Archive for April, 2012

Ancient Art and Ancient Artists

Last Sunday afternoon, my husband Jeff, his brother Craig, Craig’s wife Deb, and I walked out to one of the sites near Holbrook where examples of the native rock art called “petroglyphs” can be found.

Ancient beyond our imagining, these pictures were tapped into the face of local  cliffs by long-ago residents of our area. Almost all depict animals or reptiles from the area, though some appear to be connected to creation stories still told by local tribes today. The style is simple, and I can certainly understand that choice. When you have to pound  your art into hard rock, the desire for details probably diminishes with each tap.

However, the impact of the art, especially when seen firsthand, is anything but simple. Observed in the afternoon sunshine of a typical day in the early 21st century, the art raises many questions. Who were the artists? Where did they live and work? What was their family life like? What worried them? What made them happy at that time?

What message, if any, were they trying to convey in these effortful pictures? Did they intend them to communicate information about hunting sites nearby? Or were they pure art, done for the pleasure of creation? Could this work simply be ancient graffiti? How old are these pictures, exactly?

If you think that at the end of this post, I’m going to give you answers to these questions, I’m sorry. I just don’t know, and neither does anyone else–not for sure, anyway. But the pictures fascinate me, and I go to look at them again and again.

The work of these ancient artists makes me wonder what I’d see if I could go back to the day they were created. How would Holbrook have looked then? I wonder what the artists would think if they could see their homeland today.

This art always humbles me. Our own time seems to us like the most important time of all–but this work reminds me to take a longer view. The community where I live now has been home to many others as well. It’s no more mine than it was theirs. Others will undoubtedly take possession in the future, and my time will recede into memory. Big thoughts, inspired by small, careful drawings, chipped into the rock by artists of infinite patience. Come by and see them sometime.


Mary Ellis Interview

This week, I’m so excited to bring you an interview with author Mary Ellis. One of the unanticipated pleasures of being a writer is getting to know other writers along the way, and Mary Ellis has always embodied her faith in the friendliness and helpful suggestions she offers to more amateur writers like me. She’s involved in the burgeoning subcategory of Christian fiction referred to as Amish fiction–tales of a community that fascinates readers by its very difference. I hope you will both enjoy this interview and check out Mary’s books.

Interview with Mary Ellis 

MKJ: Tell us a little about your background, Mary. How did you get interested in Amish culture and then in writing about it?

ME: I have observed and respected them my entire life. As a child I planned to marry an Amish man when I grew up, until my mother convinced me I wouldn’t like the amount of work an Amish wife faces each day. When I committed to writing solely Christian fiction, writing about these gentle-hearted people was a natural choice for me.

MKJ: You’ve written seven novels centered around the Amish, right? What do you think it is about the Amish and their lifestyle that fascinates today’s readers, whose own lives are so very different?

ME: There is simplicity and order in their rural lifestyles, which appeals to those of us with fast-paced, multi-tasking lives. (which is everyone non-Amish, no?) Plus the Amish keep their Christian faith front-and-center seven days a week. This devotion appeals to Christians caught up in the “real world” where we’re bombarded with crime and evil-doings on TV, in newspapers and for some, in their workplace.

MKJ: I understand that you are beginning a new series of novels with Living in Harmony. Tell us the premise of that series. How many books will there be? When will Living in Harmony be available?

ME: The series is called New Beginnings and it’s about young people who leave overcrowded and expensive Lancaster County, PA for new opportunities across the country. What they discover, however, is the rules governing Amish lives can differ greatly from those they grew up with. Living in Harmony is about an ultra-conservative Amish district in Maine which I visited last summer. There will be three books in the series—Love Comes to Paradise will release in Feb. of 2013.

MKJ: Of all of your books, my own favorite remains Abigail’s New Hope.  Abigail is an unlicensed Amish midwife, who administers a prescription drug in a vain attempt to save the life of one of her patients and finds herself in serious legal trouble as a result. Did that story have a real life inspiration?

ME: Yes, indeed it did. I based my story (loosely) on a real life case that happened about an hour from my home. I visited the Justice Center and cell block where the midwife had been incarcerated. The street-side prayer vigil and many events actually took place. But I fictionalized details about my midwife to not embarrass the woman, who still lives in the area.

MKJ: Now that I’ve confessed my partiality for Abigail, do you have a particular favorite among your books? Or is that like asking a mother about her children?

ME: My favorite, honestly, is my latest, An Amish Family Reunion, for two reasons: First, I got to reconnect with characters I created in my original series, the Miller Family series. And secondly, my romantic hero and heroine fall in love at Niagara Falls—my favorite vacation destination of all time. My husband and I go there at least twice a year. Luckily, we live only three-and-a-half hours away.

MKJ: You’ve worked in the corporate world and also the world of education. Now you are writing full time. Do you miss the other occupations you’ve followed in the past? What are some of the challenges of a writer’s life?

ME: I do not miss working away from home, although I enjoyed each job at the time. Every life has “seasons” and now is my season to work at home. However, I’m shocked how little free time I have! My hours in front of the computer stretch far longer than hours on any outside job. Now that I’m my own boss, I’ve discovered I’m a tough taskmaster. There’s no more hanging out at the coffeemaker.

MKJ: If readers would like to know more information about you and your books, where should they look? I can be reached at:!/pages/Mary-Ellis/126995058236

My books are published by Harvest House and sold at CBD, Amazon, B&N and anywhere Christian books are sold. Thanks so much, Mary, for inviting me to your blog and many blessings on you, your family, and your writing!

When Can We Buy Your Book?

I can’t decide whether I like it or not when friends say, “When can we buy your book?”

As some of you may know, the Christian fiction market has exploded in the last few years, just in time for me to start writing. I mistakenly thought that it would be easy enough to write fiction for that market. Honestly, many of the books I’d read in that genre didn’t seem difficult to equal. In fact, I now blush to say that I thought I might be able to do a better job than some of those authors. So I got started and, sure enough, after eighteen months or so, I had a nice little novel finished and ready to go. Wow! What a feeling!

But today’s fiction market, Christian or not, depends upon agents as much as authors. Securing a literary agent is a lot like hiring a realtor to sell your house. You could sell your house yourself, but the odds of things going well are against you. The occasional publishing house will look at an unagented manuscript if the moon is in just the right phase and they’re feeling benevolent. But generally, an unagented manuscript goes right to the bottom of the slush pile, never again to see the light of day. You really need to have an agent. But here’s the catch: literary agents prefer to work with people who have already published, not newcomers, unless they’re tremendous talents. So how does an ordinary beginning writer find an agent? Ah, there’s the rub!

This is how I found mine. One author I like very much, Jane Kirkpatrick, writes such outstanding novels that I had to e-mail her with my compliments. We struck up a conversation over the web, and she learned I planned to attend the yearly convention of the American Christian Fiction Writers.  “Oh, great,” she wrote. “You ought to talk to my agent, Joyce Hart. She’s going to be there.”

 I already had appointments with two other agents but when I arrived at the conference, one of my appointments had cancelled. Did Jane’s agent have any time available? Yes, she did. I went into the interview with some information about my novel in hand and Jane’s recommendation to get her attention. And voila! Because of Jane’s name, Joyce  took a little more time with me than usual, and eventually, after some months of conversations via e-mail, she offered me a contract  to represent my fiction. I’ve been a client of Hartline Literary Agency since then, and I can tell you that, like a good realtor, your agent befriends you, advises you, scolds you at times, and tries and tries and tries to sell your book.

But so far, my book hasn’t sold. That’s not unusual. Published writers say it’s about average to get an agent after two or three books and to sell your fifth or sixth novel. I was blessed to find the agent more quickly than that but as to a sale–yeah, not so much.At least not yet. But I can tell you that I’m on novel number three at the moment. Only three more and I should be ready for the big time!

Speaking of being ready for the big time, my next blog post will be an interview with Mary Ellis, the big time author of a number of what are sometimes called “bonnet books”–that is, stories set in the Amish community. It’s been my privilege to review some of Mary’s books in the past. I’ll ask her a few questions about her intimate knowledge of that fascinating people and the books she writes about them.

And I’ll definitely let you know as soon as you can buy my book!


No-Clutter Coco

When we proposed the idea of a party to celebrate our visiting daughter Liz’s birthday last week, she said, “I’d enjoy a cake and a family gathering, but I’m on a mission to de-clutter my house and my life. Don’t buy me a present, or give me anything the kids won’t want me to throw away later. It’ll just be more clutter.”

That same day, when my husband, Jeff, and Liz’s four young children returned to the house after an excursion to the park, anyone could see a conspiracy was afoot. Giggles, fierce whispers of “Don’t tell!” and other signs of excitement showed that they’d dreamed up something.

“What’s going on?” I inquired.

But none of the children would tell me anything except “It’s a surprise for Mom’s birthday party.”

The next day, when the party began, Grandpa Jeff and the children went into the garage and came back with a large cardboard box. They proudly set it in front of Liz. As she began to open it, I heard her gasp, “There’s something alive in here.”

And there was—a lovely young rabbit with silky brown fur, a twitching nose, and dark coffee-bean eyes.

“Dad,” Liz protested. “It’s adorable, but I can’t keep a rabbit at my house.”

“I know,” he replied smugly. “We only have it for two days. It’s a rental.”

A rented rabbit?

“We went to the feed store this afternoon to see the baby chicks and ducks,” Jeff explained. “They had a pen of little rabbits. I thought Liz and the kids might like to have a rabbit for a few days, so I rented this one. We have to bring it back on Saturday morning.”

This is one of the things we love about living in a small town. We don’t have store managers with policy manuals here, shaking their heads at the idea of anything not covered in the book. Instead, we have the nice guy at the feed store, who looked down into four little children’s faces and decided to rent out a rabbit.

The experiment involved a certain amount of risk, of course, but none of the potential problems materialized. The children touched their new friend, Coco the bunny, with gentle hands. Coco turned out to be a people-lover, who sat cheerfully on each child’s lap in turn, washing his (or perhaps her) face with no signs of panic or distress. As the children packed for the trip home on Saturday morning, they patted the bunny goodbye over and over. They’ll never forget Coco.

The fee for two days of rental rabbit and a bag of food? $7.25. See? You can still find a bargain in a small town. And not a bit of clutter was involved.