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Posts Tagged ‘novels’

There could be several answers to this question, come to think of it. Both words end in ‘ting’, for starters. And if I remember my parts of speech correctly, both are verbal nouns. As for the activities themselves, both can be accomplished much more easily, I’d say, if one is sitting down. Both also require the use of one’s hands – well usually anyway. And both, in my opinion, require much patience and perseverance.

Now I put knitting aside several years ago. I knew if I began another project, I would get ‘hooked’ and those novels I hoped to write would never be finished. Recently, however, a family member suggested I might like to start knitting again and in a weak moment, I acquiesced. I blithely chose a beautiful pattern and bought some wool, but after reading the instructions more closely, decided I should be more realistic. It would probably take me several years to complete what I had chosen, so I lowered my sights and selected a different one.

But then the fun began. I tried the first four rows several times without success – the lacy pattern was beyond me. Backwards and forwards I went, knitting a few rows, undoing them all and trying again. Eventually I worked out what the instructions actually meant and then I was off – at least for a while. But careless mistakes began occurring – and I soon lost count of the number of times I knitted several rows, only to pull them undone yet again.

And here is where the similarity between writing and knitting kicked in for me. There was something incredibly familiar about this moving forward and retreating, this creating and undoing. Six novels further down the track in my writing journey, this ebb and flow has become almost inevitable, something that is par for the course. When I first began writing, I could not handle the idea of throwing out large chunks of the masterpiece I had created and sweated over. Yet over time, I learnt it did not kill me to delete my pearls of wisdom. In fact, I came to see it often led to discovering even greater treasures than pearls.

So for me, both knitting and writing require large dollops of patience and perseverance. And last night, as I unravelled several rows of my knitting yet again, I was reminded that this is how God is constantly called on to deal with me. I forge ahead – and God is there beside me, guiding and encouraging. I mess up – and God is there, challenging me and comforting me. I go backwards, forgetting where I’m heading and losing the way – and God is there again, urging me on and strengthening me to run the race. As Psalm 103 reminds us:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. … As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Yes, I will no doubt continue to make mistakes – and God, the author of all things, who knit me together even before I was born (Psalm 139), will graciously edit them out and patiently unpick them, as I allow him to.

And for that I will be forever grateful.

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I have been interviewed twice for radio in recent times. The first was for Jenny Baxter’s Sunday morning show on FM106Five in Hobart and the second for ‘Sunday Night with Kel Richards’ on 2CH in Sydney. Both were phone interviews and I was given prior warning when they would take place. All I had to do was be available, well prepared and as alert as possible.

My interviewers were wonderful. Jenny was warm and relaxed and quickly put me at my ease. And when I mixed up the date of a speaking engagement, I was reassured that would be edited out anyway. Kel Richards was equally warm and friendly, but I knew I could not mess up my answers, since I understand studio time for his popular show is at a premium and there would be minimal editing, if any. As our phone interview drew near, I spread out ‘prompt sheets’ around me with answers to questions I thought he might ask. I also had my novels nearby – just in case, in the heat of the moment, I forgot what I had written about!

Kel asked me around seven questions. I ‘um-ed’ and ‘ah-ed’ my way through the first couple a little, but there was no time even for a quick glance at my ‘prompt sheets’. This was ‘sudden death’ – and a very public death at that!!  I consoled myself, however, with the thought that at 11.10pm on a cold, wet Sunday evening, perhaps there would not be too many people wide awake enough to witness my demise.

But then I drew a deep breath and realised this was not the moment to be hesitant in any way. I knew what my novels were about. I knew why I wrote what I had and who I hoped would read my novels. I even knew how I would encourage young novelists in their writing journey. These were the sorts of questions that were unfolding as we talked. Besides, I wanted at least one person to phone in and win the copy of my latest novel ‘Helena’s Legacy’ Kel was offering as a prize for the listener who answered his bible quiz question correctly!

After our call finished, I thought about the responses I gave and how differently I would have answered the questions second time around. But in the end, I decided I had done my best – I had responded as honestly and promptly as possible. So all I had to do now was trust God with the outcome.

But the whole experience also made me think about how I need to be equally prepared on a daily basis to answer questions about my faith in God in that same eager, truthful, prompt way. In 1 Peter 3: 15-16 we read:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

We have to be ready and willing at a moment’s notice – chances are there won’t be any prior warning or prompt sheets. But we will have God’s Spirit with us who will give us just the right words to say and all the grace and sensitivity we need.

Now that puts me much more at ease than even the best interviewer possibly could. How about you?

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I have been thinking a lot about faces recently for several reasons. Firstly, my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, is due for release in about a week – and featured on the front is the face of one of the main characters in the novel. This was something I vowed and declared I would never agree to with any of my novels. I like my readers to imagine their own heroes and heroines. After all, many of us have no doubt been disappointed in how the main characters in our favourite books are depicted when seeing the movie adaptation of the stories.

Yet on this occasion, the particular image chosen by the graphic artist seems to convey something of the conflicting emotions my character, Doctor Susan Curtis, experiences in the novel. There is a kind of pensive, wistful air about her that appeals to me – and I hope to my readers as well. (For more information, please visit my website, www.jo-anneberthelsen.com).

My second reason for my focus on faces is that this past week, a rare event occurred for me. I was treated to a blissful facial at the salon where our daughter works! Such things usually come my way only by virtue of a birthday or Christmas present – but I do enjoy them. I experienced the tender, loving care our daughter took of my skin and other facial features – and I must admit I was ashamed of how little I do in this regard. After all, I am made in the image of God, as Genesis 1:27 tells me, so I need to do what I can to honour God through my appearance as well as through my life and the words I say.

But my third reason for thinking of faces – and the reason for the above facial – is that our lovely beauty therapist daughter, Tina, celebrated her wedding last Saturday evening. She was married overseas in February but this was the first opportunity she and her husband, Kofi, have had to celebrate with friends here. Someone commented recently that Tina and Kofi are a ‘shining couple’ – and they did both looked radiant on the night. Their faces clearly displayed their happiness at being together and their joy that they could celebrate with friends and family.

So these events caused me to wonder just how much my joy at being a child of God and the peace and happiness I have as a result truly show on my own face. I know outward appearances aren’t everything. They don’t seem to matter much to God, who, as 1 Samuel 16:7 says, prefers to look at our heart instead. And of course all of us go through difficult periods when it’s hard to look particularly joyful. But if my face is completely miserable most of the time, or has a hard, critical expression, surely that doesn’t convey a very positive picture of God to the world at large?

Some of us have more interesting and attractive features than others – and there’s little we can do about that. But I hope I do my best with what I have to shine forth God’s love and grace to those around me. I hope in some small measure that I mirror the face of God to them, so that no stumbling block is put in their way and that they will long to seek his face themselves with all their hearts (Psalm 27:8; 105:4).

How about you?

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How many things are you able to focus on at the same time? Are you expert at juggling any number of balls and not dropping a single one? Or are you a little like I was yesterday when I tried to answer a question at the same time as signing one of my books? Much to my embarrassment, I made a mistake writing my own name!

Right now, however, my writing challenge is a little bigger than spelling my own name correctly. Recently I reached that delightful stage yet again of checking through two different novels at the same time, while also planning out my next book, writing blogs and preparing talks.

So why edit two novels simultaneously? Well, it so happens that, having just handed my sixth novel over to one of my expert manuscript readers to check, I needed to consider her comments carefully and put the relevant changes in place. Then last week, my publisher emailed me the print-ready version of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release next month, for one final check before going to print. My challenge then is to remember who is who in each novel and also what these characters did along the way. And all the while I will have to guard against thinking ‘No, this character wouldn’t have said this or that – it’s all wrong!’ and wanting to change things drastically, only to realise I have a different character from my more recent novel in mind.

But I’m also into planning my seventh book – this time a work of non-fiction. I know I have to get moving on this, if it is going to see the light of day within the next two or three years. Yet my weekly blogs are also important to me – and of course I always want to prepare well for each speaking engagement.

And that’s one reason I’m in awe of our amazing God, the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe, who is all-powerful, all-knowing and present in all places – who is in fact the ultimate ‘multi-tasker’! Our God, the Alpha and Omega, was there at the beginning of all things and will still be there at the very end, as Revelation 21:6 tells us. And in those intervening millennia, God has watched over his people, and will continue to watch over us all at one and the same time. Unlike me, God does not get mixed up and forget us, his ‘characters’, or the stories of our lives. In Luke 12:6-7, we read Jesus’ own words to his disciples:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God, Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I’m so glad that while God is busy looking after you, the same is true for me! I’m so glad that while God is shaping the story of my life in a way that is unique and just right for me, this same God is concurrently writing yours. And I’m so glad that, in God’s perfect author hands, all of these stories will flow well, deal with all the devious twists and turns of the plot along the way and reach their desired conclusion in a most satisfactory manner. We are worth more than sparrows to God. We are not forgotten.

Now that’s some multi-tasking, don’t you think?

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In recent days, I have been involved in finalising the cover of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release in June. I was asked by my publisher, Ark House, for suggestions and in the process, told them one thing I don’t like on a cover – a front view of the hero or heroine! I like my readers to imagine these characters themselves. And as the author, no image ever seems to do justice to this ‘real’ person I have walked beside for months who has persevered and struggled and triumphed and lived through so many different experiences.

When the cover was returned for approval, however, I found a front view of the main character on it! And yet … well, she looked lovely, with a rather pensive, sad expression that exactly suits the storyline. So I rapidly had to revise my own mental concept, step back a little and try to appreciate what the graphic artist had come up with. Now I’m very happy with the result – and I hope my readers will be too.

It’s sad but true that we do tend to judge a book by its cover. For this reason, I’m very glad all my novels have excellent covers. In this day of economic downturn and questions about the future of books and bookstores, we authors need all the help we can get! But all of this has led me to wonder how I myself come across to people – how the ‘cover’ I present to the world expresses what is inside me. What do people see when I get up to speak somewhere? What do people notice about the way I live my daily life?

Well, I know they see a grey-haired woman who is definitely not slim and perhaps make judgments about that! It is amazing how people are put in ‘boxes’ simply on the strength of having grey hair, I’ve discovered. Perhaps we would be suitable to speak to Seniors’ Groups, it is suggested nicely – when I absolutely love speaking to young mums or people of any age, including Seniors! But much more importantly, I hope I carry with me in what I do and say – and yes, even in my appearance – something of who God is. After all, each of us is created in God’s image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. And as the psychologist David Benner puts it in ‘The Gift of Being Yourself’, each of us, when we are prepared to be our true selves, actually is a ‘unique face of God to the world’! What a privilege – but what a responsibility as well.

So I hope both in my life and through my novels, by God’s grace, I reflect that grace and love clearly in a way that points people to God. ‘Let you light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’, Jesus tells his disciples (Matt 5:16). I hope as I speak, that my words carry something of the ‘fragrance of life’ that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 2:16. And I hope and pray that the ‘cover’ of the book of my life will attract people to God and not turn them away.

But I’m so relieved that when God looks at me, the inside matters much more than the outside! In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel is sizing up Jesse’s sons as potential future kings, the Lord reminds him:

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

How about you? What does your ‘cover’ convey? And what does God see in your heart?

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Today I am embarking on a trip to Tasmania – a place I have always wanted to visit. I have been invited to speak at a conference there and a few other places in the next two weeks. And we hope to have a holiday and enjoy some of the beautiful places and scenery as well.

Now we have planned ahead for this trip. I have thought and prayed about my input and I hope I have made the right decisions with all that. I have plenty of my novels on hand to sell too at these venues. And my husband has worked out the routes we will take and printed out copious number so Google maps! I have also made sure my little prayer team who support me so well wherever I speak knows my itinerary and can follow me on my journey as they are able. But there still comes a time, I find, when I look at all the speaking engagements and travel ahead and feel a little overwhelmed. Besides that, for a few weeks now I have struggled with back trouble and sciatica pain – just when I really need to be full of energy and on top of things! So in my weakness, crazy thoughts begin to come into my head. What if I haven’t prepared appropriate material? What if I speak for too long? What if I have my speaking engagements mixed up? What if we can’t find the places on time? What if I’m in too much pain? What if …? And so the list goes on.

It’s then that I pull myself up short, and realise God has been trying to get through to me for a while now. Lately, I have been reading the book of 1 Samuel and taking in all the ups and downs of Saul’s and David’s lives. Somehow I don’t think I would have liked David’s experience of having to flee for his life from Saul, fight endless battles, live in caves and desert strongholds and be in danger on so many fronts. Many times, his heart must have failed him when people betrayed him and tried to deliver him into Saul’s hands, when his motives and loyalty were doubted, when he was forced to live among the Philistines, and certainly when his wives and sons and daughters were taken captive. On that occasion, Scripture tells us that ‘David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep’ (1 Sam 30:4).

Yet it seems to me that David knew exactly where – or who – to go to in order to find the strength he needed. On an earlier occasion when Saul was searching for him day after day, we are told that Saul’s son Jonathan came to him in the desert ‘and helped him find strength in God’ (1 Sam 23:16). Then when David’s family was taken captive, we read how, on top of that, his own men were talking about stoning him since they too had lost their wives and sons and daughters. Yet in the midst of all this grief and turmoil, the next sentence we read says simply this:

But David found strength in the Lord his God. (1 Sam 30:6b)

I think any qualms I might have about our upcoming trip pale into insignificance for sure against David’s dreadful experiences. So yes, Lord – I get the message! And I know as I look to you, I will find all the strength I need for whatever lies ahead.

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I wonder if you have ever tried your hand at selling something you have created or produced? Recently I spent the large part of a day selling my four published novels at a conference – always an interesting experience, to say the least!

I choose to sell my books directly, as well as via my website and through bookstores, for several reasons. For starters, people are more likely to buy books when they can meet the author face to face. I always offer to sign my books too – I tell my customers that when I am very famous they can put their copies on ebay and make their fortunes! After all, one has to remain optimistic in this novel writing and bookselling world.

But there are other advantages to selling in this way. I get to network with a wide variety of people and have some wonderful conversations in the process. I can explain what my books are about and how and why I came to write them. I can sit and observe people as they walk past – it is amazing how this little thing about one person and that little detail about another finds their way into my novels!  I can encourage others who are perhaps dreaming of writing a book one day. I always take the opportunity to write ‘God bless’ alongside my name on each novel I sell – for me these words are a ‘mini-prayer’ that God will truly bless and encourage anyone who reads the book. And when I finally hand over the purchase, I feel as if I am giving away part of me.

Yet I can well understand some authors’ reluctance to spend time personally selling their books. It is quite confronting to have people pick up your books that you have slaved over, browse through them with a bored look on their faces, put them down and walk away. It is even more confronting when you spend time answering all their questions, only to have them still walk away empty-handed.

But one experience that always amuses me is when people openly declare to you, the author, that instead of buying your book, they will simply borrow the copy their friend has just bought! Recently another author told me of an experience she had where there was a line-up of potential customers at her book table. Suddenly the girl at the head of the queue had a bright idea. ‘I know!’ she announced loudly to her friends lined up behind her. ‘Why don’t I buy just the one copy and you can all borrow mine – that would be much better!” At which point, her friends agreed and the queue dissolved. Well yes – it is ‘much better’ in some ways. After all, I myself lend out lots of books I own to others. I understand not everyone has spare cash to spend on books. But … well, from the author’s perspective, let’s just say it might be wiser – and nicer – to decide you will borrow your friend’s copy instead of buying one before you get to that book table, within earshot of the author!

I think the secret is to approach such selling opportunities with an open heart, trusting God will bring to my book table the people I am supposed to touch base with and those whom my novels will truly bless and inspire. And I also think it’s wise always to remember the words of Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

So thank you, Lord, for each sale you bring my way and for all those who will read my books. May they be blessed, encouraged, comforted and challenged – and above all, be drawn closer to you!

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