Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Quiet New Year's Eve

Lynda and I are in our reading chairs, each with our laptop, listening to the NY Philharmonic concert on PBS. Right now they are performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", one of my favorite pieces. Since my tax dollars paid for the program, I might as well listen to it.

Earlier, we went out to eat at a Chinese buffet with Lynda's mom and brother (here visiting from Santa Fe). This was my birthday dinner. Yes, I'm 60 years old today. Our celebration, other than the dinner, was to go to Wal-Mart and do our weekly shopping. Yesterday, though, Lynda brought cake and pizza to the office, and everyone gathered for a brief party. That was nice.

So 2011 ends, a momentous year, not to be judged by the quietness of the last day of it. 2012 promises to be quieter than 2012, I hope. Other than getting a new roof next week, some siding repair, inside repainting due to the leakage. Other than giving three papers at a conference in Las Vegas in February. Other than self-publishing at least three books, and five if I can do it.

Yes, 2012 promises to be a quiet year.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Morning

It's Christmas morning. The house was quiet when I got up around 10:30 AM. We are at our son's house in Chicago. I guess he and his partner had been up earlier, but were not when I got up. Now almost everyone is up, the TV is on with some Christmas special, and I hear many voices. There are no young children in the house.

How different from 50+ years ago. In the Todd household we had quite a Christmas ritual down. It started Christmas eve, when we put the tree up and decorated it. Many other decorations went up that day, some after we three kids went to bed.

One thing that had been in place for a week or so was the manger scene, on top of the sewing machine in the dining room. The only figures in it were animals. Mary and Joseph were across the room in one direction, the Magi across the room in another. I don't think we separated the shepherds and sheep from the stable. On the days leading up to Christmas, Mary and Joseph began their trek to Bethlehem, moving across the room. They arrived at the stable on Christmas eve.

Christmas morning we put baby Jesus in the manger in the stable, and started the Magi on their trek. Twelve days later, on Epiphany, they arrived.

That seems to have been a good tradition. It was a somewhat accurate version of what the Bible says happened. I wish we had done it with our kids.

Another part of the routine was that we could open our stockings and one present before going to mass. The rest of them had to wait until after church, after lunch, and until family gathered. Or, if we were going to our grandparents for our evening Christmas dinner, we had our family presents in the early afternoon, then more at the grandparents in the late afternoon. I suppose not many parents these days have tried to train their children to wait on presents.

Once we children were old enough to attend Midnight Mass, the routine changed some. We still couldn't tear into presents, but the waiting time was greatly reduced, not being interrupted by morning church.

Merry Christmas everyone. May the Holy Spirit fill you today, and make it a special day of celebration of Jesus' birth.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Interview: Joe Pote, author of "So You are a Believer Who has been through a Divorce"

Joe Pote is a fellow Arkansas writer who I've come to know over the Internet. He has a book out titled Are You a Believer Who has been Through a Divorce?:
A Myth-Busting Biblical Perspective on Divorce. Let's have Joe tell us a little about his book.
AATTA: Can you give us a brief description of what this book is about?

JP: Sure.  This book discusses God’s heart toward Christians who have experienced divorce. The church has developed a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths encouraging legalistic attitudes toward believers who have experienced divorce.  These myths act as barriers, distancing relationships with both God and fellow believers.

In this book, I address seven of these misconceptions, discussing both the basis for the myth and what the Bible actually says in context of the complete scripture.

Readers will experience the liberating joy of lifted guilt and renewed intimacy with God as each myth is exposed in the light of God’s truth.

AATTA: We would normally expect a book on this topic to be written by a pastor, a theologian, or a Christian counselor.  You’re a structural engineer, one of my professional kinfolk.  Why did you decide to write this book, and what qualifies you to write a book on this topic?

JP: Yes, I am a structural engineer.  I have neither a seminary degree, nor a psychology degree.  I do, however, have a strong background in biblical study and inductive interpretation of scripture.  As a child, I was literally raised in church, attending multiple church services and Bible studies each week, and I have continued to study the Bible throughout my adult life.

Several years ago, I went through a divorce.  It was a devastating experience, at many levels.  As a child, growing up in church, I had been taught that Christians don’t divorce; that Christian married couples find a way to work through any issues, without ever even considering divorce as a potential option.  Yet, here I was, a Christian with deep convictions and a strong love for Christ, going through a divorce.

In processing that reality, I began studying what the Bible teaches on the topic of God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce, and was surprised by what I learned.  I began to realize that much of what I had believed about God’s view of divorce was simply incorrect. I had accepted certain myths as truth, based not on scripture, but on words, actions, attitudes and impressions observed as a child, growing up in church.

In the years following that divorce, in conversing with other Christians with similar divorce experiences, I discovered that I was not alone in those misperceptions. In fact, these same myths are widely believed and accepted as truth by many people within the Christian church. For believers who have experienced divorce, these myths directly interfere with our relationships, acting as barriers as we seek to draw close to God, as well as to our fellow believers.

AATTA: There are a lot of books on the market discussing divorce from a Christian perspective.  What makes your book different from any other book on this topic?

JP: The Bible really doesn’t talk very much about the specific topic of divorce of a marriage covenant.  Most books on this topic pull their information from a few of the passages that do mention divorce, while ignoring other passages that don’t support their viewpoint.  Then they lift a few sentences out of context, using them to create an inflexible set of rigid legalistic rules, which they attempt to apply to every situation.

Although the Bible says relatively little on the specific topic of divorce of a marriage covenant, it has much more to say on the broader topic of covenants, in general.  In this book, I draw from this broader scope of rich illustrations of God’s heart in regard to covenant and redemption. 

I also review passages that specifically reference divorce of a marriage covenant, discussing them within the context of the entire passage in which they are presented, as well as within the context of the broader body of scripture.

AATTA: You have titled the first chapter of your book, “Myth 1 ~ Divorce is Sin.”  By calling this viewpoint a myth, you clearly indicate disagreement with the position that divorce is always sin.  Does that mean you believe God approves of anyone suing for divorce, for any reason at all?

JP: No, not all!  In fact, I spend far more pages of this book explaining the importance of honoring covenants than I do explaining that divorce is not sin. 

However, I think it is very important to make a clear distinction between violating covenant vows, and choosing to justly end a covenant that has been repeatedly violated.  The Bible is very clear that violating covenant vows to love, honor, cherish, protect, and forsake all others is sin.  The just dissolution of a covenant that has been repeatedly misused as a tool to enslave or abuse is not sin.

AATTA: I’ve noticed that you use the phrase, “believers who have experienced divorce,” rather than simply saying, “divorced believers.”  Is there something you don’t like about the word “divorced”?

JP: Yes, there is, when used as an adjective.  In fact, I discuss this topic in the chapter titled, “Myth 4 ~ Divorce is a Perpetual State of Being.”  To summarize, we tend to categorize people as being married, single, widowed, or divorced.  Within the church, we often extend these categorizations to also include divorced-and-remarried. 

We affix the label “divorced” to people, and never remove it no matter what happens, for the rest of their lives.  That’s just not scriptural.  Divorce is an experience I have lived through, not a defining characteristic of who I am.  My covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ defines who I am.

AATTA: The very first sentence of the book’s Introduction asks a question, “What does Jesus look like going through a divorce?”  What is your answer to that question?

JP: Well, I obviously wrote an entire book in answer to that question.  It is difficult to answer without first providing all the background contained within the book.

However, as a concise answer to a concise question, I would say that Jesus, going through a divorce, looks much as He did leading the exodus of His people out of Sheol, the place of the dead.  He walks with His child, justly redeeming them from their covenant of bondage, and delivering them through the divorce.

AATTA: In this book you target seven myths held by many people within the church, today.  People tend to hold very strong opinions about matters of faith.  In writing this book, are you intending to stir up controversy?

JP: No, it is not my intent to be controversial; though I’m sure some will take issue with my position.  Actually, as a writer, I am more concerned about whether or not I have adequately explained my position.  If someone understands my position and chooses to disagree, I am completely fine with that.  I just hope they will take the time to first read the book and understand the position, before disagreeing with it.

My intent in writing this book is to share a message of hope and healing with people who have suffered the devastation of a failed marriage.  I pray that God will use this book to liberate fellow believers who have experienced divorce to a greater fullness of joy in the love and redemption of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Author Interview: Susan Todd and "Five Smooth Stones"

My cousin Susan Todd is also a writer. She has both fiction and non-fiction published, and recently started a blog titled, No Rhyme or Reason. She and I have discussed writing for many years, and have read each other's writing. She recently served as a beta reader for me on my second novel, providing me with excellent character feedback in addition to proofreading.

Among Sue's books is one titled Five Smooth Stones. It sounds like it would be a non-fiction work about a biblical theme, but let Sue tell you about it.

AATTA: Give a short summary of what book is about.

ST: It’s about five women who start out thinking that they are each unique in their own way, and they are. But they soon learn through an unexpected prolonged stay at a Bed and Breakfast just how much they have in common and the commonalities bond them together.

AATTA: How did you choose the characters?

ST: The characters really chose themselves out of a rich abundance of human nature. Just looking around us at the variety of people we meet, friends and often times family, we probable know someone like these ladies.

AATTA: What was your intention is writing this book?

ST: It was an interesting challenge personally to interact with characters that I had to create with personalities that differed from my own. I started out, as I hope the reader will, having likes and dislikes in the beginning. After all, not everyone is our cup of tea. But the more I got into each quirk the more I began to shelve some of my own judgments. As I wrote I began to see a link between their differences. I began to write from the perspective that possible what one saw in the other, that they didn’t like, was either a similarity or something they lacked. Then I began to wish these charming characters could see what I was seeing. And so they did.

AATTA: What do you want the reader to take away from Five Smooth Stones?

ST: I hope that if they see themselves or someone they know acting like these five, and that they will take another look. . Because in the end we are not really all that different in the area of basic needs. There is something to be said about reconciliation. Everyone has some redeeming quality. I once worked with a very contrary lady that I thought that God had not given one good quality. Even though I could not find one on a personal note about her, I came to appreciate the fact that she knitted beautifully!

You can find Five Smooth Stones at CreateSpace, an Amazon company, and on Amazon as well.

Her other published books are:
God said, "Tell Them I Am"

Eternity's Portal

Whales in the Pond

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Almost Ready for Christmas

The Christmas rush is not so bad this year. A lot of this may have to do with not putting up Christmas decorations, as I discussed in this post. We don’t seem to have as many seasonal events to go to, and all but one are completed. Tonight I plan on putting up the string to drape Christmas cards over. Based on the few coming in so far, I doubt I’ll need the second string this year.

So we are in better shape at this point in the Christmas season than normal. Or at least I am. Today we got the van back from the shop, a number of maintenance items done, including one that might have been a disaster (very worn tire) on the trip we will soon take. The insurance company replaced the cracked windshield, which is good. Also the insurance company is going to make major repairs to our house due to hail damage. The adjuster and the designated contractor are duking it out now over a couple of items the contracted feels are needed, but which the insurance company at first didn’t authorize. It should all work out.

Our Christmas letter is written. Tonight I’ll print it. Lynda said she would address the cards this year. I hope she will start tonight so that we can mail them by Saturday. That might be a first: to have all our cards out before Christmas.

Writing is taking up a lot of time right now. Or maybe I should say my writing career is. I’m not actually writing much at present. I’ve had some issues with the Amazon listings for my book. At first the e-book and print book versions for Documenting America were not linked. Through the CreateSpace help system I got that taken care of. But the print version page shows four people as translators of the book. How did that happen? So I’m trying to get that taken care of, through the CS help system again.

Today I spent a little time at Goodreads, editing and expanding my author profile. When I did that, then went to my author page, and it included a dozen books, none of which were mine! So I went to Goodreads tech support and contacted them. The auto responder said it might take three to five business days to address my issue, but I’ve already had an email saying the problem is fixed. Sure enough, my author profile now shows my two books, and only those. Note that the URL may not work, as they are going to change my author name to David A. Todd. If that happens, I'll come back and edit in a proper link.

This Goodreads thing is going to take hours to figure out. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever properly edited my CreateSpace profile or my Kindle profile. And I think an Amazon profile is a separate critter. Meanwhile I read some advice recently that said I should be using LinkedIn as a professional social media. I’m not sure I have the brain power left to join one more place.

Christmas is nine days away, and I’m more pleased it is, this year, than any year in recent memory.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"I Love To Tell The Story" by Susan Barnett Braun

I met Susan Braun at the Write-to-Publish Conference in Wheaton, IL in June 2011. We are writers more or less in the same place in our careers: struggling, trying to find an agent or publisher for a completed book, unsure of our place in the market. At that time I had already made the move into e-self-publishing (though still hoping for commercial publishing for other works), and Susan was not far behind me.

She has now published her memoir, I Love To Tell The Story: Growing Up Blessed and Baptist in Small Town Indiana. It is available as an e-book and as a paperback at

But let's let Susan tell us something about the book.

AATTA: Give us a one sentence summary of what your book is about.

SBB: It's possible to grow up in a Baptist church and emerge unscathed (and actually blessed) by the experience.

AATTA: Why did you decide to publish your memoirs rather than just writing them down for your kids?

SBB: I enjoy reading memoirs. However, I noticed a pattern in so many memoirs where the protagonist has a terrible childhood, full of abuse or events that she later construes as very negative. Looking back at my childhood, I have wonderful memories. I wondered why no one was telling the positive stories, and I decided to publish mine as a way for those of us who've had happy childhoods to celebrate our heritage. A pleasant childhood, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean a childhood with no conflict. A happy childhood can also be pretty darn humorous.

AATTA: The title of the book, and of each chapter, comes from a hymn. How does music play into your memoir?

SBB: Growing up Baptist, we sang a lot of hymns. They didn't mean a lot to me at the time: they were just a fact of life. But now that I've grown up and go to a church that has largely given up on hymns for "praise and worship" music, I've come to realize just how meaningful hymns were and still are in my life. Their lyrics and melodies are so rich, and many of the words sustain me to this day. Each chapter in the book is titled for a hymn that ties in with the theme of that chapter -- it just seemed appropriate.

AATTA: I notice lots of references to things you remember from the 1970s -- TV shows, music, etc. What was it like to relive those years?

SBB: It was cool and groovy, to be sure! As I immersed myself in my childhood again, I mentally lived for months with The Love Boat, The Flintstones, bell-bottom pants, President Nixon, and baloney with the red strip along the edge ... it was nostalgic, and also made me think about how much has changed in our culture.

AATTA: Groovy? I guess that's an expression that's coming back. Many of the memories you document are pretty specific. Do you really remember those things in such detail?

SBB: Actually, I do remember my childhood in more detail than many others do, perhaps ... I've spoken to folks who say they have no memory whatsoever of who their second grade teacher was, for instance. This floors me, because I most certainly remember Mrs. Gebhart :) Seriously, though, I'm not sure why I remember childhood details so well. Part of it is probably that I kept diaries for a decade or more during childhood, and I still have those. Also, I'll admit to a bit of creative license: perhaps I moved an event that happened when I was 12 to age 10, just so the story flowed better.

AATTA: What do you hope a reader will take away from your memoir?

SBB:I hope he will come away feeling good about life! I hope she will have memories that return from her own childhood, and that there will be many "Oh yes -- I'd forgotten about that!" moments. I hope that any reader would see the book as a pleasant escape to a time that was simpler in many ways, and that, really, it's okay to have had a happy childhood!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Muted Christmas this Year

That’s the best way I can describe out Christmas season so far: muted. We have put up no decorations. We attended one party so far, of our adult Life Group at church. I wrote the first draft of our Christmas letter that will go out with our cards, but so far Lynda hasn’t reviewed it. And we will significantly reduce the number of cards we send out. We have done no Christmas shopping.

The reasons? Busyness. Health. Apathy.

I’m still working through the whole rheumatoid arthritis outbreak that hit me in July. I’ve seen a rheumatologist twice, and actually all affected body parts seem much better. I’ve been able to resume walking for exercise a little, and can sleep mostly pain free. Lynda has been taking physical therapy for bound-up muscles that don’t want to work the way they did twenty years ago, or even five. I think she’s marginally better than she was at the beginning of the summer. Meanwhile, we aren’t particularly excited about the physical effort involved in decorating. We may yet do some.

We won’t have much of a Christmas here this year. We’ll drive to Chicago a few days before to be with our son and his partner in their new house, and will return a couple of days after. Lynda’s brother will be in town, so we’ll have some quiet times with him and their mother. Rumor has it that we will possibly have a visitation of grandchildren and their parents over New Years, but we’ll have to see if the rumor is true.

But, as it turns out, we have one other very good reason not to decorate right now. Back in April or May we had a hailstorm—enough pea to grape-sized hail to cover the deck like snow. Then, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we had another hailstorm of similar size and intensity. At some point in the Spring one of our skylights began leaking, allowing a trickle of water to run down the skylight well then along the ceiling then down the adjacent wall. I couldn’t remember if this leakage was before the first hailstorm or not. At least four times since then, in heavier rains, water has come in.

It suddenly occurred to me over the weekend that maybe the two hailstorms had caused roof damage. And maybe, though I couldn’t remember for sure, the hailstorm had damaged the skylight. If so, this would all be insurable loss. So Monday I called the insurance company and initiated a claim. I asked them, while they were at it, could they assess damage from a couple of blown off and loosened pieces of siding up at the top of the chimney, 30 feet above the ground in an inaccessible place. That happened in a different storm, I told them, but would they please evaluate it.

Yesterday the adjuster came out, and by the end of the day we had a sizable check in our hands. Of course, I left the house today without picking it up to deposit it. We will be getting a new roof and new skylight. They will re-do the sloped ceiling in the large room where the damage took place. They will paint the stained wall in that room. And they will even fix the siding on the chimney, all as one claim (even thought I did not represent it as one claim). Today the restoration company called me, wanting to come out today to look it over. I think the repairs will move quickly.

What does this have to do with Christmas decorations? The room where the damage is is the room where we put our Christmas tree, and most of the other decorations. If we had put the tree up before Thanksgiving, and the Christmas village and the garland by the fireplace and along the banister, and the manger scene, and the many Christmas knickknacks as we usually do, these would have been more things to protect. I probably wouldn’t have bothered calling the insurance company until January, if I remembered to call at all.

I find that Christmas decorations might help with the Christmas spirit, but I’m good not having them this year. Christ in my heart is decoration enough.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Christmas Plot

I am so tired of the Christmas plot. Maybe it’s because of the TV channels we are watching this year. Normally, I don’t watch much television except for news and a little sports, maybe an occasional movie. But this year the wife wants to watch some of the Christmas shows. So we’ve been watching Lifetime and ABC Family and Entertainment network shows, seemingly made-for-TV movies. I normally try to multi-task by reading or writing or working on crossword puzzles, but I’ve actually watched a couple.

Here’s the Christmas plot on these channels: A early-30s career woman with a non-committal or philandering significant other has a chance to go somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or at least do something new, where she meets a virtuous hunk who works in a charity. She has trouble completing her mission, falls for the hunk, leaves the skunk, and winds up with the hunk. At some point she wishes upon a star or a Christmas tree or…something.

Case in point: An Indianapolis newspaper reporter, who has been limited by her boss to writing fluffy features, is sent to a small town in Indiana the week before Christmas to unmask a secret Santa who anonymously does a good deed of expensive charity each year. She goes to the town, quickly focuses on the richest man in town as the secret Santa. He’s out of the country but then comes back. He’s a hunk, his wife dead, no kids, and devotes his attorney skills to saving the rain forests. Just before she left for the assignment her significant other left her for a woman with whom he had a one-night stand. She falls for the rich guy, who she finds is not the secret Santa. Her S.O. comes to the town trying to make up since his new girl was a fraud, but she dumps him. She finds the secret Santa, an unlikely candidate given the size of the charitable gifts, but decides not to unmask him. At the end she leaves the Indianapolis paper to take over the editorship of that small town paper, and will certainly wind up with the hunk. Oh, yeah, since there was no room at the inn she was staying at the local rest home, which happened to have been run by the secret Santa.

Case in point: A career woman who is mistress to her married boss has a minor auto accident in front of the house of a hunk with two kids. In the accident an electrical shock changes everything. That man who lives there says they are husband and wife of ten years, and they have two kids. They all think she is wife and mother to them. Except she’s never seen them before, has never been married, and certainly has not had two children younger than ten years old. Various friends say she is married to him. The show progresses and she comes to terms with the problem. Oh, yeah, his job is running some kind of neighborhood charity. Eventually she finds being this man’s wife is much better than being the mistress of a philanderer. At the end of the program she relives the accident, wakes up as who she was. But it’s still the house of the charity-running hunk, whom she meets for the first time but knows all about him (not because of the ten years she didn’t spend with him but because of the five days she did, or didn’t) and will end up with him. We never learn if the two kids are in the house, the product of a former wife.

Case in point: A trust-fund 30-ish woman is about to be cut off by her jet-setting parents, unless she finds a job or husband. This one doesn’t have a philandering S.O., but has played the field. She’s on the street window shopping when a letter to Santa, dropped by a postman, blows in front of her. The girl asks for a new wife for her father, since his wife (the girl’s mother) died. The letter gives an address. She stalks him, learns he has a multi-truck snow removal business but seems to spend more time running a struggling soup kitchen, the charity of his dead wife. The woman begins volunteering at the soup kitchen and both the daughter and the man begin to like her. But he’s dating another woman, a cold-fish he knew somewhat in college, and is planning on marrying since his daughter needs a mother. The trust-fund baby falls for him, but is exposed as a fraud, then uses her last trust fund payment to rescue the soup kitchen from eviction—on Christmas eve of course. At the end of the show the cold fish is out and the trust fund baby is in.

And on it goes, ad infinitum. Is there no originality in these script writers that they have to use such limited plot lines? Or, is it more that the audience of these few channels are 30-ish career women with philandering SOs, or women who were there once, and so this is what they will tune in to?

We all want to see a happy ending, and character arcs that show growth in the good guys (or girls), and perhaps some movement or the bad guys toward the good side, or at least remorse at them having been bad. So perhaps the script writers are giving the broader American audience what we want.

It’s December 1st. Only 24 more days of the Christmas plot to get through. Must concentrate harder on the multi-tasking.