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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Where there’s grace …

The Friday before last, I interviewed Richard Toliver, a retired Air Force colonel, and a man with a great story about overcoming racial prejudice and discrimination. I posted the story on Examiner.com.

This morning, I read an online USA TODAY article by Michael Winter. The headline? “White supremacist guilty of bomb attack on Ariz. official.” I won’t go into the details, but particularly disturbing to me was the line, quoting from The Arizona Republic, that read, “Defense attorney, Deborah Williams, reminded jurors that 'racism isn't a crime.’”

It brought to mind something I once heard from Joel Osteen. His father, John Osteen, founded Lakewood Church in Houston in 1959. One of the remarkable things about the church is its racial diversity. How could this be true of a Texas church founded in the late ‘50s? Maybe it’s because of John Osteen’s outlook. According to Joel, his father used to say, “Where there’s grace, there is no race.”

Maybe my word for this year should have been grace after all, because we all need it. And one place where it’s definitely called for is in the attitude of our hearts toward other races.

Is racism a crime?

Maybe not.

But it surely is a sin, and we all need the grace of God to change our hearts and rid us of it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mabel Leo—Front Page News

I received an email today that my article about Arizona author Mabel Leo is being featured on www.examiner.com. You might say, she’s front-page news. By the time you read this, it will no doubt be gone from that page, but you can still view it at http://www.examiner.com/writing-179-in-phoenix/doris-nehrbass. The headline reads “Mabel Leo: How she went from bored widow to Arizona author.” Thanks again, Mabel, for letting me write about you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Where’s Andy Rooney When You Need Him?


There are many things in life we have no control over. You would think choosing which line to stand in at the supermarket wouldn’t be one of them.

No so. By going to the same store over time—the Fry’s at 91st Avenue and Olive, I’ve become acquainted with some of the checkers. If I see one of them on duty, I like to go through that line, even if it is a little longer than the others. Trouble is, too often, the checkout police won’t allow it. It happened again today. Most of the time, they at least ask. This one didn’t.

“I’ll ring you up over here, hon,” she said, grabbing my cart and taking off.

“I’d rather you didn’t, dearie,” I wanted to say. However, she was already gone, cart and all. I had no choice but to trail after her. Scanning my items, she chattered away, seemingly oblivious to the sour look on my face. To top it off, she forgot to remove something from one of the items, causing me to be stopped at the door on my way out.

Where’s Andy Rooney when you need him? If he were still here, maybe he could do something.

But alas, he’s no longer with us. So barring that, I just want to say this:

Note to Fry’s employees: first of all, don’t call me “hon,” and second, please allow me to choose which line I want to go through. Is that really too much to ask?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

He Said, She Said—Those Pesky Dialogue Tags



When it comes to dialogue tags, those identifiers that tell who said what in fiction, I’ve noticed when reading the unpublished manuscripts of new writers that the would-be authors are sometimes likely to make two different mistakes. One is using an action as a tag. For example:

Incorrect:
You’re beautiful when you’re mad,” he grinned.

Correct:
“You’re beautiful when you’re mad,” he said with a grin.
Or: He grinned. “You’re beautiful when you’re mad.”
Or: “You’re beautiful when you’re mad.” He grinned.

The second mistake is using too many dialogue tags. Admitted, admonished, advised—marveled, mused, muttered—stammered, started, suggested. Sometimes there seems to be no end to the number of words an author can come up when using dialogue tags. While a little variety can be a good thing, using too many of these words can be a distraction rather than a sign of good writing. Rather than use multitudes of creative tags, the author would be better off making the details of the narration and the dialogue itself paint a picture for the reader.

As an experiment, I pulled a book off my shelf, Dead Wrong by J.A. Jance, and turned to page 197 at random. There were four paragraphs with dialogue. The tags were “he said,” “Joanna said,” “she asked,” and “he said.”

So if you’re working on a fiction draft, take a second look at your dialogue. If you’ve been heavy-handed in your use of dialogue tags, try replacing some of them with simpler tags such as “said” and “asked.” When it’s clear who’s speaking, you can often take the tags out. As one editor told me, “The reader will never miss them.” Then if you’ve been conservative all along and you find you want to throw in an occasional muttered or mused, it’ll work.

When it comes to dialogue tags, remember: don’t use actions, and less is definitely more.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Perseverance of Gabrielle Giffords


One year ago today, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head. The gunman wounded eighteen others as well, and six people died, including a 9-year-old girl.

That Giffords survived at all is a miracle. That in the past year, she learned to walk and talk, showed up for a vote in Congress, and allowed herself to be interviewed on television by ABC’s Diane Sawyer is even more amazing.

Granted, she’s been surrounded by an encouraging husband, a supportive staff, and some of the best medical professionals available. However, none of that would have helped if she had simply turned her face to the wall and given up. And that would have been so easy to do. So much easier than what it took to get where she is: a determined effort day after day. In other words, perseverance.

Paul wrote to be instant in season and out of season (II Tim. 4:2). That’s kind of an odd phrase, but I take it to mean we are to keep going and doing what we need to do daily—whether it’s convenient or not, whether it’s easy or not, whether we feel like it or not.

That’s just what Gabrielle Giffords has done and continues to do. What a great example of perseverance!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Perseverance and Grace—Words for the New Year


The January 2012 edition of Guideposts features a cover story about best-selling author Debbie Macomber. At the beginning of each year, she chooses one word to focus on and live by. One year it was hunger, another trust, another brokenness, another prayer, another hope.

It made me wonder, if I were to choose one word for this coming year, what would it be? What came to mind immediately was perseverance. I need that. I need to persevere and blog regularly, not just once in a while. I need to persevere and continue to learn more about how to be a good editor. And I need to return to a writing project and keep at it regularly until I finish it.

But that’s just about writing and editing. Perseverance is needed in so many other areas, not just by me, but by other people as well.

In the coming year, some people will need to persevere even though they lose their homes. Others will need to persevere in the face of a broken marriage. Some of my friends have serious chronic illnesses; they’ll have to find ways to persevere in the face of pain, weakness, and discouragement. Perseverance even has a theological meaning: the perseverance of the saints is one of the five points of Calvinism. So there’s much to consider when it comes to perseverance.

The second word that came to my mind was grace. I wondered which word to choose. Then I realized—the one-word rule is Debbie Macomber’s, not mine. I believe I need to persevere this year in several areas, but I also know that I need the grace of God to do it. And so does everyone else.

So through the year, I plan to revisit both perseverance and grace, and how these two concepts are playing out in my life and the lives of others.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas


Once again, it’s Christmas. This year, several store clerks wished me “Merry Christmas.” I’m so glad they didn’t feel obligated to be politically correct and wish me “Happy Holidays” instead.

So what is Christmas? Most people know it’s celebrated on December 25 and often involves the exchanging of gifts, decorating Christmas trees, and putting up lights. But is that what Christmas really is? Not really.

Perhaps you remember A Charlie Brown Christmas, first broadcast on TV in 1965 but repeated many times since then. When Charlie Brown sought the real meaning of Christmas, Linus came to the rescue by reciting the story of the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them…And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11, King James Version)

Linus got it right. That is what Christmas is all about.

So wherever you are and whatever your circumstances this December 25, Merry Christmas!