Friday, December 27, 2013

Rebel Review by Vicki Taylor

Linda Windsor rounds out her Brides of Alba Series with an action-packed story of political intrigue and spiritual warfare. Rebel steeps Alyn O’ Byrne and Kella O’Toole in the mire of the last days of King Arthur’s reign. From the intricacies of the royal court to the revelation of personal secrets, this book is a page-turner from start to finish, especially for those who enjoy the romance of Arthurian legend.

Though significantly different from the Arthur taught in college lit. class, this series sparks a renewed interest in the facts surrounding the legend. Windsor places Arthur’s Court in the late sixth century, congruent with the only documented account of the historic Arthur. Though the characters and conflicts are similar to the stories found in classic British literature, Rebel’s basic premise revolves around the fight for Britain’s ecclesiastical future. 

The story opens with the death of Merlin, the leading druid/Celtic Christian priest in the kingdom. His absence creates a void of spiritual leadership that Modred, a high priest in the Celtic church, believes he has the right to fill, but Arthur’s preference for this honored position is Roman archbishop Cassian. The battle for power between the British and Roman churches ignite the struggle that eventually rips Arthur’s kingdom apart.

Main characters Alyn and Kella are thrown into the middle of the fray when Queen Gwenhyfar entrusts the two with ensuring the safe transport of historical church documents. The relentless antagonism between King Arthur and his cousin Modred has sparked religious discord among their countrymen that incites full civil unrest. With the population divided from within and the threat of the invading Saxons from without, Alyn and Kella embark on a perilous journey.

But completing this royal quest isn’t their only challenge. Alyn, a scholar of both religion and science, must overcome the guilt he feels over the death of a friend and accept his role as God’s prophet to the rulers of his generation. Kella, hiding the secret of an unplanned pregnancy, entreats Alyn to help her find her father and her betrothed, both of whom are missing from battle and presumed dead. Desperate to find hope for the future, these two old friends are forced to face outlaws, traitors, and the truth about themselves. It is in that truth that they find the freedom to love and the strength to overcome all the obstacles they face.

 Rebel is an incredible story with a perfect balance of action and romance and more than a hint of insight into the politics of religion that continues to impact our society today. Linda Windsor does a masterful job of weaving history, legend, and imagination into a narrative that brings the Arthurian legend to life like few others. I highly recommend this book and its counterparts in The Brides of Alba Series.

To find out more about Linda and her books, you can visit her website or make plans to meet her in person at this year’s conference. We hope to see you there!

Friday, December 20, 2013

UnWrapping of a Story

I suppose I was always a writer. It just took me a long time to admit it. It took me even longer to realize that writing was never really about what I thought it was. The first hint that I had of the truth came the year I became a follower of Jesus. To say my life had changed would be an understatement. In less than eight months I had gone from working as an engineer to enrolling at a seminary. My family and friends could not quite believe it. They were no more surprised than I. 

My first Christmas as a Christian came upon me quickly. I was half a continent away from my past life. I was not going home for Christmas. There was no money for gifts, and I was not expecting anything. I thought of all the Christmases I had spent without knowing my Lord and decided to write a poem for Jesus as my gift to him. It seemed easy enough. 

Days went by, and not only did I not have a poem, I did not have a line.  Then one night, at just about this time of the year, I did something that was radical for me.  I asked God to forgive me for being so cocky as to think I had anything to give worthy of him. I could only give him something worthy of him that he had first given to me.  I asked him if he would forgive me and help me write my poem.
When I set down my pen that night I had written a mere sixteen lines, and everything I thought I knew about writing had changed. My poem, rather than being my gift to God, had become God’s gift to me.

That poem, which was somehow never edited, was published the following year. It marked the official beginning of my journey as a Christian writer.  I now realize that writing is not so much my gift to him as it is His gift to me.  It is a present I enjoy unwrapping every time I pick up my pen for Him.  

Donald Hasselman, author of Tracks and Ties , published by Xlibris is a member of the SDCWC board.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing for a Secular Audience

On Dec. 21, 2000, a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was made on the opinion page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a secular, major metropolitan newspaper of about 220,000 circulation.

And I was the one who did it. (It was titled "Christmas Wrapping," and to this day I repost annually it on my Facebook page.)

Granted, I've worked for that paper for nearly 17 years in several capacities, so I had an inside opportunity. But being able to express an overtly religious viewpoint in such a forum reminded me of a few things.

1) Secular media in my experience are not inherently hostile to religion in general or Christianity in particular; however, some decorum is required if you want to publish anything of that nature. Most of the readership doesn't quite understand our convictions, so we have to break things down in a way in which it can comprehend. In other words, we have to think about what we believe, why we believe it and how best to communicate that to others. It can be understood as a mission field.

2) Those of us who feel called to do so in a secular medium require a certain amount of humility. For example, if such a piece is rejected by a mainstream outlet it may be, and probably is, because it just isn't good enough to be published. (Remember, at the level folks are experienced writers and editors and won't run anything that doesn't meet the standard. That's as it should be because our God demands excellence.) Besides, we also need to be inviting, not giving the impression that we want to force our views down others' collective throat; doing so would make us appear insecure about our faith.

3) Christmas is a good time to do so because it's a holiday that virtually everyone is aware of and most people in this country celebrate. It's thus a good time to talk about Jesus -- Who He was and is, His ultimate purpose.
(Let's also remember that Christmas always leads to Easter, of course.)

4) One of the emails I got in response to my piece noted that God often shows up where you don't expect Him, one of the lessons of Christmas; it said, "We expect a preacher to give this message but not in the Post-Gazette!" The writer was correct -- the King of Kings being born in a stable? Who would have thought of that? I was happy to play my role as a messenger and appreciative of the forum that I had.

5) St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words." Words are necessary, so we have the responsibility to use them well.
Remember, eternity is at stake.

So if you get an opportunity to convey God's truth to the world by means of writing to a secular audience, by all means take it. Consider the song "Thank You for Giving to the LORD" -- you just might meet someone in heaven who's there because of what you wrote.


Rick Nowlin serves on the St. Davids Christian Writers Association Board.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

It's Always the Primroses

When I was lifting flats of just-planted seeds onto a shelf in our basement cold room one February a couple years ago, my hand slipped.  One of those flats abruptly upended and strewed Pro-mix and seeds all over the old picture frames and rusty bird cages stacked on the cement floor

There go the primroses.  I knew that with sinking certainty, even before I looked at the label on the flat.  After all, it's never the seeds you don't particularly care about -- like cabbages or cauliflowers -- which get spilled.  It's always the gold-laced primroses. 

I told myself firmly at the time that I couldn’t complain about losing one type of flower, when I had so many more.  Just as I couldn’t complain about recently losing my job of ten years, because it was a good job while it lasted, and supported me when my career as a novelist seemed stalled. 

I couldn’t even complain about the weather.  It had been an unusually mild winter, just as my problems were mild when compared to other people's.  But even a mild winter seemed to drag on forever when I was waiting, on potential employers and editors or on seeds slow to sprout. 

I always sow the most difficult ones early every year, because I know it will take weeks of cold conditions for some of them to germinate.  I started my writing career early too, knowing it might require years of difficulty before I saw growth. 

There have been a few successes.  Sometimes, however, promising sprouts damp off and shrivel -- leaving me no choice except to start over again.  The pre-germination period the second time around always seems even longer.

I know, however, that I have to keep planting seeds, even when a change in the weather seems unlikely.  Otherwise, I’ll have nothing to contribute when spring finally. . .well. . . springs. 

I can’t be sure which of those seeds will sprout, though, or when.  The charm of  all real life, after all, lies in its unpredictability.  I may never get gold-laced primroses or a success-edged career.  But perhaps something else will bloom for me that I'll love far better.  That's what the waiting that irks us writers so much should be all about.  Not assurances, but possibilities.

That February, I gathered what I could find of the scattered Pro-mix and returned it to the flat.  I’d like to be able to report that my writing life has blossomed since then.  No such luck!  But, strangely enough, the seeds which had been spilled were the only primroses that sprouted for me that year.  Although those poor plants got scratched up by our chickens while they were still young, I’m sure there’s a lesson in that! 

Audrey Stallsmith, St. Davids Registrar, is the author of the Thyme Will Tell series of mysteries from WaterBrook Press and The Body They May Kill from Thomas Nelson.  Her work has also appeared in periodicals such as Woman’s World and Birds & Blooms.  She writes articles for Demand Media and Dave’s Garden, as well as her own sites, Thyme Will Tell and Inklings of Truth.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Silver and Gold

As writers we are encouraged to come into the 21st century, making sure our presence is well-represented on all forms of social media, maintain our own websites and blogs, and arrange for an e-book version of our books. Many of us “traditionalists” struggle with this focus on electronic media and are reluctant to let go of our beloved hard copies. Few things thrill us more than the feel of a book in our hands and the scent of paper and ink. But if we are to survive as authors in this “brave new world” we must make some adjustments in our attitudes and activities.

At a recent workshop on building our platform, one writer asked the leader how we accomplish this without sacrificing too much of our writing time. The instructor, Stephanie Keyes, author of a popular young adult trilogy, outlined a sensible, doable strategy that works for her. She stressed that this type of activity helps us to connect with our readers in ways previously not possible. It makes us real and provides opportunities for personal connections with them.

On the other hand, I recently became acquainted with a young man in his early thirties. Steve is well-educated and a voracious reader but unlike many of his generation, does not own an e-reader. Why? Because he loves and collects books, just like us. Steve rarely visits a library. Instead, he feels compelled to own and keep nearly every book he reads. They are his friends, companions, and company. Finding another kindred spirit who shares my passion for books always thrills and delights me. It also proves to me that the demand for physical books will continue well into the future.

Many of us struggle with this great paradigm shift. Many of us are bibliophiles like Steve, yet if we as authors are to survive in this changing industry we need to learn how to reach out to our technologically savvy readers. Too often when such dramatic changes occur, we tend to react with an either/or mentality, forgetting that with work and understanding, we can, and must, strike a balance between the old and the new. Ultimately, it can end up being the best of both worlds. Or, as I like to think of it, the old adage rings true: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

May we all acquire much of this silver and gold.

Susan Reith Swan is a freelance writer and editor who has loved St. Davids since 1991. In addition to writing, she can frequently be found crafting, knitting, or snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel while she reads. Check out her blog, Li-tea-ra-ture at