Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
What’s worse, I just didn’t feel good. I’m rarely sick, but that day I felt puny. I wanted to cash in my ticket and go home to bed. Instead, I went to lunch and called a friend. I’d like to say I called to encourage her and to speak words of truth and wisdom into her life. Ahhh … wouldn’t that be oh so noble of me?! Truth is, I had the mulligrubs and I wanted to shout it out to the world. She got an ear full of my rotten day.
My dear, patient friend let me spew out all manner of woe-is-me. Then she gave me one line to describe her day. She runs an in-home daycare and matter-of-factly said, "Well, I bet on your job today you haven’t had to say, 'Please stop licking your feet.'"
You know, when I collected myself from my fit of hysterical laughter, I realized she was right. I was comparing my day to … well … perfection. I was focused on the parking lot on the interstate. I let the funk of a blue Monday roll over me like a giant wave. It crashed my attitude and I landed slap-dab in the middle of stinkin’ thinkin’!
I took control of my attitude and committed to making sure I grabbed the goodie out of the rest of Monday. I determined to write my very best, even if it that day's best wasn't my all time greatest prose. I wasn’t drowning. I only felt like I was. My new and improved attitude became my life preserver. I would survive the day!
Friday, March 25, 2011
Let’s just say I decided to be true to my goals and enjoy my time with my kids. I just returned from the MBT Deep Thinkers Retreat where we used movie analogies to learn about writing.
While the show is a bit gorier than I prefer, I was intrigued. When my boys had to leave the room for a little while, I kept watching. (Um ... no, I didn’t even think about hitting the pause button.)
Of course, I had to explain what happened.
Son: “Did they show that guy died?”
Me: “Umm, no.”
Son: “Well, then how do you know?”
Me: “They inferred it.”
Can you visualize my son giving me the universal teenage look of “Huh?”
Me: “Well, it was all about the character's facial expression and the dark lighting in the scene. When they paused the scene and moved to another. The type of music they played. But, no they didn’t actually say it.”
Ta-da! I did what I set out to do, balancing time with my kids and working on my craft.
Go ahead, watch a few movies with a pen and paper in your lap or cradling your laptop. Freeze the TV and consciously watch how directors “showed” you what the character felt. Examine the actors' expressions. How did they use lighting or setting to create the mood?
This is a great way to balance family time while improving your craft. No guilt about being off in your writing room while the kids are on Spring Break.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
But no, we're talking about something even snazzier than National Potato Chip Day...and that's this: the 100th follower of the MBT Ponderers! We were excited to see our “follower” number hit 100 last week, and to celebrate, we've decided to interview said follower. If you've been around the Ponderers' block before, you've probably seen her name in the comments section: Angela Bell.
We learned last week that Angela's a big Jeopardy fan. So we've decided to conduct this interview Jeopardy-style. Make sure to read to the bottom because we want you to participate, too!
Clue 1: Angela’s favorite Bible verse is located in the Old Testament in this book that begins with the letter J.
Angela says, “Jeremiah 29:11 carried me through a rough time in my life when I was unsure of the future. Even now when my dream feels unattainable and the future uncertain, Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that God’s plan for me includes hope and a good future.”
Clue 2: If given an unlimited travel fund to research a story location, Angela would travel to this Mediterranean nation famous for its architecture, mythology, and feta cheese.
Answer: What is Greece?
Angela says, “There are many counties I’d love to visit, but Greece would be my first choice. I’ve wanted to visit Greece ever since I studied ancient history in high school! :) I’d use the trip to do research for a Grecian inspired science fiction or fantasy world.”
Clue 3: Angela, a creature of habit, has only one writing spot. Rose colored paint, ballerina figurines, and antique books are a few of the items you’ll find here.
Answer: What is Angela’s bedroom?
Angela says, “I live with my parents, one brother, two sisters, and three silly dogs. My options for quiet writing spaces are limited, so I write in my room. Door closed. Propped up on a stack of pillows. Computer perched on my lap desk. Not as picturesque as a patio overlooking snow capped mountains, but it works.”
Clue 4: Angela’s new blog for teens, Chosen 129, is inspired by this Bible verse.
Answer: What is 1 Peter 2:9?
Angela says, “Chosen 129 is fueled by a desire to inspire teens to live with purpose and passion. My hope is to provide weekly posts that encourage teens to seek God and make Him a part of their everyday life. I picked 1 Peter 2:9 as my blog’s theme because I loved its encouraging message. We’re not insignificant. We’re chosen!”
Clue 5: This color found throughout nature is Angela’s favorite.
Answer: What is turquoise?
Angela says, “One day I’d love to own a turquoise 1950’s Thunderbird car. Hey, a girl can dream.”
Clue 6: In 2010 Angela read this fairytale retelling and added its author to her list of favorites.
Answer: What is The Healer’s Apprentice?
Angela says, “I had the pleasure of meeting the author of The Healer’s Apprentice, Melanie Dickerson, at the 2010 ACFW conference. I can tell you, Melanie is just as lovely as the beautiful story she’s created.”
Final Jeopardy Question!!
Clue: If Angela could spend a day as any character in any book, she’d choose to step into the dancing shoes of the heroine from this 19th century romance novel.
Answer: What is Pride & Prejudice?
Angela says, “Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I’d loved to be Elizabeth Bennet for a day to enjoy her gorgeous wardrobe, have a perfect English accent, and to see the beautiful green country side. And of course, I’d really love to dance with Mr. Darcy! :)”
All right, it's your turn to answer the Final Jeopardy Question! If you could spend a day as a character in any book (okay, movies can count, too), who would it be? Extra kudos for those who answer in Jeopardy format...:)
Monday, March 21, 2011
On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the first annual Inland Northwest Christian Writers conference in Spokane, Washington. The general sessions, with keynote speaker Jim Rubart, were inspiring, and the workshops offered valuable information. Since sharing the 40+ pages of notes I took at the conference isn’t very practical, I decided to share some of the information from just one workshop.
“Sitting with the Master” was presented by Mick Silva, former acquisitions editor for WaterBrook Multnomah and current freelance consultant and editor. Mr. Silva’s workshop gave me a new perspective on storytelling by reminding me about the Master Storyteller.
God could’ve focused on the mechanics of His creation and His plan, but instead he used story. The Bible isn’t just a bunch of utilitarian information, it is a beautiful love story, and like His father, Jesus valued beauty. He taught in stories. Parables actually; 46 of them. He was the ultimate storyteller.
Here are the 5 things we can learn from The Master Storyteller about writing:
1.) He made truth visible: “God came to dwell with His people because of His great love for them.” This was the message Jesus brought, and it was so important that He used storytelling to convey it.
2.) He deeply understood metaphor: A metaphor is a word picture that carries a deeper truth. Jesus used everyday items, common to the people, to teach them deeper spiritual truths using metaphorical illustrations.
3.) He was a true observer: Jesus watched and listened to people to reveal the deeper truth. He didn’t officially begin His ministry until well into adulthood, giving Him plenty of time to study human nature.
4.) He knew his audience: Jesus came to seek and save the lost. His audience was the lost, and His message was salvation.
5.) He knew God and Scripture: The foundation of all of his most compelling stories was Scripture. He often slipped away to pray. He looked to His father for strength and for direction.
As followers of Christ, we should seek to be like Him. As writers, we can seek to be like Him and write stories that further His message. As we hone our craft and tell our stories, we must follow His example, especially when it comes to our source for inspiration. We need to spend time listening to our Father. We must turn off distractions and “seek the source,” and He will show up.
And if we listen to Him, He will help us to know Him, to know our audience, and to make the truth visible to them. Thank you, Mr. Silva, for the awesome workshop!
By the way, next year’s conference is already on the books. It will be held on Saturday, March 17, and possibly some Friday night activities will be added as well. The keynote speaker will be Tracie Peterson, so get it on your calendar right now, and plan to be in Spokane, Washington in March, 2012!
~Heidi Larson Geis
Friday, March 18, 2011
Have you ever been asked a life altering question? (Besides this one, I mean.) It’s rare, I know. But yesterday, my coworker asked me just such a question.
Do you know how to play softball?
Hm. Well. Technically, I am familiar with the sport – so yes, mentally, I know how to play softball. Does my body physically remember how to play softball? Is it like riding a bike? (Aside, has anyone ever tested the theory that a person really can get back on a bike years later and ride it?) If, yes, I have a decent shot. If no, don’t over commit, here, self.
I probably stink, it’s been years since I’ve played. I have six million other things I need to be doing. There’s probably a registration fee I can’t afford. My husband might want me around on Monday nights. I might get hurt and be unable to do the other things that I’ve already committed to.
And yet, before I can stop myself, I say I am exceedingly familiar with the game of softball. (Slow pitch, right?) And somehow, moments later, I’m the final recruit for the office softball team.
Sometimes the characters in our novels surprise us. Veer off course. Do something we never saw coming – just like I did when I agreed to play softball with my coworkers.
Why do our characters do this? It’s all about their values and dreams, about what really motivates them.
Let’s turn me into a character and examine my motivations.
-Well, I used to play. And I used to be decent. And I’d like to think I still am.
-I’ve always wanted to be invited to play office softball. (No, really, sad but true.)
-I am a relatively new employee, so it would be a good way to solidify some friendships at work.
-If I say no, they’ll ask someone else.
Despite all the reasons I shouldn’t play office softball, my desire to solidify office friendships, combined with my secret dream to be included and my competitive nature, led me to accept.
See how understanding what your character’s value can motivate them to travel new paths? Has a character in your story ever done this to you? Can you find the value that motivated them to make that choice?
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Hi, I'm Roxanne. Today would have been my wedding anniversary—only a tragedy stripped away the future I'd dreamed of halfway to my happily ever after.
What's keeping you from achieving your dreams?
You may be staring at a blank page or dealing with characters that have hijacked the story. Maybe, the plot that sounded so promising has unraveled.
You may be overwhelmed with a difficult job—or no job—a wayward teen, a special-needs’ child, an off-track marriage, a scary diagnosis. Or worse.
You may feel you’ve received more than your share of trouble. Sometimes, living is so painful that it’s a struggle to string words into sentences, scenes into stories. It takes emotional energy to write, but stress and grief drain energy from your well of emotions. In fact, writing may be difficult, nearly impossible.
Believe me, I understand.
Nearly four years ago, on my twin daughters’ 17th birthday, my husband, Jack, had a heart attack. He was only 45 and seemed in perfect health, but he didn’t survive. I was left alone to raise seven children, ages 1-20.
Our four older children had jobs, so it was nearly impossible to juggle five different work schedules to find time for this picture. This photo, taken six months before Jack’s death when our youngest was only six-months old, is the only picture of all nine of us.
For weeks afterward, each time I’d fall into a fitful sleep, I’d wake up gasping from pain as I remembered (as if for the first time) what had happened. Writing was impossible.
Every time that I’ve put my writing aside, I’ve struggled to re-learn my characters’ lessons or discover where I left them hanging. I’ve lost so much ground.
Still, in the nearly four years since Jack’s been gone, God’s given me plenty of opportunities for personal growth. I’m doing all the things other moms do, and I’m doing them alone. My family has had the Swine Flu, ear infections, debilitating seasonal allergies. One child has a serous disease. Another child has autism. Some career paths that haven’t worked out. A relative with major problems impacted my family. Four cars were totaled in accidents. Thankfully, only minor injuries occurred. (BTW, you can ride with me. I wasn't involved in any of the accidents.) Then, there was the water damage. Three incidents. In one year. To the same house. It’s easy to see how I’ve been overwhelmed, but with God's grace I’ve also persevered.
Pearls. Butterflies. Adversity.
God uses a grain of sand within an oyster to produce a pearl. Just think what God—who loves you infinitely more than He cares for an oyster—can create through the adversity in your life.
If a butterfly is helped from its cocoon rather than emerging by itself, its wings won’t develop the necessary strength to fly. God uses adversity to strengthen us.
Frankly, I’d prefer a life without adversity—at least, without losing my husband. But we aren’t given choices. We can only go on learning the lessons that God gives us.
I don’t know what you’re facing today, but we need to learn to write through adversity if we’re going to be successful in this business.
My Family Today - Looking for Silver Linings
photo by Amy Smith Photography
Writing Through Adversity. (Or 10 Ways to Nourish the Writer’s Soul.)
1. Take care of yourself. During airline safety presentations, adults are warned to secure their own oxygen masks before taking care of their children. Generally, we’re so busy taking care of others that we neglect ourselves. Take time to heal and become whole again.
2. If you can’t write, then read that craft book everyone’s raving about.
3. Meet with other writers, online or in person, to keep a writing connection. My Book Therapy is a wonderful community for writers.
4. If you can afford it, attend a writing conference or a retreat. You may feel guilty because you’re not writing as much as you (feel you) should to justify the expense. Think of it as an investment in your future. Or consider it therapy. I honestly believe I’m emotionally healthier when I write. Aren’t you? The opportunity to rub shoulders with authors who share your passion aids your mental health.
5. Critique someone’s work, or better yet, judge a contest. It will strengthen your writing. Plus, you’ll feel good to be able to give back instead of being on the receiving end all the time.
6. Make realistic goals. If you can’t write a chapter, try to write 100 words. Or develop a new character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Or figure out your next plot point.
7. Use this opportunity to learn more about social media, networking and marketing.
8. If you’re published, communicate with your editor and agent about your situation. Don’t wait until you’ve missed a deadline.
9. One day, you’ve got to decide if you’re still a writer. Then, you’ve got to get into the chair and write. Muse or not.
10. Look for joy in unexpected places. A fresh outlook restores energy.
Joy. (I wrote this almost three years ago, but it still applies today.)
Last night, I snuggled with my sleepy two-year-old in a plush chair as we watched a DVD. My lips brushed my son’s soft hair, smelling deliciously of baby soap. I savored the moment. My life isn’t what I’d dreamed it would be, but there is joy, if I’ll open my eyes to discover it. Today, my nearly five-year-old delights me daily. Give me an hour and I’ll tell you how. ;-) If you need a fresh perspective, look at the world through a child’s eyes.
In fact, with that new found joy, that fresh insight, we need to look for the silver linings in our lives. They're all around us. Drop a vase? Less to dust. Gained five pounds? There's more to love. Award-winning Author, Allison Pittman showed me a silver lining with all that water damage. (Yeah, it surprised me too that she could find one.) But she was right. I'm grateful it all happened when I was in the house to take care of it properly. I know mold isn't growing untreated within my home. Our characters also need to reflect joy and hope.
God, the Author and Finisher of our faith, is adding an entirely new chapter to my story with a happily ever after I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. (And, I write romance!) In 94 days, I will marry Steve, the man who is perfect for me--and my kids! Check back for details.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear the ways you’ve learned to write through adversity.
~ Roxanne Sherwood
When the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.
Daniel, my oldest child, (shown here with my youngest) was born on my second wedding anniversary. For the past four years, I’ve quietly grieved my loss, while trying to celebrate Daniel's birthday. Now, I'm concentrating more on what I have than what I've lost. (Though Daniel was born on our wedding anniversary and Jack died on the girls’ birthday, I could never write that in a story because it would sound too contrived.)
Happy 24th Birthday, Daniel! Thank you for all the ways you bless our family!
Monday, March 14, 2011
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Life is a series of seasons. Some seasons are longer than others. Some are pleasant, while others cannot end soon enough. Some we walk through with earthly companions. Others we stand alone, unable to lean on anyone but the Creator himself. And although we can sometimes take it for granted, God is by our side every step of the way.
Friday, March 11, 2011
We were so conned. (You saw that coming, didn’t you?) As soon as we paid our admission, the path turned into a rocky dirt road, lined with palmetto bushes and stubby trees—pretty much the same kind you see along a Florida highway. The sun beat down, and the occasional benches were placed yards away from the only available shade. The path stretched on and on in a straight line. We started counting how many birds we saw—the nature thing, you know? I think we made it to four.
By the time we reached a mile in, we were rationing our water and I found my shoes weren’t as sensible as I’d thought. Half a mile more and I was sweaty and limping. Still staring down a straight line of dirt. Taking pictures of the alligator signs and mile markers since there was nothing else to see. No other pedestrians joined us—apparently everyone else had gotten the memo.
Finally we reached a roughly paved road—the halfway point. Oh, and a pond with a few more birds! At this point, I had three blisters, so I stopped and pretended to admire nature until my husband offered me his socks.
No. I could handle this on my own. I started walking barefoot, aiming for every available bit of grass and praying for no sticky-burrs. Then I gave in and took the socks while the people who were smart enough to take the tour bus (although…to see what?) rode by, staring at the weird girl walking beside the road in men’s socks.
The last mile was pure agony, but with the help of my joke-cracking, sock-lending husband, I made it to the end. The goal. And we saw the gorgeous beach* and picked pretty shells as souvenirs for this particular, um, memorable journey.
The point. Right. Well, I was going to post pictures of my blisters, but maybe I should try to make this writing related. How about like this?
Published author. The words sound so…well, they make you smile, don’t they? A little bit giddy? Don’t worry—I’m not writing to tell you that you’ve been conned. :-) But the writing journey can be a bit like that “nature” walk, so here are a few things we can learn from that horrible-awful-rather-funny experience.
1. Be prepared. You don’t know as much as you think you know. Be willing to learn, to pay for the conferences or craft books or courses you need to hone your writing.
2. Persevere. Even if you have people pointing their fingers at your writing and marking it up. That stuff happens. Just keep moving and learning and growing. Don’t give up.
3. Don’t do it alone. There are organizations and fellow writers out there ready and willing to help, to mentor, to lend you their socks…although personally, I’d suggest requesting a cute pair of flip flops instead.
4. Nature walks could be a perfect place to kill someone and hide their body. Hey. Just had to throw that out there.
5. The writing journey probably won’t look like you expected it to and it might take longer than you thought it would. But that’s okay. Unlike that particular event in my life, you’ll see the joy in the journey, and the lives you impact with your words will make up for the sweat and the blisters along the way.
What's something you've learned along your writing journey?
~ Jenness Walker
*Disclaimer: The beach wasn’t actually at the end of the path. We drove to it. But work with me, people.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
So, the Ponderers have been blogging for about nine months now. Our baby has grown and developed throughout these past months...and we're having a blast with the nurturing process. (Huh, probably can't stretch this analogy any further ... )
So, for your reading pleasure, check out our MBT Ponderers FAQs (or questions we're pretty sure you'd ask us if we met face to face ... )
Contest details! Okay, now that you know all about us, it's time for us to get to know you! So leave a comment telling us one fun fact about you and I'll enter you into a drawing for a $15 Amazon gift card. Amazon.com is a writer's/reader's paradise! Just leave a comment from now through Friday, March 11, for your chance to win!
Monday, March 7, 2011
|Photo credit: redfloor|
Friday, March 4, 2011
The Frasier wasn’t the first contest I’ve entered—probably about the sixth or seventh. The scene I entered had already won first place in one and second place in another. Several editors and agents had asked for proposals, proposals rejected by what seemed like return mail. That fast. A problem existed. I just didn’t know what it was.
I knew I had a good story, and one editor even commented I was a decent writer. (At least she didn’t say mediocre.) But it stung because I want to be a great writer telling an irresistible story, one the reader couldn’t put down. I asked published friend Debby Giusti if she knew anyone who could look at my work and tell me what I was doing wrong. As quick as a blink of the eye, she said, “Susan May Warren. She can help you.”
I knew Susan was a great writer, but I didn’t know about My Book Therapy until I Googled her. I emailed Susan the first three chapters for a critique. When she called to go over it with me, her enthusiasm for my book and writing gave me hope—even though the critiqued chapters looked like a Christmas tree decked out in yellow and blue lights. But, scattered throughout the critique were comments of what she liked and so many encouragements. She even said I should consider entering the first scene in the Frasier.
I studied her comments, and now with a better grasp of what a first scene should have in it, I rewrote it and took her suggestion. It finaled! Happy Dancing! I was a Frasier finalist!
At the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis (where the winner was to be announced), being a Frasier finalist opened so many doors and is one of the reasons I believe two editors and two agents requested a proposal. While I didn’t win the Frasier, I actually received something more important. The critiques from the preliminary judges and then the final judges gave me a deeper understanding of what my WIP needed.
The critiques were detailed with helpful insights and encouraging comments, and after studying them, I realized I needed to make a few changes before I submitted my proposal to those who had requested them. I asked for and received the time needed. I’ll be sending the proposals off in the next two weeks and my story is so much better, especially the opening scene, thanks to the critiques from the Frasier.
I encourage everyone to enter this wonderful contest. Even if like me, you don’t win, you’ll get feedback that will help you take your writing to a higher level.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
- First award-winning author Susan May Warren leaves a message on my cell phone. But, Doubting Thomasina that I am, I don't believe she said I finaled in the Frasier. Maybe her words were, "You didn't final in the Frasier."
- I call Susie May back. When she answers, I say, "Did you say I did final in the Frasier or that I didn't final in the Frasier?" (I know, I know, who calls to tell contest participants that they didn't final?)
- Susie May laughs and tells me, yes, I finaled.
- Someone begins yelling. And jumping up and down. And laughing. Oh, wait. That would be me.
- a great hook
- a compelling inciting incident
- a vivid storyworld
- sympathetic characters
- stakes that matter
- a strong voice