Friday, July 31, 2009

Shortbread: How to Write Great Devotionals, Part 2

Shortbread: How to Write Great Devotionals, Part 2--Titles
Friday—The Writer's Porch

Today I am at She Speaks!, scurrying around and loving every minute. Soon I will be evaluating speakers and teaching a class on Pathway to Publication. So let’s get started on our own pathway to devotional writing.

When editors examine a devo for possible publication they are looking for uniqueness. They want something that snags the reader right from the beginning. The best way to do this is to have a catchy title. Make it memorable. Now before I say this, please know that I love “the woman at the well.” I am the woman at the well, but don’t title your devo, “The Woman at the Well.” Why? Because it alerts the reader to what the meditation contains. If they’re not interested in the woman at the well, then you’ve lost the potential reader. You want your audience to look further than the title.
In my hand, I have a copy of The Upper Room, a daily devotional magazine. Its audience is estimated to be about 8-10 million. That’s a lot! They know what constitutes a great devotional. Here are a few of the titles that nabbed me.

Soul Solitude
Kindness Costs
Berry Picker
Grumpy Old Men
Get Over It!

A few years ago, I wrote a devo with the title, “Peculiar Peter”; it received many responses and comments on the website. Another one titled “Woof” also intrigued readers. These types of titles spur the audience to read the entire devotional.

However, remember that the title must tie in with the body of the devotional. Don’t think up a great title and then mislead the reader by taking the shortbread in a completely different direction. A great devotional has only one direction and usually only one point, so make sure the title is memorable and ties in. Think "fishing line"—hook, line and the big catch. The title is the hook, the body of the devo is the line and the audience is the big catch.

And don't forget, at the end of this series I will have a contest for the best devo title. Put your thinking caps on and be original.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Babbling about Books--Thursday--Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia
Author: Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Publisher: GrantHouse Publishers 2008

Today I am reviewing a poetry book. For those of you who love poetry and are poets at heart, I thought that this might be a refreshing book to read. Today I am babbling about Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia. The poems are reflections of Patricia Neely-Dorsey who lives in and loves the South. This book is a celebration of the South. Ms. Neely Dorsey writes of childhood memories, personal thoughts and dreams. She wrote concerning her book, “There are many negative connotations associated with Mississippi and the south in general. I want to show a flipside of the coin. There is much to love about this much maligned and misunderstood part of our country.”

I lived in Biloxi, Mississippi for a time. This West Coast girl fell in love with the South—except for the humidity and bugs. In general, life in Mississippi moves at a slower, relaxing pace, and Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia reflects this way of life.

As I read through Ms. Neely-Dorsey’s writing, certain titles drew me in. Here are a few that I turned to immediately: “The Southern Life”, "Sounds of Summer", “My Dream” and “Shades of Lovely." Don’t you get the feel of Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia just from the titles?

Like poetry? Like the South? Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia is available at

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shortbread: How to Write Great Devotionals - Part 1

Shortbread: How to Write Great Devotionals
Friday—The Writer's Porch

A couple of weeks ago, I asked what everyone would like to discuss on The Writer’s Porch. I put out a few suggestions. The winner for this series is “Short-Bread—How to Write Great Devotions.” So for the next few sessions, we will study and write devotionals. As we work through this series take note of what makes a great devotional, write it and submit it to a publication. (If you are attending She Speaks this year or have previously attended Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks Conference we occasionally accept She Speaks graduates' devotionals.)

I have written 2-3 devotionals a month for Proverbs 31 Ministries, plus contributed 22 devos for our book, God's Purpose for Every Woman. In addition, I have written Divine Prayers for Despairing Parents—What to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Say, which is my most recent book. It is a prayer devotional for parents of wayward children. Plus, I have been published in several daily devotional magazines. Alright, enough of the credentials for devotional writing—let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of devos.

In John 1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word , and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In addition, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.” When writing a devotional the foundation is the Scripture. Usually just one or two verses, no more, thus it can be considered "shortbread." A devo’s intention is to give the reader a new insight into the Word of God and God's character. The author of devotionals desires the reader either to be uplifted, to change a behavior, or inspire a deeper relationship with God. Devotional writing should encourage the reader to meditate upon their relationship with God. In fact, in some publications they refer to devotionals as meditations. Devotionals or meditations are interchangeable terms. For the ease of chatting and teaching, I will usually refer to them in the form of “devos."

Now as we proceed on how to write great devos keep in mind each section needs to point back to God. Keep the “devotion” in your devo. A shortbread usually consists of four main elements. The title, a Scripture verse, the main body, and a closing prayer. Each part must connect together and bring the reader to the intended response—a closer walk with God—devotion.

For the next few weeks, we will analyze each element. Until then, I encourage you to read a few devotional books. Note the ones that speak the most to you. Jot down what you particularly liked about each of them. Start to ponder and scribble ideas for your own shortbread devos. At the end of this series I will have you email me your devotions. I will publish my favorite on my blog. Plus, I will be holding a contest for the best title and I will be giving away one of my books.

Get to thinkin'!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Babbling about Books -- Thursday -- Financially Free

Financially Free
MaryBeth & Curt Whalen
Publisher: Kregel Publications

As Christ-followers many times we hear the phrase, “God has perfect timing.” Well, once again I say “Amen!” I doubt that Financially Free could have been released at a better time. With the economy crash, everyone is looking to find financial freedom.

Marybeth is with Proverbs 31 Ministries, and one of our seven principles is, “Contributes to the financial well-being of her household by being a faithful steward of the time and money God has entrusted to her.” Financially Free fits perfectly with this statement of purpose.

One of the things I like about this book is that it was co-written with MaryBeth's husband Curt, so the reader has both the man and woman's perspective. Even if your household budget is under control, I think this book will be a welcome addition to your finances. It is written with honesty and biblical precepts. It’s a winner to be sure—BINGO!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In Memory of Jasmine

In Memory of Jasmine 2/14/98-7/17/09.

Goodbye Jazzy Jaz.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Writers' Porch -- Friday -- Self Publishing

Well, the vote is in! I will start the series "Short-Bread--How to Write Great Devotionals" beginning next Friday. However, today I want to chat about self-publishing. This is a portion of spam email I received this week.


There are three gifts for you at the bottom of this email.

Are you one of the 86% of people who dream of writing your own book?
Have you thought that writing your book is impossible, or that you could never be published?

I "equip saints for the work of the ministry" of writing. Why?
I do it because I don't want to see you take your book to heaven!

You have the ingredients to create your book. All you need is the recipe.
If you can tell a story, you can write your book.
But you may have to forget what you were taught in school.

In my course, I will explain to you:

1. Why I never write a book until I've sold it.
2. Why I never outline a book before I write it.
3. Why I never research a book until I've written it.
4. Why I'll never submit an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher.

I'll show you how to write your book quickly, and how to self publish it instantly.


First of all, I am not totally against self-publishing. But a writer truly needs to know the ends and outs of self-publishing (aka vanity publishing). Usually the costs are very high to self-publish a book and the return very low. I know, I know, you ask, "But what about The Shack?" The Shack and A Christmas Cup of Tea are one in a million self-published books that have actually succeeded financially. In order to make it work you must have a platform to sell your books. They will not sell just because they are on

I recently had a phone conversation with a woman that was contemplating self-publishing. The cost to her was going to be around $5000 and a garage full of books for her to sell. (She held no type of speaker/sales platform.) She absolutely insisted she thought this was the best option for her. (Then why did she call me for advice and then argue against everything I advised?)

Here's the problem. We writers want to see our words in print--at any cost. It is discouraging to receive rejection after rejection. However, self-publishing is not always the answer to finding our dreams. Please, please, please be extremely careful if you decide to self-publish. If you decide to self-publish, find a trustworthy company. For Christian self-publishing I would suggest WinePress Publishing. I have seen their work, which is beautiful, but more importantly they are honest and have great integrity. They are present at several Christian conferences. Talk to them to see what are your best options.

DO NOT publish with some fly-by-night spammer who sends out predatory emails. All right, I am getting off my soapbox now.

See ya next Friday!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Babbling about Books -- Thursday -- Little Bee

Little Bee: A Novel
Author: Chris Cleave
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2009

Wow! Every so often you find a jewel of a book. I found Little Bee, the second novel by Chris Cleave. I am going to read his first novel, Incendiary, right away. Little Bee holds a captive audience with great writing and narrative form.

The protagonist, Little Bee is a 16-year-old refugee from Nigeria who is always looking for a suicidal option for "when the men come". After the first chapter I cared deeply about Little Bee, and by the second chapter I knew that the book held a horrible history for Little Bee. Although I dreaded knowing the story, at the same time I couldn’t put the book down until I knew the story.

There is some humor with a four-year-old boy who believes himself to be Batman and chasing the “baddies.” The book reveals the upside and downside of family and friends. It also displays humanity’s horror and honor. Little Bee is a story that cannot be guessed. The crafted writing gives clues to the narrative throughout, but the twists and turns still come at unexpected times. An accurate reviewer said, “Cleave has given us a beautifully written, witty, heartbreaking, evocative, suspenseful and horrific novel.”

If you read and enjoyed the The Kite Runner, then Little Bee is a must read. I expect that your local library will have several copies, but also a long waiting list. Little Bee is worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fraggle Rock

Twenty-five years ago, our special family night was watching Fraggle Rock. We would pop popcorn and watch the weekly show. It was produced by the late Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets. For four years Fraggle Rock ruled!

Last December I was browsing through Costco and spied the anniversary edition of Fraggle Rock. I couldn't believe it. (Actually, I had forgotten all about it until then). Right then and there, I knew what I was getting my adult kids and toddler grandchildren for Christmas. And because I couldn't stand it I bought myself a set.

I have had so much fun watching the DVDs. Now, I will admit the camera angles and production might not be up to 2009 standards. However, the sweet story lines with humor, tenderness and a moral are right up my alley. Talk about entertaining! I curl up with my bowl of popcorn and spend the evening with Sprocket, the Dozers, the Trash Heap and all sorts of eccentric characters. I fit right in "Down in Fraggle Rock."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Laughter & Lattes

One of my favorite parts of ministry is finding friends who love Jesus. There is nothing quite like meeting someone and knowing that you are sisters--sisters in Christ. Recently, I was privileged to share laughter and lattes with Price Chapel in Utah. We had a blast! We laughed and shared caffeine jitters, but most all we shared love.

Fun times!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Friday--The Writers' Porch

Over the past few weeks I have given tips on how to find your path to publication. Now I would like to begin a new series. But I would love to have your input on what you would like to read about on The Writers' Porch.

A few of the ideas that I have include:

Shortbread--Learn How to Write Great Devotionals

Brick-by-Brick--How to Write Bible Studies

How to Find the Right Publisher

Book Proposals--Learn Necessary Elements

Now what are your ideas? What would you like to learn?

Let me know! Leave a comment or email me at


Babbling about Books--Thursday

Redeeming Love
Author: Francine Rivers
Christian Fiction
Publisher: Multnomah

If you haven’t read Redeeming Love, you should. It is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it a couple of years ago. Now, I just listened to it on my i-pod. All I can say is that when I read it in book form I couldn’t put it down. When I listened to it on my i-pod, my ears hurt from the continuous pressure of the ear buds.

In the audio version, at the end they interview Francine Rivers. She discusses that before she became a Christian she wrote steamy historical fiction. After becoming a Christ follower, she put her writing aside for three years. She immersed herself in God’s Word. Eventually, she felt led to write Redeeming Love, which is based on the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer. However, she places the story in California during the Gold Rush with the characters renamed Michael and Angel. Redeeming Love was her first Christian novel. Since then she has written many more, but I think Redeeming Love will be a classic.

Kudos to Multnomah Books for taking the risk of publishing this unique book. It contains child molestation, prostitution, forgiveness, grace and true love.

Read it!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Birds in My Mustard Tree

Birds in My Mustard Tree by Susanne Scheppmann (An excerpt)

“He said to them, Because of the littleness of your faith [that is, your lack of firmly relying trust]. For truly I say to you, if you have faith [that is living] like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Move from here to yonder place, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20 (AMP)

What are birds in a mustard tree? Let me see if I can explain.

My pomegranate bush resembles a Christmas tree decorated by the hand of God. Its branches hang heavy with crimson bulbs of fruit. It sways in the wind and I catch a whiff of the overripe fruit. Various types of sparrows and robins sit on the branches like “twelve partridges in a pear tree.” Then I hear the high-pitched music of finches and hummingbirds beyond the lush fruit and deep within the branches. The birds on the exterior dance; the hidden birds continue to sing along in a bird chorus.

To me this pomegranate bush mirrors in the physical world what happens in the spiritual world of faith that Jesus referred to in the above verse.

But what are birds in a mustard tree? It’s my phrase for recognizing God’s response to my smallest faith and most doubt-filled prayers. The birds in my mustard tree are proof to me that God works as long as I have the tiniest bit of faith in His almighty power. Author David Jeremiah wrote in My Heart’s Desire. "You may sometimes feel awkward and uncomfortable, and find yourself saying, “Is this really true? I don’t see anything in it. I don’t hear God’s voice. I don’t feel His presence. There are days like that for all of us. The pursuit of God has no shortcuts. You simply must keep walking, keep seeking, and keep yearning. Keep at it, and you won’t be disappointed."

One example of mustard seed faith is I think back to when my two sons were little boys. I began to pray for their future wives. So, I began a “shopping list” of prayers for daughters-in-law. It consisted of the following: godly, kind, sense of humor, good cooks, and fun families. Those prayers have been answered completely. I consider my “daughter-in-loves” to be two of the most evident birds to result from my faith.

What would you list as seen evidences of your faith?

If we combined our lists, we would be amazed at the variety of “birds” we would see. In the days and years ahead, we will see many more birds come to roost in our mustard tree of faith.

Abraham Herschel described it as,"Faith is not the clinging to a shrine. But an endless pilgrimage of the heart, audacious longing, burning songs, daring thoughts, impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping toward these are all a drive to love the one who rings our heart like a bell."

Even if my faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, God can bring about miraculous results. He can grow my faith so large that it can roost a multitude of His wonderful deeds. I call these the “birds in my mustard tree.”

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday--The Writer's Porch


Today I finish the "Top Ten Paths to Publication." Number 10—edit-revise-edit. When you think you are finished writing let your manuscript sit. Put it in a drawer for a few days, then pull it out and read it again. Read it aloud to yourself. Listen for the rhythm and cadence of your writing. How does it sound?

Read it through and delete any unnecessary words. These will usually be adverbs. Delete the adverbs and use stronger verbs. For example:

He ran quickly to the car.
He raced to the car.

In addition, I always have at least two other people read my manuscript. Even when I read my own writing aloud, I tend to insert the words I think should be there. So by having a couple more sets of eyes read it, I will get a better final product. My husband is one of my proofers. (Now I can’t recommend that for everyone, but it works for me.) Also, my dear friend and relative, Margaret Traudt, proofs for me. She has done a great job for me, so great that she has begun to do it as a small business. If you are interested you can contact Margaret for more information at:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Babbling about Books--Thursday--Our Greatest Gift

Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring
Henri Nouwen
Publisher: HarperCollins

By coincidence, I was reading Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring during these past couple weeks of such high profile deaths. Each time I hear of the death of a celebrity or grieve over the passing of a friend it makes me reflect on my own mortality. How many more years do I have?

I am not afraid of dying, but still I think about it. Henri Nouwen’s book is a grace-filled, compassionate look at death and dying. Are you thinking, “How morbid is that?” Well, perhaps a bit, but at the same time this book is comforting and thought-provoking.

Nouwen was somewhat of a modern day mystic. He was a native of Holland, author of dozens of books and a caregiver for people with mental disabilities. I have read a few of his books, but I think this one is my favorite. If you are a Nouwen fan, I think you’ll like this.

See you tomorrow,