With Appreciation to the Writers of Hymns

Easter is such a joyful time, and the words and music of the old hymns help me to fully express the joy inside me.

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Here are a few of my favorite Easter hymns. I must sing these every Easter or I don’t feel like I have sufficiently celebrated! So for the past few years I’ve gone onto YouTube before church and sang along with several choirs. And then if we also sing them at church, that is frosting on the cake for me.

Thank you hymn writers!

CHRIST AROSE

This song starts out slow and somber with images of the grave. But the chorus launches into a brisk march with the notes going higher and higher, lifting the singers to new hope and joy. Robert Lowry wrote the text and music for this song in 1874, and my hymn book includes the scripture, “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch His bed,
Jesus, my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Lord!

Death cannot keep his Prey,
Jesus, my Savior;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord!

Easter 05_41_14---The-Cross_webCHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY

This song written by Charles Wesley in 1739 is also a vigorous tune. You can’t help but “raise your joys and triumphs high” as the notes soar upward. I love singing the high notes, it energizes me! The song taunts death:  Hey, Death, where is your sting now? Where is your victory now, Grave!  Christ disarmed you both!

There are actually eleven stanzas, and these are some of the best known.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

HE LIVES

This song is a very simple declaration of someone living life as a follower of Christ. The words and music were written by Alfred H. Ackley in 1933.  He wrote them in response to someone who asked him, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?”, and a dreadful Easter sermon!

I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives,
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

In all the world around me I see His loving care,
And though my heart grows weary I never will despair;
I know that He is leading through all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing will come at last.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find,
None other is so loving, so good and kind.

Happy Easter everbody!

Does the Science behind Leap Year point to Intelligent Design?

I find it absolutely fascinating and inspiring that our solar system is so orderly!

Our massive planet Earth floats in space, revolving around its sun, travelling a total of 584 million miles at 67,000 miles per hour.  The number of days for one revolution has been consistent for thousands of years to the nearest millionth of a day.  How is that possible?

Could we replicate that kind of unvarying data?  If the top experts of the automotive field raced a car around a track every day using every scientific, technological controls known to man, would they be able to get results as consistent?

There is something Divine and beautiful about this.  To me, it points to an unchanging, faithful God who lovingly created a world of order for his children.

As usual, I also found a significant connection in literature, The Pirates of Penzance, a comic opera.  The story concerns Frederic, who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his apprenticeship to a band of tender-hearted pirates. He meets Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley, and the two young people fall instantly in love. Frederic soon learns, however, that he was born on 29 February, and so, technically, he only has a birthday each leap year. His indenture actually specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his “twenty-first birthday”, meaning that he must serve for another 63 years.  Bound by his own sense of duty, Frederic’s only solace is that Mabel agrees to wait for him faithfully.

Here is a sampling of writings on Leap Year worth checking out, and I leave the best for last.

According to timeanddate.com, Leap Years are needed to keep our calendar in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. It doesn’t take 365 days to circle the sun, it takes 365.242199 days – or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. So if we didn’t add a day on February 29 nearly every 4 years, we would lose almost six hours off our calendar every year, then after 100 years, our calendar would be off by 24 days.

There are various other calendars that have Leap Years. The Chinese Calendar has 13 months with a leap month added about every 3 years. The Jewish calendar has 13 months in a leap year. There are 29 or 30 days in each month in a Jewish leap year, which has 383, 384, or 385 days. A leap year is referred to in Hebrew as Shanah Me’uberet, or a pregnant year.

The Iranian calendar is slightly more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. Compared with the Gregorian calendar, which errors by one day in about every 3226 years, the Iranian calendar needs a one-day correction in about every 141,000 years. The Islamic Hijri calendar has a 11 leap years in a 30-year cycle. An extra day is added to the last month of the year during the Islamic leap year.

The Hindu calendar includes an extra month, once every three years or four times in 11 years. A leap year in the Ethiopian calendar is similar to the Gregorian calendar in which an extra day is added to the last month of the year every 4 years.

To close with the best: First, an exploration of the various calculations used to define a year. Scroll down about 2/3 of the way.

And my favorite, a fascinating point of view that the calendar has actually always been in place, since before man was created.

…Thought provoking perspectives on time…space…and eternity.

One Story’s Path to Publication

Great news! Standard Publishing will be publishing one of my stories in their teen publication, ENCOUNTER—The Magazine! This is a special thrill because it is one of my favorites.

This story grew out of a fun assignment for a writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature. The instructions were to go to a public place to observe children or teens, and make notes on their conversations. I went to my local library, where there were two teenage boys playing chess with the huge chess pieces. I had so much fun taking notes and enjoying their laughter, competitiveness and bravado. Eventually, for another assignment, I conjured up a story with a character based on one of the boys.

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Before I submitted it for publication, I took this story to my writing critique group. They gave me a lot of suggestions, which I incorporated. I sent it to a magazine for pre-teens, but they rejected it, and a year later I submitted it to a contest, which I did not hear back from.

Recently I found information about ENCOUNTER—The Magazine in a weekly newsletter called Children’s Writers eNews. I re-read the teen story I’d written a year or so before, and found it a bit confusing. I decided to submit my original story, written for the ICL class—and it was accepted!

That was an educational experience. Although I still think it is smart to get feedback and critiques on my writing, I’ll probably trust my own judgment more!

Standard Pub banner sshot-1Standard Publishing is a 150-year-old organization. If you are interested in submitting to ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, or Standard Publishing’s other periodicals, you can find their writer guidelines here and here.

 

[Chess photo courtesy of Wikipedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/Large_chess_set.JPG%5D

7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers — now available on Kindle

The life of a writer can be an isolated one, and a writer’s group can be an encouraging and educational help. I joined Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship several years ago in order to find writing tips and a supportive community of likeminded wordsmiths, and to grow in my faith.

 

One of my first experiences as a member was attending a fall conference in Edmonton, where I was excited to meet a well-known Christian historical novelist whom I greatly admired, Jane Kirkpatrick. (I not only got to meet her, I happened to sit beside her for an entire workshop and get a powerful dose of her humor and expertise, along with her command to never listen to the discouraging gremlins on my shoulder!)

 

Over the years I have enjoyed participating as one of the monthly writers of the Inscribe Writers Blog, where I have attempted to share my own wisdom, inspiration and experiences. But my greatest benefit from volunteering to write for the blog has been the immense amount of information, help and support I receive from readers the other members’ posts.

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Now much of that excellent writing advice has been published in an anthology entitled 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers. Inside are articles, poetry, short stories, photographs and art to inspire writers in:

 

  • Time with God
  • Healthy Living
  • Time Management
  • Honing Writing Skills
  • Crafting a Masterpiece
  • Submitting
  • Marketing

 

Here is a sample from the book.

 

As I read through the book, I enjoyed the feeling of sitting and chatting with the authors, as they do what they do best, tell stories of how they have found success in their writing careers, and been drawn ever closer to God.

 

You can Purchase 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers from Amazon Kindle at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

 

And, if you are interested in the conferences, writers groups, contests, quarterly magazine or forums, click on these links to learn more about the InScribe writers group or the InScribe blog.

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Packing Lightly for a Writing Retreat

To avoid having to pay for and wait for checked baggage, I decided to only bring carry-on luggage on my trip, so that meant that there was no space for unnecessary items.  And since I’d planned a do-it-yourself writing retreat and hadn’t decided yet which projects and exercises I’d be working on, I had several books I wanted to take.

Since books are heavy and take up space, I decided to limit myself to just two.  So on the morning I was leaving, I lined up all the books I wanted to bring, and started thumbing through them one at a time, hoping it would somehow become obvious which ones should go along, and which ones should stay home.

The winners were a 33-page paperback of creative writing activities, and a novel I am currently engrossed in.

IMG_20150331_180448Here’s what happened.  I thumbed through each book, and as I saw an interesting page of inspiration, information or writing exercises, I took a picture of it with my tablet’s camera.  Just like that, I’d “packed” my books.

Then I found some particularly quiet music that helped me concentrate and uploaded that to my tablet as well.

I made an attempt to find a certain writing and journalling book on my library’s website, but it was already checked out.  I’ll plan ahead for that sort of thing next time.

Because I actually prefer to write longhand–mainly because I can’t see the screen on my tablet when I’m outside–I had 3 spiral notebooks I wanted to bring.  One was my journal, another was my writing exercises and the third was my Bible notes.  But I happened upon a spiral binder at the dollar store which had moveable dividers, so I ended up saving space by having only one notebook.

Next came another choice: which of my projects to bring along to work on.  Sigh, more heavy paper.  But the tablet was serving me well, so maybe I could load these on the tablet too.  It was almost time to leave for the airport, so in the time crunch, it was convenient and quick to put them all on–2 complete novels and many other short pieces–and I could decide on the plane which ones to work on.

While I was at it, I added my boarding pass (because what if I lost my printout?), a sheet of password hints (just in case I needed to do some banking?), and some hotel and tourist information–all of the printed copies of which I could now leave at home.

Would I have time to do some sketching?  I slipped a few sheets of sketching paper in the handy pocket of my new spiral binder, and added a small pack of colored pencils to my suitcase.

In my ongoing love-hate relationship with technology, I must say this was certainly a positive bonding experience with my tablet!

 

 

 

 

 

Please Read Our Past Issues

A writer who wants to carefully target a magazine in order to make a sale will study samples of the magazine, as many writer’s guidelines suggest you do.  But this can get expensive.  Having gone through this experience several times, and being frugal to the core, I have a few recommendations of how to familiarize yourself with a magazine publisher’s style and preferences by getting article and magazine samples at bargain prices.  My focus is on children’s magazines, but these tips work just as well for all kinds of magazines.

Free Online Articles

You can find a lot of free samples of the articles that a magazine publishes on websites.  The best resource I’ve found for children is the group of Cricket/Cobblestone magazines, who have a webpage of free articles, as well as an entire sample issue you can read online, for each of their magazines.  I signed up for their emailed newsletter, which has links to free articles, and have gathered about a hundred of them to study so far.  Highlights for Children is another magazine that has archives online.  At HighlightsKids.com, click “Read It” and select Stories or Articles.  You’ll see a few, and then click “Read More”, where you’ll find plenty of their past stories, articles and more.

Magazine cover Clubhouse Jr - Front

Online Databases

A subscription to a database of articles can be pricey, and a lot of my online searches for magazine back issues and articles led me to these.  But as a help for teachers and parents, CobblestoneOnline.net has an incredible searchable database containing all their articles.  It costs $35 per year for a Single User membership.  There are also online databases you can access through your library (see below).

Writer’s Forums and Critique Groups

I found some helpful information and magazine samples on a writer’s forum I belong to, and I hit the mother lode when the leader of my in-person writing critique group gave me a pile of magazines she no longer needed!

Buying Single Issues or Subscriptions

With any luck, you can find issues at your local newsstand or book store.  But I find the selection of periodicals in the stores shrinking, especially the ones I’m interested in.  Many magazine publishers in their writer’s guidelines offer sample issues for just the cost of shipping, at a reduced price, or as a download.

If you are buying several back issues—because the more issues you study, the better you’ll understand the publisher’s needs and style—it can get expensive, so you might find it worthwhile to buy a subscription.  Do check the added cost of shipping so you are prepared.  I am interested in writing for Sunday School papers, so I ordered a set of weekly papers for an entire season at a very reasonable price.

Issues of Highlights Magazine

The Library

The local library carries magazines, but understandably only the most popular.  I still use this as a good source for a few children’s magazines that I’m targeting.  Finding the copies that circulate among the branches will be a different procedure from library to library.  At mine, I used to be able to do an online search in the library’s website, and then I’d be able to see which branch carries which magazines, but the library’s search process has changed and I can’t do that anymore.  So I called the information desk, and a very kind, helpful young lady assured me that she would make a report and send it to me.  (It turned out that she was unable to generate the report automatically, so she made it manually, and I thanked her profusely for the extra time it took her!)

Using my library membership, I also use the eLibrary to search periodicals by various criteria and look at copies of actual magazine pages.  A librarian gave clear step-by-step instructions on how to find the actual pdf’s of articles and stories (which include the great artwork).  For example, I can read all the articles published for the past twenty years for a certain magazine, and see a listing of all the articles they’ve published on certain subjects and in specific issues.

Also, don’t forget to check your library’s sale tables in case they are discarding magazines.

Schools

Talk to school librarians to find out if they are planning to discard any of their issues of magazines.  Call in the spring because some will be already preparing for the end of the school year, and you want to catch them before they throw them away.  You will save them some trouble transporting heavy loads of them and they’ll probably be thrilled to pass them along to someone who appreciates them.  I obtained boxes of past issues this way from schools, and accepted all that the librarians offered, even if they weren’t the ones I needed, because you never know if they will be useful to you or someone else in the future.  The downside of this is that you may get old issues, but you might find that even these are helpful.

Magazine Front Cover - Guide

Magazines.com and eBay

On the web pages of Best-Childrens-Books.com, Steve Barancik has resources for the parents that visit his site.  He includes a section on where to obtain children’s books and magazines at bargain prices.  You can find more than just children’s reading materials at the links he provides.  The magazines I checked at the links were a huge savings from ordering them from the publisher or other magazine subscription websites.

Steve recommends looking around eBay for books (using the search word “lot” for a lot!), and using Steve’s instructions for finding magazines was just plain FUN!  I bought six recent issues of a favorite children’s magazine for a great price and low shipping cost.  (By the way, he also has web pages on how to write stories, and while you’re there, you can check out my book reviews!)

Thrift Stores, Used Book Stores, and Garage Sales

This is definitely a hit-or-miss activity, but I did want to include it, because the magazine you are looking for might be easy to find in one of these places.  I regularly make the circuit of quite a few thrift stores, looking for books to use for tutoring (or, quite honestly, for the fun of treasure-hunting for all kinds of things), but while I’m there, I take a look to see if they have other resources such as magazines on their shelves.  Depending on the store, you can pick up magazines as low as ten cents each, up to a dollar.  I don’t go to as many garage sales as I used to, for time’s sake—they are very hit-or-miss and I can’t not look at everything—but their prices would be even lower.

If you need magazine samples to study for your writing, I hope that these suggestions will save you some time and money!

“I Guess I Robbed a Bank” published by Good Guy Publishing

Writers sometimes get an “us versus them” attitude toward the editors to whom we send our work.  But I have found an editor that is such a pleasure to work with, I almost stopped caring what happened to my submission.  Meet editor and author Graham Taylor at Good Guy Publishing in the U.K.  We had many emails go back and forth over a few months, and each of his quick responses and warm greetings left me feeling glad that I’d connected with GGP.  It was frosting on the cake when I squeaked in as a finalist in the Flashy Shorts 2 contest.  I highly recommend writers check them out.

Flashy Shorts?!  People displaying their colorful underwear?

colorful_beach_shortsNo, that’s the name of one of GGP’s many competitions, accepting Flash Fiction (500 word max) and Short Story (5,000 word max) entries.  It was hard to find places looking for “long short stories”, but I discovered GGP via a Google search on short story markets, and why wouldn’t I want to do business with a Good Guy?  I sent in “I Guess I Robbed a Bank” after getting the go-ahead from Graham by email, but frankly, I didn’t know I’d actually entered a  competition until they said I was one of the finalists. (Perhaps everything submitted is considered an entry to a competition?)

Flashy Shorts 2
Flashy Shorts 2

Hyperventilating at a hyperlink

You can buy Flashy Shorts 2 at Amazon, here.  (That link goes to Amazon.com, rather than the Amazon.co.uk address, because you may have an easier time buying it through Amazon.com.)

Please bear with me in my !!! ExCiTeMeNt !!!.  This is a first for me, my name being listed (even hyperlinked!) on AMAZON as an author.   In an odd coincidence, this is the second short story of mine published in June/July 2013, both written in 2007 while I was out of town on a holiday, both inspired from a writing prompt in The Writer’s Book of Matches.  I’ll have to do some analysis and try to recreate the environment that was so full of creativity.

So do check out Good Guy Publishing, and their many publications.   Here are the opening sentences of “I Guess I Robbed a Bank”.  Maybe they will inspire you to read the rest!

While Veronica waited at the police station for the administrator to return with the documents, she massaged her wrists beneath the handcuffs.  She noticed that a man at the counter kept looking at her.  Well, no wonder.  Her jeans were ripped at the knees and dried blood stained the denim around an ugly wound.  Frightening tattoos decorated the full length of both arms, and sliding tears had left tracks through the pink and blue butterflies on her cheeks…

Free Spreadsheet Templates for Tax Time

A few months ago, I mentioned to some writer friends that I’d created some spreadsheets to calculate my writing income and expenses.  I use these for the writing business portion of my tax return.  I offered to send a copy to them, and a few were interested, so I made them a little more user-friendly (colors!) and included some instructions before I sent them off.  Now I’m offering these to you.

Taxes in August?  Well, ideally if you have a small business, you are logging your business expenses and income each month.  This is always my goal, but  unfortunately I tend to leave all this until the last minute in March.  Anyway, this may give us an incentive to get a head start before tax season rolls around.

Income tax file

I created these spreadsheets on Open Office and saved them as Excel spreadsheets, assuming most people would be using Excel.  WordPress didn’t allow me to upload the Open Office version, but here is the Excel version.

A few notes:
1. I have highlighted in red each cell which contains a formula, so don’t type over those.
2. The GST is automatically calculated when you enter the “before GST” amount.
3. The total cost for each item is automatically calculated by adding in the GST.

Screenshot - 13-Aug-2013 , 1_43_21 PM Wr Exp & Inc
4. The totals for each section are automatically added up at the bottom of the section.  (So, for example, you can see the total GST you paid.)
5. There are 3 separate sheets all in one file: the “Writing Expenses & Income” sheet, the “Business Use of Home” sheet, and the “Business Use of Car” sheet. You can flip between these by using the tabs at the bottom.

Screenshot - 13-Aug-2013 , 1_41_41 PM Bus use of car
6. The “Writing Expenses & Income” sheet automatically grabs the final numbers from the other 2 sheets and includes them in the calculation of “Total Writing Expenses – Other”. So once you’ve filled those last 2 sheets out, the final numbers will automatically appear on the first sheet.
7. I have shown the calculation next to some of the red formulas.  For example,

“(= B12 / B13)” (the amount in cell B12 divided by the amount in cell B13).

Won’t this make tax time fun?  I’m looking forward to hearing if this is helpful!

Screenshot - 13-Aug-2013 , 1_40_10 PM Bus Use of Home

“Inclement Weather” published in The Storyteller Magazine

My short story, “Inclement Weather”, is now appearing in the current issue of The Storyteller: A Writer’s Magazine.  What a thrill!

This story came out of a unique writing opportunity and a great book of writing prompts.  Several years ago when I was a teaching assistant working at an elementary school, I had two months off during the summer, and spent one of those months in Denver visiting my family.  My routine was to spend mornings writing, and the rest of the day visiting.  I’d brought with me a favorite book, The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction, and used many of the prompts to write short stories.  This was one of them.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 5_43_06 AM storyteller cvrScreenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 5_44_51 AM Storyteller TOC

Over the years, I revised it many times and struggled to find markets for my humorous, slightly romantic story.  Eventually I submitted it to the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition in the Genre Short Story category.  (This is typical of my questionable habit of starting high, in a competitive arena, and if I don’t get a positive response, I know it still needs work.)  And I got no response.  I revisited it a year later, and something occurred to me about a change that was happening with the main character, so I clarified and emphasized that change and felt that I’d improved the whole story.

With this new enthusiasm, I went back to the Writer’s Market books and the internet to find a potential home for my story.  My writing style isn’t the most in-demand.  I don’t write in some of the more popular genres, such as paranormal, thrillers, mysteries or science fiction.  I think my stories could be considered a mixture of women’s fiction with a touch of romance, and on the corny side, definitely tough to find markets for.  So I was excited to find The Storyteller listed in the 2013 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market as a publisher who was specifically looking for wholesome writing.  “We accept all genres, but please remember this is a family magazine and submit accordingly.”

The Storyteller is listed in the 101 Best of the Magazine Markets for 2006-2011, and The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers 2009-2011. Harvard University has now included the Storyteller in their publication, Magazines for Libraries. It is a world wide publication.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 6_35_11 AM Storyteller home pgHere is the brief summary I included on the cover letter for “Inclement Weather”:

All Robert wanted was to come in out of the rain for a few minutes, but the next thing he knew, he was in a shouting match with a complete stranger.  Over a period of less than fifteen minutes, however, the conflict in the dress shop caused a significant change inside him which transformed a faltering element of his personality.  He left a  much taller man with a delightful woman on his arm.

You can buy this and other issues of The Storyteller by going to their website and clicking on “Shop with Us”.  To order this issue, choose the Single Issue option, and select April, May, June.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 6_30_34 AM Ordering fr mag AprMayJune issue