Monday, October 10, 2016

Rake in the Savings & Kindle Giveaway

Kindle Giveaway and E book Sale 
Brought to you by CIAN and the CIA Christian Women's Writers Club
Don't have a Kindle?  Then enter to win a shiny new Kindle from the good folks at CIAN and CWW. Entering is simple. You'll find the link to contest below.  We've got some great books on sale and if you want to learn more about these groups you can do that also at the CIAN website link below.

Click here to find the Rafflecopter to enter to win the Kindle and to see the great books we have on sale!!!


Thursday, May 19, 2016

We'd like to thank the Writing Truth blog for sharing their review
with us you can find Writing Truth here
Writing truth in many different genres from novels,
 to poetry, to book reviews. . .

Landlords and Tenants and their Circumstances

EVICTED by Matthew Desmond   
I was drawn to Evicted by my own circumstances. I had made friends with a poor family living about an hour away. We hosted their daughter’s 18th birthday party and invited her to live with us while she attended school. When they were losing their 9780553447439home through financial ignorance (they thought they could pay ahead and then stop paying for a while), I offered to sell them a property which I was preparing to rent—to sell it to them on land contract because they had bad credit: no bank accounts, no credit cards. In the back of my mind I carried the idea that everyone should be given the opportunity to own their own home. After all, isn’t that the American dream? What this family lacked in financial stability, they had in friendship. There was nothing they would not do to help me, going out of the way to find a part for one of my appliances, offering to mow my lawn, not asking for anything at all in return. I believed that I could give them the means to improve their lives financially, to learn how to make regular payments, to gain an asset, and ultimately to qualify for a bank loan.

My assumptions were that someone acquiring ownership in a home would improve the home. I also assumed that a friend would make regular monthly payments and would follow through on everything they promised to do. Both of these assumptions proved false. After about 5 months, the payments stopped. I gave them more time—a few months and then confronted them. They told me about a work injury and hung their heads in shame. I gave them even more time and told them that I would not throw them out because of an unforeseen injury. Now, 20 missed payments later and a trashed house, I must do something, but how can I throw out a mother and three minor children? Even though I no longer trust the mother (who is now divorcing the father), what about the children who have not only lost the stability of a two-parent household but now might lose their friends, their teachers, their coaches, and their school? What might an eviction cost them? It sickened me to think of evicting these children whose birthdays I had celebrated, baseball performances I had cheered, and who had cut and colored my hair. Their mother cleaned my vacation rental in the area and their father performed carpentry and other work for me. I had an entanglement that is far more complex than the ordinary landlord/tenant relationship.

The stress of my decision convinced me to read and review the book Evicted. Maybe it would give me a different perspective. Maybe it would help me understand people who seem so irresponsible and uncaring. Maybe it would help me find other options.

The book was not as I expected from a major publisher. Cheap paper and large print do not create a pleasant reading experience. I only hope that the copy I have is not the final version. However as bad as the paper felt, I quickly forgot it when I encountered the real people within the book, landlords trying to make a living and provide for Milwaukee’s poor and tenants who take measures that seem reasonable only to themselves. This is an ethnography, a book relating a culture through the eyes of the people within it.

EVICTED follows the stores of 2 landlords and several tenants in a poor section of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One landlord, a former elementary school teacher buys distressed properties and with her husband fixes them well enough to rent to the poorest of the poor. She and her husband work full time on their properties and bring in about $10,000/month. When a tenant fell behind, she said, “I guess I got to stop feeling sorry for these people because nobody is feeling sorry for me. Last time I checked, the [county treasurer, loan officer, electric company] still wanted their money.” My feelings exactly. Doesn’t my tenant realize that I have bills to pay? The other landlord profiled in EVICTED owned a trailer park and had hired a manager and office helper to rent the trailers, handle repairs, and collect rents. This is not part of my experience and as I read about the drug dealers renting in the trailer park, it was as though I was peering into an alternate reality. I simply could not relate to someone whose only interest was achieving the highest return on his property with no concern for the quality of his tenants or his properties, or what extreme measures were taken to collect rent. Still, it was an education to see the lengths to which he went to get cash in hand from a defaulting tenant. The author rented from him and could not even get this landlord to supply him with hot water. That’s my definition of a slumlord.

All of the tenants were low income, but shared little else in common. Most of them were desperate to provide for their children. Some of the tenants were on drugs; others would not touch drugs, and still others were recreational marijuana users. These were people who could not plan for the future, who simply spent each day trying to survive. Those who made paying rent a priority often had little left to live on, and found themselves scrimping on food, medications, and clothing.

And the landlords? One had the time (and money) for week-long island vacations, but found herself scrimping the last week of the month—a week before the rents would roll in. Some landlords would not rent to people of color, people with children, or people who had even a single eviction on their record. Evicted shows us the landlord using self-help means to collect rent: knocking on doors the day welfare checks arrive, showing up at odd hours with hands out, asking for money, going to court and working out a settlement . . . or not, and then the sheriff and moving company walk in, empty the house of all items down to the ice cube trays, leaving a pile at the curb, or in storage where the tenants’ treasured belongings remain in rented storage space until redeemed, or more likely, until rent goes unpaid and the things are sold or discarded.

Landlords get tired—tired of handling evictions, tired of fixing broken plumbing and appliances. Tired of physically knocking on doors to collect rent. Tired of tenants who make empty promises to pay in full when their income tax refund comes in, or from money borrowed from a tapped out relative, or when they receive their welfare check. These promises are recycled in various forms at various times by various tenants trying to stay in their homes. Landlords hear them at the eviction hearing where the tenants try one last time to convince the landlords to give them more time.

The tenants are tired, too, and overwhelmed. Instead of fixing a constantly clogged kitchen sink, they just ignore it, throwing old clothes on the floor to soak up the overflow. They close the kitchen door and do dishes in the bathroom, until that sink clogs. The heat fails and they turn on stove burners. The toilet fails and they go in a bucket and empty it into the trash. The refrigerator fails and they live on McDonalds. When children’s services comes calling, they purchase cheap half-working appliances just to keep their children. Why do they do this? To avoid any contact with the landlord to whom they owe money. And no, this is not the heart of Appalachia, this is Milwaukee, Wisconsin a major metropolitan area.

In Milwaukee, as in every American city, we see families forced to endure sub-standard housing, living in shelters, searching for the elusive “home.” This book isn’t even about home ownership, but about the ability to have a safe and stable housing situation. Ownership is too far away from many people to be even a glimmer in their minds, but a safe and stable living situation is their desired goal. They scramble to find rent by begging, borrowing, and stealing, selling drugs, and even their own bodies. The author allows us to peer into their world and see “solutions” that are not working and the desperate search for housing.

I had never considered the author’s idea, statistically supported, that neighborhoods have a life of their own which can be fragile. We in the “burbs” enfold ourselves in subdivisions where houses and yards look similar and we have our “standards.” But inner city neighborhoods are formed from people who have a common interest. When people remain in a neighborhood and get to know their neighbors, they can band together for the safety of their homes and children. One man in the book was struggling to raise his two teenage sons in a stable environment. He was a double amputee but was unable to obtain Social Security disability payments. He survived on welfare payments, with next to nothing left over after his rent payment. Despite his circumstances, his place was where the neighborhood teenagers would come to hang out in safety, play cards, and talk about growing up. He was a stabilizing influence on his block. When people are shunted in and out of a neighborhood through eviction (or foreclosure) the neighborhoods become unstable and unsafe. Drug users and sellers move in, gangs are formed, and crimes increase. Stable neighborhoods, where people can move in and out freely and are not evicted or otherwise forced out of their homes, are safer and make the entire community safer. The author believes that decent housing should be a basic right afforded to all people for the common good.

The current system is broken. That’s clear. No one can survive in northern winters and no one should have to survive without a safe place to lay their heads. Landlords cannot give away rental property. They should and must make money from their investments. And tenants are not all the same. Some will treat property well and even improve its value. Others will allow their children to run wild, tattooing hardwood doors and trim with ball point pens, tearing doors from their hinges, smashing holes in the drywall. Discouraged tenants live in squalor and disgruntled landlords give up performing more than make-do repairs and just go after the money.

The solution offered by the author, vouchers or rent subsidies, does not currently work because landlords can and do raise the rent above what is customary in the locale simply because the voucher authority sets high rent caps. In many cases, access to vouchers are limited—many poor cannot get them and the program sets standards for the housing which might exceed a landlord’s improvement budget, especially in older homes. The author’s solution would require universal vouchers for every family below a certain income level, less onerous requirements for landlords to accept the vouchers, and a demand that all landlords accept vouchers. But who will fund this? It’s been successful in England and the Netherlands, but those are small countries. Is some legislator in the United States willing to try? Or could there be a better solution?

Something must be done. I’m almost persuaded to leave the rental market due to the stress of broken relationships and a trashed property that I put so much time, energy, and money into making beautiful and up to code. On the other hand, my erstwhile friend and her three children need a safe place to stay. Maybe the electric companies have the right solution. The poor can pay drastically lower utility bills through a program that gives them an incentive to make regular on-time payments. For each payment (at about 10% of income), the remainder of what they would owe each month is forgiven and they have a percentage of their payment applied to past debt. But how many of the poor keep up the utility payments? The utility company has an out. They can turn off their service. Landlords’ only recourse is to convince a defaulting tenant to move or to evict them. And there is no evidence that the utilities have success with their program. If someone will not pay rent for more than a few months, perhaps they will also stop paying for their utilities. Maybe we landlords can come up with something better for tenants who fall behind. I don’t know what that may be, but private solutions are often better than ones provided by the state. Just look at public housing.

This book was provided to me free for an unbiased review. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Want to read more? For current information on the US rental market:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Interview: B.J. Robinson

We hope that you enjoy this Interview: B.J. Robinson and we'd like to thank Pamela Cable King for sharing her interview with us. 

Azalea NPI am delighted to have Author B.J. Robinson here on the blog today for an interview, B.J. is the author of several novels including her latest civil war era romance – Azalea Plantation.
1.) When did you decide to become a writer? In other words, what made you actually sit down and write something?
I wrote a story in the third grade about my pet dog, and it was published in the local newspaper. After that, I wrote poems and played at writing songs. In college, my first essay was published in another local newspaper, and I won first prize in fiction-writing competition. My short story was published in the university’s literary magazine. That influenced me to write more and confirmed for me that I could.
2.) Every writer is eventually asked this question, but where do your ideas come from?
Life. Family. Friends. News. Music. Nature. Scripture. Experience. Vacations. Travel. Reading other books. Why do you write what you do? I enjoy writing romantic suspense because it combines romance and mystery. I read every Nancy Drew mystery I could get my hands on as a young girl and loved mysteries. I also enjoy writing historical romance because it combines romance and history, and I love the antebellum era.
3.) Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?
I never outline. I like writing by the seat of my pants and seeing where an idea takes me, but I do have a vague plot in my head when I begin. I might write a couple of paragraphs about my characters and setting and their main conflict and go from there. How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I am experiencing with using a storyboard though I have not used one before. I’m trying the process on my WIP. Though writers never arrive and are always evolving, I have broadened into research with my historical romance novels, and I use more details. I enjoy books with multiple viewpoints because I find them more interesting and deeper, and those are the ones I like to write. When I look back at my older writing, I can see how far I’ve come.
4.) What is the hardest thing about the creative process of writing?
I don’t find the creative process of writing hard in itself because I love to write, but there are times just getting started is hard. I don’t mean starting the first chapter, but just sitting down and starting. There are times I can find a million other things I need to do instead of write. I have to make myself get started and once I do, the writing usually flows.
If you’re a Christian, what are the challenges you believe Christian writers face now and in the future?
I couldn’t write a book and leave God out of it. Yes, I’m a Christian. I believe Christians face the greatest challenge of hooking a reader in the beginning because so many won’t give a Christian book a chance unless they’re other Christians. The world is turned off to our books and many will not buy them because they’re a Christian book, so they don’t even give your book or your writing a chance. Readers may not read enough of a novel to give it a fair chance or may shut the book and not read it at all. If you would, please tell us what was the hardest thing about writing your last book? The hardest thing was making the timing work with the plot and that can be the tricky part of writing historical fiction. I can sit and just write a contemporary or a romantic suspense novel and spin one out, but it takes longer to write historical ones. How long does it typically take you to finish your books? It depends on the type of book. If I am writing contemporary or romantic suspense, and I make myself focus and write every single day, I can complete one of about 50,000 words in a month. If I’m writing a historical novel, I have to research and make the timing and plot work so it takes longer, but I can write one in a couple of months taking my time. If I push myself, I can write one in about six weeks, but I don’t usually do that.
5.) Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.
One is not being able to submit a manuscript without an agent since my writing has improved. Years ago, you could, but back then my writing wasn’t what it is now, and publishers no longer accept manuscripts without an agent. Two, getting an agent can be as hard as finding a publisher. I no longer worry about that since Amazon opened the doors, and I self publish. I did have four novels published by a small publisher before I went into self-publishing, and I learned so much from that experience and from editing them again after an editor had sent back my changes. I also learned from being in a critique group. Three, marketing and advertising are the hardest parts, and I could write more if I didn’t have to spend so much time on those areas, but when you self-publish, you have to do it all. Even authors published with publishers have to.
6.) On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?
I love being able to just cast out all worries, sit down, and let the words flow as they may, using a spiral notebook and blue medium-point pen. That’s when I am really creative. I don’t seem to be as creative sitting in front of the computer and keying in words. So, I might take to the notebook a bit in the middle of a novel to spice it up. That is when I really have fun writing, when I can just sit down and write.
7.) What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?
Pamela King Cable, you’re one of my favorite authors because of your southern writing. I loved Southern Fried Women. Televenge was awesome, and I can’t wait for The Sanctum. Readers are in for a real treat with it. I love the way you take a person back and make them feel like they’re in that time and place, and I love southern writing. Chris Fabry’s writing attracted me with his novel Dogwood. I’ve enjoyed Eva Marie Everson’s work because she also writes southern fiction. Naomi Musch writes books using nature, and she’s a wonderful writer. Stephenia H. McGee writes historical romances I’ve enjoyed. There are really too many to name them all, and I have an iPad full of great books I haven’t even had the time to get to. I keep buying them because I’m a reader as well as a writer, and I usually take some time off between books and read. I am reading The Sanctum as soon as I can get it on my iPad. I’ve read Rita Geralch’s After the Rain, and really enjoyed it. I’ve read Sid Frost’s series about a mobile library and loved them. One of the most recent ones I’ve read and really enjoyed because of the writing style was The Badge and the Bible by Terry Burns. I’ve been busy writing my own series and have been reading Christian nonfiction lately and reading research. I am not in the middle of a novel at this time, but I am waiting for Stephenia H. McGee’s new historical and The Sanctum to come out so I can read them.
8.) If you would like and have the time, write a paragraph or two about anything you wish.
It was just an eight-dollar Bible, but it was so much more valuable, for it led me back to Jesus. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with a thirst and couldn’t get enough. Through tears, I felt God’s Comforter, the Holy Ghost, like a hand on my right shoulder, and I knew I’d never be alone again. (Nonfiction)
Lexie stood at the balcony railing with Mary in her arms watching a trail of smoke curl into the cloudless blue sky. Her heart thudded. She wanted to scream, but the sound didn’t come. The explosion shook the ground so hard windows rattled in the southern mansion. (From the beginning of Plantation Restored, Book 3 in the Azalea Plantation Series, which will release early summer or sooner.)

About B.J.:

B. J. Robinson loves reading and penning Civil War era historical romance as well as various other genres to provide choice for readers. She’s an Amazon best-selling author and has written over twenty books. Blessed with five children, thirteen grandchildren, and pets, her three dogs and one cat are part of the family. Visit her on Amazon, her Facebook for Historical Romance, her Facebook for Inspirational and Romantic Suspense, Twitter and her Blog

Saturday, May 14, 2016

When your husband has a heart attack

Recently my husband experienced a heart attack followed by open heart surgery. I'm sharing this account of our experience with the CIAN readers as it may be helpful for others who have gone through this experience or for those who know people who have. 

When Your Husband has a HEART Attack 
Two weeks ago today Monday February 1 started out like any ordinary Monday. When my husband was ready to leave the house for work he gave me a kiss good-bye. I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me too. Then I asked him to be careful driving to work. He said he would. Not long after he left I started to get myself ready for that day. I got my kids lunch ready for school that day. I took my kid to school came back home. When I got home I started doing my usual. Take the dog out to use the bathroom, get my breakfast ready to eat and eventually open my laptop and do my normal Monday cleaning.

That Monday I did my normal routine with promoting my books, checking Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all those social media sites. I also did my normal chatting with my husband while he was at work. It's always nice for me to be able to chat with my husband while he's at work and I'm at home doing my thing. As the day went on everything went as usual. When it was time for me to pick up my daughter from school and take my son to basket ball practice, I let my husband know like I always do. He said his usual "okay be careful driving" and I said my usual "I will".

That afternoon while my daughter and I were waiting for my son to finish basket ball practice I received a text from my husband. He told me he wasn't feeling good so he was going to leave work early. I knew his ankle was hurting him that Monday morning so I didn't think anything of it. I just asked him to be careful driving home. He told me he would. When practice ended I received another text from him. That one said "Where are you ?!" My husband never sends me a text like that so right away I knew something was wrong. How wrong I didn't know, but I knew something was wrong. So I called him to find out what was going on. My husband told me he was heading to Urgent Care at a local Hospital and that our oldest daughter was driving him. He told me to meet them there.

Again I asked him what was wrong. He told me he wasn't sure, but he might be having a heart attack.  A HEART ATTACK, what do you mean a heart attack was all I could think. So I got my kids into our car as fast as I could and told them what was going on. Half way home I got another phone call from my oldest daughter. She told me he was being rushed by ambulance to another Hospital. At this point I was scared. I mean I was SCARED!  At this point I needed to get me and our other two kids home so my husbands brother, wife and mom could get me to the Hospital to see my Husband.

When we finally got to the second Hospital, Ellis-- my sister-in-law helped me get from one part of the Hospital to the part where they had my husband. After a few minutes they finally let me see my husband. There he was laying in a bed with one of their Hospital gowns on and some tubes in his arms. I practically ran over to him crying asking him what happened. He told me he had a heart attack. I asked him why he did that and no I wasn't being serious, it was just something I did. He told me didn't know. We stayed there for a few minutes till the were ready to put him in his own ICU room.

Once they had him all settled they let me see him again for a little while. I couldn't believe my husband had a heart attack and was now in the Hospital. To me my husband always seemed like the type of person who couldn't be touch by something like that. He was to stubborn of a man in my point of view for something like that to happen. We talked to the doctors and found out what his best options were.

We also wanted to know what caused this heart attack. Was it him being over weight? Was it the foods he was eating? No, none of that did it to my husband. The doctor told us it was basically family genetics. Because there are heart problems are both sides of his family he was at high risk to have a heart attack at some point in his life. We were told he needed to have a quadruple bypass surgery. That's a lot of bypasses!

I wanted to stay with my husband, but I also have three kids and a house that need taking care of. So reluctantly that Monday night two weeks ago I went home scared and lonely. When I got to my bed room that night I looked at our bed. My husband wasn't in it waiting for me like he is every night. I didn't want to sleep in our bed by myself. I knew I had no choice. I also didn't want to sleep in the dark with out my husband. So for one week I slept by myself in our bed with our closet light on. I slept curled up in the middle using my husband pillow while our dog slept at the end of our bed.

That week my oldest and I spent every day with my husband in the Hospital while my other two kids were in school. And that week I cried myself to sleep alone in our bed missing my husband something terrible. Thanks to technology I was able to text with my husband that week and I even go to facetime with him a couple of times to say good night. I had decided the easiest way to keep our family and friends in formed with what was happening each day was to post it on Facebook. With each status I asked everyone to keep praying for my husband with the Bible verse 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray with out ceasing.

My husband and I were seriously over whelmed by all the people letting us know they were praying for a safe surgery and speedy recovery. We were over whelmed with how many people came to visit him in the Hospital before and after his surgery. We were even more over whelmed by the love and support his job showed to us. Everything had us in tears. To the point sometimes that we couldn't even read the replies from our family and friends on Facebook.

I am very happy to say that my husbands quadruple bypass was a successful surgery and he was allowed to come home one day early. He does have to take a bunch of meds now, but that sure does beat the alternative. He is recovering faster then anyone anticipated I think. Yes, he will have his bad days. That is to be expected,but so far he is doing good.

I have to say before his surgery there were things that he did that annoyed my like snoring. Now after his heart attack and surgery, I'm thankful I can hear it. It means he's there next to me in bed sleeping. Where he belongs. My husband's heart attack taught me not to take the little things for granted. It taught me that stuff like snoring isn't important. What is important is that HE is alive and with me. He is healing. He is my everything and I love him. We are in this marriage for better or for worse and I am doing my best to make this worse part better. Maybe not better, but I can make the best out of a bad situation. I love my husband and would do anything for him. His heart attack scared me. I am beyond thankful that God watched over my husband and spared his life through this heart attack and surgery.

I pray that we get to spend the next fifty plus years together in good times and in bad times.

Kathleen Smith is an independent author and blogger. You can read more from her at

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Recovering From Major Surgery

I'm sharing this account of my husband's recovery from heart surgery for the CIAN readers in the hopes it will help you understand more of what someone goes through in this process.

Recovering From Major Surgery
If you read my blog last week then you know that on February first my husband had a heart attack. You also know about that days events through my eyes leading up to his heart attack. And you know about his quadruple bypass surgery and my feelings through out that entire week. Today's blog is about my husbands recovery so far. 

It's been a little over two weeks now since he had his quadruple bypass surgery. We can't believe all that took place a little over two weeks now, but it did. I am happy to say that my husband is doing well. The first week he was home he needed to learn how to sit down and get up from both our love seat and recliner with only using his legs and feet. This wasn't an easy thing to do. He held on to the heart shaped pillow he was given so he wouldn't use his arms at all. I am happy to say that he has mastered this technique. He is also doing very well at going up and down stairs. The getting in and out of bed is still a tiny bit difficult, but now he doesn't need my help with that anymore.

I am also pleased to say that the incision on his chest is healing nicely. I have to admit when I first saw his incision in the Hospital it gave me the shivers. I couldn't get rid of those shivers either. Every time I either thought about it or looked at it I started shivering. Then I felt bad about getting the shivers and started apologizing a lot. Thankfully my husband understood. I am happy to say that those shivers are almost gone now! 

Right now I think my husbands biggest "thing" is how much he sleeps. Since his surgery he has been sleeping a lot. This doesn't bother me any. I figure since he did have major surgery he's going to be tired. This being tired and sleeping a lot isn't something he likes though. From the sounds of everything he has read, this is not an uncommon thing. We figure in a couple of weeks that tired sleepy feeling will go away. 

This past week to help with his recovery we went to the Mall almost every day. This might sound like a strange thing to do after a person has had major surgery, but it was the easiest and best way for my husband to get his walking in. We managed to get one - two laps in the mall each day on both the upper and lower levels. He did very good with his walking. We stopped when he needed to and moved on when he was ready to walk again. By the time we got back to the car for me to drive us home he was tired. While I drove home he slept. 

If anyone remembers me talking about his snoring in last weeks blogs and how I missed it while he was in the hospital and how I realized to be thankful for the little things like snoring,well... A couple of nights this past week was a bit hard on my sleeping with my husbands snoring. It was louder then usual and when I say louder, I mean LOUDER. I wasn't sure what to do about it. I didn't want to go against what I wrote and start being annoyed with my husband again. So I decided to wait it out and I played some games on my iPad. Once his snoring became quiet enough I got some sleep. When I told my husband his snoring was keeping me up at night and why I didn't do anything about it we both got a good laugh out of it. He did apologize for his snoring, but I knew he couldn't help it.

So, Yes I am very happy to say that my husband is doing well from his surgery. We are both looking forward to the recovery part being done and over with so we can get back to normal. Although I don't know if things will ever be a completely normal again, we certainly can do our best to try. I am so, so thankful for my husband and do love him with all my heart. I am so thankful that his recovery is going as well as it is and I pray that God continues to watch over my husband and his recovery from this major surgery.

Kathleen Smith is an independent author and blogger. You can read more from her at

Monday, May 9, 2016

Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God With All Thy Heart, Soul, Mind, Might or Strength

reading boy 

Solomon described this same amount of effort to acquire wisdom. Wisdom is of utmost importance, therefore get wisdom, and with all your effort work to acquire understanding. (Proverbs 4:7 ISV) Everyone knows the rigorous training the military puts their recruits through. The training of professional athletes is on billboards, TV and radio ads is deeply ingrained in every culture, ancient and modern. Olympic athletes train their entire lives. And just putting forth the effort is not enough. It is the way they train, the techniques, the coaching, and the encouragement from others.

But we as Christians simply “add Jesus” to our already busy, overcrowded lives. The Messiah might even be the most important part or the most important person in our lives. But do we put all of our effort into pleasing Him?

One aspect is knowing His Word. If God makes His Word available to us, that comes with the obligation of studying it and becoming familiar with it.

That includes setting aside regular time in it. A second aspect is the regular assembling together with other believers. When Jesus said, “where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20 ISV), he was not being figurative or allegorical. He meant what He said.

 Another aspect is regular prayer. The context of Matthew 18:20 is asking God. That is prayer. I tell you with certainty, whatever you prohibit on earth will have been prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will have been permitted in heaven. Furthermore, I tell you with certainty that if two of you agree on earth about anything you request, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven, because where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:18-20 ISV)

Another aspect is by continued obedience to become skillful. In fact, though by now you should be teachers, you still need someone to teach you the basic truths of God's word. You have become people who need milk instead of solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is still a baby and does not yet know the difference between right and wrong. But solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14 ISV)

Often being able to distinguish good from evil requires being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. Evil is clever, sophisticated, seductive, enticing, knowledgeable, desirable. Evil is everything you have always wanted and includes wonders we did not even know about. Lucifer (light bearer) was the anointed Cherub, clothed with dazzling jewels fixed in engraved gold settings. The light bearer in his shining clothes walked among the fiery stones.

The last and most important aspect of loving the Messiah is to guard our own hearts. Every king of Israel, without any exception, fell into sin. Our accuser, Satan was once perfect. Your heart grew arrogant because of your beauty; you annihilated your own wisdom because of your splendor. (Ezekiel 28:17 ISV)

 I do all this for the sake of the gospel in order to have a share in its blessings. You know that in a race all the runners run but only one wins the prize, don't you? You must run in such a way that you may be victorious. Everyone who enters an athletic contest practices self-control in everything. They do it to win a wreath that withers away, but we run to win a prize that never fades. That is the way I run, with a clear goal in mind. That is the way I fight, not like someone shadow boxing. No, I keep on disciplining my body, making it serve me so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:23-27 ISV)

We must be properly motivated and trained, but the most well-trained and properly-motivated athlete can disqualify himself. Life does not consist of recommendations and resumes, but accomplishments. But if we disqualify ourselves, sin will negate our accomplishments. So whether we are at home or away from home, our goal is to be pleasing to him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of the Messiah, so that each of us may receive what he deserves for what he has done in his body, whether good or worthless. (2 Corinthians 5:9, 10 ISV)

Blog link  
Michael J. Findley is the author of the ancient history series Ephron the Hittite. Meet the man who met Abraham.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

We Said “YES” To Homeschooling

We Said “YES” To Homeschooling

The option of homeschooling has been around as long as school itself. There used to be stacks of paper and workbooks. It was the parent's job to be the teacher and ‘expert’ on everything. Well, that was my view, anyway. I have never been confident in my skills to properly teach my kids all that they would need to know. I did not want to do anything to prevent them from excelling in every aspect of their lives. But, we found out some new and exciting information and about two weeks ago my 15 year old daughter and I decided to say “yes” to homeschooling.

Here is why:

  • All of her courses are 100% online – no paper, except the notes she takes to help her study
  • She is in complete control of her education
  • She has deadlines to meet each week: to teach her how to manage her time wisely
  • She is able to learn at her own pace
  • She has access to a wide variety of courses to go along with her core classes that a public school may not have at the high school level (Criminology for example – she loves it!)
  • She has easy access to her instructors via message or email
  • The program is through her high school

This means she has access to the school’s resources
- Teachers who will meet with her as needed for hands on help, she just signs in at school and goes to the computer lab
- A laptop to borrow
- Their library
- She can still attend school functions (sports, choir, pep rallies, dances, graduation etc.)
- All final exams are proctored at the school library to cover all state regulations to ensure there are no issues with her receiving credit for all of her courses.
Our experience with homeschooling has been very positive, thus far. We love the flexibility of her schedule. It gives us time for things like doctor’s and dentist’s appointments and eliminates the worry about snow days. She can work anywhere there is wi-fi and any time of day. She has enjoyed it so much that she has even worked ahead in some of her classes.

Every school district is different, so if you are considering homeschooling, research by contacting the school and checking out their options. Consider how your child learns best and their personality. Most kids respond positively to a classroom environment with scheduled events and routines. Homeschooling is not for everyone.
Every child is different and may even tell you how they prefer to learn. It gives them a sense of empowerment to be part of the decision and can build their confidence. Giving them this choice may also improve their interest in school and learning. Hopefully, there will be sense of responsibility to meet the deadlines and guidelines. Most kids do well with this as long as they have someone at home to consistently be accountable to. So don’t be afraid to take an interest and be involved.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Interview: Luana Ehrlich

I hope you enjoy this interview from one of our CIAN Authors. Luana Ehrlich
I'd like to thank Pamela King Cable for sharing her interview with us.

1. When did you decide to become a writer? In other words, what made you actually sit down and write something?
A: As soon as I learned to read and began to devour books, I started to dream of becoming a writer. I even decided I would write under another name, and I chose the name Pam Black, because I thought mine was too difficult for people to remember. Now, I love my slightly unconventional name, but I did include Pam Black as a minor character in one of my novels.
I finally decided to put pen to paper (or to open up my laptop) when my husband retired from a long-time pastorate. Since I wasn’t as involved in his ministry, I found I could finally indulge my love of writing.
2. Every writer is eventually asked this question, but where do your ideas come from? Why do you write what you do?
A: The idea for my series, Titus Ray Thrillers, and the first book in the series, One Night in Tehran, came after I heard about the persecution of Christians in Iran about five years ago. Because I’ve always been an avid reader of mysteries and thrillers, I knew my first book would be in this genre. However, when I heard about the Iranian Christians, I began asking several questions, which eventually became the plotline of the book. I wondered what would happen if a veteran CIA intelligence operative in Tehran encountered a group of Iranian Christians and became a believer. How would his conversion affect his career? How would a man trained to lie and deceive others be able to follow the teachings of Christ in the real world? My series developed around this character and the plotlines have expanded because of asking these questions.
3. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you? How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
A: I’m not a plotter; I’m more of a pantser. That is, even though I have an idea of where I want the book to take me, I don’t make an outline, except for writing down a paragraph or two. In other words, I “fly by the seat of my pants.” Mine are suspense novels, and I like to be kept in suspense. Creatively, I believe I’ve evolved by being able to envision my characters without the necessity of searching for images of potential characters on Google, something I did in my first book.
4. What is the hardest thing about the creative process of writing? If you’re a Christian, what are the challenges you believe Christian writers face now and in the future? If you would, please tell us what was hardest thing about writing your last book? How long does it typically take you to finish your book?
A: The hardest part of the creative process of writing is knowing how much information the reader should be given in order to be able to stay interested in the plot. There’s a fine line between too much information and too little. That was the hardest part of writing my last book, Two Days in Caracas. This probably comes from enjoying the research aspect of writing. For example, while I found out some fascinating information about the features available on a yacht, I wasn’t sure my readers would feel the same way. Christian writers always face the challenge of how much of the gospel message to include. I always try to keep in mind I’m writing an espionage thriller and not another book of the Bible. All three of my books have taken me a year to write, because I’m an incessant editor.
5. Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.
A: My three biggest frustrations about the business of writing is the need for constant promotion, the amount of money needed for promotion, and the time it takes away from writing to do promotion.
6. On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?
A: By far the most exciting part of the creative process is character creation. I love seeing how my characters interact with each other, what comes out about their backgrounds, and how the story simply emerges from their personalities.
7. What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?
A: Although I don’t have much time for reading while I’m in the middle of writing, I try to read at least one fiction book and one non-fiction book. My present fiction book is Radiant Angel by Nelson DeMille and my non-fiction is J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. Naturally, my favorite authors are in the mystery/thriller genre and include, Daniel Silva, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, James Patterson, and Nelson DeMille. There are dozens more, of course.
8. Tell us a little about your books:
A: One Night in Tehran introduces veteran CIA intelligence officer, Titus Ray, who, after being hidden away in Tehran for three months by a group of Iranian Christians, returns to the States determined to explore the life of faith he saw exhibited by these dedicated believers. Back in the States and forced to go on medical leave, Titus learns he’s been targeted by Hezbollah assassin, Ahmed Al-Amin. Now, while trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Christ, he must decide if the Iranian couple he meets in Norman, Oklahoma has ties to the assassin, and if Nikki Saxon, a local detective, can be trusted with his secrets. You can view the Book Trailer here.
One Night in Tehran
Purchase One Night in Tehran here in either print, Kindle or audio book format.
Two Days in Caracas, the second book in the Titus Ray Thriller series, follows Titus as he travels from Costa Rica to Caracas in an effort to stop Ahmed Al-Amin from assassinating a high-profile government official. Along the way, a family crisis jeopardizes his mission, and an Agency employee threatens to destroy his career. As the danger mounts, he’s forced to partner with an untested operative to complete the mission and bring Ahmed to justice. You can view the Book Trailer here.
Two Days in Caracas
Purchase Two Days in Caracas here in either print, Kindle or audio book format.
Three Weeks in Washington will be published in mid-June 2016. This third book in the series has Titus racing across two continents in an attempt to prevent a chemical weapons attack on Washington, D.C. Then, in a strange twist of events, he jeopardizes his own career at the Agency by exposing an Iranian deep-cover operative, who has close ties to the Washington elite.
9. Where can we find you on social media?
A: I’m all over social media. Here are my links:
Personal Website
Book Website
About.Me10. Tell us a little about yourself.

Luana EhrlichA: I grew up as a preacher’s kid, and, although it may surprise some people, it was actually my dad who gave me my first spy novel when I was eleven years old. After that, I was hooked on the thriller/suspense/mystery genre forever. I’m also a news fanatic, and I follow events around the world on a daily basis, particularly the Middle East.

I married a minister, and we’ve lived in several states in the South and Midwest and have served as missionaries in Costa Rica and Venezuela. For the past two decades, we’ve lived in Norman, Oklahoma, where my husband has been the senior minister at a Baptist church.

For the past several years, I’ve been writing for Baptist Press, a national news service for Baptists, where I’ve written stories about the experiences of newly converted Christians. And, in a similar fashion, when we lived in Indiana, I wrote a weekly column for The Indiana Baptist, which told the stories of ordinary people who became followers of Christ and was entitled, “A Story To Tell.” I belong to several organizations for writers, including the American Christian Fiction Writers.   I am blessed to be the mother of a beautiful daughter and grandmother of two outstanding grandsons, who live in the Norman area.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Winning the Heart Attack Lottery

Winning the Heart Attack Lottery

Last week I wrote about my husbands recovery from major surgery. The week before that I wrote about his heart attack and surgery through my eyes. Today’s blog is being written by my husband so he can share with you all his personal account of HIS heart attack. 

Two things i am disappointed with. First, the clock in the ambulance was broke. It was just a small wall clock hanging on the wall in the ambulance—but I noted the battery had expired. Second, I remained conscious on the way to the hospital. I had thought a major medical event would give me the opportunity to not be aware and awake during the event. But I was aware and awake.
Let’s start at the beginning. I knew I was going to win the cancer lottery or heart problem lottery sometime soon. I expected it to be sometime in my 40s or early 50s and hoped to catch it before it caught me.

Two months shy of my 40th birthday it caught me. I was sitting at work when I felt “awful” — I started sweating and the outside of my left chest down to my bicep began to ache. In addition my left arm felt “cold” — An older brother of mine had heart issues so I knew it was a possibility but the sign I always looked for was breathing issues. I took a deep breath, and it was no problem. I still had the other symptoms but I could breathe fine. So I decided to take a little walk— you know, “walk it off”

Perhaps here is where the less than optimal decisions started. Or perhaps it was earlier.
A little more than a year earlier I sat at a friends house on New Years eve and decided I needed to drop some weight before I turned 40. I had 15 months. I went from a high of 310 lbs in December of 2013 to 275 lbs by February 1st of 2015. That was exciting progress.

Let’s get back to the afternoon of February 1st. It didn’t go away when I walked it off. So next try— wait it out. I asked a good friend at work to stop over to my office because I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything serious — I just needed him to sit with me for a few minutes. He kindly did this and I felt “better” (The sweating stopped and I just had the pain). My conclusion: I should drive home.

So I did the thirty minute drive home (one handed, because my left arm still felt odd) and considered multiple times just driving over to the hospital. I made it home, went in and lay down on the couch. I then suggested to my 20 year old daughter that perhaps we could go for a quick jaunt to the local emergency room. I really desired to just ‘push through it’ — but at some level I understood that wasn’t the correct course of action.

Let’s be honest, there are more than two things I was disappointed with. The symptoms don’t match the book. (Or the “google”). I had no breathing issues—and one symptom of a heart attack is “a feeling of impending doom” — I did not have this symptom. Disappointment. I was wondering exactly how that one worked.

She drove me 20 minutes west to the nearest Hospital (we found the urgent care before we found the ER — so we went with it). It has always fascinated me to watch medical personnel react to symptoms and situations. When the number of personnel in a room starts to multiply it seems to indicate a raise in severity level. Nitro under the tongue, machines hooked up everywhere—it started to move fast. Within minutes I was being loaded into an Ambulance and taken to Ellis Hospital (Back near where I worked). The fine folks from GAVAC took great care of me. We had fascinating conversation on our rapid trip to the Hospital.

It may have been more direct to go from Work straight to the hospital.
It may have been more direct to go from Work straight to the hospital.

Once at Ellis the fine physicians in the Cath Lab determined I had multiple blockages. I knew it had to be the extra weight I’ve had carried for the last twenty years. I’ve not smoked, drank, or experimented with legal or illegal drugs. To my disappointment (another one) the doctor informed me the amount of damage I had (3 arteries 100% blocked, plus one other also blocked) could not have been caused by weight. Or diet soda. Genetics appears to be the major culprit. Now don’t get me wrong— being overweight puts significant stress on the heart and does not help— but I would have been here eventually one way or the other — and it doesn’t seem like the timeline would have changed much.

The blockage was extensive so as my wife arrived at the hospital and we discussed what was going on it became clear that open heart surgery for a Bypass ( 3 or 4 ) would need to happen. I spent the next three days in the intensive care unit— i had great company from my wife and daughter and others and prepared for the eventual surgery.

On Friday, February 4, I went in for a “CABG” — Coronary Artery Bypass Graft — what ended up being a quadruple bypass. This part, thankfully, I was fully asleep for. By Friday evening they had me awake — and this was probably the most disturbing part of the experience for me. I was incubated so there was a tube down my throat and that was not at all comfortable. It was removed fairly quickly and by 6am the next morning the nurse had me out of bed and sitting in a chair. The average stay time for the surgery at this facility is 5 days. Because of my age and condition I was able to go home 4 days after the surgery.

My loving wife and tolerant children have been doing their best at taking care of me. Sometimes to my frustration—as they won’t let me do what I want all the time. However, I think I do need to learn to relax.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment is the lack of introspection. After an event like this I feel like I should have some serious introspection into life, purpose, and something. When I look at it as a whole—currently— I simply see the amazing hand of God taking me through a fascinating experience. I don’t recall being afraid, (other than that stupid breathing tube) but I do recall sitting back and thinking — “wonder what’s going to happen next”. I was concerned about my family if I didn’t make it, but I knew they would be taken care of and I recalculated my life insurance amount in my head to make sure they were financially safe.

Almost 2,000 years ago the apostle Luke transcribed these words of Jesus “And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” — I know God has a plan for me and my family, I understand sometimes I throw some stupidity into that plan (optimal hospital route….) — but I am content to sit back and see how God is going to work it out.

Perhaps in a few weeks or years I will have some more introspection. Or perhaps it was just an opportunity to see this process through. The surgeon tells me I should live long enough to have more heart problems. So perhaps next time I’ll have some more introspection. Don’t get me wrong—I’d be happy if next time was thirty or forty years away. This is horribly inconvenient.

I’ll add one more item— My employer has been beyond amazing! Not just the “company” as a whole but the staff working there. I am looking forward to returning to work as soon as possible and am looking forward to working with all those there again!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Strengthen Your Family by Turning Off Media on the Sabbath

 The photo credit goes to JWPhoto
Strengthen Your Family by Turning Off Media on the Sabbath
By Rachel Branton
Exodus 20:8—Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Years ago as a young mother of three, I loved Sundays. I was a full time author, but I didn’t work on the Sabbath, and I used Saturday to run errands, so on Sunday the only goal I had was attending church and resting up for the week. This rest usually involved some form of television. And why not? My brain had to work overtime all week. I deserved a day to tune everything out.
However, my three active children had other ideas. “Mommy, he’s hitting me!” one would say. Or, “That was so funny when . . .” Or, “What did he say, Mom? What does that mean?”

I’d find myself saying things like “Be quiet!” Or, “I told you already five times to stop standing in front of the TV!” And, “I’ll explain in a minute. Let me hear!” Or simply, “SHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”
My words were often sharp and impatient, and I’d yearn to lock myself away—or maybe run away. The Spirit I’d felt at church would invariably vanish, and I’d be annoyed at the precious children I’d brought into this world.

Does this sound familiar? If you’re a parent of young children or even teens, I bet it does. But you can carve out one day to find a little peace and strengthen your family at the same time.

One day at church, a man talked about how he had chosen to turn off all media in his home on Sunday, testifying what a difference it had made for his family. In a moment of stark truth, I understood that television was standing in the way of keeping that good feeling with me all day, and sharing it with my children. Of being with them and teaching them.

That day, I didn’t turn on the television. And all at once I wasn’t yelling at kids to sit down or to be quiet. We were playing board games together and reading books. We were wrestling, and tickling, and playing hide-and-seek. I thought I’d miss the televisions shows, but I didn’t. Not a single one because I’d found something better, something infinitely more precious.

As the years passed and my three children grew to seven, my husband and I chose to also exclude video games and non-religious music in our home on Sunday. Instead, we have dinner together at home, go for a walk, play board games, make treats to eat or take to neighbors, or just sit and talk. We don’t go shopping, and the children don’t go play with friends. Every now and then we watch videos of our family, and maybe a couple times a year, we’ll watch a family-oriented movie, but we limit this to something that will include all of us.

Some of my children are now married but they often visit, returning to this safe haven from the world. Sometimes when I look around at my family, eating cookies and laughing, I’m filled with an unspeakable joy at this little slice of heaven. It is this feeling that helps us endure the difficult challenges we’ve faced. I believe we would have never glimpsed such joy if we hadn’t set aside this day, not only to worship the Lord but also to connect with family.

What worked for our family may be different from yours, but following God’s commandments is a great place to start. Begin thinking about your Sabbath and what changes you could make to bring your family closer.

Please share in the comments below what you have done to help strengthen your family, especially on the Sabbath.

Rachel Branton grew up on a little farm where she loved to visit the solitary cow and collect (and juggle) the eggs, usually making it back to the house with most of them intact. On that same farm she once owned thirty-three gerbils and eighteen cats, not a good mix, as it turns out. She is now married, mostly grown up, and has seven kids, including an active four-year-old, so life at her house can be very interesting (and loud), but writing keeps her sane. She’s been known to wear pajamas all day when working on a deadline, and is often distracted enough to burn dinner. She writes romance and children’s books under the name Rachel Branton and science fiction and fantasy under the name Teyla Branton. You can learn more about her on her website.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV)

The Great Commission is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. Churches put it up in sanctuaries and kids memorize it in children's programs. We're all reminded on a regular basis that it's our job to go and make disciples of all nations. Wait. Hold on. We're supposed to be doing this? How? A new book from bestselling author Brad Francis seeks to answer those questions. Go Make Disciples: How Jesus Did It, How We Can Do It examines the life and ministry of Jesus to discover how Jesus turned His inner circle from followers into disciple makers who "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Brad searched the Gospels and identifies five different ways that Jesus made disciples—Example, Evaluation, Education, Equipping, and Experience—and suggests how we can adapt those same methods to modern life.

The book currently averages 4.8 stars on Amazon. One reviewer said, "If you learn best in a conversational style, talking one-on-one with a relatable mentor, then this book is a must-read for every believer." Another went out of their way to praise the writing: "This book is clear, understandable, and very easy to read, not at all a chore to plow through like some theology books. Francis has a humorous, down-to-earth, conversational writing style, and you will feel as though you are sitting right there with him as you read. I don't know when the last time was that I read a book this theologically sound, about this critical a spiritual issue, that was so interesting and entertaining that it just kept me turning pages."

You can find Go Make Disciples for most ebooks (including Kindle, Nook, and iBooks) and in paperback.

Plus! To celebrate the wide release, we're giving away two collections of Brad Francis' other books, which have all enjoyed time on Amazon bestseller lists: The Book of the Harvest, an inspiring short story about a man in heaven who discovers a special book that makes him reevaluate how he lived his earthly life; Emaline's Gift, book one in The Magi Chronicles, a YA fantasy in which 13-year-old Emaline gets caught up in an ancient, magical war between the Christ following magi and the evil obeah; and The Savvy Demon's Guide to Godly Living, a satirical novel for mature audiences about a drunk demon who inadvertently sparks a worldwide revival by telling a pastor precisely what his church is doing wrong. One collection consists of all three ebooks; for the other, the winner gets to choose between ebooks and paperbacks. But you can only win if you enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway ---

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Guest Post Allison Reker

I'd like to thank Allison Reker  
I found her post very useful and I play online games with my husband and
family I can't wait to try out some of her advice.
All images are from the great photographers at Pixaby

How Video Games Can  Transform Your Writing 
No, I haven’t lost my mind, and I’m not a video game addict either—I am totally serious. I’ve been passionate about writing my whole life; participated in writing groups, gone to conferences, taken more classes on writing than I can remember, and even majored in writing in college. But it was through a video game that I learned to really be a story teller and develop characters that breathed a life of their own.

Roleplay  Find a game where you can role-play with others. I’m not talking about your standard shoot-em-up, follow the canned story line from point A to point Z until you defeat the big boss kind of game though. I’m talking about the open-ended kind. The games that give you an interactive world full of other players, and opportunities to challenge yourself by building skills and going on quests, either of the game’s making or your own.

  The games where you can engage with other storytellers and actually roleplay. As writers, we sometimes enjoy good reviews or fan mail, but we don’t typically get to experience the immediate reactions of those reading our stories. Getting to not only experience those reactions, but have readers respond back in a way that influences what you write next, teaches you a lot about what it takes to make an engaging character or story.

Build your own narrative within the game, and connect your stories. My own book series has its distant origins in one such game, called Ultima Online. As far as I know, its servers are still running, though I no longer play. What started out as something entertaining to do in the evenings after work, became an incredible creative outlet.   It resulted in a massive collection of interconnected stories and vignettes that I and a small group of other players built upon for years.

The interplay between world, history, and character became a wellspring for the imagination—a boundless source of ideas just waiting to be explored. Even though the game world had its own official history and storyline, following it wasn’t necessary. We made up our own history for that world, our own mythology, and tied it into our individual storylines. Everything we did in game continued to feed into the larger story, so it just kept growing.

Become your character(s) when you’re in a game. Roleplaying taught me more about character development than all of my previous writing coursework combined. Why? My characters were no longer theoretical. There was no omniscient narrator between me and their deepest thoughts and feelings. With no set plotline, and no need to balance the actions - thoughts of other characters at the same time, all I needed to focus on was being my chosen character at that moment in time.

When I stepped into the role of Morganne, for instance, I really pulled on her boots and peered out at the world through her eyes rather than my own. I spoke, thought, felt, and reasoned like she did. Unlike in a story or novel where I maintained control over what would happen next, I never knew what Morganne might encounter from day to day. Different situations would arise based on the actions of other players, and I would have to react, not as myself, but as Morganne. And I didn’t have days or weeks to mull the implications of those reactions, either. I had to quickly base them on what I knew of her as a person and stay true to her integrity as a character. Whatever I did, whatever I said, could not be taken back or re-written later.

With real-time roleplaying there could always be unanticipated consequences, of course. After all, I was dealing with the varied personalities of other players’ characters and their background stories. I might make new friends who would come to my defense in times of need. Or I might make new enemies, who would from then on make a point of coming after me. But every decision, every interaction became a part of who Morganne was, and got woven into her larger narrative, until thread by thread, a rich and complex character came into being.

Take the characters you love beyond the game. The game gradually changed; friends came and went, and my own life circumstances left me little time to play. The day I shut down my account, it literally felt like a part of me had died. It’s a strange thing to grieve over people that aren’t real, yet they had become real to me. What would become of those characters I had invested so many years, and so much of my inner self, into developing? Instead of shelving all of those old stories, and resigning my beloved characters to oblivion, I preserved them in the form of my first novel, and then my second, with still more to come.

Not just my characters either, but the memories of so many others that I had met and been influenced by along the way. Fifteen years later I’m still drawing from that infinite wellspring I discovered in, yes, a video game. I’ll probably still be drawing from it fifteen years from now, because I truly love my characters and the new world and storylines I’ve made for them.

Other ways video games can help your writing
 I still play other video games on occasion, though I’m careful not to let them suck too much of my writing time away. Here are some other simple ways they can help.
• If you’re in a game where roleplaying is possible, this can be a great time to experiment with unusual characters or story lines—particularly those that take you out of your comfort zone. Try them in the game before making them part of your current work in progress. Let the other people you play with serve as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. See how they react to your experimental character/storyline, and ask for feedback that will help you decide if it works or not.

  • World building can be challenging. If you’re having trouble visualizing your own world, how can you make it a real place for your readers? Maybe you are trying to figure out a castle’s layout, how a certain village would look, or describe some other important location in your book. Build it in Minecraft. It’s not a roleplaying game, but in it you can build just about anything you can imagine, block by block. I’ve terraformed landscapes, made castles, medieval villages, seaside mansions, and all sorts of other things. Sometimes through the building process you realize that the vision in your head isn’t actually possible or practical, or takes up way more, or way less space than you thought.

• Sometimes when I’m struggling with ideas or something I’m working on isn’t quite right, video games provide a much needed mental break. Ideas can still be percolating in the back of my mind while I get myself refocused, or re-energized. So the next time you’re looking for a video game diversion, don’t feel guilty about it—make it count. Pick a game that can actually help you hone your writing skills while you play. You might get more out of it than you ever thought possible.

Allison D. Reid was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her love for medieval fantasy was sparked by the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, which fed both her imagination and her spiritual development. When at the age of thirteen her family moved to Germany, her passion for medieval history and legend only increased, and she found herself captivated by the ancient towns and castles of Europe. Allison returned to the United States to study art and writing at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. She earned her B.A. under the tutelage of the well-renowned and prolific writer Andrew Salkey, a student of her other great inspiration, and the father of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien. After graduating from Hampshire College, Allison moved to Connecticut. There she got the opportunity to attend seminary and further explore her faith before returning to her home state of Ohio. Allison now lives in the Miami Valley area with her husband and children. She continues to work on her first published series while taking care of her family, editing for other independent writers, and managing a home business.
Learn more about Allison by visiting her website, or check out her blog.
Tune into her live interview on By the Fireplace, February 10th at 11:00 p.m. EST or catch it later on demand.