Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Is God Smiling on my Ministry?

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sunI don’t mind pouring my life out for God as long as I know he is truly pleased. But how tragic it would be to spend my whole life, working hard for God, and find out I somehow missed the entire target!

Some people evaluate their ministry by results. If lots of people get saved and the church chairs are full, God must be pleased.  If hardly anyone gets saved and numbers are down, God must not be pleased.  Study Jonah, Noah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah and you’ll soon realize results are not always indicative of God’s approval. So how do you know if your work is good enough for God? How do you know if you are basically pleasing Him?

Warren Wiersbe says, “There is a difference between fruit and results. You can get results by following formulas, etc, but fruit comes from life. Results are counted and soon become silent statistics, but living fruit remains and continues to multiply to the glory of God.”

My husband and I have worked on two different fields for 35 years. We have been through years in which we have seen little visible fruit.  This question, “Am I pleasing God?” is crucial. If I’m not, I might as well go back to America and life a more comfortable life. If I am pleasing God, I will continue to serve in this place as long as He keeps me here. But how do I know?

Steve Saint must have had similar questions when he took his entire family to live, for one year, with a primitive tribe. His teenage daughter died shortly after leaving the tribe. As he reflected on her life he said, “Whenever I got terribly discouraged, she was the one who reminded me that we had not come for results. We had come for love and to be obedient to what we were convinced God wanted us to do. “

At one point, when our work seemed to be failing, I was desperate to know if God was smiling. We felt God had called us to our work there in Taiwan. We had worked hard, doing what we felt he wanted us to do. Our hearts are deceitful by nature and we can never completely know them, but we felt we were doing our best out of love for the Lord. God wasn’t showing us any major thing we were doing wrong, but, as far as we could see, the work was not moving forward.

I asked God to speak to me and show me if he was happy with my ministry. I searched Scripture for answers. This is what I came up with:

  • God understands. He knows what we’re like.
  • He’s not impossible to please.
  • If we are searching for what he wants us to do, he will let us know.
  • If we ask Him to show us ways that aren’t pleasing to Him, He will. (Hebrews 4:14-16, Isaiah 40:27-31, Psalm 103:11-14, Psalm 139)
  • Therefore, if I am serving Him the best I know how, depending on Him, following His guidance, and He doesn’t show me otherwise, He must be pleased!

God sees and rewards. Our labor is not in vain. God won’t forget our work when we serve Him out of sincere love. (1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 6:10) God sees my imperfect efforts. He sees my heart. As an earthly father is pleased with his child’s best effort in drawing him a picture, however imperfect it may be, so our Heavenly Father is pleased by our best efforts to show our love for Him.

Have you been through times in your ministry when you struggled to see God’s smile? What verses helped you?

[image courtesy of EBreHNN ATamaheHko/deposit photos}

Adapting to a New Culture – Chinese

Writing CaligraphyLiving in a new culture forces us to make changes and rethink the way we do things. It causes us to evaluate our home culture by new criteria. We have to make choices about how we are going to live and balance our home culture with our new culture.

Changing cultures stretches our minds and experiences, encouraging us to learn and grow. People who have never left their home culture seldom understand this process and may not understand us after we’ve gone through it. It’s good for us but it’s not necessarily a comfortable process.

Here are some cultural observations from an American friend who has recently spent a year living in a Chinese country:

  • Chinese people who have a close friendship/relationship do not say, “thank you” to each other. Saying “thank you” implies a distant relationship with the other person.
  • Teachers have a serious, conservative demeanor in class. It’s OK to smile, but dramatic gestures and drama can make students uncomfortable.
  • Respect for elders is always important. We need to stand to greet older people who enter the room and call on the oldest brother to open or close a meeting in prayer.
  • Time schedules are made last-minute and are open to change.
  • If you ask people questions to which they don’t know the answer, they are likely to make up an answer. Saving face is more important than truth-telling.

When culture shock was strong, my coping strategies were to read about culture or make a journal entry about it. Our home was a place of rest and normalcy from a Western perspective.

 Local believers and friends were generally quite forgiving of our cultural ignorance and mistakes. But this can make it is harder to learn about your weaknesses.

 Chinese culture is difficult for Westerners to adapt to. Historically, Westerners have failed to adapt well to Chinese culture and have left offences in the Chinese mind. They still admire Americans because they perceive our country as wealthy and successful. However, they do not expect us to adapt very well to Chinese culture. It’s like they think, “You are foreigners. You will always be foreigners. We don’t expect more than that.”

 I want to thank my friend for sharing his experiences. He is challenged to continue to learn about Chinese culture and relate to Chinese in a more effective way.

What things have your learned about a different culture?

[image courtesy J R/deposit photos]

 

 

 

Sneak Peek at a New Cozy Mystery

Monarch Caterpillar in IllinoisWhat is a cozy mystery?

Maybe you’ve seen the term, but it didn’t know what it meant. Not very long ago I didn’t know, and now I’ve written one.  You may also be confused with some other mystery labels. What is the difference between a mystery, a suspense novel, and a thriller?

Technically, a straight mystery is mainly a puzzle about whodunit. A thriller puts the protagonist in danger and involves a lot of action like chase scenes and violence. In a thriller the reader often knows who the killer is in the beginning and watches the protagonist hunt him down. Suspense sometimes has action but shows more of the tension between characters as something is about to happen. In suspense the reader may know that a bomb has been planted, but the protagonist may not.  Of course, sometimes these labels are used quite carelessly or in combinations with each other.  These labels sometimes confuse the reader more than help them.  It’s safe to say, however, that a straight mystery is more about figuring out the puzzle of who did the crime, while a suspense-thriller is more about action and danger.

A cozy mystery, then, is a puzzle about whodunit, but the mystery is often treated light-heartedly or humorously. A cozy generally has no profanity and only the most minimal references to sex. Violence is often performed only “off camera” and is not depicted graphically. Gore is kept to a minimum.  The Agatha Christie books and the TV series “Murder She Wrote” are often used as examples of cozies, even though they came before the cozy mystery was used much. The TV series “Monk” is a more recent example of this kind of mystery. I love Monk for the character development. The mystery is always interesting too, but the emphasis is definitely on the characters rather than the technical aspects of the crime.

Cozies most often have amateur sleuths and are often set in small towns or confined quarters. They usually put a strong emphasis on characterization and often have a light romance in them. The light-hearted nature of them makes them more fun than depressing, and they aren’t likely to keep you awake at night.

Monarch Butterfly stages 03Cozies can be formulaic, predictable, and as much about crafts as they are mysteries, but they don’t have to be. Recently I’ve enjoyed reading these Christian cozy mysteries: Good, Clean Murder by Traci Tyne Hilton, Miss Aggie’s Gone Missing by Frances Devine, and Murder on the Ol’ Bunions by S. Dionne Moore.

When I watch TV I often fall asleep during chase scenes. I love quirky characters, fun dialog, and a little romance never hurts.  The same is true for books, except books offer a much broader choice of Christian themes. I also love Christian fiction that has some meat to it. That’s hard to find today.

A few years ago I had the egg of an idea  for  a contemporary Christian fiction series in my mind. For about a year the idea crawled around in my mind, taking concrete shape. I finished the book, but felt it needed revision so it entered the chrysalis stage while I spent two years on Edges of Truth. Now, after months of revision, the chrysalis has split and a cozy mystery is emerging.

Today I am giving you the first sneak peek at Broken Windows, Book One in the Keyhole Mysteries. I’m also looking for a few key readers who will give me feedback prior to publication.

Broken Windows

I have a graphic designer working on the cover, but if you could flip it over, this is what you’d read:Monarch Butterfly Birth

Running away to Boise makes sense until a shadow from the past commits weird crimes to destroy Jordan’s credibility in the art community.

A Christian Cozy Mystery

Jordan Axtell, an aspiring artist searching for a new beginning, escapes to Idaho. He hopes to put failure behind him and carve a respectable career out of the rock hard art community. But a black shadow girl with a red balloon warns him that his past refuses to stay where it belongs.

Strange things disappear and peculiar crimes point to Jordan’s guilt. Meanwhile, Alison distracts him from his goals. Zophie drives him crazy with her expectations and questions. A Bible Zone boy pulls at his heartstrings, and his roommate forces him to enter a new world of wheelchairs.

Has the most annoying graffiti artist on the planet followed Jordan to Idaho? Or is a copycat intentionally committing weird misdemeanors just to ruin his reputation? Jordan must find the identity of the perpetrator or lose his integrity as an artist. His new friends try to help, but with friends like his, his enemies can go on coffee break.

Broken Windows will make you laugh, cry, and redefine success. Warning: This deeply Christian novel may cause you to examine the broken windows in your own faith.

 Feedback

I’m looking for some readers who will read this book prior to publication and give me feedback. You don’t have to be a writer to help with this, but it will help if you are an avid reader of Christian fiction who likes to read this basic kind of book. I’m not asking you to proofread for errors and find grammar mistakes. I’d rather have you read the book as a reader and tell me what is working.

This book is about 100,000 words long which is about 350 pages in a normal book. I am looking for honest (though kind) input. I always work to learn from what others say about my writing and strive not to take comments personally.

If you are interested in reading my book pre-publication and giving me feedback, this is what you need to do:

1. Send me your address and tell me what format you’d like the document in. I can send it in Word or I can send a PDF file that you can read with Adobe. With Adobe you may be able to read it on your tablet or other device. I will email the manuscript to you.

2. Read the manuscript well enough to give feedback on what you liked and what you didn’t.

3. Answer the feedback questions and make any other comments you care to. I may or may not make changes based on your feedback, but I won’t dismiss your comments without a hearing.

4. If you are willing to give an honest review on Amazon, I would greatly appreciate it. It’s best to write your review just after reading the book so it’s still fresh in your mind. I’ll send you a reminder when the book is released and you can post your review on Amazon. If you think you may lose the review, you can send it to me and I will send it back to you when the book becomes live on Amazon.

In appreciation for your work I will be glad to send you a free copy upon release. In the unlikely event that we decide to only release the book as an e-book, I would send you the e-book.

Here are the feedback questions. This will give you an idea of my expectations.

 Feedback Questions:

1. What did you like most about the book? What parts did you not like?

2. Do you feel the book fits into a cozy mystery genre? Would a mystery genre be a more accurate classification? Do you think mystery writers will feel this book doesn’t have enough mystery to be classified as a mystery?

3. Do you feel the book was too preachy? Would you enjoy the book more if had less about                    the faith struggles of the characters?

4. After you had finished the book, were you disappointed with the outcome of Leon, the Bible Zone boy?

5. Do you have any other comments you would like to make?

Thanks to each one of you who agree to help me in this way! You may send your offer to become a feedback reader to my email address: brammers@vodafone.co.nz. Please allow me a few days to get back to you.

[images courtesy of Jason Ross, Andy Heyward, and Rafael Ben-Ari/Deposit Photos.]

 

 

 

 

Finding a Christmas Program to Fit Your Small Church

xChristmas ornament facesYou’ve just flipped the calendar over to October and Christmas panic sets in. You haven’t even chosen a Christmas program yet and you know Christmas is just around the corner. Maybe you are wallowing in indecision because you don’t have a lot of performers and talent in your church. If this describes you

 5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Christmas Program

1. What is my purpose for the program?

Often Christmas programs are mainly evangelistic. It is the one time in the year to reach the families of kids who come to church. If that’s true for you, you want to be sure to feature these kids, not just your core church kids. Parents come to see their kids perform. Showcasing their kids is more important than showcasing more talented performers.

2. What do I have to work with?

How many people will participate? What ages are they?  How willing are they to work? Are they musicians or are they more inclined toward drama? Consider how you can use the people you have in a way that will make them feel good about their participation.

3. How can I make the message meaningful for the audience, yet fun?

You may have people attend your program who only rarely attend church. You want this experience to be a positive one. If the overall tone is heavy and preachy it may push them further away. You certainly want a strong salvation message clearly presented, but lighter moments may help your unsaved audience better receive the message. Look for a Christmas program which will keep the atmosphere friendly and positive.

4. How can I make the program meaningful for the performers?

Program practice needs to be well organized, moving through the practices in an efficient manner. Some sense of discipline is necessary, but the general atmosphere should be upbeat. You want to emphasize that the purpose of your performance is God’s glory, not to show off. Yet the whole experience should be fun and fulfilling.

You may choose a program that your church is capable of producing through hard work, but you also need to consider how willing your people are. If your kids, performers, and workers are not highly motivated, you are probably better off not choosing a very difficult program. If you are going to have to threaten your performers and workers and drive them mercilessly to memorize lines and attend long practices, you’ve probably chosen the wrong program. On the other hand, a few highly motivated people can form the core of a more difficult program, with less motivated people playing less demanding parts.

5. Where can I find a simple program that will work for my small church, a small group within my church, or a Christmas service?

I offer seven Christmas programs which I have used in a small mission church. Some are more demanding than others. “No Room for Jesus” is my personal favourite. Most are free, but some you have to order. Click here for a list of these programs.

How to Use Book Reviews and Awards to Sell Your Book

Kid reading the Book. EducationToday anyone can have a book published.  Many people dream of it. In fact one recent survey says 81% of people feel they have a book in them that they should write.

I don’t know about you, but this statistic fills me with more despair than hope.  I’ve been writing for publication for about 35 years and while it is reassuring that I can bring any book of mine to print, it seems unfair that any novice who can put 20,000 words or so on paper can do the same. Of course, selling the book once it is published is another story.

The hardest part of writing today is not the actual writing or the publication, but getting your voice heard among all of the other voices. Self-publication has lost much of its former stigma and offers opportunities like never before. But because it is so easy to be published, many books of inferior quality and content are competing for attention. In addition to that, many good books are calling out to readers. How can potential readers hear about your book above all the noise of the information overload?

Book reviews and awards help the good books to rise to the top. They give needed exposure for readers to find and read your books. I used to wonder how the lucky authors got those reviews and awards. Now I know that authors aren’t going to get any of either unless they, or their publishers or agents, submit their books.

Somehow that goes against the grain. I feel silly suggesting my book is good enough to merit an award. I’d rather someone else would nominate me. Who am I to ask for a book review? But if my message is worth a year or two of the hard work of writing, it must also be worth my time to promote.

Book Reviews

Consumer Book Reviews

Today what do most readers do first when deciding whether or not to buy a book? They check out the reviews on Amazon. Even shoppers in bookstores often check with Amazon on their phones before buying. That makes Amazon reviews really important.

When you have a book published, or even afterward, work to find readers who will review your book on Amazon. You may need to offer a free book in exchange for an honest review. Good reviews are great, but if all your reviews are 5-star reviews with glowing reports, readers may suspect they are only written by your friends. Even a few negative reports may help, especially if your content is controversial. Work hard to get a good number of Amazon reviews.

If you have author friends who have only a few reviews on Amazon for a book, consider helping them out by writing reviews for them. They will love you for it.

Goodreads is also a great place to have reviews. Amazon now owns Goodreads and they work together, but Goodreads is currently about the best social network devoted to reading. Their membership is growing rapidly. Goodreads allows you to schedule give-aways, and authors generally give away free books hoping readers will review the books when they finish them.

Book Review Blogs

Book review blogs can also be a good source of online book reviews. Self-publication has created a huge need for book reviews so these blogs are everywhere, but be aware than some don’t have a large readership. Successful blogs sometimes sound welcoming to new authors, but when you pursue a review you find that they aren’t accepting more submissions.

Many of these blogs also work in only one genre, like Christian fiction. In November 2013 I published a true story about Mary Weaver, an innocent Christian woman who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.   Edges of Truth is challenging to promote because it straddles several genres. It reads like fiction, but it’s a true story. As a biography it is often listed with historical figures like Martin Luther or Hudson Taylor, but it appeals to a different sort of reader. It fits best as a memoir, but some companies don’t have a separate listing for memoirs. Many of the review blogs are for Christian fiction, but this book doesn’t fit there.

Spend some time on Google finding blogs that fit your book and check their submission guidelines. This may be a good source of book reviews for you.

Trade Reviews

Librarians and Christian retailers often look for trade reviews of your book when considering a purchase. Some trade review magazines charge anywhere from $100 to $500 to review your book, and you may even end up with a very negative review that is useless to you.

Be aware that many trade reviewers want galleys as much as three months prior to publication.

I wanted to be able to sell our book Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story to libraries in Iowa and I knew that many librarians wouldn’t consider it until I had a good trade review. I chose to seek a review by Midwest Book Review. Though it isn’t in the very top layer of prestigious reviewers, I felt it was a good fit for our book. They give special consideration to small presses and self-published authors. They accept books that are already in print. They don’t charge for their reviews. Our memoir happened in the Midwest which fits their company. And Midwest had already reviewed another one of my books and given it a good review.

I was told that Edges of Truth  ”handily passed their initial screening process” but that they had so many submissions that they couldn’t handle them all. The editor of MBR said they would print a review by someone else if I got a professional review.

Online Christian Book Review Sites

We (my co-author and the person my book was about and I) had counted heavily on getting a review by Midwest Book Review to be able to sell to Iowa libraries. When we didn’t get it I didn’t know where to turn. Research on the internet brought me to a book that could give me some new sources. Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace (Third Edition) by Sarah Bolme was worth the price of the book to me if only to point me to some good sources of book reviews and book awards. It lists a number of online Christian book reviews sites. Many of them offer free book reviews, but you can get them faster if you pay something. Some are also connected to book awards.

I submitted Edges of Truth to Reader’s Favorite using the free option and waited for a review. Within a couple of months I received a 5-star review.

It’s nice to have a 5-star review. It makes you feel like you have a little trophy you can set on your mantel. But I didn’t go to all the trouble of seeking that review for that little thrill of recognition. The review is a tool we can use to promote our book. If we don’t promote our book no one will buy it. If no one buys it, no one will read it. If no one reads it, what’s the point of two years of hard work  by two co-authors and the book’s subject?

How to Use a Book Review

The first thing I did with my Reader’s Favorite review was to send it to Midwest Book Review who published it in their August 2014 issue of their online book review “Reviewer’s Bookwatch.”

Though initially declined by MBR, this gives me a review that was featured by them. I drafted an informational letter that included the review and sent it to 91 public libraries in Iowa asking them to consider purchasing our book for their shelves.

I can also use this review and the 5-star seal on the cover of the book and inside the book with other reviews. I can put it on our website.  It sometimes shows up on the Amazon description of the book under “Editorial Reviews.” I can use this review, or parts of it, anywhere I want. I can use it to interest other reviewers in reviewing the book.

A good review, then, is not about boosting the author’s ego. It is a useful tool that can be used in many ways to promote your book.

Book Awards

Book awards work in a similar way. Many book reviews are connected to book awards. Again, Sarah Bolme’s book   was very helpful in listing awards that apply to Christian books.

Most of the awards require an entrance fee of somewhere between $45 to $110. Most books can only be entered for about a year within their date of publication. They all come with one guarantee: If you don’t enter you don’t win.

I felt Mary Weaver’s story was unique and had strong take-away value. If it could win any place in any award category it would help us to sell the book. I researched the various awards, their categories, and deadlines. I looked at Amazon descriptions of books that had won the awards in recent years and tried to sense if our book would stand a fighting chance of winning. Then I chose four contests that I felt were a good fit for our book.

Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year Award  specializes in books that are self-published or published by small publishers. Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY’s)  has a lot of competition in their larger categories, but they have a regional category for the Midwest that I felt we could stand a chance in. Illumination Book Awards  has an Enduring Light Medal for books with a Christian worldview that have been published since 2000.

I won’t hear final results for most of these contests until early 2015, but if we win any place in any award, we can use it to sell our books.

 

[Image courtesy of Anna Subbotina/Deposit Photos.]