A Year in Review, A Year Celebrated

Wow!  It’s hard to believe that in a few short days, 2014 will draw to a close, and 2015 will begin.  It’s been a good year, albeit challenging.  I want to take a moment to share the blessings and stretching God has provided in 2014, before jumping into resolutions and goals and plans for next year.

My resolution for 2014 was to live like I believed God called me to be a writer. While I did not fully accomplish any of my writing goals this year,  I did independently publish my first book, The Field (which I just can’t resist telling you is on sale now), and wrote 90,000 words in A Year with the Baptists (which will NOT be ready in February as I originally planned due to a complete plot overhaul). In addition to editing The Field and first-drafting A Year with the Baptists, I wrote three short stories: The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford (a psychological thriller-esque piece), Retail Therapy, and my personal favorite, Who You Are.   I learned that a writer at work tends to remain at work, and a writer at rest tends to remain at rest. I learned about being confident in my writing and in promoting it, not because I’m a mind-blowing writer (yet), but because I certainly have a gift, and I intend to be a grateful and faithful steward over what God has given me.

I also made a decision to start expressing myself better.  Before this year, I had a habit of keeping quiet in order to maintain peace in my relationships with others.  You could say peace was an idol for me, but God used a circumstance at the end of 2013 to open my eyes to just how unhealthy it was, and I was determined to change.  I wrote on more controversial topics, such as sexuality, feminism, minimum wage, debt, and I upset some people.  I wrote hard things about the church and my faith.  I stood up to bullies, reminding them and remembering for myself who I am and who I belong to, and I lost a person or two with that.  Okay, honestly, it doesn’t feel like a loss at all.  It feels much more like a weight off my shoulders, not worrying what said people are going to say to cut down who I am or what I’ve been called to do, or worrying about them giving me the cold shoulder and gossiping when I disagree with them.

In 2014, I learned about transience, the day of small things (and not to despise it), waiting, and hope.  I found a balance between vulnerability and privacy.  I set healthy boundaries. I confronted personal demons. Perhaps, most importantly, I learned that sin does not occur in a vacuum; not mine, and not yours. In other words, there is no sin I can commit that affects only me. Not ever.

I did a lot of reading and discovered some pretty amazing writers and began reviewing booksSarahbeth Caplin, Ashlee Willis, Hannah CobbNadine BrandesCharlotte Cuevas, and Sarah E. Boucher.

My most popular post this year by a long shot was I Don’t Want to Be a Pastor’s Wife: seven months after publication, it was still getting hits and being passed around.  But, if you go looking for it today, you won’t find it, because I decided to take it down about ten days ago.  Why? Well, for one thing, it was deeply cynical, even for me.  For another, although it revealed deep trust issues within me, it was actually a justification to pursue a relationship that I wanted and was actively pursuing, but which would have taken me far off the path I’d been called to.  (Which involves heavy involvement in ministry, whether Mr. Incredible is a pastor or not. And let’s just say for the sake of argument that he IS: how would a post like that make him feel?).  And finally, until its removal, this post continued to be actively viewed and shared; maybe by people who know me (and were on their knees, begging God to open my eyes … thank you, really); maybe by people who don’t know me or the context, but are willing to use my cynicism for their own agenda.  The point is, I was not really ever in control of who saw it or the effect it had on people (which goes back to that whole sin-in-a-vacuum thing).  So.  I took it down.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, but I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for what God has enabled me to do with my writing. I’m thankful for how He has taught me to speak up, even when people don’t like it.  I’m thankful for all of the things God has taught me this year, and for the grace He has shown as I’ve stubbornly dug in my heels when it comes to learning.  I’m thankful for the books I’ve read and the writers I’ve discovered. I’m thankful for what God has revealed in my heart about how far I have to go.

And I do have a long ways to go.  I have lots more writing to do.  I can always stand to be more gracious when I choose to speak up. I have more and more to learn about living presently with the future in mind, adopting God’s vision about life stuff, patience, and joyful anticipation.  I need to grow even more in personal vulnerability and public privacy.

I am so glad God is a patient teacher, and that He is for me, doing immeasurably above all that I ask or imagine.

Someone You Already Know: A Review

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About Sarahbeth Caplin (from Amazon):

Beth holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University. It was during college that she first saw her name in print as a columnist for her campus newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater. Now living in Colorado, she can be found in various microbreweries when not chained to her laptop working on future books.
You can follow Sarahbeth on her website and Twitter.
My Review:
I give Someone You Already Know by Sarahbeth Caplin 4/5 stars.
Someone You Already Know is a dissertation on rape culture, consent, and abuse victims. It follows the story of two sexual abuse victims who have had different experiences, but both face criticism from each other and those around them. It’s a powerful story about getting oneself back after sexual abuse, and its message (although it’s been around longer) reminds me of the #YesAllWomen social media campaign. It’s also reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates’ “We Were the Mulvaneys”, although, of course, completely original. It’s not a particularly long book, but it will challenge you and you’ll be thinking long after the book is over.

Public Displays of Convention: A Review

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(Click picture or here to buy).

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Being single. To some it’s a blessing; for others, a curse. Newly-dumped Anna-Kate can’t imagine a life without Jared being anything but empty and hopeless. Following her passion for classic literature, she accepts a job at a local bookstore, where she can spend her days reading about independent heroines like Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet: women who broke the conventions of their day, and inspire Anna-Kate to do the same.

With a colorful cast of co-workers who offer plenty of unsolicited advice and can’t take hints, the journey to self-sufficiency turns out to be wilder than Anna-Kate ever expected.

About Sarahbeth Caplin (from Amazon):

Beth holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University. It was during college that she first saw her name in print as a columnist for her campus newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater. Now living in Colorado, she can be found in various microbreweries when not chained to her laptop working on future books.
You can follow Sarahbeth on her website and Twitter.
My Review:
I give Public Displays of Convention by Sarahbeth Caplin 5 out of 5 stars.
This is a story of coming into one’s own and follows Anna-Kate as she learns about herself after a breakup with her boyfriend. I enjoyed this particular book because it really explores finding friendship in unexpected places, and deeper than that, people are not always who we think they are. “Public Displays of Convention” is also incredibly easy to get through, but Caplin attacks our perception of “that girl” throughout the story, and leaves us thinking long after it’s over.

Where There’s Smoke: A Review

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(Click picture or here to buy).

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Pastor Henry Collins is hailed as a hero after rescuing a teenage girl from a burning church. But the real reason he was at the right place at the right time is known only to him and Hannah Mercer, the teenage girl he rescued: a girl whose faith has more to do with keeping up appearances than anything to do with God.

Lia Anders is a classmate of Hannah’s: a girl whose coming out as a lesbian resulted in immediate expulsion from the church. As an unlikely friendship develops between the two, Hannah begins to realize the error of her hypocritical ways, and encourages Henry to make a decision that will forever alter the course of their lives. But for Henry, the price of living a lie is easier than owning up to the truth.

Where There’s Smoke is a story that asks: who are we really? Are we the sum of all our actions? And is the note we finish our lives on the most defining of them all?

 About Sarahbeth Caplin (from Amazon):
Beth holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University. It was during college that she first saw her name in print as a columnist for her campus newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater. Now living in Colorado, she can be found in various microbreweries when not chained to her laptop working on future books.
You can follow Sarahbeth on her website and Twitter.
My Review:
I give Where There’s Smoke by Sarahbeth Caplin 4/5 stars.
I really enjoyed “Where There’s Smoke” by Sarahbeth Caplin. I like how the story illustrated each character’s need for grace, how they missed that need, and the catalyst for understanding it. I also appreciate the exploration of how the church often treats sin and sinners less than graciously…as if some people need less grace than others. I would have liked to see more of other characters besides Hannah and Henry a little earlier on. Compelling!

Never the Bride: A Review

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(Click the picture or here to buy).

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Since she was just a little girl, Jessie Stone dreamed up hundreds of marriage proposals, doodled the romantic ideas in her journal with her treasured purple pen, and fantasized about wedding dresses and falling in love.  She’s been a bridesmaid nearly a dozen times, waved numerous couples off to sunny honeymoons, and shopped in more department stores for half-price fondue pots than she cares to remember.

But shopping for one key component of these countless proposals hasn’t been quite as productive–a future husband. The man she thought she would marry cheated on her.  The crush she has on her best friend Blake is at very best…well, crushing.  And speed dating has only churned out memorable horror stories.

So when God shows up one day, in the flesh, and becomes a walking, talking part of her life, Jessie is skeptical. What will it take to convince her that the Almighty has a better plan than one she’s already cooked up in her journals?  Can she turn over her pen and trust someone else to craft a love story beyond her wildest dreams?

About Cheryl McKay (from Amazon):

Cheryl McKay has been professionally writing since 1997. Cheryl wrote the screenplay for The Ultimate Gift, based on Jim Stovall’s novel. The award-winning film stars James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and Abigail Breslin and was released in theaters by Fox in 2007. Cheryl also wrote the DVD for Gigi: God’s Little Princess, another book adaptation based on the book by Sheila Walsh, as well as the Wild and Wacky, Totally True Bible Stories audio series and books with Frank Peretti. Her screenplay, Never the Bride, has been adapted into a novel for Random House Publishers and was released in June 2009. She also released Finally the Bride: Finding Hope While Waiting, the non-fiction version of Never the Bride. She penned the film script for “A Friend for Maddie”. She recently released her autobiography, Finally Fearless: Journey from Panic to Peace. Cheryl and her husband live in Los Angeles.

You can connect with Cheryl on her website or on Twitter.

About Rene Gutteridge (from Amazon):

Rene Gutteridge is the author of eighteen novels, including Escapement, Possession, Listen, Never the Bride (2011 Carol Award Winner), The Boo Series, The Storm Series, The Occupational Hazards Series and My Life as a Doormat, a Women of Faith selection for 2006. She has a degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in screenwriting and twenty years of experience writing, directing and publishing comedy sketches. She writes in both comedy and suspense genres. Her upcoming releases from Tyndale House Publishers: Heart of the Country, Misery Loves Company and Old Fashioned. From B&H Publishers: Greetings from the Flipside co-written with Cheryl McKay.

You can connect with Rene on Twitter.

My Review:

I give Never the Bride 4 out of 5 stars.

I always preface romance novel reviews by saying this: I am not a huge fan of the romance genre on the whole. BUT I was pleasantly surprised by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge’s ‘Never the Bride.’

Jessie Stone and her struggles are wholly relatable. As a reader, I struggled with her as she learned to trust God, and sometimes failed; as she fell for all of the wrong guys, convinced they were God’s will for her; as she searches for not only the right mate, but the right job. The ending was both a surprise and yet fitting for the romance genre.

I liked the cast of characters on the whole, and Jessie’s perception of them. I liked Malia, a mother figure to Jessie, and Brooklyn, Jessie’s younger sister, wise at the most inconvenient moments.

God was represented in an interesting way, although I can’t say I was thrilled with it. It was a little close to the idea of “dating Jesus” for my comfort.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the story, and recommend it for fans of romance or anyone struggling with accepting less than God’s best.

Entitlement with Your Coffee, Anyone?

There is this company that gives out tons of fantastic coupons, but they have a category of coupons that are earned by spending a certain amount.  That means that if you return merchandise, you run the risk of losing these particular coupons if your return would make your original purchase dip below the required spending amount.  In other cases, you might use these coupons before making their returns, and the value of the coupon they spent then comes out of what you would normally receive for a return.  To some people, this doesn’t make any sense, because they are under the impression these coupons belong to them, not the issuing company.  I feel a little bit like a villain siding with this company’s policy and saying this (because I am all about sticking it to the man), but if a coupon is earned by spending a certain amount, it makes a great deal of sense to me that it can be un-earned by un-spending that amount.

Which brings me to Facebook.  Facebook has made the decision to begin charging business pages for promotional posts in the next few months.  There has been a lot of social media mayhem about what a bad decision this is on Facebook’s part and how so many people are going to leave.  (And to be fair, some people are leaving for the greener pastures of Tsu, where they “recognize members for their likeness, image and content by sharing earned revenues,” which, I’ll be honest, sends shivers down my libertarian spine).  To some people, Facebook’s decision doesn’t make sense, because they are under the impression that the pages they manage and the platforms they post from are theirs, not Facebook’s.  Again, I find myself on the side of “the man” (even though, as someone with an author page, I will have to start paying for services that I’ve admittedly enjoyed at low-to-no cost): charging for advertising is hardly a new or revolutionary concept; shoot, paying for advertising is hardly a new or revolutionary concept.  It makes good business sense to charge another business for posts that are promotional in nature: why should Facebook allow us to make money on its platform, and not eat a slice of the pie?

And that, of course, leads me to Ayelet Waldman, an author whose work was excluded from the New York Times’ 2014 Most Notable Books list, and uh, complained about it on Twitter.  Apparently, her book, Love and Treasure, really deserved to make that list; in fact, compared to some of the jewels that did make the list, it doesn’t make sense that hers did not.  And that reminds me of the books I’ve read and reviewed this year: some by indie authors, some traditionally-published, and (currently) a “#1 New York Times Bestseller.”  Believe me, authors of all shapes and sizes are liable to get worked up about anything less than a four-star review, and I figured that out quickly when I began to get more organized as a reader.  And I think that’s quite possibly because some authors are under the impression that these accolades, lists, and reviews are for them, when in fact, they are for readers – often readers who set stock in the opinion of the accolade-giver, list-maker, and reviewer.  Accolades, lists, and reviews can be incredibly helpful for an author, I guess to the point where they can be expected, but they really, truly exist as guides for readers.

What I am really getting at with all of this is that we have a big, fat entitlement problem on our hands.

We don’t just deserve the coupons; we are entitled to use them in whatever way we think is best, and whenever we think is best.

We don’t just deserve the platform to say what we want, when we want, to whomever we want, as often as we want; we are entitled to make money from it without having to pay the platform hosting us.

We don’t just deserve to be noticed; we are entitled to the very best accolades, a place on the most prestigious lists, and the most favorable reviews.

We are subjective about things as they relate to us, and objective as they relate to everyone else.

We are the elite, and everyone else … well, they’re just … everyone else.

We expect every door, every opportunity to open up for us.  No journey, no effort.

We crave affirmation, and because we crave it, we expect it.  At all times.  From all directions.

We are self-centered, privileged, ungrateful brats.

I wonder what would happen if we would slow down enough to read the fine print, and instead of getting around it, just accepted and worked with it.  I wonder what would happen if we recognized that even when we’re given something, it most definitely cost somebody something.  I wonder what would happen if we were just so grateful to be able to do something we love, we stopped doing it for recognition, and we did it with passion instead.  I wonder what would happen if we started considering other people and their perspectives, instead of how every little thing makes us feel and expressing that every time we have a listening ear.  I wonder what would happen if we started working and paying for the things that mean something to us.  I wonder what would happen if we would be confident about who we are instead of needing to hear it all of the time.

I think we’d start to understand that life is not all about us, and it’s not all about being comfortable and living with ease.  I think we’d learn to express gratitude, even for the less than pleasant things we encounter.

And honestly, I think we’d all be a little bit easier to live with.