Hello, dear readers... the following is an article by Jessica Dotta, Sr. Editor of Inspire a Fire. I highly recommend you check out this blog--an awesome community of writers committed to making a difference for the kingdom....

“We have much to be judged on when he comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are the symptoms of our illness and the result of our failures in love.” -- Madeleine L'Engle

When my brother traveled to the Sudan he had an encounter that changed his life—and as it ends up, mine too.

He stood in Darfur at an orphanage filled with children leftover from the genocide. There were over 800 children, and during the night wild dogs were dragging them off and killing them.

My brother already felt shell-shocked from the travesties he'd witnessed in Uganda.

The day was hot. The sun beat down upon him. His camera had nearly been ruined from all the dust. He'd barely slept. His gear was heavy. Yet his conscience was seared by the numbness he felt, so he turned and confessed to a Sudanese pastor.

"We shall pray right now that your heart will be opened," he was told.

Not long after that prayer three young children approached Joshua and started to follow him. After a bit, his father nature kicked in and he stopped and sang Father Abraham. It didn't take long before the four of them were dancing and going through the motions.

When they finished, he asked the children to tell him how they came to be there.

The oldest, a girl, answered. "The soldiers came and shot my mother and father, so I came here."

The two other children nodded in agreement. "Me, too."

He was grief struck, but it was what transpired next that tore my heart. "Do you have a Mommy?" The little girl asked my brother.

"Yes," he answered.

"And a Daddy?"

Again, his answer was yes.

"Oh," she said, her voice hinting at a strange intermingling of numbness and grief.

Her question stirs me still. For I believe it came from her soul and revealed the thoughts of her heart. She didn't want to know what his country was like, what kind of food he ate, or what he did for a living. She had her own bullet holes leftover from the genocide. Her world consisted of this single question: Who still had parents and who didn't?

In her questions I heard her worry and fear. Imagine being trapped in a war-torn country, a land of famine, drought and disease. Imagine trying to survive it as an orphan with death threatening you every hour. No matter how much she's endured, at the end of the day, she's still just a little girl. And all she really wants is her Mom and Dad.

I imagined my daughter living as an orphan in the Sudan. If I were shot and dying, it would be my hope that my brothers and sisters would care for her. But what if her aunts and uncles were killed too? What was it then, that her parents hoped?

As members of the body of Christ these children are not alone. They have aunts and uncles. Multitudes and multitudes and multitudes of them. Talk about staggering! These kids are our nieces and nephews! Mine. Yours.

So who, I wondered, within the church has the responsibility to step in?

I didn't like the answer that came. Earlier that week I was shocked to learn that globally I was one of the richest people in the world—even though as an American, I'm pretty poor.

Like it or not I was the rich aunt. I had knowledge of the situation. That made me accountable.

I wasn't comfortable with the knowledge then, and I'm not comfortable with the knowledge now. But I am determined to do something. Anything.

That day Joshua had in his possession a picture book that someone had asked him to give to someone in the Sudan. It was a children's book with a story about how we have a Heavenly Father who always loves and cares for us. Joshua read the book and gave it to them.

An American woman took it upon herself to raise the money to build shelter. Every person who donated, even a dollar, helped to create a place where the little girl now sleeps safe from wild dogs.

When Joshua told me he's going to start a branch of Watermelon Ministries called Media Change, a non-profit encouraging Americans to give up a portion of the money spent on entertainment to serve those fighting world hunger and thirst, I wanted to support it.

For seven years he's helped non-profits raise money that serves the "least of these." He's seen the impact a small investment can have. This is a brand new initiative. He's not quite ready to launch, but you can sign up and be kept updated at His first goal is garner the support of 10,000 people who are willing to give $10 a month. I'm number #3.

This is only a blog post, but who knows what one blog post can do.

What if the task of helping others isn't as overwhelming as we make it?


The Backdoor...

Most backdoors are unlocked. Making popular the phrase "They got in through the backdoor," which usually meant it was someone who probably would have been turned away at the front. Still, there are countless success stories about people who were audacious enough to try the backdoor in many different fields of endeavor. I got into journalism that way.

The first was through a backdoor at an automotive trade magazine that -- unknown to me -- a current columnist had just walked out of for a spot on the National Enquirer only days before. Me, I had no idea. I was just doing a calling campaign through a list of local publishers, asking if they needed any writers. Well, it just so happened they did, because there was no one to cover that vacated column at the moment. OK, so I didn't know much about car parts, but I took it as a "divine appointment" and jumped into the journalism profession. I worked there a few years, covering features, interviews, trade-shows, several columns as well as my original, and finally held a position as assistant editor by the time I left.

I had to leave. I was living and breathing the aftermarket car industry when what I really wanted to do was write fiction (or, at least, inspirational non-fiction). Besides that, there wasn't a lot of romance and excitement about doing a feature spread on a company that manufactured lug-nuts. Which is the one that finally put me over the edge.

One late night (everyone worked late in that company, if it wasn't done, you didn't go home) when I couldn't -- for the life of me -- think of one more interesting thing to say about lug-nuts, I noticed the initials of that company were C.I.A.

Something in me snapped.

I suddenly didn't care what anyone thought of me, anymore. This was no place for a woman who wanted to write mysteries and family sagas. I could lose my mind (maybe even my gift!) if I had to come up with one more clever phrase to sell high performance chrome headers, and the like. So, I did a Sam Spade-type noir spoof about that company, and called it "Inside the C.I.A." Something that would probably get me fired, no matter how long I had worked there, but I couldn't help myself. I didn't even have the decency not to use real names (except for my own -- are you kidding? A byline on something like that could swamp my reputation).

Mine was the last lonely car in the dark parking lot that that night when I finally left the office, and it was an hour long ride from the outskirts of LA just to get home. But doing something halfway creative for a change had energized me. I actually felt liberated, and wished I had left a long time, ago. Getting fired never looks good on anyone's resume, though. But I was still done. Finished. Over with all this. If it wasn't so late, I would have crafted a resignation letter and left it on the publisher's desk. He called me the next morning, but -- hey -- I was expecting that.

"C.I.A. loves it, and so do I."


"We're going to hire an artist to come up with some kind of spy-type character to put with the piece."

"You're kidding…"

"And I'm giving you a raise. What are you doing home at this hour?"

"Well, I…"

"Nevermind. I know you worked late, so take your time. Not too long, though, we've got that product catalog to start on."

I didn't leave for another six months. And then only because my husband took a job in another state and we had to move. Even so, I still continued writing my original column and that darn product catalog through the mail, for nearly a year after that.

Which taught me something. When you do get in through a backdoor, somewhere, there are almost always strings attached.

Professional journalist tells all…

I have spent most of my writing career in journalism. Even though I have "written stories ever since I can remember" (as I have often said before on this blog), the greater portion of my published work has been in the newspaper and magazine industries. Both on staff and freelance. Not only has it been my bread and butter now, and again, it has also been an amazing crucible for learning the writing craft. Mostly because, when you work for somebody else, you get assignments. And you tend to have other people telling you how to do them.

I learned some amazing things in my journalism career. They were million dollar experiences. Maybe I better explain that better. Let's just say they were the kind of million dollar experiences you wouldn't trade for that much money, but you wouldn't pay a nickel to go through them all over again. Some of them (the best, really) were obtained under such embarrassing circumstances that it would be something of a career-buster just to reveal them. But I have a feeling everybody has a moment, or two, like that in their past. Whether your dreams revolved around writing or real estate. After all, we're only human.

Which is why I'm going to expose myself and "pay it forward" for anyone who is so determined to make it in this business it has become more important than the Holy Grail for you. It will probably ruin my reputation. But if I could have gotten even a fraction of this kind of information in my early days, it wouldn't have taken me so long

to break into this industry. Don't get me wrong, I'm not promising to reveal any up-until-now-unheard-of-secrets (hey-- if you know any of those, let me in on them). I'm just going to point out some of the swamps I stumbled into, and the "R.O.U.S.'s" I had to personally deal with out there that others might want to avoid. Especially if they want to come out on the other end of this writing forest instead of turning back.

Since it's going to cost me, though, I' don't plan to let go of these gems lightly. Heck, no. I'm going to string them out -- beginning to end -- all over the blogosphere. Each of these things came hard to me, so, I plan on leaving a trail instead of just dropping them on the road. That way, only the truly determined ones will follow. And for anyone that sticks with me through the entire month of October… hey, I've got a gift for you. One of two, actually, you can take your pick. So, without further ado…

The first lesson I learned about being a "real" writer, is over at Rachelle Gardner's blog for today (the one about regrets), buried in the comment section, about thirty down. It's a true story. As all of them will be. But I learned something really important through that particular experience. So… for "anyone who has ears to hear, let them listen…"


Meanwhile, leave a comment back here, and I'll put you on my list of contenders. The person with the most "finds" wins. And -- hey -- no drawings. Everybody that finds all of them wins, even if I have to buy out the store. Ready? Then "the game is afoot…"

PS… Oh, yeah… and I'm giving out bonus points for anyone who knows what "R.O.U.S.'s" are.

What's happening on the farm today... Oh, my gosh, fall is finally here! Time to change the window picture on the website, bring in some firewood, and get out a nice big stack of all those books I've been putting by to read. I actually have fresh bread baking in the over even as I write this. But -- alas -- there are no animals but horses and dogs on the Sweetbriar at the moment. And two-thirds of everyone's gardens around here were burned up in all that intense summer heat. Thank heavens we have a "famine chest"...


Thinking about not writing…

One of the hardest things for me to settle in the creation of my stories is character motivation. For a long time, I didn't even know this. But the more I worked at the craft, I noticed a pattern began to emerge. It always popped up in the same form, too, something I call a "plot knot."

This thing was like a ball of yarn that got tangled up worse at the end. And over the years, I backed myself up into some terrible corners, having to find my way through one maze after another before coming up with solutions. My muses were not always helpful at this point (sorry, everybody), because they had a way of sending us all off on wild thought tangents that invariably ended up being nothing more than beguiling distractions that detracted from the figuring side of my mind,

"It's called brainstorming, my dear, and people have been doing it since the beginning of time."

Yes, thank you for that, Professor, but I don't have all of eternity to explore every possible scenario. Especially when faced with deadlines. Then one day it occurred to me. I cannot come up with with any decent motivations for anything, unless I know who it is that has to be motivated. Thoroughly. To have a living breathing villain, for instance who was so real a reader could fairly feel that wisp of breath down their own neck… Well, I couldn't just snap vices out of the air and glue them onto stick-figures with the usual details. No. I had to know something about them in a much more gripping way.

It isn't enough that my heroine is being stalked by a deranged person. No, I must know that this deranged person wants something that they cannot have, even if they catch her. Because it was the trust someone else put in her, that they felt should have belonged to them. (and, yes, I know the plural is improper, but I don't want to give away gender). I'm talking about a real plot knot for a real book. I am just thinking things out here, which is what this blog was originally begun for.

So, I not only need to know the why, I must know the exact incident that led up to it. I even need to know the other person involved, just as well, because I have to know why they denied my "now stalker" this trust in the first place. And I probably even need to know a few related incidents that led up to this particular rift between those two. All of which has nothing to do with my heroine, or her current situation. This is her journey, not the other's. What's more, the particular scenes in which she and this stalker interact will not really amount to that much in relation to the whole book. However…

When I am stuck as to the where, how, and why of the physical plot -- at any given point (but especially the end)-- I realize the answer lies in MY interpretation of those characters. How can I "know what they're up to" if I don't watch and calculate what's going on, in the same way I would have my eye on a naughty child? If I know them that well, then I will have an idea what they are up to. I might even catch them in the act of things because I already knew they were headed in that direction just by watching their former behavior. Because I know how they think.

But why is this stuff so important if I'm not going to write any of it down?

Because it now gives me a reservoir of ideas to draw from that are specifically tailored to my story. I'm no longer wandering all over the place, I'm narrowed down to only several different ways this thing could work out. And they are very clear to me. In fact, if I can manage to do a good enough job with the writing end, they should be just as clear to my reader at this point, too. But neither of us will talk about it. And I certainly won't write any of this information down in the actual story. Oh, but it will be there. A little pulse of a current between their brain and mine. And -- if I'm good enough -- we will end up knowing the same things without a single word being traded about the matter. Then should I be so lucky as to achieve a response of, "I knew it! I just didn't see it coming…"

Well, then all this time spent in thinking of what I am not writing… this stuff I never intended to write down in the first place… will all be worth it.

What's happening on the farm today... we are making arrangements to move the goat herd. Permanently. It is a sad situation for "the Sweetbriar" but much better for them, as they will be able to stay together and be in a lovely place with a kind and loving family. All this because we are planning some long trips over the next few months, and caretakers for a herd of goats are hard to come by. So, it couldn't be a better solution. That is, unless you were striving for perfect...

In Shine Out..

How often, growing up, did Mom remind me "beauty comes from the inside," and I would just roll my eyes because she really didn't understand. Easy for her to say, because she had been born beautiful on the outside, and given (who decides that stuff, anyway?) a fantastic personality that could boost her right up over the top of things. Those advantages stood her good her whole life.

Then, somewhere during that teenage gangly stage, when I was convinced the deepest mysteries of life were beauty secrets, I heard something really crazy about Marilyn Monroe. She said her "magnetism" came from inside her, and she didn't need to wear make-up, or be dressed to kill just to turn it on. She could turn it on and off at will. She was even known to enjoy demonstrating this out in public, occasionally, before she got to the studio where they would fix her up for the set. She could literally stop people in the streets, but it didn't impress me. What -- are you kidding? It wasn't like Marilyn Monroe wasn't born with a few jump-starts, either.

All that was the same sort of stuff rich people tell you when they say, "Money doesn't bring you happiness." But to that I could only quote what James Stewart said in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, after he had just tried to kill himself… "Well, it comes in pretty handy down here, bub!" Back then, it seemed to me that people who were -- shall I say -- blessed with certain advantages (we have-nots would have given our souls for, and often did), hardly even valued them. However, I began to notice they could be just as obsessed as we were over other things they didn't have. Hmmm…

Not long after that, I ran into a cosmic life change. An infusion of energy so strong it poured through all by itself, sparking anyone I looked at or touched along the way. What's more, this stuff was like radio-activity, because it has been years and years since that happened, and it has not lost its power to this day. Is it beautiful? Yes. Magnetic? Like you wouldn't believe. Has it changed me? You bet. I am now convinced that my mother and Marilyn were absolutely right.

Whatever you have on the inside, shines out.

What's happening on the farm today… No let-up on the heat (107 in the shade by 10am this morning), and now wildfires. The last one was only 10 miles away, and we could smell the smoke. What would I take if we had to leave in a hurry? What should I take? Last time during a tornado scare, I tried to stash the family heirloom coffee set, that belonged to Ulysses S. Grant, into a suitcase and busted one of the legs off the sugar bowl. Fixed it with super glue (not taking it on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, anyway) and definitely not telling my mother. So, now I don't do that, anymore. One file of important papers and our passports, and we're out of here. Still, I don't know how many times I woke up last night having to step out onto the porch and try to judge by the smell how much closer it was. But -- hey -- it's out, now, and all's well. Glory!

Catching Starlight…

One of the most frequent questions asked of writers is where their ideas come from. The usual answer is the newspaper, other things going on around them, or even some scene that seems to pop into their head of its own volition. But the more amazing thing to me is what writers do with their ideas.

A writer takes up an idea in the same way a sculptor picks up a lump of clay. What he or she does with that raw material is where I think the true talent comes in. In the end, after there is a book to show for it, a reader might never even recognize that first original wisp of an idea that started it all. Many times, it has been cut out entirely, and is no longer there anymore.

Still, that original spark was like fuel for the fire, and -- like fuel -- has managed to take the author from point A to point B, with enough impetus and gathering speed to sustain the entire journey. It's an addictive thrill, actually. After a while, an author can become so adept at looking over their little mental collection of ideas, they almost remind me of golfers deciding which iron to use. One can even become quite obsessed with pursuing the perfect hit.

I once had a full-blown scene flash before me while driving somewhere mundane, of a woman digging a hole in the middle of the night all by herself. The ground was like rock and she was breathing hard, making little headway with all her effort. There was a bright moonlight, and the pale gray sweatshirt she was wearing kept riding up to show a line of bare white skin every time she stabbed the shovel into the ground. She was digging a grave out there… I knew it.

I have no idea where that all came from, but it was a very intense moment. For a long time I thought it must be some pivotal incident in a book I was going to write. Except that happened many years, ago, and she never ended up in one. But I imagine she'll fit in somewhere, down the road, because she still pops up, now and again. Maybe she'll look over at me one of those times and say something. And that will be it.

Makes you wonder, though, how much of writing you choose, or how much of it chooses you. Or maybe that's simply the way our brains work if ever we exercise them enough in those creative directions. Writing fiction is the most fascinating activity I have ever been involved in.

But even after having spent so many years at it, I still have no idea where the gift stops and the craft begins. Which is as it should be, I suppose, if you are going to spend so much time spinning things out of stardust.

I love harvesting among the stars.

What's happening on the farm today… I'm glad we have no animals here, right now, other than the dogs who are inside with us. Because today we have broken all records for heat since they have been keeping records in this state. So, another day when we are just waiting… waiting… and waiting… in the cool dark house. Not pitch dark. Just a sort of twilight dark from having draped blankets and sheets over all the doors and windows.


Making Connections…

Today, I have taken time out of my ordinary schedule to visit with fellow writers in their own little corners of the "blogosphere" (I think that is the new, more modern word for cyberspace). So far, it has been very enlightening. What impresses me most about everyone is their sincerity. Seriously.

No matter where they come from (all over the world, actually -- there are writers from nearly every continent in this little activity). No matter what their particular brand of writing might be (all brands represented here)… they are most sincere in trying to share information on the writing life. And to be entirely open and honest about where their own particular journey through that life has taken them. This is what shines through most, to me, in a kaleidoscope of myriad personalities and color.

However, there is one surprising enigma that struck me more than any other since I embarked on my flurry of visiting. It is too much transparency. Which is usually a good thing (especially if you are talking about relationships or business practices), but that isn't the sort I'm referring to. I'm talking about the more concrete kind. The kind Webster's defines as: clear enough to be seen through, so that what lies beyond is easily detectable. Here's the deal. On a majority of my visits, I had a hard time finding out exactly who's space I was in.

Wonderful information everywhere -- writer interviews and book reviews -- not to mention a literal gold mine of how-to articles on marketing and the world of social media (thank you, everyone!). But I couldn't seem to find enough of what many readers (myself included) go onto author web sites for. A personal glimpse at the author. A lot of the sites I visited took me on a treasure hunt just to find the author's name. And the "about me" pages rarely contained anything different than the same sort of paragraph that might be found at the back of a book. The "Author of…lives in New Jersey with her husband and four cats…" type stuff. I guess I was looking more for, "I write because…" "I am passionate about…" "My greatest concern these days is…"

The thing is, I didn't even know I was looking for those things until I had a hard time finding them. And I am not "beyond the veil" in this particular area, myself, as I realized I don't do such a good job of those things on my own site, either. Which is when it became clear to me exactly what I was looking for. A personal connection with a unique personality. Someone who might actually take a moment to say something to me that I could regard almost as if we were friends. Then I wondered if all readers were looking for that in some way or another.

Which, in turn, led me to wonder just exactly what I wanted my "online corner of the world" to be. A home, or a department store? Neither of which is wrong, because we all spend a lot of time in both kinds of places. Either way, though, I always want to know which kind of establishment I'm going into. If it's the store-type, I want to know -- right up front -- what you are selling, and why I should buy. I guess you could say I want to know what it will do for me. If I'm there, I'm already geared up to browse and maybe buy, so the emphasis would be more on atmosphere and ease of navigation. If it's a home atmosphere, there's only one thing I want to see first…

You. Meet me at the door and ask me to come inside. The place should be a reflection of yourself. Do you travel? I want to see some artifacts. Do you hunt or fish? Give me a rousing good story of the last one that got away. Are you a connoisseur of fine dining? Maybe a recipe I can try tonight in my very own kitchen. Got any remedies of insomnia? What's on your mind today? If we have enough in common, maybe I'll add you to my list of places I like to drop by often because we are friends. And even though most of my "cyber friends" don't even know I exist, it doesn't seem to matter.

For me, or them.

After so much visiting, I have come to the conclusion that creating a "virtual world" is a real art in itself. No matter who you are. Already I have a growing list of things that absolutely have to be changed around here. That's what it looks like, today, anyway. But my visits have only just begun, and I understand the opportunity will continue for some weeks. So, my thanks to all you "campaigners" for offering such enlightening opportunities.

I hope you will find something of value here at my place, as well.

What's happening on the farm today: 110 degrees, we have now broken all records, and things are getting more than tough for all the neighborhood livestock. Especially the new little calf born a couple days, ago. But animals are the best when it comes to hunkering down and waiting things out. Hmmm… might be something to be learned there, too…