28 May 2010

A Thousand Thoughts

In his book, A Million Miles in 1000 Years, Donald Miller talks about his struggle to edit his memoir, which was too boring to make a good movie. The writers had to change several elements, throw in a bunch of conflict, and look for ways to spice up the plot.

Miller started to do the same with his life. That's why he set out to create change and sought adventure. It was cool, because he paralled it with his writing career--something we all can relate to. Like adding conflict. How many times have we heard that? Conflict is good. It's interesting. It's dynamic, as opposed to static.

He added risk. Again, something we need. The characters need to want something enough that they'll do anything to achieve it. It raises the stakes, and when correctly written, commits the reader until the end.

Last week, I had to laugh when I got my contest results back. I was given a lot of suggestions, which is what I wanted. I didn't enter because I wanted to win; I entered to see where I stood.

So, I started laughing, when with all these thoughts about conflict and risk swirling through my head, I read comments about how I needed to add even more conflict. The best was the absolutely correct observation that my MC is too introspective and reactive (versus proactive). At that point I almost fell off the couch, because it's something I've been told by people about myself.

I didn't mean to make her like me. And really, I didn't. MC is very different. But in this way, we favor each other.

Now I'm at a standstill, trying to figure out how to be less introspective and reactive. Maybe not for myself, but for my MC. How can I get her out of her head? Seriously--any help you have would be greatly appreciated. Because while I realize it can interest a few people and still be a good story (I had one judge give me a great score and high praise, proving the fact of subjectivity to me...my three scores differed widely), the suggestion feels right. Only I don't know how to do it.

I'm still in the process of wading through the suggestions and praying about what to do. It's confusing to have 3 different perspectives. They each gave me something to consider, sometimes in opposition to what another judge said. It's all made me wonder:

What kind of story have I written?

Have you ever wondered that?

Looks like I have a lot of thinking to do. Oops, there goes the introspection again.

See y'all Monday!

26 May 2010

How Do You Write Your Life?

So, what story are you writing?

I'm not talking about your book. We'll talk about that on Friday.

But with your life. What's your story?

Is it a romance? Mystery? Weird sci fi? Latest teen craze?

It's interesting to me to think of living my life as writing a story. It's such a perfect metaphor... and I talk about living stories... but I didn't see it until recently.

Miller talks about his journey of examining his life as he edited his memoir for a movie. He and his colleagues started re-writing his story when he realized the sad truth: that the reality of his life wasn't a good story. So he set out to make it a better one. And the tale he began to weave included hiking the Inca trail in South America and biking across America.

Pretty cool.

Which definitely made me think of my life. I've lived good stories, as is iconic episodes. But I think as a whole, it's been pieces... separate chapters... not a fluid story. Part of this goes with the whole perspective thing that comes with where I am in life. But part of it is stuff that I'm thinking through and working on as I write this.

That being said, I got my contest results back last week and would like to talk about them. They fit nicely with this whole Donald Miller lightbulb moment. So come back Friday... let's talk about writing our stories, as in our novels.

For now, I want to know how you write your life. Who are the main characters? What are the main themes? What's the conflict?

My story right now: missions, writing, and friends. Laughter. Coca-cola, sunshine, and tiger lillies. Starry nights, a silly poodle, and candles that smell like October. A Nikon d40, dreams of the future, and a car that can't decide what color it is. Stress, traveling adventures, and P90x. Jesus.

There's more, but I'm too sleepy to think anymore.

See you Friday!

24 May 2010

Time for Another Book Feature!

Hey, Friends!

So, I'm mixing things up today ::oohh!:: and doing a book feature on Monday. I know! What a break with tradition!

On the way back from Bolivia I read this incredible book:

A Million Miles in 1000 Years by Donald Miller.

It really made me think.

Miller talks about our lives as stories and asks us, "what kind of stories are we writing?" He uses examples from his life and his career as a writer to make his point. So it made me think "doubly"... as a human and as a writer. Which is probably why I'm starting the week off with the feature. It's the theme for the week.

Go read this book. :0)

I'll see y'all Wednesday!

17 May 2010

Unplug Week...

Hey, Friends!

By my calculations, it's time to unplug again. I know I just got back, but I didn't spend any time writing/thinking about this blog...when I'm overseas, I'm mentally all there. Now it's Sunday night, I'm watching the Survivor finale, and have a very full, busy week ahead of me.

So, I'll be around this week... I'll be on your blogs (for those of you who don't unplug) as much as I can be.

But here's some news!

Well...the Genesis results are back and my name wasn't on the list. Definitely disappointing, but it's okay. I'm looking forward to seeing the comments for my entry and seeing what I can do to improve my story. To all of you who finaled, congratulations!

Second, I'm published again! My nonfiction article "Confessions from a Christian" appears in the May issue of Susie magazine. I have to say, it is weird seeing it. I wrote it so long ago--back when I was in India spring of 2009--and I feel like I've lived several lifetimes since then. Also, I don't get to hide behind the title of "fiction". This is a true account of my battle with anxiety. There, I said it. My prayer is that it helps someone who reads it... and that hope is greater than me keeping this secret to myself.

My article is the first one in the mag and sits very close to a short story by Jenny B. Jones. That definitely gave me a thrill! Check it out if you get a chance!

Anywho... have a great week! See y'all Monday!

14 May 2010

Peculiar Moments...

Two stories for you, both from Monte Blanco.

On our second day there, our host, David Salazar explained a tradition of the camp. Whenever there was new staff, the "old" staff would pull a prank on the newbie. I caught the tail end of that conversation and didn't think anything of it other than that I hate pranks, so I was glad it wasn't me. Half an hour later, I heard a scream of surprise coming from the kitchen. David said, "Grab your camera, you'll want a picture of this".

I didn't. Big mistake.

I ran into the kitchen, following my friend who had her camera with her, to see a girl my age...a newbie... with a face full of black paint. Everyone was laughing. I started to laugh too.

Until a woman ran by me and slapped her hand on my face. I yelled in surprise, and reached up automatically... only to pull away paint-covered fingers. Knowing my friend had a camera, I bolted to the nearest restroom. But I couldn't get it off.

So I gave it as good as I had. I chased Maxima, the culprit, who incidentally had "locked" me in the "cooler" (a room that is chilled and acts as a refridgerator) earlier that morning. There was no handle on the other side, and the light went out. At the time I thought about yelling, then remembered I knew where the Coca-Cola was. Still everyone got a scolding when they finally let me out. :0) I think I started calling them "bad" in Hindi because it was the first language to come to me. Anywho, back to the war paint...

Maxima ran outside and in circles. I chased her, not really sure what I would do if I caught her. But chasing her seemed like a good idea.

Ten minutes into the chase, she ran back into the kitchen. I was feeling good, despite the black paint on my face and the altitude that took my breath away. She ran to a giant bin and turned back to me in a flash.

She dumped flour on my head.

And then for good measure, she dumped flour on my friend, who was chasing both of us with her camera, trying to get pictures.

So maybe it was a good thing I didn't have my camera. Anywho, here's a pic of me with the "war paint". Photo by Connie Rock.

A few hours later, we went on a tour of the center. There was a lot of ground to cover! It's such an amazing ministry... there's even a farm and an airstrip (runway) up on the mountain. After our walking tour, we rode around in the back of a truck to the destinations a bit farther away.

At one point, we had the opportunity to visit a cemetery for missionaries who served in and passed away in Bolivia. Standing there in front of the graves marking those who gave their lives for Christ, it was a humbling, life altering moment. Walking back, a thorn (about 2 inches long) pierced my flip-flop and went straight into my foot.

That's what I get for not wearing my Chacos! The things you see on the flip flop are sharp too!

Anywho... I didn't think that much of it. Until the next day when I woke up and felt the irritation in my foot. Then I climbed a mountain. :0) Afterwards, the site was really raw and I began to limp. The Monte Blanco staff noticed and pointed me towards the clinic, which the First Aid Guy had to put down his suitcase (he was leaving with the campers on a bus) and re-open the clinc. Another guy on the staff, David (not our host), came with him. But they weren't alone. This little guy came too...

(Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro)

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on that little bed with the First Aid Guy cleaning my foot and a hairy tarantula in a glass box 2 feet away. First Aid Guy was instructing David on what to do... both of them were speaking Spanish. Suddenly David turned to me... as the other guy was cleaning my foot... and held a syringe in his hands. He made a pumping motion with it and started talking seriously. My foot stung, the tarantula moved a hairy leg... and I started shaking my head. "No," I say firmly, looking to my friend for help. She was kind enough to document it for posterity.

(Photo by Connie Rock)

He kept insisting... making motions...and I knew exactly where that syringe would go. "No." At that point I didn't care if my foot fell off.

I found out a few moments later that David used to work in the circus. :0) I wasn't surprised.

(Btw--after that, my foot felt fine. It's healed, although I'm kind of rooting for a scar. Those are always fun).

While hiking on the mountain, a tree coated with the same thorns scraped my scalp and almost drew blood. Then a few hours later at the river, I watched this truck drive down the river. Yes, you read that right. It was parked in the river and they were loading rocks on it. When they were ready to leave, it had sunk too deep in the mud to get out at one crossing. So they drove down the river to get out at a different spot.

(Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro)

In 24 hours' time, I was locked in a freezer/cooler, coated in Bolivian "war paint", almost scalped by a mountain, treated medically next to a tarantula, and watched a truck drive down a fast-flowing river.

I love it when life gives me good stories!

Have a great weekend!

12 May 2010

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Part 2 of the Bolivian Adventure:

We left the mountains for Santa Cruz on Thursday, which was an all day trip. The next few days were full of meeting missionaries who live in Santa Cruz, visiting ministries, and laughter. It was random and full of activity.

One of my favorite things to do is leave the day up to God and see how He leads. There was one day in particular where we prayed for God's direction. Less than 20 minutes later, we had all the direction we needed through what many would consider "random" connections. I love it when that happens!

The next thing I knew, I was walking through a crowded indoor market full of raw vegetables and meat carcasses, boarding two crowded buses where I had to stand in the aisle as it stopped and started, hurtling across the city towards an orphanage/Girls' Home.

There were 17 girls at this orphanage, ranging from very young to older teens. Most were sleeping when we arrived. It was a Saturday morning, after all! But a few came to greet us. We played with a puppy and on the swings, toured the grounds to learn more about the ministry, and most of all, poured into the girls around us. They even gave us lunch!

There was this one girl, Silvana, who came up to me and wouldn't let go. She loved to smile and loved pictures. I leaned over and said, "Silvana, Jesus te ama mucho" and a huge grin split her face.

It was a great day.

(Silvana is in gray).

See y'all Friday for some really funny stories!

10 May 2010

Back from Bolivia!

Hey, Friends! How have you been? I'm back from Bolivia... it was incredible and ended way too soon! I've been back for a couple of days and have just been trying to adjust to the States and catch up on work. It's been really busy! Thank you all for your prayers, encouragement, and support for this trip. It means the world to me.

This week's posts will be dedicated to Bolivia. Today I'll tell you about the first half of the trip, which was spent in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Friday I'll explain the "war paint" thing I posted while there. :0)

Here we go... are you ready to go to Bolivia?

-Flew into Bolivia at 8am Tuesday morning . It was a full day of airports, delayed flights, hunger, turbulence, and an overnight flight--so little sleep!

-Our contact, David Salazar, picked us up, took us to breakfast, and then we drove to Monte Blanco, a conference center in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Monte Blanco, in English, means "White Mountain". Close to the center is exactly that--a white mountain. And yes, before you even ask, we did climb it--with the campers. But I'm getting ahead of myself! :0)

(An arial shot of Monte Blanco, photo by Kristen Torres-Toro)

-In order to get there, we had to drive on what used to be the World's Deadliest Road--5 hours of winding throughout the Andes, with a mountain to one side and a breathtaking view (interpretation--a sheer drop!) to the other. Now the road is paved and there are some guardrails... though crosses still line the road where people recently went over the edge, and the threat of mudslides still exists.

(First 2 pics from the window, photos by Kristen Torres-Toro. Final pic by Connie Rock when we stopped to take in the view on the way back into the city).
- We spent two days at Monte Blanco, which used to be called Tambo and was
a boarding school for MKs (missionary kids). My friend and Ambassador Program Coordinator, Connie, lived in Bolivia for 13 years and went to this school. So it was doubly awesome--to be able to hear her memories and see not only how God used Tambo/MonteBlanco then, but how He's using it now.

Monte Blanco has a camp ministry. They bring kids from the city of Santa Cruz and spend 3days pouring into them through recreational activities and the Gospel. It is so cool! And it was so neat to see the ministry in action. We were not only able to interact with the kids and the staff, but we became friends with them. At first I was intimidated because of my lack of fluency, but that didn't matter--and I began to speak in Spanish! Un poquito... a little! Some of my favorite moments from the week are from things we did with the camp and the staff--like the worship service under the stars on the pisto (runway... airstrip... oh, how I have missed the Southern Cross!) and climbing Monte Blanco. It was incredible to see the Church in action--and take part of it as well!

(The worship service under the stars. Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro)

(The view from White Mountain of Monte Blanco, photo by Kristen Torres-Toro).

(Don and Connie Rock, the Director and Program Coordinator of the Ambassador program, and me, on top of Monte Blanco).

(Photo by Connie Rock).

Monte Blanco is so beautiful. It's really high up--5000 feet?--so I had to get used to the altitude. Though weather reports threatened cold and rain, we had sunny skies almost the entire time- which made for great pictures! :0)
Here are a few more pics from Monte Blanco... Enjoy!

(Photos by Kristen Torres-Toro)

See y'all Wednesday!