Why I Care About the Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s easy to say with a cavalier pride in my own erudite literary interests that I have no time for and do not care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My typical quest continues to lead me in search of ether writing or reading the next great novel. Right now, I’m reading the Art of the Heist by Myles Connnor. Myles is a convict who is the likely mastermind behind the Gardener Museum Heist, but I digress. My kids begged and dragged me to see the Avengers movie in our basement on DVD, remember Guardians of the Galaxy? I confess to actually staying awake through the entire movie AND spending time thinking about the characters in this movie long after the sequel enticing credits rolled on, and on, and on, and on.  This weekend we are all going to see Infinity Wars. Yes, we are going to pay to see this movie which has now grossed over a billion dollars. I just wrote that sentence, a movie about galactic superheroes has grossed over a billion dollars. Our world is truly desperate for escape on a massive scale.

I’m actually excited to simmer down in my cushy seat at Studio Movie Grill and munch on galaxy nachos while watching the green goblin Gamorrah curse Thanos and fall in love with Starlord, Peter Quill. But their doomed love affair isn’t the main draw, it is GROOT! I wrote this piece for Relevant magazine so everyone could understand, although not necessarily agree with, why Groot is the greatest hero. This sentient, little tree is irresistible even as a teenager which is nearly impossible for that genre of life. How could you not agree? Enjoy the movie, even if you are on your third, fourth or fifth time seeing it and let me know who your favorite superhero is. Leave me a comment and let’s debate the merits of this cultural “marvel.” https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/groot-greatest-hero-marvel-cinematic-universe/

 

 

A New Book! “First Ask Why” by Shelly Wildman

My dear friend Shelly Widman is launching her first book today! This is always a big event which is the result of years of work, a.k.a. burning the midnight oil to address edits you may not even agree with, but your publisher insists on, hours of praying for the right words etc. Giving birth to a book can be painful, but when the arrival shines its beautiful front cover face into the world it’s so worth it. And…her book is fantastic. I respect Shelly and her husband because they’ve successfully raised all their kids to love Jesus and serve him–  no small feat in our day. Her book provides an intentional look into the why behind what we do as parents rather than the how. She also gives some great tips that I can still incorporate into our home even though our kids are older. Below are some thoughts from Shelly about why she wrote the book and links to getting it on Amazon or at your favorite local bookstore.

From Shelly:

I have a confession to make: I wasn’t the girl who always wanted to be a mom. I know lots of women who have dreamed of being a mother since they were little girls, who always cuddled and nurtured their baby dolls, and who played house for hours on end with anyone who would join them.

When I was a little girl, I lined up chairs, made worksheets, and played school. My poor baby dolls and stuffed animals sat in a classroom all day rather than getting cuddled! I always wanted to be a teacher; unfortunately, being a mom was not exactly on my radar.

So when I had kids, I found myself in waaaaay over my head. My husband and I had no idea what we were doing. We found ourselves reacting to situations as they came up, rather than planning ahead for what we wanted to see in our kids.

And when we consulted parenting books, we found that many gave us pat answers to the many complex questions that we had about raising our daughters. We didn’t need to be told how to raise our kids, we needed to step back and ask why?

Why were we doing what we were doing?

Why should we emphasize certain values? Were there others we should consider?

Why are we even here?

Here’s what we realized: asking why gets to our motivations. Asking why goes deeper than simply asking how. Asking why helps us understand our purpose and helps lead us to ways we can go about fulfilling that purpose.

Asking why makes us more intentional.

A couple of years ago I read a book that has really stayed with me. It’s called You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith. In this book, Smith helps his readers understand that where we spend our time, our money, and our efforts reveals much about our hearts. What I took away from the book was that the things we emphasize in our homes are the things that are ultimately important to us.

Are we encouraging our kids to worship? Why?

Are we spending all of our time running around from activity to activity? Why?

Are we talking about big, important cultural issues with our kids from a biblical perspective? Why?

. . . or why not?

Smith would say that we emphasize, or spend time on, those things that we love. If we take a look at our lives and what we’re pouring into our kids, what do we see?

As a young mom, I knew that we were here for so much more than just a shared existence, and that’s what prompted me to really look into the “why” of our family life. And beyond that, the “why” as to what we were doing to disciple our kids—the spiritual values that we were trying to instill in them.

Asking why helped us come a little closer to the purpose of our family. And that changed everything for us.

Shelly’s book, First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship, releases on April 24, and is available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble or through Kregel.com.

Thank You Luci Shaw

Dear Luci,

Happy National Poetry Month! When I heard you were being honored at Festival of Faith and Writing this past weekend and I was not going to be there, my heart lost a sad beat. The last time we spoke in person was back at Festival 2014, but your work sings to me in every season. Some nights I come across your heart and unique poetic voice while reaching for chapstick in my nightstand drawer, but instead I grab Harvesting Fog and my lips dry out as my struggling eyelids give way and your book rolls up and down with my sleeping chest. Or I hear you when I’m running on a trail in the woods, telling me to watch out for, “their blunt ends jutting,” or staring at the rain, waiting for the right word.

I think we knew each other when I was a skinned knee girl at Saint Mark’s Church in Geneva, IL. Or, more likely, I knew who you were. Not until college when I read your Advent collection, Winter Song did your voice come alive in my ear with that special connection that allows us to “know” a writer by her words on the page. We are related by the “word made flesh.”

When you spoke at Festival in 2014, I remember, “I’m an Episcopalian because of the mystery.” I thought, me too! We must be the only two female, Episcopalian (I’m actually Anglican) poetry writers in this world! It’s the mystery by which we connect our disconnected lives to the great mystery of the Incarnation and our words come. “Enkindled, enfleshed, enlightened, they are born.” Thank you for teaching me not to rush, but to watch and listen instead. To listen for the sound of heaving earth and cracking Spring while walking the dog. To take off my parka hood, no matter how cold, to hear the birds and squirrels chattering and chasing amongst last fall’s dry leaves. Their crackle a reminder that what is past is past and to dust it shall return, “humble earth can turn beautiful.” For in the stillness and silence the word can be found and this is a shared secret of writing’s joy. T.S. Eliot told us on “Ash Wednesday” and you reminded me from that big, Festival stage, “In our day we must learn to be still, to wait, to hold our tongue.”

Thank you for inspiring me to teach poetry, every April. Yesterday we visited Seamus Heaney’s “Clearances,” his tribute to his grandmother, “A cobble thrown a hundred years ago keeps coming at me.” Thank you for speaking into the necessity of awareness of memory and recommending the brilliant book, The Geography of Memory. My first novel benefited greatly from Jeanne Walkers’ heartbreaking reflections of her mother’s descent into dementia. I tell my students that poetry gives voice to things we cannot see. Sometimes a sliver as subtle as a glinting shadow stops our breath and Sprit-filled words compel us to capture the holiness of light and shade.

I’m sure that my sweet, writing sister Tammy Perlmutter will do a wonderful job blessing and honoring you this weekend, but since poetry is personal, I can’t help myself. Our crooked letters bump and grind against each other with the discomfort of teenage angst, loves lost and gained, middle age’s menopausal fog (not to be harvested) and later years of sensible shoes, hand knit sweaters and an incising eye that can only come from standing decades in the mystery, with gratitude.

Thank you Luci Shaw.

http://www.lucishaw.com/poetry_possibilities.html

With love,

Margaret

Stop Excommunicating Christians Who Disagree With You

In the Spirit of Easter joy here’s some thoughts on how to move beyond just cutting people off who we don’t see eye to eye with. I recently became aware of the writing of Dr. Brene Brown and her talk at the National Cathedral blessed me. If this post convicts you or helps you identify ways in which you or someone you love has cut you out of their life wrongly, not because healthy boundaries were needed to maintain the relationship, but rather just throwing up your hands and walking out, then you also might want to listen to her talk on returning to civility. Linked here: https://cathedral.org/sermons/sermon-dr-brene-brown

This article originally ran a couple of weeks ago in Relevant magazine and it seemed like a good time to run it here as well. Be blessed this Eastertide! Feel free to reach out in comments with any thoughts. I keep the comments private. Thanks for reading.

Stop Excommunicating Christians Who Disagree with You

 

 

Almost Spring!

Looking out my classroom window at the greying hues found in the seamless connection between the sidewalk and the cloudy sky, I hear the birds making an announcement. Despite this week’s official arrival, Spring has been working its way up from the ground since Valentine’s Day. The arrival of the red cardinal up in our neighbor’s birch tree happens right around the same day every year and from that point Spring comes. Some years the Snowdrops break through the crusty, old snow first and others, Winter Aconite is the winner. We live in a part of the country that usually gets hit by unseasonably warm temperatures around Mother’s Day causing just about every person to remark, “Wow, what happened to Spring? We’ve already moved into summer.” Well, it’s been quietly creeping up on you since mid-February. Stop. Take an early look and listen.

My classes compose Spring themed poems in April because it is National Poetry Month, but also because Spring is about all things new and a poem splashes this truth across the page. Here’s a little one about one of my favorite Spring flowers that you can’t buy in the grocery store, pictured above – Winter Aconite or in fancy circles:

Eranthus

Always in a race

with your neighbor,

the Snowdrop,

pressing forward

out of winter despite

your common name,

Winter Aconite.

Unexpected

ray of ground

level sunshine,

friendly buttercup,

enveloped by

poisonous leaves.

If I eat you

like your friend Digitalis

I’d drop back to

earth, my cardia

arrested.

You like to live

on the edge,

between winter and

spring, life giving

yellow warmth

and icy cold

death.

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Letting Go of Billy Graham

It’s not easy to imagine life in America without Billy Graham. He served as a comforting blanket of trustworthiness and faith in the highest corridors of power and some of the least visible places on earth. He moved through doors freely and as long as he walked the planet we knew someone important must be encountering God in a potentially life changing way which would hopefully trickle down and impact all of us for the better. President Obama visited him in North Carolina only eight years ago, the last of our Presidents to actually see him. I never met him, but he changed my life.

While sitting on my Grandma’s gold velour sofa, eating a hot fudge sundae at the age of seven, I watched his crusade on t.v. Grandma always let me stay up later than my parents and never guilted me into thinking I watched too much t.v. Like parents today who admonish their kids for wasting precious time on video games, my parents did the same with t.v. But on that night, no time was wasted. Mr. Graham spelled it out so simply, “You are a sinner, but you don’t need to die a sinner. Come to Jesus and he will change your life.” He didn’t try to impress me with quotes from commentators or other erudite sources, just the gospel pure and simple. In listening to his message and watching the endless stream of people walking forward to “make a decision for Christ,” I knew I wanted that hope. I didn’t tell my Grandma or anyone else, but when she tucked me in and turned out the light on her rose colored nightstand I did as Mr. Graham said, I asked Jesus into my life. To this day I remember that feeling of security and peace, falling asleep new beneath Grandma’s starched white sheets.

About thirty years later I was on a call with an evangelist, John Guest and he asked me, “How did you come to faith?” I shared my story of Billy Graham and he startlingly said on the phone, “Let’s pray for Mr. Graham and your grandma right now and thank God for the way he used them in your life.” Never before had someone requested that we pray together on the phone. I felt shy and insecure doing it, but as the memory of that night came back accompanied by the smell of  Grandma’s rose scented hand lotion and the rattling of her newspaper while I pretended to be asleep, my heart filled with gratitude. Millions came to faith or were exposed to the truth of the gospel through Billy Graham’s ministry and they are welcoming him into heaven today with a big crown and a choir singing something even better than Handel’s Messiah, but for me on that night in a single bed in River Forest, Illinois it was just me, Billy and Jesus.

Forever grateful.

 

Polar Plunging in the New Year!

As the LARGE bearded men gathered in their white robes on the beach of Lake Michigan, I had second thoughts. We’ve attended the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge over the years and laughed at the pounds of searing red flesh exiting the water and half naked people of all sizes standing in coolers of hot water to revive their frozen feet. This year was my year. No ice to be chopped up means no ice cutting through your shins and knees as you fly out of the water as fast as your near hypothermia muscles can get you ashore. Another edge, our friends who are seasoned plungers were going in and they knew the tricks, e.g. HOT water coolers, clothes waiting on chairs so they don’t get soaked, must wear shoes so you can run out more effectively and most important, go out in the front of the crowd to avoid the back up of tiptoers into the water who slow down the process to a polar crawl.

While festing at a New Years Eve party the night before a yogi was asked what she thought of the plunge, “I think it would be great for your lymph system.” Of course, this is the main reason to do it. All my lymph nodes will be excruciatingly squeezed and therefor detoxed for about two minutes. Sounded like a good idea, but then I could enjoy this benefit at my local juice bar while waiting for my cut of locavore salmon. Another compelling reason was provided by my girlfriend who served in the Marine Corp., (the real one, not the 35 degree water marine corp. we were about to dip into) “It propels you into the new year like nothing else. It kind of sets the tone for your whole year.” Hmmm. What might my whole year be like if I plunge? Visions of conquering new, unforseen heights and depths of creativity came to mind. Now that’s a benefit.

 

The “Jump Around” music blasted out of the speakers and we got psyched up by jumping around. The new years day countdown to plunge sang out and off we all charged into what might be our end. There are several ambulances and firefighters who stand waiting to retrieve the weak and frail, or the many Packer fans who are overloaded with holiday cheese curds and Cherry Bounce, yes they go in too and you can smell them on the beach before you hit the water. Here’s what I learned:

– 35 degree water is easy to run out in but it makes it hard to run back. Your system is so shocked that you can’t breath, but your muscles need oxygen to get you out. This is why the kayaks and fireman are in place so no one goes out too far.

– There is a camaradarie that comes with doing something stupid. My son plunged with me and we are now proud members of the Polar Bear Club. The organizers give you a certificate if you sign the waiver saying you won’t sue them if you die. I wonder how many plunges you need to get one of those white robes with the official polar bear patch on them? Those were impressive. If my son gets one before I do, I will be jealous.

– 25 degree air feels like 25 degree air whether you are wet or dry. The difference is that your body becomes stiff when wet so park your car CLOSE to the beach.

– Hot water filled coolers provide the difference between life and death.

I hope this inspires many of you to plunge next New Years Day! Here’s the video of our graceful water ballet if you need more motivation. God bless your 2018 with healthy lymph nodes and the fulfillment of all your resolutions. Check out the man in the tuxedo and top hat, he went in too. Now that’s Wisconsin!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5UGt6XD3Co

 

 

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All Creation Waits, Book Review

(Greenhouse teacher Debbie Gottlieb won the book! Thanks everyone for reading. I always keep the comments private:)

In the book, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss presents the hidden work of 24 animals as they wait for the return of spring. In a combined effort of art, poetry, faith and science we learn the wonders of mama bear as she gorges herself all summer on berries and insects to store up for the birth of her cubs, an event that happens while she sleeps in hibernation. Now that’s a delivery scenario I could handle! No drugs, no pain, no birthing classes, just berries and sleep.

This book forces us to slow down and savor the unseen and unknown quiet facts of protection and preservation that God offers to his precious creatures. It also provides encouragement, for if God gives so much to the Chick-a-dee, then how much more does he give to me? “So do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:31. In this day of divisive social media driven vitriol, this book brings us back to the center, to the small, the unnoticed miraculous works of creation. It serves as a seat to savor nature, the preservation of life through the seasons, all of which are magnificently more interesting than the Kardashians latest shoe choice or Trump tweets.

David Klein’s black and white, line intensive illustrations highlight the intricate detail and unique personality of each animal. He invites us to touch the pages to feel the texture of their fur.

Take some time this Advent to wonder in the waiting of what God is doing, even in the places you can’t perceive or see. Spend some time with the animals, the few chosen ones who were there the day He came, Emmanuel. God with us. Thank you Gayle Boss for helping us see a little more of who God is through this expression of your devotion. We wait with you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Marketing – A Love/Hate Relationship

John Koehler, founding publisher at the small indie press, Koehler Books just wrote this blog post for their website,http://www.koehlerbooks.com/the-truth-about-book-marketing/ While reading it, he jarred my thoughts back to book marketing with a sigh. My experience with this dreaded or delightful aspect of the publishing industry reeks of highs and lows and some words for future authors which will hopefully help you avoid the pitfalls along the way. Here’s a quick summary of my experience followed by helpful hints.

My first book, a children’s picture book called Back to the Manger, was published by a tiny publisher in Minnesota. They did a beautiful job on the product and gladly left all the marketing to me. Being the zealous first time author with a holiday book in hand I pounded the internet pavement with a vengeance. The book did well, supported by strong events and speaking engagements. In two months it sold a few thousand copies, but I found myself wondering what might the sales result have been if this publisher marketed the book as well as they produced it? Also, by Christmas Day my weary bones could barely make it downstairs for stockings and presents.

For my first novel, A Minor, I signed a traditional deal with a small publisher. Just FYI, traditional means you get an advance and royalties. They worked hard and created a gorgeous product with breakthrough technology, the music embedded into all the ebooks – presto! – just touch the title of the music on your Kindle and it plays. Their partnership with Ingram distributors accomplished this feat, but Ingram didn’t seem to do much more, despite being a big name. Again the lions share of the marketing landed on my doorstep with the first box of comp books. As John says, expect about 50-80% of the work to be done by you, the author. He’s not kidding. The book sold well, but not as well as I’d hoped.

Next up, a poetry and essay compilation with Redbud Writers Guild, Everbloom, with a small publishing house which also happens to have a fantastic marketing department. Lesson here, some small presses do have the capability to market your book so look carefully under the hood. Talk to other authors who’ve been published by this press. What did they do for their book? What does the contract say about marketing? What I’d describe as teamwork marketing muscle launched this book (i.e. not just me) and again it did well, but not as well as I’d predicted. Hint- don’t make predictions on book sales. However, the experience of working together with a marketing team enhanced my joy in releasing this book into the world.

So my singlehanded marketing effort for my first book has actually sold more copies over time than the others? Why? Not an easy question to answer because an amalgamation of factors are at play. A key one is what I like to call the unanticipated demand factor. Some books are organically launched in the right place at the right time. My Christmas book happened to be such a book. It leveraged a unique time period that can be maximized year after year. So timing effectiveness is a reality.  Hint – think about how you can link your book to a specific timing or event that thematically ties in with the topic. Also, breakthrough technology doesn’t ensure success so don’t bank on a quality of uniqueness as a factor of sales. Sure, the cover is important, but a breakthrough cover design/feel won’t make a huge difference. A teamwork approach to marketing is best. Hearing about a new event/opportunity from your marketing team even six months after the book launched buoys your desire to do more. If they’re still working for the book, then you can too, especially beyond the book signing launch party. In store signings don’t sell many books. Celebrating with friends and family at a rock ‘em sock ‘em launch party is a blast, but just because you sold 50 books that day doesn’t mean your book will succeed down the road. As a benchmark, a friend working for a larger publishing house told me, “If your book sells 10,000 copies then it’s a success.” With my limited track record of working through three book launches, I’d say he’s right.

Does all this deter my desire to write the next great American novel? Heck No! The intangible “amen” of writing a creative paragraph that develops a character and advances the storyline inspires me to keep going. We authors love words and the way we can manifest, manipulate and massage them to speak life into something that’s never been spoken before far outweighs the hills and valleys of book marketing. Keep your heart focused on the story while learning and growing as a marketer one book at a time. Keep the faith and Happy National Novel Writing Month everyone! For the first time I’ll be participating in this worldwide, manic writing endeavor with a healthy dose of fear and trembling.

p.s. John Koehler published a helpful little ebook for those who want more illumination on writing and book marketing and it’s free. Here’s the link: http://www.koehlerbooks.com/dropbox/pocket/pocket%20guide%20digital%20ARC%207-1.pdf