Joanne Otto


Author: Joanne Otto (page 4 of 4)

Biblical Fiction

Why would someone who loves the Bible want to use it as a springboard for a novel? Wouldn’t that tend to trivialize it? I asked myself this question years ago after reading a fine biography of Paul. Why, after writing this factual history of his life, did Henrietta Buckmaster want to rewrite his story in her novel “And Walk in Love”?

After reading it, however, I began to understand. Her research and scriptural study had given her intriguing insights into Paul’s life and character. I think she wanted to take them even further–to envision what it would have meant to actually walk his walk. For this she needed to extend herself beyond the boundaries of historical scholarship and plunge into the deeper waters of the creative imagination. But this plunge of hers has value for Bible readers primarily because she was already well acquainted with the world Paul inhabited and the ideas that shaped his interaction with it. Far from trivializing the Bible, fiction–when rooted in fact–can bring it to life for its readers and allow them vivid glimpses into the Bible’s inhabitants and their world.

Book Reviews

Until my two books were published, I had no inkling of the importance of the reviews readers post on websites such as and Last year a friend asked me to write one for her father’s book, which I’d told her I was finding very useful. That was my first review ever, and it was done more out of friendship than out of any concept of how helpful the review could be in promoting the book. The review I wrote yesterday of a novella about a young woman whose life is touched by Jesus’ healing works was quite a different matter. The book’s subject was so close to that of my “Daughter of Jerusalem” that I wanted to give it a rave review. But while I loved the spirit of it and appreciated its historical detail, it had some literary shortcomings I couldn’t entirely overlook. I really battled with myself over it, wanting to support the author but wanting to be honest to prospective readers as well. I hope that my final draft was fair to both sides. A book review is truly a gift to all concerned, and if anyone who reads this has read either of my books and is inclined to write a review, believe me when I say that I will be more than grateful!


A Heartwarming Launch

Last Thursday I had my first opportunity to share The You-Song  in a school setting. I was invited to the Principia to read and discuss it with two small groups of preschoolers. As they clustered around me with eager expressions on their faces, my colorful little book about their uniqueness was coming to life before my very eyes. And its message actually helped them make some steps forward. One little girl at first resisted moving to enable another girl behind her to see the book better, but as we encouraged her to show how she could “blend with other songs” around her, she did the right thing. Later on an unhappy boy was reminded that he didn’t have to let “the world’s jangle” muffle his song, and he brightened up right away. I left there that day showered with hugs and heartwarming memories.

Neighborhood Bookstores

Bummers! I just learned about All on the Same Page Bookstore this morning only to google it, and find book editor Jane Henderson’s 1/20/14 article about its February demise. I was really excited to learn of a bookstore promoting St. Louis authors because I happen to be one. But staying in business is a challenge for any bookstore now that bibliophiles have the convenience of buying books without even moving away from their desks. This raises another question akin to Jane’s Kindle question: Will Amazon (and the like) make neighborhood bookstores obsolete? I shudder to think of this, too, but…

Reading Togetherness

I’m convinced that reading aloud to one another is one of the most satisfying activities a family can engage in. Soon after we were married, Steve and I began sharing the pleasure of books in this way, and after our daughters joined us, we began an enriching journey with them through the works of A. A. Milne, Lloyd Alexander, L. M. Montgomery, J. R. R. Tolkien and countless others. We have even had the joy of reading numerous books aloud with our two grandsons. Meanwhile Steve and I continue to enjoy books as a twosome. Whether it’s history, biography, or insightful and well-written fiction, it remains our treat at the end of the day.

Kindle Takeover?

As a bibliophile married to another bibliophile, I can’t resist leaping into a discussion on our local book editor’s page on the subject of Kindle. Will it make books obsolete? Our modest condo is “nicely crammed” with over 5,000 books! Nevertheless, we are now experiencing our first Kindle read-aloud together, and there are things we actually like about it. Kindle is convenient, and it’s readable in most any lighting. But somehow reading a Kindle book still feels to us more like getting an email from a friend than having a real face-to-face visit.

That being said, my preference for books as a reader has not prevented me from keeping both bases covered as an author. Even my children’s book, The You-Song, is available as an eBook, and Daughter of Jerusalem, my novella for middle grades, definitely had to be. They were written for a generation that’s as comfortable with screens as I am with paperbacks. And who knows where that could lead?

So book editor Jane Henderson’s question remains open: Will books eventually become obsolete? Will shelved volumes seem as cumbersome to future generations as clay tablets or scrolls would to us? I shudder to think of it, but I know it’s possible.

Solitary Work?

Yes, birthing a book would appear to be that—certainly the part that happens at the computer keyboard. But there is so much more to it—so many ways that others have contributed to bringing my books from the secret world of my imagination into public view. Without the encouragement, artistic talent, technical knowledge, helpful mentoring, and insightful editing of others, neither The You-Song nor Daughter of Jerusalem would have seen the light of day.

Now that they have been published, it will take many others, involved in less central but nevertheless important ways, to let the books’ potential audiences know that they’re available and worth reading. Until now I never would have imagined how much a “like” on the You-Song or Daughter of Jerusalem Facebook page or a brief review on Goodreads or the website of a bookseller such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble—actions that can be accomplished in a minute or two—could contribute to getting the word out.

So my heart is already reaching out gratefully to anyone who’s willing to take a moment to participate in this simple way in the publication of these two books. It assures me again that I’m not alone!

Life Lesson #1

Some years ago at a family reunion, we were asked to share the most important lesson life had taught us.  Previously I might have needed time to mull this question over, but not this time.  I answered without hesitation: Our happiness depends on how we love, not on how we are loved.  A surprising observation from one who grew up hungering for approval.  The journey to that answer was definitely, as the saying goes, “a God thing.”

A pivotal step on that journey grew out of an unremarkable incident.  I’d been in a phone conversation with an elderly friend who was having difficulty hearing me.  Instead of picking up the receiver, I’d moved closer to the speaker.  When it was later pointed out to me that picking up the receiver would have been a more loving way to help her, I found myself bristling with self-defensiveness.  After all, I was normally a very considerate person, and this seemed to me like nit picking.  Emotionally I was feeling like a clenched fist.  Then suddenly that “still, small voice” said very plainly, “And just who is this ‘me’ you are trying so hard to justify?”  Immediately I knew that it wasn’t what God had created and that it wasn’t who I wanted to be.  Grudging accommodation just wasn’t up to the standard of christly love that was natural to me as God’s child.  So why would anything less be acceptable to me?  In less time than it takes to tell it, that clenched up feeling evaporated.  I was at peace, even joyous.  I had just gained a precious nugget of wisdom:  it didn’t matter what anyone else’s opinion of me might be because all that mattered was that I was learning to love.  What a moment of truth!  It was like being handed the key to my prison door!

That key was also, as I’ve learned, the key to happiness.  Just think of it!  There is something we are free to do any time, any place–something that will bring nothing but blessings.  It takes no special training.  It requires no funding.  It depends on no one else’s permission.  It’s what we were designed and created to do, and there is absolutely nothing that will bring us into a closer relationship with our Creator.  That something, of course, is to love one another. 

There’s no denying it feels good when others express love to us, but we may well be disappointed if we depend on it for our happiness.  The good news is, however, that we can always exercise our God-given ability to love them.  And that feels even better.

I is NOT the word!

One afternoon while serving as a volunteer chaplain at a local jail, I saw the letters “S-I-N” printed on the marker board.  Seeing it capitalized was a startling experience.  There was that big “I” sticking out in the center!  Before this it hadn’t really occurred to me that I couldn’t think of a single sin that didn’t have a skewed sense of “I”—the human ego—at its center.  Neither could any of the inmates who were there that day.  (If you can come up with one, I’d be glad to hear from you!) Continue reading

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