April 22, 2016

Contacts & Critiques - Mary Harwell Sayler

Just updated my critique page to make it clearer, but not raise prices! If you'd like my feedback on your poems, prayers, devotionals, or children's picture book text for a minimal fee, check it out. God bless you and your good work in Jesus' Name.

Contacts & Critiques - Mary Harwell Sayler

March 7, 2016

Annual Writing Competition, dd March 15

Guidelines for WEN/FFWA Writing Competition

I'm looking forward to reading the poems entered in this year's writing contest, which is open to fiction and nonfiction too. Hope you enter and win! But I won't know until the finalists have been chosen as this is a blind competition with no i.d. on the entries I receive http://www.writers-editors.com/…/Con…/contest_guidelines.htm 

January 16, 2016

The Word Center in a Christian writer's life

After a few years of trying to maintain several blogs with regular posts on Blogger, I saw a need to simplify! So a new umbrella blog has been set up for The Word Center on WordPress.

Lord willing, the blog will include Bible prayers, Bible poetry, devotionals, articles on writing, biblical principles of Christian healing, and reviews of new editions or translations of the Bible.

If you're a worker of words or a minister of The Word, I pray you will Follow the blog and find what you need. If not, please leave a question, helpful comment, or suggestion for future posts.

Thanks and blessings.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016


December 19, 2015

Tips on writing nonfiction

• Pick a subject that clearly relates to the theme and purpose of the publication or blog for which you would like to write.

• List the points you want to make. [Hint: Give your ideas time to surface.]

• Select the most significant, timely, and/or freshest points.

• Arrange those points in order of importance.

Next, evaluate how long your article will probably need to be.

If you have one main point or fresh perspective you want to discuss in, say, 200 to 300 words, that would be about the right length for a blog post.

If you have 3 to 5 points you’d like to develop in, say, 1500 to 3000 words, that could be a magazine article.

If you have a long list of points that will require research and/or take time to explain, you might have the makings of a book!

If you’re interested in suggestions on ways to develop each point, let me know in the Comment space below, and, Lord willing, we can talk about that next time.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2015

Besides a couple dozen books in all genres for Christian and educational markets, Mary has placed over 1,500 articles, devotionals, and other short manuscripts with traditional and indie publishers. She also wrote the Christian Writers Guide e-book on writing, revising, and publishing to help you in your Christian writing life.


November 3, 2015

Jesus the Storyteller

In Part 1 of Jesus the Storyteller, academic author Stephen I. Wright gives an overview of respected writings on the parables, which I recommend for biblical scholars and Bible teachers interested in a serious study of the good stories Jesus told. To be honest though, those opening pages provided more information than I wanted!

When the publisher WJK (Westminster John Knox Press) kindly sent me a free copy of the book to review, I didn’t expect such a scholarly approach. As a narrative poet and writer, I mainly wanted to know what made the stories work as a form of entertainment used to reveal spiritual truths. But then, I also saw how the book can help our Christian writing lives.

Although the text continues on an academic level, subsequent sections delve into the aspects of story that narrative poets and writers need to study and employ: theme, purpose, characters, plot, and setting.

For example, chapter 6 “Hearing the stories through Luke” points out that “Luke recounts more stories from the lips of Jesus than either Mark or Matthew. Most of these occur in the ‘travel narrative’ of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem….”

Since I’d never thought of the stories as being set in a larger story on the way, I read with interest:

“We may best outline Luke’s performance of these stories by noting the way he has woven them into his travel narrative as explanations, illustrations, clarifications or expansions of teaching and situations that arise ‘on the way’,” where, “Interaction with others is a constant.” It’s sort of like a travelogue with stories accentuating passage from one place to another.

In chapter 7 “Hearing the stories in Galilee,” the author points out that “Stories have a setting that may be a combination of geographical, cultural, temporal and religious aspects, and more…. This is part of what we mean when we say they invite us into a ‘world’.”

For example, the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:3-9, Luke 8:5-8, and the apocryphal book, Thomas 9 was set in a world where “the great majority of the population scraped a living together off the land.” And so, the author asks, “what would be the force of the parable’s promise of a harvest?” Although we might typically expect our gardens in the U.S. to do well, farmers in Jesus’ time and locale would have been less certain of a favorable outcome.

Besides this, “For Jewish people, the land had considerable spiritual significance. It was God’s trust to his people, to tend and care for. Israel’s care for her land came to be seen, in the developing tradition, as a mirror of the way humanity had been called to care for the earth….” Therefore, “God’s blessing on the land was a sign of his favour and the fact that the people were acting in obedience to him and justice towards each other, while drought, famine, plague and conquest were a sign of his displeasure and their rebellion.”

Additional chapters consider other parables and places, but sticking with Luke’s presentation of The Sower in chapter 7 might give you a better idea of what you’ll find in this book. For instance, headings include:

Point of View

The character in The Sower is the only person presented and is also anonymous. The plot is brief and “loss of seed is real. But so is the possibility of great fruitfulness.”

Speaking from that single character’s point of view, Jesus “reveals himself as one who knows and understands his hearers’ situation well.” And, “By drawing a specific scene, however mundane, a whole world of truth may be evoked.”

In the “Reflection” on the parable, the author insightfully points out how “It sounds almost like a narrative rendering of a song, Psalm 126.” More importantly, “It invites thought and encourages hope. The identification of seeds with people in the parable’s application draws out the personal challenge that a careful listener might have received from the story itself, but it does not close down the ongoing signifying power of that story,” which unlike a straight telling or listing of events causes listeners to continue to listen, consider, and hear God’s living word.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and life-long student of the Bible, is also the poet-author of numerous books, including Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden.

Jesus the Storyteller, paperback

September 8, 2015

Christian poets, writers, and ministry gifts

My decision to write a new post today came about as one godly thing led to another and another, which then led me!

First, God led some members of our Christian Poets and Writers group on Facebook to remind us this morning how our lives in Christ have a purpose and how God has a plan for each of us.

Another member said this is National Suicide Prevention Week, which connects with the theme of God’s plan and purpose, too, in that people who consider taking their own lives usually can see no plan, no purpose, and no reason for living.

Another member, whose post has been highlighted today on the Christian Poets & Writers blog, gave suggestions about ways to hear God’s word to us and, therefore, become more aware of a divine plan for our lives.

In addition to those leading factors, the reading for my next Bible Study group discusses the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 – gifts that inform, edify, and guide our Christian writing lives.

If you have no idea what ministry gifts you have, type “Ministry Gifts test” in the search box on the Internet, and you’ll get a variety of sites to visit. After you have responded to each question, you’ll get an assessment of your gifts, along with their ranking. That’s important to know because, unlike natural God-given talents, which might be used for your own pleasure and enjoyment, your ministry gifts have been given to you to help uplift and strengthen the church.

That needs highlighting:

The Holy Spirit gives each of us ministry gifts to build up, nurture, and encourage the whole Body of Christ.

You’ll want to do that locally, of course, as you serve and minister to your church family, but as a poet or writer, your ministry gifts will help to guide the type of writing you’re meant to do.

For example, if the Lord has given you a gift of teaching, you might be led to write nonfiction books, articles, or Bible study guides.

If God has given you a gift of encouragement and empathy for others, writing spiritual poems, devotionals, and children’s books could be just right for you. Or, perhaps, you'll show loving relationships, realistically, in a novel.

Regardless of your ministry gift and writing talent, these tips might help too:

• Believe God’s promise to you of gifts from the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Cor. 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.)

• Pray for God to reveal your gifts and God’s unique plan for you.

• Expectantly await the results!

• Let the Bible, that “inner knowing” given to you by the Holy Spirit, and, often, the affirmation of Christian friends, lead you into God’s plan and purpose for you and your writing life in Christ.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler. If you need prayer about this, post your request in the Comments below. If you need a fresh perspective or professional feedback on your poems, children’s picture books, devotionals, or book proposals for a minimal fee, visit the Critique & Contact page of Mary’s website.

August 28, 2015

Getting ready for Erika

Living in Florida, we’ve been through a few minor hurricanes since being in Biloxi during Camille a few decades ago, but regardless of a storm’s size or intensity, we’ve come to some conclusions:

• People with well water pumped by electricity should not have to brush their teeth with Pepsi. We now make sure we have plenty of bottled water to drink and a full sink for washing dishes, but for the latter, paper plates and throw-away cups are cause for praise.

• Gas pumps might be ready to power up your car, but they’re powerless and immobile without electricity.

• Downed power lines cut electricity to your house, but not to themselves. They’re perfectly willing to electrocute anyone who steps on them.

• Candles add a romantic glow to the dark, but only a well-designed candle holder will allow you to glow from room to room without giving your hand a hot wax treatment.

• We have batteries! big batteries, little batteries, batteries for flashlights and batteries for the otherwise-unused radio that might keep us in touch with storm reports and the world beyond debris.

• Canned goods and an old-fashioned can opener keep us fed, and a dry bag of charcoal grills up almost anything. Oh, and that humongous smoker the guys just had to have can now be used to cook up whatever is thawing in the freezer, using fuel from fallen branches.

• Garbage cans and yard chairs make amazing projectiles.

So stay safe! And thank God that Jesus gave us a prayer to pray at all times. For these times though, I love how He commanded the winds and water with words that bear repeating: “Peace! Be still!”

In Jesus’ Name, amen.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler

August 25, 2015

Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf

As Christian poets and writers, most of us have literary favorites who influenced our view of Christianity, the church, the world, and writing. Professor-pastor-writer Douglas Wilson discusses his favorites in his new book Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf, published by Crossway, who kindly sent me a copy to review.

In the Introduction, Wilson says, “A writer needs friends who simply benefit from knowing him, which is another way of saying that good writers need good readers.” Those of us who have been published know just how much we need good readers, but I’m especially taken with the idea that people I don’t know might benefit from having read my works! That thought might take us away from fretting about sales and reviews to a closer look at what we hope to accomplish in our Christian writing lives.

One of the things G.K. Chesterton accomplished was a prolific career that's already spanned generations of readers. However, Wilson began the first chapter with him because, chronologically, he comes first among these nine writers: G.K. Chesterton, H.L. Mencken, P.G. Wodehouse, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Capon, Marilyn Robinson, and Nathan Wilson.

In the opening chapter, the author quotes Chesterton, who wisely wrote: “There must always be a rich moral soil for any great aesthetic growth. The principle of art for art’s sake is a very good principle if it means that there is a vital distinction between the earth and the tree that has its roots in the earth, but it is a very bad principle if it means that the tree could grow just as well with its roots in the air.”

Having edited or critiqued many poems and manuscripts by other poets and writers, I see Chesterton’s statement as key to being authentic, down-to-earth, and well-grounded in reality rather than uprooted in a topsy-turvy effort to be heavenly.

The next chapter introduces us to H.L. Mencken, who “writes in such a way as to make anything an object of fascination. Whether it is soles of shoes that are like slabs of oak, or his own matronly figure, or hired girls built like airplane carriers…, Mencken is consistently, thoroughly interesting. Many Christians, under the influence of pietism, have come to believe that love, action, and gratitude must always be expressed in such smarmy ways as to ensure its thundering dullness. But in the hands of a gifted writer, the most astonishing connections can be made between this and that.”

As Wilson goes on to say:

“Christians can learn from Mencken in two ways. The first is by watching what he writes on any subject and imitating it. Those who want to be creative originals from scratch seldom are, and those who slavishly follow the recipe have a different problem, just as debilitating. Those who look carefully at the masters to learn and imitate soon find their own distinctive voice with their own contributions.

“The second way to learn is by reading and applying his observations about writers, writing, words, and so on.”

The third author under discussion is known for his Jeeves books – P.G. Wodehouse, whom Wilson describes as “a black-belt metaphor ninja” and one “whose comic metaphors can still teach us how all metaphors work, how the thing is done.” As Wilson puts it, “We need Wodehouse for a number of reasons, but one stands out. The besetting sin of many cranky, conservative Christian types is their inability to make any good point whatever without sounding shrill.”

Humor certainly smooths those sharp edges, enabling us to say what we want to say without sounding overly pious or judgmental. But, whether we’re apt to be humorous, metaphoric, or what, Wilson offers this sound advice: “If our words are weapons – and they are – then we need to train ourselves in the use of them.” Amen!

Since Wilson sensibly decided to discuss each of nine writers in their order of birth, T.S. Eliot – one of my first loves in poetry – comes fourth. If you’ve read his works too, you know the truth of Wilson’s assessment, “His poems are allusion-soaked, so much so that it is very hard to follow unless you are as well educated as he was…,” which I wasn’t! Since I often miss his connections, I’m relieved to hear that even a literary guru such as Wilson has similar issues. And that reminds me to reassure you that, if you didn’t have a clue about Prufrock in high school, try it again, and you’ll probably love it as I now do.

I was also interested to hear more about T.S. Eliot’s religious background, which began as a Unitarian in the U.S. However, when he later became an Englishman, Eliot was drawn to the Church of England. As Wilson says:

“Doctrinal differences aside, Eliot shares something in common with all Christian poets who deal with the permanent things, with the great issues. To be a Christian poet is to be shaped by the central Christian story, which is a story of death and resurrection.” And so, “Before his conversion, in The Wasteland and The Hollow Men Eliot did not see much hope, which is all to the good because without Christ, there is no hope. It is Christ or nothing.”

In the next highly interesting discussion, Wilson talks about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, pointing out, “…if you put a work of fiction into the wrong category, a lot of confusion can result and, in this case, has” as the ever-popular Lord of the Rings is not allegory.” In fact, Tolkien himself said:

“I dislike Allegory – the conscious and intentional allegory – yet any attempt to explain the purport of the myth or fairy tale must use allegorical language.”

What Wilson realized is that “questions about art and technology are…closely related to the issue of magic. Some Christians have been troubled by the wizardry, but the whole point of magic is the manipulation of matter in order to acquire power, which is what an ordinary magician does…. But the world of The Lord of the Rings is the very reverse of this – the good guys there represent a photo negative of magic. The ring of power is the ultimate symbol of magic in the traditional sense, and the whole point of the book is to destroy it, resisting all temptations to use it.” Those of us who haven’t read the book or seen the movie will be glad to know that.

In the Narnia tales, C.S. Lewis takes a different tact as he seeks something Wilson called “numinous” before quoting Lewis in this passage from In The Weight of Glory:

“We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it…. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

Yes! Until then, writing poetry gives a glimpse of this, especially when a line or musical phrase comes as a gift, like grace or God’s forgiveness. Similarly, reading the Bible and reading the inspired works of authors such as those Wilson chose for this book, not only inform our faith, but also our writing lives in Christ.

©2015, Mary Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, aims to encourage other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, critiques, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry..

Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf, paperback

August 6, 2015

Tips on titles

Sometimes a title will come to you before the poem or manuscript has been written. If not, these suggestions might help you to find an appropriate, appealing title to which every book, article, story, or poem is entitled.

• Being as brief and as clear as possible, state what your manuscript is about, then consider whether that description is title material. This will be more likely if you can condense the statement to 5 words or less.

• Think about a one-word symbol that might show your theme, purpose, and/or the larger picture you have in mind.

• Give time for thoughts to come. List every cliché, expression, pithy statement, and word play in line with your manuscript. Then change a word of two to make it fresh and, if fitting, add a touch of humor.

• Be playful, inventive, creative, surprising!

• More important than creativity, however, is honesty. Be “right on” in your final choice, so the text develops the main thought in the title, rather than refuting it.

Keep in mine, too, that the names of your manuscripts need to appeal to your potential readers, the first of whom may be an editor who sees the title and wants to read more – or not. For a “not” example, I once wrote a lively piece for children about homonyms, but my short article kept coming back with a rejection notice until I changed its name to “Ring Goes The Homophone.”

Like an aptly chosen word spoken at the right moment, a well-chosen title will serve you, your manuscript, and your readers well.

© 2010, ©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler has placed 27 titles with traditional and indie book publishers and over 1500 with magazines, journals, and e-zines.

July 4, 2015

WWll poem

Discharging Toggle Annie: Mediterranean Theatre, 25 March 1945
in honor of Horace E. Harwell

by Mary Harwell Sayler

On her last flight (my 7th mission) “Toggle Annie” took off slowly
over small gardens growing and new-green fields of barley, wheat, or rye.
Oxen stood still beside a rock-lined ditch formed well to keep good earth
from washing down the hill and wasting. Along a narrow road, a donkey
pulled a two-wheel cart then disappeared into the same descending blur
that held the floorless tent where our crew slept with no heat, no stove, and
no light but the candle we’d snuffed out before rising, rising with the sun.

Five miles up with my oxygen mask on, I hoped this mission would be a
milk run for “Toggle Annie.” The old ship had seen better days with 100
missions more than me and over 90 sorties, a sort of record for a B-24
Liberator also known as a “Box Car” -- a label that annoys me some.
(Nicknamed, the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17 gets better press.) Oh, well.
It doesn’t matter. All that matters is meeting up, on time, with our fighter
escort and not bailing out. Sometimes, I’ve had my doubts when we’ve
caught flak too close and heavy. Afterwards, I’ve been glad for those two
ounces of regulation whiskey used to regulate our nerves, but now? I don’t
know. Some days I hardly feel a thing but numbness when we’ve flown so
low we see too much to dream.

The children here have such hard faces.

Even in “Toggle Annie,” an oxygen mask can freeze up real quick
if you’re not careful to keep the condensation wiped. One mission
takes two cotton handkerchiefs, and wiping makes me woozy.

I do not ever want my face to get too hard.

On every mission, I think about my girls and how I miss them.
Sure hope “Toggle Annie” doesn’t miss her mark today! Wish I
had those Esso maps from home to pinpoint targets, but thing is,
I’d just as soon my wife not know how much we need them.

The hardest part is walking through a door from one life to another.
Flying’s not so hard, but some things you don’t think about. Like,
coming over on the cargo ship, I couldn’t use my electric razor
since it sent out waves the enemy might detect. Shaving with cold
water carried in a metal helmet doesn’t cut it! I wonder if my girls
will like my new mustache.

It’s hard not knowing if my family is okay.
The $218.80 a month, including flying pay,

won’t go far for them when I’m so far away.
I send all I can but keep a five and two tens
in my escape kit, just in case.

Some do go down. Some missions fail.

Some need money to buy a stranger’s help and food.
Worry does no good. I figure if flak gets close enough
to take me down, I’ll go down then, but not before.

Some do go down. Some freeze with fear. Some faces harden.

Flying this high is hard on everyone. At five miles up and thirty below
zero, a person can work for merely minutes and be exhausted for a while --
sometimes for nothing but frostbite if we’re forced back by too much flak.
One day, I saw a close-by crew go down in silver petals and bright flames.

Some do go down.

I hope this plane outlives its name as Liberator. Meant to carry 30-
caliber guns and nothing more, 50 makes us too tail-heavy. To lift
the weight, we have to bounce then place support beneath before
our tail-gunner’s hand can catch a wrong bounce, down. Timing is
everything. Like now -- we’ll do our job and lay this ship to rest,
one way or another.

We all could use a rest -- three missions in four days, each time on
a different, nameless plane except for good ole “Toggle Annie.”
She’s seen her days of drawing escorts, catching flak, and dropping
bombs, so she’s more than caught her quota of close calls.

I want to fly until I drop -- whatever it takes to stop this dad-burn war.
But hey! We did okay on today’s run -- 650 B-24’s and 17’s striking
airfields and tanks works. Took us eight hours and fifty-five minutes --
not bad for this old barge. A thousand hours logged -- quite a record,
Annie. You did swell. Tonight you’ll rest on solid ground while I’ll
sleep well on a nice firm cot, thanking God I’ve got a sweet-faced
wife and good life back at home. Tonight I’ll dream of daughters.

© 2002, 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. Poem originally appeared in the 2002 chapbook, Winning the Wars.

July 1, 2015

Poetic Power of Dyslexia

Most poets and writers draw on experience, personality, or the power of observation to find something fresh to say in their fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If you do that in your writing too, great! Keep up the good work. However, the traits you think of as a disadvantage or even a handicap might be the ones that help you to develop your own voice or distinctive style. Take, for instance, dyslexia.

Like many poets and career freelance writers, I began writing as a young child but, in my case, backwards. One way or the other did not matter to me, but this stressed out my teacher so much, she made me stay after class on my very first day of school. For years I thought Mrs. Smith called Mother to come in, too, to see how sloppily I wrote as my left hand smudged the soft pencil across the lined paper in my notebook, but no. I had perfectly copied everything the teacher wrote on the blackboard (which actually was black then), and I had formed each letter of the alphabet correctly. I had just written everything on the blackboard backwards.

For fun, I still like to spell ippississiM in my head, and I must warn you not to even try to beat me at word games like Boggle or Wheel Of Fortune unless, of course, you’re also a bit dyslexic. Most of the time, though, inverting letters and scrambling words or thoughts has gotten me into trouble, especially when I’m tired. If someone happens to spew double-negatives then, I can almost guarantee my brain will not follow.

In writing poetry and poetic manuscripts, however, dyslexia can come in handy. Word scrambles often lead to word play, and scrambled thinking can connect this to that in a previously untried but true way. Such “mistakes” might add a note of humor to fiction or nonfiction too and, in some cases, bring about a fresh idea, insight, or observation.

For example, as a Christian writer I often write nonfiction articles and devotionals. In one short article I wrote for other Christian poets and writers, I talked about the importance of double-checking facts and speaking with a loving voice whenever we write in the name of Jesus. Since Christians pray in Jesus’ name, my point was to encourage that thought also as we write. However, instead of typing “in the name of Jesus,” I wrote, “in the amen of Jesus.” Same letters, you notice, just scrambled. When I finally noticed this myself, I thought, wow! That better said what I wanted to say anyway. i.e., Anything we write (or pray) in Jesus’ name needs Jesus’ amen or affirmation.

I certainly do not pray for my dyslexia to increase or for you to catch it! But I do pray that you use your talents and “flaws” well. I pray you begin to see your “mistakes” or “handicaps” or “shortcomings” or “disadvantages” as a means of making your writing distinctive, inimitable, and one of a kind. Do I hear an name?

©2010, ©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If you need a fresh perspective on your poems, children’s picture books, or book proposals and one-on-one feedback for a minimal fee, visit the Contact & Critique page of Mary’s website.

June 16, 2015

Getting inspired by God

by Mary Harwell Sayler

I love You, Lord.
I love The Way
You write
right through my hands
to touch
unknown readers’ eyes,
and immediately,
they see!
They love you, Lord.

©2015, Mary Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, aims to encourage other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, critiques, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry.