Joanne Otto

Author

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The Great Outdoors

During the summer months, St. Louisans do not normally choose to spend much time outdoors–at least not during the day. Heat and humidity add up to a big “No thanks!” But so far this summer has been the exception. Many nights have brought the temperatures down below 60 degrees, and the mornings that follow those nights are to me sheer heaven.

Not only has this enhanced my early morning walks. It’s also lured me out onto the deck for my quiet time. What makes it worth lugging a table out there? What is it about the great outdoors that brings such inspiration? Towering trees, the caress of a cool breeze, cloud puffs floating across a blue sky–somehow these lead us into the presence of One who is both infinitely powerful and boundlessly good. The great outdoors becomes a gentle reminder that we are dearly loved.

My Latest Hero

Good books have a wonderful way of sparking our interest in people we’ve known of but never really known. I’ve lived in New York near Grant’s Tomb and now live in St. Louis near Grant’s Farm. I knew Grant was the general most responsible for winning the Civil War and later President–though for me he was always obscured by the shadow of Lincoln.

Then along came Jean Edward Smith’s remarkable biography. After reading it, I am now–in spite of his habit of smoking cigars–an enthusiastic fan of Ulysses S. Grant. I actually enjoyed reading the war accounts, in which Grant’s brilliance and resourcefulness eclipsed even the appalling casualties. And I was delighted to learn that he shared my abhorrence of war, telling Bismarck, “I never went into the army without regret and never retired without pleasure.” During his presidency, he did everything in his power to keep the peace and held to his principles under intense political pressure. Yes, thanks to Smith, Grant is now among my heroes.

Taking the Plunge

You may not have heard of Kirkus. Until several months ago, neither had I. But among publishers and booksellers they have been well respected since the 1930s for their intelligent, unbiased book reviews. A fee is charged for these reviews, but there is no guarantee that they will be favorable. Kirkus’s reputation rests on their being honest.

I had been undecided as to whether to submit my books to them for a review. It seemed expensive and a bit daunting. But this afternoon I took the plunge, encouraged perhaps by a discount they were offering this week. After a seven-to-nine-week waiting period, I should be hearing from them. If nothing else, the results will provide a learning experience. But, of course, I can’t help hoping for more.

Bible Adventure – Part 2

Well, I have spent about 6 weeks working with Professor Horner’s Bible-reading system, and the results have been mixed. I very much like his idea of reading from different books of the Bible on the same day. It enables me to see how amazingly their ideas coincide in spite of the many intervening years and also how they developed over the centuries.

However, ten chapters a day has been difficult to keep up, and the skipping around between the Old and New Testaments has proved rather confusing. in addition, his plan requires reading some books much more frequently than others.

So I have come up with a simpler plan which I think will work better for me: a chapter each from Genesis-Deuteronomy, Joshua-Esther, Job-Solomon’s Song, Isaiah-Malachi, Matthew-Acts, and Romans-Revelation, in that order. I’ve already started making the transition, but I am still grateful to Professor Horner for launching me on this inspiring journey.

Something to Celebrate!

Writing a book, for me at least, seems far less difficult and much more fun than promoting one. Nevertheless, a dutiful, concerted effort to promote my books began in January. Then, after several months of researching children’s book websites and making vain attempts to contact bloggers who write reviews of books for early and middle grade readers, I was asked to resume some work at church which left me little time for such a quest. All I could do was entrust my books to Him who inspired them. Continue reading

Children at Play

Is there anything more joy-inspiring than being with children at play? We’re talking about children in a state of sheer, uninhibited delight in the hi-jinks of the present moment. Well, after a fairly long hiatus, I got to experience it yesterday.

A dear cousin now living abroad arrived at our door with the young family he’d attained since our last visit. Other family members gathered, and our playroom soon came alive! Our grandson, home from college, allowed his inner child free rein, and the next thing we knew the two munchkins were climbing onto his back, performing somersaults with him, and retreating in squealing mock terror from the monster his dramatic talents brought to life.

Did this disrupt our visit with their parents? Far from it. It brought the whole purpose of the visit into lively focus, and when the visit ended (sooner than we’d have liked it to) it left me feeling buoyantly aglow.

Lost in Translation?

In setting out on my Bible adventure, I had to be certain I was choosing a translation that would encourage me to stay with it. I grew up with the King James, and its beautifully wrought language speaks to me as no other translation does. But it includes words that are either obsolete or now have a meaning quite different from what they did in 1611. How could I continue to enjoy the beauty of the KJV, yet not miss the meaning? My solution was The 21st Century King James Version. Unlike the New King James Version, it keeps “ye” and “thou” and “thee” (which I like because I can tell if the second person is singular or plural) and other words that have dropped out of use but which we still understand. In fact, it reads just like my old familiar friend except when a word like “conversation” (which then referred to one’s conduct or way of life) or “prevent” (which then meant “precede”) comes up. And it helps me out with words like “gins” (traps) or “reins” (literally “kidneys,” which were once considered the seat of the emotions as the heart is today.) It’s also helpful to have the poetry printed in verse form and the prose in paragraphs. So with The 21st Century King James, I am off to a successful start on my adventure, happily balanced between linguistic beauty and clear meaning.

New Bible Adventure

Though I do in-depth study of portions of the Bible daily, I have been feeling the need of a better acquaintance with the Scriptures as a coherent whole. My read-throughs in different translations have been helpful, but extended over too long a period to really give the coherence I was looking for. Recently, though, I discovered Professor Grant Horner’s Bible-reading system online. It divides the Bible into ten sections ranging in length from 28 to 250 chapters. The idea is to read one chapter from each of these sections every day. This meant I’d be starting in the gospels, then moving on to the Pentateuch, the epistles, wisdom literature, psalms, proverbs, history, the prophets, and finally the Acts. Wouldn’t that be somewhat dizzying for my tidy little mind? Well, I have been at it for four days, and so far I’m happy to report that I’m really enjoying it and making connections between the Old and New Testaments that I’ve never made before. Plus I’ll have read the whole Bible in 250 days and some parts of it multiple times. I’ll admit to jotting a few notes, which is not part of the system, but even so it takes me only about 35-40 minutes. A great time investment, as I see it, as well as an adventure!

The Search for Mara

We may have been warned against judging a book by its cover, but, let’s face it, most of us do. . .at least to some degree. So the visual dimension of “Daughter of Jerusalem” loomed large when it came time to select images for the cover that would introduce it to potential readers. The images of first-century Jerusalem, especially of the Temple, were not difficult to locate. But finding the face that would represent our heroine, Mara, was another matter. At first I thought all I’d need to do was a Google search for “young woman with head scarf.” Surely a few intelligent-looking, reasonably attractive young women would turn up. But I found myself on stock-photo websites scrolling through cartoon figures, flirtatious hussies with come-hither looks, and sun-weathered candidates for National Geographic. Hundreds passed before my dazed eyes before one -just one – potential Mara finally turned up. And thanks to Meghan’s artistry, she now graces the cover of my book. Sometimes I wonder who she is and where she lives and whether she’ll ever know where her photo ended up. But to me, I guess she’ll always be Mara, the intelligent, spirited young daughter of Jerusalem.

The Visual Dimension

For over ten years after “The You-Song” first rolled off my pen, it remained simply a draft. I tweaked it from time to time and shared it with friends and family–including, of course, some children. But without the visual dimension, it obviously was not going reach the hearts and minds of its young audience.

When our daughter Meghan Williams, a talented professional graphic designer, was working from her home, we began the online search for photos that would truly represent the kids “The You-Song” was all about. One by one, they found their way to just the right page of the book, leaping, smiling, laughing, dancing, hugging, writing, painting, swimming, swinging, reflecting, discovering. Just letting the beautiful songs they are ring out, they brought “The You-Song” to life. I don’t know their names, but somehow they feel to me like very loved friends.

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