25 September 2009

Special Friday Post: 5 Words

JungleMom, who lives in the Paraguay and has such a fascinating blog, had a friend give her 5 words this week to create a post around. She then offered to pass this opportunity on to any who asked. So I jumped in, hence this special Friday post. My five words are: Photography, India, Writing, Blogging, and Family.

Photography

Have y'all met my husband? He's a Nikon d40, and oh, he is so handsome! He has great manners and loves to make me beautiful things. When we first met, I went out with him and he gave me tiger lillies, my favorite flowers. I posted the album on facebook, titled "First Date" and talked about him like he was a person. So many people were really confused! Many got excited, because I'm 25, single (not in a relationship and never married), something that is pretty rare for the South. We marry young down here. I got a huge kick out of that... It's pretty fun saying things like, "here, use my husband" and "has anyone seen my husband?" My favorite so far as been that I'm going to use him until I can get something even better in a few years. Ha!



Right now, this is just a hobby, but it's one that I love and want to get better at. I love studying the light, playing with it, and seeing what happens to color. I literally have spent all day fiddling with my "numbers" as my a friend calls it, manually manipulating photographs.

India

I never expected to go. Not in a million years. I'm Africa through and through. I've spent almost a year of my life in Africa, something that has come to define me and how I approach life. That continent keeps me awake in the night; it's in my blood. I long to go back with everything that's in me. So when the opportunity to minister in India came about, I originally said "no". But I couldn't get the trip out of my mind, and began praying about it. For the past three years, I've spent some portion of the Christmas season in India, throwing a party for orphans who have no one. When I think of India, I immediately think of being so cold and unable to get warm, which is definitely ironic! India gets really cold in December and January, and since most of the buildings are made of stone and have marble for floors (marble is cheaper than wood there, because there are so few trees in Delhi), you just can't seem to get warm.

I've now spent quite a bit of time in India, especially this year. It has become a second home to me. Now, when I think of India, I think of home. I think of the precious ones at the orphanage, my leper friends, my Indian mother who lives in the slums. She's one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. God's love just shines through her. And everyday she risks her life by following Jesus. I think of the beggars, the slumdog children who really are "pimped" and used to get money, only to relinquish it to their bosses. I smell the ginger spice of chai and feel the thrill of driving a motor scooter through the maze of streets, of walking through the market and bartering for all I'm worth, and still having to pay too much simply because I'm an American. I hear the wild dogs and the seemingly unending Bollywood songs that pour out the radio, see the cows standing beside starving children, and wonder if there's any place in the world as enchanting, infuriating, and utterly foreign to me as India.

But when it comes to food, India wins hands down. Don't even get me started on how much I hate African pap.

Writing
I have a new WIP! Right now it has no title, but there is a prologue and two chapters to its credit. I have more questions that I have answers and am still waiting to see where the plot will go. It's been really frustrating. But I'm so excited about the themes before me in this story. I can't wait to play with them and see what happens!

Blogging
I'm relatively new to the blogging world. I started reading blogs back in January and finally started this blog in July. This is something that I've really come to love. I've really enjoyed getting to know all of you. You've been incredible writing encouragement, friends, and teachers. I started small, only posting 2-3 days a week because I wanted to pace myself. Someday that might change, but I figured it was better to make a solid foundation than a hastily built one. I'm learning so much about this and am just so thankful for all of you!

Family
I'm not going to say much about my family, simply to respect their privacy. I have a baby brother who just got married this summer to an awesome woman. I couldn't ask for a better sister-in-law. My parents have been awesome about this whole missionary thing and have given me a home to live in for as long as I need it when I'm stateside, something I'm so thankful for! It's funny--the older you get and the more life changes, the more thankful you are for home and for family. And then there's my sweet poodle, who y'all have already met. She's pretty silly.

Thanks, JungleMom! That was fun! If anyone would like for me to give them "five words" just mention it in the comment section. Warning: I can be really random! Also, it might take me a week or so to get back to you, because I'm going on vacation!! WOOHOOO!!!! I won't come be on blogland officially until 13 October 2009. I'll be away from the internet for most of that time. Please come back! I'll miss you all, but I am so excited to go out and have some fun in the sun with one of my best friends! This is my first vacation in years, so it's a pretty big deal!

24 September 2009

The Power of What We Say




On Tuesday, we talked about the power of advice in our lives, how certain words spoken at specific times were so appropriate, helpful, and encouraging that we remembered them and possibly changed how we lived or wrote because of them. Since we're all writers, we're all aware of the power of words. What we say (and write) has profound impact on those around us and ultimately, the world.

Today, I'm turning the question around on you. What's the best advice you have for any writer (if it's different from the one you shared on Tuesday)?

This week I'm ever more aware of the power of Story on our culture and how it really can impact everything from normal life to legislation. An incredible example of this will be on ABC primetime tonight--season premiere of Grey's Anatomy.

I watch a lot of tv, not to veg out but simply because I learn so much about life and storycrafting from it. It's a story in an hour, something that can really feed my creative side. I was a huge ER fan, so when Grey's first came on I refused to watch. Unfortunately, ER got stupid, so I gave Meredith a shot. Though I was late to the soap opera-ish dramatic backstory, I've picked up a lot. Most of all, I've been amazed at how the show speaks so clearly of the issues facing our nation today.

The final episodes of last season dealt with two primary issues: marriage and the illness of a primary character. The writers of the show went at the issue of marriage in two different ways. One, they continued to depict a growing lesbian relationship between two primary characters. Two, they reduced the marriage ceremony of the two main characters to a post-it note, vows written in private and sealed with a kiss that no one witnessed. Just like that, they considered themselves married. (Hopefully I'm not spoiling this for anyone, since it aired in May and then again last week).

I was just amazed, being that a huge issue in our nation right now is marriage: what constitutes a marriage, how is it defined, and who is allowed to get married?

If you watch the show, did you see how subtly they worked this issue? Or did it slide past in all the romance? I understand the characters of Meredith and Derek, of why they would choose something private and non-traditional. It's just that the argument the writers made (the one most of Hollywood supports) was so deftly constructed that I wanted to applaud their skills. The writer in me was inspired.

That finale was one of the most powerful I've ever seen, also because of the amazing cliff hanger at the end. I actually guessed it, which was pretty cool. And throughout the summer, I've thought back to that show and wondered what would happen in September. Tonight, I'll be on the couch, happy with the Story elements once again.

We have that same power that Hollywood does, to make an argument for what we believe and weave it so beautifully in our plots that readers can't help but notice. We have the power to shape our culture, just as the writers of Grey's Anatomy do. How are we using it? Are we willing to step out and take such a risk, or are we choosing the safe storylines?

I never want to be safe. What about you?

Happy watching tonight!

22 September 2009

A Word of Advice

Hi, Friends!

To those of you who attended the ACFW conference, welcome back! I can't wait to read all about it on your blogs, hear about your experiences, and learn more about this industry. Was it everything you hoped it would be?

In honor of those who went the conference who probably have new profound insight that they would love to share (and we'd love to read) and for all of us who are constantly learning along the way, today's post focuses on advice. My question to you is:

What is the best advice (in regards to writing--this could be about publishing, the writing process, etc) that you've ever heard? And why?

I've spent a large part of this past year learning and researching about this industry. Back in the spring, I jokingly referred to it as my own MFA program, just without all the official bells and whistles of an actual university. I think if someone were to sit before me and ask, "What have you learned so far?" my mind would swim and I'd have trouble placing all the details. It seems like the more I learn, the more I realize I still don't know.

I'd have to say that the best advice I received as far as writing came from an English professor I had for three consecutive semesters. She was hilarious, at times very irreverent, and very passionate about literature. This professor constantly pushed me to be better as a writer. The first class of hers' that I took was a creative writing course. We studied Flannery O'Conner (love her!) and wrote our own original pieces. She was so personable as a teacher but brutal in marking our papers. A compliment from her was like gold. She did hand them out, even if she didn't agree with or even like the subjects of our works. This professor really knew what she was talking about. The best thing she ever said to me was:

"Don't tell me about love*. It's vague; it's abstract and generic. Tell me about a toaster. Tell me how it smells, feels, and looks. What is it about that toaster that is so important? And what can that toaster tell us about love*?"

Basically, it was the first time I ever heard about "Show vs. Tell". I'm definitely still learning, still trying to get better at it. But I'll never forget her advice. It's followed me, along with a few other choice pieces for the past six years.

So there it is. My lifetime of writing, college education based on English, and the years spent in the pursuit of publishing, all summed up in one simple image:




What about you? What advice changed how you write or pursue publication?


See y'all Thursday!



By the way, I don't know if any of y'all have seen what's happening in Georgia right now, but just wanted to ask y'all to pray. We've been in serious drought for years; so much so that Lake Lanier, which powers much of Atlanta, was seriously low. However, God has really brought the rain... only, it's not stopping. It's rained every day for five days straight-- not light showers, but flash flooding types of rain. Now, roads are washed out, people have died, creeks and rivers have overrun their boundaries. We're having to cancel schools. It's too much for our ground to soak in so it's all running off. If y'all would just pray for safety, shelter for those who've lost it, and for a break in the rain that would be great. It would be nice to see the sun again. It hasn't shown much in the past 2 weeks. Rumor has it that fall has some beautiful colors! Thanks!



**substitute the word "love" for grace, redemption, compassion, etc., all concepts without concrete roots. Image found on google images.

18 September 2009

A Delirious Summer


























A Delirious Summer by Ray Blackston

With six novels to his name, Ray Blackston is probably someone you've heard of, if not read. I love his loose trilogy, Flabbergasted, A Delirious Summer, and Lost in Rooville. They are some of the funniest books I've ever read, dealing with singlehood, the South, and missions. I guess it's a no brainer why I like them! :0)

Ray Blackston addresses each of these issues so well and does it with incredible humor. I love his description of the South (which is too true), his take on being single from a guy's perspective (this is "lad lit", after all), and his description of missions and South America, a land that I know, love, and would love to return to. A Delirious Summer is my favorite simply because it provides the largest view of missions and the missions mindset. I also really like the couple depicted in that particular book. His characters through out are hilarious and well constructed, making all of his books definitely worth the read!

If you're looking for some books that will make you laugh, these will probably do it. Blackston uses his humor to really focus in on truth, something we talked about earlier this week. He does a great job of asking questions and presenting possibilities, but lets the reader figure out the answers on his/her own. These books are definitely worth the money, especially if you love chit lit/lad lit.

Happy Reading!!

See y'all Tuesday!!

17 September 2009

Those Funny Little Things

I love it when people poke fun at themselves, not in a "The spotlight has to be on me" way, but in a way of sharing themselves and their lives with others. Isn't that a lot of fun?

Do you do that as a writer? How about in your stories, do you poke fun at yourself?

Denise Hildreth actually wrote herself into one of her books, Savannah at the Sea. She talks about her husband, a Christian recording artist, in all of her books, but in that one, she makes an appearance with her husband. The characters go on vacation and from a distance they spot some author who writes stories about crazy people from the South. If you read that scene, it's really funny!

Randy Alcorn did something like that too. In Deadline, one of his characters repeatedly mentions a "friend" who writes books about "cops and bad guys". He gets to make a lot of wise cracks as his own expense. My favorite is when the character refers to this author and says something about how his writer friend hopes that if he mentions Krispy Kreme three times on one page that he'll get free donuts. (That's not an exact quote; I don't have the book in front of me). He then proceeds to do just that--saying the name of the company three times on one page. My question for Randy Alcorn is this, did you get the free donuts?

Have you ever noticed any "easter eggs" like this? What were they? A lot of writers I read poke fun at the areas of the States that they live in or a group of people that they are a part of. Not many write themselves in and then let loose. If you could do that what would you do?

I think I'd probably make a jab at poodles, country music, or Southern culture in general, all things that I'm passionate about. :0)

Tomorrow we're going to have a book feature. See you then!

15 September 2009

Lots and Lots of Laughter

Hey, Friends!

This week we're going to look a bit (just a bit, because again, it's such a great topic we'll probably return to it in the future) at humor and the role it plays in our stories.

I don't know anyone who doesn't love to laugh. It's fun, it makes that pleasure center in our brains light up, and everyone is full of joy. Laughing is the best--especially when you get to that place where it's an ab workout as well!

Humor is such a great tool for writing. It can shed light on a subject that gravity can't. It can provide enough protection and comfort that a reader (or a character) is able to go where he/she wouldn't have been willing to go without it. The weight of grief lessens with a really good joke, just for a moment. And the joy of celebration is only that much more wonderful when laughter passes between friends. Humor is just another lens through which we can see the world.

Have you noticed that the funniest things of all are true? Like when a stand up comic points out irony of a particular group, how it functions or thinks, and you think to yourself, "Oh my gosh, that's so true!" We can reveal truth in humor in a way that is memorable, fun, and authentic to the story, the authors, and the readers.

But how do we do it? I find that writing humor is really difficult. I have a very serious nature. I love to have fun and to laugh. But I'm usually not the one cracking jokes, unless it's a random moment where things are clicking in my brain (and those moments are rare). It comes down to timing, I think. Humor has to have a rhythm, and I was born without that. It's something I have to learn. There are some funny moments in my novels, but I blame my characters for them. They are a lot funnier than I am. The primary way I crack jokes is through sarcasm, which is probably something we'll talk about another time. I'm just not that good at being funny. But I do love to laugh, so I just surround myself with funny people and that's taken care of!

So, I want to know, what are your tricks? What are the little things you do to bring humor to your stories? What are the secrets you've found? I've listed my primary ones: truth and timing. What are yours?

In honor of our topic for this week, I have a video for you. Have any of y'all heard of the Skit Guys? They are hilarious! I've seen them live twice and actually lost my voice laughing so hard at them. Of course, like everything, they are best live. But I think it's something you would really enjoy!

The Skit Guys are two men who write and act out skits for youth ministry. The way they convey truth through their skits is INCREDIBLE. You get to the end of them and go, "Wow". They are just that good. For more information on them, you can go to www.skitguys.com. This video is called "God's Chisel". It's actually not meant to be super funny (though it does have it moments), but it has an incredible message. I chose this particular video in hopes that it will minister to you as much as it did to me.



My question to you--and this is a rhetorical question, please do not feel that I'm asking something this personal of you online--is, regarding the final moments of the video, what would you have trouble saying about yourself? And how can God meet you there? What does He have to say about that?

See you Thursday!




****Mucho thanks to T.Anne and Anne L.B for their help with teaching me how to embed a Youtube video!!!****

10 September 2009

When Silence Speaks



My dog has bionic hearing. I guess that's to be expected, being that her ears are so big. They are her best feature, after all, something I remind her often. Lassie taught me that dogs can hear well beyond that which a human can, and Mitsi has taught me to believe it. She knows when the UPS man is over a mile away (and doesn't stop barking until he leaves). Sometimes, when it's completely silent, she'll rear up and look around, ears twitching at what only she can hear. Her favorite toys are small squeak toys, which she leaves lying around everywhere so we can step on them. It's a booby trap, because if we step on them and she finds out, we're committed to a rousing game of fetch. Sometimes, she'll be in the other room and I'll step on her favorite, the blue stuffed hippo. Miraculously, it doesn't squeak, just tumbles softly as cloth flips over carpet. Within a nanosecond, I hear the bell-like sound of a collar and my poodle races around the corner, ready to play.

Mitsi understands sound. It's a major part of her life and how she interprets the world.

How does your novel sound? What can you hear inside of it? Do the words work? The descriptions? How do they come alive when spoken aloud? This summer, I spent a week reading my current manuscript aloud. By the end I'd almost lost my voice, but it was the best editing tool I could have used. I was able to spot so much simply by reading it a different way. It's probably the most effective method I could ever recommend.

What kind of sounds do you use when you write? How do characters speak to each other? What happens when they walk outside? How are they distracted? What sounds calm them?

What about silence?

I started thinking about that last week as I finished re-reading Harry Potter. It had been a while since I'd read the series, and I wanted to read them before I saw movie #6. This time I was struck by how Rowling used silence in her books, how in the middle of an intense conversation where everything was at stake, one character would ask a question and the other character wouldn't respond verbally. At first it was Harry, demanding that Dumbledore tell him more than he was ready to hear. But in the final book, Harry employed this technique as well with those around them.

And what was said in that silence was so much more profound than any words she could have written for him.

As writers, we are wordsmiths. We weave plot and dialogue and description, all with words. Sometimes, however, the most powerful thing we can do is stay quiet.

How do you show silence in your writing?

See y'all Tuesday!!!

08 September 2009

Furry Characters

This week we are going to talk about about animals. This is one of those subjects we'll return to a lot, because animals can teach us so much and are such a major part of our lives. And they are a lot of fun!



Meet Mitsi Gail Boodylicious, the best poodle in the whole world. She's just really good at being a poodle. She loves to play with her squeak toy hippo, to cuddle with her "sister" (that's me!), to eat, and to feel the wind in her ears. She's my sidekick, my "sister", my best friend; my dragon, my Dobby, my little Reepicheep. Whenever I watch a Narnia movie, I become so convinced that my poodle can actually talk that I sit and stare at her for hours, just waiting for it to happen. She interprets that as me declaring my intention to play for the rest of the day. In my house, she is the comic relief. She's also the one everything is blamed on. If something goes wrong, it's all her fault. We cuddle every night that we can and whenever I am away, I miss her like crazy. She forgives me for leaving and is so excited whenever I return. She's more than just a dog to me.

What role does your pet play in your household, if you have one? Have you ever written a furry character? What were his/her traits?

Animals can teach us so much about the world and our own stories. They just add an extra dimension, where we can see another side of our characters and what's going on. Dogs, especially, view us through loyalty-colored lenses. They stand by us and love us no matter what. This subject is paramount to me right now, because of a canine character that has quietly walked into my mind's picture for my new story. She has a name now. And she doesn't seem to care that I already thought this character had a cat (with a great name, might I add). She just let herself be known and said that there was no need for discussion, really. This is her story. Obviously, she knows what's going on. The cat has narrowed its eyes and walked away, knowing that its time might not be now. Or maybe it is. I haven't completely negated the idea of having both.

But pets are mostly a Western phenomenon. There are a lot of wild dogs wherever I am overseas, and I usually do whatever I can to stay away from them. They roam the streets, skinny and mangy, looking for shelter. Or maybe they are used as guard dogs. Cats exist to catch mice and not for any other reason. Lizards climb walls and scurry across the floor, not as a past time but to catch insects. Pets say a lot about us as a culture, what we value, and what we can afford.

If your pets could talk, what would they say? What would your animal characters say if they could? How do they tell your stories?

See y'all Thursday!

04 September 2009

Childhood Friends

Do you remember the first stories you ever heard? What about the first ones you read for yourself? What were they? What books were your friends growing up?

The first stories (outside of the Bible) that I remember being read to me were Brer Rabbit. My babysitter used to keep me entertained for what felt like hours by his many escapades. Those stories are the first that I remember falling in love with.

When I was in first grade, my teacher read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my class. What amazes me now is how, even then at six years old, I knew that the Lion was like Jesus. It's proof to me that children can understand adult truth if you just give them the chance.

The first series' I read were the Elizabeth Gail series, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Christy Miller, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Kids, and Sweet Valley High. But the series I loved the most was Trixie Belden. Have you ever read them?



Trixie Belden is a teen detective who solves mysteries along with her brothers and best friends. She always seems to find herself in the thick of trouble and ingeniously catches criminals, much to the local police's chagrin. For her safety, they want her to keep away from police business. But she can't help it. Mysteries find her. And with the help of her friends and family, the Bob White club, they live one adventure after another.

As a child, I couldn't get enough of Trixie Belden. A few months ago, I found a box in my parents' basement filled with her books. I was ecstatic. My mom and I had the hardest time finding the final books of the series, though, so my set is incomplete. I'm hoping that with the help of Amazon and Ebay I can finally find the rest. Until then, I can't wait to re-read this incredible series! Even the box they were in has that wonderful "old book" smell. This is going to be a lot of fun!

If you're ever looking for a clean read, a good mystery, something that both reminds you of your childhood era and takes you into another world at the same time, I definitely recommend this series!

Happy reading! I'll see y'all Tuesday!




***Image found on "Google Images"***

03 September 2009

Good Instincts

Thanks to all of you who responded on Tuesday. It was a great reminder to me that I'm not alone, that although writing can be such a solitary experience, we do not write in a vaccuum. And that there are others who understand exactly where we are!

When I left blog-land on Tuesday, I got to do something really fun. At least, for me it was fun. I got to detail my car. It was a marvelously gloomy day, cool, but not raining. It was perfect weather for such an event.

A year ago, I actually detailed cars for a living. I was home between trips and knew I wouldn't go out seriously again until after the new year, so I took a part time job detailing cars at a local dealership. My friends owned the business, knew I was a hard worker, and decided to give me a chance. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Not even I knew how much I would love detailing. There was something so calming about it, from the method of cleaning to the organization and pattern of how to do a vehicle well. I loved the limited customer interaction (although the salesmen were often jerks), and the challenge of having a project in front of me that needed to be completed in under an hour. I'm not a car person. If you ask me about my favorite car, I'll tell you that it's a blue one. But detailing fit me in a way that I never expected. And ironically, I was good at it. By the end, I'd begun to master windows, which are often the most difficult part. It was such a fulfilling feeling to love what I did and to actually be good at it. Granted, it left me little time to write, it killed my back, and my hands became so calloused that they resembled my dad's, but I didn't care. To this day, I call it the best paying job I ever had.

As some of you might have experienced for yourselves, the car industry has struggled a lot. By December, no one was looking at cars. No one could afford to buy any. The layoff wasn't a surprise. But I felt such grief, not over the loss of the paycheck, but because I loved what I did. Even though I knew it was only a temporary job, I wanted more time.

So, that's why the opportunity to detail my car, which I hadn't done in almost a year, was such fun for me. But when it was over, I noticed something: my calves were sore. My arms hurt. A year ago, I did up to six cars a day. It definitely hurt my body, and I had to work up to that amount. I needed the heating pad just about every night. But with more practice, I got faster at what I did. I got smarter at what I did as well. By the end, I'd only get really tired--and really sore--by my final car.

Even though it's been a year, my instincts are still there. Automatically, I detailed certain areas of my car in specific ways, without thinking about the training and the reasoning as to how. It was as if time hadn't passed at all.

It was worth every second of it. I absolutely loved it.

What a great reminder. Sometimes writing is more painful than fun. Sometimes it feels like work instead of play. Sometimes, because of life circumstances, it's been a while and we feel out of practice. But our instincts are still there. Our training--whether from practice or a degree--will kick in as it always has, no matter how rusty we might feel.

And most of all, we still love it.

With that in mind, I sat down at my computer. Gloomy days are most definitely my favorite writing days. I started researching, trying to think through the themes before me. Finally, I started to write. I stared at the screen and tried to put down the image in my mind. Sometime later, after agonizing through a paragraph or two, I only had a 100 words to show for it. Unfortunately, they weren't any good.

But that's okay. Because I love what I do. It was fun to brainstorm and research. And those words will get me closer to the ones that will work, to the scene that will spark everything.

I guess if you can call writing something you know stinks a "success" and "fun", it's a good day, huh? Ha!

We'll have a book feature tomorrow, so I'll see you then!