The Spirit is Willing . . .
Jesus didn’t fire the disciples for sleeping on the job in the garden. He didn’t terminate them when they panicked in a storm. He didn’t kick them out of his circle even when they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom! Can you imagine? I would have thought they’d be disqualified then and there. But He understood their flesh was weak, and He was patient and so merciful.
Anybody feeling weak?
There are days when it feels like a chore to pray and read the Bible. Yes, I said it. I’ve recognized that when I’m struggling emotionally or mentally, reading and praying is difficult because I often don’t “feel” anything. Then I become more discouraged that my spirit isn’t strong enough to overcome the flesh. BUT...today I recalled a verse of Scripture in a TOTALLY different way than I’d ever thought of it before.
Jesus had been praying before his arrest. He had asked his friends to keep watch and pray with Him. Mark 14:37, 38 says, “And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
I had always read those words as chastisement and rebuke. As an indictment against the disciples. Today, I heard them in my spirit in a tone of compassion and understanding, even sympathy. Jesus knew what it was like to be tired! I heard those words in the same tone one would use when lifting a small child out of their car seat, who had dozed off on the ride home. “You’re sleepy, aren’t you, buddy? I know, it’s been a long day.”
Yes, Jesus’s words are a warning. They encourage us to be vigilant. But there is so much love in them. How often do we miss the love in His voice? I pray we’ll hear the compassion that compels us to come to Him, and not condemnation.
In honor of my latest release, I've compiled a list of 15 Christian Fiction books that have a form of the words "song" or "sing" in the title, and I talk about a few of them below. Here they are!
So many of these books have excellent reviews! I wish I had time to read them all.
Two of the titles that really stand out to me are Song of Silence by Cynthia Ruchti and Sing in the Sunlight by Kathleen Denly, in part because these are so similar to my title, Songs for a Sunday. I love the alliteration!
The Songs that Could Have Been by Amanda Wen is a fantastic book! When I read it, I knew I wanted Amanda to consider endorsing Songs for a Sunday, because I admired her work so much, and because her book has a strong music theme like mine. She was so gracious to oblige.
When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas is on my TBR list (to be read.) Last year, I read The Finder of Forgotten Things by her, and I really enjoyed it. I also love that she writes about the state she grew up in--West Virginia--the same way I write about North Carolina (where I think Sarah actually lives now!)
Now that I've thought about it more, I should probably read Song of Silence and When Silence Sings back-to-back. I'd love to find out what they might have in common!
Which of these "singing" books have you read? What are other similar titles?
Songs for a Sunday Around the Web
I'm using this post to track all the blogs, video interviews, and radio interviews/podcasts about Songs for a Sunday, in one place.
A Modern Day Fairy Tale
Happily Managing a Household of Boys
At Home: where life happens
Reading, Writing & Stitch-Metic
The Adventures of a Travelers Wife
Busy Moms Read Too
Reading Is My SuperPower
The Life We Build
Older and Smarter
Click the link below and enter before 2/12/23!
Goodreads Book Giveaway
Songs for a Sunday
by Heather Norman Smith
Giveaway ends February 12, 2023.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
My husband is using Vanna White hands at the top of the unboxing video (no offense to Ms. White,) and I made a ridiculous kind of squeak/snort sound when I saw the book, but I’m happy to share my first look with you all. (The ta-da is him.)
You can order Songs for a Sunday now.
I don't normally blog about books I've read, and I normally try to stay positive in all my online posts, but I recently finished a book that made me so angry, I'm making an exception on both counts.
To preface, writing is an artform, and, on one hand, can be expressed using whatever mechanism the writer is inspired to present. On the other hand, authors have a certain responsibility to readers. That is, if they actually care about readers and hope people continue to read their work. A writer has a responsibility to not betray the reader's trust. Early in a book, a certain expectation is set as to how the book is going to make the reader feel. An unspoken promise is made, and based on that promise, the reader decides to invest their time and emotion in the story.
I spent ten hours listening to an audiobook this past week. On a five-hour drive to a work conference and back, the book was a welcome companion. The narrator is a very talented voice actor. Simply brilliant. And the author is an amazing writer. The story had beautiful, poetic descriptions, deep characterization, and a thought-provoking plot with gut-wrenching conflicts and heart-rending obstacles that had me invested emotionally. I was enchanted by the writing style with lyrical, moving prose in every scene. The book had a solid, well-woven Biblical message and profound insights on important, relatable topics. And then . . . the book had a TWIST ENDING that made me so ANGRY I can hardly see straight even the following day. I feel duped. Not that the twist isn’t brilliant. It definitely is. But I’m still mad about it. I haven't been this mad about a story since Rhett walked out of Scarlett's life and slammed the door behind him. In that case, however, I didn't feel tricked.
This isn't the scenario, but as an example, imagine reading a story and finding out at the end that the character had dreamed the whole thing. It's strange that the "trickery" affected me so dramatically, because the book is fiction anyway. I get that. But somehow, I feel manipulated and like my investment was wasted. I'm not going to name the book or the author, and I understand, from reviews, that hundreds of people disagree with me. They weren't affected in the same way. Some loved the twist! But plenty of reviewers do agree with me.
As an author, I hope to make people cry. It means they connected with the characters and the story. But I also want them to feel that their emotional connection to the story was worthwhile. I want them to feel rewarded for their effort at the end of the book. I never want readers to feel cheated.
To the author's credit, I wouldn't be so mad if she wasn't a wonderful writer. Her words made me care. They made feel. And, even if much of my emotion about the book is anger, I don't regret the experience. I think eventually my view will soften, but this book will certainly stick with me for a long time.
My writing tends to have one overarching theme, found in Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." All story has conflict, but within that conflict, I aim to weave the truth that God can make good out of every situation. My work of Southern Fiction/Women's Fiction, Songs for a Sunday, includes many themes under this umbrella.
The main character in the present-day story, Missy, sees herself as a wife and stay-at-home mother of four. As a daughter and a granddaughter. But is there more to who she is? Does she want to be more? In the 1960s, Missy's grandmother, Annie, saw herself as a dancer. But who did she become when that was taken away from her? When the other dreams she held so dear were no longer possible? Ultimately, Songs for a Sunday is about the peace of finding our identity in Christ.
Family is a central topic in Songs for a Sunday. It follows the stories of two sets of sisters in different generations and also explores the dynamics between husband and wife, father and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, and mother and children. The book focuses on the importance of family and the value of being loyal.
3. Faith vs. Doubt:
In the story, the main character in the present day experienced a hurt that she allowed to pull her away from God. As a teenager, Missy felt rejected by a fellow believer, someone she loved, and that rejection caused her faith to crumble. To describe her pain, I gleaned from some very personal experiences. Fortunately, my outcome was that only my faith in people suffered, not my faith in God. But faith versus doubt is a major theme of the story. I hope readers that identify with this struggle will resolve their own debate on the side of faith.
4. Sacrificial Love:
One of my favorite themes in any story is sacrificial love. It's the way we're called to live as Christians--counter to our human nature. How powerful is the kind of love that makes us prefer others wants and needs above our own! The theme of sacrificial love is most on display in the 1960s storyline and is demonstrated by an older sister willing to give put her life on hold and give up her dreams, to face ridicule and uncertainty to help her younger sister. And both sisters sacrifice for the sake of an unexpected baby.
Without giving too much away, Songs for a Sunday carries a clear, distinct message of redemption. All of us need redemption, so the theme is universal. I my story, the character who had abandoned her faith for many years is confronted with the idea of belief again. Like all of us, she has a choice to make: Accept or reject the free gift of redemption.
I'm sure there are other themes we could discuss, but I hope this look at five of the major themes of the story has piqued your interest. Songs for a Sunday is available at Amazon and other retailers.
I love split-time books. I think I was first introduced to that writing mechanism by Fannie Flagg, who is one of my favorite authors. But writing split-time means a historical timeline in addition to the contemporary, which, in my opinion, means more research.
In writing Songs for a Sunday, I relied heavily on two resources: the Winston-Salem Time Traveler website, owned by Molly Rawls, and the North Carolina Collection of the Forsyth County Central Library. There is an amazing wealth of information in both places. I had articles and photographs right at my fingertips to help in constructing a 1960s story.
Ms. Rawls is the author of five books about Winston-Salem, including Winston-Salem: From the Collection of Frank B. Jones, Jr. Mr. Jones was a photographer for the Winston-Salem Journal and Twin City Sentinel newspapers. He captured the city in photos from the 1930s to the early 1970s.
While doing research for the book, I discovered that Winston-Salem celebrated its bicentennial in one of the years in which the story is set. Though Winston and Salem actually merged in 1913, the oldest of the two cities is Salem, which was founded in 1766. In 1966, the city had a year-long celebration to celebrate its 200th birthday, which included hosting Billy Graham at the Festival of Thanksgiving in November of that year. In December, The Nutcracker was first performed by students from North Carolina School of the Arts, which is mentioned in the book.
Somewhere along the way, my research landed me on eBay, where I discovered the juice glasses pictured below. These glasses were made to commemorate the birthday, and they are in great condition. Of course, I had to buy them for inspiration. Having these in my home, something Annie might have owned and passed down to Missy, helped me feel closer to the characters I was writing about.
I hope readers learn a few things about Winston-Salem and enjoy the history sprinkled throughout Songs for a Sunday.
The book releases 2/7/23 and is available for pre-order now:
Story Timeline Stress!
Want to know how I have a story set in the future that isn't a "futuristic" story?
Songs for a Sunday is my first split-time novel. A story set in the 1960s is told alongside a story set in the present day and the two merge to tell a bigger story. In that way, the book is both historical and contemporary, which makes it only my second historical work.
After writing Where I Was Planted, for a time, I doubted I would do another historical. All books take research, but in my experience, there is much more research time involved for historical (and I only had to go as far back as the 1960s.) While I find it all interesting, it definitely adds another level of complexity to novel-writing.
Another layer of complexity for split-time is aligning the story timelines and keeping them straight. When I wrote Songs for a Sunday, primarily back in 2020, I ran into what seemed like a problem. One of my characters needed to be born around the time the North Carolina School of the Arts was being planned. But in the present-day story, that same character needed to celebrate a milestone birthday because his party is important to the plot. For my character to have been celebrating his 60th birthday, it meant my "present day" storyline would begin in Fall of 2023, since I didn't want to alter the dates of real historical events. But was it okay to tell a story that far in the future and have the heading on the page be "Present Day?"
When I first started pitching the story, an editor told me not to stress over the dates too much because there was no way to know when the story would get published. And she was right. The publication date landed in the same year as the "present day" timeline, even though the book will be published a little over eight months before the story actually begins.
As stressful as nailing down the timeline was, it's the kind of thing I enjoy about writing books. The planning and the telling are like putting together a puzzle, except you don't know exactly what the picture will look like until you're finished. Songs for a Sunday releases February 7, 2023, and I hope you enjoy the final product.
My obsession with audiobooks probably started last year when I listened to the three books in "The Broken Road" series by Richard Paul Evans. I listen to audiobooks primarily through the subscription service Sribd, and I almost always have a book playing while I'm driving. I even bought a Bluetooth speaker so I can connect my phone and listen to audiobooks in the shower. I listened to some fantastic stories this year, and I'm excited to share the list with you.
The following are in no particular order, and there's a chance that I actually listened to some of them late last year. (I didn't track the dates and time is running together.) I'm also quite sure I'm forgetting some. But all of the books listed below are wonderful.
Now that I've shared some great books with you, I feel it's time to share my shameful secret. I've been dreading this for a while.
I wasn't a reader of Christian Fiction before I started writing Christian Fiction. To be fair, I didn't set out to write a book, either. When a story struck me one day back in 2017, and I felt compelled (obsessed) to write it, I was excited that I could create a piece of fiction and tell people about Jesus at the same time, It was only after I dove headfirst into writing and publishing Grace & Lavender that I realized there are thousands of brilliant people with the same goal.
I actually was not a big reader when I started writing, which I felt guilty about. I had read everything written by Fannie Flagg (except the most famous one made into a movie) and I had been enamored for years with Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. I really enjoyed Robert Beatty's Serafina series, too. But how could I love writing so much and not be passionate about reading? It made me feel like an imposter.
I quickly learned that, along with studying writing through conferences, craft books, blogs, and podcasts, I needed to study other writer's works, too. For a long time, that made reading even harder because I analyzed everything I read, rather than simply enjoying it. That, combined with my lack of time to sit down and read, is one of the reasons I love audiobooks so much. Having someone read to me takes away some of the inclination to analyze sentence structure and verb choices. Plus, I can listen while I do so many other things. Some of the books I listed above have sparked a renewed passion for reading. Now I can't seem to get enough. Maybe audiobooks would be a good choice for you, too.
I truly hope Songs for a Sunday will be released as an audiobook, but I won't know that for a while. Three of my books are available on audio now, though. (Where I Was Planted is my favorite.)
Happy reading and listening in 2023!
About the Blog
Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!
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