We’re taking a brief break from our For the Love series to center ourselves in Christ.

I’ve heard it said one doesn’t truly understand that Christ is enough until He is all that they have. When Jenna Victoria’s world came undone, God showed up. Read on to see how, and may her story encourage you to hold tighter to the God who never leaves nor forsakes.

Going It Alone ~ Not Quite
by Jenna Victoria

When our world gets crazy busy with interruptions or requests, we might envy the many species God created that choose being solo over one-of-a-crowd. From red cross-1448946_640panda to platypus, sloth to skunk or eagle to armadillo—these creatures revel in their solitude.

Frustration with crowds aside, there’s a lot to say in support of seclusion. Especially Christian solitude, as this partial verse in John’s Gospel attests.  For when we are alone, we are not actually alone. Our Savior, our Father in heaven, is with us. How magnificent it is to grasp this truth.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. After a long road of prayers, chemo, a right mastectomy, and radiation, my family, friends, coworkers and I celebrated my being cancer-free in early 2013. Five weeks later, that was no longer true. The cancer spread to the scar tissue of my mastectomy site, and to the left side breast and lymph nodes. Re-radiation, a lumpectomy and more chemo followed. In 2014 and 2015, as treatment continued, friends and family started to draw back. Close relatives and friends who had formerly been by my side, returned to their own lives and commitments – and rightly so. My rock, my one special knight-in-shining-armor then decided at the end of 2015 they had enough and essentially walked away. I was alone, I thought.

As the days and weeks of early 2016 drew out, I clung even more tightly to the One who book-1209805_640never leaves us or forsakes us. I downloaded more than 1000 Christian podcasts from preachers all over the world, and listened to the Word being taught every night. I soaked every drop of wisdom into my brain. I listened to praise & worship songs, studied the Bible and let God’s thoughts fill my thoughts.

In time, that head knowledge became heart knowledge. In my loneliness, I heard the whispered words of my Savior, “I am enough.”  As the cancer is now staged as metastatic, I will always be on some type of IV chemotherapy, but I don’t sit in the infusion suite alone. God is with me. I have contentment and, unbelievably, unshakeable joy in the midst of my circumstances and my solitude. The words “I am enough” wield great power. This sense of peace is not of my strength and ability; it is 100% from God and it did not happen overnight. I chose to embrace God as being enough, and He has become my portion.

It is comforting to know that John, our “companion in tribulation,” was given the words of the book of Revelation to write down, while he was alone, in exile on the island of Patmos.

I’d like to believe he, too, heard those same words from our Lord.  “I am enough.”

It is my prayer that those of us in desert places and filled with loneliness also receive grace to hear them too.



When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin & British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery. As Louise relies on God; and on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future George envisions strangle her own dreams? Will their love survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and being stranded in wartime 1940, possibly never to return to their former lives?


jennavictoriaEver since her grandfather co-created Twinkies, Snowballs & Hostess cupcakes for Intercontinental Baking Company, circa 1959, Jenna’s yet to taste a cake she hasn’t liked.
Jenna is the author of  “fiction that feeds your faith” – Happily-Ever-After romance & romantic suspense stories with a Christian world view. She also writes clean, wholesome romances. Her stories emulate those she enjoys reading…with a heroine who is in grave danger & a hero who is smart enough to get out of her way as she kicks butt & takes down names… and those that feature the sweetest of fairy-tale-ending love stories.

She writes romances that glorify God and His sacrificial love through His Son, Jesus Christ and show how He gives us hope & peace amidst unbearable situations. After her first breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, several reoccurrences and metastasis, Jenna continues to praise God and trust His oversight in her life; and continues to write more books.

Connect with Jenna on her website and Facebook.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! First, do you have any words of encouragement you can give Jenna? I cannot imagine going through what she is, and to turn such heartache into an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness–wow.

Can you share a time when you discovered, in a deeper way than ever before, that God was enough? Share your thoughts, questions, and examples here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all encourage and learn from one another!

Photo by ClkerFreeVectorImages taken from pixabay.com

Life is full of uncertainties, and though I’m pretty sure, while waiting for something important, we wish God would come through right now! But it’s in the waiting, the following along God’s detours and reroutes, that our faith grows strongest and we are most alert to God’s hand.

Today prolific and hugely talented author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter, shares her signingexperience with waiting, rerouting, followed by more waiting.

And as an added bonus, she’s doing a special, multi-blog give-away to commemorate the Heartsong Presents line since it’s ending this month! How fun is that?

Baseball Memory Board

Comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Rodeo Reunion. Ten copies will be split among names drawn during the blog tour from June 1st – July 1st. One winner will receive a baseball themed memory board personally crafted by the author. Winners will be revealed on Shannon’s blog on July 22nd.

Trusting in the God of Hope by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

Any time I’ve been down about my writing career, God gives me hope. Back before I was published and began to wonder if I ever would be, He’d give me encouragement by allowing me to place in a writing contest or an editor taking the time to write a positive note on a rejection letter. Those little fuzzy moments kept me going. He still does that.

Back in November, I learned the line I write for Heartsong Presents is ending. I was contracted for one more rodeo book and a new series of three books. With the end of Heartsong Presents, those four books were destined to never see the light of day. But I’d been through this before.

After my fourth book was published when Barbour owned the line, they decided to end Heartsong Presents. Even though I had two more books contracted. I cried and railed and mourned my books and my career. But a few months later, I attended the ACFW conference and my new editor told me to go ahead and write the next book in my series because another publisher was buying the line.

Six months later, I learned Harlequin had purchased Heartsong Presents. My final two books in my contract saw the light of day and I soon had another contract for six books. Fast forward four years and Harlequin made the same decision regarding the line. This time, I knew no one would buy it because there aren’t any other publishers who distribute category length romance.

But I didn’t rail and I didn’t cry. By this time, I knew God’s got this. A few weeks later, my agent called with a possible publisherkeyboard-690066_1280 to take on my four remaining books. All I had to do was add word count and tweak the books to fit their line. We went back and forth for several months trying to make my submission perfect.

A month later, the editor contacted my agent. What I’d done still didn’t fit the imprint, but she gave very specific instructions to make my books fit. And even went as far as calling me on the phone. That doesn’t happen often. Hope bloomed.

I tweaked the proposal again and sent it off. We’re going on seven weeks now. The editor apologized when my agent checked with her, saying she’s behind on everything and hasn’t even had the time to read my proposal. I was hoping to have a positive answer by the time my blog tour for my final Heartsong came around. Which is now. But I still don’t know what will become of my four books.

In the meantime, I wrote a long book I’ve wanted to write for a long time. It’s polished and almost ready to send to my agent so she can try to find a home for it. But the market is rough in publishing in general. As time drags, I’m getting discouraged.

Last weekend, I went to an annual writers’ retreat with ten women from my local group. We had a great time, visited, ate, ate some more, learned, and got some writing time in.

I’m the only traditionally published one in the group simply because my journey fell into place before theirs. I’m their encouragement—proof that getting published can happen. But my career is at a standstill. It kind of got to me.

Double RainbowOn the way home, I was praying and whining a little. I rounded a curve and the trees revealed an expanse of open sky. I saw a cloud with a silver lining. Then another. Pretty much a sky full of clouds with silver linings. Bordering all those clouds was a double rainbow. I take that as God saying He’s got this. I quit whining.

For the rest of my trip home, I enjoyed the canvas God painted just for me. And I know He’ll follow through on all those silver linings.

Award winning, central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows, and she once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots.

She has eleven published titles and is contracted for four more. Her books are available at christianbook.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, harlequin.com, and barbourbooks.com. Learn more about Shannon and her books at ShannonVannatter.com and check out her Real Life Romance blog.

Connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/stvannatter/, and Twitter: @stvauthor.

About her novel, Rodeo Reunion:


And Slade Walker’s not a likely candidate. Even if the former major league pitcher just agreed to coach her son’s little league team. The single mom can’t risk everything on a bronc-riding chaplain who’s only passing through Raquel’s small Texas town.

Slade is taking a hiatus from the rodeo circuit to meet the sister he never knew he had. But the pretty widowed nurse next door is making him think twice about hitting the road again. He can’t turn his back on the cowboys who need him, but Raquel and her boy need him, too. Can Slade fulfill his calling and finally find a place to hang his hat?

Buy it:

At Christian Book Distributers or on Amazon

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Are you in a waiting period? What might God be showing or teaching you? Have you ever felt as if you’d slammed into a closed door only to find God had something else amazing waiting? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.


nagato-typingSome days it feels like my fingers–and brain–are flying. Like vivid scenes are flashing behind my eyes (not before, because I’m pretty sure that’d make me schizophrenic.) so quickly, I can barely keep up.


Then there are days that every word, every punctuation key, is a giphy1_zps7e7c8e69struggle.

And I wonder, Lord, are you in this? Is this your story?

I still ask that question. A lot. Because if God’s not in this writing thing, I want nothing to do with it. But, with five completed novels and three contracts behind me, I’ve learned not to measure the nudge by the ease.

In other words, I’ve learned, sometimes life gets hard. Sometimes–most times–progress requires work and determination and wading through periods of stagnation or confusion and of resuming the trekk after incredible setbacks.

Because it’s in the confusion, in the wrestling for answers, that we often find the most clarity.

The novel I’m working on now is tough. Like crazy tough, and at the beginning, I wondered if it was too tough. If perhaps I should set my idea aside and move onto something new.

But prayer after prayer, the theme of the novel–longsuffering love–kept returning, I knew the only response I could offer was surrender. And once I did, pushing my expectations and concerns aside, my creativity started flowing again. (In fact, the novel is fully plotted and I hope to have the proposal to my publisher within the next two weeks. Yay!) More than that, I began to see the lessons God wanted to teach me through my own writing.

But that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing from here on out. In fact, I expect to encounter many more speed bumps and potholes.

You see, I’m stepping into what has become a timeless battle in the evangelical world, only I’m digging in a bit deeper, past the battle lines and picket signs to the hearts on both sides.

I have a feeling you wish I’d divulge what battle I’m talking about, but my silence on that is intentional. Because it doesn’t really matter what the battle is. Our response must be the same: Love. Longsuffering, unconditional, no-strings-attached love.

To love without strings means to love without an agenda. That means reaching out even when our efforts are spurned or fall flat

That means showing love because God is love, and as His children, we are called to reflect who He is.

So that’s my story. And it’s tough to write, partially because I’m diving into an issue I have little direct knowledge of. But mostly because I sense I’m teetering on the edge of something hugely important. something that, if we Christians really grabbed hold of, could radically change the world.

That something is recited so often, it’s become cliché:

Love the sinner not the sin.

Ah, but it’s the living this out that gets hard. You know what makes it hard?

The sin, namely pride, within us.

Pride says our efforts should be reciprocated, that we should see results, that our efforts should instigate change in others or the situation.

But listen to Jesus’ words in Luke 17:7-10

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. 10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty’” (NLT).

Servants give up all rights and expectations and simply obey.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. I’m pretty sure we all know someone who feels so difficult, so bitter or angry, or perhaps so far from God, we’re ready to wipe our hands of them and walk away. To find someone else more responsive. Granted, there are times when God does indeed redirect us, but even so, He never, ever, ever stops loving a wayward heart. Remember as well, He hasn’t asked us to change or convert our friend. Rather, He asks us to reveal Himself. The rest is up to Him. So relax, take a deep breath, let your expectations go, and simply surrender.

Oh, before I go, my publisher has released a free sample of the first 36 pages of my novel, Beyond I Do. (Which, last time I looked, was still available at a discounted price on Amazon. You can purchase it here.) You can read the excerpt here.

Plus, I’ve been making the cyber-rounds and would love for you to join me on the following blogs:

On Friday, I visited Christian fiction author, Lena Nelson’s blog for a fun interview. You can read this here.

On Saturday I visited Janet Brown’s blog to share of a time when I got schooled, and rightly so, by my daughter. You can read this devotion here.

On Monday on Inkwell Inspirations I chatted about resting in God and His purposes for us. You can read that here.

I also stopped by my friend Gail Pallotta’s to share a devotion on closed doors. You can read that here.

On Tuesday I visited my friend Naomi Musch’s blog to share how creation walks helped mold my daughter and my relationship over the years. You can read about that here.

And yesterday I was interviewed at Misty Bellers’ blog. You can read that here.




Booksigning 11You sense God calling you, nudging you to surrender fully to His call, but you’re not sure where that will lead. To make matters worse, doubts, fears, and insecurities well within, making it hard to zero in on that still, small voice that speaks courage and peace and confidence. This journey of obedience, of full surrender, is never easy and rarely quick, but today, a sweet friend, multi-published author Shannon Taylor Vannatter, shows us it’s worth it–worth every tear, every hurdle.

As an added bonus, she’s giving away a copy of Rodeo Song to one of you, randomly selected from the comments below. (She’s also donated three of her books to three different charity fundraising events, including Takin’ it to the Streets’ first annual Hope for the Homeless event. You can see her donations here.)

I also want to congratulate the winner of last week’s give-away. Mary C. Wilson, congrats! You won a copy of Connie Almony’s novel, At the Edge of a Dark Forest! I’ll contact you soon to arrange how best to get that to you.

Living My Dream by Shannon Taylor Vannetter

At times since I first started this writing thing back in 1999, the publication journey has been a roller coaster. From the time a Print On Demand publisher published my book without my knowledge to when my traditional publisher decided to close my line, I’ve been on the verge of pulling my hair out, and have lain in the floor crying. But despite my rollercoaster ride through the publishing landscape, I’m still writing and I’m thankful I’m a writer.

On a spiritual level:

1. I get to fulfill my calling. From the time I became a Christian at fifteen years old, I felt like there was something I was supposed to do. With writing, I get to fulfill my purpose by doing something I thoroughly enjoy.

2. I get to share Jesus with nonbelievers. A non-believer is more likely to read the romance novel their friend loans them than the Bible. I recently got a letter from a Muslim man in prison telling me how much he enjoyed one of my books. He still sounded Muslim from his letter, but maybe my book planted seeds.

3. I get the opportunity to draw Christians closer to Jesus. Some of my characters are Christians, some of them aren’t. Most of them make mistakes—just like real people. I use my characters blunders to draw them closer into fellowship with God. Maybe a reader will identify with my character’s journey and take steps to draw closer to Jesus as a result.

4. I get to preach. I’m not saying I want to be a preacher, but the overall theme of all of my books is this: Love doesn’t make the world go around—God does. My characters learn that love is only lasting if God is in the center of their hand-in-marriage-1422245-m (1)relationship. So many young people in the world need that message. It gives me great joy to know that mothers and grandmothers often let their daughters and granddaughters read Heartsongs because they trust the books are clean with a spiritual message.

5. I get to connect with Christians all over the world. It makes my day when readers contact me to say my story touched their hearts. Tangible proof that I’m doing what God called me to do and that I got the message across that He wanted me to share.

On a personal level:

1. I get to work from home and my schedule is flexible. I can take time off when my son is home from school sick. I get to attend all of his school parties and events and work my writing schedule around my family. During the school year, I write while he’s at school. I work my deadlines around summer vacation, so that during the summer, I’m mom. If I need to get some writing done in the summer, I do it when he’s not home, he has a friend over, or after everyone else goes to bed. If I write until 2:00 am, I don’t have to get up early for a regular job the next day.

Writing requires a schedule, but it’s flexible enough, I can be mom when I need to be and I don’t have to worry about babysitters. Yes, he’s twelve now. And my mom left me home alone when I was twelve. But he’s a boy. Boy’s are a different species – they like snakes, fires, and guns. Enough said.

2. I can take the day off for church functions. Since my husband is a pastor, member visits, hospital visits, and funerals are a large part of our lives. If I had a regular job, he’d have to go it alone and I wouldn’t be able to be as involved with our congregation as I am.

3. My son is proud of me. He tells everyone, “My mom is an author.” He thinks it’s cool that none of his friends can say that and that I’ve taught fiction writing classes and spoke at career days at his school.

4. Through the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, I’ve made friends all over the globe. I have lots of

Shannon and me (Jennifer) at the ACFW conference in 2009
Shannon and me (Jennifer) at the ACFW conference in 2009

friends, but writing friends get me like no one else does. Not even my family. And since writing can be such a solitary pursuit, friends who get you are a God send.

5. Having a job that requires daydreaming. All of my life, I’ve tried to listen and pay attention, but my mind would wander. With writing–having a wandering mind is encouraged, an active imagination is required, and daydreaming is allowed. I hear voices and have imaginary friends, but everyone thinks it’s okay and normal since I’m a writer.

And that just scratches the surface. I won’t even get into how I write in my jammies most of the time.

Rodeo SongRodeo Song:


But when silken-voiced Garrett Steele set out for stardom, he left Jenna—and his cowboy past—far behind. A chance encounter at one of his concerts propels him back into Jenna’s life. But, once burned by love, Jenna must guard her heart against the captivating singer.

Once upon a time, Garrett vowed he’d be a success, no matter what. But that path shattered his soul. His reunion with Jenna makes him long for things he once took for granted. Now he must show her that he’s found what he was looking for all along…right here in his hometown.

Purchase Links:

Mardel            Deeper Shopping            Amazon            Christian Book          Harlequin

Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife/award-winning author. She lives in rural central Arkansas in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows. Shannon writes inspirational contemporary romance and it took her nine years to get published in the traditional market.

Shannon hopes to entertain Christian women and plant seeds in the non-believer’s heart as her characters struggle with real-life issues. Their journeys, from ordinary lives to extraordinary romance through Christ-centered relationships, demonstrate that love doesn’t conquer all—Jesus does. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her family and doing craft projects.

You can visit her online at her website http://shannonvannatter.com and blog: http://shannonvannatter.com/blog

You can connect with her on Facebook,  GoodreadsPinterest and Twitter.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! I believe we all have a calling. For some, that may mean saving money and paying off debt to spend quality time with their grandchildren during retirement. For others it may mean launching or serving in a ministry, writing a novel, or honing a talent to be used for God’s glory. Or perhaps God’s calling you to step out in faith and courage to invite neighbors to a women’s event at your church.

All of those callings can feel frightening, but as Shannon reminds us in today’s post, the rewards of obedience are endless!

What is God calling you to do, and what steps are you taking to obey? You can share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

And don’t forget to stop by Faith-filled Friends to read about the making of my novel, Beyond I Do, which is now available on Amazon for pre-order at a discounted price. I also encourage you to stop by Takin’ it to the Streets to read about one of my less-than glamorous yet more memorable moments.

First of all, run now, while you still have a chance. Just kidding. But seriously, writing is not for the thin-skinned. And it isn’t nearly as glamorous as it might seem. In fact, most days you’ll be glued to your computer, still in PJ’s at two in the afternoon, ball cap by your side in case one of your normal, presentable neighbors happen by. Although truth be told, you probably won’t answer the door anyway. Or the phone. Until the tips of your fingers throb from pounding your keyboard and your eyes cross from hours upon hours of edits.

Then you’ll stand up to force blood into your numbed legs and glance out the window as you try to reconnect with reality. You’d love to have someone to chat with, only all your neighbors are at work. You call a friend and leave a message. You hop on facebook and make a few random posts. You pace the room and have a few conversations with yourself. But then you glance at the clock. It’s just after one, which means you’ve got about two hours before the kids return from school and your nice silent haven turns into an unproductive madhouse. So, you toss all thoughts of socialization aside and bunker down. But hey, you’ve always got Alice, the heroine in your latest novel. She’s your friend, right?

Actually, I totally love what I do. I can’t envision myself doing anything else. (And believe me, I’ve tried. When I’ve noticed a fatal plot error requiring a total re-write or my computer crashes halfway through a 90,000 word document.) But I’m still here, plugging away, day after day, word after word. Only now, I’ve learned to do things differently.

1) I find ways to stay connected.

When I first started writing, I did it alone. It wasn’t long before I fell into a pattern of discouragement. We all experience that once in awhile, when our negative self-talk runs amuck and those fears, insecurities and frustrations bite away at our resolve. Now I’m a part of three writer’s groups and I cherish the support they offer. I’ve also taken the time to nurture deeper relationships with a few ladies I’ve met along the way. Yeah, they’re largely internet and phone relationships, but they work. My greatest resource has been the American Christian Fiction Writers network. They have an amazing online loop, numerous mature Christian authors who love pouring into the lives of newbies, and a phenomenal critique group.

2) I choose my close friends wisely.

The other day I listened to a writer friend talk about how someone had totally slammed on both her and her work. Not in your normal, “I think this would be stronger if…” This was all-out brutality. As she talked, I was reminded of the story of Joseph and how his brothers and father responded when he shared his God-given dream with them. They scoffed. They were so focused on who Joseph was–a runt–they overlooked the power standing behind him.

Writing is tough. You’re going to face rejection. A lot. You’re going to have to make tough decisions and you’re going to have to overcome a lot of inner demons that threaten to keep you stagnant. You certainly don’t need naysayers dragging you down. To the contrary. You need strong Christian friends who will encourage you to keep on keeping on, with your eyes focused on the goal with unwavering determination.

2) I learned to abide. (John 15:1-4)

If you want to write more than mindless drivel, you’re gonna need to learn to rest. To trust. To listen. To fight the urge to do things in your own strength and wisdom as you continually lay yourself on the alter. This is a toughy, especially when you’ve got deadlines coming your way or writer’s block dragging you down. Our first tendency is to try harder and in doing so, we fail to connect with our true source of wisdom and power.

The other day I had the task of turning nine Bible chapters into an eight hundred word leaflet. Not an easy thing to do, especially for a word lover like me. And I really didn’t have the time to fret over it. Fretting is the biggest time sapper there is! So instead of forcing a bunch of drivel onto the screen, I closed my computer, walked into the bedroom and turned on some praise music. Basically, I passed the buck. I knew God had brought me this assignment. I knew He had a plan for it. I just needed to wait for Him to share His plan with me.

After spending a few moments in prayer and quiet, I returned to my computer with clarity and finished the leaflet in a relatively short period of time.

4) Take time to get away.

Those momentary refreshers are great, but they’re not enough. At least not for me. I can only rely on shout-out prayers for so long before my creativity begins to shrivel. Every once in a while I need to create my own little spiritual retreat. Normally I don’t go far. Maybe I’ll visit a hiking trail nearby or spend a few hours in a nearby park with my Pandora radio (on my iphone), a Bible and a notebook. Sometimes the getting there is hard, especially when my tasks are mounting, but I’ve learned those are the times when I most need to get away. And once I do, once I spend those cherished moments connecting with God, I come back twice as productive as before.

5) Let it go.

God’s already got the whole journey figured out. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Try not to look at the day-to-day. Learn as you go, walking forward with an eyes-wide-open approach as God guides you towards the finish line.

6) Take your thoughts captive.

Negativity breeds negativity. And quite frankly, it’s a waste of time–time you don’t have. Make a decision, right now, not to allow discouragement to linger in your brain. If God’s got it covered, what is there to be discouraged about? So you’ve got a 60,000 word rewrite, or realized your eighth edit wasn’t enough. And? I’m not joining your pity party here. I’m waiting at the finish line with my camera ready to catch your victorious smile when you break through the tape.


I love reading Sol Stein’s “How to Grow a Novel”. I’ve been reading it for quite some time. It’s one of those books you pick up, read a few pages (sometimes even just a few paragraphs) then make a mad dash for your keyboard. It’s like diving into a literary Sudoku! Last time I read this book, I determined to spend a minimum of one day per month “observing”. I even had all sorts of idea-stimulating places I wanted to go–the mall, a coffee shop, the city market, a park. Anywhere where my mind, and thus my pen, could be stimulated with original sights, sounds, eccentricities (like that odd man with rubber-band lips eating that overly-ripe banana while driving down the freeway. Seriously, have you ever watched people eat? Giggle, giggle.) And yet, for the most part I’ve remained inside my nice little air-conditioned (for the most part) house, hidden behind a computer screen relying on istock photo and Google Earth to navigate the world.

But now that my novel is done (minus a little fine-tuning here and there), I’ve decided to spend a little time playing with words before jumping on to my next one. I thought it would be even more fun if you all would like to join me. Obviously, we can’t take a sensory field trip via cyberspace (okay, so maybe we can, but I’m really not in the mood to argue. Just go with me on this one.) But I thought that perhaps by posting a unique or intriguing photo once in a while it might stimulate some great brainstorming sessions. Wanna join me? I’d love to hear your ideas, thoughts or creative tellings of this photo. I’ll add a few prompts, and maybe some ideas of my own and you can either post yours in the comments or email them to me and I’ll publish them as a separate post. My email address is slattery07@yahoo.com. Please make sure to put “creative writing” in the subject heading, otherwise you’ll be sent to my trash pile. 🙂

Here’s the photo:

Here are some questions and thoughts to get you started:

1. Notice details. What type of clothes are these people wearing and why?

2. There is a dark spot on the child’s arm. Is that a bruise or a splotch of dirt? Why?

3. How old is this woman?

4. The children are clinging to her, and yet her face is angled forward, one hand is under her chin and the other appears to be in her lap. What might this say about her?

4. Where are they? What has led to this moment?

5. Is it morning, evening or night?

6. Based on the clothing and the tarp over the woman’s legs, it appears to be cold out, and yet, their hair is still so there doesn’t appear to be any wind. Are they inside or out?

7. What is the woman looking at?

It was bitterly cold, despite the steady stream of sunshine poking through the holes in the tarped roof. Mary Lou’s jaws ached as she fought to keep her teeth from chattering. For the children’s sake. Raylon’s breath was warm and moist against her neck, and for that she was glad. And yet, the very thought of taking comfort in the huddled breath of her child brought enormous guilt.

Angry voices seeped through the canvas walls of their make-shift home–men fighting, women yelling, hungry children crying out to their mothers–reminding her of how precarious her situation really was. True, they didn’t have food inside their thread-bare shelter, and the warmth of the many fires lit through out the camp failed to penetrate the icy air within, but at least here, they were safe. For now. And yet, one glance at young Ida’s cracked and flaky lips told her she’d have to venture out soon enough, and make her way past the hateful men with hungry eyes and grabbing women ready to claw a child’s eyes out for the tiniest crumb of bread. Waiting for nightfall wouldn’t help, for that was when the men gathered around the fires with home-made liquor flooding their foul-breathed mouths. She’d heard they had a still somewhere full of fermenting potatoes. One of these nights, or early mornings, she would find where it was,  and grab a few spuds for her girls. They said only the rotten ones were used, but what did she care. Rotten or no, it would fill her girls’ bellies. Maybe even give them the strength to make it through the winter. Yes, that was all that was needed–something to help them survive this bitter season. Once spring came and her husband returned everything would be made right again. Wouldn’t it?

Okay, now your turn. 🙂 Wanna give a little background on the people in this photo or maybe write a sample paragraph or two? Just for fun?