All Choked Up

You know how sometimes you read a book and it’s so well-written, or the characters are so wonderful, or the story is so moving, you get “something in your eye” or have a little trouble swallowing or something?

Is it too far beyond tacky to tell you that I get that way when I read Favored One (which I’m doing one last time before finalizing the file for publication)? It probably is, huh…?

I couldn’t tell you for which reason. But I’m not lying, and you know I don’t just talk about stuff I write or do like this. I’m pretty sure it’s actually a good book!

Soon you’ll be able to get your own copy and see for yourself.

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Starting from the Back

Who knew that even publishing for oneself could be such a drawn out process? Probably good that the book release party for Favored One is in September and not any earlier, but we have a cover! And this is the back of it.

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What the Readers Thought


11159926_10152681955161148_3334331578608788631_oThe Distinguished Professor of New Testament who gushed so unabashedly on Facebook over Trees in the Pavement in 2008, has written a review of my forthcoming book, Favored One, which you will find, when you buy it and open it up, inside the front cover. There are some other reviews in there which you might also find interesting.

I will share those here one day, but today, here’s what other people said about Trees, which is still available, by the way:

“Probably the best compliment I can give is that I forgot I was reading something written by a friend and was just reading it for the sheer pleasure of it. 🙂BH

I loved this book. I read it in 2 days. I knew you wrote it. Didn’t matter. It was great—Debbie Amaral

Now, my religious views are my business and we are all entitled to our own beliefs; so I decided that I would only review Trees in the Pavement if the novel’s focus was neither overtly “preachy”, nor so couched in religious dogma that it would be inaccessible to a wide audience. What I found was an insightful book . . . In fact, I think it should be on a general curriculum reading list for Secondary schools, so that they can discuss these very important topics.—Dina Ross



We should probably not get our hopes up. And you might not even be here anymore. But back when this blog was newer (and I was actually writing it), we used to talk about this book I had going that I wanted to publish, and guess what? I’m about to publish it!

Actually, the Pilgrimage and the Sanctuary at Woodville are going to publish it together. We are really excited about it and I will be sharing more information over the next couple of months, but for now I want to give a little love to my first book, Trees in the Pavement.


They were cutting the branches off the trees again.

When Zari first arrived in East London, she had wondered about the trees. She had never seen any fields and farms in London, like there were at home in Kosovo. But there were more trees. Or at least you noticed them here. In Kosovo, there were entire forests, but no one thought about them because they were, well, just there.

In London, the trees look uncomfortable growing out of the pavement – as if they were refugees in a foreign country, too.

Zari’s story takes you from the fighting in Kosovo to the concrete streets of the city of London – but there is conflict here too. You can’t leave problems behind just because you leave your country as a refugee in the back of a lorry full of cheese! Making friends is a minefield in itself – and the secrets she discovers in the family just add to the trouble.

War, peace, faith, and nationality – everything is changing in Zari’s life.

It’s not just the trees that are feeling uncomfortable.

Trees was published by Christian Focus Publications in 2008, just shy of 11 years ago. Pick up a copy here!

There was a book signing in 2008. The book sold out. There will be a book signing/launch event for the new book, too. Stay tuned!

While Away

Wordy Wednesday

If you thought I had abandoned all Jenn stories completely the last few months, you obviously haven’t yet “liked” the That’s a Jenn Story Facebook page. Some of you are cleverly in the know already, but in the event you haven’t been to that page yet, and just so that you don’t feel you missed out on too much (because that would indeed be a shame!), I shall here post the highlights.

Actually, I’ve been sort of quiet there recently, too, to be honest. But it’s still much easier to write a sentence or two than set up a whole blog post, and Jenn stories do keep happening.

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Over the winter I tried my hand at creating some memes.

Some were parodies of memes you might recognise . . . kind of . . .

The Most Important Woman in the World

The Most Important Woman in the World

I also made some original Oscars.





They’re always about food. All two of them. Somehow neither one has gone viral yet.

My Paul and I have also started this game we call #Overheard, where we pretend we’re going to post something that we further pretend we overheard, but which really one or the other of us says that sounds bizarre, and even more bizarre totally out of context.

"Mi driftwood es su driftwood." #overheard

“Mi driftwood es su driftwood.” #overheard

We keep waiting for someone to chime in with their own, or to figure out that we haven’t actually #overheard these things, but . . . now you know.

I’ve been thinking and writing and dreaming an awful lot about C.S. Lewis lately, on account of a class I was taking.

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There has also been a strange new foray into fitness, and some beginnings of a new kind of Bible study. But those are other stories for another time. In the meantime, I’d be delighted for you to jump on over there and see what else has been happening. You are very welcome both here and there. Because mi Jenn story es su Jenn story. Or something like that.



Guided Learning

Theology Thursday

One of the best things about The Seminary is their “head, heart and hands” model. The idea is that, particularly in theological education probably, it’s no good simply to fill the head with knowledge, it’s less than effective if all you do is focus on the inner spiritual world, and it’s even an empty exercise simply to train in practical good works which aren’t grounded in anything. The recognition is that each one of these components is vital to the others, in a life of living faith, and so the professors intentionally build things into each course to help foster growth intellectually, spiritually and practically.

However, in certain classes, we the students are also called on to incorporate each of these elements in our learning, and so each have two mentors with whom we meet on a frequent and regular basis (mine are awesome) and we draw up a plan for a “Guided Learning Experience” (GLE) on which we will work throughout the course. I am one of these complicated people who hates to be told what to do, but also needs some kind of structure in order to function effectively, and so this construct fits me just perfectly. I appreciate accountability–if I’m the one who gets to discern for what I get to be accountable. Otherwise I get kind of defensive. Maybe one of these days I should do a Guided Learning Experience regarding defensiveness . . .

Maybe this isn't that new of a concept . . .

Maybe this isn’t that new of a concept . . .

The basic process of the GLE goes like this:

  1. You draw up your own plan for your Experience, which includes the Learning Need you have discerned for yourself, a Learning Objective, and some Learning Activities in which to engage so that ideally your reach the Objective. The activities must represent each of five categories: Scriptural, Cognitive, Experiential, Interactive, and Integrative.
  2. You show your write-up to your mentors and they approve it or not. Once it’s approved, you turn it in to the professor.
  3. You work through the activities that you have set for yourself, checking in with your mentors at mutually agreed-upon points.
  4. At the end of the term, you write up a report on what you did and what you learned, get your mentors’ feedback on whether they think the Objective was accomplished, and turn it in.

If you’re someone who likes to be intentional about your faith, as I do, and you sometimes  feel like there’s an aspect of your life God is poking at because He wants to help you work through it or something, this GLE thing is a really helpful way to focus on that thing. I feel like I’m probably going to keep doing these even after I graduate, if I can keep on finding people to mentor me. I also feel like I would like to help mentor others in this same process. In fact, I’m really starting to think I want to learn more about becoming a Christian “spiritual director,” and I feel like the GLE would be a great tool in the arsenal of spiritual direction.

But anyway, for now I just wanted to tell you about it–because I like them, and because classes start up again next week and once again I will lack time to blog. So I wanted to explain that next week I will post my most recent GLE plan, and the week after that, I will post the report I wrote up at the end of it. And in the weeks following, I will post some mini-papers I wrote for my Old Testament survey class last term. That way, at least there will be something to read around here on Thursdays. It’s just most likely all to be very theological . . . Here’s hoping that’s in the best sense of the term.

2013 in review

Thanks, The Readership, for your part in making these stats what they are. Happy 2014, one and all!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Wordy Wednesday–”Under the Influence” Series, Part 3

My mother has some cool cousins. I mean, they’re her cousins, so it’s not like I myself am particularly close to any of them, but the one I’m probably closest to is Hali, with whom I went to the Newport Folk Festival in 2011, and who has invited my Paul and me to a “Moon Dance” in mid-August. We don’t really know what that means, but we’re going to be sure to find out. When I was a kid I thought she was intimidatingly beautiful. Now she just makes me feel happily like I’m not so far from being an abridged hippie after all. Guilty by association or something.

Hali is the one on the far right. Yes, that's Emmylou Harris next to her.

Hali is the one on the far right. Yes, that’s Emmylou Harris next to her. You should probably click on this picture to read that story.

My mom gets along with all her cousins, but the one she’s probably closest to is Ann. Cousin Ann and I share a birthday, so we already have something in common, too. As a child, during our very rare Extended-Family reunions, I would always try to play with Ann’s daughters, both of whom were slightly younger but also prettier and less socially awkward than I was. Maybe. Maybe we were all socially awkward, because I definitely remember wanting to be friends with them, and having less than zero ideas what to talk to them about–but I’m not sure they were any better at making conversation. I like to think we would all do better now–although I’m probably no less socially awkward–but unfortunately I haven’t seen either of them in years.

Their family had a permanent impact on me, however, because it was Cousin Ann or maybe her mother, Auntie Eva, who first recommended that I read the book A Wrinkle in Time. I remember overhearing this conversation but maybe not quite being a part of it, and, as with most books which had been recommended for my reading pleasure by older relatives, feeling somewhat resistant to it. (I always ended up loving those books, too, though, once I gave in to the pressure.) Probably the main motivator to check it out was that I had this sneaking suspicion that Cousin Ann’s daughters were not only prettier, but also smarter, than I was and that reading a book they had read might help me catch up, even if I couldn’t get ahead.

This cover didn't exactly make me want to rush out there and . . . borrow it from the library.

This cover didn’t exactly make me want to rush out there and . . . borrow it from the library.

I have read this book as an adult and wondered what it was that captivated me about it as a tween, and I’ve decided it wasn’t the writing, but the fact is, after I broke down and read it for the first time, I really was captivated. I remember being fully aware that it was science fiction, but also aware that there was enough science in it to make the fiction believable and thinking it was kind of astonishing and inspiring that a writer could know so much about science and hoping I could someday write that believably about something I didn’t, at the time, know that much about.

I went on to read many more books by Madeleine L’Engle–not all or even most of them, but both her fiction and nonfiction, and both her books for children and for adults. Here is what I like about her books besides the Extraneous Knowledge thing:

1. She wrote fiction and nonfiction.

2. She wrote for children and adults.

3. Her characters overlap in her novels. She wrote novels in series (A Wrinkle in Time was the first in a trilogy, until in the 90’s she wrote a book about the twin siblings who didn’t get much air time in the trilogy–and I’m still not sure if that was supposed to be part of the series, or a stand-alone), but then you’d be reading a book in another series and suddenly a side character from the last series you read would be a main character in that series, and even though crazy sci-fi/supernatural/paranormal stuff might happen in the story (and then again it might not), it would remind me that life is like that. Everyone’s a main character in their own story, even if they seem like a side character in someone else’s. I have been asked in years past to write a sequel to Trees in the Pavement, and I just can’t because although the ending is somewhat open, I feel like it’s a self-contained story from which an add-on would just detract. However, that’s not to say I haven’t considered utilising Zari’s ex-best-friend as a character in a novel–maybe in a novel for adults, in which the ex-best-friend (and Zari, for that matter) is an adult, too.

4. Certain characters had more sci-fi things happen to them and other characters were in more “realistic” stories, but L’Engle didn’t let that prevent the overlap, even if it was slight. I’m also not positive about this, but I do think that some of the characters in her children’s books ended up sneaking into some of her adult novels as well. I am not sure it’s strictly true to say she used magical realism in her stories, but there was realism, and there was “magic,” and I liked that combo. Lately I have got a few story ideas up my sleeve along the same lines. I’ve tried to write fantasy like Lewis and Tolkein before, and I just can’t do it, but I think I could take the L’Engle approach pretty successfully.

I never had a correspondence with Madeleine L’Engle like I had with Lloyd Alexander, but I did meet her once when she came to my college with a number of other authors (notably Chaim Potok and Frederick Buechner). I wanted an autograph, but all of my copies of her books were back home in New England, and I was in Chicagoland. What I did have was a blank book which I used to have my friends sign after choir tours and mission trips and things. I opened it up to an empty page and mumbled apologetically, “This is a little weird, but . . . can you sign it anyway?”

She did.

Sometimes I wonder if this inscription foreshadowed the book I'd be trying to publish now.

Sometimes I wonder if this inscription was a foreshadowing of the book I’d be trying to publish now.


Wordy Wednesday – An Interruption

This week I am at a conference in the middle of the country with a bunch of teenagers, and I can’t tell you how it’s going, because I’m actually writing this post the day before I leave. (It’s the closest I can get to time traveling, I guess.)

Because of this, I’m not going to go all longwinded introducing you to another one of my literary influences today. I’m just going to remind you of the books I’m selling out of the back of my car. 

These books. Right here. I know, you just saw them last week, but like I said, I'm reminding you.

These books right here. I know, you just saw them last week, but like I said, I’m reminding you.

I am also selling them out of this blog, at the Jenn Store. I have, furthermore, added a note to the Jenn Store, underneath the description of the story in Trees in the Pavement, to the effect that if you wish to be able to purchase this book in digital form, you should leave a comment there–kind of like signing a petition. I have no idea if this will really encourage the publishers to consider offering the book in that format, but it couldn’t hurt, and the Editor did say to let her know if there was significant interest. Is there?

Alternately, you could just buy one of these hard copy versions, because not only can I sign it for you, but also almost all the details in the author bio on the back are no longer true, and so maybe it will become a collectors’ item in a few years. Isn’t that what makes things collectors’ items?

So many questions. Like–how do trees grow out of pavement?

The pavement, out of which grew the trees.

The pavement, out of which grew the trees.

In Spite of Not Believing in Reincarnation . . .

Wordy Wednesday
I might be able to squeeze me in somewhere around Jane Austen or Shakespeare. Otherwise, I don't really fit into this map . . .

Apart from Austen and Shakespeare, I probably would have put different people in this map. But that’s just me, I guess . . .

When biographers write about writers and artists and musicians, they often–directly or indirectly–mention the influences that other writers and artists and musicians had on their subject. I always think these sorts of connexions are interesting–more interesting than modern-day networking (although I love my The Readership–believe me, I do–and all those of you who poke at me and prod me and remind me that, if I’m writing into a void, it’s not the kind of void that I thought void meant), because these are connexions that can span time and space and even life and death. Sometimes these Influences are conscious and sometimes they’re not, and that’s interesting, too.

I feel like I’m pretty aware of most of my Influences, and I may take this lull-before-finding-out-if-that-solitary-and-kind-literary-agent-actually-wants-to-flog-my-book to talk about some of them, but today I’m going to talk about the one that I’ve only recently become aware is an Influence. Actually, I’m not sure that’s even the word. I’ve been aware of her for ages, and I’ve read and enjoyed some of her writing, but it might be more accurate to say that, rather than an Influence on me, I am an echo of her. There are some distinct differences between us, but the similarities are legitimately bizarre.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Dorothy L. Sayers.

Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul, by Barbara Reynolds

If you REALLY want to know about her, you should just read this book.

One night, two seminary terms ago, we had a particularly rousing theological discussion in my Systematic Theology class and I suggested, only moderately facetiously, that we should all go out to a pub afterwards and continue our discussion over a beer. I was thinking in terms of the Inklings, and I was also considering I might be the only woman there (there are other–fantastic–women in my class, but for some reason the only one of them I could imagine hanging out with a bunch of men–and me–over beers to talk theology, lives about an hour away, and it was getting late), and suddenly it occurred to me that, although I wasn’t sure Dorothy Sayers ever actually hung out with the Inklings (she didn’t), I could, like her, be a token woman writer-theologian (who isn’t Rachel Held Evans), in the sense that . . . well, she was one, and she had male theologian friends, because there just aren’t that many  orthodox female theologians.

Then in the following term we had to research some spiritual “parents” in the faith, and without even knowing that I was beginning to mentally ally myself with this woman, our Centre director suggested I research her, so I did. In doing so, I found out that if I were able to bring myself to believe in reincarnation (which I’m not), I might be fairly confident as to who I had been in my immediately previous life. It’s not that there aren’t differences between me and this British woman of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There are some pretty significant ones. It’s just that the similarities are really unusual. Here are a few of both:

Similar: We were both pastor’s daughters.

Different: She was an only child. I have TheBro–although it is arguable that both TheBro and I have some “only child” characteristics, perhaps because of the space of years between us.

Similar: Sayers and I each used to tell ourselves stories to fall asleep as small children–sometimes aloud. We also both strongly identified with certain characters in books we read–into our teen years, if not beyond. Sometimes we would act them out. Sayers seems to have been much more overt and flambuoyant about this than I was.

Different: As a teen, Sayers was uncomfortable with the trappings of religion; that didn’t happen to me until later.

Similar: On the other hand, we were both inspired by story and myth and the idea that the Christ story fulfilled these.

Similar: We both had, perhaps, a tendency to overshare with our parents.

Different: Although she did some teaching, Sayers didn’t do the child-centric, world-traveling, job-hopping thing that I’ve done: she taught briefly, worked in advertising for almost a decade (awesome classic Guiness ads, anyone?) and then spent the rest of her working life actually making a living as a writer–initially through detective novels, which I don’t think I could or would ever write–although hers are quite enjoyable to read.

I used to like Guinness. I'll always like these ads.

I used to like Guinness. I’ll always like these ads.

Similar: We each endured a somewhat long-term, heartbreaking, passionate but “unconsummated”–due to our personal scruples (somewhat different ones, but both related to being Christians)–relationship with complicated men who did not share our faith or, necessarily, values.

Different: Sayers rebounded by letting some other dude knock her up. I rebounded in a fortunately very short-lived encounter with a sociopath.

Similar: We each subsequently met intelligent, word-conscious men whom we each married after a surprisingly brief courtship–possibly to the perplexity, though not opposition, of our parents.

Different: I intend, by the grace of God, for my marriage to end up more happily than Sayers’ did–and I think this is possible both by that grace and because of the fact that my Paul would be delighted, rather than jealous, were I to become a self-sustaining writer. Also? So far things here on the Pond just keep getting more awesome. Please God, and let it so continue.

Similar: At some point, Sayers got the theology bug. She was completely unabashed about this, and although it worked its way into some of her earlier writings, she consciously wrote about theology and through theology when she was older. “The dogma of the Incarnation,” she said, “is the most dramatic thing about Christianity, and indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment . . . “*

Are you staring at me in bewilderment yet? Because seriously, The Readership. This is what I want to do. I want to keep writing words about God, through essay and article and memoir, certainly, but especially through story. I knew CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein did it. But it’s kind of simultaneously comforting and inspiring to know that there was at least one woman out there already who knew how to do this, too.

* Sayers, Dorothy L., as quoted in Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.