Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So, This Is Church Now at Amazon **Updated**

I just received word from Lulu.com that my sermon collection, So, This Is Church, has been selected for listing in their new Amazon Marketplace program. What this means is that I'll get a little more exposure for that particular title, and perhaps more sales.

For the uninformed, So, This Is Church is a collection of sermons dealing with foundational issues of the local church and her practices. Chapters deal with the Foundation of the Church itself (Christ and His gospel), worship, evangelism, fellowship, and the like. Interested? Hop on over to Amazon.com and take a gander. 

Issues with the program include a price hike to accommodate Amazon's cut and still ensure Lulu gets theirs and they can still produce the book with a tad leftover for me (the author/publisher). If  you want the best price on the book, purchase it at my Lulu.com store. And have a great day.

**Update (6/5/09)** Lulu has worked out a deal to sell this title at Amazon.com without the 30% mark-up--that means it sells for cover price of $7.50 at both Amazon and Lulu (plus either site's shipping charge, of course). Don't have any idea how long this will last, so buy those copies today!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Barnabas Factors – J.D. Payne

©2008 Missional Press, Smyrna, DE

J.D. Payne is a mission worker, church planter, and seminary professor. He is the founder of church planting resource site Northamericanmissions.org. Payne has an extended history of working in both mission work and church planting. Granted, Payne (and others—myself included) would argue that the two are synonymous, but that’s an argument for another venue. Our focus today is on Payne’s recent book The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members.

The author uses Joseph of Cyprus, better known to us by the name given him by the apostles—Barnabas, as a role model for all church planting team members. In the scriptural references to Barnabas, Payne finds the following eight essentials:

Ø Walks with the Lord

Ø Maintains an Outstanding Character

Ø Serves the Local Church

Ø Remains Faithful to the Call

Ø Shares the Gospel Regularly

Ø Raises Up Leaders

Ø Encourages with Speech and Actions

Ø Responds Appropriately to Conflict.

One would be hard-pressed to argue with the importance of these practices in the life of church planting team leaders, but often we discover teams that have been recruited on the fly where members are lacking in any number of these qualities. Payne suggests that to do so would endanger the effectiveness or even the longevity of the team.

At times the book reads like another leadership book, and that is one of the drawbacks. Another is its brevity. Some might think that a short book on recruiting the right team members is a gift to church planters everywhere, but at times the brevity of the book underscores the rush with which it was put together (a struggle which Payne admits up front).

Other than those small drawbacks, let’s spend a more important moment discussing why you need to buy and read this book and keep it as a constant reference on your shelf. To begin with in a footnote early in the introduction Payne lists a gold mine of resources for the church planter and church planting team that go into much greater detail about the process of team building. Some readers will find encouragement in the periodic pauses to get testimony from real live church planters about how important each of the factors is to the team (entitled throughout the book as “Factors from the Field”). But probably the most useful part of the book, at least to me, is the “Points to Ponder” section at the end of each chapter.

One of the popular things for authors, editors, and book publishers to do today is to include some form of discussion questions at the end of their chapters in order to review and help the reader to fully internalize the material from the chapter. I must admit that this particular section is usually a waste of time on the part of the publishing community as far as I am concerned. I normally find such questions trite and inappropriate, an attempt at making an otherwise good resource into a “teaching tool” by emphasizing what the reader either should have picked up anyway, or didn’t find that important to the information. In The Barnabas Factors I had just the opposite reaction. Some of the most practical material in the book can be found in the thought-provoking and purposeful questions at the end of each chapter. They are more practical application than “did you really read the chapter?” type questions. I, for one, would like to see more of this in the course of ministerial reading.

Finally, Payne includes several tools for church planters to use as they are trying to build their team: a process evaluation that lets you assess potential team members against the Barnabas Factors, and a guideline (read that suggested starting point) for developing a team covenant between team members and team leaders.

I highly recommend this resource with four and one-half reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, May 25, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Less than Dead – Tim Downs

© 2008, Thomas Nelson, Nashville

It is no secret that I am a Tim Downs fan. I’ve read all of the novels that he has produced since introducing the Bug Man, Nick Polchak, in
Shoo Fly Pie in 2003. I find his writing to be witty, thoughtful, suspenseful, and engaging . . . all good qualities for a mystery writer.

The Bug Man series follows forensic entomologist Nick Polchak as he hires out to a variety of national organizations as a consultant when he’s not working as a professor at NC State. The tedium of learning all about blow-flies in their variety and in their desire to seek out fresh dead bodies has been one of the drawbacks to the series. There are only so many ways to tell how insects seek out and destroy dead bodies before it gets boring.

In Less than Dead Downs has found a way to circumvent that tedium by introducing something new, the cadaver dog! Nick is working with the FBI on a case of uncovered graveyard during construction excavation. Why is the FBI on this case? Two of the uncovered graves have bodies buried above the original inhabitant of the old graves – with the probability of more. The construction project is for a new mall and tourism center near the town of
Endor, Virginia. The search dog that the FBI has engaged seems to be having a difficult time finding any graves besides the four unearthed by the excavation crew. So Nick decides to find the Witch of Endor. Alena Savard turns out to be no witch at all, just a very talented dog trainer with an even more talented cadaver dog.

Between them they discover other bodies, most of the “upper berth” occupants of the graves are between 20 and 50 years old, one is 200 years old, and they all share the same DNA ancestry.

This is by far the best of the Bug Man novels with all the intrigue of FBI, presidential politics and small town superstition wrapped up together. The characters are well-rounded and the plot moves quickly from page to page. Just try to put this one down. 5 out of 5 reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, May 22, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Congratulations to Henry Melton

Henry Melton just keeps winning awards. The announcement came out recently that he has won the Golden Duck for Middle Grades in Science Fiction for last year's Lighter than Air. Congratulations, Henry.

In honor of this coveted honor (how many times can I use the word honor in this post?), I contacted the prestigious author and he has graciously consented--so, here's another Author Interview brought to you with painstaking care from the good folks at Loom & Wheel (with gratitude to Wire Rim Books):

Benj-O: To begin with, can you give us a thumb-nail sketch about yourself? Who is Henry Melton, what makes you tick?


HM: Since elementary school, I can remember being fascinated with rockets and gadgets, I cobbled together my own gunpowder (from the formula in Jules Verne's novels) wired up electronic musical instruments, and when I worked as a TV and Radio Engineer, I was always tinkering with some new gadget for the DJ's.  Then software happened and for twenty some years I did the same thing, only with 1's and 0's.  Throughout my life, I've been inspired by science fiction, and it's only natural that I'd tinker together some of that as well.


Benj-O: How did you start writing? Was it a whim, or what?

HM: I told stories to the neighbor kids, but in school, I wrote a few little things that today would be called flash fiction–a few hundred words at best.  But then one day, our biology teacher gave us a loosely worded assignment, "Tell the story of a tree."  It was during the poly-water mystery, and with a grin, I set out to write my assignment as a science fiction story, with the main character an intelligent water drop.  It worked.  The biology stuff was the background 'scenery' of the story and the 'passing of the torch' plotline was good enough from a character viewpoint as well.  Mr. Branch loved it as well.  He read the paper aloud in class and gave me an 'A'.  I turned around and turned in the same paper as an English composition assignment and got another 'A' for the same work.  I think that from then on I was hooked. 


Benj-O: There is often a perceived formula in fiction today. Do you follow a formula as you write?


HM: It's hard to answer.  I know that over the years I've learned what works for me, so I do follow the same development process from one book to the next, but it's certainly not the formula I've seen described for certain classes of fiction.  Learned craftsmanship, yes.  Formula, no. 


But certain words of wisdom do apply, and can be expressed as simple rules.  Just like spelling and grammar, don't break the rules unless you understand them.


Benj-O: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?


HM: Write.  Write a lot.  I've been writing for decades now, and while some of the earlier stuff worked, the vast bulk of it didn't, and I'd never have been able to learn the difference without writing it all.  You'll need to learn the mechanics of writing, the craftwork skills of it all, and you'll need to develop your voice.  When I had the opportunity to lecture at the George Benson Christian College in Zambia, I put together some presentations covering this, so rather than ramble on here, I'll just point to:



Benj-O: You often hear writers talking about how much they read in preparation for a writing project. What kinds of sources do you find helpful when researching for a book?


HM: I am inspired by place.  I've traveled a lot and frequently I'll discover a location, often a small town, that speaks to me.  While I'm there, I'll talk to the people, take photos, and listen to the sounds.  Maybe six months later, I'll start a story located there, and of course, I'll find my initial research lacking.  I'll google like mad, and take advantage of every internet resource out there.  And then, if I'm lucky, I'll get to make a second visit after the first draft, and I'll get to walk Schuyler Street and see what the church bell looks like from the sidewalk and notice the cannon on the courthouse lawn.  Knowing what things really look like is invaluable to me.  I'm writing these scenes that play out in my head and with real details, whether they show up in the text or not, the characters are more vivid.


Benj-O: Your writing style is very readable. Are there any authors that have influenced that style?


HM: That's hard to tell.  When I was learning what I liked, I was too young to pay attention to style.  I know I liked the Heinlein books I found in the school library, the Sturgeon stories I discovered later, and the no-limits adventures of Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins).


Benj-O: I know that you have chosen the route of self-publishing through Wire Rim Books. How did you decide on this route for getting your books in print? Is there any advice you might give to someone considering self-publishing?


HM: It was the gray hair.  I'd been trying to get my novels published for a long, long, long, long time.  I'd been following the rules and listening to the advice of my elders.  I sat in the back of the 'How to Get Published' panel discussions at the science fiction conventions.  But the publishing landscape changed.  The old wisdom had become dated.  Here's the new wisdom.  You can get yourself published, for a minimum of up-front cost.  You just are not likely to sell your books to anyone beyond your circle of family and friends without a life-changing dedication to self-promotion, and a good book.


Benj-O: So many in the publishing world are prejudiced against the self-published authors, have you encountered any resistance to your books because of this choice?


HM: As a self-publisher, I have to say that the majority of self-published books are not readable.  It's harsh, but it's the truth.  I have total sympathy for the reviewers who reject all self-published books sight unseen, but it does make it very hard to get high profile reviews when you have faith in your book and no one will look at it.  I would love to get on a library recommended list, but the rules for those lists require reviews from certain standard publications, and those places have barriers up against the flood of self-published titles.  It's a no-win situation, unless you can find a back door review or win a contest or something like that.


Benj-O: Again, congratulations on your awards. Can you give us an idea of what it is like to receive acclaim from the industry?


HM: On a personal level, it is deeply comforting to know that other people can see good things in your books.  Every self-published author believes in his book, so how can you be sure you're not just fooling yourself?  Faith in yourself is critical to make sure you keep writing and keep working to improve yourself, but that faith doesn't prove your words are good.  The approval of friends and family, while nice, isn't enough either.  You have to rely on third party recommendations to let people know that there's something here that will be worth their while.  Word of mouth referrals, Amazon reviews, and the lightning strike of a contest win are immensely valuable.  There is nothing more satisfying than having total strangers applauding your work. 


Benj-O: What’s next from Henry Melton? What can we expect to see in the future?


HM: I wrote novels for many years before I decided to start Wire Rim Books, and I have three working in the queue right now.  When they come out is more of a marketing decision than a technical one.  If the cover art comes through in a timely manner, the next title will be Golden Girl, a time travel story.  The reality-bending, Follow that Mouse is likely to also come out this year, but whether it's a fantasy or Jungian Science Fiction is something I'm still undecided on.  After that, probably it will be Pixie Dust, a physics-based science fiction/ mystery with superhero subplots.  Eventually, I'll want to tap into the large number of short stories (published in the magazines) and novels (unpublished) that take place in my Terraforming Project time line.  But that's still a couple of years away.  

Thanks again, Henry. Keep on writing, and entering those contests.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blog Interview with Dalton James

Having been an English teacher who tried desperately to encourage my seventh-graders, ninth- and tenth-graders to actively write, I was really impressed with the stories produced by seven-year-old Dalton James. So, I sent him a few questions as a blog interview, and he graciously answered them. Here's the interview:

Benj-O: Readers like to know about the authors they read, so tell us about yourself. What things do you like to do (besides tell stories)?

Dalton James: I like to play basketball, baseball, and I take Tae Kwon Do.

Benj-O: How did you get interested in writing?

DJ: My teacher in first grade, Ms. Shoupe read "Yuck Soup" to us by Joy Callie and had us put down what we would put in yuck soup.  I went home that night and told my daddy that I wanted to write a book.  I wrote "The Sneakiest Pirates" and have finished four books so far and I'm working on my fifth.

Benj-O: Where do you get your ideas for stories?

DJ: My imagination and I think of things that I thing would be neat to be.

Benj-O: Do you see yourself telling stories for a long time?

DJ: Yes.

Benj-O: Do you write stories just for fun? Or do you write for school also?

DJ: Just for fun.

Benj-O: Did you make the illustrations for your books?

DJ: Yes.

Benj-O: Should we expect more stories about Pete and James in the future?

DJ: Yes.  I have finished the third in the series which is called, "Super Pete Saves the Day" and the book I'm currently working on is, "The Adventures of Blankman and Noodle".  I have also finished "The Mudhogs" which will be my next book out that has nothing to do with Pete and James.

From Dalton's Daddy (Cliff James)  Dalton's author/illustrator talk to elementary schools is available to elementary teachers by request on DVD.  We held a contest this year in which students could submit their books to us and the winner will have their book published through Outskirts Press.  We are hoping to publish up to five books next year through a similar contest.  We are hoping that by children seeing that an eight year old can have multiple books published that they can also.  

Thanks to Dalton and his daddy.

Happy reading, all!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Black Moon – Robert J. Randisi and Ruth Ashby, eds.

©1989 Lynx Books, New York

Sometimes you run across a book that defies classification. Is it a novel? Is it a short story collection? In this respect we’re in a quandary about The Black Moon. On the other hand, this collective novel is definitely a Private I. work of fiction. Drawing from the expertise of five excellent P.I. writers, the story that is woven has lots to offer.

The premise is that there is a collective work of art—five paintings that are actually one work of art. The “Ladies in the Cathedral” collection is stolen from a post-WWII Italian museum that was guarded by three US soldiers. During the course of the crime, one of the Americans is killed, and the thieves get away with the paintings. Forty years later, the paintings are resurfacing in five different US cities.

Enter five writers with five different private investigators. Most are ex-cops. Two are the surviving guards from the Italian museum.

In this collection/novel you’ll find five different approaches to the P.I. novel. Robert Randisi expertly introduces and resolves the mystery telling the story through the voice of Salvatore Carlucci. Carlucci enlists the help of his old co-guard Ralph Parnell (written with the humor and flair of P.I. great Ed Gorman), Miami investigator Tony Mack (penned by W. R. Philbrick), Laura Bailey—the daughter of his respected and recently deceased friend, Jim Bailey—Dallas investigator who is brought to life by L. J. Washburn, and Iron Harbor (Michigan) police chief/part-time private investigator Riley Cooper (who comes to life via the pen of veteran PI writer Loren D. Estleman) to find the paintings so that they can be returned to the Italian government.

Philbrick is the only one of the authors that I had been (prior to this reading) unfamiliar with, but I discovered that he showed himself adept at telling a good mystery. I must admit that I was most disappointed with the segment by one of my favorite authors, L. J. Washburn. It was her name on the cover that drew my attention to the collection. Even with the disjointed portion by Washburn (she needed more pages to develop the story, it seemed), the overall outcome was a surprisingly enjoyable encounter. Even though each author chose a different style (from hardboiled, to edgy modern) with their respective private eyes, the story flowed.

This is not the first (nor the last) attempt at the collective mystery, but it is an excellent foray into team project writing. Well worth your while if you can find it on a used bookstore shelf.

Three and one-half stars.

—Benjamin Potter, May 6, 2009

The Sneakiest Pirates & The Heroes of Googley Woogley – Dalton James

©2008 & 2009 Outskirts Press, Denver

When contacted with possible books to review, I don’t have the time or energy to request every book suggested. Frankly, I try to find something in the description that will appeal to my reading tastes. Here’s something that appeals to my reading tastes: “Children’s book written by a seven-year-old.”

In response to my interest, I received not one, but two books to read and review. The back cover copy introduces author Dalton James as “an extremely precocious, bright and active seven-year-old” and the stories bear witness.

James’ first release The Sneakiest Pirates tells the story of how Peg Leg Chuck steals the prince’s

treasure only to have it stolen from his hiding place by Pirate Pete and his dad Scurvy James who fight over the treasure until they are so tired that they decide to share the loot and become Rock Stars.

In a follow-up story, we find Rock Star Pete and Rock Star James growing rich and bored with the life of rock stars. So they decide to become astronauts who eventually save the SooDos of planet Googley Woogley from their enemies the SooDonts.

Imagination runs wild as you follow these charming stories from the mind of a seven-year-old. I think I’ll encourage my brood to write and illustrate their own stories, and in the mean time we’ll be excited to see more adventures of Pete and his father James.

I give both stories four out of five stars and a hearty congratulations.

—Benjamin Potter, May 6, 2009

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