Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009--My Year in Blogging and Reading (My Top 12)

To sum up the year of blogging feels nearly impossible to me. It has been absolutely huge in scope and so much has happened that I can't even believe it. It has been exciting and fun and discouraging and just like all things in life--I learned lessons. Or at least I took steps towards learning those lessons, I fear I may have to relearn them again, as I can be quite stubborn.

Some of the important things I learned:

*There's great value in meeting online friends. And it's a lot easier and more comfortable than meeting strangers. I am amazed at how connected I feel to some of you now and how much a part of my life you are. We talk nearly every day, we share one of our greatest passions in common (books) and now that I've spent time with you in real life...I can imagine you saying's pretty cool. But even those of you I haven't met in person are still so dear to me and very real. I hope to meet A LOT more of you this year at various events.

*When fun and exciting things happen because of your blog not everyone will be excited for you. It's still easier to say things publicly on a blog about other people than you would do in real life and the written word can still be misinterpreted. The forum for discussion in the blogging world is still very public.

*But I've also learned it's not worth it to stick around for the drama. While people's feelings are valid and their own and people themselves should be respected, I'm a lot happier reading posts that bring life than posts that plant the seeds of dissension. Not all things need to be known or discussed, I want to blog to share the books I love and I want to read blogs that introduce me to new books, that challenge my complacency of thought, that stir my hear to compassion, and remind me of a greater reality.

*The more I blog about books and the more I get to know other people who love books whether they be authors, publicists, readers, or other bloggers, the more I realize how much the written word matters to me. I love the bookish community fiercely and I hope that my blog is a positive contribution. I hope, in some small way, that I'm making a contribution to the good of it more than to the bad of it (honestly I know I had a lot of missteps this year) and my dream remains the same--that I will help people discover the books that will change their lives.


When I reflect on the year in reading, it's much harder. You can see an overview of my top 2009 published works at the Book Smugglers blog but I kept that post to 2009 published works and I want to list the top reads of the year here that are well, the top reads of the year regardless of when they were published.

In no particular order:
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
I thought this was an outstanding and thought provoking little novel that moved me deeply and whispered of truth even amid it's many questions. I wrote on the book and film, but I'd like to requote my favorite passage of the book again today:
The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive.

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
I liked Life as We Knew It but this one I preferred for both it's darker reality and more hopeful view of faith under trial. Pfeffer's post-apocalyptic world feels so real, that when I'm reading the book I'm fully in the story, and the characters and events continue to live in my mind long after. I can't imagine reading these books without being moved to cherish the quickly passing moments of life just a little bit more and abundant blessings of our times.

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum Ucci
I loved this YA novel's exploration of how our actions affect others...we do not live and act in isolation...and the mystery of what happened to Christopher Creed. How much do we hold ourselves responsible when our actions have real consequences? What is reality? Highly recommended.

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart
Beth writes words that can be read multiple times and you will find new meaning. Even now trying to write about this book again makes me want to reread it. I loved the characters and their sadness and their tentative efforts to reach out and find life and hope in each other. Beth writes hope without being cheesy or cliched. She's really one of the best we've got if you haven't read her yet, why not?

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
The rich characterization in this book alone makes it worth reading. I cried A LOT while reading and I suppose it's because you can't really tackle such a heavy subject matter without dragging life's pain into it. I was absolutely consumed by it, I couldn't stop thinking about it, I didn't want to stop reading it..and I hope I'm a bit more of a compassionate person for having read it.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The follow-up the Hunger Games was better than the first one in my humble opinion as the cruelty grew and the stakes were raised. And Peeta became even more awesome.

The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson
I still think of the raw hunger I felt in my belly to know God more deeply when I finished this book. It's so hard to know God on a daily do the little hard things that chip away the walls around my heart. But a lifetime of doing them will result in the deepest, best, and most important relationship in my life. This book illustrated to me again that I can know God, that He's real. I loved this book and I wept through the ending.

Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell
Another reminder of the power of hope ("no hope is small") and the fierceness of God's love, I loved this gorgeously crafted novel.

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman
I loved this heart wrenching and beautiful novel about identity. I felt so much for these characters and I appreciated the exploration into their class systems and circumstances.

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen
I suspect Bich Minh Nguyen is one of the great writers of our future if Short Girls is any indication. I really don't think I read a book with equal characterization or attention to detail this year. I don't remember seeing a lot of people having read it, so I hope more will find the time to read it.

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Some memoirs are pure gold and this is one of them. I loved the stories shared and the narrator's journey through them. It was addictive reading and pretty much as good as reading gets.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
Last but not least is this fantastic YA novel about a pastor's daughter who has lost her faith. And there's a mystery and maybe a little romance too.

Whew! Honorable mentions include, A Reliable Wife, Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same, Secret Keeper, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, If You Come Softly, and Tender Grace.

I have no idea how many books I read and I don't even keep a list of what I read, so I have no stats for you on anything. These are just 12 books that stood out for me, that I loved, that I still think about, and that I hope you will consider reading in the coming year.

It's been a great year of's to an even better 2010!


The Baby-sitters Club is Coming Back

Back in the days when I carefully saved my allowance to buy the new Baby-sitters Club books, talked about them with my friends during recess and bored my parents with my obsession, I never imagined there was a whole world of girls out there doing the same thing. The stories we read live inside us and they bind us together years after we have turned the last page. Last November, I hosted a Baby-sitters Club week for us to share those memories.

I was very happy to talk to Motoko Rich of the New York Times last week about my love for the Baby-sitters Club and my thoughts on the upcoming prequel and reissues. The article is very interesting and informative about the relaunch and also mentions my good friend Julie of Booking Mama.


2009 -- Movies I Loved

For some reason, I'm having a hard time coming up with any movies in 2009 that I just really really loved, but there are a few I liked quite a lot.

My favorite movie of 2009 was probably (500) Days of Summer. I honestly didn't expect to actually like it that much so I'm not sure if expectations play a role here, but I adored this movie.

I also really enjoyed Star Trek--it was good fun, Ponyo--a beautiful and perfect children's film, Where the Wild Things Are--bittersweet but still lovely, A Christmas Carol--a near perfect retelling (the part where he's being chased through the streets lost the plot a little bit for me), and Brothers--I agree with critics that it wasn't perfect but it emotionally devastated me and there was a lot that was just really spot on about it.

I really wanted to see The Hurt Locker but didn't get a chance to.

What were your favorite movies of the year?


2009 --Television I Loved

The truth is there's not a lot of television I actually watched in 2009 that's worth talking about with the exception of LOST, my discovery of Supernatural, and Vampire Diaries.

Let's start with LOST. Admittedly, season 5 was not my favorite. I thought it was excellent, but there were times I thought the writing almost rushed plot lines along too much -- to the point of more telling than showing. There is one episode I thought was beautifully written, though, and I probably watched it..well never mind how many times I watched it.

It's no secret that I was a Sawyer and Juliet fan and so the episode I loved is LeFleur. I just thought it was beautifully and thematically written and developed. After 4+ seasons of watching an angsty Sawyer pine after an unstable Kate, it was lovely to see the flower of true love bloom. (please sigh with me in bliss) I love everything about how their relationship unfolded on screen in this episode, I love that the deep trust that existed between them (until later on when the devil Kate comes back) began with the first steps of simply being there for each other. I love the scene when they're at the dock and Sawyer asks Juliet to stay. "Who's going to get my back?" and Juliet looks at him and realizes what he's asking. The acting is phenomenal. (I <3 Elizabeth Mitchell!!) I love that they believe in each other in the "present" scene we're shown. This relationship was a very rare thing on television...a happy mature, stable couple that brought out the best in each other. Even up to the last minutes of the show where we're shown Sawyer and Juliet spooning in bed, a sweet glimpse into the intimacy they shared. Gorgeously written, beautifully acted, one of the finest character pieces of the season. Lefleur how sweet the flower of love is and how easily crushed...Team Darlton I hate you just a little bit for the season finale.

Anyway, I guess I'm just a big softy romantic at heart. I enjoyed the season, I'm looking forward to the last season (while also sort of dreading it being over) and I'm sure the blog will be covered in LOST soon.

I also watched Supernatural for the first time this year. I LOVED the first three seasons of this show but it started to fall apart a little bit for me with the introduction of angels in the fourth season. And the fifth season needs to change directions fast. I'm NOT happy with all the meta's like the writers are having fun with all their little inside jokes but it's doing serious damage to the integrity of their story. Additionally, I'm not thrilled that everything is falling into line with the angels vs. demons storyline. I didn't need the Trickster to be some high powered angel...and I sincerely hope that little trick doesn't get pulled again. I just want to watch my favorite brothers battle that too much to ask? Having said that I do highly recommend the first three seasons...they are mad crazy addictive.

Lastly, I'm loving Vampire Diaries! While very different from the books it's still lots of good fun and the rich mythology developing is keeping me interested.

Honorable Mentions are of course, The Closer and V. I'm behind on Mad Men so it's not on here and while I love Chuck and Blair, Gossip Girl is also losing steam.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mini-Reviews: Masquerade and Revelations by Melissa de la Cruz (Blue Bloods Books 2 and 3)

It will be impossible for me to write about these books without spoiling the first one, so please just skip on past this review if you plan to read this series at some point and don't want to be spoiled.

Masquerade opens with Schuyler on the hunt for her grandfather in Venice. Her vampire skills are starting to come into focus and she's able to use them to her advantage to find him. Meanwhile, Bliss is experiencing moments where she completely passes out and has no memory and she suspects that Dylan is somehow saving her. And Mimi is...Mimi organizing a huge party and trying to find a way to keep Jack, her vampire and human twin loyal to her. I thought this installment was fantastic and addictive, action packed. It takes the mythology even deeper and you'll find yourself rapidly turning the pages and reaching for the next book at its dramatic conclusion.

Revelations is also good...the hunt for the silver bloods ramps up when it's been discovered that Leviathan's grave has been tampered with. The love triangle gets a bit complicated but is overshadowed by the events at the end. I do have to say that if I think these books have a weakness it's that the conclusion is always a bit rushed. While de la Cruz does a great job of drawing you into the suspense and mystery during the book, the climax always seems a bit rushed and lacks the proper punch it could have. In other words, I think her action sequences lack power and finesse. But it doesn't really change the fact that I have really enjoyed these books.

Rating: 4.25/5 for both
Things You Might Want to Know: These are vampire books. also they bring fallen angels into the mix. Some minor language.
Source of Books: bought them both
Publisher: Hyperion


Monday, December 28, 2009

2009--Blogs I Have Loved

This is a tricky post to write, but I want to write it because I want to honor the blogs that have moved me as a person this year. While this is certainly not conclusive, it's a good sampling of the bloggers that have managed to break through the cyberspace wall and touch my heart, challenge my mind, or just entertain me.

Letters from Kamp Krusty--no one was happier than me when Brant started blogging again. I really don't know anyone who manages to consistently make me laugh and challenges me to see things that really matter as well as he does. It's my favorite blog, the first one I will read when I see it's been updated, and I hope he doesn't disappear completely again.

Rabbit Room--this is a group blog and I must admit I do not read every single post. I have my favorite bloggers who blog there, and I'll read the others when I have time. However, I couldn't possibly love this blog or the concept of it more. I love that it's a place where thinking people of faith question, examine, and celebrate life, art, and faith. My favorite blog post of the year anywhere is quite possibly Andrew Peterson's Christmas post, which moved an emotionally drained and sick me to tears when I read it Christmas night. Posts like this are the reason I love reading blogs, the reason I think reading blogs can make me a better person.

Things Mean a Lot--I don't think there are words that convey the tremendous respect I have for Ana. Her reviews are so emotionally engaged, she's the picture of diplomacy, empathy, and heart. She is good willed and gracious and so very intelligent. The thing about Ana is that I greedily read every word she writes, but it's also the comments she leaves around the blogosphere that have made me think twice about things. We have two very different world views and I'm grateful that if anyone is going to challenge me to think differently about things, it's someone who will do so with patience and understanding. And yes, like for so many others, she's added to my wishlist like crazy.

Beth Kephart Books -- I can't even remember a time when I didn't know the beauty of Beth Kephart's words and that's the highest compliment I can pay an artist. I appreciate so deeply her ability to find the beauty in the small moments of life. She captures with her words the deepest heart of life and love and I sometimes feel guilty I will tweet all her posts simply because I love them so much. The fact that behind the words and images on her blog is a person of genuine warmth and such...goodness is an added reward.

Moored at Sea -- Jason's blog is a fairly new discovery for me, but I'm so glad I found it! (and Amanda's, too, of course!) Jason is one of those smart people who also has great heart, which makes for the PERFECT kind of book review in my opinion. Strangely enough, I think this is a rare combination. I've been moved by his reviews and while they might not make me read the book, I want to read pretty much everything he writes.

Angieville -- Angie is a true writer, and I love reading her reviews. She does have the power to move me to purchase books but I just love her love for books in general if that makes any sense whatsoever. She comes across as a someone who loves books without any pretentiousness and although I'm certain she'll face some disappointment in life being Team Gale, I still always look forward to her posts.

Televisionary -- I can explain it this way...Jace's LOST recaps are my favorite. I do read some of his other analysis but we don't watch many of the same shows, but if we did, I'm certain his recaps would be my favorite. He is, quite simply, my favorite television writer.

Daily Mish Mash -- I just love Jen. She always always makes me laugh. And she's unabashedly a fangirl. And she got her picture taken with Ryan Gosling this year! I am always happy to read her updates because I know they'll put a smile on my face.

YA Fabulous -- I think Renay might have stopped blogging or something, but she definitely deserves a place on this list for her amazingly thought provoking posts. Her words have a way of getting under my skin and then I can't stop thinking about them and eventually I realize she's right.

As I said before, this is not a conclusive list, but when I think back on the year, these are the blogs that....changed me in some way. And I want to say thank you, and I want you to have the chance to discover just how wonderful these blogs are as well.

And I want to say thank you to all of you who read this blog. I know you don't have to and it means a lot that you choose to spend a few minutes now and then with me. You make me feel incredibly blessed with your comments and emails and faithful readership. I hope to bring an even better blog to you next year. Thanks for reading!


Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

blue Bloods
Something about the end of the year makes me want to pull out reads that are slightly darker or heavier...or pure comfort reads. As strange as it may seem to you, I find vampire novels to be great comfort reads, probably because I started reading and loving them at a young age.

Other than the Twilight saga, of which I've only read the first book, there are many popular bestselling Young Adult vampire series. I've long wanted to read them, and when the first book in a new series showed up unsolicited the week before Christmas and I devoured it in a couple of hours, I knew now was the time. (I'll be reviewing that book next week)

I decided to start with the Blue Bloods series on Pam's advice and I loved it. Plain and simple.

Schuyler Van Alen's family legacy is everywhere in New York but the family fortune has long since crumbled. Schuyler's father is dead, her mom's in a coma and Schuyler herself feels like a misfit. She doesn't get along with the popular kids at all. but she does have two close friends. Schuyler is starting to notice some changes in herself. She's not alone though. A lot of the young people are noticing changes. I'm pretty sure you can guess what they mean, and I have to say that the vampire mythology threw me for a bit of a loop at first. I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but as I have continued to read the series I am really really enjoying it. It's a pretty unique vampire mythology with a lot of potential for story.

The writing in the book is adequate. If I have one complaint, it's that there's tremendous build-up and the ending feels a bit rushed and more like telling than showing. Which is a real shame, because the beginning part of the book does a great job of reeling you into the mystery. But other than that, this is like Gossip Girl meets vampires and it definitely satisfies the drama loving in me. In fact, I'm about to start the fourth book and I can't remember the last time I just purely enjoyed reading a series the whole way through like this. I think if you like vampires, you'll enjoy this.

Rating: 4/5
Things You Might Want to Know: There's a bit of sex, a little language
Source of Book: Bought it!
Publisher: Hyperion


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Guest Post: Shiraz, Author of Defenders of the Scroll

I'm happy to welcome Shiraz who I met briefly in New York this past May. He wrote the book Defenders of the Scroll which you can learn more about at his website.

My life as a contractor for software development keeps me on the move, living in different cities, and often countries, for months to years at a time. When I do end up back at my home town of Toronto for the Christmas season, I stay with my brother, his wife, and their four (yes four!) kids who range in age from three to twelve. Now, all the kids are young enough to still believe in Santa, and I am probably the most evil uncle in the world, so I like to have fun at their expense.

Last year a week before Christmas, they walked into the room I was in to see me yelling on the phone. I don’t think they’ve seen me yell before and their eyes widened when they realized who I was yelling at.

“Listen, Santa. I don’t care how bad I was this year, I still think I deserve to get a present! … Ok that was bad but … You can’t count that time! … Ok fat man, if you’re not going to bring me a present, don’t bother bringing presents to anyone in this house!”

I slammed the phone down as the kids gasped, a couple of them exclaiming “No! Uncle Shaz!”

I gave them a frustrated look and asked, “What?”

Their parents had to assure them that Santa would still deliver presents and, of course, the presents arrived. I didn’t get one from Santa though, so I vowed revenge.

This year I informed them of my plan to build a Santa trap. It involved rope placed by the fireplace, and a baseball bat. The goal was to grab the toy bag, so that we’d have all the toys for everyone in the world, toys enough to last us for years! Surprisingly, none of them would help me build it, despite me asking several times over the last week. A few complaints were sent to their parents in hopes they’d convince me to change my mind.

On Christmas morning, they came down and the presents were there with no sign of a Santa trap. I walked in limping and pretending to be sore and they asked what happened.

“Santa beat me up,” I told them.


“I set my Santa trap, but he was too good for me. We got into a fight and he pinned me to the ground and gave me noogies until I promised never to do it again. Didn’t you hear us?”

What made me smile was that my nine year-old nephew piped up and said, “I was awake and heard thumping downstairs, but I didn’t know what it was.”

“That was me fighting Santa!” I exclaimed.

“Well, it serves you right for trying to mug Santa,” my niece scolded.

The others agreed with nods and a unanimous, “Yeah!”

None of them seemed concerned that their uncle was hurt!

To top things off, there was a present under the tree for me from Santa (my brother and his wife) which only convinced the kids that Santa is the kindest, “bestest” person in the world because he decided to give me a present after everything that happened.

Sometimes I honestly wonder why these kids love me, but they are excited every time they see me and I never buy them any presents. I think it may be that, even though I tease them a lot, when I’m with them they get all my attention and that’s a gift they really want. Of course, they could just be insane. It’s a tough call.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Silent Night (Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays)

When I was growing up, our church had a Christmas Eve service. This service was always really special to me. I grew up attending a small church where everyone felt like family...for better or worse, so seeing each other on this final night before Christmas was always fun.

At the end of the service, we'd light candles, stand in a circle around the sanctuary and sing "Silent Night." Those moments, as we stood in the darkness, with only our candles to light the space, looking at each other and singing this song that whispers of the sacredness of Christmas...those few minutes always felt so holy and sacred. Special.

I miss that now. The churches I've attended in my adult years are all much larger. The services are polished, coordinated, and designed. I miss the simplicity of church being about the body of people.

I'm sharing with you the Mannheim Steamroller version of Silent Night as my final Christmas song to share this season. I won't be posting tomorrow, but I'll probably be back shortly after that in order to wrap up the year. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope that you have time to savor the company of those you love, the sweetness of the gift of Jesus, and the joy of life. I am deeply thankful to know you and the season wouldn't be complete without expressing my gratitude for your presence in my life. Merry Christmas friends. May you know fullness of joy.


Review: Touching Wonder by John Blase

While I'm a huge fan of having markers in our lives and "festivals" times we celebrate significant events of our faith or national history, the disadvantage is that at times it all becomes a bit familiar. Especially when it's built into your life from a young age. I know I'm not alone. For anyone who has ever grown up on Bible stories, we sometimes forget that we believe these stories, that they happened to flesh and blood people who had less access to technology and historical accounts than ourselves.

I believe the Christmas story is true, every last detail as recorded in the Bible implausible though it seems, and yet sometimes they feel more like folk tales than truth.

What I love about the little book Touching Wonder is that John Blase tries to remind us that these were human beings, struggling with the same issues of faith we do, the same life and death circumstances. He opens each section with a passage from the Message of the Christmas story, and then includes some creative prose of what that person might have been thinking and feeling. There are some lovely drawings included along with hand written prayers. I read this little book relatively quickly, but it was perfect for this close to Christmas, and I found myself tearing up a bit as I read.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You might Want to Know: This book is intended for Christians
Publisher: Cook
Source of Book: Received from publicist for review


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Labor of Love

This song of my favorites. Just's beautiful and sweet. I love Jill Phillips. (and Andrew Peterson, but do I really need to say that again?)


Time Sinks by Julianne Lee (Giveaway)

I’ve heard it said that as we get older, time goes faster. Each year seems shorter than the last. I thought about that once, and wondered, if that’s true, then how come I’m not dead yet?

I teach at a writers’ workshop each spring in Louisville, KY, and one of my favorite subjects to speak on is writers’ block. I don’t think I’ve ever had a real block. When a deadline looms, somehow the writing gets done. As they say, it’s a simple matter of Butt In Chair. You sit down and think up stuff. Even if it amounts to opening a vein, you do it and worry later if you’re making a mess.

However, block or not, I’ve noticed that having time for writing is more of an issue than it used to be. Back in the dim time, before I began writing for publication, I spent every spare minute at the keyboard. But that was back when the keyboard belonged to a cheap manual typewriter. It wasn’t attached to a computer that offered games, or even worse an Internet of chat rooms and bulletin boards.

It began with Minesweep. You know, that game that comes with every PC. You click on squares and hope there’s no mine beneath it. It was supposed to teach people how to use a mouse with dexterity. I spent hour after hour clicking on squares and exploding mines, and wouldn’t quit until I won a game. I got pretty good at winning, and once nailed the expert level in 182 seconds.
Then came bulletin boards. Back when the only people who had access to the Internet were government employees and college students, ISPs were closed systems that were like small communities. People discussed their favorite subjects, and developed friendships with other people they never would have known if not for the computer. At one point during this time I became so wrapped up in discussing the merits of various television shows, that I frequently found myself at mid-afternoon and still in my pajamas. Even I realized this wasn’t good. I made myself start skimming some posts and refrained from blurting every thought. Now there are so many social networks, and so many people posting on them, that skimming is about all one can ever do any more.

Having matured in the area of computer socializing, I was still not safe. Computer and video games became more sophisticated. I remember Atari’s Pong. Minesweep and Solitaire were sophisticated by comparison. The Nintendo 64 gave us the James Bond adventure Goldeneye, which caught my attention for a while. But shoot’em-ups wear thin on me after a while and I lost interest in beating that game.

But then they invented The Sims. Oh, dear. It’s like playing with the world’s greatest dollhouse. Sims 1 was nice, but mostly for building and decorating the houses. At one point I had about 6,500 custom objects in the game, some of which I made myself. Hours and hours of learning and manipulating the files behind the game. I still got the writing done.

Then here came Sims 2. The Sims had lives. They were born, lived, and died. They left progeny, who also grew up, went to college, had families, and also died. They had genetics that eerily mimicked human inheritance. More than playing with a dollhouse, it was like watching an ant farm. Except the ants had personalities. Their lives were stories. Some of my Sims could trace their ancestry back to the very first family in town. They cheated on their spouses, took jobs and lost them, went broke, got rich. Some had brilliant careers, some struggled to get by. I was so fascinated by this that I had to make a rule that I wouldn’t load The Sims until I’d finished the writing for the day.

I don’t dare buy Sims 3.
Six months ago I stopped playing The Sims, having discovered Farmville. I never thought this would be a time sink. I figured it was no big deal and I would just log on once a day to harvest and plant. Ha! These days I’ve almost beaten the game and am logging on only once a day, but for a while it was as bad as The Sims.

Computers aren’t the only time sink, though. A couple of years ago I took up quilting by hand so I would have something to do with the rest of my brain while watching television. I love the hand-sewing (no machines for me, thank you), and now find myself watching a lot more television than I used to. I’ve had to limit myself to only two or three hours a night, and even then if I’m on deadline I’ll forgo that.

Cats will suck the time out of my day, too. Until a few weeks ago, my favorite cat Silas would run to climb onto my lap the instant my butt hit the desk chair. I learned to type with him draped over my arm, but work goes very slowly that way, particularly once my arm was asleep. Silas is gone now, but the other cats are moving in. Sometimes I just have to tell them, “No, I’m busy.”

But the worst time sink of all, the one I am most diligent about not letting it interfere with my writing schedule, is housework. Nope, can’t let the dusting and vacuuming keep me from my real work.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Julianne Lee is the author of Her Mother's Daughter: A Novel of Queen Mary Tudor
About the Book: A new novel of sixteent-century royalty from the author of A Question of Guilt

Her name was Mary Tudor. First of the Tudor queens, she has gone down in history as Bloody Mary. But does she deserve her vicious reputation?

She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and half-sister to Edward VI and Elizabeth I. Mary Tudor's life began as the sweetly innocent, pampered princess of Wales-until the age of eleven when the father she adored cast aside the mother she worshipped and declared Mary a bastard. Only after years of exile did Mary finally rise to the throne alongside the man who, aside from her father, was her greatest love-and her greatest betrayer.

Told by Mary herself and the people around her, this grand-scale novel takes us back to the glittering court of sixteenth-century England, and tells the tragic story of a fascinating, largely misunderstood woman who withstood the treachery and passion around her only to become one of England's most vilified queens.

If you are interested in winning a copy of this book, leave a comment with your number one time sink, and a valid email address. US only as this will be shipped straight from the publisher. I'll draw a winner December 31st!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs

I love Handel's Messiah and have chosen one selection for you here today. We are getting so close to Christmas! I'm kind of relieved....25 days of Christmas songs turns out to be a lot! :)


Sunday, December 20, 2009

O Holy Night by Beth Kephart

(I probably don't need to give an introduction to Beth Kephart on this blog, but she's a fantastic author and blogger, and wonderful friend to all who love books. I was honored she wrote this guest post about what happens to be my favorite Christmas song.)

I wanted to sing “O Holy Night” more than anything for the Christmas show. It seemed most hallowed, most lovely, most timeless—words I would not have known to use then, back in fourth grade; it was just this feeling I had.

And so, for weeks, I practiced the song—its high notes, its phrasing, the small hidden places inside which a breath might be stolen. In the bathroom I sang it, in my mother’s bedroom, on the path to school, on the bridge above the creek, in the white music room of the elementary school alongside the black piano, until finally the day came for the show.

I hadn’t counted on being so petrified. On having my throat close and my lungs run dry. I hadn’t counted on the bright white light that found me on that stage in that auditorium in a dress I don’t remember. I remember closing my eyes and praying that the words would find their own way. I remember the piano playing and the song coming and my eyes opening again, against that spotlight. It was round and white and refracted, a halo, I thought. A presence. So that now, every Christmas, “O Holy Night” is just that—the sound of something hallowed, and a halo.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Santa Will Find You

I'm not sure exactly why I love this song so much, probably because it evokes the sweetness of Christmas and children. Something I've ignored a little bit in my Christmas songs. Unfortunately, this is probably due to the fact that I have no children. But this year, I do have three nieces to celebrate with and they are as sweet as can be! Saw them today! :)

I really enjoy the whole Mindy Smith holiday CD as well.

Here's the only Youtube video I could find, I don't know this child.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Welcome to Our World (Faith'n' Fiction Saturday on Hiatus for the Holidays until January 2nd)

Merry Christmas everyone! I'll ask you for your top Christian fiction reads of 2009 on January 2nd. I'm also pondering ways to shake things up with Faith'n'Fiction.

Here's a Christmas song for you to enjoy, that I love, Welcome to Our World. Some of the words are so beautiful they still give me goose bumps, even after the 1,000th listen.


All I Want for Christmas is You by Rebecca the Book Lady!

(Having met Rebecca, also known as the book lady, in real life, I know that she's every bit as funny and fun and smart as she seems online. I was so excited that she agreed to write a guest post about one of her favorite Christmas songs--which incidentally is one of mine)

Winter 1994: I’ve just turned twelve years old, and I am solidly in the middle of that awkward adolescent phase where your nose is too big for your face, your hair never looks quite right, and your wardrobe choices can only be described as unfortunate.

And I have braces. Can’t forget the braces. (And this is 1994, so they’re not those high-tech, streamlined, barely noticeable braces kids these days have. These puppies are unmissable.)

With raging hormones (and the pimples to prove it) but nary a suitor in sight, I am facing a sad, lonely, oh-so-single holiday season. And every Christmas song in existence seems intent on rubbing it in.

I can’t listen to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” because it reminds me there’s no one pining away for me.

I hate “Winter Wonderland” because nobody’s counting the hours ‘til later on, when we’ll conspire as we dream by the fire.

“The Christmas Song” is out because it makes multiple references to nuts. And I’m twelve. So that’s both gross and giggle-inducing.

And Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson haven’t met yet, so their wonderfully sappy rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is still years from conception.

What’s a single girl nursing at least ten unrequited crushes to do?

Well, if it’s winter 1994, then the only solution is to buy yourself a sexy Santa costume, frolic around in some fake snow, and convince that boy he needs you. Tell him that HE is ALL YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS.

Hey, it’s working for Mariah in that new video, right?

Winter 2009: I don’t remember the first time I heard “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but I’ll never forget dancing around my bedroom, singing into my hairbrush, and imagining for just a few minutes that I was Mariah Carey. That I could fill out that sexy Santa outfit. And that it would make Justin (or Wes or Paul or Jeff or…well, you get the point) realize that all he wanted for Christmas was me.

And I’ll never forget the little dance my sister choreographed in the car one day. It’s the same dance I’ve done every time I’ve heard this song for the last fifteen years, and so what if the first move very closely resembles Cher’s “rolling with the homies” thing from Clueless?

Now that I’m separated from my mom and sister by several states, I’ll also never forget, the first time I hear this song on the radio each year, to call them on speakerphone and turn the volume ALL THE WAY UP, so we can sing and dance with each other like we always have.

Over the last fifteen years, I have sung this song to boyfriends both real and imaginary. I’ve sung it in moments of giddy happiness---that Christmas Eve when my best guy friend told me he loved and the Christmas right before my wedding come to mind---and aching loneliness. I’ve sung it to my dad (who rolled his eyes but danced with me anyway) and my mom and my sister and my husband (more times than he’d like) and my dog. I’ve sung alone in the car at the top of my lungs and made the people in the car next to me think I was crazy.

And you know what? I’ll keep on singing it, year after year, because of the old memories it holds and the new ones it hints at.

And because someday….someday I’m going to get that sexy Santa outfit and really live the dream.

Go watch the official video!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beth Kephart on The Evolution of Writing

When the ever-generous Amy wrote to ask me for a complete list of my books, I wondered what the dear soul was up to. A reading challenge, she explained, one email later. A reading challenge, I thought. Oh my word.

I asked Amy if there might be room for me to put that too-long list of books into perspective, and Amy being Amy said yes. And so a few words here (and thank you for reading them) about the journey that I have taken since 1998, when my first book was published.

I was a mother utterly in love with her son when I wrote A Slant of Sun: One Child’s Courage. My son had faced a series of challenges when he was young; he had shown me the way to push past them, and indeed he did push through and past every last challenge, every lingering label. I’d published Slant as a testament to the power of love and to the importance of seeing the world through the eyes of others; I published it to give others hope. Slant leaves readers at a summer camp production, with children of every blooming potential on the stage. It takes the focus off my own child and places it back onto the larger world, for don’t we all face challenges, don’t we all look for ways to overcome?

Books tend to freeze people in time, but life moves on, children change and grow, writers, too, and with my next memoirs—Into the Tangle of Friendship (about the power of friends in our lives), Still Love in Strange Places (about El Salvador and marriage), Seeing Past Z (about the importance of the imagination and my work with young writers), and Ghosts in the Garden (about coming to terms with middle age)—I was moving on. My son—funny, exquisitely talented, an emerging writer—appears in those pages as the person he is, no longer three or four or struggling, but as a guy whose greatness of heart and everlasting wisdom kept challenging me to be a better person.

Memoir is not autobiography; it is the act of considering life’s bigger issues through the particular lens of one life. Still, five memoirs is (shall we say) a rather large number for someone my age. And so the next two books I wrote were experimental in nature—Flow, which is the story of the Schuylkill River told in her own words (the story of a middle aged woman, in other words, who had been pristinely seductive, then discovered, then polluted, then without hope; a woman who could never die), and Zenobia, an Alice-in-Wonderland-like fable about corporate America (which is where I spend most of my time as a consultant).

Subsequently I began, at the urging of editor Laura Geringer, to write for the young adults I had taught, and still do teach. Undercover was followed by House of Dance, which was followed by Nothing but Ghosts, which will be followed in March by The Heart is Not a Size and in September by the historical novel, Dangerous Neighbors. While published within the YA category, these books were indeed meant for readers of all ages, and I have been blessed that the right readers have in the end found their way to these titles.

I am currently at work on a novel for adults and on another YA book that hearkens back to the legacy of the Spanish Civil War. My goal, as a writer, is to keep growing, to keep learning, to keep moving forward with books. People like Amy help me reach that goal. I am grateful, as always, to her for this challenge.

The Beth Kephart Reading Challenge 2010

Beth Kephart Reading challenge
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Beth Kephart. Beth Kephart the person, Beth Kephart the blogger, and Beth Kephart the author.

I want to read her entire backlist and I know many of you want to read it, or part of it, as well. I decided to host this challenge, the first one being six months long to move us in that direction.

Here are the specifics of the challenge:

Dates: Jan 1, 2010--June 30th, 2010.
Beth Kephart Newbie -- Read one book out of any category. This level is not eligible for the prize.
YA Fan--Read all the books categorized as YA. This level is eligible for the prize.
Memoir Fan--Read all the books categorized as memoir. This level is eligible for the prize.
Mix'n'match--Read any 4 books off the list. This level is eligible for the prize.
Entire Backlist -- Read the entire backlist. Definitely eligible for the prize.

The prize is an ARC of Dangerous Neighbors not due out until the fall!

In order to be eligible for the prize, you must complete the level you choose and link all of your reviews in the review linky that will go up on January 1st.

List of Beth Kephart's Books:

A Slant of Sun: One Child's Courage, W.W. Norton, 1998 (Memoir)
Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things that Matter, Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (Memoir)
Still Love in Strange Places: A Memoir, W.W. Norton, 2002 (Memoir)
Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World, W.W. Norton, 2004 (Memoir)
Ghosts in the Garden: Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self, New World Library, 2005 (Memoir)
Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Temple University Press, 2007 (History)
House of Dance, Laura Geringer Books: HarperTeen, May 2008 (YA)
Undercover, Laura Geringer Books: HarperTeen, 2007 (YA)
Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business, Berrett-Kohler, January 2008 (YA)
"The Longest Distance," in No Such Thing as The Real World, HarperTeen, May 2009 (YA--short story)
Nothing But Ghosts, Laura Geringer Books: HarperTeen June 2009 (YA)
The Heart is Not a Size, HarperTeen, forthcoming, February 2010 (YA)
Dangerous Neighbors, Egmont, Fall 2010

Sounds great huh? Please help me spread the word about one of my favorite authors and join me in this challenge. I'll be reading the entire backlist.

If you want to join, please write a post or mention this challenge in some way on your blog and put the link into Mister Linky. If you don't have a blog, please leave a comment with your level of participation. Once you choose a level of participation, you are expected to stick with it!

Review: A Blue and Gray Christmas by Joan Medlicott

A Blue and Gray Christmas
When an old box is discovered in Grace, Amelia, and Hannah's backyard, they are intrigued to discover it contains letters and diaries from two soldiers during the Civil War. As they read these letters, they become quite touched by their contents and hope to bring together a reunion of the descendants of these soldiers. Some obstacles lie in their path, however. Will they acheive their goal?

I thought the premise of this book was so interesting. I love the idea of finding history like that which reflects the true life and times of the people. And while I did find the letters and the history interesting, the present day part bored me. I should mention this is the holiday installment in a series, so I was a bit lost as to who the characters were and why they all lived together even though some of them were married! I think there were storylines carried over from other books that I didn't really care about but may have been interesting to long time readers of the series. And I didn't really think the book was a heavy holiday book at all.

So while this was a relatively quick and easy read, I suspect I will forget it quite soon.

Rating: 3.75/5
Source of Book: Received for Review from Publisher
Publisher: Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster)

On the theme of war, today's Christmas song is the ever heartbreaking, "I'll Be Home for Christmas"


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Buy One Book and Read It 2010

Buy One Book and Read It was started when I realized over 50% of Americans had not read a single book in a year. This is the most disturbing news possible to a book lover like myself, so I wanted to encourage an easy fun way to make sure people read a book in a year!

And it's back! With options!

This year there are three levels of participation:

Level One!
Buy one book and read it before December 31st, 2010.

Level Two!
Buy six books and read them before December 31st, 2010.

Level Three
Buy 12 books and read them before December 31st, 2010.

To add a little twist to this year's challenge you are encouraged to choose one of the following options to add to your level.
Indie Option--Make sure the book or books you buy are purchased at an independent bookstore.
Book Blogger Option--Buy only books you learn about on book blogs.

That's it! If you'd like to join, just add your link to the Mister linky with your level and options in parentheses. On January 1st, I'll put up a linky for reviews.

A Song for the Season by Florinda of the 3 Rs blog

(I'm so happy to welcome Florinda of the 3Rs Blog and my friend! as she shares about a favorite Christmas song)

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas music - some of it I love, some of it I hate. I don't love any of it until after Thanksgiving. And quite frankly, some of the Christmas music I love is kind of goofy, but I'll spare you a discussion of my favorite parodies, "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Christmas at Ground Zero" (from long before that term was associated with 9/11), and the McKenzie Brothers' spin on "The Twelve Days of Christmas." There's plenty of other Christmas music I love that falls into the "mostly normal" portion of the pop/secular realm.

The first time I remember hearing Darlene Love's "
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" was in a rather unlikely place; it was the song played over the opening credits of the movie Gremlins. It was an oldie at the time, having first been written and recorded over 20 years earlier for the album A Christmas Gift for You. The album was a compilation of both new and well-known holiday songs performed by various girl groups working with producer Phil Spector. Spector's not exactly "mostly normal" himself, but the album is a modern holiday classic, and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" was one of the new songs written for it. It didn't get much notice at the time, but it's been covered several times since then (most notably by U2), and it's pretty well-known now.

The song appeals to me for its classic pop sound, but also for its combination of an upbeat melody with rather wistful lyrics. The theme is a fairly common one in Christmas pop music - it's supposed to be the happiest time of year, but you're separated from someone you love and that makes it sad:

They're singin' "Deck the Halls"
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

(Christmas) Oh, the snow's coming down
(Christmas) Now I'm watching it fall
(Christmas) All the people around
(Christmas) Baby please come home

(Christmas) Now the church bells in town
(Christmas) Oh, they're ringing our song
(Christmas) Oh, what a happy sound
(Christmas) Baby please come home

They're singin' "Deck the Halls"
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

Pretty lights on the tree
I'm watching them shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

(Christmas) Oh Now the snow's coming down
(Christmas) Now I'm watching it fall
(Christmas) All the people around
(Christmas) Said Baby please come home

(Christmas) Now the church bells in town
(Christmas) Oh, they're ringing our song
(Christmas) Oh, what a happy sound
(Christmas) Baby please come home

They're singin' "Deck the Halls"
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

If there was a way
I'd hold back these tears
But this Christmas day
Baby please come home

(Christmas) Now the snow's coming down
(Christmas) Oh I'm watching it fall
(Christmas) All the people around
Baby, baby, baby, please come home
Now the snow's comin' down
Baby please come home

There have been many years when my family's been scattered around the country and we haven't been together for the holidays, and that's made this song meaningful to me. Last year was the first time I wasn't with my son at Christmas, and even though that's not really the type of relationship the song is talking about, it was stuck in my head all last December. This year, he's told me he IS coming home, 'll be picking him up from the airport after I leave work next Wednesday.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" has found a little home of its own - it's become an
annual tradition for Darlene Love to join the CBS House Band and perform it on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday: The Passage by Justin Cronin

I am beginning to wonder if I like anticipating reads even more than actually reading them. In any case, someone on twitter said this is one of the best books they've ever read and Stephen King liked it, too. (he likes LOST and The Hunger Games he can't have that bad of taste)

I read an article about the bidding war for this in the New York Times. Here's an excerpt:

The story, a futuristic fable about death row inmates transformed into vampires by a government-spawned virus, hit a nerve with publishers. A number tried to block their competitors with pre-emptive offers, some in the millions. The offers were summarily rejected, and the manuscript was put on the block at a “best bids” auction between four houses on July 3.

Sounds amazing doesn't it? I absolutely cannot wait to read it, even if it is 700+ pages.


White Christmas and Christmas Cards

The art of sending Christmas cards is definitely dying. More and more people opt for the quick mass email or catch all blog post. I even saw someone suggest sending out a holiday tweet. It's funny, because all the things we have to save us time, like facebook and twitter and email end up sucking us dry with their constant demands. I don't juggle all of them very well and ended up neglecting my facebook account for six months. I was really sad to go back and read my messages and see how many of my good friends had written! I also missed a chance to meet up with a friend who was in the area. I will never neglect Facebook again!

A goal for 2010 is definitely to bring more balance to my life in these ways and to put energy into fewer activities and to do them well. Most of my online energy goes into this blog and twitter is where I goof off instead of facebook. But I'm also on the hunt for a hobby that has nothing to do with blogs or storytelling of any kind...I'm looking for that new kind of space in my life.

In any case, so much of Christmas is nostalgia and I suspect that even card writing will become something of the past. I think it's really sad, even though my cards usually get sent on December 23rd. Hearing from loved ones in this dedicated way has always been pleasure. We have so many online connections that snail mail now stands out in a special way.

I love the film Holiday Inn in all of it's corny glory. I love the music and dancing. I hope you enjoy this video of White Christmas.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Being from St. Louis, I love the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Anytime the hometown makes it into a book or movie (especially in such a positive light!) is cause for celebration. The beautiful and much loved Christmas song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was first heard in this movie, but if you listen closely to the lyrics below, you'll note a line that's been changed to make it more cheerful. I think the most original lyrics were quite dreary indeed! :) I do love it and I recommend watching Meet Me In St. Louis if you've never seen it!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Virtual Advent: No Man is a Failure Who Has Friends

It's my day on the virtual advent tour and I thought I would write about my favorite Christmas movie. I love Christmas movies no matter how sappy they may be, there's something nice about watching something that fans the flames of hope. There's enough in the world to bring us down, what I love about Christmas is that it gives us permission to set aside the skepticism in our hearts and believe.

From the quote, you've probably figured out that It's A Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie.

It really is, in my opinion, the perfect Christmas story. It's the perfect Christmas story, because it's about imperfect people and imperfect circumstances and that joyful reality that even in our imperfection we matter to each other. We matter. Our lives matter.

It's a Wonderful Life is the story of a good man, though not a perfect man, who faces a crisis on Christmas Eve. Overcome with the weight of a great sum of lost money, he wishes he had never been born. When an angel shows him what that would have meant in the lives of those he loves, he realizes his live has more value than he thought.

Another thing I love about the movie is that it consistently makes something new from what has been broken or lost. And love and friendship is the means by which this happens. Nothing demonstrates this so beautifully as the old house George and his wife move into and start to restore.

There are many ways by which we measure success in this world. Money, career, number of books read in a year. ;) But the truth is that I believe that each of your lives are your own beautiful gift to this world. To love one another and show friendship is the greatest value we can give. Nothing else will ever matter as much in importance or last as long.

So I'm here to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, to encourage you to cherish and treasure the family and friendships in your life and to simply remind you that you matter and your life is of great worth. I'm thankful to all of you that I call friend.

I've been sharing a Christmas song everyday this week, and in honor of It's a Wonderful Life, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". It's Amy Grant, because I had a hard time finding a version of the song I liked, which is basically one that sounds like we'd sing it in church! :)


Saturday, December 12, 2009

CFBA Book Spotlight: The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry

About the Book: Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.

They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, they discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child?

But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

I received The Familiar Stranger through my partnership with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Coming in a the last minute here, but I really love this beautiful song. I wish I could find the Fernando Ortega version to share, but no such luck. I recommend buying it off iTunes if the version from his Christmas CD is available. It's stunning.


Friday, December 11, 2009

O Come O Come Emmanuel

No words needed for this one. One of the most breathtaking and hauntingly beautiful songs of Christmas. Please listen if you've never heard this instrumental version before!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: The Christmas Lamp by Lori Copeland

The town of Nativity, Missouri is in trouble. Ever since the new highway dropped them off the map, tourism has been down. But the town does Christmas up big every year and it's costing them quite a bit of money. A new consultant, Jake, has come in to help them sort out their finances but he wants to do away with all their Christmas traditions!

Roni loves the town's traditions and is upset by Jake's choices. But she's attracted to Jake. Can they work through their differences and save Nativity?

This is a lovely little Christmas novella. It's such a sweet story and invokes the feeling and spirit of Christmas. It's got a little romance and of course a huge selling point for me is that it's set in Missouri. I have to admit I was so surprised by what the Christmas Lamp was...that was completely unexpected. But the story overall is lovely and since I'm a sap this time of year, I was even teary by the end. (also was listening to Christmas music) It's a quick read, it took me less than two hours, but perfect if you have a couple of minutes this holiday season.

Rating: 4/5
Source of Book: Publisher provided a review copy
Publisher: Zondervan


Santa Claus Has Come to Town! Twice!

Um, this is the part where I confess to having joined two book blogger holiday swap/secret santas. I can't help it, I just love these things!

They both came last week, and I was thrilled, but I had to find the cord for my camera so I could show you pictures! Here's what I received from Santa Number 1, who chose to remain a secret, but gave me possibly the best ornaments I've ever seen!

And here's what I got from Santa number 2, Ashley from Ashley's Library! I love those bookmarks she made for me based on things she found on my blog as well as Sweethearts by Sara Zarr which I'm eager to read and the adorable stickers. Thank you so much Ashley!

I was also Santa to myself and completely indulged in buying the Dharma Orientation Kit edition of the LOST DVDs. This means I'm a super geek because knowing this existed, I could not be happy with the regular set. I have decided to share some photos with you, because I'm a geek, and also so you can drool with envy!

And now a little gift to all of you....the Spanish language LOST promo that has me counting down the days to February...


Interview with A.S. Peterson, author of The Fiddler's Green

(Just a note...this is one of the best author interviews I've had! Now you're really going to want to read the book! Don't forget to enter my giveaway! I'm loving your answers...especially the ones that say because I recommend it...;) just kidding)

A female sailor/ pirate during the Revolutionary War is a pretty unique concept. What drew you to telling this story?

There's a bit of an eerie story there. When I began writing the book I was working at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, which is in many ways like an orphanage, so in a move to follow the creed of "write what you know" I immediately chose an orphanage as the setting for the first part of the book and set it in a time period that I thought was not only interesting, but under-represented in literature in general. Arbitrarily, I set the orphanage in Savannah, Ga and then after I had written a few chapters decided that I had better do some research.

Oddly, what I discovered when I started my research was that the oldest orphanage in America was founded in exactly the time frame that I was writing about and only a few miles from Savannah in Ebenezer, Georgia. It was uncanny. I drove up one weekend and a member of the Georgia Salzburger Society, descendants of the founders of Ebenezer, showed me around. That's where I learned of George Whitefield and John Wesley's connections to the town. The chapel that's built during the course of the book is actually the New Jerusalem Lutheran Church which is still standing and is the oldest church in the nation with a continuous congregation.

From there I studied a lot of the history of colonial Georgia which led me to the near legendary folklore of a woman named Nancy Hart who was rumored to have killed a detail of British soldiers as they ate at her dinner table. Later, I read books on pirates and maritime life and came across stories of lady pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read. There's actually a whole passel of accounts of women passing as both as male soldiers and sailors.

My research into maritime history led me to see if there were any tall ships in the Jacksonville, FL area that I might be able to visit and get some first-hand experience on and I instantly found a website dedicated to the USS Rattlesnake, that was, of all things, a Revolutionary War-era privateer, exactly the type of ship I was writing about. Unfortunately, I called them up to see about a tour and learned that only a week or two prior to my call they had run out of money for the restoration and had sold it to a salvage yard where it was decommissioned and dismantled. I nearly cried.

So I guess the answer to your question about what drew me to this story is that I was drawn along myself by a series of amazing, beautiful, and harrowing events in American history in a way that compelled me to write about them. Fin Button is certainly a fictional character but most aspects of both her and her story are drawn from people who really lived and events that actually happened.

I was really impressed with how sharply drawn the characters were. I felt for them, and I especially loved Fin. Do you have a favorite character from the book?

I tried very hard to make Betsy, the actual fiddler's gun, more than just a prop. The gun is obviously symbolic and I felt I needed to try to make it almost a character itself. So it's often described in anthropomorphic terms and hopefully the effect is that there's a sense of dread that develops in the reader whenever Betsy is 'on screen' so to speak, and certainly when she wakes up.

Armand Defain is also one of my favorites to write. He's the foil to Bartimaeus, his doppleganger. Where Bartimaeus tries to guide Fin down the path of righteousness, Armand is constantly pulling her away from the light, he wants her to become as twisted and evil as he is, and of course part of Fin actually does want to follow him. He shows up late and doesn't have a whole lot to do in this book but he figures heavily in the next.

You left us hanging! I need to see xxxxxxxxx (edited to avoid spoilers) When will we get to see The Fiddler's Green?

Fiddler's Green is about halfway written and it will conclude the story. I'm really excited about it. I think it's a much better book (not that this one is bad, mind you). Now that the primary players have been established, I'm really enjoying getting into the meat of them in this second half of the story. I won't tell you how it all ends of course, but I can tell you that Fin's best days as well as her worst are still ahead of her. I've had the last few pages written for a couple of years now and reading them always makes me emotional; the end is beautiful, I think. I can't wait for people to read it. I'll be working hard on it this year in hopes of having it out by next Christmas.

It took a long time for this book to find its way into the hands of readers. Can you tell us a little about the process and what you've learned through it?

I think I started writing it in 2002 so it's taken about eight years in all. Much of that time was spent trying to sell it to a publisher but I kept running up against the problem of genre. Publishers want a book to fit neatly into a certain category, they want to know exactly where to shelve it in the bookstore, and the problem I found is that The Fiddler's Gun sort of defies easy classification. It's sort of young adult but then it's also sort of literary. It's sort of historical fiction, but then it's also sort of romance or adventure. Basically, publishers didn't know what to do with it. I don't blame them, why would they take a chance on a book that's difficult to categorize when they've got 3 easy to sell books waiting in line right behind me.

So after a lot of serious consideration and emphatic urging by people whose literary instincts I trusted, I decided to publish it independently. That's a scary thought to a lot of people and rightly so. It severely limits your ability to distribute your book and make it visible to the buying public but it also comes with the stigma associated with self-published books which are by and large, pretty awful.

So if I was to separate myself from the pack I was going to have to do it right. I wanted to put out a book that was not just a pleasure to read but was a pleasure to look at and hold in your hand. My love for books goes beyond the stories told on their pages, the story is also told from the first moment you see the cover and from the feel of the pages between your fingers and the heft of the book in your hand. I wanted any book I wrote to be something that I was proud to have my name on. Of course all that stuff costs money. In the end, I think I found a pretty suitable middle ground between what I could afford and what I ideally wanted to produce.

I hired an editor who I'd previously worked with and trusted, and I commissioned a brilliant Nashville artist, and good friend of mine, Evie Coates to develop the cover artwork. We went to work and in the process decided to launch our own publishing house, Rabbit Room Press, an offshoot of The Rabbit Room, an artistic community I've been involved with for a couple of years now. It's been a really exciting time and we've got some great stuff in the works for the coming year.

I'm a regular reader of the Rabbit Room and find that many of the celebrated writers there are quite established. Do you have any thoughts on emerging voices in fiction? Any recommendations? Which books or stories have had the most influence on you?

One of the reasons for the foundation of the Rabbit Room was to try to give a platform to what we considered to be some great artists, whether musical, literary, or visual that were simply falling between the cracks in our culture. We wanted to give them voices and to some extent we are achieving that. Authors like Wendell Berry and Frederick Buechner are some of the greatest writers of our age, yet they are virtually unknown.

I'm absolutely baffled that Wendell Berry doesn't have a pulitzer prize. I really think that future generations are going to look back on his writing and realize just what a visionary he was. So we talk about him in the Rabbit Room and we sell his books in our store. Every time an order comes in for one of his books I get a little giddy because I know we've just given someone something beautiful.

As for emerging voices, I can't wait to see what Leif Enger writes next. Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome are two of my most treasured books from the past few years. One of our writers, Jonathan Rogers, is currently working on a new young adult book that I've read portions of and I think it's going to be a major leap forward for him and of course my brother, Andrew Peterson's, books have been very well received. It's amazing to see how kids soak up his Wingfeather books. He's perfectly in tune with what kids love about great stories and they just eat it up. I'm working on a YA book of my own and only in my wildest dreams will it be received as well as his have been.

My personal influences tend to be pretty dark. I'm really drawn to books, and movies in which characters are surrounded by horrible circumstances yet they find the tiniest pinprick of light in the world and cling to it. The books that are so dear to me that they've become a part of who I am are those like Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Godric, Book of the Dun Cow, The Lord of the Rings. All of those are dark books, oppressive at times, and yet the long trek through the darkness of the book is what makes them so beautiful in the end. I've constantly worried that The Fiddler's Gun is too dark and if you could see some of the early drafts you'd probably be shocked at how much I've tried to pull back from that and lighten it so I didn't scare the daylights out of people. I'm probably exaggerating there, but it has definitely become a bit easier to swallow in the rewrites and that's a good thing.

Since the book is independently published, what are your plans to get the word out? What can your readers and fans do to help?

Well the best way to get the word out about any book is word of mouth. If you read it and you enjoyed it, then tell someone about it, blog about it, twitter it, beg your local independent bookstore to carry it (and give them my contact information). Part of the trouble with books, though, is that people like to give their copies away for others to read. I love that. I love giving books away. But unfortunately that doesn't help pay the bills. I'd originally considered including vouchers with each book that could be redeemed for another signed copy at a discount so that people would have a reason to buy a second one to give to friends but that idea fell by the wayside and we never followed through with it.

Right now the only place the book is available is at It's too early to say for sure, but there's a chance that we might have some national distribution lined up for early next year. That's all up in the air though, nothing for certain.

What do you hope readers take away from The Fiddler's Gun?

A desire to read Fiddler's Green :)

Seriously, though, the inscription of the book is a quote by Frederick Buechner that says "the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all." I really believe that, and my hope is that everyone that reads the book will see themselves in some facet of Fin Button. Everyday each of us chooses at some point whether we will pick up the fiddle and make our lives something beautiful, or pick up the gun and become an instrument of destruction. The important thing to remember is that no matter how often we've chosen the gun, the fiddle is always ready and waiting to redeem us.

The Fiddler's Gun is not to be missed, read my review and then buy it.