On this page, ENGAGE with me personally. I’ll post articles I hope you find winsome, as well as bits of news and musing about my current activity. I welcome your comments.

Subscribe to my email newsletter to receive a free e-copy of Wet Thaw, two award-winning short stories by me. Or you can connect by Facebook or by email: deb@debelkink.com.


Journal 2 copy          GIFTS

Last week I held a little giveaway on Facebook, awarding this red leather journal to the third person who signed up for my new quarterly email newsletter (see the first edition of that newsletter here) telling about what’s happening in my writing life. This generated a bit of excitement among my friends—a dozen of them responded by clicking this link and filling in the simple form with name and email addy. The journal has been sent to the winner, but so many nonwinners expressed disappointment that I ordered a couple more for future giveaways. In this way I’m slowly building my list and am mindful of not abusing the trust of my subscribers; I promise them I’ll write only four times a year (or when I have exciting news). That’s their gift to me—a listening ear. Everyone needs an audience, right?

A regular email list, I am told, is what convinces publishers to take on new books. And I have a book to publish (my second novel–read more about it in my newsletter)! I chose the specific giveaway item of this red journal because it suits the plot of my novel (now in the hands of my literary agent). The manuscript’s working title is  The Red Journal (though who knows what the official title will be!); the Victorian anchor and compass symbols on the gift hint at elements of my plot.

People love to receive gifts, but I’ve been realizing how much I love to give gifts! So I’ve decided to make a habit of ensuring that my newsletter recipients are rewarded. The first thing I give all my subscribers is an e-copy of Wet Thaw, a little collection of two award-winning short stories—so if YOU would like a taste of my writing style, sign on up! Then I also plan to give all those on my subscription list a chance to receive some special treat (postage on me)—a signed copy of one of my books, maybe, or a frame-worthy piece of original artwork, or a vintage item that speaks about a character’s personality. I’m having FUN dreaming up possible items that would delight my readers.

What would YOU like to see in my “giveaway” box? Feel free to offer me ideas in the comments below.

13 responses to “JOURNAL”

  1. Heather Arnelien says:

    Hi Deb! I’m excited to read your upcoming novel! I’m curious as to the music tastes of your characters! They do have music tastes, right? So, how about a cd of their favorite artist, or a cd that is popular where your characters live?

    • EXCELLENT idea, Heather! I’m going to put that into my “gifts” file and think about what cd would be the perfect expression of MDM, a delightful character that has very specific tastes.

  2. Talitha Murengi says:

    A characters favorite food or treat! Like some delicious coffee or chocolate 😉

    Something from the country they are from or where the book setting is.

  3. I always vote for chocolate and since we have at least one chocolatier here in Alberta …

  4. Erin DeOrnellas Tran says:

    I would love a collection of your favorite recipes.

  5. Erin Tran says:

    Chocolate is always a good idea!

  6. Lynn Krivak says:

    Deb…Wet Thaw was a delightful read. As always, full of description which takes the reader on a pleasurable journey. You paint my imagination with your well chosen words. Always delightful to read anything from you whether it is 5 lines or over 300 pages. Thank you once again Lynn

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WET THAW COVER          WET THAW

Isn’t this a cool book cover?

The art issues from the paintbrush of talented Lorenda Harder and is meant to entice readers, of course. But my little, two-story ebook is so cheap (under a buck U.S.) that I wonder if it will just melt into the massive pool of other cool-looking books.

I had to put a price on it for Amazon browsers wanting a quick taste of my style. But my real intent in publishing this very brief book was as a free gift I can send those interested in subscribing to my email newsletter. This short email will appear quarterly or so–just a catch-up to let interested friends know what’s going on in my writing life and to offer other fun, free things that I dream up (mailable art or antique hankies–something surprising).

I’m quite proud about getting through the Kindle publishing process, as I don’t consider myself technologically savvy. (I hear my children snorting at this understatement.) It certainly challenged the little grey cells and offered all the potential for a real flop. I had to design and upload the cover, ensure the stories were worthy, decide on a publication date to coincide with my first newsletter (that was a whole other challenge!), convert the document into a couple of different formats, and preview, edit, tinker . . . It took a while.

In the story “Wet” Beth faces a life-changing decision when she returns to the rainy island of the childhood home she abandoned as a troubled teen. In “Thaw” two touring girlfriends from radically different traditions experience the haunting atmosphere of Istanbul under the rare cover of snow. Check out a few reader reviews here.

I’m pleased with the result–a gift to send interested friends. Are you interested? If so, do subscribe.

 

 

 

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 Sleeping Komodo Dragon         SLIPPING BY SLEEPING DRAGONS

It’s said that reading fiction requires willing suspension of disbelief. We writers strive to weave a fictional dream of gossamer threads and avoid anything that might break the spell we cast.

And so we choose our genre and build our story idea around specific conventions—checking vocabulary lists for children’s sci-fi, building psychological tension into thrillers, consulting timelines for historical fiction. We study the markets and adapt our approach to connect with the audience in mind. There’s no end to the preparation and research we undergo as we hone our craft by studying how-to books and attending writers’ workshops and reading great literary works.

Our method is limited only by our diligence.

Popular writers apply a variety of stylistic methods in their novels—think of the unconventional plot of The Time Traveler’s Wife, the language of Harry Potter’s magical spells, the sensuality in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Generally speaking, genre is neutral (excepting, perhaps, erotica or horror, where the purpose of the fictional dream might be sinful).

As Christian writers of fiction, we are even more equipped than secular authors, with metaphysical resources to employ many artistic methods; Francis Schaeffer said,

The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.

But fiction writing is not just about creative method, which varies over time and across cultures. Message is also intrinsic to great story; underlying theme animates the tale and conveys the writer’s main point. Inherent message is pivotal to true literature and must be balanced against the method. Leland Ryken (in The Christian Imagination) put it thus:

Literature is built on a grand paradox: It is a make-believe world [fictional method] that nonetheless reminds us of real life and clarifies it for us [spiritual message].

I once attended a panel on which Christian agents, authors, and editors were asked what was more important to fiction—method or message. Did they favour character- and plot-driven manuscripts of high quality, or was theological meaning peremptory? The ensuing discussion criticized the heavy-handedness that for so long defined “Christian” fiction as something that imparted moral lessons.

The sweep of literary history shows Aesop’s fables teaching ethics, cycle plays in the Middle Ages dramatizing Bible lessons, Sunday school papers of the last generation promoting norms of right living. But, although didactic prose has fallen out of favour, even today’s most superficial novels (such as Fifty Shades of Gray) inevitably shout out the underlying values of the writer. As Steve Turner has noted in Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts:

Writing is inseparable from a point of view . . . You can’t write and not have a point of view.

So how do we, as Christian writers of fiction, ensure our spiritual message comes through our genre’s method?

Before we set fingers to keyboard, we must know our biblical material—at least the basic principles we intend to convey—whether we actually quote Scripture or write in the most veiled and elusive manner. Let me refer again to the wisdom of Ryken:

Christians believe that the Bible and the system of doctrine derived from it are authoritative for thought and practice. Christian involvement with literature, therefore, begins with the belief that the Bible and its doctrines will determine how we should view literature itself and will provide a standard by which to measure the intellectual content and morality of literature that we read and write.

Paul the Apostle, grappling with allegations made by legalists trying to discredit his message of grace, argued for allowing changes in method of communication in order to suit the audience—as long as the message didn’t wander from the truth of the Word (Gal. 1; 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul made cultural and stylistic changes in the way he preached but never compromised God’s propositions. In the same way, our unchanging message becomes appealing to fiction readers when we adapt our method to their sensibilities.

Great Christian fiction is able to “steal past a certain inhibition,” as C.S. Lewis put it; that is, transcendent morals properly fictionalized can slip by the sleeping dragons of reader resistance to truth.

 

This article originally appeared in Fellowscript (vol. 32, no. 4, Nov. 2014), the magazine of Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship. 

 

2 responses to “SLIPPING BY SLEEPING DRAGONS”

  1. Wayne says:

    Are you allowed to use the word erotica in your blog? Someone might think it pornographic. I think one can have a good work of fiction provided it has interesting/compelling characters though the plot is weak, though perhaps it cannot he nonexistent. One of my favorite movies is NORTHFOLK about a dying town. One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place in a grey diner. The protagonist(s) enter the diner and must guess what food the diner has left. The characters are fascinatingly dull. The diner owner is the ugliest women I have ever seen, and there is almost no dialogue yet it works-how is that possible? Because I am involved. That is one way to pass the dragons. Oh, the movie is described on Wikipedia as, “Visually poetic, but may be too dramatically inert for some.”

    • Thanks, Wayne, for your comment. (And yes, I allow the word “erotica” on my site, whether thought pornographic or not. : ) Your point is excellent: Reader engagement is the thing, isn’t it? What an elusive goal, though–and one all of us writers strive towards. You, for example, engaged me with your line “The diner owner is the ugliest woman I have ever seen” as I then pictured what a hag she must be!

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Candle FUNEREAL JOY

This morning I attended my first-ever Hutterite funeral. It moved me. But first things first:

GLOSSARY:

  • Hutterite describes a group of pacifistic, separatist, German-speaking, religious dissenters from 16th-century Moravia (of the same Anabaptist rootstock as the Amish and Mennonite) who fled persecution and now live communally in agriculturally based, one-hundred-soul colonies clustered mostly throughout the prairies of western Canada and northwestern U.S. I am proud to call the Hutterites my neighbours and friends. (Here’s a set of photos and more info for the curious.)
  • Funereal is not a typo but the adjective describing the character “appropriate” to a funeral–generally thought synonymous with words like morose, doleful, or bleak.  The service I attended, with an estimated thousand mourners in attendance, honoured the financial manager of our local colony, an influential Hutterite leader. The character of his funeral was not “appropriate” by this definition.
  • Joy (not gloom) was the attitude pervading the very black-clad gathering of cousins, brothers, offspring, and all manner of extended family who attended from sister colonies as far away as Peace River (fourteen hours’ drive). Tears flowed but joy abounded.

So, with definitions out of the way, I have a simple observation: Death brings hope. 

Of course, this is anti-intuitive and I’m not making light of the sorrow experienced by those who will miss the face and voice and wise counsel of their beloved. But what I saw in that huge crowd of interconnected family (though the words of sermon and song were almost all unintelligible to me) was a founded belief that Christians know where we are going when this life is over.

The preacher’s brief English homily applied Scripture so beautifully, reminding us that blessing follows those who die “in the Lord” (which assumes a life having been lived “in the Lord”).

My Christian friends, in this new year (which has already begun dying), be filled with hope that our future is sure!

6 responses to “FUNEREAL JOY”

  1. Adena Paget says:

    Thank you for your thoughts and information. Being of Mennonite roots, I can identify with the belief and faith of the Hutterite people. It is quite wonderful to know the hope and faith we share with these people.

    • Adena, thanks for your comment. It’s so true. Hutterites (as a group) live a life very different from “the world” and from most of Christianity (they show us one form of communal living I find very interesting and workable, at least in the colonies I’m familiar with). Yet, different as we “post/moderns” are from them in lifestyle, we do share a common faith in Jesus Christ. I really enjoy the friendship of the Hutterites in our neighbourhood.

  2. Ron Hughes says:

    Thanks for this, Deb. In recent years I’ve been learning more about, and appreciating, our Christian siblings with Mennonite roots. I’m glad you opened another window!

    • Thanks, Ron. The website I linked is really lovely, isn’t it? The Hutterites have historically been very shy about allowing photos to be taken, but that and some other areas of lifestyle are changing. Unlike the Amish in your part of Canada, the Hutterites here don’t disapprove machinery–they are amazing farmers and run HUGE equipment. The women all sew their archaic-looking outfits on top-end Bernina and Janome machines, and the new schools are stocked with computers. Watching the society evolve while they keep strictly to 16th-century dress codes and fashion rules is fascinating. I believe they don’t send their teachers/preachers to seminary, and their sermons are all read from the texts of Jacob Hutter, if I have it right. Just a really interesting society.

  3. Isn’t it a little confused to voice admiration for the Hutterites across the board? We can legitimately admire their orderliness, work ethic, efficiency and resistance to fashion trends. But we ought to openly decry their laughably inconsistent legalism, their apparent satisfaction with religious form rather than heart transformation and their serious neglect and suppression of Bible study and evangelism.
    And if someone is trusting in their works to give them hope of heaven, do we actually share the same faith?
    Wycliffe has translated the Bible into Hutterische, which might make a wonderful gift for our Hutterische friends.

    • I absolutely agree, Eleanor, that we can’t claim the Hutterian “way of life” as being anything more than a cultural expression, just another religious society. Don’t read me wrong–I’m not admiring them “across the board.” Individual heart transformation and not groupthink is the only way to understand the Bible and have a relationship with Jesus Christ! However, I personally know many people in this particular colony (each colony being different, even if of the same “denomination”). And these are fine people who by and large love Christian principles (as far as I’ve seen in getting to know them–confirmed by this funeral). Legalism is always a problem, no less with Hutterites than with Amish or Mennonites or, in fact, with other “theocracies” such as what we see in South Africa with that somewhat closed society of Reformed believers who seem to me to connect their doctrine with political positions. But I do ADMIRE that, when societies like this are built on the essentials of Christianity and the Bible, they have a great starting point we can relate to and support and even learn from. So no, Eleanor, I’m not confused, but I do hope I’m not confusing others. Thanks for drawing the conversation in this direction!

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Signing Annie 11.15          SIGNING

I spent several hours yesterday in the lovely environs of Annie McGuire, an interior design studio in Medicine Hat. I signed a few books, had lovely chats with several readers, and met another local author. It was an altogether pleasant day.

Most of my writerly friends declare themselves to be introverts and, indeed, an extroverted personality like mine isn’t seen often in authorial circles. Generally writers find the solitude of writing to fit their natural impulses. Now, I love the focused aspect of writing alone in my home with no one else nearby, with phone silenced and no music to interrupt me, with only the keening of the wind and the kitchen window view of our little red barn to inform my senses. This leaves my imagination unhampered. However, my extroversion needs feeding! So a day with the lovely ladies at Annie McGuire did my heart a world of good!

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THE THIRD GRACE (thumbnail) jpg          READING

I’ve almost completed writing and editing (first round) on my new novel and am looking forward to hearing back from a few publishers considering it. Meanwhile I’m not forgetting my first novel, and lately I had the honour of being featured on The Mighty Pen–an excellent program on HopeStreamRadio. For those of you who’d like to hear me read a bit of The Third Grace, check it out!

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PEPPERS

        “THE END”

In celebration of typing “the end” to my second novel, I brewed up a wonderful soup (made to the tastes of Libby, my main character), which I have dubbed Drunken Pepper Beef Pot. Besides the obvious ingredients of roasted bell peppers (the surplus currently drowning in Spanish olive oil and awaiting a salad in my near future) and chunks of cold beef roast (and various other leftovers, making this a variation of “Fridge Soup” spoken about elsewhere in my blog), I added a healthy bouquet of fresh parsley, about half a bottle of red wine, and a swig of maple syrup. This pot of soup deserves a rainy day! Come share a bowl with me–or, at least, get ready to read my novel, when I can find a publisher for it.

SOUPOIL

4 responses to ““THE END””

  1. Elma Neufeld says:

    Congratulations on the writing of the final word of your second novel, “the end”. I can’t wait to read it!

    The soup looks yummy!

    Yesterday I made the mango dessert to share with a friend. It was so delicious I will make it again soon. You come up with wonderful recipes!

  2. Christelle Gillot says:

    I wish i could share a bowl of soup with you. ..

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CHEESE          CHEESE AND BREAD

One of my favourite writers, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote a whole essay on the profound subject of cheese. Please enjoy this excerpt:

The waiter brought me cheese, indeed, but cheese cut up into contemptibly small pieces; and it is the awful fact that, instead of Christian bread, he brought me biscuits. Biscuits—to one who had eaten the cheese of four great countrysides! Biscuits—to one who had proved anew for himself the sanctity of the ancient wedding between cheese and bread! I addressed the waiter in warm and moving terms. I asked him who he was that he should put asunder those whom Humanity had joined. I asked him if he did not feel, as an artist, that a solid but yielding substance like cheese went naturally with a solid, yielding substance like bread; to eat it off biscuits is like eating it off slates. I asked him if, when he said his prayers, he was so supercilious as to pray for his daily biscuits. He gave me generally to understand that he was only obeying a custom of Modern Society. I have therefore resolved to raise my voice, not against the waiter, but against Modern Society, for this huge and unparalleled modern wrong.

One response to “CHEESE”

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LITERARY FICTION          LITERARY FICTION

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. (C.S. Lewis)

I lurk on a few writers’ online message boards, and the other day someone posted about his dislike of “literary fiction” (as opposed to “genre fiction,” such as historical or mystery novels). Several subsequent responses showed this abhorrence to be common.

Now, my stories have been described by some as literary, which I take as a compliment, even if my first publisher for marketing purposes insisted The Third Grace be categorized as a “contemporary women’s” novel (in other words, genre fiction).

It’s true that literary fiction’s often depressing realism is based on a pessimistic and even nihilistic worldview. I’ve run into lots of such writing (more often Euro-Canadian than American, for some reason) that’s just plain hard work to read. And as for short stories, even many Christian literary journals valued for their high quality of writing celebrate the edgy over the orthodox, demanding a level of artistic and academic snobbishness that can be very intimidating, so that we ask:

  • “What if I don’t ‘get’ the story’s point?”
  • “What’s with the big words?”
  • “Does this writer think she’s better than I am?”

I sometimes wonder if there’s a contest going on among literary writers to use the most arcane vocabulary. (See how I did that—slipped in the word “arcane,” meaning understood by few? Admission: I actually had to look it up to double-check its meaning. But then, I like the dictionary.) What makes fiction literary, anyway?

Wiki says:

Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that hold literary merit . . . works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.

Literary fiction of this sort, fuelled by Christian thinking, can create real and enduring works of art.

Goodreads places some of my favourite books onto its literary shelf:

  • Pride and Prejudice (An excellent commentary on the society of Jane Austen);
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Took me right back to the Japan I visited in the 1970s, immersing me in the country’s ancient culture and giving me insight on its foundational beliefs);
  • The Book Thief (Oh, the pathos!);
  • Room (Wow, have you read this creepily wonderfully horrifyingly entertaining novel?);
  • Water for Elephants (Historically amazing; I’m using the basic time-flash structure of this one for my current work-in-progress);
  • All the Light We Cannot See (My top read of the year; I recommend it to everyone—along with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas—for insight into realities of WWII);
  • Poisonwood Bible (I ground my teeth through Kingsolver’s underlying message and disdain for faith, but the literary merit was fantastic, and it all caused me to think about how I myself would have written her story).

And so on—you get the idea.

Huffington Post makes a good point in an article on literary versus genre fiction:

In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer’s being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.

We all have our own tastes and opinions when it comes to writing and reading. Well-crafted genre fiction is fantastic for entertainment, and I devour it at night or on the beach. But I really value literary fiction based on a soundly biblical worldview, and I wish many more Christians would set their sights on writing literarily in order to introduce the gospel of Jesus Christ (not blatantly but thematically and symbolically, evangelizing through the back door of story) to an audience thirsty for literature that takes them into deeper meaning—perhaps back to the Bible itself.

Who better than Christians to comment on culture, politics, the human condition? Who more prepared than Christians to bare heart and soul in emotional journey that explains the universe and ourselves?

YOUR TURN:

  • What fiction have you read lately that touches you deeply?
  • Do you shy away from reading literary fiction and, if so, why?
  • What novel, for you, is the perfect blend between “entertaining” and “meaningful”?

 

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Roots & Branches Cover

 

ANNOUNCING THE JUNE 1 RELEASE OF MY NEW BOOK!

Roots and Branches traces the image of the tree throughout the fiction of G. K. Chesterton, interpreting the underlying message of his religious convictions through biography and literary analysis. This book introduces the uninitiated to a classic British author, allows students of Chesterton to mine his enigmatic work for metaphysical connotation, and encourages current-day writers to build symbolism into their own stories.

So if you’ve ever wondered what good ole GKC might have meant with his rather abstruse fiction, you’ll enjoy reading Roots and Branches. If you’ve only vaguely heard about him (maybe watched one of his Father Brown mysteries on BBC), Roots and Branches is a good intro. If you, like me, are a writer looking to enrich your own fiction with symbolism (the reason I chose GKC as a research subject in the first place), this is the book for you!

BACKSTORY: I was minding my own business and working on my current novel last fall when, out of the blue, I got a strange email from a man asking for more info on an article I’d written about a novel he was reading (The Flying Inn). He introduced himself as a charter member of the Central Florida American Chesterton Society (the ACS has something like 85 chapters throughout the States, with some international presence as well as a quarterly magazine, Gilbert). I answered his questions and was in turn answered by . . . silence. Three weeks later he contacted me again with his true motivation: He was a small publisher interested in my graduate research at Briercrest (2001) and would like to do business with me.

Voila! Today I formally present the results of my new alliance with Wayne Stahre of The Habitation of Chimham Publishing.

Isn’t the cover lovely? My sister, Lorenda Harder, created the pen-and-ink sketch, with her daughter Averil assisting on the technical side of things. The publisher scored a foreword by Dale Alquist, president of the ACS, and several other Chesterton scholars weigh in as well with endorsements (among them Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent, mega-blogger Brandon Vogt, and GKC expert John Coates).

In a few days you’ll be able to find Roots and Branches at your favourite online bookstore. Or watch for me and my pile of copies at a conference near you!

 

4 responses to “ROOTS AND BRANCHES”

  1. Elma Neufeld says:

    Congratulations! I am so proud of you, Deb! You could pull away from being absorbed in your new novel to work on this non-fiction book “Roots & Branches” then see it to completion. I love the ink drawing of the mature tree by Lorenda. The powerful strokes give it a feeling of strength & wisdom. It is great that Averil could assist! My artistic family, what a gift!

    • Thanks so much, Mom. It takes a lot of people to get a book together, and I’m grateful for all the help. I’ve already been asked to consider an arts interview by someone who interviewed me for my first novel (voice over the Internet).

  2. Lorenda says:

    Thank you all. It has been my privilege to add a small part to this significant book…and what a wonderful way to be introduced to Chesterton! I am already voraciously eating up “Roots & Branches” and have purchased a couple of Kindle books written by G.K. himself…they are waiting in line.

    • GKC is really an interesting character. He was not widely known for his fiction and that made him unchartered territory–perfect research material. Lorenda, I think you’ll just love THE FLYING INN, which I’m sure you’ll reach for once you read Part II of ROOTS AND BRANCHES.

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