A Writer’s Desire…

 “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

With great effort I labor, putting my words to paper, hoping to create an emotional response in my readers. How lovely to be drawn away from our own world and enter into a world wholly foreign and new. To be swept away into a climatic vision that brings forth a new feeling, or a fresh idea. But putting together a story is not an easy task. It is often with sweat and tears that the ideas form and the words take shape.

It is of great interest to me how writing a simple description can take so much thought and effort. How can one small paragraph take so many days, even weeks of preparation, yet when it finally comes together, is takes but a few moments?  The act of writing can be likened to pulling a molar firmly planted within the jaw. With great effort it is tugged and yanked before finally it is suddenly extracted.

Samuel Johnson stated that “what is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” So then it is the responsibility of the writer to draw out of himself the very being of his soul in order to delight the reader as the author directs the journey placed before his audience. So hold on and come away with me as we journey together through the pages of my books.

~ Happy reading…..


The First Sentence: Setting the Stage

It always begins with the first sentence—this opening line is of utmost importance to a novel, for it sets the stage for the entire book. The initial impact is vital in order to tantalize the reader into staying for the entire chapter. At this point, details are not important. A question must be posed, confusion instigated, an air of mystery, or some item of fancy that leads the audience to want to know more.first-lines

I find it interesting to look into the first sentence of different books. Of course there are some pretty famous first lines:

  • Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  • I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

It is a tricky business writing that first line. Many a writer sit dumbfounded with that blank page starring coldly at them, unable to pen those allusive opening words. The trick is to just start. Write something down—anything. Once the story unfolds, then go back and rework that opening line.

This sentence is the beginning of a relationship you hope to build with your audience. Work it, rework it, until you give the reader a line that says, “Come and stay awhile; I am worth your time.”

Yet more can be revealed within those first few words than may be initially evident. There is value in examining on a deeper level.

What does the first sentence of my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, tell the reader?

Let’s take a look:

The sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley, laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth.

What do you see? What do you feel?

If you look deeply into the folds of this sentence, you find a field of contrasts:

light—dark                 lush—ruin

warm—cold                 life—death

Now look further; where does the story begin?

The first sentence starts in the middle of the action. So we ask, what has happened to lead to this event?

And as you read further, it is evident that a deep history resides prior to the opening of this novel. The first sentence may begin your book, but it is not the start of your story. Your reader has entered the novel at this point, but does not yet know how they got to this place in time.

This opening line provides the reader with not only what has already occurred,

(the sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley)

but with a crisis that has changed the scene; life has grown barren and cold

(laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth).

Hope and beauty, barrenness and despair—all within the same plain.

Opening lines can be complex or a few well-placed words that open a floodgate of questions. So here is your opportunity to tantalize us with your first lines.

In the comments below, share the first sentence of your latest book. Let us see what can be revealed within the opening lines of your story.


~ Susan




Grand Prize Winner

10444401_783430071694342_4450495211235494301_nI am overwhelmed!

THE STONE OF EBENEZER has won the Grand Prize in the New Look Writing Contest!


The Stone of Ebenezer

There are some things that should not be forgotten, some truths that should not be forsaken. A story torn from the pages of antiquity, in an age where gods ruled the land: two men, two nations, drawn into an immortal struggle.

~     ~     ~

NAGAD’s life was perfect until it was torn apart by the ravages of war. Now, haunted by his past, this young conscript must meet the enemy in battle. With shaking rage the nations collide in a fierce conflict for dominance. Yet more is at stake than the survival of a people. The dispute contests the claim of immortal supremacy, the outcome to prove whose god reigns omnipotent.

And so, Nagad of Benjamin pushes on through the raging tide of battle. But to no avail. Soon crushed by the mighty war machine of Philistia, thousands of Hebrew soldiers lay slaughtered upon the carrion infested field. Hope has abandoned them. Then it is remembered, that in the days of their fathers, any army that bore the Ark of the Covenant could not be defeated. They need the Ark, for only then can the Chosen of God prevail against the enemy.

But they are wrong.

~ Susan

An amazing, vivid account of biblical events is historically accurate where God’s judgments, treacherous journeys, blood battles and even romance come alive to the reader in this skillfully written epic story.
Foreword written by Rev. Judith Wiegman

THE STONE OF EBENEZER Coming spring of 2015


Imagine, if you will, that you are an Israelite in Jerusalem and the army of Assyria is encamped against your walls. All the nations around you whyhaveyouforsakenme_wide_t_nvhave fallen. Jerusalem is the last city standing, your city, Zion, which God had promised to protect.

Isaiah 49:14 speaks of the people’s reaction:

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me.”

Forsaken by God. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Even Jesus experienced this emotion when upon the cross He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

I have felt forsaken. On September 11, 2001, my father was ripped from this world by terrorists. In that moment, I felt forsaken. All that I had believed in, trusted in, was stripped out from under me.

But hear what God spoke through Isaiah, the prophet:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49: 15-16)

He has inscribed you on the palms of His hands…..

This is not just taking a pen and writing your name on His skin. You have been inscribed, that is, engraved. He has taken a blade and carved His palm, wounding His flesh so that forever He will bear the scars of your name upon His hands.

Not only does He know our name, but He bears our scars upon His flesh…forever.

I have journeyed down a dark and empty road: alone, abandoned, and forsaken. But I have found something along this desolate way: a beautiful truth. My foundation is sure…and I am not alone.

We all face trials. We have difficult times. God never promised us otherwise. In fact, He told us that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). But He did not leave us to travel this world without aid.

Listen what the Lord proclaims:

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.” (Isaiah 51:12)

Now this next part is a little condemning to me…God says:

“Who are you that you should be afraid?”

I have been afraid. I am sure you have too. We live in a world full of terror. But who are we that we should be afraid when the Lord is our God? If we are afraid, we do not believe.

“Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.” (Isaiah 51: 12-13)

We have a powerful God. So why do we fear?

What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

“But I am the Lord your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared— The Lord of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” Isaiah 51:15-16)

We do not have a God who looks on from the outside as we struggle along the way. But we have a God who enters with us into the midst of the fire. He walks the troubled path with us, taking us through to the other side. He is our God and we are His people, engraved upon his hand: a perpetual covenant between the Lord and His chosen.

So as you travel the journey of this earthly life, remember: you are not forsaken.

~ Susan

Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story)If you would like to learn more about Susan’s experience with September 11, 2001, read her book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.


The Sitting Room with Kath Chiero

“I am wounded. I feel wounded. I try to go about my life as though everything is fine, like I’m OK. But I have been lacerated to my core and I carry the hurt with me always.”- Susan VanVolkenburgh speaking about the loss of her father in the attacks on 9/11. Hear her story and remember our loss on Sunday at 5:00 EST www.610wtvn.com

September 11

A Dreadful Day – For those of us who remember that September morning also recall the pain, sadness and hopelessness that clouded a nation. Thousands died and the victims’ families were forced to begin a journey that none of them wanted to take.

Susan Van VolkenburghKathy welcomes into The Sitting Room, Susan Van Volkenburgh, author of the book, “Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down: (A 9/11 Story)” to recount her journey. On September 11, 2001 at 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 plummeted into the Pentagon, taking the lives of 184 innocent people. One of them was Susan’s father, Stanley R. Hall. At that moment, everything changed for Susan. Everything she knew, everything she ever believed in, came crashing down. Her life began to unravel. This ten-year journey through the desert, through a land where God was silent, was a time of trial and of spiritual awakening. Could faith endure in the face of so great a loss, so large a betrayal? Transcending the events of September 11, this spiritual odyssey moves through the mire of grief and loss, to question the very motives and promises of God.

My Father Which Art in Heaven….

The wound runs deep, ripped open anew. As blood spills out of my ruptured heart, others look on in confusion from across the aisle. They do not understand. It has not always been so for me. But now it is my reality with each passing year. The light is so bright; the cheerful shoppers pass through the card filled aisle. I take a step closer to the brightly colored display. It holds no joy for me, just a reminder of what I have lost…

Every year it is the same. I have to select Father’s Day cards for other fathers in my family, but all I can do is think of the one missing, the one ripped from my life, killed by hate. Gall rises in my throat. I clench my teeth. My father’s words run through my mind, “Don’t let anyone or anything have dominion over you but God.” But tragedy changes you, shapes you into someone new.

I sit here looking at the blank page. The words come with difficulty. I desire to write a tribute for Father’s Day, but to be honest, it is a difficult time for me. My mind reels against me for it is too painful to walk down that path again. I have fought so hard to rise above the grief, to climb up that spiral of sorrow.

It begins with Memorial Day, that downward trek into grief. I struggle to rise, clinging to the sides of the spiral. I do not want to slide back down. The upward journey is too hard. But it is the way is has been since my father was taken on that terrible day, September 11, 2001.Bench at Pentagon

I fight against myself: want versus will. I am weary of thinking about my loss, yet I was so privileged to have had such a good father. And so I push back against the pain to share with you my father.

When I was in grade school, I had to write a small piece describing whom I thought was a great person in the world. I could have chosen anyone: a sports figure, a movie star, a person in history. Instead, I wrote, “My father, because he loves me and he is nice. I love my father. When I need help he helps me.”

Whenever I needed help with homework, I often ventured downstairs to my father’s office. He was always willing to stop his own work to come to my aid. Often I desired his assistance in achieving the solution to one particular math problem, but he would go into a long dissertation attempting to lead me to understand the reasoning behind the mathematical operation. I would grow impatient, wanting to get on with it so I could just finish my homework and move on to more interesting pursuits. Nonetheless, he would continue until I had a solid grasp of the concept.

When I had questions about the Bible or God, my father would never just come out and provide me with direct answers. He would put on that crooked smile of his, lean back in his chair, and point to his bookshelf.

“The answer can be found in one of these books.”

I would sigh, my shoulders slumping, wanting quick answers. Then I would search his library until I found what I needed to resolve my query.

Now, as I look back, I am so thankful for the instruction he gave me. I have spent my life seeking answers to questions, desiring to learn and understand. Research has become my passion. Really, I could spend all day researching any number of topics. I credit my father for this love of learning that I now possess. What I saw as a frustration when I was teenager, I cherish now as a gift. And so, I pass the teaching on to my children. I see the same frustration in their eyes, and I smile and thank God that I was blessed to have the father that I had.

stanley hallI remember when we lived in Westlake, California, waking up to the sun filtering through the window of my bedroom. My window was open, as it often was, filling the room with the wholesome morning air, the kind of air that takes you out of yourself. The sound of the pool filter humming met me as I rejoined the waking world. It was a warm, comforting sound. I would look out my window and see my father working on the filter or cleaning the pool. How safe I felt knowing my father was always there.

He was a safe harbor. There was something in my father that spoke of assurance and power. His very presence was overwhelming. His Being spoke of something great and important.

My father was a serious-minded person. He was a humble man. Never did I see him put on airs or become puffed up by his own brilliance. Yet, this humility did not engender in him a sense of passivity that allowed others to sway him when he knew he stood in the right. He possessed a quiet stubbornness, which my husband will tell you I inherited, that provided him with the staunchness to stand his ground. This stubbornness grew into a resolve to live his life with integrity, despite the pressures and trials of life.

With hard work and tenacity, he believed all situations could have a favorable outcome. Though often shy with people, his affable nature often overcame his feelings of bashfulness, his commanding presence covering up any evidence of his uneasiness. Favorably disposed, he was a man upon whom one could depend. Understated by design, my father maintained a firm composure under the most extreme circumstances. Though his attitude was one of restrained equanimity, he did not demonstrate a dull persona.

Predominately serious in nature, my father was not without humor. When he bought his first wash and wear suit, he did just that. He wore the suit, entered the shower (still arrayed), and proceeded to wash it with a bar of soap. My mother captured this event in a photograph that I have always enjoyed gazing upon with a giggle.graphic 4

When I was a child, my father would quietly sit at the kitchen table while we ate dinner. Then he would begin singing, “Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor,” using amusing voices—the bass part in his lowest bass, the tenor voice, his best female falsetto. We would all roar with laughter. We cherished these few glimpses, for he rarely showed his lighter side.

Often my father was seen making a trek across the lawn on his riding mower, waving to the neighbors. Or walking behind his snowblower, a monstrous machine in which he took great pride. Many a weekend, he would walk through the woods behind my parent’s house, tending the dogwood trees, which were highly favored in his sight. Among the trees, he labored to build a flagstone patio where he envisioned the family gathering to pick crabs. It was this patio that he worked on the weekend before September 11. With just a few stones left to place, he quit for the day, telling my mother that he would finish the job when he returned from his trip to California. He never had the chance to finish. My brother completed the task as a labor of love and remembrance. The patio stands as a symbol of my father’s life unfinished.

My father spent most of his time pursuing solitary endeavors. He kept his thoughts close. When it came to emotions, expressing himself verbally was difficult. He could not initiate a hug or form the words, “I love you.” As I became an adult, I decided I would hug him. At first, I found that I had difficulty initiating the hugs, but the more I pushed myself, the easier it became. Always, when he came to visit me while on business, he would linger at the door as though waiting for something. I would reach out and hug him, and then he would hug me back.

Sometimes, words are difficult. My father always said that actions speak louder than words. Though very busy with work, my father always took time to attend our music and sporting events. He was often in the role of assistant coach to our sport teams. His actions never failed to say I love you.

graphic 8 (2)He could never tell us outright that he was proud of us, but we could see it on his face. On my wedding day, as I slipped my arm through my father’s as he prepared to walk me down the aisle, I looked into his eyes and saw them well up with tears. I will never forget that expression. No words were necessary; his eyes said it all.

My sister told me of a conversation she and her husband had with my father on the Labor Day before September 11, 2001 regarding the end of time. My father had said the main point to remember is that the end will come, and we just need to be sure we are ready. How profound, for within a week’s time my father was taken. He often did not say much, but when he spoke, his words were thoughtful and wise.

We will probably never know why some people were saved and others were lost that day. Maybe it is not for us to know. What I do know is that God holds tomorrow, and there are no better hands to hold it than the Lord’s.

There is no question in my mind that on the morning of September 11 my dear father followed God and entered into his glory.

Many of us have been fortunate to have had an earthy father that gave us insight into the heart of God. I thank the Lord for a godly father, who stood for integrity, faith, honor, and love.


Biography excerpts taken from SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story).

To learn more about my experience with September 11, 2001, read my book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.