Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Responding to Criticism & Check out my new cover!

Hi Friends!

Well, I'm waiting for my substantive edits (those are the "big picture" comments and suggested changes) to come from my editor today for my next novel, SHADES OF MORNING (Check out the cool new cover!!). So, I should be getting a letter soon that outlines all the things that aren't right about the book, things that need improvement, places where the story falters.

So, as I'm preparing for the "big letter," I was thinking about some tips for facing criticism in general. Of course, it's my editor's job to show me how my story can be improved, so I'm happy for her comments. And she'll be tactful, helpful, courteous, and professional in her comments.

But often that's not how we receive criticism in life. Often in life criticism doesn't come from people are supposed to give it. It comes unexpectedly. It's done awkwardly, rudely, and may not seem helpful at all. And even if people are well-intentioned (and something they aren't!), their criticism hurts. So, how can we respond in a Christ-like manner to criticism that isn't professional, helpful, and kind like my editor's?

Here are some tips:


1. Do keep a cool head. Anger will cloud your reasoning.

2. Do say a quick prayer, asking God keep you from being defensive and to show you any truth in the person's words.

3. Do hear the criticism without allowing it to affect your self worth. God can use criticism to point out flaws that He hopes to change.

4. Do hear the feelings behind the complaints. Sometimes criticism is the way people say, "I need help. I feel bad, and I want you to fix it." Watch for an opportunity to show that you care. A sensitive, rather than argumentative, response will make the other person feel valued, not demeaned.

5. Do be ready to admit any fault of your own, no matter how small.

6. Do ask the person to be part of the solution. Perhaps they can fill in where they think you're falling short.

7. Do thank the person for their concern (whether their words show concern or not).


1. Don't immediately jump to your own defense. In time, you may need to present your side of the story, but to do so initially will only make your critic try harder to convince you of your fault.

2. Don't tell the person they're wrong. Being adversarial only causes resentment.

3. Don't answer immediately, especially if you find your emotions starting to flare. Instead ask for time to think and pray about what was said. Tell your critic you'll get back with him later. (Then do so.)

4. Don't worry about being right. It's better to be accused falsely than to lambaste the other person. Remember that your relationship with the criticizer is more important than who is right. Differences should be honestly and healthily confronted, but they won’t always be resolved.
Finally, remember that Jesus, too, was criticized and condemned. But, "when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23 NIV). Criticism, and even injustice, are an opportunity to reflect the character of Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall

Hi Friends,

Here's the new novel I have to tell you about this week -- The Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall.

About Cindy:
Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish has been featured on ABC Nightline and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Her ability to authentically capture the heart of her characters comes from her real-life connections with Plain Mennonite and Old Order Amish families. Cindy is the mother of three sons and two daughters-in-law, and she and her husband reside in Georgia. Visit her Web site at http://www.cindywoodsmall.com/

Synopsis for The Sound of Sleigh Bells:
Beth Hertzler works alongside her beloved Aunt Lizzy in their dry goods store, and serving as contact of sorts between Amish craftsmen and Englischers who want to sell the Plain people’s wares. But remorse and loneliness still echo in her heart everyday as she still wears the dark garb, indicating mourning of her fiancĂ©. When she discovers a large, intricately carved scene of Amish children playing in the snow, something deep inside Beth’s soul responds and she wants to help the unknown artist find homes for his work–including Lizzy’s dry goods store. But she doesn’t know if her bishop will approve of the gorgeous carving or deem it idolatry. Lizzy sees the changes in her niece when Beth shows her the woodworking, and after Lizzy hunts down Jonah, the artist, she is all the more determined that Beth meets this man with the hands that create healing art. But it’s not that simple–will Lizzy’s elaborate plan to reintroduce her niece to love work? Will Jonah be able to offer Beth the sleigh ride she’s always dreamed of and a second chance at real love–or just more heartbreak?

The Sound of Sleigh Bells is a heartwarming Christmas novella where lack and abundance inside an Amish community has power for good when it’s tucked inside love. Romantic Times gave The Sound of Sleigh Bells 4 ½ stars, saying ~ This is a wonderfully written, transformative story of two Amish families at Christmastime. It will bring sleigh-riding memories to life as readers vicariously join in this jolly and exciting holiday tradition.

To read the first chapter of The Sound of Sleigh Bells, go to: http://www.cindywoodsmall.com/books/sound-of-sleigh-bells_excerpt.php

To purchase through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Sleigh-Bells-Cindy-Woodsmall/dp/0307446530/ref=pd_ts_b_5?ie=UTF8&s=books

To purchase through CBD.com: http://www.christianbook.com/sound-sleigh-bells-cindy-woodsmall/9780307446534/pd/446534?event=HPF2

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Unexpected Pumpkins

Hi Friends,

In honor of the season, I wanted to share with you something that happened around here a few months ago. It was the strangest sight – a lush, green plant growing in the middle of an expanse of bare dirt. I stood there on my front porch and stared at it. Wide leaves, a bright yellow flower, thick, healthy stalks. It was perfect, beautiful, and clearly not a weed, even though it seemed to have sprung up overnight.

The plant wouldn’t have seemed so strange if it weren’t for its surroundings. Around it, for a dozen yards in every direction, there was nothing but bare, dry soil. Not a sprig of grass, not a seedling, not even a stray weed. Nothing but dusty earth and this one perfect plant growing in the center.

Months ago, my husband had graded the area in front of our house in anticipation of doing some landscaping. The landscaping hadn’t happened and the area had been dirt ever since. Until now.

“Look at that.” I called to my daughter, Bethany, as she zoomed past on her bike.

She steered her bike around and stopped in front of me. “What?”’

I pointed to the splotch of green amongst the dusty brown.

Her gaze followed the motion. “Wow. What is that?” She parked her bike and trotted to the edge of the pavement for a better look.

“I don’t know. Should we go see?” I stepped from the porch and made my way across the driveway, through the dirt, and toward the middle of what will someday be my lawn.

Bethany came up behind me.

I leaned over the plant.

She did too. “Well, what is it?”

I studied the flower and leaves. “It looks like a pumpkin plant.”


“But how did it get here?” We didn’t have any other pumpkin plants, and we certainly hadn’t intended to plant any seeds. Then, I remembered. Last winter, we had thrown our old pumpkins out into the yard. Bryan must have ground them up with the tractor when he was grading, then somehow moved one of the seeds out to the middle of the area, many yards away from where the pumpkins had sat. There, it had laid dormant until the summer. And that’s how we could have a strong, healthy pumpkin plant where we’d never expected anything to grow at all.

As I studied the plant, I realized that sometimes God’s Kingdom works like that too. My actions can plant seeds even when and where I don’t expect. Sometimes, just by doing what’s right, by making smooth places out of rough ones, I can spread seeds of God’s love that will sprout later and turn into new life.

I thought about some things I had done over the past year that didn’t seem to yield any spiritual results - simple acts, like making a job easier for a coworker, smoothing her way in a new task, or helping a neighbor move, or sharing a meal with a friend. Those were times when I didn’t think I was spreading seeds, and I didn’t see any specific growth coming from my actions. But just like the pumpkin plant, seeds may sprout and grow when I don’t expect, where I don’t expect. Maybe my coworker will never acknowledge my help, but someone else in the office will be touched by what was done. Or my neighbor won’t be changed because of the help offered, but a relative of hers may be. The truth is, I don’t know. I can’t always predict where and how new life will spring up. Maybe that’s why Galatians 6:9 (NIV) says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

All God asks is that I continue to do what’s right, continue to make rough ground smoother for others. And even if I don’t see results now, or the person I’m hoping to help seems unresponsive, I shouldn’t give up. It could be that there are a few pumpkin seeds caught in my tractor’s wheels, and as I go about making smooth paths for God, a few seeds will fall out where I don’t expect them and a new plant will grow, flower, and flourish in what was once a bare yard.

And maybe I’ll even get to enjoy an unexpected pumpkin or two in the process!

Monday, October 19, 2009

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

Hi Friends,

Here's the new book I have to tell you about this week. It's White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner, and here's a bit about it, including an interview with the author:

Readers of emotional dramas that are willing to explore the lies that families tell each other for protection and comfort will enjoy White Picket Fences. The novel is ideal for those who appreciate exploring questions like: what type of honesty do children need from their parents, or how can one move beyond a past that isn’t acknowledged or understood? Is there hope and forgiveness for the tragedies of our past and a way to abundant grace?

The story in a nutshell:
When her black sheep brother disappears, Amanda Janvier eagerly takes in her sixteen year-old niece. Tally is practically an orphan: motherless, and living with a father who raises Tally wherever he lands– in a Buick, a pizza joint, a horse farm–and regularly takes off on wild schemes. Amanda envisions that she and her family can offer the girl stability and a shot at a “normal” life, even though their own storybook lives are about to crumble.

An Interview with Susan:

What led you to write White Picket Fences?
Several years ago I was a court-appointed advocate for children involved in protective services. There were times when I saw that despite the outward appearance of a less-than-perfect home, a child could be loved there. Just because a parent is unconventional or unsuccessful career-wise or makes choices that buck societal norms, it doesn’t mean that he or she is by default a “bad” parent. Likewise, parents who we would traditionally call “good” -meaning they provide, they protect, they don’t hit, they don’t ridicule - can nevertheless make decisions regarding their children that have hugely negative effects and yet their outward appearance would never lead anyone to suspect it. Even if you live behind a white picket fence, you still have to deal with the fallout of a living in a broken world. You can’t hide from it. The perfect, idyllic life is an illusion. Life is a weave of both delight and disappointment and it’s precisely these things that give it definition and depth. To ignore what is ugly is to cheapen what is beautiful.

You dovetailed a current day family drama with the Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto. Why the connection?
I think it’s fair to say that the depth of the atrocities inflicted during the Holocaust wasn’t fully appreciated until after the war. There was ugliness happening, if you will, and much of the West failed to see it — for whatever reason. Within the horror, though, people made brave choices, selfless choices. And there were survivors who had to choose what they would take with them from the ashes of their suffering. I wanted to explore how a person makes that decision. Even the decision to pretend it never happened is a decision regarding those ashes.

What do you think interests you about the intersection of personal relationships and perceptions – a theme you wove into both The Shape of Mercy and White Picket Fences?
I see every great work of fiction being about human relationships. Gone With the Wind is so much more than just an epic story with the Civil War as a backdrop. It’s a story of human relationships. Scarlett and Ashley, Scarlett and Rhett, Scarlett and Melanie, Scarlett and her father. It’s within our closest relationships that our brightest virtues and worst flaws are exposed. That’s why there is such tremendous story value within intimate human relationships. We are at our best and our worst when we are responding and reacting to the people who shape who we are. Human history is the story of relationships and what they teach us about what we value. And what we don’t.

White Picket Fences is a different kind of novel than your acclaimed book, The Shape of Mercy, but there are some similarities too. Can you explain those?
As with The Shape of Mercy, there is a historical thread in White Picket Fences, though it is not as dominant. The invasion of Poland by the Nazis is woven into the story, and provides the backdrop for Chase’s and Tally’s discoveries about hope, dreams, and redemption. This thread is enhanced by visits to a nursing home where Chase and Tally meet a man blind from birth who survived the occupation of Poland. It is also a story that draws its pathos from family dynamics and the near-universal desire we have to make straight what is crooked. There are two young protagonists in White Picket Fences, like there was in The Shape of Mercy, as well as a third character, who, along with the two men in the nursing home, provide a similar multi-generational story thread.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading White Picket Fences?
The pivotal moment in the story for me is when Josef says to Chase: “[This] is what all survivors must decide. We have to decide how much we will choose to remember, how much courage we are willing to expend to do so.” It takes courage to acknowledge and remember what drove you to your knees or nearly killed you. If you choose to forget – and that’s assuming you actually can – then it seems to me you suffered for nothing. You are different but you don’t spend any time contemplating – or celebrating – how. I’d be happy if there was a takeaway for someone out there who needs to consider that.

Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of The Shape of Mercy, named one of the Best Books in 2008 by Publishers Weekly the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. A devotee of purposeful pre-writing, Susan encourages workshop audiences to maximize writing time by mapping the writing journey and beginning from a place of intimate knowledge. She is the leader/moderator of a local writer's group, a pastor’s wife and the mother of four young adults. A native San Diegan, Susan attended Point Loma Nazarene University. When she's not writing, Susan directs the Small Groups and Connection Ministries program at The Church at Rancho Bernardo.

You can purchase White Picket Fences here:

And read an excerpt here:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It Won't Rain Forever

Hi Friends,

Yesterday it didn't just rain around here, the sky dumped buckets of water. I think we got about 5 inches. And with the rain we got leaks, pools, rivers, streams, ponds, and a lot of wet everywhere. Bryan spent the afternoon siphoning off a pool of water that was threatening the basement, while trying to keep the horses dry, their pens from flooding, and the temporary shelter we had made for one of them from collapsing. It was a crazy day.

But this morning, the sun is peeking through white clouds, the rain has stopped, and it's a new day. So, as I sat down at my computer this morning, in my rain-stained chair (yes, I had a leak in my skylight yesterday - right over my chair!), I remembered a story from back in my early days of infertility before we had any children. And as I recalled the story I was struck by the wonder of God's grace and mercy.

Back in those years, I wrote about infertility like this:

Infertility, I have found, is a journey, a monthly journey that swings between hope and disappointment, and rarely leaves me unchanged. It always starts the same, with that insidious whisper of hope. Could this be the month? Could I be pregnant? I feel a little pain and wonder if it means something. My stomach flutters, and I think that perhaps it’s morning sickness. I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up again, but I can’t help it. I count the days. Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight. I hold my breath. Twenty-nine, I release it. Thirty. Two days late. Thirty-one. This is it! Thirty-two. The bleeding starts. My heart breaks. Again.

This month was no different. I sat on the edge of my bed and told myself not to cry. But I cried anyway. Great, raindrop-sized tears. I wrapped my arms around myself and looked out the window. Storm clouds gathered in the sky. I shivered, hating the weather, hating the tightness in my throat, the wetness on my cheeks. Every month it was the same, hope and disappointment chasing each other in countless loops along the path of my life.

The sound of a chair scraping against linoleum penetrated my senses. A dish clattered in the sink. I grabbed a tissue and tried to stifle my tears.

Footsteps echoed in the hallway. I sighed and opened the door. In a moment, my husband Bryan reached the bedroom. For a full minute, he stood in the doorway, not knowing if he should come in and try to comfort me, or just turn around and walk away. Our eyes met. He shook his head. “Not this month either, huh?”

I didn’t answer.

Slowly, he left the bedroom and ambled back to the kitchen. I returned to the bed and sat on the edge. My hand moved over the rough patchwork quilt made by my grandmother. An heirloom, something to be passed down from generation to generation. I frowned and reached for the sweater that was tossed across my pillow.

Then, something unusual happened. Something that didn’t happen the previous month, or the month before. A shaft of light, bright and warm, sliced through the clouds to illuminate a patchwork rose. I watched the light, then glanced up and out the window. There, in the distance, beyond the storm, a rainbow arched through the sky. Purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red, the colors stood in brilliant contrast to the grayness of the day.

I caught my breath and remembered a promise given thousands of years ago. A vow from Genesis 9:12-17 that it would not rain forever. God’s assurance of love, His guarantee that the sun will shine again.

I stood and rested my elbows on the windowsill. Outside it was still dark, still dreary. But in the distance, I saw a break in the clouds. There, the sun flickered through. And in that moment, I got a glimpse of the path of my life. As I live through the storm of infertility, the way is dark and full of tears. But somewhere out there, the rains will cease. Someday, all this will be behind me. God has promised me that much. God has promised that He will not leave me nor forsake me. He has promised me the rainbow.

So, I look to the future and learn to see this month’s disappointment against the backdrop of eternity. I tell myself to keep my eye, not on today’s pain, but on the goal of a life lived in a way worthy of Christ, who calls me His own. For I know that someday I will bask in the Son.

Today, as I look outside after yesterday's big rain and remember all the long years of infertility, I realize that the storm has passed at last. No more infertility treatments, no more months of checking, hoping, waiting. After twenty years, that's behind me. The rains really did end, the rainbow really did come.

So, I encourage you today, if you're in the midst of a storm, hang in there! The rain doesn't last forever. The sun will shine again.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Where Do You Worship - Thoughts on Psalm 100

Hi Friends,

Where do you worship? I was reading Psalm 100 this morning in my (too brief) personal time, and remembered some reflections I'd written a while ago. I'm considering these thoughts again this morning, thinking about the question: Where do you worship?

When I ask Christians that question, I always get the same answer – the church they attend on Sundays. And no wonder. On Sunday mornings we go to worship services, are called to worship by worship leaders, sing songs led by worship teams. In our culture, worship is what we do on Sunday mornings. Work is what we do the rest of the week.

But a closer look at Psalm 100 shows us that maybe that answer has it all wrong. Psalm 100:2-3 says:

2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his….

At first glance, these verses don’t seem to have anything to do with our work week. That is, until we realize the Hebrew word used for “worship” in verse two is the same word (abad) used in Exodus 20:9: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work …” It’s also often translated “serve.”

Consider the difference when we read Exodus 20:9 in that way: “Six days you shall worship, you shall serve, and do all your business . . .” Worship, then, is not just that thing we do in the church building on Sunday mornings. Worship is what we do in our business; it’s what we do the other six days of the week.

If worshipping God, serving Him, is for our workday, then how does that change how we go about doing our regular work? Again, Psalm 100 helps us to understand.

Verse two calls us to worship the Lord with gladness. What attitude do we bring to our work? Do we complain about it as if it’s a burden? Is our work something we just get through to make a few bucks? Or do we engage in our business with an attitude of joy and thankfulness? If work is worship, then our attitude needs to be one of gladness to serve.

Psalm 100 also calls us to come before His presence with singing. While our actual work situation may not allow us to literally sing, we can, at least, pay attention to what’s coming out of our mouths at work. If work is worship, then things like grumbling and gossip are out of place. Instead, our speech needs to be more like a song – filled with light and grace.

Verse three reminds us to know that the Lord is God and we are His. We are not the “god” of our workplace. When we manage others, interact with customers, deal with fellow workers in the workplace, we do it with humility knowing that God is the “big boss” and we are not.

In the end, Psalm 100 tells us that the Biblical view of worship is for everyday, for our work days. It’s not just a Sunday event. We do it with gladness, grace, and humility, knowing that we are worshipping our real boss in heaven.

And that is something I need to be reminded of in the busy-ness of today, and everyday!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Tantrum at Disneyland?

Hi Friends,

Well, I've finally gotten all the laundry done and the stuff put away from our fun Disneyland trip last week. We had a great time. Baby did really well and so did the girls. Bryan and I survived too! Whew!
We rode the Small World ride about a zillion times (they've really improved it - it's beautiful now), and Pirates, and Splash Mountain, and the Winnie the Pooh ride. The girls and Bryan did teacups (I draw the line at the teacup ride!)
We did California Adventure one day (it was HOT) and Disneyland the other days. We even got to see Haunted Mansion all redone with the Nightmare Before Christmas theme (something Bryan has always wanted to do). It was so neat!
But one thing we noticed was that the "happiest place on earth" had a lot of crying and fussing too. Kids throwing fits, tantrums, whining, crying, fussing (even our kids a few times - though they did surprising well). And parents with angry eyebrows and red faces (and not just from the heat). It reminded me of something that happened a few years ago on another trip to Disneyland. It happened like this (names have been changed to protect the guilty :-)):

"No! I don't wanna go!" Katy pushed out her lower lip and drew her eyebrows into a dark scowl. "I want Splash Mountain!" Her face wrinkled into a mask of stubborn fury.

Katy's look was so at odds with our surroundings that I had to shake my head. We were in Disneyland, where laughter and fun were the order of the day. How could anyone be gloomy when Mickey Mouse, Snow White, or Goofy stood on the corner to bring smiles to every face? After all, this was the Magic Kingdom.

"We'll go there next," Katy’s mother whispered. "But first, we're going on the Pirate ride. You'll like it."

"No!" Katy stomped her foot as we got in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Soon, we were stepping into the big boats that would take us on our magic ride through pirate country. The soft music of crickets and water gently lapping against the sides of our boat did not calm Katy's angry spirit. She continued to glower. She refused to look around as we glided through the bayou. Her little sister cried out in delight and pointed to the tiny lights that were meant to be fireflies. Still, Katy didn’t budge. Even the pirate treasures did not interest her. She didn't "ooo" and "ahhh" as we floated through the middle of the big pirate battle, with cannon balls flying across our bow to land on either side. She didn't laugh at the rosy-cheeked man being dunked in the well or the pirates chasing women through the windows of the town. She wouldn't join in as we all lifted our voices to sing "Yo ho, yo ho, it's a pirate's life for me."

Nothing got through to her. Even as we came around the last bend, still humming the pirate song, her frown had not dissipated. We all tumbled from the boat, the other children laughing, giggling, and excitedly talking about what they had seen. But not Katy. Despite all the magic of Disneyland, especially in the Pirates of the Caribbean, she was still mad.

I again glanced down at her small, grumpy face. Then, I stopped short as recognition whispered through me. She looked – gulp - an awful lot like me. In fact, I was sure I had worn that same expression just a few weeks ago at church. I remembered the morning well. I had been scheduled to make an announcement about the women’s retreat at the beginning of the service, but the pastor said we didn’t have time. Then the worship team had cut my favorite hymn in order to put in some frothy chorus. And to top it off, the pastor shortened the time when we usually had prayer requests, but he left plenty of time for greeting one another. Nothing had gone the way I wanted it. I wanted Splash Mountain, not the Pirates!

Cold realization formed a lump in my chest as I grabbed Katy’s hand and headed out the ride’s exit. Had I been as silly as her, sticking out my lower lip at all the fun of the Magic Kingdom?

After all, Sunday morning services should be as joyful and fun-filled as Disneyland. I went to church to worship my God and Savior, to learn more about Him, and to enjoy His presence with others who love Him too. What could be better than that? Yet, instead of relishing the special time of gathering together in God's house, I was just as unhappy as Katy because everything didn’t go my way. I, too, had allowed selfishness to creep into my heart, so that I couldn’t enjoy the ride God was taking me on. What a shame!

These days, I try to remember Paul’s instructions: "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4, NIV) That way, I can laugh and appreciate God’s Sunday morning Pirate rides, whether I’d rather be at Splash Mountain or not.