Monday, November 30, 2009

One Simple Act by Debbie Macomber

Tour Date: December 2, 2009

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

One Simple Act

Howard Books (November 3, 2009)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Willingham of Simon & Schuster sending me a review copy.***


Debbie Macomber is one of today’s leading voices in women’s fiction. With more than 100 million copies of her books in print and translated into twenty-three languages, her popularity is worldwide. Debbie and her husband live in Washington and Florida and are the proud parents of four children and grandparents of nine grandchildren.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (November 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439108935
ISBN-13: 978-1439108932


Chapter One

Fleas, Footsteps, and Check-out Lanes

Giving from a Grateful Heart

Kate stepped out of her bookstore at the end of a long, tiring day, locked the door behind her, pulled her scarf up over her nose and mouth to shield her lungs from the bitter cold air, and rushed across the lot to her car. Just one quick stop at the grocery store and she’d be on the way home to cuddle up with her new book in front of a warm fire.

As she waited at the traffic light to turn into the grocery store lot she took off one glove to feel if the air blasting out of the heat vents was starting to warm. Ah, yes. What a relief. In the few minutes it had taken her to get from her bookstore to the grocery store her fingers had started to ache from the cold. “I think I was born with cold fingers,” she muttered. The light changed to green and as she turned into the lot she came alongside a narrow median strip and noticed a man holding a crudely made hand-lettered cardboard sign. HOMELESS. NEED FOOD. PLEASE HELP. At his feet was a small white plastic bucket. His collar was pulled high against the cold, but her eyes went to his hands holding the sign. Bare hands.

My fingers ache from five minutes in this cold car, with gloves on. How cold must his be? she wondered. Her eyes went to his face. Late twenties, probably six or seven years older than Mark. The sudden thought of her son instantly made her shoulders sag. She hadn’t seen Mark since summer. Addicted to drugs, Mark had left home several months ago after a two year struggle—maybe war was a better word—with his parents over his drug abuse. He still called sometimes, but he’d been bunking in with friends, house hopping, and he’d even slept on the streets rather than come back home. Never had she felt so helpless as she’d felt watching her son self-destruct these past two years. Never so powerless to meet the deep needs of the son she loved. But he wasn’t ready to give up his drugs or his illusion of freedom. He remained elusive about his whereabouts and declined every offer Kate made to meet him someplace to talk. Where is he tonight? Cold and hungry like this guy? Begging on some street corner? And if a kind stranger gives him a ten dollar bill, he’ll buy his next hit of pills before buying a warm meal. Kate’s heart sank. Are Mark’s hands cold tonight?

And then it came to her. A quiet nudge. She parked, hurried into the store to pick up bread, eggs, and some yogurt for the weekend, then hit one more aisle. Through the checkout, a dash back to her car, and back along the other side of the median strip, where she pulled alongside the young man, rolled down her window and stopped. Her heart picked up its pace. He walked over to her car, bucket held out, but she didn’t hand any money out the window. Instead she held out a warm pair of gloves she’d just bought. He looked startled.

“Your hands must be terribly cold,” she said. “I hope these help.” The young man looked confused for a moment. Then accepted the gloves. “Thanks,” he said.

The car behind her honked and she pulled away and moved toward the intersection. She glanced in the rearview mirror and saw him pulling on the gloves. She blinked to clear a few tears away. They were warm on her cold checks, but another warmth from somewhere in her core was spreading upward, and she found herself smiling.

For the first time in a long time she didn’t feel powerless at the thought of Mark. Take care of my son tonight, Lord, she prayed. Show him Your love through the kindness of a stranger. And Lord, comfort the mother of that young man tonight.

In that one simple act Kate had discovered the power of generosity. She’d not only warmed a troubled young man; she’d kindled a spark of hope for Mark. And she realized that God had just used her to care for the son of another worried mother. And who knows, maybe the young man on the median strip called is mother that night.

Just one simple act.

A Discovery Worth Sharing

You’ve read the subtitle of this book, Discovering the Power of Generosity. If you recognized my name on the cover of the book you may be asking yourself why a writer known for fiction is writing a nonfiction book on generosity The answer is . . . well . . . if you don’t mind me quoting the title . . . simple. Have you ever discovered something so great that you just had to tell your friends? You know, like a great little vacation spot you stumbled across while on a trip, or a new clothing store with affordable prices, great selection and really stellar service? Maybe you’ve heard a speaker that had a huge impact on you, or saw a movie that made you laugh ‘til you cried and you knew just the friend who needed it. When we find something we love, we want to share it with it others and spread the joy. Right? That is how I feel about simple acts of generosity. I have had some encounters with generosity—as the recipient, the giver, the witness—that have had a profoundly life-changing impact on me. I’ve just got to share the news.

On the other hand, you may have seen the word generosity and thought to yourself, “Oh great. One more appeal to go digging deep into my pocket.” Don’t worry! You are not in for a brand new load of guilt. I promise! That’s precisely what this book is not about. In our age of overwork and exhaustion, tossing a few dollars here and there may be the easiest way to practice generosity. But I am talking about it in larger terms—life-changing terms.

Like my friend Kate. She made a five minute investment of time, and on a whim probably spent about eight or nine dollars on that pair of gloves. But her decision had nothing to do with her wallet. It had to do with her heart. When she handed those gloves out the window she brought unexpected goodness into a bleak situation. And that goodness spilled over and gave back. It multiplied. For my friend Kate, that was just the beginning. But that is a story for another time.

When you pick up a book, it’s fair to ask, “What’s in it for me?” My goal in writing this is to surprise you with the multiple benefits that come from small and large acts of generosity. I’m convinced that we cannot become all we could be until we are willing to unclench our hands and release what we’ve been clinging to, what we’ve been determined to keep for ourselves. The intriguing part is that once we release such gifts we are free to take hold of something more, something better; something that God has wanted to give us for a very long time.

Simply put, intentional acts of generosity can open our lives to the very best God has to offer. In fact, the very best that God has to offer is exactly where we need to start.

A Tradition Worth Keeping

Several years ago I read of the old Quaker tradition of keeping a gratitude journal. I was inspired by the idea so I purchased a book with blank pages and titled it My Ode to Joy. Each morning I wrote a little thank you note to God. I found it to be a way to start my day on a positive note. Little did I understand then how the discipline of writing down five things for which I am thankful every day would forever change my life.

When I first started I found it easy to hit the big things—good parents, a wonderful husband, my children (and later my grandchildren) and, of course, a writing career I love. These precious gifts still make their way onto my list over and over. Today, when I re-read journals from past years I see that as the months, then years, trickled by, I began to dig deeper for things to add to my list. As I matured in my understanding of how God works, it wasn’t only the good things, the pleasant, “happy” gifts for which I expressed appreciation. I began to see more clearly how God was using life’s trials in unexpected ways for my good so I began to write down my gratitude for the seemingly negative things in my life—my troubles, pains and losses. With that knowledge I became more confident that God would see me through everything, and my gratitude grew deeper. In fact, expressing thanks for negative things is a practice I adopted from Corrie ten Boom as I read her book The Hiding Place.1

Fleas, God’s Secret Weapon

During World War II, Corrie and her sister, Betsie had been arrested in Holland for trying to help Jews escape the Holocaust. They ended up in Ravensbruck, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. Their barracks had been built to hold 400 prisoners but by the time the sisters arrived at the camp, the room held more than 1400 women.

Living conditions were insufferable. The women were housed like stacked cordwood on dirty, flea-infested straw, strewn on wooden platforms. The fleas feasted night and day until everyone was covered in itchy, raised welts.

If it hadn’t been for their Bible and the comfort the sisters were able to take from Betsie’s readings, Corrie didn’t know how they could have survived from day to day. If the guards had ventured into the room they would have discovered the forbidden Bible. Not only would it have been confiscated but the consequences would have been brutal. Over and over, the two sisters wondered over the mystery of why the guards never inspected their barracks.

One morning Betsie read the Bible verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that said, Give thanks in all circumstances. She insisted that they put this into practice, feeling certain that ‘giving thanks’ was the answer to their suffering. As Corrie tells the story, her sister named a litany of things they needed to thank God for—from the amazing circumstance that enabled the sisters to stay together, to the Bible she held in her hands, to the other women in the camp. But when Betsie began to thank God for the suffocating room and finally for the fleas, Corrie balked. It seemed impossible to Corrie to find anything for which to thank God in the deprivation of a concentration camp.

But Betsie insisted, reminding Corrie that God said, “in all circumstances.” Corrie recalled standing in that room with all the other women, thanking God for the fleas and being certain that, for once, Betsie was wrong. Yet, that prayer proved to be a turning point for the women. Their circumstances hadn’t changed but their attitude did. Betsie and Corrie began to connect with the women in a way that changed those barracks and the women imprisoned there. It wasn’t until much later that Corrie discovered the reason the dreaded inspection never happened and their beloved Bible remained undiscovered. It was the very same reason she and Betsie were never stopped from having their much-anticipated Bible studies.

The fleas!

The guards refused to set foot into those barracks because of the out-of-control flea infestation. When Betsie took God at His word and thanked Him in all circumstances, she had no idea those fleas were actually a gift from God.

It’s easy to be grateful for the sunshine, the good things, plenty of food, meeting the budget and compliant children. But God tells us to express gratitude in all circumstances.

Think about it. That means we are called to offer thanks when the wind blows into our lives at hurricane force. We are asked to thank Him when the money runs out long before the end of the month, and when the kids are pushing the boundaries and challenging us at every turn. It doesn’t make any logical sense, does it?

Corrie ten Boom discovered the “sense” of giving thanks in all circumstances. She discovered the vital link between gratitude and trust. Through reading The Hiding Place and through the practice of keeping my own gratitude journal, I, too, have discovered this link. Though we may not understand the whys of our circumstances, by thanking God we grow to acknowledge that He is in control—that He can be trusted. We learn to release our iron-tight grip on our circumstances, and we experience a much-welcome reprieve from worry.

The importance of giving thanks is clear in Philippians 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Interesting, isn’t it? The antidote for anxiety is to pray with thanksgiving.


The act of gratitude reminds us that God is worthy of our trust.

Footsteps Worth Following

I admit learning to praise God in all circumstances takes practice. I find I need to be intentional and deliberate in doing so, and make it a day-by-day, even minute-by-minute exercise. My grandparents were immigrants of German-Russian extraction who settled in the Dakotas. They were dirt farmers during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. My grandparents, Anna and Anton Adler, rose long before dawn, greeting each day with anticipation. My grandfather labored in his fields only to see his crops fail year after year. When all seemed lost, he didn’t give up. He looked toward the future. He heard of work picking fruit in the Yakima Valley in Washington State. Selling everything they had, my grandparents headed west with six children, leaving their two adult children behind with and all their earthly possessions strapped to the back of their Model T Ford. They headed west, and without a backward glance, he left the farm behind. By all outward appearances my grandfather had failed just as the land had failed and yet, as told in our family stories, my grandparents chose to thank God for the work ahead of them, rather than complain over what they had lost.

In the footsteps of my grandparents I, too, want to look at life with a sense of gratitude. I see my journal writing as starting my morning out on the positive note of practicing gratitude. Instead of grumbling over the drizzle outside my kitchen window, I can smile and remember that it’s the rain that makes everything so green and lush in the Pacific Northwest.

I once read that there are more verses in the Bible that praise God than anything else. I’m not a Bible scholar so I can’t say for sure if that’s true or not but I do know that when we have a thankful heart, despite our circumstances, we lighten our load. Nothing jumpstarts our gratitude like practicing the habit of praise. King David, who poured out his gratitude in verse after verse of the book of Psalms, was called a man after God’s own heart. Isn’t that what we’d like to be? Simply reading his psalms of praise is an ideal way to build gratitude into our lives.

Check-Out Lane Surprise

A few months ago I was in line at the supermarket. My cart was piled high and I was anxious to be on my way. I was grateful that the young woman in front of me only had a partially filled cart. As I watched her carefully unload her groceries, I could see that she seemed anxious. As the checker finished ringing up the groceries, the young woman leaned across the check stand, whispered something to the checker and left—without her groceries. The checker piled the bags onto the cart and set it off to the side.

I guessed the scenario. The young women didn’t have enough money to pay for her purchase.

The clerk looked up at me and smiled, “Thanks for waiting. She had to go to the bank for more money.”

I looked at the mountain of groceries in my cart, remembering my own scary days back in the early 1980’s when I first decided I wanted to be a writer. My husband Wayne and I had four young children and, as a construction electrician, Wayne was often between jobs. I remembered well when were feeding our young family of six on Wayne’s unemployment check of one hundred fifty dollars a week.

I felt that inner discomfort that I sometimes get when God nudges me to do something. I call these moments ‘divine appointments’. It wasn’t by accident that I turned up behind this young wife and mother.

“How much were her groceries?” I asked.

The clerk looked up as if she hadn’t understood my question.

“How much was the bill?” I repeated. She pulled the tape from the bag and told me. Then she shrugged her shoulders as if she didn’t know why I’d be asking.

“Kindly add that amount to my bill,” I told her

The clerk stopped checking my groceries. I was glad my piled-high cart had kept others from lining up behind me.

“She may not even come back,” the woman cautioned. “Sometimes if a person doesn’t have enough money they say they’ll come back because they’re embarrassed. In every likelihood she won’t return, so save your money.”

“No,” I insisted, “I want to pay for her groceries.”

“She probably won’t be back,” she said in a flippant tone. “What do you want me to do with them then?”

“Give the food to someone in need,” I suggested.

I could see the clerk had never had someone offer to pay for someone else’s groceries. She appeared shocked and continued to stare at me. “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

I explained that at one time I’d been in that young woman’s situation. I remembered wondering how I’d feed my family. I told her how grateful I was for all that God had given me. I tried to explain that with gratitude comes the urge to share.

She didn’t say a word and I was left wondering if I was babbling on far too long. What I was doing didn’t make a lot of sense. The clerk was right—the woman who’d left might very well not return. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that God wanted me to do this. I’ve come to recognize those promptings from God and learned not to resist them.

Slowly the clerk returned to ringing up my groceries. “I want to know more about God,” she said simply.

That’s when it hit me. This nudge from God wasn’t about the young woman who left her groceries behind. God hadn’t nudged me for her sake, but for the clerk’s sake! For whatever reason, she needed to witness an act of generosity done in the Lord’s name.

I thought of Corrie ten Boom’s fleas. In this case, my own gift of generosity was having a benefit I had never imagined, just as the fleas had a benefit Corrie had never imagined. I thought I was helping the young woman needing groceries, but the Lord had set his sights on the clerk. Something my Florida pastor, James Biles, once said in a sermon came to mind. I remembered being struck so by his words that I wrote them down on the margin of my bulletin: “We aren’t called to share the Gospel. We are called to show the Gospel.”

Look at it this way: had God not been tutoring me in the habit of gratitude, I might have been stewing about the delay caused by the young woman’s inability to pay. Instead I was able to listen to that still, small voice that sometimes gently urges me to act. Had I rationalized that the young woman might never come back for her groceries, I might have missed blessing the person God intended. Although I frequently shopped at that store I never saw her again and yet I feel God planted her in my path that day for His purposes.

Keep the eyes of your heart open for those God may want to help through you today.


Practicing an attitude of gratitude spills over to acts of generosity.

The Science of Gratitude

My own discovery about the importance of gratitude was largely developed as I read the Bible. But did you know that science confirms the importance of gratitude as well?

Two researchers, R. A. Emmons of University of California at Davis and M. E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have been researching the Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude. Their findings fascinate me and have been the basis of dozens of articles in scientific journals and bulletins. Take a look with me at what they learned.

Their experiments demonstrated that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer illness symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded troubles or neutral life events. As they continued to experiment, they found that participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress over a two-month period toward their most important personal goals—academic, interpersonal and health-based—compared to the subjects in their control group.2 So gratitude not only contributed to better overall health but helped reach important goals. Think about it. Our creator designed us to benefit when we give thanks.

And that’s not all. Here’s something else they discovered: a daily gratitude exercise where young adults regularly focused on specific things for which they were thankful resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.

And remember that I said that generosity grows out of gratitude? The study also showed that participants in the daily gratitude experiment were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another. You see, when gratitude becomes a habit, then generosity seems to follow naturally.

In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a twenty-one-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy, positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.


But there’s more. Stephen Post, PhD, professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, is the author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People.3 In an article in Guideposts, “The Power of Gratitude” he shares five things he discovered about gratitude:

Gratitude Defends. Just fifteen minutes a day focusing on the things you’re grateful for will significantly increase your body’s natural antibodies.
Gratitude Sharpens. Naturally grateful people are more focused mentally and measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression.
Gratitude Calms. A grateful state of mind induces a physiological state called resonance that’s associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate.
Gratitude Strengthens. Caring for others is draining. But grateful caregivers are healthier and more capable than less grateful ones.
Gratitude Heals. Recipients of donated organs who have the most grateful attitudes heal faster.

Gratitude gives back. When we practice gratitude, not only do we grow in our trust of God, but we benefit physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Gratitude as a Prerequisite to Giving

As we acknowledge all we have, as we learn to praise God for all He has done for us. Then God helps us pry our fingers off our possessions, our Day Timers® and our bank statements. This brings us full circle. Can you see why we explored gratitude before we set off on our journey to discover the power of generosity? Gratitude is the basis for giving. Grumpy, stingy people cannot live in the spirit of generosity. In order to be able to open our hands to give, we first have to give thanks for all we’ve been given. It’s just that simple!

[Design note: Bordered feature—or maybe decorative corner treatments and different font—at the end of each of each chapter: Simple Acts of XXX. Also, find an attractive alternative to plain bullet points.]

Simple Acts of Gratitude

Begin a Gratitude Journal. Each day write five things for which you are grateful.
Practice praise. Nothing opens our eyes to the gifts we have been given than focusing on the Giver. Find at least one new thing to praise God for each day.
Stay alert for those “God Nudges” and be grateful when you sense them. When you feel like you should be doing something for someone, act on it. Keep track of those nudges. Write them down, noting how you responded and the outcome. When we practice listening for that still small voice we become better at hearing it.
Thank God in all circumstances. This means that sometimes you’ll thank Him for the “fleas” in your life.


One Simple Act

Debbie Macomber

Howard Books

Nashville, Tennessee

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!

Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

One Simple Act © 2009 Debbie Macomber

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN 978-1-4391-0893-2

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Manufactured in the United States of America

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or

The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our Web site at

Edited by Cindy Lambert

Cover design by TK

Interior design by TK

Photography/illustrations by TK

Scripture quotations not otherwise marked are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked The Message are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas by John Blase

Tour Date: 11/30

When the tour date arrives, copy and paste the HTML Provided in the box. Don't forget to add your honest review if you wish! PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST WHEN THE TOUR COMES AROUND!

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of the The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


John Blase’s work includes Living the Questions and Living the Letters Bible-study series, the Worldviews reference book (TH1NK), Real Life Stuff for Couples, and The Message Children’s Bible. A former pastor, John currently edits by day and writes by night. He and his wife, Meredith, have three children and make their home in Colorado.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764656
ISBN-13: 978-1434764652

AND excerpt:


Angelic Visitor

Luke 1.26–38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!

You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,

Beautiful inside and out!

God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

He will be great,

be called ‘Son of the Highest.’

The Lord God will give him

the throne of his father David;

He will rule Jacob’s house forever—

no end, ever, to his kingdom.”

Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”

The angel answered,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

the power of the Highest hover over you;

Therefore, the child you bring to birth

will be called Holy, Son of God.

“And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

And Mary said,

Yes, I see it all now:

I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.

Let it be with me

just as you say.

Then the angel left her.


The theologians have rendered us mindless God-slaves, wisps of cloudy wings, doing nothing but the bidding of the Mighty One. Theologians. There is so much they do not know.

I found her just as He said she would be found: sitting on her bedding, barefooted, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around them, chin resting on her knee-tops. I saw why she had gained the favor of the Mighty One. I liked this daughter-of-Eve-to-bethe-mother-of-God.

“But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”

I expected this. But unlike that old priest’s, hers was not the doubting of a skeptic but rather the wondering of a child.

“But how? I can’t see it.”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest hover over you. Mary, you have nothing to fear.” The Mighty One had expressly said, “Herald the news, Gabriel. Don’t report it.” I would have liked to elaborate further, but Mary would have to live out the details of my news in days to come. Truths unlived are not truths.

Then she paused and looked away. I have spoken to many of God’s children, and their eyes are always transfixed on me. They should be. I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God. But Mary’s gaze wandered for a moment. But what I initially took for a distracted mind was rather a devoted heart.

Her eyes returned to me. “Let it be with me.” Ah, the Mighty One had chosen well. Her words were not

resigned, but faith-full. The faith of a child. Of such is the Mighty One’s kingdom.

“Cousin Elizabeth? Really? Old Elizabeth? But how?”

I laughed.

“Nothing, you see, is impossible with God. Mary, you have nothing to fear. I have told you all you need to know for now. You are more ready than you realize, stronger than you know. God is with you. Now I must go.”

But I did not want to go. Faith is rare, at least true faith. Yes, the word is often used, but the reality is hard

to find. Yet here I found it, in an earthen vessel surrounded by an earthen room. I liked Mary.

I left her just as He said I would: barefooted, sitting on her bedding, knees pulled up to her chest, arms

wrapped tightly around them, chin resting on her kneetops. She looked older now. Human eyes would not

recognize this, but mine have seen much.

The Mighty One had revealed glimpses to me, what days ahead would hold for this glorious girl. Her cousin’s leaping womb. Joseph’s broad shoulders. The back of a borrowed burro. Herod’s jealous-red face. The cries of the innocent. The breath of stable animals. The agony of pushing the Mighty One out into this world.

I found myself praying for the favored one. Mary had so much to carry.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Touching Wonder by John Blase. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Novel Idea by Various Best-Selling Authors

Tour Date: November 25th

When the tour date arrives, copy and paste the HTML Provided in the box. Don't forget to add your honest review if you wish! PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST WHEN THE TOUR COMES AROUND!

Grab the HTML for the entire post (will look like the post below):


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

Various Best-Selling Authors
(contributions from best-selling authors including Jerry B. Jenkins, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Randy Alcorn, Terri Blackstock, Robin Jones Gunn, Angela Hunt and more)

and the book:

A Novel Idea

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (November 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Best-selling Christian fiction writers have teamed together to contribute articles on the craft of writing. A Novel Idea contains tips on brainstorming ideas and crafting and marketing a novel. It explains what makes a Christian novel “Christian” and offers tips on how to approach tough topics. Contributors include Jerry B. Jenkins, Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers, Angela Hunt, and many other beloved authors. All proceeds will benefit MAI, an organization that teaches writing internationally to help provide literature that is culturally relevant.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (November 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414329946
ISBN-13: 978-1414329949


Chapter 1: Plot

The Plot Skeleton

Angela Hunt

Imagine, if you will, that you and I are sitting in a room with one hundred other authors. If you were to ask each person present to describe their plotting process, you’d probably get a hundred different answers. Writers’ methods vary according to their personalities, and we are all different. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.

If, however, those one hundred novelists were to pass behind an X-ray machine, you’d discover that we all possess remarkably similar skeletons. Beneath our disguising skin, hair, and clothing, our skeletons are pretty much identical.

In the same way, though writers vary in their methods, good stories are composed of remarkably comparable skeletons. Stories with “good bones” can be found in picture books and novels, plays and films.

Many fine writers tend to carefully outline their plots before they begin the first chapter. On the other hand, some novelists describe themselves as “seat-of-the-pants” writers. But when the story is finished, a seat-of-the-pants novel will (or should!) contain the same elements as a carefully plotted book. Why? Because whether you plan it from the beginning or find it at the end, novels need structure beneath the story.

After mulling several plot designs and boiling them down to their basic elements, I developed what I call the “plot skeleton.” It combines the spontaneity of seat-of-the-pants writing with the discipline of an outline. It requires a writer to know where he’s going, but it leaves room for lots of discovery on the journey.

When I sit down to plan a new book, the first thing I do is sketch my smiling little skeleton.

To illustrate the plot skeleton in this article, I’m going to refer frequently to The Wizard of Oz and a lovely foreign film you may never have seen, Mostly Martha.

The Skull: A Central Character
The skull represents the main character, the protagonist. A lot of beginning novelists have a hard time deciding who the main character is, so settle that question right away. Even in an ensemble cast, one character should be featured more than the others. Your readers want to place themselves into your story world, and it’s helpful if you can give them a sympathetic character to whom they can relate. Ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” That is your protagonist.

This main character should have two needs or problems—one obvious, one hidden—which I represent by two yawning eye sockets.

Here’s a tip: Hidden needs, which usually involve basic human emotions, are often solved or met by the end of the story. They are at the center of the protagonist’s “inner journey,” or character change, while the “outer journey” is concerned with the main events of the plot. Hidden needs often arise from wounds in a character’s past.

Consider The Wizard of Oz. At the beginning of the film, Dorothy needs to save her dog from Miss Gulch, who has arrived to take Toto because he bit her scrawny leg—a very straightforward and obvious problem. Dorothy’s hidden need is depicted but not directly emphasized when she stands by the pigpen and sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Do children live with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em if all is fine with Mom and Dad? No. Though we are not told what happened to Dorothy’s parents, it’s clear that something has splintered her family and Dorothy’s unhappy. Her hidden need, the object of her inner journey, is to find a place to call home.

Mostly Martha opens with the title character lying on her therapist’s couch and talking about all that is required to cook the perfect pigeon. Since she’s in a therapist’s office, we assume she has a problem, and the therapist addresses this directly: “Martha, why are you here?”

“Because,” she answers, “my boss will fire me if I don’t go to therapy.” Ah—obvious problem at work with the boss. Immediately we also know that Martha is high-strung. She is precise and politely controlling in her kitchen. This woman lives for food, but though she assures us in a voice-over that all a cook needs for a perfectly lovely dinner is “fish and sauce,” we see her venture downstairs to ask her new neighbor if he’d like to join her for dinner. He can’t, but we become aware that Martha needs company. She needs love in her life.

Connect the Skull to the Body: Inciting Action
Usually the first few chapters of a novel are involved with the business of establishing the protagonist in a specific time and place, his world, his needs, and his personality. The story doesn’t kick into gear, though, until you move from the skull to the spine, a connection known as the inciting incident.

Writers are often told to begin the story in medias res, or in the middle of the action. This is not the same as the Big Incident. Save the big event for a few chapters in, after you’ve given us some time to know and understand your character’s needs. Begin your story with an obvious problem—some action that shows how your character copes. In the first fifth of the story we learn that Dorothy loves Toto passionately and that Martha is a perfectionist chef. Yes, start in the middle of something active, but hold off on the big event for a while. Let us get to know your character first . . . because we won’t gasp about their dilemma until we know them.

In a picture book, the inciting incident is often signaled by two words: One day . . . Those two words are a natural way to move from setting the stage to the action. As you plot your novel, ask yourself, “One day, what happens to move my main character into the action of the story?” Your answer will be your inciting incident, the key that turns your story engine.

After Dorothy ran away, if she’d made it home to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em without incident, there would have been no story. The inciting incident? When the tornado picks Dorothy up and drops her, with her house, in the land of Oz.

The inciting incident in Mostly Martha is signaled by a ringing telephone. When Martha takes the call, she learns that her sister, who was a single mother to an eight-year-old girl, has been killed in an auto accident.

Think of your favorite stories—how many feature a hero who’s reluctant to enter the special world? Often—but not always—your protagonist doesn’t want to go where the inciting incident is pushing him or her. Obviously, Martha doesn’t want to hear that her sister is dead, and she certainly doesn’t want to be a mother. She takes Lina, her niece, and offers to cook for her (her way of showing love), but Lina wants her mother, not gourmet food.

Even if your protagonist has actively pursued a change, he or she may have moments of doubt as the entrance to the special world looms ahead. When your character retreats or doubts or refuses to leave the ordinary world, another character should step in to provide encouragement, advice, information, or a special tool. This will help your main character overcome those last-minute doubts and establish the next part of the skeleton: the goal.

The End of the Spine: The Goal
At some point after the inciting incident, your character will establish and state a goal. Shortly after stepping out of her transplanted house, Dorothy looks around Oz and wails, “I want to go back to Kansas!” She’s been transported over the rainbow, but she prefers the tried and true to the unfamiliar and strange. In order to go home, she’ll have to visit the wizard in the Emerald City. As she tries to meet an ever-shifting set of subordinate goals (follow the yellow brick road; overcome the poppies; get in to see the wizard; bring back a broomstick), her main goal keeps viewers glued to the screen.

This overriding concern—will she or won’t she make it home?—is known as the dramatic question. The dramatic question in every murder mystery is, Who committed the crime? The dramatic question in nearly every thriller is, Who will win the inevitable showdown between the hero and the villain? Along the way readers will worry about the subgoals (Will the villain kill his hostage? Will the hero figure out the clues?), but the dramatic question keeps them reading until the last page.

Tip: To keep the reader involved, the dramatic question should be directly related to the character’s ultimate goal. Martha finds herself trying to care for a grieving eight-year-old who doesn’t want another mother. So Martha promises to track down the girl’s father, who lives in Italy. She knows only that his name is Giuseppe, but she’s determined to find him.

The Rib Cage: Complications
Even my youngest students understand that a protagonist who accomplishes everything he or she attempts is a colorless character. As another friend of mine is fond of pointing out, as we tackle the mountain of life, it’s the bumps we climb on! If you’re diagramming, sketch at least three curving ribs over your spine. These represent the complications that must arise to prevent your protagonist from reaching his goal.

Why at least three ribs? Because even in the shortest of stories—in a picture book, for instance—three complications work better than two or four. I don’t know why three gives us such a feeling of completion, but it does. Maybe it’s because God is a Trinity and we’re hardwired to appreciate that number.

While a short story will have only three complications, a movie or novel may have hundreds. Complications can range from the mundane—John can’t find a pencil to write down Sarah’s number—to life-shattering. As you write down possible complications that could stand between your character and his ultimate goal, place the more serious problems at the bottom of the list.

The stakes—what your protagonist is risking—should increase in significance as the story progresses. In Mostly Martha, the complications center on this uptight woman’s ability to care for a child. Lina hates her babysitter, so Martha has to take Lina to work with her. But the late hours take their toll, and Lina is often late for school. Furthermore, Lina keeps refusing to eat anything Martha cooks for her.

I asked you to make the ribs curve because any character that runs into complication after complication without any breathing space is going to be a weary character . . . and you’ll weary your reader with this frenetic pace. One of the keys to good pacing is to alternate your plot complications with rewards. Like a pendulum that swings on an arc, let your character relax, if only briefly, between disasters.

Along the spiraling yellow brick road, Dorothy soon reaches an intersection (a complication). Fortunately, a friendly scarecrow is willing to help (a reward). They haven’t gone far before Dorothy becomes hungry (a complication). The scarecrow spots an apple orchard ahead (a reward). These apple trees, however, resent being picked (a complication), but the clever scarecrow taunts them until they begin to throw fruit at the hungry travelers (a reward).

See how it works? Every problem is followed by a reward that matches the seriousness of the complication. Let’s fast-forward to the scene where the balloon takes off without Dorothy. This is a severe complication—so severe it deserves a title of its own: the bleakest moment. This is the final rib in the rib cage, the moment when all hope is lost for your protagonist.

The Thighbone: Send in the Cavalry
At the bleakest moment, your character needs help, but be careful how you deliver it. The ancient Greek playwrights had actors representing the Greek gods literally descend from the structure above to bring their complicated plot knots to a satisfying conclusion. This sort of resolution is frowned upon in modern literature. Called deus ex machina (literally “god from the machine”), this device employs some unexpected and improbable incident to bring victory or success. If you find yourself whipping up a coincidence or a miracle after the bleakest moment, chances are you’ve employed deus ex machina. Back up and try again, please.

Avoid using deus ex machina by sending two types of help: external and internal. Your character obviously needs help from outside; if he could solve the problem alone, he would have done it long before the bleakest moment. Having him conveniently remember something or stumble across a hidden resource smacks of coincidence and will leave your reader feeling resentful and cheated.

So send in the cavalry, but remember that they can’t solve the protagonist’s problem. They can give the protagonist a push in the right direction; they can nudge; they can remind; they can inspire. But they shouldn’t wave a magic wand and make everything all right.

For Dorothy, help comes in the form of Glenda the Good Witch, who reveals a secret: The ruby slippers have the power to carry her back to Kansas. All Dorothy has to do is say, “There’s no place like home”—with feeling, mind you—and she’ll be back on the farm with Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. Dorothy’s problem isn’t resolved, however, until she applies this information internally. At the beginning of the story, she wanted to be anywhere but on the farm. Now she has to affirm that the farm is where she wants to be. Her hidden need—to find a place to call home—has been met.

In Mostly Martha, the bleakest moment arrives with Lina’s father, Giuseppe. He is a good man, and Lina seems to accept him. But after waving good-bye, Martha goes home to an empty apartment and realizes that she is not happy with her controlled, childless life. She goes to Marlo, the Italian chef she has also begun to love, and asks for his help.

The Kneecap and Lower Leg: Make a Decision, Learn a Lesson
Martha realizes that her old life was empty—she needs Lina in her life, and she needs Marlo. So she and Marlo drive from Germany to Italy to fetch Lina and bring her home.

You may be hard-pressed to cite the lesson you learned from the last novel you read, but your protagonist needs to learn something. This lesson is the epiphany, a sudden insight that speaks volumes to your character and brings them to the conclusion of their inner journey.

James Joyce popularized the word epiphany, literally the manifestation of a divine being. (Churches celebrate the festival of Epiphany on January 6 to commemorate the meeting of the Magi and the Christ child.) After receiving help from an outside source, your character should see something—a person, a situation, or an object—in a new light.

When the scarecrow asks why Glinda waited to explain the ruby slippers, the good witch smiles and says, “Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.” The scarecrow then asks, “What’d you learn, Dorothy?” Without hesitation, Dorothy announces that she’s learned a lesson: “The next time I go looking for my heart’s desire, I won’t look any farther than my own backyard.” She has learned to appreciate her home, so even though she is surrounded by loving friends and an emerald city, Dorothy chooses to return to colorless Kansas. She hugs her friends once more, then grips Toto and clicks her heels.

The Foot: The Resolution
Every story needs the fairy-tale equivalent of “and they lived happily ever after.” Not every story ends happily, of course, though happy endings are undoubtedly popular. Some protagonists are sadder and wiser after the course of their adventure. But a novel should at least leave the reader with hope.

The resolution to Mostly Martha is portrayed during the closing of the film. As the credits roll, we see Marlo and Martha meeting Lina in Italy; we see Martha in a wedding gown (with her hair down!) and Marlo in a tuxedo; we see a wedding feast with Giuseppe, his family, and Martha’s German friends; we see Martha and Marlo and Lina exploring an abandoned restaurant—clearly, they are going to settle in Italy so Lina can be a part of both families. In the delightful final scene, we see Martha with her therapist again, but this time he has cooked for her and she is advising him.

Many movies end with a simple visual image—we see a couple walking away hand in hand, a mother cradling her long-lost son. That’s all we need to realize that our main character has struggled, learned, and come away a better (or wiser) person. As a writer, you’ll have to use words, but you can paint the same sort of reassuring picture without resorting to “and they lived happily ever after.”

Your story should end with a changed protagonist—he or she has gone through a profound experience and is different for it, hopefully for the better. Your protagonist has completed an outer journey (experienced the major plot events) and an inner journey that address some hurt from the past and result in a changed character.

What Next?
Now that we’ve reached the foot of our story skeleton, we’re finished outlining the basic structure. Take those major points and write them up in paragraph form. Once you’ve outlined your plot and written your synopsis, you’re ready to begin writing scenes. Take a deep breath, glance over your skeleton, and jump in.

Taken from A Novel Idea by ChiLibras. Copyright ©2009 by ChiLibras. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.