30 December 2009

Taking Stock...

Hey, Friends!

What was your favorite New Year's?

Mine was last year. I was in India, invited to a party at a neighbor's house. We got to meet the family and had the most fascinating conversation. They gave us chai (hoorraay!) and a dessert (not so much of a hooray), then they went dancing. I was in bed by ten. Jet lag, you know. This year, I don't have any plans--other than to be asleep by midnight. :0) I'm actually a night owl but lately I've been waking up at the same time everyday without an alarm clock. Staying up doesn't have the same appeal it once did.

What are your plans, if any?

2009 was a great year for me. I started it off in India, wondering where in the world my life was going and am ending it with direction. That's pretty cool. I started reading writing blogs in January, in July started my own, joined ACFW, and even had a magazine pick up two of my pieces (a nonfiction article and a short story). I also queried a novel, received roughly ten battle wounds (ahem... rejections) and spent most of the fall overhauling said book. My plan is to re-submit spring 2010. I'm trying to wait until the Nano downpour is out of the way. I started novel #6, started coming on staff with a missions organization, and most importantly, cuddled with my poodle as often as I could. All in all, a pretty good year.

2010 already has one strike against it because I can't make a smiley face out of the digits like I've been doing with the double 00's for the past decade. But other than that, I have great hope. :0) I guess I could still make a smiley face, but it would look weird. And I don't know whether to call it "2-10" or "two thousand ten". Which do you prefer?

I don't really make New Year's resolutions. I used to make twenty every year. I'm not really sure why, just that I felt like it had to be twenty. Then I scratched them all and just started making the same one: to be ambidextrous. Whenever I'm bored I try writing with my left hand in pursuit of this ambition.

I do dream, though. This time next year, I want to have an agent. I want either a book on submission with a publishing house or a contract. I want novel #6 to be written, edited, and ready. I want to revise book #4 and have it ready as well.

Guess I better get to work!

This is my last post for the week--and the year. I'll see y'all 4 January. Have a great (and safe) New Year's, whether you're asleep before midnight (like me, hopefully) or stay up into the wee hours of the night. I love y'all and am thankful for you!

28 December 2009

Post Christmas Game of Tag

Hey, Friends!

I hope you had a great Christmas! Mine was great. Now I just need to recover from that deep fried turkey! Yum!

So, I've been tagged! Here are my answers to all of these literary questions. I didn't tag anyone because everyone I could think of has already answered these questions.

What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The first thing I wrote that I still have... I think my first novel, which I've vowed to burn because it was just that bad, is still around somewhere...

The last thing I wrote… I’m working on a devotional for my program at AIM. We send students on two week, three week, and four week trips with a devotional for each day. They are all different so returning students will not repeat what they read the year before.

Write poetry?

Angsty poetry?
I love moody. :0)

Favorite genre of writing?
To write? Women’s fiction. I think there’s so much room to play in it and it’s just so rich. To read? I’ll read a lot of genres, but my favorite is probably women’s fiction as well.

Most annoying character you've ever created?
A character for a short story I wrote in my creative writing class. It was my “cathartic release”. We’d been studying Flannery O’Connor (love her!), so I decided to write something similar. At the time I worked in a dry cleaner’s and hated it. So I wrote a story about a college student in a dry cleaner's. Some of our most notorious customers made cameo appearances (I changed their issues but kept it similar) and finally, the Queen of Idiots came in. Let’s just say she got what was coming to her, Southern Gothic style.

Best Plot you've ever created?
Book #4 was the most technically challenging plot I ever created. It gave me such a headache, but when I finally figured it out, I felt like I’d climbed Everest. I really hope to see it published one day. It won’t make a great “first book” so I’m just sitting on it for now.

Coolest Plot twist you've ever created?
Definitely in book #5, the one I spent the fall hyper-editing. Let’s just say the twist is awesome. :0)

How often do you get writer's block?
Too often. I don’t want to talk about it. :0)

Write fan fiction?

Do you type or write by hand?
Hmm. Depends. If I do write poetry, it’s by hand. Papers in college were always by hand first, then typed. Books are typed. Which is why I can’t write outside. And since I love being outside and Nature is my muse, sometimes I get bitter about that. :0)

Do you save everything you write?

Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Not really.

What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
Books 4 and 5. I love them both so much. I really hope Book #5 will be my first published book.

What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?
Hmm… Not many people read my books (because I'm partially still in the writing closet and keep my novels close), but so far it's a tie. Book #4 is really dark and has so much going technically—parallels, foreshadowing, intense conflict, etc. People have said that it’s haunting but has helped them find healing for things in their own lives. Book #5 hasn't had as many readers, but people seem to really like the themes in it.

Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
I wrote chick lit once. It was Book #3. The rest of my novels have romance in them, but that’s not the focus.

What's your favorite setting for your characters? The South. I love playing with all of its craziness.

How many writing projects are you working on right now? Novel #6 has two completed chapters. But for work, I’m writing a devotional that is almost finished.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I won “English Paper of the Year” two years in a row in college. And I won second place for a poem, Snow Globe, in a different university-wide contest.

What are your five favorite words?
"Quite". And judging by how often I use it, "that". I'd love to campaign for it to have meaning again! Just kidding. Also, the words my friends and I made up in high school: "zephenous" and "guavadent".

What character have you created that is most like yourself? Hmm. Probably Brooke, my mc in Book #5. We both try to live by faith and really value our relationships.

Where do you get ideas for your characters?
Life in general.

Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Do you favor happy endings?
Only if it works. Some books with sad endings are my favorite because those endings are so rich and layered.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Yes. I really try to make it all work. My problems with grammar come when I edit and don’t completely replace the first draft lines with the revisions.

Does music help you write?
Yes. I listen to movie soundtracks while writing fiction. My favorites are Dreamer, Pirates of the Caribbean, Titanic, Narnia, The Pianist, Road to Perdition, all of the Lord of the Rings, and anything by Aaron Zigman.

Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head?
I wrote this a year ago, on New Year's Eve, in India. It's posted on my old missions blog, but I think it's new to most of y'all. Enjoy!

A Feast Fit for a King

Conversation swirls around me as colors mix and flow through my line of sight: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, gold--garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, peppers. The scent of onions mixed with wood smoke makes my eyes burn. A small pile of garlic grows near my ankles, where I sit cross-legged in a circle of women, removing the "good" from the bad... a husking of sorts. A glass of chai sits by my side, purchased on the street and prepared with local water. When it is finally cool enough to sip, I am amazed at just how good it tastes.

Laughter erupts as a Hindi woman tries to get an American girl to eat a hot pepper. Half of the women close their eyes and look away. Some laugh and others protest loudly. "Nehi," Patima, an old woman with a leprous left hand, says. "Do not eat." Still, this daughter of Mississippi threatens to bite off the end to everyone's delight.

One piece of garlic, two, three... the work is methodical and easy. It's pleasure. As the conversation swirls around me, I find myself lost in the normality of the moment and the beauty of all around me; of gnarled hands shelling peas and bandaged disease-formed feet resting close to the food, almost in the pile. No one cares that we are American and Indian, sick and "whole". No one sees our differences. We are united in our common humanity--the need for food--and most of all, the need of Him.

See y'all Wednesday!

23 December 2009

An Unusual Gift

I got a cool gift last weekend.

A friend and I were in a grocery store, walking by the magazine aisle, when she stopped and pointed. "Hey, isn't that the Susie magazine?"

"What?" I stopped and scanned the rack. There it was, set apart from the rest. Not my issue--that won't come out until spring. But this was the first time I'd seen the magazine in stores. For those of you unfamiliar with the mag, you might not be realize its editor, Susie Shellenberger, was the editor for Focus on the Family's Brio, a magazine for teen girls. I always dreamed of for writing for it, and in 2005, the magazine purchased one of my pieces. It was never published and in February of this year, the magazine released its last issue. Thanks to the economy, we lost one of the greatest resources for teenagers across the world. But that didn't stop Susie. Not long after, she launched her own magazine with a vision to create an global sisterhood for teen girls. How cool is that?

Needless to say, I bought the magazine, even though it wasn't my issue. The check out lady saw the mag and said, "Isn't it refreshing to see something else beside Tiger Woods in the media?"

"Yes," I agreed, handing her my money. "I write for this magazine. My article will appear in the spring."

"That's so neat!" She finished ringing me up. "Congratulations. I wish you well!"

So, that was really cool. I didn't see that coming. It was the first time I've been able to tell a stranger like that. Most people in my real life don't know about those articles or even much about my writing (they will one day, but I'm remaining in the closet for as long as possible in order to protect my own sanity). What an awesome moment! Not as great as I imagine picking up my own book will be, but still one of the coolest gifts I could have received. It came at a great time.

So did the reason for this week's celebration.

Between Malachi and Matthew, there were four hundred years of silence--four centuries where the Israelites had to wait without word from God about the coming of His Son. It's called the "Intertestamental Period". Some of the more vigilant were still watching, waiting for the prophecies to be fulfilled. But just imagine it--no one alive knew anyone who'd heard anything new from God. Not even their great grandparents did. During those four hundred years, Israel was in exile some of the time, either taken as slaves or their country was occupied. Heroes like Judas Macabbees helped rescue them for a time. So that's what Israel was looking for: a military, conquering King. What they got was a baby in a manger.

But that was okay. Just give Him time. He'd grow into that Heroic King.

But instead of military prowess and tens of thousands to slain by the jawbone of a donkey, their King ate with tax collectors, let prostitutes wash His feet in public, and healed people on the Sabbath. He died a criminal's death by hanging on a cross.

Then there was that little issue about coming back to life. Now that was heroic, except that the Israelites were still under Roman rule. And now the King's followers were in danger of persecution and death at the hands of both Israel and the Roman Empire.

Definitely not what the people expected. What an unusual gift.

What a perfect gift.

I am so thankful for Christmas and will spend this week savoring every moment that I can. I pray the same for all of you. This will be the last post for the week, so I'll see y'all on Monday! Have a wonderful, beautiful, Merry Christmas. Or as they say in Swaziland, uKhisimusi muhle!

21 December 2009

Have Your Tastes Changed?

Hey, Friends! Happy Christmas week! Or as the sweet orphans say in India, "Happy Marry Christmas" (complete with the unique spelling)!

They say our taste buds change every seven years. I definitely believe that. I'm such a picky eater and my stomach problems don't help the situation at all. This isn't a good combination for a missionary, because you're expected to eat whatever is put before you, from chicken intestines (oh yes I did!) to turtle (YUM!). Needless to say, my taste buds have changed a lot! The first time I came home and told my mom I liked onions, she was speechless. When I got excited about chili, she looked at me like I'd grown nine heads. I have so many new treasures--avocadoes, certain kinds of soup (never was a fan of food I couldn't chew--and I have this thing about mixing food), omeletes (same with the mixing). It makes me very happy and keeps my mom wondering if I'm actually the daughter she gave birth to or a really good extraterrestrial replacement.

Other tastes have changed over the years as well. I never was a big fan of Christmas music until I spent a Christmas season in Africa. Even then, I didn't want to hear it because all my team wanted to play were songs about snow. It was ninety degrees outside. But when I came back to the States three days before Christmas, I couldn't get enough of it. The next year, the same. This year, I've played Christmas music every day since December rolled around (never before--never, never, never!). I've even purchased some for my ipod. GASP! Unthinkable!

Have your tastes changed over the years? Have your characters' tastes?

I started thinking about this heavily the other night. You've Got Mail was on and it's probably one of the only Christmas movies I will watch aside from Narnia (I don't know why, I just never liked Christmas movies. And I'm not a huge chick flick fan). But I love this movie for the writing/book aspect. And I pretty much like anything Tom Hanks is in. His characters are awesome. (By the way, I consider it a Christmas movie because it's always on that time of year and a huge portion of the movie is set during that season, but I'm not altogether sure if it's classified as such).

So, I'm watching this movie, half in the the story and half out, thinking how dated it is. I mean, look at the technology, Meg Ryan's clothes/hair, the lighting, etc. And does anyone talk on IM anymore? I use skype, but that's it. But it struck me that the conflict in the story is still going on today. Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) owned a book store called "Around the Corner". It was in business for forty-two years and was as much a part of her as it was her heritage. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) built a book superstore nearby that sold the same books at a cheaper price, and she began to lose business.

At first, Kathleen couldn't believe that anyone would go to Fox Books. She had a relationship with her customers. They'd known each other--and her mother--for years. Books weren't just a way of making money to her. They were friends too--and her customers viewed them the same way. But their tastes changed, or their pocketbooks protested really loudly, and Kathleen had to close.

We don't have many speciality book stores in my area. All we have are the major ones scattered across the US. But we have something now some of us probably didn't see coming: E-books and of course, the new movement in self-publishing. Neither of these were around in Kathleen Kelly's time, which was barely a decade ago. If you'd told her or Joe Fox what was coming, they probably would have laughed.

But our culture has changed. And with it, so have our tastes.

It'll be interesting to see what rises to the top.

Right now, I can't imagine ever choosing an e-book over a "real" one. I can see myself buying an e-book as a supplement to the "real" one, so that I have it with me when I travel overseas, but not as the top choice. Then again, that's paying twice for one book--even more money. A digital reader is just something else to steal overseas, another thing you have to pray you'll find electricty for just to charge it. But maybe when the technology gets a bit better, the prices plummet, and other stars align--who knows? Maybe my tastes will change.

After all, I never thought I'd eat onions, let alone intestines.

What do you think?

See y'all Wednesday!

18 December 2009

Choices of Reason

Hey, Friends!

This week we've talked about choices and how they impact our lives and reflect values. In example given this week (my apartment options, "community view" versus "parking lot", and your choice to re-read any book for the first time again, your answers revealed your heart. What about the reasons we make these choices? Is it possible to have a good reason and it still be wrong? Can it be wrong for one person and right for another?

The characters in my novel have a lot of choices in front of them. Big choices. Choices that not only determine the trajectory of the future but hold the potential to really hurt people close to the characters' hearts. My antagonist is so wrong, but her reasons for her decisions are the depth of her love for two people in her life and her fear. Fear skews her decision and provides the major conflict in the novel. Her decisions set that proverbial domino effect in motion.

But there's another major decision in the novel, one of sacrifice. A primary character chooses to see the antagonist and understand her heart. Her choice brings healing, because the reason behind it is pure love without fear.

Both characters make decisions based on love for the other. The difference is the absence of fear.

When I make decisions, I ask God for peace. Usually I try to "wear" the choices, meaning that I've spent this week mentally trying to imagine my furniture in all three of those apartments and playing images of myself coming home after a long day of work. As I write this, I haven't made a decision. But I know the one I choose will be the one that brings peace.

Peace is something I've been learning a lot about lately. God started with faith, moved on to surrender, and now is connecting it to peace.

Which leads me to a personal decision I made earlier this month. You see, this is the most prolific time of year for me. But other than blogging, I haven't really been writing. When I write, I lock myself in my room, which means my poodle, who loves to come by but doesn't hang out in my room, is not with me. Right now, I'd rather spend time with her. Because in a month or so... I don't even want to think about that. Though I have ideas now that I'd love to run with, I just can't bring myself to leave her. And if I sit with a notebook or a computer in my lap, she pushes it aside. So I'm using that time to read instead. The only deadline I'm on right now is my own, so I decided I value cuddle time over writing.

What choices have you had to make this Christmas season? Your characters?

Have a great weekend! See y'all Monday!

16 December 2009

Word Choice

Hey, Friends! Thanks for all of your reponses on Monday! I really enjoyed your perspectives. I'll definitely let y'all know what I decide. Right now I need to wait for other things to fall into place before I can sign a lease. This whole process is so circular and to tell you the truth, I'm kind of tired of it! Hopefully I'll know something soon.

Today we're going to talk literary choices. First topic--word choice.

Words build a novel. They are the soul of a story, what makes it come alive on the pages or over soundwaves. Word choice can make or break a novel. It's such a great feeling to find just the right phrase, that image that is so real you can't believe you created it. Sometimes the search for it can be difficult but when it fits, it just feels perfect.

I started thinking about that this week when one representative at the complexes told me certain patios had community views. I thought that meant I'd have to share a deck with someone. It turns out that a "community view" is a fancy way of saying, "parking lot". Big difference, huh?

What other interesting terms (or words) have you discovered recently? I still get a kick out of "previously owned". When I worked at the dealership I had to bite my tongue a lot. "Pre-published" is one I've claimed for current state of being. It's kind of funny too!

Second, while staring at my bookshelves and thinking about all the hassle it's going to be moving said books (and shelves) to my new apartment, I started thinking about arranging the shelves. I file books by feeling. I'm not really sure how someone as organized as I am doesn't care if her books are in alphabetical order, but mine aren't. I have a "favorites" shelf. Other books just find their own placement. I can't explain it. Women's fiction is next to suspense which is next to historical fiction... the only shelf "alone" is fantasy. Every book on the shelves has been read (I never file an unread book) and I keep multiple books by the same authors together. But there's no system for organization other than feeling. So, I really wanted to ask y'all: Am I the only weird one in this? How do you "file" your books? Are your shelves alphabetical, by genre, in the order you bought the books, what? I'd love to find out the secret of your shelves!

Finally, last week on ABC's Castle,

I heard an amazing question that inspired me. I knew I had to ask y'all. On the show, Castle (the author) and Beckett (the detective) worked with a man with amnesia. As they looked through his apartment, the amnesiac remarked that he'd have to re-read all of the books all over again because he didn't remember them. To which Castle replied, "What I wouldn't give to be able to read "The Cask of Amontillado" for the first time again".

First of all--great reference! And I love that he dressed up as Poe for Halloween. But I digress...

What a great statement! I had to ask y'all--what book would you love to read for the first time--again?

Hmm... For me, I don't know. So many to choose! But on my short list: Charles Martin's When Crickets Cry, Narnia, books 4-7 of the Harry Potter series (reading them straight through), and The Lord of the Rings.

Have a great day! See y'all Friday!

14 December 2009

Decisions, Decisions

Hey, Friends! Happy week before Christmas!

Our topic this week is going to be about choices. Does anyone else have trouble making decisions? No? Just me? Lucky!

Okay, so I'm in the middle of a big life change at the moment. In January I am moving an hour and a half away and will work full time with Adventures in Missions. I'm pretty excited about this and scared to death at the same time. Most importantly, I'm not looking forward to leaving my poodle. She's my best friend, my sidekick, but she can't come with me. So Kristen and Mitsi Gail Boodylicious are going to be very sad in January. Okay, not going to think about that right now.

So, last week I went up to future hometown and toured apartments. My mind is all swirly right now with all the choices before me. I found three possibilities. Since I'm on support, budget is going to be a huge determining factor. But let's just pretend--we'll call it fiction--and say that I could live in any of these places. Which would you choose for me? All are 1 bdrm and 1 bath because I will not have a roommate.

The dream place (a bit more expensive but great value) with the biggest closets and a little writing nook?

The place with the best prices but not quite as nice, the smallest closets, the best fitness center, and a side entrance within running distance of the lake?

Or the place with almost the best prices, second-nicest apartments, mirrors on the kitchen wall between the cabinets and the counters (seriously--why?), almost the biggest closet, a garden tub, the most privacy, and a wooded view?

All three complexes are safe. They all have pools and fitness centers (really small gyms), and business centers. All are in a similiar location.

Poodle's no help. I asked her I should do and she told me not to move. I just really want to love where I live. I want it to feel like home, like my place. I want to feel creative there, safe, and not like a sardine.

You can learn a lot about people based on their choices. Characters, too--whether they fly off the handle, what makes them act out, and what their motivations are. Decisions reflect values. Because while I'm not the biggest fan of the mirrors in the kitchen in apartment #3, it appeals to me as an introvert. And I really value garden tubs. Both #2 and #3 appeal to my love of nature. #1 is just an awesome apartment. A lot more space, plus the writing nook. It's probably closer to work and my friends than the others. So, what do I value more? Hmm...

What about you? What do your choices say about you? What about your characters?

And most importantly, where should I live?

See y'all Wednesday!

11 December 2009

You See, I Read this Book... (Part 3)

It's Feature Friday!

Okay, hopefully you all are excited about the great unveiling today. I am--because I hope that a lot of people buy this book and support this author. She's amazing!

Here it is!

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay.

A few weeks ago, Nicole Baart blogged about this book, the Australian author, and even had a giveaway. As soon as I learned that I didn't win the contest, I bought the book. I started reading on a Sunday afternoon and finished it on a Monday night. I couldn't stop reading, and it only took me that long because I made myself stop reading it just to digest everything. To know more about this book and the author, please check out Nicole's post on the link above. She said it so well I'm not going to say it again.

What I want to talk about is my reaction to this book. You see, it's about a teen who goes on a two month missions trip (two weeks of training and then six weeks in the field) to Indonesia. While she's there, violence breaks loose. The team has to run into the jungle for safety and travel many, many miles in search of a way to get back to the States.

So, you can see why I liked this book. It's about a missionary. But it was more than that.

Definitely, I knew the world Lisa described. I've never been to Indonesia, but I have lived in the jungle and I've spent a lot of time overseas in nations like Indonesia. I understand the missions trip mentality, as I have been on many of these trips and led four of them. I did not go with the same organization, so our experiences differ there. But there is too much similarity to just ignore it.

This book is different because it's not an easy read. I don't mean the writing is unaccessible; in fact, it's the opposite. McKay has incredible talent. The story is not easy. It's not a "beach read", I guess. That's why the book moved me so much. My time overseas hasn't been all happiness, bunnies, and fluffy clouds. There have been incredible times when I've seen miraculous healing or someone come to Christ. There have also been times when I've experienced tremendous loss, violence, and the instinct to flee and find safety. I understand culture shock from both directions and the difficulty of re-entry all too well--especially after a difficult trip. Though my story and Cori's (the main character) are very different, reading hers helped bring healing to me.

Sometimes all you need is someone to say, "It's okay. I understand. I lived it too. I know where you are." Cori did this for me. I will read this book over and over as long as I live. I will pass it on to everyone I think it will help--especially those in ministry (whether overseas or not). The subject matter in this book is not easy. The characters' traumatic story could overwhelm you. But for me, it was what I needed.

Thank you, Lisa McKay! I'm already fascinated by your life, but your book has profoundly impacted me. Thank you for writing it. I put your book on my shelf next to the books by my "favoritest of favorite" authors. And thank you, Nicole Baart, for featuring her on your blog.

Have a great weekend! See y'all Monday!

09 December 2009

You See, I Read This Book... (Part 2)

Hey, Friends!

Today's post is building up to a book feature on Friday. I just wanted to show it differently because this novel had such a profound impact on me.

You see, I read this book and it was personal.

A few weeks ago, we talked about authenticity, comparing it to my quest to find great Indian food in Atlanta. An authentic story is definitely personal. But there's something else to it, ya know? Maybe it's the perfect storm of the setting, the plot, and the actual writing style. This book definitely has that. But still I believe there's more.

I loved your comments on Monday about the names God has given you or the reasons why y'all write. When you said certain things, I thought, Oh yes, me too! I know that feeling. It's part of my reason. Your responses really made me think and evaluate my own life--so much that I rewrote the post for today.

You see, I went back to that room and looked in the mirror again (and the almost three years that have passed between that moment and now). I realized that sometimes I forget to live this identity. My characters do that too. Sometimes they forget. Sometimes they even choose to return to the safety and the horror of what they knew before.

Some days it's not so bad. I almost believe it. But then there are the days or areas of my life where I look back into the mirror, see the old name, and believe it instead. There's been a lot of talk in blogdom lately about insecurity. I know that struggle well, especially in writing. Sometimes it's easier to believe the lie, because then it doesn't hurt as much when you try so hard and it doesn't work out. This way you just prepare for the weight of disappointment beforehand and soften the blow.

My pastor has talked a lot about faith lately. The other day, he said something I can't forget: "It doesn't make sense for you to believe God for something He already did, like: I believe God's gonna make the sun rise this morning when it's already noon. That isn't faith. But how many of you have given up believing God can do something? Why do you think He's going to fulfill something now that you don't even believe He can do?"


There are things I have been tempted to give up believing in the past, like dreams of publication. Sometimes even the thought of success is overwhelming, because while failure stinks at least we know it. It's safe. Living the new name isn't safe. That's when we return to the old one.

The thing about the new name is that you can't just see it and walk away. You have to live it. You're accountable to it. That's what makes it personal.

In this book, characters are forced to reckon with things that completely change them and their perspectives on life until the day they die. Their internal struggles are so great as they battle what they knew to be true, what they saw, and where they are now. Isn't that a battle we all face at some time or another?

Have you or your characters turned back to the old name? Why?

How do you fight to live your calling?

See y'all Friday! I promise you'll find out the name of the book then!

07 December 2009

You See, I Read This Book...

Oh my word. Wow. That's all I can say. I finished reading this book last night that shook me. It rocked my world in such a way that I can never go back to who I was before. Though it's about to be placed on the shelf, it goes with me today. Perhaps every day.

You see, this book made me remember.

A few years ago, I acted in a... trail... of some sort. It was a room called the "No Hope" room. The characters inside depicted various people in the throes of desperation and hopelessness: homeless and begging for money, addicted to drugs, abusive relationships, cutting, etc. My character was "low self esteem girl". They put me in front of a mirror with some make up and a candle. The room was hot and putrid, the air tasted like rotten trash. It was dark, loud, full of weeping and screaming as we all went into character. Angry music blared from the speakers. In every way, it was uncomfortable.

I settled into character, begging God to give me the strength to go all out for this persona. My hair was mussed out of its normal style and my face made up with dark shadows and messy mascara. I grabbed the tube of lipstick and wrote on the mirror. Over my image the blood-red "UGLY" judged my reflection.

I guess I should stop right now and say that there was a point to this room. We see people like this every day. Maybe we don't know who they are because they aren't physically screaming in our faces, but they are right in front of us. Or maybe we do, but we're so uncomfortable that we don't know what to do. Maybe that person is--or was at some point--us. Maybe we understand exactly where they are and haven't dealt with it yet. Or maybe we just need our hearts broken with compassion.

As people walked into the room and watched us locked in heartwrenching pain, they froze, unsure of what to do. It was too much sensory detail to take in at once, too much horror. I kept acting, staring into that mirror and weeping as my character demanded. I was so caught up in that I didn't see or hear anything else in the room.

Out of the darkness, a hand touched my back. Someone knelt beside me and smeared the "name" on the mirror. So lost in character, I panicked. Screaming "NO!!!" I lunged for the lipstick and tried to rewrite it. She fought me until the lipstick broke and just held me. I kept acting, praying inwardly to see what she would do. And she started praying--loudly--for her friends that she knew who struggled with this. She prayed for people whose names she didn't know. She even prayed for me.

After it was all over I saw something. When my character panicked and fought to rewrite that horrible word on the mirror, even I was surprised. I expected relief. God, where did that reaction come from? I asked him. Mentally, I replayed the scene over and over, each time feeling my heart jump, afraid, when she smeared the word. Then I felt something else: loss. When the girl erased the word, she took my character's identity. "She" didn't know who she was after that.

Then I saw a new name on the mirror: "Beauty".

The moment stunned me, much like now, when writing a character's story and seeing how God works in that person's life. Suddenly, I had to know. God, what name has been written on my mirror? And what is your name for me?

The answer to that, is between me and God. He gave me a new name that day. And with that name came a calling. It's the reason I'm in missions. I'm not called to a certain people group. My people are broken. They are in every land, every nation, in the church and not. They are in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill, and elementary schools. They need Jesus to come and heal them in some way, whether that be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc. This is my calling. It is also why I write. I was a writer before that day. I finished my fourth novel not long after it, actually. But it was the first time I was able to put into words the ministry writing is to me.

This book brought me back to that day, when I saw the new name on the mirror for my character and for myself. It moved me in such a way that I had to tell you about it. Because I think we all know books like this. They are different for each of us and the best part is when they come from out of nowhere. I didn't expect this book. And yes, I will tell you what it is--on Friday. It just had such an impact on me that I wanted to dedicate a week of blog posts to it.

Because, you see, I read this book and it made me remember why I write.

What is your reason?

Do you need to remember?

See y'all Wednesday!

04 December 2009

Be Prepared for Anything

Hey, Friends!

This week we're talking about character development using the analogy of my adventures puppy sitting. On Monday we talked about how our characters are their own "people" and Wednesday, about how important it is to look for the little moments and find the human side of our antagonists. Today we're going to talk about the most important rule: be prepared for anything.

I never knew what Roi was going to do. If he trotted off, tail bouncing happily, I only assumed that he was plotting something. If he disappeared for more than a few seconds, I had to find him. Though I could guess where he was (and the tell-tale bell sound of his collar usually led me right to him), I found him in some interesting predicaments. I had to block the stairs and the dining room, close off another room, and make sure he was far away whenever I opened the dishwasher. I had to plan my trips to the kitchen because he'd wake up from his nap at the sound of the ice maker and follow me, ready to get into more trouble as soon as he settled down and I went for a snack! I had to know that he would want to go outside as soon as the show I waited for all day was on tv, right after a commercial break ended--and it had to be right then--even if it was freezing and pouring rain. I had to be on the look out for toys and his own tiny body, to move the toilet paper (very tempting to play with) up high, and spray "Fooey" on every chewable surface. Of course, it turned out that he liked the stuff and no matter how careful I was, I ended up tasting it instead.

The same is true with our characters. Like we talked about on Monday, they are letting us into their stories. And if we truly let go and let them show us their lives, we need to be prepared for whatever they bring us--whether it's celebration, joy, chaos, or silence. In life, I'm highly detailed, a planner. I don't like chaos or spontenaity. It's so ironic because as a writer, I'm more of a panster than a plotter. I usually get one word or image for a chapter (this is only after I'm a few chapters into the actual story) and that's it. I've learned the hard way that even with that limited plan, my characters always take the story in another direction. And if I spend all of my time fretting over that plan, I'll miss what they are doing. Instead I just have to strap myself in and hold on. Things that are set for the end of the story happen in the middle, one conversation changes the entire course of the plot, and one phrase creates a new theme. I could fight it, but honestly, I always love the finished products so much more. The "accidents" make it all the more "real" to me.

I realize that this might be a bit easier to do if you're a panster. What are you tips, you plotters out there? How do you handle it when your characters change it up?

Below, Roi with a great big smile:

By the way, check out one of the last comments from Wednesday's post. Somehow our little furry antagonist figured out how to find my blog. Now, who taught him how to type?

Oh no... Roi's discovered Facebook. Looks like he's changing it up again!

02 December 2009

"He's Such A Character"

Have you ever said that about one of your pets? Or of a child? Or someone so precocious that's all you can think of to describe them?

If there's one way to describe sweet baby boy Roi, that's it. He's a character. With a gleam in his eyes and the wild thrill of puppydom, all of life is an adventure. He wants to play, to feel the wind in his ears, to gnaw the world to splinters, and sleep only when he collapses. With his own unique sense of humor, fears, needs, and desires, he definitely is own "person", as we talked about on Monday.

There were times when this little puppy drove me crazy. He wouldn't listen and kept chewing on the furniture. He started playing with the bell he rings so he could go outside, and if I didn't take him, he'd bark and whine. But he didn't have to do any business. He just wanted to eat the leaves.

But even in the chaos, there were moments where he was completely adorable. Like the sweet kisses he gave me when I picked him up to take him outside. Like how he let me cuddle with him right before I put him away for the night. Like how he'd randomly turn and look at the television, then tilt his head as different images appeared on screen as if he were really watching it. Or the times he looked at me simply with such a beautiful combination of trust, innocence, and humility. I find that expression often in animals, especially dogs. I think it's what draws me to them.

But I had to look for those moments. Those were the events that made everything worth it, the moments when he became sweet once again.

Have you ever looked for the human, vulnerable side of your characters--particularly your antagonists? What makes them click? What makes them cry? Have you ever felt sympathy for them?

I had an interesting experience writing and editing the book I just finished revising. In short, I fell in love with my antagonist. Her actions made me so angry because she was so wrong, but when I looked at her motivation, my heart broke for her. This character is so misguided and full of grief--and she doesn't know why. Her actions are a direct result of her genuine and beautiful love for certain individuals in her life, unfortunately it caused more pain than any other conflict in the story. Why? Because it came from her. At first, I hated her. But the more she opened her heart to me, the more I understood her. The more I identified with her. And it was those pauses, the sweet, vulnerable moments that drew me to her. After walking through her story with her, I want all of my antogonists to be as real to me as this lady.

Have you looked at your antagonists and seen more than their mean side? What makes them tick? Are they human--real "characters"?

The face of a ferocious antogonist. Notice the underbite. Grrr.

And now, a super sweet moment:

See Y'all Friday!

01 December 2009

Tuesday Tidings

Hey, Friends!

I know--I'm blogging out of schedule. Plotters, please do not freak out! I just thought I'd have an extra post this week and take care of some "housekeeping".

First of all, I had a silent contest yesterday. I've actually been holding it for quite some time now. But y'all didn't know about it because it was "silent". :0) So the contest was for my most recent goal: getting 30 comments to one blog post in a single day. Some of those comments could be mine as I replied to you, but whoever scored the "30th post" would win a prize. Well, I don't know if it was the super cute puppy or the fact that turkey compelled all of you to visit me and comment yesterday (Did you miss me over the break?), but I reached my goal for the first time! WOOOHHOOOO!!!! Please celebrate with me! And the winner is Terri Tiffany! WOOHHHOOOO!!! Terri, you win an authentic red-orange Indian pashmina that can be worn as a shawl, a scarf, used as decoration, or even regifted for Christmas. :0) Please email me at kristentorrestoro[at]gmail[dot]com for your address. It'll be in the mail next week because I can't get to the post office until then!

For everyone else, beware! I'll have silent contests in the future. You'll never know when they will pop up!

Second, I now have a writing Facebook profile. Right now it's under "Kristen Torres-Toro Author". Please "friend" me, if you'd like. Actually, this leads to my question of the day: do you think it's presumptuous to say "Author" if you're pre-published? Should I just change it to "Writer"?

The idea for this came from the awesome Elizabeth Spann Craig's post on Facebook. If you've never read her blog, please go check it out. Her advice on having a private and professional account solved my problem of wanting to goof off with friends while still pursuing the marketing/platform side of this business--especially until it is a done deal and I'm actually published in book form. I've really chafed at the idea of using my personal Facebook for business. I'm a really private person and didn't know how to use Facebook without feeling like I was losing something precious. Yes, I'm aware that it is the internet, but I still don't want a bunch of strangers reading something I'm saying to a close friend. I want to personally know everyone on at least one account. This way, everyone's happy--except for my friends who suddenly think I've married someone with the last name "author"! Wouldn't that be nuts!

This also solves a separate problem for me. My current name will be my pen name if I ever get married, but I plan on taking my husband's last name in "real life" without the maiden name. This way I can build a page under my author name. If I ever do get married, I'll drop the "author" on the writing profile.

Third, I just heard that Danny Gokey is going country and I am so thrilled.

Fourth, it's December! That's fun!

Fifth, I heard the most beautiful version of Silent Night a few weeks ago on Grey's Anatomy. It's sung by Sara Ramirez and is so beautiful. Unfortunately, it's not available on itunes. But go check it out on YouTube! There's a conversation in the middle of it, but you can still hear it in the background.

That's all for now. Have a great day, Everyone! And thanks for making mine yesterday! See y'all tomorrow. We're going to talk about antagonists!