The Beauty of the Neglected

 

 

I’ll be honest, as I usually am when talking about my shortcomings. My wife and I aren’t as conscientious as gardeners as we are about keeping the house clean and tidy.

We have friends in Australia who have a backyard full of beautiful roses. I don’t have any doubt that Merilyn does everything she needs to do to assure having the maximum number of healthy-looking flowers on every bush. Her efforts pay off.

We, on the other hand, planted two rose bushes some years back. One on either side of the ramp leading into the shed. The first year–maybe the second as well–we fertilized or whatever we were supposed to do to baby our bushes. The results were satisfactory, as best I can recall.

But the bushes themselves weren’t growing, and–frankly–I’d planted them where it was hard to mow between the bushes and the shed and between the ramp and the bushes. Despite my best efforts at being careful, I finally mowed one bush down; there hadn’t been enough of it left for me to tell the difference, anyhow.

As tempted as I was to cut down or pull up the other bush, I couldn’t. It periodically had some really beautiful flowers. And strangely enough, that bush seemed to bloom best when the weather was cold enough we didn’t really expect a rose bush to bear flowers. But the picture above was taken several months ago–before the weather started turning warmer.

And this picture was taken in December of last year! Definitely NOT warm weather.

Amazing what God can do with neglected things as He makes them beautiful in His own way and His own time!

At a recent writers conference in North Carolina, I couldn’t help noticing these dead flowers outside the dining hall. Not as beautiful as they had been in life, I’m sure, and yet amazingly beautiful in their own way even lying on the pavement neglected in death, waiting for someone to sweep them up and throw them away.

God is the all-time expert at making all things beautiful, even in death. How thankful I am that He’s continuing to work on me before I reach that point in time!

How about leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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Best regards,
Roger

      

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Passing by Home?

In my novel ROSA NO-NAME, the lead character ponders several times about what “home” is. In regard to the title of this post, I might be pondering that same thing myself.

When I was a kid, from approximately eight to twelve, I lived in Durham, North Carolina. It never felt like home because I’d had to leave the only home I’d ever known when my parents and I lived in Farmville, Virginia. So, when we later moved to Norfolk, it was a relief.

My wife and I drove back yesterday from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in western North Carolina. Just as we’d done going to the conference, we skirted Durham on Rt. 85. I usually just casually think, “I used to live here,” but yesterday I started remembering some of the things I hadn’t thought about in years.

Even at that early age, Duke University played a role in my life. My father used to take me to a barbershop at Duke for our hair cuts. No idea why. I remember a fountain outside that building, one that we could frequently see a rainbow inside or through. (Okay, so I’m a little hazy on details.)

Although I wasn’t big on admiring flowers, my parents liked to visit the extensive gardens at Duke, and even though I wasn’t very interested in Handel’s MESSIAH then–I’d love to go back to that now–they took me to a presentation of that work every year. I may not remember the music, but I recall being fascinated with those huge columns inside the Chapel.

I recall walking to my elementary school and passing by a little neighborhood store–anybody remember when there were still a number of those around? I recall one day when a bigger kid across the street from me yelled an obscenity at me. I was too naive to know what he was talking about.

I can’t forget how big a part tobacco played in Durham. Our next-door neighbor even used it to fertilize his lawn. Although I think unsmoked tobacco sometimes has a pleasant smell, I hated playing outside and having to smell that every day.

Speaking of tobacco, one of our church members gave my father and me tickets to attend some very special, tobacco-related yearly show. The actor who played Joe Friday’s sidekick on Dragnet was an entertainer that year. I had to ask my father the meaning of a vulgar joke he told.

Durham wasn’t all bad. The problem was my inability at that stage of my life to adjust. Being put on the safety patrol and going with that group to Washington, DC, were two of the better parts of my life there.

Home, though? It still didn’t seem like it. Would I like to go back and visit sometime? Maybe. If I can forget the worst of the past.

Thanks for letting me journey a bit through the past today. If you have comments, I’d love to have you share them.

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

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Best regards,
Roger

What’s He Dreaming About?

I’ve been to Australia more times than I can count, starting with my first mission trip in 1991. Although I’ve been back for a family vacation and also to teach an all-day seminar at a computer users symposium, most of my trips have been mission-related. I’ve spent most of my time in the Sydney area, but have also visited Melbourne, Toowoomba, Port Douglas, and Hervey Bay. Plus a few places I’ve forgotten the names of.

My closest Australian friends lived in or near Sydney, however, and I always managed to visit them for a day or two no matter where I’d spent most of my time. And I always enjoyed two special activities–visiting the harbor and the Opera House and walking around Featherdale Wildlife Park.

I never tired of seeing and even getting to pet koalas. Because of those VERY sharp claws, I was limited to contact with one that was safely situated on a fence or in the crook of a low tree branch. Once I held a toy koala that the real one was safely holding onto.

That fur isn’t soft the way you might expect, by the way. Very disappointing.

But koalas themselves aren’t disappointing. Not unless you expect them to DO something. Even though I once got a video of a koala jumping from one tree to another and running around on the ground, most of the ones I saw were perched soundly in a eucalyptus tree, like this one pictured in the poster hanging on my living room wall.

  

This particular picture has always been one of my favorites. Why would I hang it in the living room, otherwise?

It’s fun to look at him (could be a her; I don’t know) and speculate. Is he asleep? If so, is he dreaming about something nice and quiet? Or is he actually thinking…to whatever degree koalas are capable of thought?

No way to be sure, of course, but I’ve always looked at the fellow from a different perspective. That’s why I call this picture “Praying Koala.”

Okay, so maybe koalas don’t have the same relationship with God we Christians do, but they’re just as much God’s creations as we humans are. So who’s to say he’s not praying?

What do you think? How about leaving a comment?

 

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Best regards,
Roger

A Publishing God-Thing

I’m not inclined to believe in coincidences. I DO believe God sometimes works circumstances out in ways that may SEEM coincidental, however.

First a little back story. On February 17, I received a letter from Barbour Publishing. Barbour was the company that had published my first two books, FOUND IN TRANSLATION and LOST IN DREAMS. Wonderful folks to deal with. I had (and have) nothing but good to say about them.

Nonetheless, they were writing to tell me that not only were those books officially out-of-print, but they were reverting the rights to them back to me. I was free to do anything I wanted with them, including finding a publisher who’d be willing be re-release them.

None of that was bad news in and of itself. But it was HORRIBLE timing. I was just a month or so away from releasing my self-published ROSA NO-NAME, which I’d written ten years earlier as a prequel to FOUND IN TRANSLATION, and I’d been counting on ROSA and FOUND to promote one another. Although either book can be read first, each one is apt to make the reader interested in reading the other one.

Amazon still had a few print copies, but Barbour had Amazon remove the Kindle versions almost immediately. What was going to happen to my mutual promotion plans? Yes, I could self-publish those books, but I didn’t have any money left for professional cover design or editing after having those things done for ROSA. And preparing for ROSA’s release would’ve made it impossible for me to do that any time soon anyhow.

A VERY short time later, I responded to something I’d read on an email loop I belong to. Although my response had nothing to do with my out-of-print books, I “just happened” to mention my situation to the lady I was responding to. When she responded, she recommended her small publisher, Take Me Away Books.

Wow! Godsend idea or what? But I didn’t have time to get in touch with that publisher. I intended to when I had more time, however.

Just a few weeks later I was emailing this same author. But I had forgotten about telling her my problem. Whether she forgot about recommending her publisher earlier or not, I can’t say, but she recommended Take Me Away books all over again.

Okay, Lord! You don’t need to hit me in the head with a Bible.  I’m paying attention now. This is Your idea. It’s NOT a coincidence.

So on April 2 I emailed the owner of the publishing company–at least I think she’s the owner–and on April 5 she offered me a contract not only to republish FOUND IN TRANSLATION and LOST IN DREAMS, but also OVERSHADOWED, my intended third book in the Altered Hearts series that had been completed but not published and THE FLOWERS OF HIS FIELD (tentative title), the still-unwritten final book in the series.

After praying with my wife about it, we felt this was God’s answer. How could we question the “coincidence” of the twin recommendations of this publisher, the coincidence that wasn’t one?

My publisher works uber-fast. By the end of last week, FOUND IN TRANSLATION was available on Kindle again with a different cover, one Kathleen and I found and recommended as a really suitable cover image. Just a few days later, LOST IN DREAMS, which we’d requested to be renamed as A SEASON OF PEBBLES, was available on Kindle.

I’m currently editing and revising OVERSHADOWED with the intention of having it to her by the end of this week. That means it’ll be available on Kindle within a few days of the following week. (Print versions of these books will be available, too, but not as quickly.)

Some things in life may appear to be coincidences, but this whole story was a “Publishing God-Thing” and NOT a coincidence for sure.

Has anything happened in your life that might seem coincidental to others but you attribute to God’s working? How about sharing a comment?

 


         

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Best regards,
Roger

On Writing Book Reviews

Last weekend I was checking Amazon to see whether THE DEVIL AND PASTOR GUS had any new reviews. It had been stuck at forty-six for a few weeks, but had continued to enjoy a 4.3 star average rating.

When I saw that it had jumped to forty-seven, I was elated. My goal after reaching twenty-five had been fifty. Maybe I’d get there yet.

But then I looked at the review title, “Possibly the worst book ever written,” and the one-star designation; thank goodness Amazon doesn’t have a no-stars option! After the reviewer admitted being an atheist who’s read some good Christian fiction, she proceeded to give her opinion of everything she thought was wrong with the book, concluding with “Seriously, this story is worth skipping.”

Hmm.

As an author, I’ve grown increasingly thick-skinned over the years. After all, not every book is for every reader, and PASTOR GUS was obviously not the right read for this lady. I respect that, and I don’t even mind her leaving that kind of negative review, even though it lowered GUS’s rating from 4.3 to 4.2. Potential readers are probably too impressed by good reviews to pay attention to horrible ones.

Nonetheless, reviews like that–PASTOR GUS’s only other one-star review was written by a Christian minister–make me wonder. Not about the reviewers’ lack of interest in one of my books, but about the reason for writing such  almost-angry reviews. Did the book hit so close to home that it made the reviewers defensive?

In the case of the Christian minister, I had to laugh because Pastor Gus talks in one scene about the fact that a large number of preachers will claim Gus isn’t a Christian and ban the satire he’s writing about the devil (which is ultimately THE DEVIL AND PASTOR GUS), making members of their congregations start buying copies in record numbers.

Alas! The Christian minister reviewer didn’t recognize himself in PASTOR GUS.

Maybe I just have a different way of looking at reviews. Writing them, I mean. Although I really have to love a book to give it five stars, I don’t hesitate to go with four if I only just like it a lot. I may feel a little guilty if my four star review is the first for someone who has all fives, but I think that helps to give some legitimacy to the whole review process. Just as my one-star reviewers do.

If I really dislike a book, I may or may not finish reading it. But I’m not going to review it. Why should my opinions prejudice other readers who might perceive that book in a much more positive light?

When I write reviews, I try to find something good to say about the book. As many good things as I can think of without sounding like I’m gushing. If I feel the need to share something negative, I try to make it sound as inoffensive as possible. Like saying that the number of mistakes in the book must have resulted from the publisher’s poor editing and therefore aren’t the author’s fault.

One of PASTOR GUS’s best reviews was actually a three-star written by the wife of a minister who’d given it five stars; that man got it! What she did was to give a very balanced view of her likes and dislikes, along with examples. It was NOT an angry review. It was a helpful one. The kind I hope I write most of the time.

Authors depend on Amazon  and Good Reads reviews. Reviews help potential readers decide whether to make the plunge and buy their books. If you don’t regularly review books you’ve read, I urge you to start doing so. They don’t need to be lengthy or complicated. A simple “I liked this book because…” or “This book wasn’t really for me, but people who love (whatever) will probably love it.”

What do you think? How about leaving a review? Uh, a comment, I mean.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Rosa’s Facebook Release Party

Non-writers aren’t apt to realize that most of the marketing of a book falls on its author. Even the largest traditional publishers don’t do much marketing for their authors. Uh, except for the really big money makers. The 20% who’ll pay for the 80% of authors who don’t sell sufficiently well to justify helping. Unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.

And there are no guaranteed marketing strategies. What works for one person or one book will fail miserably for another. If there was one sure-fire way to guarantee book sales, everyone would hop on it and everyone would have a bestselling book. Hmm. Life doesn’t work that way.

I’ve mentioned–probably too often–that I’ve self-published Rosa No-Name, the prequel to Found in Translation. That means I don’t have a publisher to provide even a minimum amount of marketing.

So, like every other author, I’ve been trying to do everything I can to promote Rosa.  During the next month, Rosa is being featured on five different blog interviews or other promotions. And that’s good. At least additional people will learn about my book and perhaps even feel motivated to visit Amazon and check it out more closely.

But there’s one tradition I both love and dread: doing a Facebook release party. It’s easy enough to set up an event, in this case from my “Roger Bruner (author)” page. Since my wife, Kathleen, was helping, we both started inviting all of our Facebook friends. Between the two of us, we had a fairly large number. So I was about halfway through my friends list when Facebook told me I could only invite 500 people. There’s no limit on how many people can attend, but I could only specifically invite 500.

Okay. We’d both shared the news about the party on our individual Facebook pages. Hopefully enough people would see it. We knew only a small number of our friends and family would actually attend. People forget. Or they have something more important come up. Or they’re non-readers. Or they aren’t good enough friends to be supportive. Maybe some of them have attended a Facebook release party before and know how confusing they can be.

Planning a Facebook party sounds like it should be uber-simple. Buy a few items to offer as giveaways and hold drawings to, uh, give them away. Oh, but a release party should take longer than five minutes. The host/hostess needs to stay right in the middle of things, asking questions, making comments, and providing interesting information. Anything to keep the party in motion.

At least a Facebook party doesn’t require real food.

Kathleen and I did my release party this past Thursday night.  Several days earlier, she spent no telling how long writing a suggested script for the evening and sent it to me. One of the many wonderful things about Kathleen is I can edit and add to her suggestions without offending her. She’d made a GREAT start, but I had additional ideas that took about two-and-a-half hours to put into a Word document.

Then we hashed through it together at lunchtime, and I made a few additional changes. We were as ready as we were going to be.

Who would come? Only God knew. Would we retain our sanity while trying to inspire and entertain party goers? Only God knew that, too.

I’m happy to say we survived the party and enjoyed “talking” with our six attendees–four other authors and two “civilians.” We gave away four prizes. Fortunately, the non-authors both won something as well as two of the authors.

Was it worth it? Hard to say. Will we do a party for the next book? Probably.

Jesus may not have been talking about book sales when He said, “You don’t have what you want because you haven’t asked God for it” (Bruner translation of the Bible). Nonetheless, we’re praying with as much faith as we can muster, “We want Rosa No-Name to bless as many lives as possible. We’re asking You to help sell thousands of copies. We’ll do whatever marketing You want us to do, but we’re depending on You for the results. P.S. Not our will, but Yours be done.”

Have you ever attended a Facebook event? What did you think of it? How about leaving a comment?

 

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Best regards,
Roger

An Easter Enigma

Christmas doesn’t confuse Christians. At least not that I know of. It’s no secret that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. In fact, He might not even have been born in winter. But we aren’t apt to knock ourselves out trying to figure out the actual date.

Easter is an interesting enigma, however. Christians typically view Jesus’s death and burial as occurring on a Friday because the Bible says the next day was the Sabbath. And the Bible says the women found the tomb empty early on Sunday morning. Hmm. That adds up to two nights, one whole day, and part of two others.

What? Jesus said He would be in the grave three full days and nights. This seeming discrepancy has bugged me–and probably a number of other Christians–for years.

It’s amazing what a search of the Internet can reveal. I found two somewhat partially conflicting articles which both explain how Jesus actually remained in the grave three full days and nights.  If you want to read the details, check out “The Two Sabbaths of Passover” and “Good Friday or Good Wednesday.” 

Jesus and His disciples ate their last meal together in the evening of what was actually the beginning of Passover day. (Remember: Jewish days ran from sundown to sundown.) Later that evening He was arrested, tried, and condemned to death. The entirety of His crucifixion and burial took place on what was still Passover day, the “Day of Preparation.”

Jesus couldn’t be left on the cross after His death because the Sabbath would be starting shortly at sundown. There wasn’t even time for the women to anoint the body properly; He was simply wrapped in a linen shroud.

How thankful we should be that Jesus’s disciple John said something in His Gospel that the other Gospel writers apparently took for granted and consequently didn’t bother to mention. He referred to that Sabbath as a “high day,” meaning it was not the regular Friday-sundown-to-Saturday-sundown Sabbath. And that makes sense. The day after Passover day itself was to be a special Sabbath. So the Old Testament taught .

So that week had two Sabbaths, and Jesus had to be buried before the beginning of the first one–the special one.

Accepting the fact that Jesus arose on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” as the Bible says, let’s count backward.

  • The first day of the week began at sundown on Saturday
  • The normal Sabbath ran from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown
  • The special Sabbath ran from Thursday sundown to Friday sundown
  • Passover day ran from Wednesday sundown to Thursday sundown

Are you still with me?

That’s assuming the special Sabbath occurred the day before the regular Sabbath. Since it began at sundown on Thursday, was Jesus  crucified on what was left of the day that ran from Wednesday sundown to that Thursday sundown?

Although Jesus would’ve been dead on our Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights–thank goodness Jewish days can’t change nighttime–do the days work out right? Those days would’ve had to run from just before sundown to just before sundown. And three full days by the Jewish calendar would last until just before sundown on the “first day of the week.”

But that doesn’t work. Jesus had already arisen before the women came to the tomb that morning and found it empty.

One of those articles insists that the two Sabbaths must have had an extra day in between. Jesus died late on our Wednesday, he said.  As “Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus would have risen on the Sabbath itself but not be found alive again until the first day of the week. That would explain three full days in the tomb while eliminating a fourth night .

I have no idea what the accurate answer is, but I have no problem thinking of Jesus dying late on Wednesday rather than Friday.

The important thing is, Christ arose. I hope your Easter was a blessed one.

How about leaving a comment?

 

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Best regards,
Roger