.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


New Chapter in My Fantasy Novel

Working on preparing my manuscript for NavPress. Here's an early polished chapter.

4—Preparing for Market

I stepped over pieces of Iska’s story fish on my way to the first circle. Where the judges of the village lived. They were all watching the people hurry to prepare their goods for the market. The more attractive the display, the more likely the traders will make a purchase.

Adam and his first wife, Nora, sat on a blanket, next to strips of deer meat and a stack of deer skins. Adam was the trophy of her display. His bare chest, dripping with sweat and darkened by the sun, left no one wondering who had chased and killed so many deer.

Click here to read the rest of this chapter.
Be sure to subscribe to ensure that you get to read the entire manuscript.

Monday, November 27, 2006


NavPress Expressed Interest!

First, the good news! It's the birth of Jesus. And more recently in my life, it's the title of this post. Jesus loves me, and NavPress is thinking about it.

Here are the details. Leslie Nunn Reed has been acting as an agent for me since January 2006 . . . sort of. We have no formal contract, but she pitched the proposal at the ICRS this summer. Tyndale and NavPress both expressed interest.

A senior editor at NavPress just got back with Leslie. To paraphrase his email, he is sorting through the large stack of proposals on his desk and he likes Into the Mountain by Marcus Greenberg. (I'm assuming he meant me.) This guy, a senior editor, wants to know if it is still available.

As if it might not be available anymore!

NavPress!? The same press that published Ragamuffin Diva's great Murder Mystery? Needless to say, I'm excited. Like dancing in my chair excited. I'm trying not to get too excited. I'm trying to limit myself to feelings like this: [clears throat and adopts a serious tone] I'm encouraged that someone likes the book or is thinking at least that they might like it.

I immediately told Leslie to jump on it. Half the book is polished. (I'm repolishing it a bit more this week.) She expects he'll want the first half. Which will give me time to finish polishing the second half. (New writers should know this: I have rewritten this book about five times.)

Second, the bad news. It's not really bad news. But you can imagine that NavPress may not want me posting an entire manuscript online before they publish it. So here's my plan. Lean in close, and I'll whisper it in your ear: If you subscribe to "Entire Book in a Blog," I promise to send you the pdf for the manuscript even if I have to shut the blog down.

I admit it is also a shameless marketing attempt to get people to subscribe to that blog. Don't worry about spam or anything. I just send one new chapter per week. You're only committing to about forty emails, plus a few more commentary posts. (I won't sell you anything. Ever.)

To be honest, I would also really really really appreciate your comments there. They will guide my work as I prepare it for NavPress.

That's it. I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was wonderful!

Monday, November 20, 2006


Thanksgiving and Pork Rinds and Feedblitz, Oh My!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This is my last post for a few days. I'm just going to be present for my family this week.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year because I love food. Mmmmm. Pecan pie, hot turkey, LOTS of gravy, Mum's cornbread stuffing (yes, the same Mum who went duct tape crazy). And family and love and none of the stress or expectations that go along with presents. Just good times and good food. My kind of holiday.

Pork Rinds are nasty, no doubt. But they are yummy nasty, if that makes sense. They are also the subject of chapter 3 from Into the Mountain: The Gospel of Pork Rinds. With a title like that you can't go wrong. If you would like to start at the beginning, go to the Table of Contents. I just consolidated the book posts all on EntireBookInABlog this morning. All three chapters are available as pdfs as well, thanks to esnips. For those of you who like fried pig skin, bon apetite! For those of you who don't, you don't know what you're missing.

Feedblitz. Finally, I spent this evening doing a little blog cleaning. I dusted off my sidebar and rearranged some things there. I even installed a feedblitz subscription service! (Tip of the hat to Camy for suggesting this.) If you are tired of checking back here for the next poem or the next chapter in my blogbook or whatever, life just got a whole lot easier.

Just type in your email address and click subscribe. You can unsubscribe just as easily. Try it:

Subscribe to HillCountryWriter

Enter your Email

Powered by FeedBlitz

(If you are worried about spam, don't. I barely have the time to blog much less spam anyone. I'd sooner go play cars with my two year old or dance the tango with my daughter or sit on the front porch swing with my wife. Life is too short for spam.)

Friday, November 17, 2006


Friday Friend's Blog Tipping

So this is week three of blog tipping. You can read last week and the week before if you like. It's been a busy few weeks--here and at my desk. I keep meaning to take a break from blogging. I may post a few chapters at Entire Book on a Blog and rest a bit. On the other hand, I just got the greatest link from Brian Solis, here and here. Funny how this place works like that.

I felt a little weird about the "tips" part, but I'll try one more week to see how it works. Everyone must know this: I'm a hack. The only tip I should give is 20% after a good meal. But since I'm just a poor editor, you're all stuck with my words (and my email subscription or RSS feed).

Brian Clark, aka Copyblogger
Tip: Readers love it when you are honest. Not that marketing copy is dishonest, of course. But I can't say how much I appreciated last week's post where you levelled with the readers.

Andrew Jones, aka Tall Skinny Kiwi
Tip: Thanks for posting the stuff about Mark Driscoll. Especially important to me was your comment, "mark is my friend."

Tod Bolsinger, aka, um, Tod
Tip: I'm about to drive you and your wife to Laity Lodge. Buckle up.


MEETfish - City on a Hill? Or Not Yoked with Unbelievers?

The verdict is still out on this. On the one hand, I admire Christians who try to join the net. Certainly, I have mixed feelings about MySpace. Less so about Facebook. And you can probably guess how I feel about the blogosphere. All of these are questions of how Christians live in the world without being conformed to it. It's the big question of the web sites I edit: What does it look like when Christians take their faith to work? How much can we engage the world and find beauty there before we conform ourselves?

Last week, I was privileged to meet with an executive of a major Christian publishing network. He mentioned MEETfish as a social networking service to watch.

This morning someone forwarded me an announcement about the site. So I joined. I even created a group called Faith and Work. (If you hurry, you'll probably see me in lederhosen on their home page.)All of this activity is a little impulsive and potentially dangerous. I need to be careful that people know I'm not speaking for TheHighCalling.org in my comments there.

But oddly enough, this social media stuff has become an area of research for me. (My official title is "Research Editor.")




Random note: I ran a spell check on this post. And blogger's spell check doesn't recognize "blogosphere" as a word. Hmmmm.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Into the Mountain - Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Chapter 2.doc
Hosted by eSnips
I just posted chapter 2 of my "Entire Book in a Blog." To avoid some clutter here, I'll be posting the mess there and linking from here. That way I can fiddle around without disturbing anyone's RSS feeds. (Someday I should set up an email subscription like Camy...)

At any rate, this is the first "fantasy" chapter. As you read, remember that the audience is intended to be young adult girls, ages 13-17. Here's a teaser:

Into the Mountain
Chapter 2 - The Deer and the Fish

“Iska, I dream of mountains.”

The Iska is the only one in our village who has always lived alone.

Iska smiled. She squatted over one of her storage pots in the ground and pulled out a gepa cake.

“They’re sweet,” she said. “Nora made them for me because she’s looking for a girl to be her husband’s second wife.”

“I’m not that girl, Iska.” I took one cake from her, and she laughed.

“I know, but Adam can make some family very happy when he takes their daughter to the first circle.” She grabbed two cakes for herself.

“Adam’s not a Kawa. He doesn't live in the first circle yet,” I said although I knew it was just a matter of time. His first year of marriage was over. “Won't he buy a chance at the bolu toss before he buys another wife?”

Iska spat on the ground near her hearth. “Men do not buy wives.”

Read more

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Trust Your Readers Not to Break the Plate

Trust Me Not to Break the Plate

Several years ago, my wife's grandparents move into a retirement community. In that process, they gave away little bits stuff to us.

What you see here is a platter that they sent home with my mother-in-law after her last visit to their house before my wife's grandparents moved. It took me days to see what this platter looked like... because I couldn't bring myself to disturb this astounding duct tape wrapping.

It was a lot of duct tape.

Read the rest of this post about publishing and editing at GoodWordEditing.com...


A Place of Inspiration - and a poem

Here's the thing about Laity Lodge. Normally, I have to buckle down to work. Keep myself focused with the BIC principle (get your "butt in the chair" and write).

Not at Laity Lodge. It's a thin place. The line between heaven and earth is fuzzy, and it almost seems like God is whispering to me. If I can just get quiet enough, I can almost hear him.

I guess that sounds cheesy or trite. Or maybe it sounds like marketing talk, but I'm not trying to get anyone to go to Laity Lodge here. Some places are just beautiful, and there is truth in the beauty.

So here's a poem I found there. I was listening to Ashley Cleveland and Kenny Greenberg in the room called "The Great Hall". And I thought of Beowulf. Grendel originally attacks Herot because he their music is too loud and joyful.

This one is for Ashley and Kenny. You two are the best.


Most middle class monsters retire
to a country estate or a ranch in the hills
if they aren’t slain by god-
like heroes mano e mano and exaggerated
onto the pages of high school English books.
Grendel, Jr., knows the truth.
“Dad was a hard case,” he says.
“But I still wasn’t ready to lose him.”
20th century shrinks tired his story out
on their couches. Now he shares it
just to fill silent spaces at parties.
“Gram and I were reading Genesis—
I liked the gold leaf letters,
the haloed icons in the margins.”
Gram liked the moral: “cursed to walk
the earth.” That’s hope. She’d wink at me.
“The earth will pass away—It’s gonna
die. Heaven, too. Us, too.” Who knew
prophecy could find its way into our dark
lake cave? Dad came on the heel of her
words, blood soaking his stump of an arm
and the crude tourniquet at his shoulder.
When curses lift, it hurts.
I hoped for love, but Dad died
in anger and fear. “Get them back.”
He coughed. “Make them pay.”
Not free, just gone. And Gram thought
she’d help hope, bring it home, fix it tea,
offer her life, too. So the hero came.
Dad was cold on the couch where I sat
and watched grandaddy’s sword grabbed.
Gram mounted it above the door when he left,
for safekeeping, she said, though none of us
expected him back from Nod. Is that why
she fought so slow? stretched her neck and bowed
her head before the man the call a hero?
“Come on, kid.” He held Gram’s head
in one hand and my wrist in the other.
Years later, I twisted his ring on my finger
while the dragon ate him. I did not lift
my grandaddy’s sword. It still hurts.

(On another note: I get to lead a poetry workshop this summer at a retreat where Ashley and Kenny will be leading the worship!) Posted by Picasa


Subscribe to HillCountryWriter!

You know you want to . . .

Enter your Email

Powered by FeedBlitz

Monday, November 13, 2006


John Cobb and the Dead Christ

I've been off-blog for a few days leading a small writing workshop to supplement a retreat at Laity Lodge. Father Don Neumann led the retreat for the Joshua Group. He talked a lot about Christian mysticism and finding Christian truth in non-Christian texts.

My duties were limited to mixing and mingling, performing "Dark Night of the Soul" and "Mystic Trumpeter" (oh that is a beautiful beautiful poem!), and leading a 2 hour workshop.

The other workshop leader was John Cobb. This man is amazing. And I wanted to post some snapshots of his work that was on display. I'll post them over the course of several days to keep things short.

"Dead Christ" is study for a much larger egg tempura work. Image Journal posted some images of these in Summer 2005. Here's what John said about the study:
"That's a philosopher friend of mine. Bruce Ballard. He teaches in Missouri. He had this hip problem. And he was in such pain. So I laid him out on a piece of foam board with a rag rug over it. And I put his pain in the painting."
 Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 10, 2006


Friday Friend's Blog Tipping

Last week, I started a little tradition that will continue as long as I can manage. You can read more details about blog tipping in that post. Let's get to the meat.

Howard Butt (Wisdom from Howard)
  1. How many 78 year-old executives do you know who have a blog?
  2. He's basically the father of the current spirituality and work movement.
  3. He talks about the joy of sauerkraut.
Tip: I know you're driven. It's what has led you to excellence. I just want you to know that you are doing a good job. Your work has mattered and will continue to matter. And God will honor it.

L. L. Barkat (Seedlings in Stone)
  1. She posts tons of pictures on her blog.
  2. She writes good poetry.
  3. She's been featured in Publisher's Weekly!
Tip: One of your biggest strengths is your consistent length. Every post is the perfect bite-size thought. My favorite thing is when you post a painting and respond--either in poetry or prose. Also, I think you shouldn't be afraid to link to your web site.

Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed)
  1. The man is a writing machine. 3 Posts a day! How does he do it?
  2. His series on calvinism blew my mind. (And I'm still picking up the pieces.)
  3. Anyone who can build that kind of community is worth admiring.
Tip: I am in awe of how prolific you are. The best tip I can offer are these links to send more people to your site. Your post on Ted Haggard was incredibly kind. Thanks for all that you do.

You are all awesome. When I grow up, I wanna be just like you.

(Also, sorry for the messy book posts. For now, start at the Table of Contents and follow the internal links. I'm rethinking how I can make it work better. Probably I will post the book somewhere else in its entirety, then link to it from here.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Into the Mountain 1.4 - The World Fades

Chapter One (concl.)
<< read 1.3 || read 2.1 >>

He leaned in close and asked, “Hey, want to go for a ride?” His voice sounded sleepy like it was filled with little rocks and scratches. I wanted him to clear his throat. And he smelled bad, too. Like alcohol and old sweat.

“You’re drunk,” I said backing away.

“Had to celebrate this car,” he said waving one arm widely toward the car and grabbing my wrist with the other. “Get in. I’ll drive you home.”

“I’d rather walk,” I said and pulled at my arm.

“Come on. The car’s not stolen.” He opened the passenger door. “Get in.”

“Aren’t you going to pay for the gas?” I asked.

“I did the credit card swipe thing,” he said in a low voice. He smiled too, but it was like he was smiling at some secret dirty joke he was telling himself. “Get in the car.”

I did.

His smile softened. “See how easy it is? Now buckle up.” He closed the door and whistled as he walked around the front of the car.

I kept one hand near the handle and did not buckle up.

“Before we go home let’s take a little ride,” he said starting the car.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, waiting.

As he pulled out of the gas station, I threw open the car door. We weren’t moving too fast yet, but I still hit the concrete hard. “Hey!” my dad shouted. He would have stopped probably, but traffic was coming in both lanes. The car hesitated a moment, then squealed into a lane, the back end fishtailing so the passenger door slammed shut.

I stood up and stumbled back toward Bubbie’s.

“Are you okay?” someone asked.

My face felt hot like I was about to slip into another dream. I was starting to black out and I stumble inside to sit down. “Are you okay?” someone asked again, but the question was cut off when the door of the convenience store closed behind me with a little jingle. I slumped into a booth and the world faded away.


Into the Mountain 1.3 - Sara's Dad

Chapter One (cont.)
<< read 1.2 || read 1.4 >>

Around 4:30 I gave up on finding Ruben.

My backpack was heavy on my shoulders, and sweat dripped down different parts of my body. I needed to be home by 5:30 just in case dinner was early. Once in middle school, I missed dinner because I stayed after school for a junior honor society meeting. The dishes were still on the table when I walked into the kitchen, but there was no food left. My dad had already stretched out on the couch with three empty cans of beer on the floor and my mom sitting on his lap. He was still living with us then. I remember grabbing some crackers and eating in my bedroom with Victoria. Or something. There are worse punishments.

So I started the walk home. Pass two blocks of strip-malls, turn left at Bubbie’s Gas, cut through the municipal golf course, and cross the street to Jim’s restaurant. Our apartment is the next block.

I don’t know how far the walk is in terms of miles or anything. I guess it is about two miles. Just a little too short to bother with the buses. During the winter I am always thankful that I don’t live in Ohio or Illinois. Or in the mountains. South Texas never gets much below fifty degrees. One or two days a year, I bundle up with two layers of jeans and three shirts under my jacket. When the weather is really bad, Tori and I endure the disgrace of riding the bus. But the weather is usually nice. Or at least tolerable. Like most of my life.

Some guy was filling up his red sports car at Bubbie’s, the little mom and dad gas station where I buy worms on Saturday. He smiled at me from behind his sunglasses. One of his hands was on the gas pump and the other was in his pocket. I was thinking to myself “Should I wave back or something?” when I realized the guy was my dad.

“Where did you get that red car?” I asked even though I wasn’t supposed to talk to him.

“Come on over and check it out,” he said.

I was suspicious, but we were in full view of the street and the golfers. So I walked over to the pump.

“It’s nice,” I said. I wondered if it was stolen. He couldn’t have bought it, and he didn’t have any friends.

He leaned in close and asked, “Hey, want to go for a ride?”


Into the Mountain 1 - Sara Waits

Chapter One (cont.)
<< read 1.1 || read 1.3 >>

“You okay? Did you have a bad day?” I asked, looking at the concrete squares of the sidewalk.

“Sucked. I need a cigarette,” Tori said.

“Can’t you wait a block before you light up? You don’t want to get another Saturday detention.”

Victoria laughed. “You think mom cares?” she asked.

“I care.”

My sister rolled her eyes and pulled a cigarette out of her dress somewhere.

“Geez, Tori. We’re right outside the school.”

“Are you gonna stand here all day or what?”

“I’m kinda waiting on someone,” I said. My sister’s face went rigid. I scratched my head and cowered from her, worried she would turn her glare on me. But she wasn’t mad. Just hurt. She pursed her lips in an angry kiss, and made a little grunt with her nose.

“It’s Ruben,” I explained.

At the mention of boys, Victoria softened. We never tried to compete with the opposite sex. At least, we hadn’t yet.

“Guess I’ll make the walk solo then,” she said and put the cigarette to her lips.

“Not right in front of the school,” I whispered.

“I’m walking alone today—I’ll do what I want, kid.”

I tried to pray that she wouldn’t get caught, but my prayer dissolved itself into mindless repetition. Dear God send the teachers away. Dear God send the teachers away. And I thought about my dream again, the mountain stretching up underneath my feet. I am so tired, but I put one foot in front of another. Dear God. Dear God. An endless request my mind mumbled over and over while I continued to stare at the sidewalk.

No one spoke to me. Lots of kids walked by after Victoria left, but none of them were my friends. The door clicked open, and my eyes found someone to watch. One girl walked with a strut that made her curly hair bounce. Her hair was beautiful, red. I figure she used a fancy brand of shampoo to make it like the commercials. It was too beautiful for school, really. She looked like she was on her way to an expensive restaurant or something. I noticed other people noticing her hair, too.

A guy walked out behind her, wearing fancy faded jeans. My jeans were just faded. He didn’t seem to know the girl, but I pretended that he did. I imagined that they were really popular instead of just pretty and rich. He was her boyfriend, of course. But she was mad at him because it was their three-month anniversary and he forgot. Three months! And he didn’t even bring a fake flower or a card or a piece of candy. Worse—when he found out, when she told him at lunch that he had forgotten their anniversary, he didn’t seem to care. He even got a little mad. She was too occupied with her own hair to realize that he was mad at himself, not her.

Around 4:30 I gave up on finding Ruben.


An Entire Book Online

Into the Mountain: A Book of Visions is the working title for this book. I'm completely open to suggestions and comments. You can even point out typos. I'll post chapters in small chunks to make it a little more screen friendly. If you prefer to read from print, I'll post the Word files for whole chapters on my esnips account.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Uncertain Mirror (chapters 1-10)
1. Sara: The Dreams Begin
2. Beka: The Deer and the Fish
3. Sara: The Gospel of Pork Rinds
4. Beka: Preparing for the Market
5. Sara: Fishing in the Dark
6. Beka: A Mountain on My Blanket
7. Sara: Waking up at Bubbie's
8. Beka: The Foolish Iska
9. Sara: Sleepwalking
10. Beka: An Excellent Sale

Part Two: The Story of the Mountain (chapters 11-18)
Part Three: Sleepwalking (chapters 19-30)
Part Four: Into the Mountain (chapters 31-38)

Thanks to those readers who encouraged me that this is not some crazy idea--especially L. L. Barkat who is a constant source of encouragement and Debbie Weil who showed me Paul Gillin's model for posting a book. (Debbie Weil is also one of my favorite social media experts. I'm still shocked and pleased that she commented on my blog.)

From time to time, I'll also post query letters and proposals and anecdotes of my experience with this book so far.

The Pitch
Living in a broken home, stalked by her own father, seeking comfort with her boyfriend in ways that will cause her even more trouble, Sara lives a life of desperation. When her fainting seizures start, so do her visions of another world. In that world, Beka the weaver has her own troubles and dreams.

Faced with marrying a man she doesn't love, compelled to create art that horrifies her village, possessed by the spirit of her Creator, Beka seeks comfort in the parables of her village storyteller. But even this friend tells her she must leave the village. The Creator's call cannot be ignored. When Beka enters the Mountain of the Creator and Sara confronts her father's sin, God leads both girls through darkness to redemption.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Into the Mountain - Sara and Victoria

Chapter One
<< read TOC || read 1.2 >>

During school I dreamed about mountains again. First I dreamed about Ruben. Just one of those short thirty second dreams—more like a picture. Ruben smiled and offered to walk me home from school and said, “Let’s forget about last Saturday, Sara.” But I knew we couldn’t forget.

Then my dream skipped a bit. Ruben disappeared, and I saw this enormous mountain range.

I didn’t see Ruben that day during school. After school I looked for him, but he wasn’t around to walk me home. Or even to say hi. I waited for him on the steps near our school’s main entrance, hoping he would walk out and I could apologize for Saturday. I created the conversation in my mind, sometimes apologizing, sometimes slapping him, sometimes holding his hand, sometimes grabbing it until he apologized. Stupid daydreams.

Monday afternoon was hot and sticky, like our bathroom in the morning after three of us take a shower. The bathroom door at my house has a lock. I escape there several times a day and pretend to be hyper clean. For some reason my mom accepts this, so I get to shower twice a day. Maybe because I am the baby girl. My older brother, Ted, never has things so easy at home. But he’s the oldest and a boy.

While I was waiting for Ruben in front of the school, I saw my older sister, Victoria. She slammed her way through the steel doors and nearly knocked me into the street.

“Hey, kid,” she said. Her backpack was pulling her skirt up in the back.

“Your skirt, Tori,” I mumbled.

She darted her head around and rolled her eyes then shook her whole body until her skirt dropped back over the back of her thighs. Several guys turned around to watch.

“Thanks, kid. You ready to walk home?” Victoria closed her eyes. Her eyelids had so much black liner and dark eye shadow that they seemed to sink into her skull when she closed them.

I bit my lip. Victoria was unpredictable sometimes. If a day went sour, she could turn nasty. She sighed and scratched at her bra strap. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to talk to her or not. She wanted me to walk home with her, which seemed to be a good sign. Not anti-social at least. Not hostile at least.

I loved Victoria more than anyone.

Continue reading by clicking on "Read 1.2" above.
Or download the entire chapter now:

Chapter 1
Chapter 1.doc
Hosted by eSnips


About the Decision to Post an Entire Book Online

So I have this book. I've been working on it for five years. Back then I made a vow to write a book in five years. I met Tim O'Brien in Austin and heard him speak. He said he tried to allow himself five years for each book. It was best not to rush things, he said.

I thought, "Heck, I can write a book in five years!"

I wrote the first draft in just a few months actually. But I have completely rewritten the book several times over the course of several years. (I'm currently on Goodyear Book version 4.0, in case you are wondering.) Early versions were scary.

This one is pretty polished, but still problematic for publishers. As one Christian agent put it, "I wouldn't want my teenage daughter reading your book." Ouch. Pull the dagger out of my heart. If you can believe it, she didn't mean to be quite so insulting and has now sent the book to interested editors at NavPress and Tyndale. Believe me, if they contact me, this puppy will disappear from the web never to be seen again.

I am working on other projects now, but it seemed sad that this book had never seen an audience. You know, maybe it stinks. Maybe it doesn't deserve an audience. But I think it is mostly just too quirky for presses to take a risk on a new author.

If it stinks, please, let me know.

If you like it, let me know that too.

Above all, thanks for reading anything at all. What a gift you give me just by listening.


Free Script - Joshua Sends Spies to Jericho

This sketch is based on Joshua 2:1-14. It goes with a children's ministry curriculum written by Group. I'm posting it here primarily for archive purposes, but anyone is welcome to use and adapt it for their ministry. You can download an editable version of the script in my esnips folder:

Joshua Sends Spies to Jericho
Joshua Sends Spies...
Hosted by eSnips

Joshua Sends Spies to Jericho

Cast: Teacher, Bumblemonkey, Spy, Rahab, King
Props: Spy gear (dark glasses, fedora, trench coat), Elvis jacket, Elvis hair, red cord/scarf, Manila envelop labeled TOP SECRET, Student Verse Cards, a notecard with “Message from the king” written on it, 1 Bible robe, Pirate accessories, 1 music stand

Teacher: (enters and talks to kids from podium stage right) Good evening, kids. My name is (your name) and I’m here to tell you tonight’s Bible story about spies! But first we need to review our key verses.

We’ll start with the older kids. Which of you older kids has the first key verse for tonight? You can stay right there. You’re going to help out our spies tonight by reading the key verse. Can you say it for everyone right now?

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6a.

Teacher: That was very good. Now let’s all say it together. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Which of you younger kids has the second key verse for tonight. Can you just stand where you are and say the verse for everyone?

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

Teacher: Very good! Here is how we’re going to help our spies. Whenever they say “impossible mission,” you two stand up and everybody will say the verses with you. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Then “God’s mighty hand cares for you.” Ready? Let’s practice.

Bumblemonkey: (entering suddenly) Arrrrgggghh!

Teacher: (deflated) Hi, Andrew.

Bumblemonkey: That’s Captain Andrew Bumblemonkey! Hey kids! Did you miss me? (wait for response) Well, I’m right sorry apologetic ‘bout being gone so long. Had to sail me sloop down the Guadaloop, savy. A big boat for a skinny shallow river. ‘Twere a right impossible mission. (stress those words)

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.”

Bumblemonkey: Not bad, ye drogs. But keep yer ears to the wind.

Teacher: You’re going to have to pay close attention.

Bumblemonkey: So as to be ready to let go and haul with those key verses.

Teacher: Let’s begin our Bible story then.

Bumblemonkay: Aye, ma’am. The Bible is great, grand compass for flying the sheets.

Teacher: That’s right. (Andrew stands over her shoulder) Andrew?

Bumblemonkey: Captain Andrew Bumblemonkey, Ma’am!

Teacher: Could you at least stand over there.

Bumblemonkey: Oh, aye, Ma’am. (He goes to stage left.)

Teacher: Now, last week Joshua became the leader of the Israelites. And one of the first things he did was send spies to Jericho.
(King enters)

King: Well, hello everybody. I’m the king of Jericho. Thank you very much.

Teacher: You’re the king of Jericho, not the king of rock and roll.

King: A well I bless my soul What's wrong with me? . . .

Bumblemonkey: He’s a short-nippered squiffy, that’s what’s wrong.

King: Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true. . . [I don’t want no other love]

Teacher: (cutting him off) So the king of Jericho was far, far away on the other side of town.

King: Wise men say only fools rush in… (The king half dances his way to sit down in the back row of kids while singing “Wise men say only fools rush in.”)

Teacher: (cutting him off again) Where no one could hear him singing. (King is silent.) And Joshua’s spies arrived in town.

Spy: (sneaks in very dramatically, hugging walls, etc.) Shhhh. Don’t make any noise. Joshua has sent me on an impossible mission. (Stress these last words.)

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.”

Bumblemonkey: Impossible mission? (Spy runs away

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.”

Bumblemonkey: Are you another short-nippered squiffy, mate?

Spy: (looking around suspiciously) I have an assignment from Joshua. (Opens a “top secret envelope” and reads the following letter)

Your mission—if you choose to accept it—is to travel to the impossibly dangerous city of Jericho, breach its impossibly enormous walls, and spy on its impossibly dangerous people. You may not survive. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.

Bumblemonkey: Strike the deck, man! This be no fireship! (wads up the letter and throws it at the king. Then ducks as if it were going to explode. Wait a beat before saying next sentence.) Must be a dud.

Teacher: Moving right along. The spies went to visit the house of Rahab.

Spy: What does Rahab have to do with the impossible mission? (Rahab enters and stands stage center.)

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.”

Rahab: (She is the “straight man” of the sketch.) I’m Rahab. What do you want?

Bumblemonkey: (Be sure not to read this as a double entdre.) Arggghhh. You be a lady of expansive sensibility.

Rahab: That doesn’t sound very nice. But you’re welcome to stay here.

Teacher: About this time, the King realized that Joshua’s spies had entered his city. (The king has unwrapped the note and read it. Now he waves it in the air indignantly.)

King: Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.

Teacher: The king sent a message to Rahab to find the spies.

King: (Handing a note to one of the kids) Hey you, take this message to Rahab.

Rahab: (As the kid approaches the stage) This looks like trouble, guys. You’d better go hide. (SPY and BUMBLEMONKEY go hide among the younger kids. Then Rahab reads the KING’s note.)

King: (Shouting to Rahab from his position in the audience) Bring out those men because they are spies, and I’m all shook up. [Hmmm-mmm-mmm]

Rahab: (Interrupting) I didn’t know they were spies. Besides they already left the city. Um, a few hours ago. I don’t know where they went.

King: I guess they just . . . returned to sender, address unknown. (Half dances his way out of the room. Then from the hallway, he shouts out.) Elvis has left the building. Thank you very much.

Teacher: So the king’s men left Jericho searching for the spies. And the gate of the city was closed for the night.

Rahab: You can come out now. (SPY and BUMBLEMONKEY stay in hiding.)

Spy: (suspiciously) Is it safe?

Bumblemonkey: Don’t question a jenny of expansive sensibility, man.

Spy: But we’re on an impossible mission. (SPY and BUMBLEMONKEY walk up and stand on either side of RAHAB.)

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.”

Rahab: Do you want to please God?

Spy: (Removes spy sunglasses/hat and turns more serious.) Of course, we do.

Rahab: Then have faith. Like the kids have been saying. God’s mighty hand will care for you.

Teacher: And Rahab explained how she came to believe in God. She had heard about all of the miracles God had worked for the people of Israel.

Rahab: Please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.

Spy: Rahab, you saved our lives, so we will save yours. (Puts spy sunglasses/hat back on and resumes “spy” persona.) But you can’t tell anyone what we are going to do.

Rahab: Go hide in the hills for three days, then go back to your camp.

Teacher: She asked for a sign so that the Israelites would not hurt her or her family.

Spy: Tie this red cord in your window. When we take the city, we’ll know not to harm you because we’ll see the red cord.

Teacher: Rahab’s house was part of the city wall, so she let the men down by a rope through the window. And they escaped from the city.

Rahab: Don’t forget to hide for three days!

Spy: Don’t forget to hang the red cord in your window!
(SPY and BUMBLEMONKEY step off to the side but don’t actually leave the room.)

Teacher: When the spies returned to Joshua they brought him an excellent report. They said, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (RAHAB moves next to teacher.)

Spy: (Delivers straight, stands next to RAHAB) And that’s how they completed their impossible mission.

Kid 1: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Kid 2: “God’s mighty hand cares for you.”

Rahab: (Delivered straight) And God’s mighty hand did care for Rahab. She learned to have a strong faith in God.
(KING enters and stands next to SPY, BUMBLEMONKEY enters and stands next to KING. All the actors form an arc stretching from stage left: BUMBLEMONKEY, KING, SPY, RAHAB, TEACHER. )

King: (Delivered straight) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Spy: God’s mighty hand will care for each of you too.

Teacher: But remember, without faith it is impossible to please God.

Bumblemonkey: (Still a dumb pirate) Arrrgggghhh! A strong faith in God will keep your sails full of spirit. Our God is a great grand creator, kids. Don’t you forget it! (Exit all except the teacher.)

Teacher: Kids, we hope you enjoyed the story of Joshua sending the spies into Jericho. His mighty hand takes care of us because he is a good God. That’s why we want to please him by standing strong in the faith. Believe in God. He is good. Good night!


Social Media for Dummies (and Parents)

Tuesday morning I presented some ideas on social media at my work, and I thought others might be interested. I don't pretend to be any kind of definitive authority. I'm a hack. Really. If you are an expert, if you disagree with something here, feel free to set me straight with a comment. I love nothing better than good dialogue.

(Although a really great polka is nice too. And Kalamata olives. Mmmmmm.)

Enough intro. Here's the quick low-down, with links. You can also download a presentation version complete with helpful screenshots. I built it in WordPerfect Presentations, but I saved a version in PowerPoint too.

MySpace, Facebook, Blogs. If you're not technologically savy, you're probably asking yourself,

"What’s the big deal?"

Brian Clark puts it this way:
“Good blogging creates authority, plain and simple.”
I'd take that one step further. Good social media creates authority.

Before we get too far into this, let’s define some terms. Make sure we're all on the same page here.

As I understand it, there are 2 big distinctions. "Social Media" is a broad umbrella term that refers to any media that invites interaction. This includes blogs, MySpace, Facebook, wikis, discussion boards, etc. "Social Networking" is a subcategory of social media that specifically makes real world contact its primary goal. This includes sites like MySpace and Facebook.

I made a crude graphic to demonstrate this to my coworkers:

So let's go through some of this material. Starting with...


If you didn't know, it's short for “web log.” (Hey, some people don't know that.) Here are a couple of quick facts:
  • Most blogs are free.
  • Most blogs have no more than a handful of posts.
  • Just last week I saw the first standardized “Social Media Press Release.”
  • Technorati is currently tracking 59.2 million blogs--as of November 7, 2006.
  • Blogs are becoming a powerful marketing tool.
UPDATE: My friend Dan Roloff found this super cool, concise version of the Social Media Press Release.

In his book Blog, Hugh Hewitt puts it this way:
“People’s attentions are up for grabs. Trust is being transferred... The blogosphere is about trust.”
Social Networking Sites

There are many of these, but the ones getting the most attention are currently MySpace and Facebook. Here are a couple of quick facts:
  • Like blogs these are free.
  • Unlike blogs, they contain public and private sections.
  • Only friends have access to the private space.
  • So, um, bad things sometimes happen in the private space.
In her recent NYT article "The Overconnecteds," Betsy Israel and a kid she interviewed put it this way:
"Those 14 and older spent [more than 6 ½ hours daily] on a social networking site, usually MySpace (crowded, wild, like a cyber spring break) or Facebook (graphically neater, mostly for students). These sites are like sprawling digital yearbooks, each page crammed with photos, text, videos and blogs.

" 'Imagine if everyone you knew sent you a Christmas card all on the same day. You wouldn’t actually see them but you’d have that comforting sense of being surrounded by the people you have known.' "
This isn't all bad. As I reminded the folks at my office throughout this presentation. The sky isn't falling. Really! Social Media is just a way to use technology to do what people have always done. Currently it is still in a state of near anarchy, but things will probably settle down in a few decades.

Brian Solis describes the positive element of social networking this way,
"Community and collaboration are no longer defined by physical proximity but by common interests."
Why Did I Present This at Work?

I hesitate to get this specific, but I don't think I'm revealing any trade secrets here. For those of you who don't know, I'm the Content Editor for TheHighCalling.org and FaithInTheWorkplace.com. Both of these sites are ministries of Laity Lodge and the H. E. Butt Foundation. LLYC is also a ministry of Laity Lodge, which makes sense when you consider that the acronym stands for Laity Lodge Youth Camp.

LLYC counselors often correspond and encourage their campers throughout the year. This summer, we expect campers may ask their counselor to be "friends" on MySpace or Facebook. Which raised for us the puzzling question that is rippling through the entire camping industry.

What if campers ask for access to a counselor’s “friends only” area on MySpace or Facebook?
  • This is entirely uncharted area.
  • LLYC wants to be open about looking into potential counselor’s online presence.
  • LLYC can mentor counselors in how to maintain integrity online.
  • Potentially, LLYC can pave the way for Christian camps to use social media to share their ideas and experiences.
These are scary questions because they involve people's children. Besides issues of liability and general non-profit responsibility, we want to protect our campers as much as possible. Personally, I believe the way to do that is by openly walking alongside our campers and counselors in the world of social media.

In Debbie Weil's Corporate Blogging Book, she quotes Gerry McGovern as saying,
“Blogs can make for a more open organization that engages at a deeper level with the customer. However, blogging can require an honesty and frankness that many organizations are not used to.”
What Should I Do as a Parent?

I can almost imagine someone saying, "My five-year-old is on MySpace!" Given how much my daughter uses the internet, it is almost plausible. (Short aside: when we cancelled extended cable, we sat down to explain that we would lose the Disney channel. She said, "That's okay, I'll just use Disney.com." Crazy.)

My old school district has links to lots of WARNING articles about how THE SKY IS FALLING because of social media. Legally I understand why they have to do this. But it does feel like chicken little tactics sometimes.

Here is my advice to the parents (and grandparents) who work with me:
  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Talk to your kids about what they are doing.
  3. Help them understand the dangers.
  4. Ask them to help you create your own blog, myspace, facebook, etc.
Internet lawyer Parry Aftab told Dateline News that parents should look at their kids' sites:
Are the pictures provocative? Their profiles too detailed? Who are they talking to? And perhaps most important— have they kept their profiles private, protected by a password, to keep strangers out?
Pretty simple really.

One last quote and I'm done. And I promise I'll post the first excerpt of my book tonight after drama practice.

This from Debbie Weil's Corporate Blogging Book again. GREAT book by the way. I read it in one sitting. I can't tell you how long it has been since a book held my attention like that. She quotes Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, as saying:
“Blogs are no fad. They are cheap and easy to do... People write blogs because they want to know themselves and want to be known by others and because they want their lives to count.”

Monday, November 06, 2006


Here's a weird thought

I'm thinking of posting a book here. I have no aspirations to gain some audience or really any readers for it. It just seemed like an interesting experiment to post an entire novel.

No hook. No catch. No fishing for subscribers or purchasers. No intros with a forced download to read the rest. Just the whole book. Right here.

A serial novel in 500 word blurbs.

The Corporate Blogging Book says one of the top five things people want to see on blogs is more fiction.

I'm sure other people have done this before, so it's not like I'm charting new territory or anything. Though I would hope the book would be better than most freebies.

So why not?


Amazed and Tickled by My Daughter’s Metamorphosis during a Game of Rocket Ship

Here's a little work in progress. I've almost adopted Billy Collin's rule of poetry. He says, he writes the first draft of every poem in one sitting. Of course, subsequent drafts get more attention to craft, line breaks and verbs especially. Wordy verbs are a poetic no no. This one was inspired by some ideas we discussed in our Bible class yesterday. Enjoy.

Amazed and Tickled by My Daughter’s Metamorphosis during a Game of Rocket Ship

Watching my daughter, I half believe the Greek
hierarchy that honors spirit over flesh. She flies
on my feet, a giggling girl transformed by lift-off,
rocket turbulence shaking her tiny frame.
Holding my hands for balance, she imagines space
and sees it. “Earth to CJ. Earth to CJ.” Her face
turns serious scientist to communicate through static
with ground control. “What do you see?” control asks
because a five-year-old imagination has clarity—
more than any tube or plasma or liquid crystal,
she sees into deep space, spotting the obvious
in a dusty lampshade—“I see the moon!”—
and transforming her brother into “Aaaah!
A space monster!” Her ray gun tongue
generates a lazer warble. Her hands beam flame.
But the space monster refuses to fall.
With one well-placed whack, his bubby pillow
brings our spirits down to earth in a pile
of flesh, giggling and cuddling and sharing
kisses like movie popcorn, no ghosts, no ethereal
technology spirits dancing their myth in a cave,
just flesh of my flesh, and hugs for my hugs,
bound by gravity and honor and hope,
shattering my half-belief, converting me
to a new faith, a new day transformed
by the renewing of our minds and hearts
and cheeks sore from laughing in a 3-personed hug.
I know our bodies do not disappoint us.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Carnival of Christian Writers!

Well, I'm only a week late on this link to the Carnival of Christian Writers. But the advice is pretty timeless.

Gina Conroy compiled a pretty hefty lineup of materials. If you are interested in general writing tips or Christian writing specifically, go check it out.

And if you like her carnival, you should submit something yourself. Or join the webring. Or both!

Here are some of the highlights:
  • Terry Whalin from Howard Books
  • Camy Tang on writing good hooks
  • Mary DeMuth on commercial vs. literary writing
  • Jennifer Cary's epiphany about agents and editors

Friday, November 03, 2006


Barbies at Communion

l.l. asked, so here it is. One of my few publication credits.

During communion meditation young men pass
shiny brass plates with saltless crackers
and shots of grape juice and the speaker
compares communion to German McDonald's:
an oasis of comfort in a foreign land?
"We share this meal.
Amen? We share
this meal. We share."
While I smile at his cadence,
my daughter undresses
Ariel Barbie, Tinker Bell Barbie,
and 12 inch generic sleeping beauty.
I don't know why Ariel's butt crack
makes me nervous, shining up at me
as I break a corner of cracker, Christ's
flesh passing over naked dolls
breasts without nipples
like an Eve before shame.


Friday Friend's Blog Tipping

This is a combination of Scot McKnight's "Friday is for Friends" and Liz Strauss' Blogtipping posts. Those of you all who comment here know that I believe strongly in link love. And comment love, too, I guess. Comment here, and I'll likely return the favor. (Occassionally I won't for personal reasons.)

So it is about time I got into the blogtipping business and handed out what measly link love I have. Give your blog away. That's the Christian way. Also, to be clear to the Texans, blogtipping has nothing whatsoever to do with cowtipping. I am not knocking over anyone's blog in the night here.

Here goes. I'll do my best. (If I don't tip you this time, don't be offended. I plan to get around to everyone.)

Dan Roloff
  • First, I admire Ramblin Dan is because he offices underneath me. When I bang on the floor, his ceiling shakes.
  • He also tries to save lady bugs. What a guy! He's got a lot of heart.
  • Dan's vision of the scattered church is powerful.
Tip: I know you want to bring more focus and strategy to your blog--and that's good. But everyone loves a ramblin' guy. (Dan, you must watch the video.) Sometimes the best part of my job is just talking with you and picking your brain. You are a great mentor and a great guy. Thanks.

Gordon Atkinson

Tip: You are at your best when you make the gospel real. Sometimes it's your narrative stories. Sometimes it's your advice to reader's questions. Sometimes it's just the open community you model for the church. Don't pressure yourself to produce a masterpiece every time. We just love to hear from you. (I'm not sure I quite understand this tip thing.)

Camy Tang
Tip: The way you blog is so innovative. I aspire to do a lot of what you do. And you are always nice to me, even though I post some pretty stupid things on your blog sometimes. What can I say? Sometimes I have pretty stupid thoughts.

Thanks to all three of you for introducing me to the blogosphere. I owe each you a deep debt for learning about how important all this social media stuff is becoming.

GBYB (God Bless Your Blogs!)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Is Your Writing Too Hard to Read? Try Fry's Readability Graph

At TheHighCalling.org I have the privilege of editing work by some of the best Christian poets and writers in the country. Many of them are very successful in the academic world.

Which creates a problem. We started getting some esoteric academic work--because that's what they were used to writing. Academic writing specializes in abstraction and generalization. It's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just what Universities do.

So a few months ago, I added a new little request when I sent out writing guidelines. "Try to keep your text at a 9th grade reading level." I've heard that's the general reading level that newspapers aim for. I figured we didn't need to be more literate than the New York Times.

Of course, the writers called me on it. As they should have. My inbox filled with questions. What does 9th grade reading level mean? How do I know if my writing is simple enough? Why don't you have more confidence in the intelligence of your readers?

That last question got me.

But reading level isn't about the reader's intelligence. It's about respecting the audience and making the process as simple for them as possible. That's what good writing does. Good writing simplifies complex ideas into a form that makes them accessible.

But I owed it to my writers to find research that would back up my hunch. My mother-in-law was a reading specialist for the UT system schools. Because she's now retired, she was delighted to help me explain reading level guidelines to our writers.

First, she loaned me Content Area Reading. My first clue that assessing reading level was more complicated than I thought: there is an entire college course on it.

Thankfully, Fry's readability graph simplifies the process. His graph looks at two things:
1) the # of words per sentence
2) the # of syllables per word.
Very simple. And a good exercise for every writer. After we fill out the little graph, we can ask ourselves, "What is the typical reading level of my work? Is that appropriate to the audience I want to reach?"

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?