December 16, 2011

My Week: Cookies and Endings and Airplanes, Oh My!


So, this post will be a bit random…just fair warning. Here’s my week in a nutshell:


COOKIES

  
I went to a cookie exchange this past week with a group of girls from my Sunday School class. Everyone brought 2 dozen cookies and we each went through the line and took an assortment of cookies. It’s nice, because now I don’t have to bake a whole lot to get a nice variety of treats!

Thought I’d share a super-de-duper easy cookie recipe with everyone. It’s only got 4 ingredients and you don’t even have to heat the oven to make them. It’s a great treat for kids to help with too (the mixing part):

Peanut Butter Crunch Cookies
Ingredients
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups Rice Krispies

Instructions
Combine sugar with syrup in a pot. Bring to a boil on the stovetop. Quickly add peanut butter and Rice Krispies. Mix rapidly. With a spoon, quickly drop cookie-sized clumps onto wax paper. Allow cookies to cool, then serve.

ENDINGS


As a student, I couldn’t wait for the end of the semester. As a professor, I’m a little sad to see it end. I really have enjoyed my students (well, most of them) and I’m hoping they learned a little something. This week I gave them their final exams and then flew into a flurry of grading. All I can say is “Whew!”


 AIRPLANES


As you read this, I may very well be on an airplane headed out to Kansas for my cousin’s wedding. I am looking forward to spending close to a week with my family out there and making it home in time for Christmas. What a great time of year! Crazy, but great. I’ll be responding to comments as I can later in the day.

Because of my schedule, this will be my last post in 2011 (I’ll be back the first week of January!). I’m going to try to practice being a Mary (see my post here to understand what I’m talking about) and just lap up all the love around me.

Your Turn: What did you do this week? Got any good plans for the weekend?

December 14, 2011

I Press On


“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Paul’s words minister to me. As you can probably tell by several of my recent posts, I’m all about goals. About moving forward. Pressing on.

But it can be hard to press on sometimes, especially when something in the past is weighing us down.

Maybe it’s a sin we just can’t seem to forgive ourselves for. Maybe it’s something that happened in our lives that’s made us angry. Or sad. Or nostalgic. Maybe it’s a great loss we’ve experienced, or something we failed to do, or even a blessing we aren’t ready to give up, even if God’s asking us to.

When I was 19, my mom passed away. She’d been sick for about 4 years off and on (fighting cancer). From the time I was 15 to the time I was 19, the words “chemotherapy” and “hospice” took on new meanings for me. I became depressed, weighed down. Understandable, I think.

And after she died, I couldn’t possibly think about “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” Life had lost its luster, its shine of promise. Life was shrouded in death.

But slowly, day by day, God gave me “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). I can’t really explain how He did it; I just know it was Him all the way.

And I’m so glad, because I wouldn’t want my past to define me. I only want God to use my past to transform me, to change me into someone who is more others-centered, more focused on what’s really important.

By forgetting what’s behind, I don’t actually forget the pain I went through. I don’t forget the ache I sometimes feel when I see my mom’s picture and know she won’t be with me on earth another day.

But I don’t focus on it or dwell on it. My past is past, and it’s part of me. I’ve learned from it, so it definitely still has value.

But it isn’t what should be taking up my energy. 

I should be “straining toward what is ahead,” pressing “on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

May God help me do that, day by day, so I can be most effective where He has me, right now.

Your Turn: Do you find yourself dwelling on the past or straining toward what’s ahead? What has helped you keep your eyes on the path ahead?

*Photo courtesy of jscreationzs:
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1152

December 12, 2011

Q&A with Author Ruth Douthitt


Today I’m interviewing a good friend of mine, Ruth Douthitt, author of The Dragon Forest, a fantasy novel for middle-school children.

I’ll split the interview into three parts: her writing journey, some fun get-to-know-her questions, and her bio.

Come say hi to Ruth and get to know her! Also, post a comment here by Tuesday night for a chance to win a copy of her book (be sure your email address is available on the post so I can get ahold of you should you win!).



RUTH’S WRITING JOURNEY

Tell me about your writing journey and your first book, The Dragon Forest.
I first thought of writing a children’s book back in 1989. Since I am an artist, I thought of combining my artistic talent with my love of writing to develop a picture book for little kids. I thought of two boys (one a prince and one a pauper) who enter into a mysterious forest and meet a dragon. I put the idea away for many years and then in 1997 when I took it back out, I realized I wanted to write a children’s chapter book for middle school kids instead.

By 2004, I was enrolled in a creative writing course at ASU and discussed my book with my professor who encouraged me to continue working on it and how to outline the story. I decided then to make the book about Prince Peter entering The Dragon Forest to save the kingdom. With the outline completed, I was able to finally finish the book in 2008. It was released through OakTara Publishing in 2011.

[Note: You can buy the book at Amazon.com (both print or Kindle versions), at barnesandnoble.com, or through the publisher’s web site.]

So, I hear know you are working on a new YA series, The Warfare Club. What was your inspiration for this series?
When I was a stay-at-home mom and working part time, I would visit the public library on a regular basis for books and movies. Since I was finished with first book in The Dragon Forest series and the second book was started, I thought about what I wanted to write next and felt a book for teens would be best since my son is a teenager in high school. I happened to wander over to the YA section at the library and noticed a lot of paranormal books/graphic novels for teens focused on vampires, werewolves, and witches. It concerned me that there wasn’t much for a Christian teen who likes books of a similar genre, but not so much about evil. This led me to develop a story about the supernatural battle between good and evil over the souls of God’s children. Later that year I started working with teens at our church, so it was perfect that now I had contact with my target audience, a chance to teach them God’s Word, and knowledge of the issues teens are facing today. The Warfare Club came together rather easily. I explained the synopsis to my two teenage nieces who were really interested in the storyline. That gave me encouragement to go forward with the books!


GET-TO-KNOW-HER QUESTIONS

Would you rather eat Mexican food or Chinese?
Well, since I am Mexican, my favorite food is Mexican food! I especially love cheese enchiladas. My nana Ruth made the best enchiladas Sonoran style. Very spicy, but delicioso! But my second favorite food is Chinese food. 

What relieves your stress?
I love to exercise. Running is my favorite thing to do to relieve stress. When I run, it is my alone time to think, work out problems, construct scenes to write later, or just enjoy the scenery around me. I also love hiking and cycling too. If I can’t exercise due to weather, I’d say the next best stress reliever for me is reading a good book. I prefer non-fiction books like historical accounts, biographies or memoirs.

What’s the best date your hubby’s ever taken you on?
My husband of 23 years has always been very good at romantic stuff. He’s the best at it! I’d say the best “date” he ever took me on was a summer day trip to Flagstaff, AZ where we ate breakfast, toured some sites, hiked in the mountains, walked around Northern Arizona State University, and then ate dinner at a nice restaurant before heading home to our 3-year-old son. It was a very relaxing day for us. We felt like and acted like honeymooners that whole day.  Very romantic.

Would you rather visit the Rockies in winter or California in summer?
California in summer! I do not ski, so the Rockies in winter wouldn’t be much fun for me. California in summer, however, means beaches, Disneyland, etc. Fun!!

Favorite holiday tradition?
For me, my favorite holiday tradition is Thanksgiving night. After dinner is done and the guests leave, we sit by the fire and watch the first Christmas movie of the season while eating pumpkin pie knowing that the next day is decorating day and the start of the Season. My favorite time of year!! Gives me that warm feeling in my tummy.

You’re locked in a room for a week and only allowed three items (no people allowed!). What are they?
Well, if I there’s wi-fi I’d bring my laptop to write…my Bible to read and glean ideas from…and my cell phone to call people or to surf the internet!  If no wi-fi then I’d bring a notebook to write in instead of my laptop.  I find it’s best to jot down ideas as they come because I tend to forget them later on. It would be a pleasure to just write for a whole week without interruptions!


RUTH’S BIO

My name is Ruth A. Douthitt, and my life took a turn for the better when I returned to college in my late thirties to complete a B.A. in Visual Art from ASU as well as a Master’s in Education from University of Phoenix. After teaching college part time, I decided it was time to complete my first book after working on it for almost 20 years. Our son grew up reading C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien which served as my inspiration for my own bildungsroman-type, fantasy adventure book designed to inspire boys everywhere to go out and make their own adventures happen. The Dragon Forest is part one in a three-part series of adventure books about knights, castles, and the dragon realm. Now working in curriculum development as well as teaching teenage girls in church youth ministry, my desire is to write both non-fiction as well as fiction for teens based on youth issues today.  I live in Phoenix, AZ with my husband, and our teenage son who still inspires me to tell my stories for others to enjoy. For more information on my books, please visit  www.thedragonforest.blogspot.com.

Contact Ruth at artbyruth@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter (@RuthADouthitt).

The Dragon Forest
No one has entered the mysterious forest and lived. Ten-year-old Peter might be the Prince of the kingdom of Illiath, but he feels pretty useless. His father is too busy running the kingdom to have time for his son, and his mother is dead. Now the forces of the evil Lord Caragon threaten war, and only one weapon can save the kingdom: the powerful scales of a dragon. Illiath lies at the edge of a mysterious forest ruled by a fierce Dragon the King has sworn to protect. But what if Peter can best the dragon and bring back the scales? As Peter and his horse, Titan, plunge into the trees, he has no idea of the surprises awaiting him..... A fantastical adventure for the young-and all those young at heart.



Thanks for being my guinea pig interviewee, Ruth! I can’t wait to read your next book in The Dragon Forest series and to see where your Warfare Club series takes you.

Your Turn: Do YOU prefer Mexican food or Chinese food? And what’s the most romantic date your significant other has ever taken you on?

December 9, 2011

Reeling in Christmas Fun

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is sitting down with family and watching Christmas movies. It’s been part of my family’s traditions as long as I can remember.

Now, granted, I know that not all movies reflect on the birth of Christ, but even so, there are some great family-friendly movies out there that warm my heart as I sit by the Christmas tree and take in the holiday cheer.

Some of my favorite Christmas movies include:

·      The Nativity Story: This is a very real depiction of what Mary and Joseph must have gone through when traveling to Bethlehem. Never before had the true harshness of the journey struck me, and yet, Mary didn’t complain.

·      White Christmas: I’m a sucker for a musical in any form. I especially love the song “Count Your Blessings”: “When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

·      A Christmas Story: C’mon, you’ve gotta love that leg lamp! And I don’t know why, but my favorite line: “Randy lay there like a slug.” Something hilarious about the way the line is delivered and seeing the kid in his big padded snowsuit lying there. Gets me every time.

·      Elf: I normally don’t care for Will Ferrell, but he’s onto something here. “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

·      How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon version): You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. But you turn out alright, realizing that Christmas isn’t about the presents and the decorations.

Your Turn: What are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Any favorite quotes from them you’d like to share?

December 7, 2011

Accepting Forgiveness

We all mess up. We all know we all mess up. But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept our failures, especially when it means we’ve hurt someone we love or we disobey God.

It’s so easy to look at our lives and see the blemishes instead of the sparkles. We try so hard to cover up those blemishes in our lives, to heap a foundation of good works and disguise on them. Our self-esteem plummets. We self-loathe.

We can’t accept forgiveness, even when it’s offered.  

If we believe in Jesus’ death on the cross and the forgiveness His death allows us, then we know that asking for that forgiveness washes us white as snow in God’s eyes.

But what about in our own?

I’ve heard the phrase, “We need to learn to forgive ourselves,” and while I guess that’s true, more importantly, we need to learn to see ourselves as God sees us.

Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

If we never learn to accept the grace He offers and move on so we can be effective vessels for Him, we will miss out on a lot of blessings and a lot of ways He wants us to bless others. God shows His strength in our weakness. He takes what is broken and creates something beautiful. Beauty from ashes. That’s His specialty.

I started thinking about all of this because of one of my main characters, Jessica. For much of my novel, she is paralyzed by fear that a secret will come out, one that she thought she’d come to peace with but has been trying to “make up for” every since, through intense service at church and being perfect in every way.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we aren’t. We can never “make up for” our sin, only accept His gift of forgiveness and serve Him out of a truly grateful heart that we were lost but now are found, sinners but now saints, in bondage but now set free.

Your Turn: Have you ever struggled with being unable to accept forgiveness? What helped you to move on from that place?

December 5, 2011

Goals Galore


We’re almost to the time of year when people will reflect on the past year and evaluate what they wish they’d have done differently, or perhaps what they want to accomplish that they never got to. Yep—it's almost time for New Year’s Resolutions.

I’ve always been a goals person. I’m a lists person too. I think I’m a bit neurotic—every morning, I make a list of all I’m going to accomplish that day. And usually, that list is way too long, because inevitably, something else comes up to interrupt my plan (note: I hate changes and unexpected happenings!) or some activities take longer than anticipated.

What’s the result? I end up frustrated with myself for not accomplishing my “goals.” I forget about all of the things I DID get done and chastise myself for what I didn’t. I mark one goal off my list and move right on to the next, with maybe a small celebration, but no more than that, because I’m intensely moving to the next thing. Always the next thing.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

I read some good advice from my blogging friend Keli Gwyn the other day: in order to actually achieve a goal, focus on one thing at a time, and then focus all your energy toward achieving that goal.

Part of me is relieved to hear that. But the other part of me struggles to find just ONE thing to focus on, when I want to excel and achieve in so many areas. But the idea of picking off one thing at a time totally makes sense, especially with the level of intensity with which I attack my goals.

Since I tend to get so focused, I do think it is a good idea for me personally to have one main goal in each of two areas—career and personal—lest I should become too focused on my career and forget my family and friends in the process (unfortunately, been there, done that before).

I find it’s helpful to state the goal out loud (or at least in print) for others to hear/read.

So, here goes:

CAREER: My goal for the next 6 months is to edit this novel and get it out to agents by the end of May 2012, if not before.

PERSONAL: I want to be intentional about spending more time with my husband and finding cheap creative activities to do together.

I would love accountability with these, so please feel free to ask me how I'm doing with them! I appreciate the support and encouragement.

Your Turn: What helps you to stick with a goal and achieve it?

December 2, 2011

Lindsay’s Life: Some Fun Facts

A few weeks ago, a fellow blogger, Cheryl Linn Martin (see her fun blog, Life in Flip-Flops, here), gave me the Tell Me About Yourself Blog Award. Needless to say, I am quite flattered! Thanks, Cheryl!

Part of the award is telling seven facts about myself. I thought it would be fun since I’m fairly new to blogging and some of my readers don’t know me that well yet. So here goes…

1)   I’m a sour candy fanatic. Yep, I’ll take a bag of Sour Patch Kids over chocolate any day! (Yes, my mother always said I must not be her child, chocolate lover that she was.)

2)   In college, I sang in a Christian rock band. I still have about 50 unpurchased CDs sitting in my garage…

3)   I moved to Arizona when I was 6, but still consider myself a Texan at heart.

4)   Last April, I ran my first race (4.2 miles!). I’d never really run farther than a mile before that. In August, I started writing my first novel, when I’d only written short stories and essays before. Guess I like a challenge, and 2011 was a year of stretching myself.

5)    “Do you love it? I love it!” I probably got it at Ross (or Old Navy).

6)   I drink milk when I eat pizza. Some people think it’s weird. Seems perfectly normal to me!

7)   Confession: My guilty TV pleasure is the Bachelor and Bachelorette. It’s a train wreck and I’m a total rubbernecker!

Your Turn: Tell me a fun fact about yourself!

November 30, 2011

Patience, Perseverance, and Lots o’ Prayer


Well, here we are. November 30. For me, this day is monumental.

Why?

Because today is the day I finish the rough draft of my first novel. *Exhausted cheers*

I originally set my deadline as December 31, but when a friend decided to participate in NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words in the month of November, I decided to join in. I had already finished 30,000 words of my novel but knew if I didn’t light a fire under my hands, I’d never finish writing this thing by the end of the year.

There were many days I felt like (1) I was an awful writer, (2) I had no originality, (3) my story was as dry as days-old bread, or (4) I shouldn’t be wasting my time. Writing wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy.

But some days, it was both, and those days carried me through.

Now, this is a very, very rough draft. I plan to go back and read through it all, scouring off the grime and getting to the good stuff. But instead of moving hastily on to the next step, I want to stop and reflect on what it took to get here.

Patience
Patience with myself. Patience with the process. Patience with my inexperience at novel writing.

Perseverance
I kept moving ahead, plodding along. No. Matter. How. Hard. The. Next. Step. Felt.

Prayer
I asked for divine gifting of the aforementioned patience and perseverance, and a confirmation that God was OK with me spending my time like this.

Your Turn: What goals have you set for yourself lately (writing-related or otherwise)? Have you achieved them yet? If not, what will it take for you to achieve them?

P.S. – I’ve read some really good advice on this topic of perseverance and the writer’s calling lately. Author Jody Hedlund and literary agent Rachelle Gardner have particularly provoking posts.

Photo courtesy of http://tvtropes.org

November 28, 2011

My Name Should’ve Been Martha


Last week was Thanksgiving. You most likely spent it with family. Some families get along great (I’m blessed to be part of one that falls into this category). But some…well, let’s just say it isn’t the holidays without a little bickering.

The Bible tells a story of a typical family, one with two sisters who couldn’t have been more different: Mary and Martha. (Their brother Lazarus is the one whom Jesus raised from the dead.)

John 10 gives a little glimpse into their lives. Martha was the responsible (most likely older!) sister, who was on the ball and worked her tail off to make sure everything was ready when Jesus came to stay with them. I totally get Martha. I relate to her. She and I would’ve been good friends if I’d lived 2,000 years ago.

And then there’s Mary: the free spirit (my interpretation). The lover/peacemaker. The one who might be prone to wandering off because she’s marveling in nature on a beautiful day.

The one I don’t understand one bit, because to me—at first glance—she was lazy.

I mean, hello! There were things to be done and all she was doing was sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (John 10:39b). Meanwhile, Martha was running around like a chicken with her head cut off. In my mind, I can see the feathers flapping and flying as she races around the kitchen.

But here’s the thing. Even though Martha’s intentions were good, even though she was taking care of others and serving them, Jesus told her that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (John 10:42b).

Uh…what?

That’s right. Mary chose what was better. Jesus also told Martha these wise words: “[Y]ou are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one” (John 10:41b-42a).

That “one” thing that’s needed? His name is Jesus.

It’s so, so easy for me to get wrapped up in all that I have to “do.” Our lives are full of “doing.” Much of the time, the activities that fill our day are intended to lift others up and serve the Lord. And that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

What is bad is when the “doing” outweighs—or altogether obliterates—the time spent praying, seeking God’s face, aching to know Him better, and simply sitting at his feet, listening to what He has to say.

Your Turn: Have you ever struggled with being a Martha? Do you have any suggestions for becoming a Mary (my ears are open!)?  

Photo courtesy of Rawich: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1758

November 23, 2011

Be Thankful in Everything

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Families across the country will sit down together and celebrate all of the blessings in their lives: roofs over their head, health, jobs, and loved ones. And it’s true: we have been richly blessed.

But the Bible says a curious thing. It instructs us to, “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19b-20)

Did I read that right? We’re supposed to give thanks to God for EVERYTHING?

I have a lot of friends who are hurting right now. Dear friends who have lost babies and loved ones. Friends who are suffering with their health, unsure if they’ll ever be well again. Friends who have lost jobs and don’t know when they’ll find work again. Are they really supposed to thank God for those things?

And I’ve been there too. When my mom was dying from cancer, I read this verse and scoffed. At first.

But then I read another verse: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4)

It’s then I realized: I didn’t have to be thankful for the fact that my mom was dying before my eyes, but rather, thankful for the chance to grow closer to my Lord. Thankful for the chance to see His work in my life. Thankful for the chance to see His light in the darkness.

Because if we never experienced darkness, we wouldn’t really know what light was.

And so, even though it was the hardest thing I ever had to go through, I’m thankful that it led me straight back into my Savior’s arms and that I experienced pure joy (but that’s the topic for another post down the road).

Your Turn: What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving season?

*Due to Thanksgiving, I’ll be taking a break from blogging until Monday.

November 21, 2011

What an Editor Is Not


I’ve been a professional editor for more than 5 years, and during that time I’ve learned a lot about writer/editor relationships.

Obviously, the relationship can be touchy. Tenuous. Confrontational. It can lead to all-out verbal sparring, hurt feelings, and bad attitudes.

But the relationship can also be good-natured. Respectful. Mutually beneficial.

I think it all depends on one’s expectations.

So, I thought it might be helpful for me to give an editor’s perspective on an editor’s role.*

1.    An editor is NOT a REWRITER.

While an editor (especially a line or copyeditor) most definitely can tweak minor wording issues, he/she should always attempt to keep the writer’s voice intact. In most cases (and some would disagree with me), an editor shouldn’t change wording simply because he/she doesn’t “like” it, but only when the grammar is incorrect, the flow is off, or the wording doesn’t make sense.

2.    An editor is NOT a CONTENT CREATOR.

Ultimately, the writer creates the content. While an editor can (and most likely will!) offer new ideas for directions your story can go, he/she is not ultimately responsible for coming up with a brilliant ending, doing the research to make a historical novel more believable, or creating a character description that sings.

I will say that a good editor SHOULD point out when content isn’t working, but he/she should explain why. It is not at all helpful to a writer for an editor to say, “I can’t figure out why I think this doesn’t work for me, but it just doesn’t, so change it.” Where does a writer go from there?

3.    An editor is NOT an EGO BOOSTER.

An editor has a job to do—help a writer finesse a piece until said piece is in the best shape possible. An editor points out flaws in logic, holes in the story, “poof” moments, characters who aren’t believable, etc. etc.

While an editor should most definitely use kindness when pointing out these issues,  a writer should not expect the editor to sit there and praise the work to high heaven. That is not helpful either. A good editor will both point out what you do well (so you know where you’re on track) and use constructive criticism to show you where you can make improvements in your writing.

Your Turn: What did I leave out? What else should writers be able to expect from their editors?

*Just a note: Obviously, some editors work differently than I do. There are some workplaces in which an editor has final say, and that’s that. Here, I’m describing a relationship that’s more give and take.

November 18, 2011

My Love Story

Five years ago today, I married my best friend.

It’s really hard to believe that 5 years have passed. We’ve been through a lot (law school and grad school were big hurdles!), been blessed a lot, and loved a lot.

Mike and I were friends for several years before we started dating. We hung out in the same group of friends who went to our church and Arizona State University—we would all ride the shuttle from West to Main campus, eat lunch together during the week, and hold game nights on the weekends.

I guess Mike liked me from the beginning (so sweet!), but I had no clue. I was going through a lot of stuff—my mom was sick for a long time, and finally passed away at the beginning of our junior year—so let’s just say I was “emotionally unavailable” at the time. But he just kept on being my friend and I never knew that he really wanted to ask me out.

Finally, toward the very end of our junior year, Mike and I started talking more frequently. I respected him so much; he was (and still is!) so intelligent, generous, funny, kindhearted, trustworthy, protective, a true friend, and above all, a godly, godly man.

He finally asked me out in April of 2005. We started dating the summer before our senior year (yes, it took me awhile to say yes…that’s another story!) and got engaged a year and a week later.

Then November 18, 2006, I walked down the aisle and have never looked back since.

Happy anniversary to my true love and best friend!

Your Turn: How did you meet your significant other? If you don’t have one, what’s a favorite love story you’ve heard?

November 16, 2011

The Emotional Effects of Reading


You’ve probably heard it said that reading is a way to experience another world, to check out of reality temporarily, to get “lost.” And I would definitely agree.

But reading is also a way to find something: truth.

There’s no doubt that the written word is a powerful thing. And when we read something that rings true to us, we can experience a range of emotions.

Like happiness when something is funny. Or fear when we’re not sure what’s really around the corner. Or sadness, regret, frustration, doubt.

Or deep, abiding joy.

Something I read this last weekend gave me that kind of joy.

I’m reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for the first time (I know, I know, what took me so long?!) and if you aren’t familiar with the premise, let me tell you a bit about it. Basically, the book is a collection of “letters” written by an older demon to his nephew. So when he talks about “Our Enemy,” he means God. The older demon is giving his nephew advice on how to thwart humans and keep them from God.

One passage in particular nearly turned me into a puddle of joy. In this simple excerpt, the demon describes the differences between the dark side and God:

“To us a human is primarily food. … We want cattle who can finally become food; He [God] wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [Satan] has drawn all other beings into himself; the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

Do you feel the power in this poignant narrative? Does it draw something up from within you, warm you with assurance, and give you the desire to cry out to God in gratitude?

That’s the way it affected me. I’m so thankful for authors like Lewis who speak the Truth to my heart, who remind me of God's goodness and His graciousness in creating me and wanting a relationship with me.

And I hope, someday, as an author, to have the privilege of writing something that will turn readers toward the only One who matters in all of this anyway.

Your Turn: Do you find yourself affected emotionally when you read? What have you read lately that affected you?
 

November 14, 2011

Seriously Contemplating a Series

It all started with a small idea. One standalone idea, one issue I wanted to tackle.

And then it took root in my mind and soul, grew, and blossomed into something much more than I ever thought it would be.

I’m talking about the story I’m writing. When I initially started planning it in my head, it was a single novel. I didn’t think about writing a series, because the ideas I had so far were only enough to fill one novel. Plus, the main characters’ issues are more or less resolved at the end of this novel.

However, I’d been reading some blogs that mentioned the topic and even asked an agent whether agents and publishers are more willing to publish a series than a standalone novel. The advice I saw seemed to indicate that, if a standalone novel is well written and has a gripping story, then it can definitely find a home with a publisher.

But publishers ARE looking for writers who have more than just one great book idea in their heads. They want people who can be career writers, who are more than just a “one-hit wonder.”

I asked the question (“How many book ideas do I need to present to an agent when seeking representation?”) of a seasoned writer when I attended a recent conference, and she advised me to try to make my novel into a series somehow. One advantage is that you have a built-in audience of people who liked your first book and want to know what happens to the characters in the second book. This writer told me I could even take a minor character from the first book and write the second novel about her life/story.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I began brainstorming and it didn’t take me long to figure out a story for Stacy, the roommate of my main character. I’m even developing a storyline for a third roommate, who doesn’t yet exist but I’m going to write in. Her story is becoming vivid to me and I can’t believe I didn’t have her in my original outline. It’s crazy what happens when you think outside the box!

In all, the simple question of whether this should be a series has led me to develop three separate storylines for three different college-aged women. And I’ve even been able to develop a uniting concept for the series as a whole, something to tie all the books together.

I think I would have been OK going with my standalone novel, but I’m hoping that writing a series—which of course still needs to be dynamic and well written—will increase my chances of gaining representation and, eventually, a book deal.

Your Turn: As a reader, do you enjoy series or standalone novels better? As a writer, which do you enjoy writing the most?

November 11, 2011

Thankful for Freedom


The Bible says to be thankful for everything. Later this month, those of us in America will celebrate Thanksgiving. We will gather around our tables and tell each other what we are particularly thankful for: family, friends, a roof over our heads, provision, health, etc.

But will we remember to be thankful for freedom?

Today is Veteran’s Day. I think it’s really cool that this day is so close to Thanksgiving, but I have a confession: I rarely remember to be thankful for my freedom, even though there are whole holidays set aside just for that purpose. How often have I viewed the day purely as time off from work, time to relax and catch up on stuff around the house?

Too many.
I live in an amazing country, where I can worship the God I want to worship freely, without consequence. I am free to marry who I want to marry, free to have as many children as I am able, free to get an education. There are many countries in which I would not have such freedoms.

But I take it for granted.

We have brave men and women who have fought and some who are still fighting for the very freedoms that are such a part of my daily life that I cannot imagine it without them.

So today, I’m being purposeful.

To my mom’s dad, who fought in Vietnam: Thank you for your service.

To my dad’s dad, who fought in WWII: Thank you for your service.

To all the veterans out there and to those still in the military: Thank you for your service.

May God bless you and keep you safe.

Your Turn: Do you have a friend or relative who is a veteran or currently serving in the military? Honor them here!

*Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=341

November 9, 2011

It’s Not About Me


Last Sunday, my pastor had us open to the book of Philippians and read this verse:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”

Uh oh, I thought. I’m in trouble.

I really, really want to live my life for the Lord. I want to do things that matter. I want to leave a lasting impression on this earth, to touch people’s hearts, to lift their spirits, to turn their eyes toward our wonderful Savior.

And yet, me, myself, and I often get in the way.

Because it’s so, so easy to do things for our own glory.

In a small way, I’ve been “in the spotlight” for a lot of my life. I’ve been acting and singing on stage since I was 6 years old and I currently serve in the music ministry at our church. I love singing my heart out for the Lord, reminding others of his love. There is something about music that speaks to my heart and stirs something inside of me that almost nothing else can stir.

But I’ve struggled with the spotlight. There were times in the past when I thought I was pretty awesome because, hey, people liked my singing! They thought I was great! And an ego boost can be heady stuff.

For awhile, singing became about me, not about praising my Lord and using the gifts HE GAVE ME to glorify Him.

The Lord has also given me a passion for writing, and right now, I’m trying to write a novel and succeed at getting it published. But I’ve really had to evaluate why I want to do this. Is it because I want the fame? The influence? Because I want to see my name in print? Because I want my ego boosted?

Or is it because I want to glorify my Maker, to show believers and non-believers alike that God is good and faithful, that He loves us beyond compare, and that He has a plan for each of us?

My prayer is for God to make these the song lyrics of my heart:

“It’s all about you, Jesus. And all this is for you, for your glory and your fame. It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way. You alone are God, and I surrender to your will.”

Your Turn: What are some of your favorite Bible verses or song lyrics that talk about glorifying God?

*photo courtesy of flickr*

November 7, 2011

Know Thy Character

I’m writing about her, but do I really know her?

As I sat there, staring at my laptop screen, I thought about one of my novel’s main characters, Grace. She’s an 18-year-old girl going off to college, and—after finding a dusty journal, one that belongs to her mother’s childhood best friend—she discovers that what she’s always been told might not be true. She faces temptations and is forced to figure out what she really believes—namely, did God create rules for us to live by because he’s cruel or because he’s loving?

So, I knew the basic conflicts Grace would have to go through, and I imagined how I would handle them. But that’s just it.

Grace isn’t me. I’m not her. We wouldn’t handle things in exactly the same way.

And therein is one of the most difficult things I’ve discovered with novel writing. I have to figure out my characters. What makes them tick? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

It was all a bit overwhelming until I was introduced (by Gail Gaymer Martin, at a recent American Christian Writers conference) to a wonderful little tool known as a character sheet.

A character sheet is essentially a list of questions/prompts that you fill out about your character. It contains everything from physical description (like age, hair/eye color, height/weight, clothing style) to inner conflicts (greatest dream, dark secret, relationships). For an example of a great character sheet, see Gail's site.

I filled out a character sheet for Grace and it helped a lot. Before, she was this nebulous cloud of mystery—I never knew what she was going to do on the next page!

But now? Me and Grace? We’re tight, yo.

Your Turn: Have you ever used a character sheet for your characters? If you’re not a writer (or even if you are!), who is your favorite fictional character and why?

November 4, 2011

Worth Waiting For


“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:14

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” – Psalm 130:5


To me, there’s nothing worse than waiting. I’ve always agreed that patience is a virtue—just one that I don’t have.

*Sigh*

With our busy lives, we don’t like any kind of waiting: waiting in line, waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting for an answer, waiting for a grade. Waiting disrupts our timelines; we need to move on to the next thing, but sometimes we can’t until we’ve finished the first. And we can’t finish the first because we have to WAIT on something or someone.

When we’re young, we can’t wait to get older. When we move out, we can’t wait to get a house (that apartment just won’t do anymore!). When we start dating, we can’t wait to get married. And on and on and on.

In addition, we’re worriers, so when things don’t happen right when we want them to, there’s all this extra time to—you got it—worry.

But God tells us to wait for Him.

It’s easy to wonder why—other than torturing us—God would ask us to wait for His guiding, His timing.  But God is loving and He wants the best for us. And sometimes that means waiting.

Because sometimes He wants to teach us humility—a reminder that He’s in control.

Sometimes He wants to teach us trust—a reminder that He’s got our best in mind.

And sometimes, He wants to show us that His plan is greater than anything we could have dreamed up.

And those things are worth waiting for.

Waiting is hard. It can be brutal. So all we can do, if we want to keep any amount of sanity, is lay our dreams at God’s feet. To strip ourselves of pride and worry and tell God we trust Him to guide and direct our lives.

Because in the end, it should be God we are living for anyway. It should be God I’m writing for. I want so badly to finish my novel NOW, to find an agent NOW, to get published NOW.

But if he wants to teach me patience, trust, and humility in the process, shouldn’t I be willing to learn it?

Shouldn’t I be willing to wait on the Lord, to be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord?

Your Turn: Have you ever had to wait for something you really wanted? How did God use that time of waiting to teach you something?

November 2, 2011

The Power of Words






Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” must have lived in a monastery or some other place where words are rarely used.

If you didn’t already know it, let me tell you something: Words are powerful.

At the writing conference I recently attended, literary agent Chip MacGregor spoke on this very subject. He explained that words move us, that words help us find beauty and meaning in life.

That words change us.

When Chip finished speaking, I thought about which words have changed me the most. The following list is the result of my pondering.

You are talented.

You are cherished.

You are beautiful.

I find joy in your presence.

I love you.

I have called you.

You are my beloved child.

Do you know why all of these words have changed me? Because they are spoken to me by the God of this universe. He has spoken them through his Holy Word, through his creation, and through Jesus’s death on the cross.

God has given me a love of language, of using words to express compassion, love, honesty, joy, and anything else I feel. I am so grateful he chooses to communicate to my heart in the same way.

After all, as Chip pointed out, John called Jesus himself “the Word” — “In the beginning was the Word.”

No wonder I love words so much.

Question for You: Which words have changed you?

November 1, 2011

Get Inspired!


American Christian Writers conference sessions: $250 for Friday and Saturday.

Banquet dinner: $25.

Hotel stay: $87

Networking with fellow writers and conference faculty: Priceless.


This past weekend, I attended my first writer’s conference. It was attended by 40-60 fellow Christian writers—some published, some seeking publication, some just starting out—and was held in Phoenix. I attended with a good friend of mine.

It. Was. Awesome.

I attended sessions on fiction writing: how to make characters come to life, make your setting a character, and write simply.

I attended sessions on the importance/role of agents, common writing errors, and developing a writing career.

I attended an amazing session centered around Ecclesiastes and the reminder that “for everything there is a season.”

And I attended a 15-minute consultation with well-established Christian author Gail Gaymer Martin. She read the first chapter of my manuscript and encouraged me to keep writing and doing what I’m doing.

I was seriously floating by the end.

It’s so easy to let ourselves be consumed with doubts when we follow our dreams. It’s easy to feel like we are alone. That we are the only one trying to pursue this crazy calling of writing for God, of wanting to bless others through the written word.

But I’m not alone. I just met at least 40 people who want the same thing I do. That felt good. It was validating. It was beyond encouraging.

It was priceless.

Questions for You: Have you ever attended a writer’s conference or met with a group of people who were pursuing a common goal? How did it affect you?

October 21, 2011

Playing Dress Up


As a little girl, I simply loved to play dress up. I’d pull out my sparkly pink dress, my mom’s old heels, and my mini-tiara and pretend I was a princess in a faraway land. I ordered my servants (aka my little brother) around and waited for my prince to come. It’s probably when my penchant for acting was first born.

And again tonight, at age 26, I’ll be playing dress up. We’re hosting a costume party for our Sunday School class. I didn’t figure adults liked playing dress up.

But oh boy, they do!

So what is it about dressing up that we love? Is it simply the fun of it? The fact that it makes us feel like kids again? Or does it go deeper than that?

Could it be that we like being someone other than ourselves, albeit temporarily? Maybe sometimes, our own lives are too difficult and we want an escape. Or maybe we gain a sense of confidence in someone else’s shoes that we can’t seem to find in our own.

I don’t have the answers. All I know is I love pretending to be someone else.

Maybe I don’t need to know why.

Questions for you: Do you like dressing up in costume? If so, why? If not, why?

October 19, 2011

Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah Stayin' Alive...

The other day, I came across a simple, yet profound quote:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -- Howard Thurman, theologian

So, if I believe this quote speaks truth, then does that mean I don't have to get all tangled up with worrying about what God's purpose for my life is? That by doing what makes me come alive--that is, what I feel passionate about--I can have a purposeful life that will have an impact on the world?

Wow.

It's so easy to get caught up with worry of this type: Should I take this job or that? Should I major in this or that? Should I take the time to do this or that? (Personal example: Should I actually take the time to pursue this crazy dream of becoming a published author, because writing is something I love and simply cannot stop myself from doing?)

It seems to me that if we stopped worrying about what we SHOULD do, focus on what God MADE us to do (indicated by what we're passionate about doing), and trust Him to take us where He wants us to be, we'd get a whole lot more living done.

Of course, one caution is to remember that we also have responsibilities like God and family that we cannot simply forsake in order to pursue a dream or passion. But if God made us to do it, then He'll provide a way for it to happen.

So, if you love cooking? Open your home, invite over a bunch of friends or co-workers, and feed them. God can use your cooking to make those people feel nurtured and loved.

If you love singing or acting? Try out for a community theater show. God has used music and the laughter theater can bring to soothe people's souls.

If you love mothering? Devote your time and energy to your own children or being a mentor to others.

The point is, God can use you wherever you are, whatever your passion is. He planted that passion in your heart. I challenge you to use it. Come alive, and you will leave an unbelievable legacy in this world.

Questions for you: What makes you come alive? How are you pursuing your passion?

October 15, 2011

But I Didn’t WANT a Do Over!


So, I was writing yesterday. No, not just writing. Flying. Soaring. Racing. My fingers were flying and flapping across the computer. Ideas were coming to me, lightning bolt-ing through my brain. 500 words. 1,000 words. 1,500 words. Go, go, go.

And then, my computer shut off.

NOOOOO!!!!!

Yes, I lost my work. Not all of it, but a decent amount. I press the “Save” button on my computer almost neurotically, because I’m always afraid of this very thing happening. I guess my neuroticism was interrupted this time by the flowing ideas.

Sooooo…what now? I was sure what I’d written had been brilliant, and now it was gone, gone, gone (like Frank Sinatra, like Elvis and his mom, like Al Pacino’s cash, nothing lasts in this life…sorry, good song…just popped into my head).

So I had to redo it.

And you know what?

I think it’s better than the original.

But I never would have had the improved material if I hadn’t lost the original. It makes me wonder how many things in life would be improved if I only had the courage to venture out and “rewrite” the way I do things in life.

Interesting thought.

Questions for You: What would happen if you stepped outside of your comfort bubble and “rewrote” some aspects of your life?

October 12, 2011

Oh Time, Where Art Thou?


I’ve always prided myself on having killer time management skills. I love to use lists, calendars, and basically any other tool to help me in my somewhat-neurotic pursuit of discipline. I start off listing everything I want to accomplish: in life, that week, that day. Then, I try to figure out how much time each activity is going to take me.

Inevitably, I always land myself 80 hours’ worth of work, 40 hours’ worth of social activities, 15 hours’ worth of cooking/cleaning/grocery shopping/being a wife, and about 5 hours of working out per week. That leaves only about 28 hours for sleeping, relaxing, and personal hygiene per week.

Yeah, like THAT’S gonna happen!

When I look at my schedule and start to hyperventilate, worry kicks in. Will I ever finish X? Will Y ever happen? How will I manage Z? Oh, and in the midst of all of these things that I’m juggling right now, at this moment, HOW IN THE WORLD WILL I EVER ACHIEVE ANY OF MY LONG-TERM GOALS? I mean, I only want to get in shape, eat better, be a better wife, spend quality time with God, and you know, become a published novelist. No biggie.

Gulp.

It’s really hard to remember that, in the midst of it all, God has a plan for me. He doesn’t want me to live a frazzled life. Yes, achieving my dreams will take discipline, but it also will take a lot of prayer and prioritization (darn, couldn’t think of a 3rd P word…would have made for some great alliteration!).

If I look at my goals and all that I have to accomplish, there are ways to cut some of it out. Maybe it’s OK to ask my husband to go to the grocery store or run that errand. Maybe it’s OK if we don’t have an amazing meal every night – leftovers are great! Maybe it’s OK if I’m not the amazing party hostess/domestic goddess I long to be. And maybe it’s OK to work out 3 times a week instead of 4.

Then again, there are some things that I wouldn’t give up, things like time with God, my husband, my family, and my friends. Things like writing a novel this year.

Questions for You: Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all that you have to do? Have you found great ways to manage your time? Please share!

October 2, 2011

My 20-Step Writing Process

The process of writing can be many things...fun, torturous, humbling, energizing, inspiring, etc. Even though it's easy for doubt to take hold while I'm writing, for the most part, the good things about writing outweigh the bad.

For me, the writing process goes a little something like this...

  1. I outline what I'm going to write.
  2. I start writing things as I think them, not stopping to wonder about whether what I'm spewing onto the page is complete garbage or jewels in my crown (usually it's a combo of the two).
  3. I become tempted to edit as I write. Note: This does not get me very far in terms of word count. 
  4. I try to kill the editor in me...temporarily.
  5. I write a scene. It flows from me. I think it's amazing.
  6. I read that scene over again. 
  7. Frustrated with my complete inability to capture what I wanted to capture, I close my laptop and go eat something sweet to cheer myself up.
  8. Mid-bite, I think of a way to improve the garbage-like scene I just wrote. 
  9. I rush to my laptop, sweets forgotten, and flood the screen with brilliance (ha).
  10. For inspiration, I read someone's else's novel. 
  11. I go back to my sweets, thinking I'll never be able to write as well as those who are published.
  12. I talk through my doubts with my husband. He tells me to just go write and then I can edit it later and make it brilliant then (such a smart guy!). 
  13. I listen... I go back to the laptop and just write and write and write.
  14. I leave the work alone for a few days. 
  15. I come back to it fresh and edit.
  16. And edit.
  17. And edit some more.
  18. I bring it to my writing group and they tell me what needs to change, what they didn't understand, what doesn't make sense.
  19. So I edit again.
  20. And eventually, after lots of care, doubt, frustration, love, and humility, I submit the work for publication. 

I look forward to the day I reach Step 20 on this novel!

But in the meantime, I'm learning and growing and loving every minute of a process that, hopefully, is shaping me and my future.

It's a long, sometimes painful process, but it's worth it to reach the ultimate goal!

September 12, 2011

A Follow-Up to My August 30 Post...

Just a follow-up to my post on August 30 about whether or not to outline: I came across the following article in Writer's Digest about some of the best methods to outline.

It's a good, educational read for those of us who have been trying to figure it out on our own:

Choosing the Best Outline Method for You

September 7, 2011

The Doubt Monster

So here we are, more than a week after I've written my novel's outline and I've only written a few pages of my novel--and they're not stellar, let me tell you.

I've found the most effective way to write is to initially just get the stuff out of my head onto the page. I try not to think too hard or make the wording perfect--so the result is dull, chaotic mush. I am an editor, so it's really hard to do this. Later is when I go back and do the editing and revising that makes the work worth reading.

But in the meantime, when I'm in the midst of writing the mush, I'm plagued with the thought--was this all a mistake? Who do I think I am? Why in the world do I think I'm a good writer?

This niggling doubt about my writing abilities in general then transcends into major doubt about my entire story: Is it too boring? Is it believable? Is there ANYTHING unique about it at all? Why should I bother to write this junk? Who is going to read it? What if I work for a year or more on this project and then nobody wants to represent it or publish it?

Sheesh, shoot me now! I'm only a few pages in...is this what I have to look forward to for the remainder of my time writing this novel?

Luckily, I have heard several authors say that they hate the initial "writing" part of writing a novel. They know it can be a painful, gut-wrenching experience. To put your ideas out there is a scary thing, and to put so much of yourself into a project and then have it rejected feels like a rejection of your very self.

The good thing is, there's an end in sight.

Once I'm done proverbially throwing up all over the screen, I can go back through my work and massage the mush into something worthwhile (kind of a gross mental picture, I know). I'm an editor, so that's what I do best. It's just a little more difficult to do it to my own work. Thus the need for an editor and a writer's group, which I've discussed in a previous post.

All in all, I need to remember that writing is a journey, and I'm going to experience several emotions along the way. It's helpful to remember that most other writers feel this way too.

So when the doubt monster attacks, I need to tame it. It's either that, or quit.

And I'm not quitting for anything.

August 30, 2011

To Outline or Not to Outline: Is It Really a Question?

I'm finished. For days, weeks, months, I've been dreaming up this story in my head. And finally, the basics are down on paper. My story outline is finished. I can now begin writing the story itself.

Some people might argue that an outline is unnecessary, that when you want to write a story, you just put pen to paper and everything will flow from there. But I don't believe 'em. (I will concede there are those authors who abhor outlining and have still succeeded in writing a good story, but this approach doesn't seem to be recommended.)

Maybe I'm just a strange, super-organized freak of nature who loves detail and order, but I don't think so. After all, the academic writing process (which I just taught my students today, in fact!) includes good ol' outlining as a must-do. Why should a novel be any different? After all, if I want to have any idea about where I'm going with a story, the most efficient way to get there is to outline.

I will concede that a story can change from its original outline. I know that flexibility is a must; sometimes, it's actually better if Character A ends up with Character C instead of Character B, or if the team loses the game instead of winning. Developments and changes happen, but they happen for a reason.

In other words, you should write your outline and then tell yourself to have a good reason to change it. This will help you to analyze why you're writing like you are and why you're including the events you've chosen.

An outline is also helpful in keeping you focused. When you have an outline, you stay on track. You take your project more seriously. Especially if you are not yet being paid to write, and this is your attempt to get published, an outline helps you to reach that goal in a timely manner.

Regarding how detailed to be in an outline, that's really up to you. A friend of mine likes to put the bare minimum, summarizing the story in three lines/sections: beginning, middle, end. For me, more detail is always a good thing. It gets my juices flowing and helps me to write the end product more quickly.

Best-selling author Jeffery Deaver has some interesting thoughts on outlining (you can view a short 3-minute video about his outlining process here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhxJ9yPR0U0), though he's a bit more extreme with the process than I've been! I thought my outline was long at 14 single-spaced pages...

Onward to story writing!