Today it is my privilege to host Brian Marsh, pastor of our home church, Moreland Presbyterian Church. In addition to serving the flock at Moreland, Brian is a loving husband and father, musician, poet, comforter, and, in his own words, an all-round troublemaker wherever he is.
This past Sunday Brian spoke to us via Facebook Live Stream on the topic of Known in Absence. Below is Brian’s 180-word poetic version of his message. After reading these words, I was moved to share them here.
known in Absence by Brian Marsh
whether from Spirit
but the Magic
is what my Spirit
to fill the absence
and hold me
and tell me
is gonna be
three were confronted
by the Absence
and the fear
to familiar safety
in unfamiliar space
and encountered Presence
revealed in absence
a new Way
flow from Strength
from the soil
out of supposedly
but not driving
grief and sadness
by the same Spirit
that enabled Resurrection
of our innately
as Beloved vessels
equally valued Voices
and transformed rejection
With my recent interest in writing fiction as well as nonfiction, I may from time to time post reviews of fiction works and guest posts from fiction writers. Today represents the first of these posts. I hope you enjoy it.
Today I’m pleased to spotlight The Dan Diaries, the fourth book in The Beyond Series by author, D.D. Marx. D.D. will be joining us with a guest post plus there is a giveaway.
Book Title: The Dan Diaries by D.D. Marx (The Beyond Series Book #4)
Category: Adult Fiction; 200 pages
Publisher: Beyond Dreams Publishing
Release date: April 6, 2018
Dan Sullivan was the best friend of Olivia Henry when his life was taken in a tragic car accident. Shocked to be on the other side, Dan navigates his way by learning his new role in eternal life. His first assignment is as Olivia’s guardian angel. He has the crucial role of guiding her to her pre-defined destiny. Dan’s death throws Olivia into a tail-spin which causes her to veer way off course. He understands the enormity of the challenge when he hears the mechanism by which he can communicate. He’s only allowed to use signs and symbols to get her attention and cannot interfere with her free-will.
Every time he thinks he’s close, something throws her off track. He’s forced to start over by convincing her to trust in their enduring, unbreakable bond. Olivia can feel Dan’s presence but is still reluctant to believe the messages he’s sending. She is fearful of falling in love again at the risk of losing another soulmate. Can Dan persuade her to trust in his love from afar so she can finally receive the happiness she truly deserves?
This is such a loaded question. I mean, who thinks they can sit down and write a novel that anyone would want to read let alone purchase – with actual money? It’s overwhelming if you think about it. What’s the first line? How do you pull the reader in? Does this even make any sense? I think the biggest thing for me has been to just – write it down. No matter how pretty or perfect it is, just get it out. You can edit until your hearts content, but it needs to start somewhere.
Remarkably, I was able to write and publish four books in three years. It’s surreal to comprehend. What got me to the end were two key things:
I forced a deadline.
What I mean by that is I announced release dates. Then there was no turning back. I know how I operate and what makes me tick. I’m a procrastinator by nature. It’s how I’m wired. I’ve been like this my whole life – in school, at work and in life. It’s just how I am built. I do my best work under pressure. I knew if I didn’t have a looming timeline, I would choose everything else but writing my book. This single rule got me from hopes and dreams to published author.
I pretended I was writing it just for kicks.
Writing is an intimidating prospect. It’s subjective. The same story can be told a million different ways. How it is perceived is all in the reader’s interpretation. How do you pretend to know what is good? What will resonate? What’s interesting or captivating? I just sat down and told my story like I was talking to a friend. I didn’t do any reading during the writing process because I didn’t want to get anyone else’s voice in my head. Writers can have endless cycles of churn if they think too much. “I should say it like this”, “Wait, no, this is much better”, “Oh, but I want to use this word” or “I want to elicit this emotion.” Every single word becomes an obsession if you overthink it. That’s when all the doubt sets in. Most of writing process entails trust and a gut feel followed by strong editing. Success is the ultimate reward but never guaranteed.
My advice to any new author is to dive in, with both feet, into the deep end. Pretend your words will never see the light of day. Don’t create expectations and it will all flow more naturally.
Meet the Author:
D.D. Marx is a contemporary romantic fiction writer and blogger. Marx is a graduate of the University of Dayton, as well as the Second City program in Chicago, where she currently resides. A proud aunt and self-described hopeless romantic, Marx has always had a knack for humorous and engaging storytelling. Her pen name is a dedication to her beloved friend Dan, who continues to guide and inspire her in her daily life.
Friends, gather around. Pull up your chairs closer, and bring that cup of coffee or tea with you. We are about to be treated to someone and something special.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd of andilit.com fame is here! She’s in the house, as they say on TV. And today Andi is sharing with us an excerpt from her new book, Love Letters to Writers, launching on November 14, 2017.
Please join me in welcoming Andi to The Writing Studio. *applause*
Dear Beautiful People,
If you would, close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful thing you’ve ever experienced. Let it pull you close . . . see the colors, hear the movement stilled for a split second, and lean into the void of nothing around the color or sound you experience. What I want you to feel, my friends, is the emptiness there. Let it tug at you, pull you in.
Now, sit where you are in this moment. Turn down the music. Dim the lights if you can. Walk outside or into a closet to quiet if you need. Feel the nothingness that is most of the space around you . . . then feel deeper, feel the energy there. Take a deep breath. And another. And another.
I’ve been taking a lot of deep breaths lately. This morning, I went out to the garden to harvest, as I do each morning this time of year. Usually, I put in earbuds and listen to a podcast or book, but this morning, I went out bare with the gentle intention of holding space for whatever I needed to hear or see.
I picked cucumbers and then started to walk by the asparagus beans, taking note that they had their purple blossom dresses on. But then, I slowed and bent nearer . . . and there were beans, three-foot long beauties that had been there for days—days when I had walked past this trellis fifty times. But each time, I had been so busy doing whatever it was I thought needed me that I had missed them . . .
I spent the next minutes twisting the bean vines up onto the trellis with gentle twirls so that I wouldn’t miss the beans again.
Here’s what I take from those few moments: I have to hold space to be surprised. I have to hold space to see the fruits of what I’ve done. I have to hold space for my words to find new climbing trellises. I have to hold space wide open and take the gifts that are given.
Maybe you are much better at this than I am, but if you’re not, try this week to hold space for two things:
1. Hold space for nothing. Intentionally create short periods (or long periods if you have them) of time where you just wander or sit on the porch and stare or look out the window at the rain. Notice what you think about, what your mind feels like, how your breath slows.
2. Hold space for your words. Writing is not something that happens spontaneously, at least not in my experience. We have to be creating space for it, space to think, space to let ideas percolate, space for the actual manifestations of language to be noticed, and space for the physical act of extracting those words and writing them down.
So this week, my friends, try slowing down. Stare at beautiful things. Listen to music without doing anything else. Read a book for three hours in a row if you can. Give yourself space so that your words can breathe, too.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farm who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, four dogs, four cats, six goats, three rabbits, and thirty-six chickens. She writes regularly at andilit.com.
Today it is my pleasure to welcome to my blog, author Dorit Sasson. Dorit’s memoir, Author of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces, is concurrently on tour with a number of guest posts. Therefore, I feel fortunate to have her visit during this extra busy timer. Dorit brings a message of what we as Americans can learn from Israel and the IDF. Perhaps this sounds like a rather sobering topic but Dorit presents her story in such a way that we each may find hope and a way to make a difference.
Please join me now in welcoming Dorit. *Applause here.* And don’t forget the giveaway later.
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What Americans Can Learn from Israel and the Israel Defense Forces
Israel is a country surrounded by four Arab nations that want to annihilate Israel at every opportunity. Then there’s the constant threat by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) who send out terrorists that blow up buses. Before Israel became a state in 1948, it was once Palestine and so Palestinians who live in Israel believe that it is their country. Many of the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and the occupied territories are a constant threat to the Jewish settlements. My newsfeed on Facebook has been filled with stabbings and killings that make me feel helpless, sad and angry.
Put these things together and you get a lot of tension that Israel experiences every single minute of the day. These are things we as Americans don’t quite understand. Our survival as a country doesn’t work in the same way. Imagine the state of Ohio wanting to blow up the state of Pennsylvania? There are security guards on buses, public places like malls and restaurants and in many schools. And with all the killings, bombings and stabbing, Israel is probably one of the safest countries in the world because of the top notch security. As a new immigrant serving in the IDF, I felt that the country has my back more than America and I often talk about this in my memoir. It is no wonder that the Israel Defense Forces is one of the most famous armies if not the most famous in the world.
Relationships and Mentality
Politics and the daily tension of the country also affect the way Israelis interact on many levels. There’s very little formality in relationships. Parents don’t plan “playdates” weeks or days in advance. You never need an appointment to see a friend. Relationships are real, direct and people are responsive emotionally. These relationships are essential to survival. People need each other. You never feel alone like you do in America. You can die alone without a soul in the world here in the US. It’s unlikely that kind of thing would happen in Israel.
On the other hand, it can be tough dealing with so much chutzpah. When I taught High School Israelis, I had to find a way to teach English without being the disciplinarian. It’s a tough, fine balance.
It’s a country grounded in tradition. There are two days out of the year when the entire country stands for a two and three minute siren – namely, Yom Hashoa or Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror. Yes, even cars stop on major highways and intersections. It’s something unheard of in America. You feel a complete and utter respect for history and people who give so much to protect the country. Everyone in Israel has a friend, relative or family member who served in the army so the relationship between civilian and soldier is very close. Americans do not know much about the US army and the veterans who have put themselves on the line for our country. There are many Israelis who will adopt lone IDF soldiers who do not have family in Israel as was my experience.
Yes, Israelis are gutsy, aggressive and assertive. I’ve often been asked how much I make as an English teacher and other personal subjects that Americans wouldn’t dare ask another. There’s no such thing that staying anonymous or quiet. You’ll soon find yourself bad mouthing politics and developing an opinion over all the governmental strikes. That’s just the nature of the country.
However, when the country is under the threat of a war, the country comes together in ways you simply cannot possibly imagine from just listening to CNN. Israel is a small country, the size of Rhode Island and people are a lot more socially wired with each other. When my home was under threat during the second Israel-Lebanese War, strangers all over the country opened their doors to my family. I wrote about that experience here.
Living and the Concept of Time
On many Jewish holidays, the entire country shuts down – sometimes for days like on the Jewish holiday of Passover. There is no government service or banks. You feel the entire country celebrating with you and it’s a very big deal. Buses don’t operate from sundown on a Friday night till sundown on a Saturday when the Sabbath or Shabbat is over. These precious moments are a time for people to get together with family and eat many different kinds of cultural foods depending on their tradition. Work is work, and time off is time off.
Just writing this post, I am now getting homesick for spending those Jewish holidays with family and just letting my hair down. It’s a big part of who I am and have become.
Because Israelis live under so much threat and tension, they know how to live. They live for the present moment. They don’t sacrifice an opportunity to live life. It’s evident in the relationships, culture and talk – it’s hard to describe this kind of sensation to an American. It’s just one of those things that need to be experienced.
As a returning American who has lived in Pittsburgh since 2007, I miss so many parts of Israel – the contrasts, the complexities, the caring relationships, the ability to just let my hair down with people and interact with them without wondering if they’ll judge me and how they’ll react, the Jewish holidays, and of course my family. As an American who continues to find my cultural place in Pittsburgh, I won’t forget my roots and where I’ve come from.
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Thank you, Dorit, for making time to share a part of your story with us today. Having you visit here was an absolute pleasure.
A Look at the Book
At age nineteen, Dorit Sasson, a dual American-Israeli citizen, was trying to make the status quo work as a college student―until she realized that if she didn’t distance herself from her neurotic, worrywart of a mother, she would become just like her.
Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces is Sasson’s story of how she dropped out of college and volunteered for the Israel Defense Forces in an effort to change her life―and how, in stepping out of her comfort zone and into a war zone, she discovered courage and faith she didn’t know she was capable of.
Paperback: 337 pages Genre: Memoir Publisher: She Writes Press (June 14, 2016) ISBN-10: 1631520350; ISBN-13: 978-1631520358 Amazon Link: click here
Meet the Author
Dorit Sasson writes for a wide range of print and online publications, including The Huffington Post and The Writer, and speaks at conferences, libraries, and community centers. She is the author of the a featured chapter in Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time, the latest installment of that best-selling series, and. She is the host of the global radio show “Giving Voice to Your Courageous Story.” She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two children.
Today Jennifer will be sharing her thoughts and insights on embracing Christian themes while writing a Christian novel. Her post is honest and provides us with a look inside her emotions as she wrote Afta-U.
EMBRACING CHRISTIAN THEMES WHILE WRITING AFTA-U
BY JENNIFER-LYNN KENISTON
I am going to be honest here: when I began writing the first draft of Afta-U, I wasn’t writing it with an audience in mind. It was a personal book, something I had to write. Simply put, it was a life-long dream of mine to write a full-length novel, and I had to build up the confidence in myself that I could actually do it. So, I had no problem initially embracing writing Christian themes for this first draft, since some of the themes registered deep inside of me even though the story itself was fictional.
But then I finished writing the first draft.
And for a fleeting moment after I finished writing this first draft, my initial joy turned to fear. I began to panic and question if writing these Christian themes throughout this novel would discourage readers from reading it. It was then that my friend, Lisa, said to me: “Do you know what the number one best-selling book of all time is? Well, let me tell you: it’s the Bible! And over 5 billion copies have been sold.”
I smiled. I needed to hear that reminder. I also discovered my niche audience. It was the Christian reader. A few of the prevalent Christian themes in Afta-U, are ones that I’m still personally working to achieve as my novel is released into the mainstream. For example the idea of “Let Go Let God.” Like Jean, I often find myself trying to control situations and I still struggle to release and have faith in leaving it all up to God and His plan. There are other powerful themes mixed into the story, such as the idea of forgiveness for oneself and others, and being present in the now and not trapped in the past or future.
When I began the editing for my début novel, I did tone down some of the Christian themes and scenes, but I was determined not to be deterred from writing these. Instead I was going to embrace these themes and do so without forcing them onto the reader and taking away from the enjoyment found in reading the story itself.
When I finished the multitude of drafts and editing, I realized that, yes, the audience would be these Christian readers, but perhaps those non-Christian readers would actually enjoy the book and who knows, there could be that one reader who might need to either connect or reconnect with their faith, and perhaps they will decide to do so, after they have finished reading and put down Afta-U.
Thank you, Jennifer, for joining my readers and me today to share your thoughts and feelings on what, for me at least, is an area of interest and one filled with many questions. For those of us wanting to include a Christian theme in our work, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, these are issues to be vetted on a personal level like so many others.
Michael’s smile broadened. “It seems you’re surprised to see me, Jean. Don’t tell me you thought that they’d leave an eleven-year-old boy locked away forever.”
Twenty-nine years after the tragic death of her childhood best friend, Hope, Jean Cartwright Rhodes returns to her hometown with her husband and daughter after she inherits the house her friend’s family once lived in. Now, years later, she finds herself haunted by a dark truth – and by the specter of Hope herself.
Every time Jean looks through her kitchen window, she sees two stark reminders of her troubled past; the Afta-U sailboat, ironically named after young Hope, and the old oak tree where her eleven-year-old friend met her death at the hands of another child.
Afta-U unfolds as a psychological chess match, a complex web of intrigue, unexpected relationships, lies, and devastating secrets as Jean struggles with the impact of decisions she made long ago on all the lives around her. When Jean confronts and tries to come to grips with Hope’s killer, she finds herself waging a personal battle between madness and redemption.
Raised in Hanson, Massachusetts, the author earned a Master of Arts degree in English, from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy, from Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. Jennifer-Lynn currently works as a project manager for a company that provides cloud software products for call centers at small, medium, and enterprise companies. In April 2014, she started her own business, Ansel Resume Resolution Services LLC, writing resumes and cover letters. She now lives and writes in Concord, New Hampshire, and enjoys teaching Spinning classes in her free time.
Perhaps you have considered a Christian theme in your memoir or novel, and further you have questioned whether using such themes is going to help or hurt you as a writer. If so, maybe you’d like to share a bit about how you rationalized your final choice. Let’s talk!