warp culture. They are an aboriginal group of South American Indians who had no contact with the outside world until the latter half of the twentieth century. Their culture is violent and is based on retaliation so they are always at war. And they are poor, the kind of poor where life is a struggle just to survive.

What is most remarkable about this book is the chronicle of spiritual warfare from the Yanamamö perspective. With their strong belief in the spirit world, the Yanamamö interact with spirits in a way that Western society does not. The authenticity of the shaman’s stories allows the reader to learn about Yanamamö culture and the impetus for their actions. And you don’t have to read that far into it before you realize that the impetus for their actions is demonic in origin. Fascinating stuff. And amazing when God enters the picture.

The book I just finished today, I highly recommend if you haven’t already read it. Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee. What a ride!

At first, the book seems simple enough. There’s this demon and he wants to tell his story. To explain his view. To explain his perspective. And you almost feel sorry for him.

Then you’ve got the main character, the person the demon is telling his story to. The one that becomes obsessed with it so that this memoir becomes the most important thing he’s doing with his life.

And then you want to know how it all ends.

And when it finally ends, then you see what the story was really about. And THAT is why this is one of the most brilliant and well-told books I’ve ever read.

I don’t want to tell much more about the story than that because I don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t read it. But it is multi-faceted and will change the way you think about demonic influence, much the same way that C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters does.

SO, SPIRITUAL WARFARE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

how long does it take to perform DNA testing?

small__2069420378Well, that depends on a number of factors:

  • The type of case -
    • samples that contain semen take longer to process for DNA than samples that do not because there are more steps involved in the process and because the samples yield not one but two DNA profiles (a male enriched profile (from semen) and a female enriched sample)
  • The number of evidence pieces submitted -
    • cases with lots and lots of evidence (usually homicide cases) take longer to process that cases with few samples
  • The throughput capacity of the lab -
    • how many people work in the lab? how many pieces of equipment are available? how efficiently does the laboratory work? These are all factors in throughput. Labs with automated processes that batch cases together and work in a factory-line approach have more throughput and usually better quality than laboratories that that do not automate analysis and process cases one at a time.
  • The case backlog -
    • how many cases are waiting for analysis? Depending on the laboratory, this could be a huge number. The NIJ reported that 168 laboratories that requested grant funding to alleviate DNA backlogs combined had over 100,000 cases waiting to be processed. Doing the math, that means that on average these labs had a backlog of 595 cases per lab in 2009. And with case submissions increasing each year (everyone wants DNA testing, right?), then the backlog similarly increases. That would mean that if the capacity of the lab was 300 cases per month, then the cases would be backlogged at least two months. If the lab’s capacity were 60 cases a month, then the backlog would be 10 months.

For more information, you can check out these sites:

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ)

The Office of the Inspector General’s audit of the FBI Crime Lab ~2 year backlog as of 2010

Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Fact Sheet

medium_4426655557

In the lab where I worked, we went from a large backlog to none by using increased staffing, automation, and grant funding to eliminate our DNA backlog. By the time I left, our total case turnaround time (from the time a case was submitted to our agency to the time we returned a final report) was 2-4 weeks depending on the type of case. With proper management and resources, it is possible for a crime laboratory to reduce their backlog and become effective. Sadly, many laboratories don’t have the budget, foresight, or management expertise to reduce their DNA backlogs. Instead, they request less than the number of staff needed and are slow to/refuse to update their processing paradigm to handle their case submissions.

But back to our original question…if an average case were submitted (say 5 samples) and it was started as soon as it reached the laboratory and people worked on it around the clock, then the case could be done in 2-3 days.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS?