Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Infinite Playlists: How to Have Conversations (Not Conflict) with Your Kids About Music by Todd Stocker

Infinite PlaylistsInfinite Playlists by Todd Stocker

A dad who loves music and grew up on the rock songs of the 1980s and a pastor, Stocker teamed with his teen son on conversations about the music influencing teens now. Instead of condemnation, he has guidelines for parents to talk to their teens about what music is healthy and acceptable for a Christian. This book is more than traditional worship music vs. contemporary, but practical questions and discussions to open the conversation instead of closing discussion on contemporary secular music.

Stocker talks about how music is a gift of God, the effects of it, understanding genres, guidelines for discussion, and even legal issues for Christians. His music student son adds a valuable teen insight. Highly recommended for Christian parents of teens.

Published in Church Libraries Winter 2010-11
By Crystal Laine Miller
Used with permission

Kregel, $9.99

View all my reviews

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Nancy

I'm reposting a blog with links to my friends' posts on Nancy because today is the first birthday since her death. We are thinking about her today and praying for her family. If you didn't know Nancy, here is some about this woman. Someday we'll meet her again--when it comes our turn for heaven.


Forks, bends, detours, scenery, and fellow travelers I've discovered while Exploring the Path Home.

This is what you'll find on freelance writer and community mental health counselor Nancy J. Ring's blog. That, and a whole lot of wisdom and truths that just leave you breathless. I am having a tough time telling you just one post to read, so let's just say that you should read the whole thing including quotes, favorites, and  things. Nancy found the ultimate path Home on March 13, 2010.

A native Chicagoan, she graduated with a Master’s in Community Counseling  and held her Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) certification. She worked with adults who have severe and persistent mental illness, so she knows a lot about how it can be tough to find the path home. She worked at the same place for nearly 10 years and loves that her work focuses on helping people achieve their vocational goals, as well as working on emotional health and well being. Besides work she also volunteered in her church and worked on setting up a food pantry.

When asked about how all of this affected her writing she said,"Helping people become who they are meant to be is a theme that runs through my writing, my counseling, and my ministry."

I know I gain many insights into myself and my own writing from Nancy and her blog and I will miss her so much in our group where we shared so much. She is in a great place now and wouldn't want to come back, so someday I will go to her and that comforts me somehow. She has been a writing buddy in my Struggling Artists of Literary Talent (SALT) for many years, so I love her as a sister, and my fellow SALT sisters are suffering today along with me. We got together over 10 years ago to critique each others' writing, but we bonded as sisters and cared about and prayed about every aspect of our lives. She was the youngest of the group, but seemed wise beyond her years.

Nancy wrote nonfiction articles for women, adults, and teens on all kinds of inspirational, Christian living topics. She's  also written Sunday School curriculum for her church and award-winning grants for her vocational program at work.

Her blog started as a way to get back into writing after she had finished graduate school.
Nancy said, "It’s helped me find my voice, connect with other writers, and helped me identify writing topics I might not have otherwise considered."

Sometime back I interviewed Nancy for my blog, When I Was Just a Kid. I think it's appropriate to share that interview again. I want to celebrate her life, which was lived to the fullest. Amen.

Childhood Ambition: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor, a gymnast, a scientist, and an artist. Sadly, I wasn’t very good at any of these things. When I discovered how much math was required to be a scientist or doctor, I ditched those goals right away.

I still like gymnastics and art, and I’m still not good at either one of them.

Fondest Memory: Ok, I’m having trouble coming up with one stand-out memory. I think it’s mostly the little memories that I’m fond of. Our family Christmas traditions, getting ice cream or Gene & Jude’s hot dogs when me & my brother had good report cards, and having my aunt’s family over for brunch after church on Sunday. I’m sure there’s more extraordinary memories, but these are the ones I recall at the moment.

Proudest Moment :A lot of my proudest moments seem to be related to academics. I guess I’m a nerd. When I was in 7th &  8th grade, I won 3rd place in a spelling bee. At the time I was disappointed that I didn’t place better, but I’m proud of that now. I was also a finalist in a regional story writing contest. I’d been interested in writing ever since I’d read The Hobbit back in 3rd grade, but this was the first time I received real, genuine, encouraging feedback about my writing. Even though I was only a finalist, I was proud of this at the time. Go figure.

Biggest Challenge as a Child or Teen: Most people would think my biggest challenge was growing up with a disability. Spina Bifida has always been a part of my life. I’ve never known life to be any different, and being disabled is only an issue when it’s an issue. Snow on the ground creates an unpleasant experience, but it’s hardly the biggest challenge I’ve ever encountered. The quadratic formula, now that’s a challenge. Does anyone know why we needed to learn that thing anyway?

My First Job: My first job was as a telemarketer for a basement waterproofing company. Cold calling at the age of 14. Despite the fact that most of the calls were rejections, we had fun in the office. Our boss was young himself & would do all sorts of goofy tricks to try to keep our spirits up. He taught me to think outside of the box when you need to address a problem. And if that doesn’t work, go next door to the Hostess shop and buy everyone Twinkies.

Childhood Indulgence: As a kid I was always asking to stay up late to read “just one more chapter.” Also, when my dad was working overnights as a paramedic, on Fridays Mom & I would get pizza and a movie. I looked forward to those nights all week.

Favorite Outfit as a Child: Well, there’s the tea bag Halloween costume my mom made me out of pillowcases. (No, I do not have a picture). I also had a mint green Easter dress I loved when I was about 5 or 6 years old. It had pink ribbon, and lace, and a layered, pleated skirt. I loved that dress.

Favorite Childhood Movie: I loved The Muppet Movie. I still do. Kermit the Frog is wonderful.

Favorite Childhood Book: I read all the time when I was a kid. My mom would buy me chapter books at the beginning of a shopping trip to keep me quiet and by the time she finished shopping I was always asking for another one to sustain me over the car ride home. So while it’s hard to pick just one book, I’d have to say my favorite is The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. This was the book that made me decide I wanted to be a writer. I remember reading the opening paragraphs and trying to figure out what the magic stuff among the words was, what made those words do what they did.

Favorite Childhood Activity: Well, there was reading, of course. And playing on the swings. I still loved to do that. The neighbors across the street had a swing set, but we never did. When my parents did some renovating in the backyard I lobbied for a swing set. Instead, they put up a 2-car garage. My beloved lilac bush was also sacrificed in favor of this ugly, mustard yellow & brown monstrosity. Mom would say that it was “her” lilac bush, but it’s not like she lobbied to save it from the invasion of the garage.

Childhood Hero: I think my favorite childhood hero would have to be Jim Henson. I mentioned this at work the other day, and several of my clients laughed at me. I just think the guy was a creative genius. Kermit the Frog & I seemed to understand each other, and that was very important to me at times when I was growing up.

Favorite Childhood Ritual: Well, there’s the pizza & movie nights with Mom that I mentioned. At Christmas, our family would also hold auctions, where the kids would get to bid on dime store items. For some reason, that was almost as exciting as opening presents. I think I liked knowing that it was something special about how our family celebrated the holidays; something other families didn’t do.


Sample of Nancy's Writing Expertise:
"The Need to Be Needed," reprinted for Ministry in Motion
She has also written for Discipleship Journal, Young Salvationist, Christian Standard, The Christian Communicator, and other publications.

Nancy says about her development as a writer, weaving in all aspects of her life and her philosophy behind it:
"Both my jobs (writing & counseling) are driven by a passion for communication. I’ve also recently discovered the art of making handmade books. I’m very interested in how making books can be used in a therapeutic manner. I think handmade books can be a great bridge between my interests in writing and counseling."

Here's a rainbow from her balcony in Chicago that God hung just for her.

Anchors, Signposts, &  Wanderings

Here's a few of Nancy's favorite things from our photo album:

Bears (these are real bears in fellow SALT sister Paula's yard in Alaska, but she also had a collection of stuffed bears!)

Nancy was able to adopt a gorgeous gray velvet cat whom she named Katerina. Her tales of Kat's adventures kept us entertained!

Nancy was very creative and was able to sell some art. This is a "star book" she created.

This one above is entitled, "She wondered if her eggs would hatch" and has "faith, hope, love" on the eggs. Nancy definitely hatched those three eggs in her own life.She had a delightful sense of humor and whimsy that came through everything she did.

This is Nika, her dog who went on before her. Maybe even now she is running with Nika in heaven. It's a heartwarming thought for me.

Nancy loved periwinkle, bears, her Katerina the Kat, lilacs, JRR Tolkien and The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings, Kermit the Frog, purple, Levenger pens, Alaska, moose, writing, making art and art books, butterflies and rainbows, as well as her friends and family. A fascinating person, full of warmth and wisdom and whimsical dry humor, I will miss her but am reminded of her each time I encounter any of these things.

And a quote from Nancy:

 "Well, as Kermit the Frog would say,'Time's fun when you're having flies.'”

Missing you, Nancy J. Ring
January 21, 1974-March 13, 2010

Nancy's When I Was Just a Kid Childhood Memories

Links to Tributes by
LeAnne Martin

Teena M. Stewart

Marti Suddarth

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Petra by T.L. Higley

PetraPetra by T. Higley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cassia and her son, Alexander, flee Damascus in A.D. 106 to seek her dead husband's family in the rock city of Petra. When she arrives, she's immediately accosted. Kind Christians take them in and help her to find her husband's family. The Christians become her allies when Alex is taken.Nobleman Julian has fled Rome where his fellow Christian friends are persecuted and martyred. He, too, seeks refuge in Petra. Cassia's and Julian's destinies intertwine as they race against an evil queen and her agenda to end all of their lives.

The well-developed characters, set in a plot pitting the forces of good versus evil, reveal a passion for Christ that is compelling. With political intrigue and faith to move mountains from this band of first-century believers with a fervor of what it means to follow Christ into spiritual warfare, there are lessons for us tucked into this fascinating story. Highly recommended.

Published in Church Libraries Winter 2010-11
By Crystal Laine Miller
Used with permission

by T.L. Higley
B&H, 978-14336-6856-2, PB, 331 pp. $14.99.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Very Private Grave: The Monastery Murders #1 by Donna Fletcher Crow

A Very Private GraveA Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young American Felicity Howard studies at the College of Transfiguration in Yorkshire, England. With her beloved elderly Fr. Dominic beaten to death, Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer, is accused when found soaked in Dominic's blood. The two flee to discover Dominic's last pilgrimage, the clues left behind in his journal given to Felicity. They must uncover ancient truths to solve the mystery in order to save their own lives, as the murderer pursues them through northern England and southern Scotland.

This is not light reading. Encompassing church history from A.D. 633 to the death of Saint Cuthbert to the time his relics are reexamined in 1827, it weaves the past with the present. A compelling thriller, as well as a masterful mystery, the mental gymnastics will have you breathlessly soaking in British and church history as you puzzle through a satisfying spiritual adventure with romantic, quirky characters. Anglophiles and history buffs will love it.

Published in Church Libraries Winter 2010-11 edition

By Crystal Laine Miller

Used with permission

View all my reviews

A Very Private Grave
The Monastery Murders #1
by Donna Fletcher Crow
Monarch, ISBN 978-1-85424-968-5, PB, 384 pp., $14.99

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Egg Nog Cornbread from the Kitchen of Deborah Raney

Author Deborah Raney has written books I've been reading for years because her characters are real and she pulls you into the story until you're sure you know them.

She is down-to-earth, warm and I can't ever imagine her angry. As a mom to four kids, now grown (and now a grandmother!) I'm sure her brow furrowed a time or two, but here's what I know about the moms with that many kids--their kitchens are always open. (I have 4 boys...)

First, a little about Deb
After spending two happy decades as an at-home mom to two sons and two daughters, Deb finally began work on her first novel––a contemporary story––after an intriguing discussion about Alzheimer's disease with her husband, Ken, and their young teenagers. Drawing on her experiences working in a New York nursing home early in her marriage, she crafted a fictional account of one family's struggle with Alzheimer's disease. A VOW TO CHERISH was published by Bethany House Publishers in 1996 and won an Angel Award from Excellence in Media. It has been translated into the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian languages, and is also available in a hardcover large-print edition from Thorndike Press. Steeple Hill Books recently released an update and expanded version of the book.

(Do check out her interview on When I Was Just a Kid, too!)

Her latest book is Almost Forever set in Hanover Falls, part of a series:
"Unearthing a lost memory may cause her to lose everything she holds dear. but could it also set her free?

Volunteer Bryn Hennesey was there at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter the night five heroic firefighters died at the scene. Among them was her husband, Adam.

Now a terrifying absence of memory has her wondering if she might, in some way, be responsible. Garrett Edmonds' wife, Molly, was the only female firefighter to perish in the blaze. He was supposed to protect the woman he loved.Now she's the one who's died a hero. How can he go on in the face of such unbearable loss? And what started the fire that destroyed the dreams and futures of so many? Investigators are stumped. But someone knows the answer..."

Author Deborah Raney
 So, now you know a little about Deb. Here's her recipe for Egg Nog Cornbread, which I'm sure you want to try. If you have an iron skillet, try making it in that to pop into your oven.

Deb's actual cornbread in her actual kitchen
From her Facebook page:

Except for the eggnog and adding a little more sugar, I used the recipe from the back of the Quaker Cornmeal box: 

1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix till blended. Add: 1 cup dairy eggnog, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 beaten egg. Mix just till dry ingredients are moistened. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

As you see from the photo, she used a French Corning Ware dish. 

And because Deb is in the Big Honkin' Chicken Club (I think she may be president--this is a club Brandilyn Collins started because there were people who were too scared to read her books,) I am changing my list of recipes from RECIPES TO DIE FOR (this is a title of one of my unpublished stories...) to RECIPES FOR GOOD EATIN' . Who knows? I may change that title again. 


Crystal, writin' it all down

Teen Writers: Advice for the Young Writers

A while back I spoke to high school students about writing. I got some quotes from several authors to give to the kids.Maybe some of these will help spark your writing. Also, if you know some teen writers, there are some great web sites below you can send them to get more encouragement.
Bob Elmer
Bob Elmer: 
1. What sorts of things from your childhood/teens have you used in your writing? Anything specific?
 "In my first series, The Young Underground, I had the kids raising homing pigeons -- which I also did as a kid. It was unusual enough to add a different twist to the stories. Also, I often added an animal to the mix, and I had lots of animals when I was young. My love of sci-fi stories as a kid helped me write sci-fi stories as an adult.

Beyond that, I always try to sprinkle in attitudes and little memories, even though I'm always on the lookout for new material. Using memories as a springboard is great, but eventually we run out of material."

2. Are kids that different today?
"In some ways maybe, but in others, no. My feeling is that even though my childhood was a few years ago, we all share a common bond. I just have keep thinking like a kid, with eyes wide open and ready for new experiences."

Colleen Coble
Colleen Coble, Indiana author of romantic suspense
1. Do you draw any of your ideas from your teen years?
"Sure. All those feelings of rejection and inferiority come from the teen years. LOL. Lots of actual incidents from my childhood and teen years have made it into my work too.

2. What advice do you have for teen writers to encourage them to continue their journey?
"Realize that it's not going to happen now. You need some experience under your belt so you can have a book that resonates. In the meantime, journal your experiences and remember the ways you learn to deal with the hard knocks that hit us all. And read, read, read. That's the best education for writing you can have."

3. What's your best method for coming up with ideas for your books?

"Read magazines and newspapers and tear out anything that inspires an idea, even if it's not fully fleshed out. Watch documentaries and the history channel, even if you're not writing a historical. History is a great teacher of the human condition and people don't change, just technology around us. Be an observer of people too and jot down any interesting circumstances you notice."

Max Elliot Anderson
Max Elliot Anderson, author for boys, who hated reading when he was young:
1. What is your best advice to kids who are writing right now?
 "Start early. I wish I had. This is a very competitive business. It’s difficult to get established. Publishers are looking for that extra element that will cause one author to stand out over another. It’s called platform. I’ve been working for over two years on my blog, Books for Boys. As a result of  constantly working on this, Books for Boys   recently reached the # 1 spot on Google. Something like this is very important to publishers, given that over 30 million sites pop up under this search subject.
 Then, notice the types of books that are already being published, and see if you can find a way to write for an area of the market where there isn’t so much competition. Write in your own voice. This means, don’t try to sound like some other writer. Write like you think and speak.

Expect it to take a very long time to establish yourself as a writer / author. Writing is the easy part. It’s all the other aspects of an author’s life that are the real work. Publishers expect you to do much of the promotion and marketing work. Start working on your public speak skills too. But if you were born to write, you’ll know it. Even if no one understands this, don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. At the same time, until you become established as an author, make sure you have a backup plan. By that I mean plan for your education and a job that will carry you in the earlier years. It can also give you a career in case becoming an author doesn’t happen for you."

2. What do you like best in a story—since you didn’t like reading as a boy?
"I like a story with an element of danger. I don't like large blocks of type and I hate seemingly endless details that don't advance the story. I like humor and a fast pace. Shorter sentences are good for a reader like me, and short chapters. I like a little larger type and a page layout where I won't easily lose my place if I look away. I'm attracted more by story and plot, and not as much by the characters. I think one of the reason that the 35 manuscripts I've written so far all have different main characters, is probably because I wouldn't necessarily care if I saw the same characters in the next book or not. It also frees me up to read any book, and not have to go in the book order of a series."

Sarah Sumpolec, author of teen books:

"Young writers, I think, should focus on lots of reading. And not just reading things they naturally like. But trying out a wide variety of books. And along with that reading, learning to analyze a story. When you finish a book, ask yourself things like:
Why did I like (or not like) this book?
What did I know about the main character?
How did the main characters change over the course of the story?
What kept my interest the most? (The people? The story?) Why?

Young writers should also do lots of writing. Practice! Practice! Practice! You'll never get too much practice! If any of them are like me, they may start lots of different projects, but never actually finish them. So completing a project - writing the entire story from start to finish, is a valuable habit to get into. You don't have to finish every story, but you should finish some of them:-)"

What have you used from your growing up years in your writing?
"Interestingly, I have found that I pull from much of my growing up years and use that in my writing. I was in drama throughout school so sometimes my characters are involved with a play production, or I simply use my background in acting to help me develop my characters. I also valued education, so you won't find my characters not caring about school."

She and a large list of writers for teens blog at their site Girls, God and the Good Life.
"Writing is an extension of who we are, so the more well-rounded we are (and willing to try out lots of different things), then the more well-rounded our writing will be. ~Sarah Sumpolec
More sites for Teen Writers

Stephanie Morrill's Go Teen Writers Blog

A Novel Writing Site with Lynn Dean, Michelle Van Loon, Naomi Musch and Teri Dawn Smith.

Entertainment site for Teens by Ken Raney  and

Professional Writing Program at Taylor University, Upland, IN : Contact admissions to schedule a time to come and learn more about the program.  If you are a high school sophomore or junior, consider coming this summer to our three week CRAM session.  You will live on campus, eat at our dining commons, and attend classes that are not only fun, but will also earn you college credit.

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist."- Isaac Asimov
 Lots of links, so have fun exploring!

Crystal Laine Miller
Crystal, hard at work, brainstorming

P.S. Check out this week's focus on Jeff Gerke from Marcher Lord Press at The Barn Door!

The Barn Door Book Loft. Free Books! Book Giveaways.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackHeaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in one day. I literally couldn't put it down and carried it around all day. I could've easily been skeptical of such an extraordinary story, but with strong biblical principles and scriptures and such convincing revelation from the young boy, I saw heaven a little more clearly.Lynn Vincent did an excellent job putting this account into a story form.If you have loved ones who are dying or have died, it is something that will comfort you. Everyone dies, so how will you face death? With fear? Or will you have something to look forward to no matter when it comes? I think the thing that encouraged me the most was Todd's prayer was answered, even though he questioned God harshly and raged in pain. Sometimes you wonder if God listens, but He does. Read it, recommend it to your friends, give it as a gift. Heaven IS for REAL.I highly recommend it, especially if you have questions about heaven or have never studied the scriptures concerning heaven.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

It's a Jungle Out There

This Was a Nice Jungle

I've been writing this blog for several years now. I started it so I could find my "voice" in writing and what interested me. I had the blogspot with the title "Christian Book Scout" for a full year before I ever posted. All I knew is that I had published a lot of book reviews and read a lot of manuscripts and books. I did a stint on a parenting column, but I found that I hated revealing too much about my four boys. Over the years I've posted on just about everything that interests me. It's about as jumbled as my brain.

I started the blog When I Was Just a Kid because those interviews needed a separate parking spot. I'm pleased with that blog. I will have a couple new interviews there coming up soon. Even if you don't know the person, you get to know them better and there's a lot of nostalgia there. That will have to satisfy my history interest bent. I thought I would write historical romance--one of my favorite genres to read. But in the past couple weeks as I reevaluate my life and writing interests, I know I won't be doing that. I have found authors who really know how to do that and I'll be supporting them. It hurts me to say that I won't write an historical romance novel.

But something clicked this week after I had yet another disaster at my house. I'm describing my disaster in great detail to my friends and they were laughing at the way I talk about it. This has been my whole life--one disaster after another and me making fun of myself through it all. Me, leaning wholly on God while in the midst of it. God keeping me from a much worse fate. Somehow I always picture myself in the middle of chaos, leaning on God (or hiding under His robes) and Him smiling down at me. It's like Peter in the middle of the storm at sea. I have mentioned more than once how I'm like Peter. (I can really relate to him.)

Because of all this, I think I've found my focus and my sweet spot in writing. I have been in some very serious life and death situations, am married to a man who helps people through their own life and death situations, and I've learned that I just have to trust God and keep smiling through my gritted teeth.

I'm now making up my calendar of posts so I'll be more regular in my blogging. I'm also going to try to be more focused so you don't end up with a chaotic mess of posts. Laura Christianson of the Blogging Bistro has this great post about how to brainstorm for posts, and I'm also going to use that for my fiction writing. That has been my one prayer this year--to find a focus and order in my life. The storms won't stop, but I can be at peace in the apple of His Eye.

What about you? What's on your plate for this year? What are you seeing as your focus for the New Year? Do you see what kind of writing you are going to do?