Friday, March 26, 2010

The Unpardonable Sin

Over the years, I’ve gotten many questions about the unpardonable sin, and like most Christians, I have wrestled with this subject in my own studies. A question I recently was asked echoes the struggles and anxieties of many who wonder if they, too, could commit the unpardonable sin.

Question: I fear I may have committed the unpardonable sin of Matthew 12 in my thoughts. I try hard not to think blasphemous thoughts, but I can’t seem to fight them off. I just had the worst blasphemous thought, and I feel I have consciously sinned against the Holy Spirit. I feel like I’m going crazy trying to keep from thinking these thoughts, and I fear that I have gone to the point where I cannot be forgiven.

I have written a lengthy study on this topic, and you can read it on my Exchanged Life Discipleship blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Author Spotlight - Margaret Brownley

This week's writer spotlight is author Margaret Brownley. She has published more than 20 books writing for Harlequin, St.Martin’s Press and Penguin. Her books have been published in 15 languages. She also co-wrote a storyline for a CBS daytime soap. She’s currently writing “love and laughter” in the old west for Thomas Nelson. A Lady Like Sarah is available now.

When did you first discover that you were a writer?

First of all, let me say thanking for having me on your blog.

To answer your question, I was always a storyteller and was constantly in trouble as a child for making up stories. The writer part was harder to acknowledge, partly because English was my least favorite subject. My eighth grade teacher told me not to even think about being a writer. Diagram a sentence? Never! I’m like the musician who can’t read music. It’s hard to let go of the negative messages of childhood and I published close to a half dozen books before I could work up the nerve to call myself a writer.

Tell us about your latest book

A Lady Like Sarah takes place in 1879. Preacher Justin Wells leaves Boston in disgrace, and encounters a wounded marshal on a dusty road in Missouri. Justin promises the dying lawman to take his handcuffed prisoner to Texas. This proves harder than he thought, for the prisoner is a woman and she’s determined to miss the hanging party waiting for her there.

Where did you get the idea for the book?

The story was inspired by the escapades of Pearl Hart. Desperate to help her seriously-ill mother, Pearl stopped a stage and, with the help of a loaded pistol, convinced its passengers to help pay her poor mama’s medical bills. (Bet you didn’t know that health care was highway robbery even back in the old west.) The question that kept running though my mind was, how desperate would a person have to be to rob a stage? Suddenly Sarah popped up on the page and demanded in no uncertain terms that I tell her story.

How do you develop your characters?

With me, it’s all about voice and how my characters answer my questions, which is odd since I’m a visual person. When I asked the heroine of A Lady Like Sarah her name, she replied, “My name is Sarah, no last name. And don’t you go thinkin’ nothin’ of it, you hear?” I could hardly wait to find out why she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me her last name.

What kind of planning do you do before writing a novel?

Next to none. I don’t even like to map out a trip or plan a meal. I’m a pantser, which means I sit down and write by the seat of mine. Give me a setup or opening scene and I’m off and running. This method fills my life with surprises—never more so than at dinner time.

Do you treat yourself to something special when a project is completed?

This reminds me of the early days of my writing career: I sold an article for $5 and my husband took me out to dinner to celebrate. A short time later, I sold another article, this time for $7, and again, my husband took me out to celebrate. By the third sell my husband announced that we couldn’t afford any more success.

Now, when I finish a project, I generally clean my office, cook my family a nice dinner (to make up for all the poor meals they had while I was on deadline), and let my friends know that I’m back in circulation.

What’s next for you?

I just finished the 2nd book in my Rocky Creek series, A Suitor for Jenny. I got the idea for this book after seeing a meeting notice in an old Kansas newspaper for an organization called The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence. What fun the heroine has breaking through that society!

A Suitor For Jenny is schedule for publication September 2010. I’m now writing the third and final book in the series.

Any Advice for writers just starting out?

Rent the movie Julia and Julie and pretend it’s about writers instead of cooks. Julia Child enjoyed the process of cooking, even the failures. Julie didn’t enjoy the process, which led to constant meltdowns and relationship problems. The lesson here is that you have to love the process. If you’re just getting started, stay focused on learning the craft and discovering your inner writer. Don’t worry about the publishing end. That’s down the road. Celebrate every little success. Enjoy the ride. And write, write, write. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule to success. Before I was published I put in my 10,000 hours by writing four books. At least two of them (okay, three) were pretty crappy but I learned.

Finally, show up—or at least make sure your manuscript does. Woody Allen said that 80% of success is just showing up and this is SO true. I heard a disturbing statistic at a recent writing conference: only 10% of the writers asked to submit chapters or proposal to an agent or editor actually bother to do so. Write and submit. Write and submit. Babe Ruth said it best, “You can’t beat persistence.”

How can readers find you on the Internet?

A good place to start is with my homestead (aka website)

For a laugh check out A Lady Like Sarah Presents Stagecoach Etiquette:

Have a little faith!

You can purchase A Lady Like Sarah by clicking here.
Visit to see Margaret's other books by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Writer Spotlight - Edwina Cowgill

This week's spotlight is an interview of Edwina Cowgill. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and has recently been appointed as the Georgia area coordinator. Thanks for your thoughtful interview!

How long have you been writing? I actually began writing as a teenager. My best friend (and we've been best friends for life) found the stories I wrote as a teenager and brought them with her on her last visit. I'm sure I'm dating myself by sharing this, but I had written a story about Paul Revere and the Raiders (the music group - not that other Revere guy - I'm not THAT old!) I was madly in love with Mark Lindsay (lead singer) and pledged to follow him to the ends of the earth. We laughed ourselves silly reading those stories!

What is the best advice you have been given for writing? I have this taped onto my laptop and read it everytime I sit down to write: Where is the best place to start a book? On your knees.

If you could give new writers one piece of advice, what would you say? Learn as much as you can from every possible source and don't ever give up.

What process do you use to critique or edit your work? I belong to a critique group within ACFW and they are awesome. We submit one chapter for every two that we critique and we submit twice a week. Presently there are four of us submitting chapters. I have learned so much from belonging to this group! Before I submit a chapter, I review the chapter at least twice, attempting to find as many mistakes as possible. I submit it to the critique group who always finds my nemesis - point of view. I have yet to master that technique -I tend to "head-hop," but I'm learning. Once I receive their critiques back, I read all of them and compare them to see if they've all commented on the same points. That's a sure sign I need to change what they've commented on. I make the change, read it out loud, ask myself if I like the change I've made and then move on. Most of the time, I accept the changes the group suggests, but occasionally, I leave the word, sentence, etc. the way I wrote it in the beginning.

What are you working on now? I'm working on my first novel, that looks like it might be a novella. The tentative title is Surrender and is about a pro-abortion counselor who is lead to God through the love of neighbors, friends and even a teenage girl who followed the advice of the counselor and had an abortion. I am approximately half-way through the first edit, which is why I said this might be a novella. I've cut a lot out! But I plan to go back and add to the story. I will say that this has been a challenging subject to "cut my teeth on" for my first manuscript. I don't know if this manuscript will ever see the light of publication, but I will always be grateful to God for this subject because it has strengthened my resolve to continue supporting pro-life groups and it has taught me so much about writing!

What was your best decision as a writer?

To join ACFW. This group is awesome and I have learned so much from the monthly classes as well as everyone who so generously shares their knowledge via the loop. When I am published, it will be first, due to God's help, grace and mercy, and second, to ACFW.

Have you ever entered your work into contests?

I've entered a number of contests for several reasons: 1) to receive judges' critiques; 2) for the experience and fun of entering; 3) SHOW ME THE MONEY!!! I've made the first cut in two contests, but I've yet to see the money! Seriously, that's okay. I am more interested in learning from the critiques. I'm waiting now to hear back from a contest for which I entered the first 10 pages of my current WIP. I'm very interested to read the judges' opinions!

You can visit Edwina's blog at

Friday, March 12, 2010

Universal Laws

1. Law of Mechanical Repair - After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you'll have to go to the bathroom.

2. Law of Gravity - Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

3. Law of Probability -The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act

4. Law of Random Numbers - If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.

5. Law of the Alibi - If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the very next morning you will have a flat tire.

6. Variation Law - If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now (works every time).

7. Law of the Bath - When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.

8. Law of Close Encounters -The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.

9. Law of the Result - When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, it will....

10. Law of Biomechanics - The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.

11.. Law of the Theater and Hockey Arena - At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle, always arrive last. They are the ones who will leave their seats several times to go for food, beer, or the toilet and who leave early before the end of the performance or the game is over. The folks in the aisle seats come early, never move once, have long gangly legs or big bellies, and stay to the bitter end of the performance. The aisle people also are very surly folk.

12. The Coffee Law - As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

13. Murphy's Law of Lockers - If there are only two people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

14. Law of Physical Surfaces - The chances of an open-faced jam sandwich landing face down on a floor, are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or rug.

15. Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.

16. Brown's Law of Physical Appearance - If the clothes fit, they're ugly.

17. Oliver's Law of Public Speaking - A closed mouth gathers no feet.

18. Wilson's Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy - As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it.

19. Doctors' Law - If you don't feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there you'll feel better. But don't make an appointment, and you'll stay sick.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Funny Ads and Newspaper Clips

Enjoy these funny ads and news clips taken from local newspapers.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tuesday Writer highlight - Eleanor Gustafson

Eleanor K. Gustafson has been publishing both fiction and nonfiction since 1978. Her short stories and articles appeared in a number of national and local magazines. The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David is her fourth novel. In many of her stories, Eleanor explores the cosmic struggle between good and evil in light of God’s overarching work of redemption. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, Sunday school teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. She has enjoyed a variety of experiences, from riding horses to building houses, all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. She and her husband live in Massachusetts, where he teaches Philosophy and World Religions. They travel extensively, spend time with their three children and eight grandchildren, and enjoy working and camping at the family forest in Chester, Vermont.

How long have you been writing?

I have been making up stories much of my life but didn’t start actually writing them till after babies and diapers. An article, however, was my first success and saw the light of day in1978. My first novel came out in 1984 and my fourth in 2009. I’ve learned a lot in those years, both positive and negative.

If you could give new writers one piece of advice, what would you say?

Write the best you can—and then write it even better. Get input from knowledgeable readers and listen carefully to their suggestions.

Have you had any of your work rejected? And, how did you react to those rejections?

I have a folder full of rejection letters, and those letters opened my eyes to the realities of getting published. I spent years trying to find a publisher and/or an agent for my David book, The Stones, and was kept going only by the strong sense that God would bring it to pass in his good time. As it happened, a chance meeting with a friend whose son worked at Whitaker House was, indeed, the chosen moment. I think I have always written with the expectation of rejection, and that bit of reality makes life easier.

What process do you use to critique or edit your work?

I love to edit—the fun part of writing. Essential to editing, though, is a good grasp of punctuation and grammar. Since I had poor preparation in that area, I had to learn on my own. Buy books, go online—whatever you need to attain competency. Editors like good sentence structure—a lot. I work through each book at least 50 times to make it tight, to make it sing. I have learned that a paragraph may sound good one day but seem hokey a month or so later. I also ask a number of people to read my manuscripts, and I carefully plug in their corrections/suggestions. What seems perfectly clear to you may not be clear to your readers.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a novel in which a five-gaited horse serves as a metaphor for a man’s passion for God and his fear of God. As the story has developed, I’ve dealt with a number of challenges: Most people know little about horses in general, let alone five-gaited horses. I am also pushing the envelope on God’s ways of moving and shaping a Christian. My critique readers have prodded me to be clear and authentic in issues ranging from theology to spy interaction.

How do you balance writing and the demands of life?

Basically, I don’t. The demands of life tend to squeeze out writing, but with my Dynamo book close to being finished, I am currently devoting two hours each day (except Sunday) to that work. The big time crunch in my life comes in dealing with emails—friends, missionaries, church affairs, author networking, blog interviews, etc. Sundays involve a long stretch of interacting with people, a taxing but satisfying time of ministry. These are good things. How to choose? Cleaning house is one activity I find easy to “sweep” aside.

Tell me about your current book on the market.

The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David was a HUGE undertaking because David is a huge character. Although the David account gets good coverage in the Bible, my goal was to make the story and characters more accessible to the average reader. From all reports—Amazon reviews and others—I succeeded very well. Men especially like it, as David strikes a chord on many levels—David the warrior, David the sinner, David the passionate lover of God. Women like the story line and character development. Many did not want it to end. One woman said, “I found myself re-reading the preface, the printing notes, anything to keep from closing it.” Another said, “The book shook me up so much that I had sleepless nights and had to read slowly, as I could only take it bit by bit.” Most readers say that the book not only brought David and the Psalms alive but also made them grapple with issues that come wrapped in this gigantic character.

What challenges did you have in getting your book published?

Challenges, indeed: Biblical fiction must be well written, authentic, and true to Scripture. The research required is daunting. Biblical fiction in itself is not a top-selling genre, and this makes the need for big-name endorsers even more urgent. (Eugene heads my list, a beautiful story in itself.) The book is long (601 pages), many of the characters have unpronounceable names, blood flows freely and the times are violent. These are difficult aspects for any publisher to consider. And with top-rank Christian publishers accepting manuscripts only through agents, authors have to negotiate a tricky obstacle course. I worked on this book approximately 15 years from start to finish, including several years knocking on publishers’ and agents’ doors, but from start to finish, I trusted God to bring it to birth. That may be the greatest challenge for any writer—to be taught of God what to write, when it’s ready, and how to stay the course. And promoting the book after publication is another, completely different set of challenges!

Important author information:


Email address:

Amazon link:

The Stones The Stones Study Guide

Thursday, March 4, 2010

48 Things About Ourselves

Add 48 questions about yourself to your blog, and give others a glimpse behind the curtain of your facade.

My Father (Ironically we have the same name).
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? When the dog ate my chocolate.
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I would if I could tell what I have written.
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Depends on how much I would pay me.
7. DO YOU USE SARCASM? Well isn't that a cute question.
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? No. The doctor took them and then had the audacity to charge me.
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Cheesecake with strawberries added - from Cold Stone Creamery. Yum.
15. RED OR PINK? Either
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My neighbor's dog. He won't stay still long enough for me to get a good shot.
19. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Navy pants and black socks. I took my shoes off to see if the question I read earlier was true.
21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? My daughter asking me what I am writing.
23. FAVORITE SMELLS? It's a toss up between coffee and popcorn.
25. HOW MUCH TIME TO YOU SPEND ON THE PHONE EACH DAY? 13 Minutes and 28.3 seconds. But who's keeping track?
26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Football and baseball
27. HAIR COLOR? Dirty blond. Maybe I should wash it.
28. EYE COLOR? Blue
30. FAVORITE FOOD? Asparagus with chocolate syrup and chili powder sprinkles.
31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy Endings. Horror movies are slow paced and lacking in action. I always fall asleep.
32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? Blind Side. Good movie, but the book is better. Imagine that.
33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? Original Color? Or after it was spruced up by my two year old's dinner?
35. HUGS OR KISSES? Depends on whether my wife is involved.
38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? That other person - unless you are that other person.
39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? The Perfect Swarm, Freefall, Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy, Killing Pablo, and about a dozen other samples on my Kindle. I'm trying to decide on my next book. The Bible is a given.
40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I don't have a mouse pad. But if I did, it would probably be a mouse.
42. FAVORITE SOUND(S): fingernails on a chalk board.
43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? That is like asking which you like better, the stomach flu or dysentery.
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I can tap dance on oatmeal while reciting Shakespeare

If you post your own answers, link your blog in the comments.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Interview with Max Anderson

Max is an author of children's books for boys. Growing up as a reluctant reader, Max now sees it as his mission to reach out to boys to bring them into the world of reading by writing the types of books he would have liked as a child. Though his books focus on boys 8-13, his style of writing is appealing to both boys and girls.

As of the date of this interview, Max has had seven books published. Take a few minutes to enjoy this interview with Max.

How long have you been writing?

I began writing in October of 2001. Most of my video production clients scaled back their promotion and marketing after 9/11. I needed another creative outlet.

What motivates you to write?

Creatively, writing is probably the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve made films, video programs, and commercials all over the country and the world, but writing is what I love. There’s something about sitting down in a room, all by yourself, and creating characters, settings, and plots out of thin air. I write as I go, not outlining, and my books feel like major theatrical motion pictures as they appear in front of my eyes. It’s great fun.

What is your favorite genre?

I like writing for middle grade because the characters are old enough to have fun, but still too young to get into most of the major issues faced by teens and adults.

If you could give new writers one piece of advice, what would you say?

Don't try to write like another author. Find your own voice and your own style, and develop them.

How did you react to rejection?

Rejection is very tough, especially early on in your writing. But then I read several accounts of famous authors who had received countless rejections before they found a publisher. That simply motivated me to work even harder. I’ve also read that many authors don’t see a breakthrough before about ten years. The good thing about these stories is they show us that this is a tough business. And like a tough business, only those who persist, and work hard, will likely survive in it.

What challenges have you had in getting your book published?

The biggest challenge has been in finding publishers who also see a market for action-adventures & mysteries that are written especially for boys. This is beginning to open up now. The good thing is that girls like the stories also.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed the publisher’s revisions for book # 1 in the Sam Cooper Adventure Series. The title is Lost island Smugglers. It’s the first time I’ve written a true series. Books #2 and #3 are also written, but not edited yet. The series is intended to be open-ended and run for a long time. Up until now, all of my stories have included different characters, setting, and plot for each book.

What was your best decision as a writer?

My best decision would probably seem like the craziest to most writers. Over about a 3 ½ year period, I wrote a total of thirty-five manuscripts of action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys. Not only did I not have a contract, nor an agent at the time I began writing, books for boys were not popular in the market. They still aren’t as popular as I believe they are about to become again. But I couldn’t help it. The story ideas kept coming at me. As fast as I could finish one, the next story jumped in my path. Now I have a number of options for selling these manuscripts. I’m glad I wrote them, rather than to have to tell a publisher that I could write them in the future. Of course, this went against conventional wisdom which said that I shouldn’t start writing like this without an agent or a contract.

How do you keep yourself motivated to write?

I grew up hating to read. Now I write the kinds of stories that I would have enjoyed as a child. My focus is on helping just one reader, who might be growing up as I did, but who is just looking for the right book. And it’s the encouraging letters I get from children, parents, and teachers that keep me going. Here’s one that came just last week.

"I am a reading instructor and work one-on-one with people that struggle with learning to read. Getting some of these kids to practice reading can be a MAJOR ordeal. Recently I wanted to find books that these kids would want to read. I found yours. They love them! One student I have has done everything you could possibly think of, over the last year, to try and cut his reading lessons shorter, and getting him to practice his skills outside of our lessons has been like pulling teeth. Last Monday, he wanted to stay longer because he wanted to read more of Legend of the White Wolf. His mom was thrilled. Thank you Max! Your books are wonderful. Please don't stop letting God direct the talents he's put within you. You're making a difference!"

Is your family supportive of your writing?

There is a lot of support in my immediate family and in my extended family. I’m especially blessed in this area.

How do you market your writing?

I tell other writers who are not yet published, that writing is the easy part. It’s what comes next that is the hard work. Finding an agent is hard, but once you do, you have almost a partner who can open some of the doors that you can’t. The next thing you need is a platform. This includes your blog, web site, social media, articles, emailing, and every form of promotion you can think of. I also speak in schools and give an entertaining program with music and sound effects from my film production background. I use every avenue I can think of in order to promote and market my published books.

Click on a book cover below to visit Amazon and review or purchase one of Max's books.

Legend of the White Wolf Newspaper Caper Secret of Abbot's Cave

You can read Max Anderson's personal blog at

Or visit his Author's Website at