29 January 2010

Add a Dash of Adventure...

Hey, Friends! Happy Friday!

This week we've talked about my big move and how we deal with displacement in our characters. Big things really help. Little things can make all the difference. But adventure makes it fun!

I originally thought I'd spend Saturday unpacking and trying to get my bearings. That didn't happen because upon arriving in my new hometown I was invited to go on a road trip to Chattanooga. The goal was to have fun, eat great food, see awesome friends, and McKays--the most magical place on earth.

McKay's is this incredible store that I wish we had in Georgia. Basically you can bring in movies, dvds, videos, video games, ipods, and books and sell them. You turn them in, get a number, and spend the time waiting sorting through the stacks of music and books. It's heaven. Check out this picture--how would you like to shop here? They had EVERYTHING!

A two story bookstore--with an elevator? Heaven!

For those who bring things to trade, you have the option of cash or a store credit (which is higher than the cash). So then you get to go nuts getting "free" stuff. So fun! Because I didn't know I was going until it was too late, I didn't have anything to trade. But I took a lot of notes on things I saw and would love to look for again. You can bet I'm going back! The entire back wall was inspirational fiction.

The prize of the day for me was the shelf above. I couldn't believe it when I found one labeled and dedicated to the most super sleuth of all time: Trixie Belden. I'm trying to collect the entire series again (that's a long story) and am missing a lot of books. They are pretty hard to find unless you look online, where they are too expensive. McKay's had four, one of which I didn't have. Woohoo!! Now I have book #11--Mystery of the Bob-White Cave!

It was a little thing combined with an adventure in a magical place (oh, the stories in that room!). Just what I needed for my first weekend in my new life!

I'm not a very spontaneous person so Saturday's trip was even more fun--and very needed. Best of all, it was just great to be with friends. Sometimes unexpected adventures are exactly what we--and our characters--need!

Have a great weekend! See y'all Monday!

27 January 2010

Big Things, Little Things

Hey, Friends! Happy Wednesday!

So on Monday we talked a bit about being overwhelmed and displaced. I think at some point we've all experienced that, whether from a first day at a new school (or college), a new job, a move, or even a life change.

I cope with this a lot in missions, especially when going overseas for long periods of time (and then returning). It's to the point now where I often feel like I "belong" in other cultures. America sometimes is the hardest adjustment for me. It just depends on the trip and my situation when I get there. I've learned the hard way not to take anything too seriously the first week or so. My "balance" is off then. I'm exhausted, everything is new and different, and it's easy for things to take impractical proportions.

Like I said on Friday, my faith is a huge thing to help me through. But I've discovered little things have great impact as well. Like laughter with friends. I was surrounded by dear friends on Friday, people who I love and get to work with now. They helped me set up my room, unpacked my things, folded my clothes, made my bed and whatever else needed to be done while I flitted from one box to another and tried to create a beautiful room. They used their gifts to help me through, whether it was humor, decorating, etc. My room looks beautiful now. We accomplished in a few hours what I couldn't have done in an evening. And we had fun doing it!

When we left for town there wasn't much left to do. Just little things that I couldn't complete until I bought things like hooks, shelves, etc. I woke Saturday still overwhelmed, wondering if I should rearrange the furniture again I finished everything. But I couldn't do anything because of an adventure in Chattanooga. When I came back late that night, I had a surprise waiting for me. My incredible roommate and a friend put my bookshelves together for me! When I saw that, my "overwhelmed" feeling disappeared. I felt at home. She has no idea what such a little thing meant to me--not only because I'm a writer and a reader, but because it involved energy and time I didn't have.

So... little things. Big things. They are important. And they vary in power depending on our hearts. As I brainstorm for my mc, I try to keep little things in mind. I think they seal the character for us, ya know? It's easier to come up with the big things, but the secret details, the ones that make the character breathe life and step out of that two dimensional mold, those are difficult to unearth. I hope I'm doing enough. I hope it works. Right now I need to write it out and see what happens!

Have you found the little things for your characters?

See y'all Friday for the story of the adventure in Chattanooga!

25 January 2010


Hey, Friends!

Thank you so much for your kind words and prayer this past week. I needed them and appreciated them so much! This past week has been very intense. And while I definitely missed blogging (and interacting with all of you), an unplug week was exactly what I needed. I made it by most of your blogs at least once but mostly chose not to comment because of the time factor. But I'm back this week! Can't wait to get back on it!

So, today's my 26th birthday! That's fun! It's also my first day of full time work. How ironic. I haven't started my "new life" yet, but I believe blogging will look a little different for me in the future. I'll still post Mon, Wed, and Fridays. On those days I'll be all over blogs, probably in the afternoon/evening instead of the morning like usual. For the most part I won't be online on Tues, Thurs, or weekends. I really want to open up time for writing I didn't have before, and this is the best way I can think of. I'm going to take a few weeks and see how this schedule works. Right now everything is up in the air...

So, my new home! Want to hear about it? It's a furnished basement apartment in a neighborhood. We rent from a family and right now I can hear them all running around upstairs. :0) It's really nice. Our living room looks out over the backyard and behind the fence, there are woods-y trees (not too thick--I can see a house on the other side because there are no leaves, but enough to where we won't see them in the summer). It's been raining so I can't check it out, but there's a drop-off of some kind and I'm hoping there's a creek down there.

My room is beautiful. So bright and "beachy". Thanks for all of your advice! I used a lot of them and now am in the final stages of arranging things. I'll post pictures in a week or two. Right now there's an empty bookshelf because I left all my books at home, due to the fact that I needed to purchase and put the shelf together and wasn't sure when that would be accomplished. Since I can't bring all my books, I'll need to go through them in the future and pray the ones I must have will all fit.

I spent Friday moving and unpacking (some friends came to help), then my new roommate, a friend, and I went shopping for home decoration stuff that night. I'm not much of a shopper, but it was fun and I got a lot of the "I need to get this to finish my room" pieces, like shelves and hooks and stuff. And some pretty vases, pillows, and baskets. It was strange falling asleep that night. New bed, new place, unfamiliar furniture... my mind was all swirly. I was overwhelmed. Do you know that feeling?

What about your characters?

My newest WIP (which, in all that's been happening, I haven't been able to work on in a while) is struggling with that right now. She's ... displaced... I guess that's the right word... and trying to find her way in a new world that once was familiar. I've battled my way through this a lot in missions (the combination of jet lag and culture shock is potent, even if it's on a return back to the States) and will work through it again. As I write this, I don't feel so "out of water". But it's making me think of all the little ways I can play with my newest MC as she tries to cope.

What keeps you grounded when your world turns on its end? Or your characters?

For me, it's my faith. That's the biggie. And then little things matter a lot. But I'll talk about that on Wednesday! See y'all then!

22 January 2010

Letter From a VIP--Very Important Poodle

Dear Friends--

My sister asked me to write this post for today because she is extra busy this week. She's been packing and finishing last minute projects, working out, and most of all, cuddling with me. Though she hasn't exactly told me why she's packing, I know what it means. I always do. I always know it's coming before she tells me. The first time she packed to leave I tried to help by removing all the socks from her suitcase. It didn't work. She doesn't wear socks anymore and I stopped doing laundry years ago.

This time she says it's different.

She'll still come back and visit--often, because best friends can't go long without seeing each other--but we won't get to cuddle every night like we want to. At least she's not moving to Africa again. She did that once and I didn't like it. Thankfully God sent her back early. I was so happy.

I understand she has to leave and I believe in her. I love her so much that I will forgive her absence, but I still refuse to talk with her over the phone. I don't know how my sister gets in that little machine, but I don't like it. She'll have to come see me in person. But she says she's fine with that. I'll be here waiting for her. I always will.

She's been preoccupied this week and sad as well, with the same expression she has before going overseas. Anxious about all that needs to be done, excited about what's ahead, and upset to leave me. She says when she comes back in the future it won't be for a week or longer, but just a few days. We'll make do with the time we have, I guess.

Will you pray for her today? And me too. My poodle-heart is heavy (though my sister would say my belly is still the heaviest part of all). My sister said to tell you that she'll be back in blog world next week. It'll be a week of celebration despite the sadness of the weekend, because Monday is not just her first day of full time work--it's also her birthday. What timing... kind of like when I decide I need to go outside just as she sits down to eat lunch. Anywho...

Thank you for understanding. I think I must go and entice my sister into playing with the hippo. That always makes her feel better--even though she says she prefers cuddling most of all. But who can resist a poodle and a hippo?

My regards to all--

(Mitsi Gail Boodylicious)

20 January 2010

Packing and Settling In

With what I do for a living, packing is a way of life. I don't even blink at it anymore. I'm not a procrastinator with it, but don't see the point of packing until the night before a trip. Mostly because it stresses out my poodle. After years of going overseas for months at a time, I've gotten pretty good and packing only the essentials and none of the extras. It's to the point now where if I'm packing for less than a month, I don't take it seriously. Which means I overpack for a week--not a good thing.

I guess the epitome of this was two years ago, when I returned home from overseas and had three weeks to completely cut my life off here in the States because I was moving to South Africa for a year. I was supposed to lead a three month Swazi trip and then settle down outside of Jo-burg. My scheduled return was set for December. I had two suitcases. One with bare essentials for Swazi and the other with "fun" clothes, my new warm North Face jacket, my favorite chocolate candy, a pair of shoes, and a notebook full of dvds. It's humbling to reduce your possessions to two suitcases, a carry-on, and a book bag. Even more humbling when you return to America after only three months because you're sick, run down, desperately in need of rest, and most of all, walking in obedience. I walked back into my room that day and felt so detached from all the things that were once so familiar--and are so again.

Now I'm faced with another packing dilemma. The blessing of a fully furnished apartment (and a different allotment of space--translation, less storage) means I can't take everything I originally planned on. How do you decide what's important? I want my room to feel familiar. I want my apartment to feel like home, even this temporary place. So as I sit in my room now (the one I've known as "my room" since I was a child), I'm overwhelmed with trying to decide what to take.

I need y'all's help with something. Any of y'all good at decorating? I'm not, although I do have a close friend who is and who will help me. I need ideas on how to make my room feel like me. Even though it's temporary, it's important. I can't paint, but can rearrange all but one (old) piece of furniture. I can't put nails in the walls, but can use sticky tack and other dorm-style tricks. My colors are the beach: blues and purples with bright accents-- yellow, orange, and pink. I love natural light. In fact, I don't turn on "fake" lights until the sun goes down. And I love bright, in case my blog didn't clue you in on that fact. :0)

How would you brighten and make my new room "beachy"? Your ideas will definitely help me out this weekend!

On Friday there will be a special guest post by a VIP!

18 January 2010

Sometimes It Happens Really Fast...

Hey, Friends! How are you? Happy three day weekend!

So this is going to be an interesting week for me. I'm moving on Friday!

I haven't met my support goal yet, but I am seeing God provide in some cool ways--like a temporary place to live! A girl at AIM is letting me stay with her until I meet my support goal. How cool is that? She rents a basement apartment from a family. The location isn't convenient--about half an hour from the office--but it gets me up there, which is the most important thing of all. I'm excited and anxious, with a mind racing full of lists of things to do. It's easy to get stressed out but I'm trying to make wise decisions and focus on what I value most right now. Extra projects can wait. Even writing can wait. Right now I need to pack and cuddle with my poodle.

The apartment is actually fully furnished and my future roommate has lived there for a while. So my lack of stuff isn't an issue--everything from plates to a bed and dresser are provided. Now I have to sift through everything I've collected over the past few months for my new apartment and see what I can actually take. Until I get my own place, I'll leave a lot of stuff at my parents' house. Since I adapt to big changes slowly, this is actually the best possible way I can do it. Now I just have to go through it all. Right now that seems more monumental than just packing it all up at once!

Anywho, if I seem different this week--noticeably absent from blogs (I'll still come on mine throughout the day and will try to read y'all's, but I might not comment this week) or a bit emotional, that's why. I get like this whenever a big change comes. As soon as I make the transition, it's better. It's just the building up that kills me. I plan to be back as "normal" on Monday.

This is a big week for me--moving, reaching 100 followers (woohoo and thank you everyone!), starting my job full time, and my birthday next Monday! So much to take in! See you then--and hopefully around the blog world this week as well. Thanks, Friends, for understanding and being there. Thanks for your prayers, support, and encouragement!


As thankful as I am for this place to live, I still need help with support. If you've been praying about it and would like to contribute, please go to this post or click here on the AIM site. Thank you so much!

15 January 2010

Cut the Fat

Hey, Friends! This week we've been talking about things I've learned from P90x. Pray for me--today is Yoga X!

So, there are some things Tony does to annoy me. Some of his jokes really aren't funny. He calls the people behind him "kids". But I like how he tells me it's okay if I can't do everything they do. He says, "Do your best and forget the rest". I can do that, because the people behind him must be superhuman. For the most part I appreciate his job teaching me and talking me through the workout.

There is one thing that trips me up every video. He says the name of each move, which is great. But sometimes those names are massive. We're talking 5+ words. It just sounds difficult because it takes so long to say. So when he says the name of a move, I'm left trying to decipher the meaning of the words he just said and miss the beginning of the exercise. You know why? Too many words.

We can overdo this. I had a teacher in college so intent on cutting my essays that they bored me--even if they were on interesting topics. She cut so many words that only meat was left, no "potatoes". Have you ever tried to eat a meal of pure meat? You need the other stuff. But it's like Brad Pitt's character tells Matt Damon's in Ocean's Eleven: "Don't say eight words when four will do". (Or something like that--is it six? Anywho, you get the point).

I struggle with being wordy. I was reminded of that again when I edited my novel last fall. And I seem to like compound words. We use word pictures in the South and I find them randomly slipping into my speech. For instance, I have a friend who says "church house" and "boss lady". There are places where it works great. But there are others where we need to cut the fat. If we choose the right word, we won't need the phrase. The word itself will pack such a punch that it'll be more than enough. It won't need qualifiers or description. Passive verbs are a huge waste of words. So are complex verb phrases (where it takes more than one or two words to complete the action). Linking "to be" verbs add bulk too. Adverbs (NO! Not adverbs!) mean a verb needs a qualifier.

Don't cut all the potatoes (oh, I love potatoes!). Don't be like that professor with her meaty essays. We want a delicious story, one we can savor with every page. Just lose the unnecessary ones. Make your words speak for themselves--and leave the rest of us captivated. It's not that less is more--it's that better is more.

How do you "cut the fat" in your novels?

See y'all Monday!

13 January 2010

Change it Up

This week we're talking about the things I'm learning about writing from my new work out program, P90x. Since this post is set for Wednesday, I'm driving back from my future hometown and taking a day off. But tomorrow I'm back at it!

So P90x's claim to effectiveness, other than its "extreme" regime, is variety. Tony (the speaker dude) says the cliche a few too many times--something about "spicy" variety. What he means is: "change it up".

The program itself is based on variety. For every video, there are four people on stage doing any of four possiblities for each move. Some are more difficult than others, but all of them work. I'm currently in Phase I, which means I do a specific schedule of videos in a seven day period. But next week is my "Recovery Week" and it'll be more stretching and cardio--not really resting because I'll have to do Yoga X twice! Then I enter Phase II, which has a completely different arrangement of videos. Tony says that by varying the workouts and changing them up just as our bodies get used to them, we'll confuse ourselves out of plateau-ing. They even have a nifty little graph to illustrate it, but you get the point. It's something exercise gurus have said for a while--don't do the same routine every day. Change it up. Push yourself. Don't get stuck in a rut--your body will too. If you want to see results, be willing to get out of that groove.

All I know is that three weeks in, I'm not bored. And that's awesome. Because while I used to have laser-like focus which lasted hours, I eventually went to college. And now I'm more ADD than I was going in. Still, it's getting to where I can quote Tony's bad jokes before he says them, which isn't the greatest thing in the world. Then again, I'm not particularly witty when I'm suffering either.

As it is with exercising, it's important to change it up when we write. Maybe we change our sentence structure, rebuild a scene, or subtract a character. Maybe we take the roundabout approach to a conclusion only to cut across at the last possible minute. Maybe a character says something out of the box, maybe a plot twist scatters everything to the wind, or we just need to re-think word choice. How can we make our stories the best possible? Often it means getting out of our own groove.

We're working with limitations: twenty-six letters...and few basic plotlines. But how we use those twenty-six letters, how we work the plot, and how all the other variables like characterization, syntax, dialogue, foreshadowing, etc., can make all the difference. Though cliches say it so well, we have the opportunity to make it new--and say it even better! Shakespeare was notorious for writing plays based on well known plots--even stories! I.e., Romeo and Juliet. What made his works so incredible weren't the barebones. What made R&J timeless was how he wrote the story. That doesn't mean we don't need to come up with stories of our own. Plagarism isn't cool. But it does mean we need to throw ourselves--and possibility--into every word. Though cliches say it so well, we have the opportunity to make it new--and say it even better!

Tolkien's a great example of this. He read Shakespeare's Macbeth ::swoon:: (I love love love that play--not so much R&J!) and was disappointed on a few points. Guess what came out of that? Ents. That's right, when he read Shakespeare's depiction of the Great Birnam Wood, he said, "I can write that better". So he did. And Eowyn's line in Return of the King: "I am no man!"? That too came from Tolkien's version of how Shakespeare should have written it. As much as I love Macbeth, I have to say, Tolkien did it better. He used every possible variable he could.

How do you change it up?

On Monday Elizabeth Spann Craig posted about the Basic Plots of writing. As always, a great post. And I thought it went well with the one I wrote last weekend for today. Great minds, eh?

11 January 2010

What Kind of Clues Do You Give?

Hey, Friends! Thank you so much for your responses on Friday. You really encouraged me!

So, a few weeks ago I started working out. This had absolutely nothing to do with a New Year's Resolution because a) I didn't make any and b) I started working out almost a full week before 2009 ended (ha!) and had everything to do with the fact that I've wanted to work out for a while but because of this weird limbo I'm in, haven't been able to. My life has been such the past few years that I haven't been able to establish a set exercise time. Going somewhere for a few weeks/months and coming back for a few weeks/months then repeating the process does not a schedule make. The only time I ever regularly exercised overseas was in India last spring when I did pilates on the marble floor of my room and then ran in the triple digit heat. I stopped doing that when the triple digits hit 120+. I decided that being alive was enough at that point, especially since I hate working out. Plus I was tired of dodging peacocks, rickshaws, motorcycles, construction piles, random children, water buffalo, and demonic dogs. :0) But that's another story for another day...

Because it is so stinkin' cold outside (I know I live in Ga, but highs in the 20's and lows in the teens is COLD! And we did get "snow dust" last week, the closest I've ever seen snow to Christmas in my life! And in case you're wondering, I'm still in flip flops) I can't run (and I hate running anyway). I can't join a gym here anyway because I hope to move in the next few weeks. So I was left with one resort, a gift from a friend: P90x.

If you haven't heard of P90x, just turn on infomercials during the day or late at night. It's the one with super muscular people talking about how they can now leap tall buildings because of its magical powers. The "x" stands for "extreme"--which it is. What was I thinking?

Today starts week 3 for me and I'm still going strong. Woohoo! Take that super-in-shape-and-therefore-intimidating people! This program is intense. I'm doing the lean version, so it's cardio and core, shoulders and arms, abs, yoga, legs and back, kenpo (Law of the Fist!), Plyometrics, and so much more. By now I have my own personal names for each workout and there have been times I started calling out to Jesus in whatever language came to mind (I try to learn the basics in every country I go to).

P90x has made me think a lot about subtleties in writing. Like foreshadowing for instance, little clues which hint as to what's coming. These can vary from soft phrases the most astute reader barely notices to making the setting crackle with tension. In P90x, Tony (the speaker dude) isn't so subtle. I've learned that the number of times he says "Let's get busy", "This next move is one of my favorites", or the yoga position "Downward Dog" directly correlates to the amount of pain I'll be in the next day. Talk about foreboding!

But while Tony is not very subtle, he does have a few tricks up his sleeve. Dual purpose work outs, I call them. Like Kenpo, which means "Law of the Fist". I like to call this one "Accidentally Punch Yourself in the Face" because I'm convinced I'll do that one day. But I'm sticking with it because it's different, it's insane cardio, and it's teaching me self defense. I might punch like a girl, but by golly, by the end of these 90 days, I'm going to have great form doing it!

And then there's the explosion you didn't see coming. In life, it's a lot like when
I boarded a plane for Cambodia and ended up stranded in India for two weeks. In writing, it's a lot like a super awesome twist that even leaves us as the writers stunned. In p90x, it comes in the form of Yoga. Having never done yoga before, I didn't realize it was a violent sport. I mean, isn't it usually associated with peace and tranquility? I thought so until I tried it for the first time. My friends warned me it was a Beast. Their stories left me a little intimidated. Ten minutes into the 90 minute video, I very, very scared. Did I mention that my "recovery" week schedules me to do yoga multiple times?

I guess even working out has its up side--like teaching me about writing. :0)

What kind of clues do you give? Do you like to play with them? I try foreshadow certain things in my stories, but it really helps when you know the ending--which is a toss up for me as a panster. I seem to have a knack for "accidental foreshadowing" (that's when I accidentally do something right without realizing it). It's such an important part of the story that I really try to work on my symbols, phrasing, allusions, etc. I love duality, when something works many different ways. And even the occasional "explosion"--as long as it doesn't leave me stranded in a foreign country again! I'd prefer never to relive that night ever again!

See y'all Wednesday!

08 January 2010

It Also Takes the Church

Hey, Friends!

I've gone back and forth over how to say this. I've prayed about it for weeks and asked God to give me wisdom over if this post should happen. Right now I have peace about it. If today's entry rubs you wrong, please come back again on Monday. I promise it'll be back to normal.

Just as no writer exists in a vaccuum (we also identify as parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends, cousins, co workers, etc.), I have a second idenity as a missionary. It's been such a pleasure and an honor to share my journey with y'all--to tell stories, speak about the opportunities and obstacles in front of me, and let y'all see this incredible life God has given me. I can't begin to describe how much it means to me when you tell me you're praying for me and that you support me in this. Your encouragement means so much.

I truly believe that this ministry isn't mine. It's God's, ultimately, and it belongs to all of us. Because while I'm so thankful that I get to go and do all of this, I can't do it without people praying for me and supporting me. The emails I receive overseas really keep me going. Here in the States, too. We're partners in this ministry. My fruit belongs to y'all too, because without you I wouldn't be out there. It's pretty cool to think about how everything I do is connected to so many people. Without the Church behind me, I wouldn't be able to do this. God never meant for missionaries to go rogue. We need to be sent out, to be covered in prayer, and to have others share in our ministry.

I've told y'all in the past about this awesome opportunity to join Adventures in Missions. We're an interdenominational organization who goal is to make disciples wherever we go. I'm with the Ambassador (or the high school) program as an Administrative Assistant, which is everything from scheduling travel and purchasing tickets to writing for the program, managing the students' blogs (I know!), training the students, and actually going. We hope to send up to 300 high school students to up to fifteen countries next summer. Can you imagine the impact on the nations? I am so excited!

So my role is going to change my life a lot. I'll be based out of the States. I need to move to the area, which is why I've been apartment hunting and trying to make all of those decisions. I'll still go overseas, but it won't be for six months or years at a time. I'm really looking forward to being "settled" versus going somewhere every few weeks, to having a place of my own, and being able to impact the field from all sides. My missionfield just expanded exponentially, because those 300 students will be my fruit--and y'all's as well.

Here's the thing: the week before Christmas I sat down with the HR department and went over my support. You see, I'm not getting a paycheck. I'm still supported as if I were living overseas. We decided to push back my move in date because I don't have enough yet to sign a lease or meet the utility bill payments. Since I won't have a roommate, I need to make sure I have enough for it all and I really need help. My support goal is for $1400 a month. This budget includes rent, utilities, gas for my car, food to eat... you know, the basics. It does not include overseas travel, so any financial gifts to come in over that amount will go towards flights, lodging, transportation, and food when I'm overseas.

Right now I need $600 more a month to meet the initial support goal.

I know, it sounds like a lot. And there's a myth in support raising that if someone can't give a large amount, it's not worth it. That's simply not true. All gifts are big for me because I understand exactly what the sacrifice means, whether it is giving up a Starbucks coffee a week or a couple of fast food meals a month. A $10 or $25 a month gift means as much to me as a gift for several hundred. One time gifts are so appreciated, but I also need people to commit to monthly support. I need to be able to present a list to HR saying that "this many people have committed and this is the amount projected each month". This is to make sure I don't sign a lease, move in, not have the support, and then get evicted within a few months.

This is such a personal decision (which is why I hesitated to write about this), and I know the economy has severely crippled many of us. As a writer, I understand the lack of financial compensation for a lot of what we do. I just ask for you to prayerfully consider supporting me, whether it's a monthly gift or a one time donation. And that no matter what you decide, that you will cover me in prayer. I know that God is going to provide for me. Right now I'm just waiting to see how He does it.

Here's all the information for financial support:

Contributions can be given via credit card at http://www.adventures.org/give. If you choose to donate via the secure website, just click on the “AIM Staff” link and type my name (Kristen Torres-Toro) when asked.

Or snail mail to: Adventures In Missions, Inc., P.O. Box 534470, Atlanta, Ga. 30353-4470. If you choose to donate via snail mail, my name just needs to be on the memo line. All checks need to be made out to Adventures in Missions.

The most important part is to specify that it’s for Kristen Torres-Toro.

If you'd like to read my missions blog, just click on the link. There's a place there you can sign up to receive automatic email updates everytime I post there.

Obviously, this is a personal decision. If you'd like to reply privately instead of in the comments below, you can email me at kristentorrestoro[at]gmail[dot]com or my AIM email: kristentorres-toro[at]adventures[dot]org.

Also, if you'd like to receive my support updates (via email) or a snail mail newsletter, just let me know with your information (an email or an address) and I can make that happen.

I just ask you to pray about giving. And if you can, please give. Either way... whatever you decide... thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much it means to me. I can't even put it into words. I am just so thankful for each of you. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for praying.

By the way, the cool thing about this life change is being able to focus on writing as well. So none of this changes blogging, writing, or my pursuit of publication. It just means I'll be in the States more and won't be living with my poodle at my parents' house.

See y'all Monday!

06 January 2010

And It Takes a Team...

Hey, Friends!

This week we're talking about relationships--of all kinds--and how they influence us. Hopefully the literary theory on Monday didn't leave you cross-eyed. That class was the hardest one I ever took, but was definitely the most beneficial. Literary Theory fascinated me in college and I got to use a lot of it in papers and stuff.

Anywho... so today we're going to look at another relationship we know very well in our culture: teams. And our picture is going to be the greatest sports movie ever made: Remember the Titans.

One of the primary characters in this movie, Julius, understands the meaning of teamwork. Throughout the movie, he urges his teammates on by his words and example. His conflict at the beginning of the movie with Gerry only demostrates his handle on both of these dynamics. As the movie progresses and the team comes together under his and Gerry's leadership, they begin to win games. Why? Because they work together.

But there's one person on the team who refuses to completely join in until the final game--Coach Yoast. He worked all his life for the state Hall of Fame only to be sidelined for a new coach. There's a lot of disagreements as the two men butt heads. They have different coaching styles, different pressures on them, but they have two things in common: they love football and they have precious little girls. The two coaches have an agreement. Coach Boone is the Head Coach, but Coach Yoast's area is Defense. Yoast has something to prove. After all, he is supposed to be in the Hall of Fame. But during half time of the State Championship, he realizes that his pride could make the difference between the Title and second place. So he asks for help.

The result is a fluid, beautiful example of a team working together. Suddenly, all the boundaries are gone. There isn't Offense and Defense, just the Titans. They move as one; they celebrate and groan together. It's the coolest thing to see.

Our stories and their casts of characters are kind of like a team. Maybe there are a few key people in the forefront, but we need them all to make the story work. A story with one character is flat and boring. A story with secondary characters who vie for the limelight is disconnected. It doesn't flow. But when we're able to wrestle the characters into obedience and they do their jobs, something cool happens. They support each other--even the antagonists. Even though a story might be about one particular person, they need everyone else to tell the story in a complete, authentic, and compelling way. Our novels need that same fluid give-and-take as the Titans needed to compete for the State Title. Our characters need to be a team, not just a cast given certain actions and speaking lines.

Sometimes that's easier said than done. I feel like I'm learning more and more about this everyday. The best thing I've found is taking a step back from the story and evaluating its composition instead of individual pieces--like a mosaic. It's easy to get caught in the individual tiles and miss the continuity of the work as a whole. We need both viewpoints to make it work. It's hard to make everyone memorable without taking the focus from the protagonist, isn't it? But if we're able to get them to work together, the result will be a story that lives instead of falling flat.

What are some of your tricks to coaxing exact and appropriate activity from your characters?

See y'all Friday!

04 January 2010

If It Takes a Village...

Hey, Friends! Happy New Year! I hope these past few weeks have been incredible for you.

One of the coolest experiences I was my organization's Christmas party. A good friend was in charge of decorating for it and she asked me to come up and help her out. So I spent the week before Christmas in my future hometown, consumed with the minute details of preparation. It was so cool. My friend is so talented when it comes to this. She knows how to make anything beautiful. The coolest part of all was how she did it. A large portion of our decorations came from people's homes. There were souvenirs from trips overseas, statues, candles, bowls, and platters. I thought it was so cool how "home" was represented in the room. The tools we used to make the centerpieces were borrowed from different people in the organization. And finally, we used what God gave us--pinecones, sand, rocks, branches, etc. My friend even dried orange slices, tied twine through them, and used them as Christmas tree ornaments. This was the final product:

Some of the different branches of the tree:

The finished tree:

One of the tables/centerpieces. I think it's funny that the statue seems to be pointing the way to the food!

Here, the statue seems to be pointing to the window. We used that one for "formal" photographs for couples.

Several of the tables and the tree:

The food table! The other half of the magnificent duo who designed this party used to cater for weddings. The food was incredible!

Pretty cool, huh? The room was beautiful. Why? Because my friend had a vision (and the manpower to carry it out). She saw how ingredients from so many walks of life could come together and make something beautiful. Her eye for detail made the room what it was. People exclaimed all night at how incredible it was. Some remarked on specific reasons why they sat at certain tables--their favorite color, the design of that centerpiece, the view of the incredible tree, how a specific piece reminded them of their time overseas.

If the room existed solely in a vaccuum, it would have been beautiful. But what gave it such a profound impact was the relationship of the pieces she used. Our memories, our love of nature (and candles--after all, we've all had to live without electricity), and our experiences layered beauty and gave it depth.

There's a literary theory that says literature in itself does not exist in a vaccuum. Instead, it is contigent on so many different factors, from the work's physical appearance, its existence on the shelves, the author's mindset as he/she wrote, the reader's mindset upon reading, the reader's experiences, memories, and influences, etc. For a reader, the sum total of the impact of the story depends not only on how well we wrote it but also the reader's needs as well. This is one reason why so much of literature is subjective, why this book on missions can rock me but perhaps move someone else in a different way. I went into the story with memories and experiences that made me better able to understand the story and relate specifically to the plot.

Perhaps the best way to think of it is as a symphony. While the work is the composition as a whole--what the audience hears--what makes it are the ingredients of the work (all the different instruments and the expertise of those playing them), the reaction of the audience, and the emotional connection between the two based on memory, taste, desire, experiences, etc. Someone who spent years trying to master the violin will have a greater appreciation for that portion of the symphony and will listen for it above all the others. Someone who loves the flute will watch the flutists with excitement. Does that make sense?

(By the way, offhand I can't remember the name of this theory. It's been years since my literary criticism class and while it was the greatest class I took in college, the textbook and my folder of papers are buried in the basement. I usually just think of it as the "Contingency Theory").

Anywho... what makes this so important are how relationships influence stories--and our reactions to them. We (both as authors and as readers) approach stories with the full person of who we are. And that what makes stories come alive. That's what creates those magical moments, when we've discovered another author we love, another book we will celebrate, for the rest of our lives. It's why so many of us see writing not only as a calling or something we can't not do, but also as a ministry. We hope that our stories will inspire healing, hope, or a myriad of other things. Why? Because of relationships. It's all connected.

It takes a village to create a Story.

Is this something you've ever thought about before? Or is this theory difficult to understand, ridiculous, etc.? The great thing about theory is that it's supposed to make us think. We don't necessarily have to agree. So, what do you think?