December 31, 2009

Mission Accomplished!

It's been a long haul and not without sacrifice, but I am thrilled to announce that Draft 1 of my first novel, Son of The Shield is finished!!!
After 2 years and 10 months of plotting, planning, developing, erasing, rewriting, and driving my family crazy, Draft 1 was declared complete at 7:25 last night! Hurrah!
Oddly enough, in spite of the countless times throughout the process that I told myself I would sleep in and not even think about SOTS for at least a week after finishing it, I hardly slept at all last night and this morning I find myself anxious to begin work on Draft 2. But I am going to force myself to take at least a little break - not from writing, of course, just from SOTS.
Then it's on to Draft 2, which will consist mostly of rearranging scenes and filling in the trouble spots that I sort of glossed over in my rush to finish Draft 1. Draft 3 will be where the detail work starts (making sure all of my subplots wrap up, tracking character development, subtexting conversations, etc.) Draft 4 is the one that goes to the editors!
Now, to read the whole story, y'all will just have to wait until the book comes out (*evil laugh*). But, for all of you "Lair Dwellers," I've got all kinds of special insider information coming up - perhaps even a sneak preview if you ask very nicely ; ) So stick around - the adventure is just beginning!

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

It seems we have won the 'Merry Christmas' battle - after the stew and uproar last year over 'Merry Christmas' versus the politically correct 'Happy Holidays' it appears that Christmas finally won out. I was thrilled to discover that a local Target store in my area actually displayed huge banners declaring 'Merry Christmas!' this year.
Although in the United States our freedom of speech and of religion are such that the 'Merry Christmas battle' was one we should not have been forced to fight, it did serve a purpose. No matter which side of the battle you stood on, you were forced to think about what Christmas meant to you. Christians were given a stark reminder of what Christmas really, truly means, and we were given a wonderful opportunity to take a stand and protect that meaning.
But now that the battle seems to be cooling off somewhat, let's not allow the importance of Christmas to slip away from us. We all stood up and fought to protect Christmas - now that the threat is not as great, we can't let down our guard.
So, as I write this, I pray that you will all keep in your hearts:
~The wonder of Christmas - A holy God whose holiness and righteousness had been despised and rejected by His creation nevertheless found it in His mercy to send His Son to be their Savior!
~The mystery of Christmas - God, the Almighty Spirit who created the universe and holds it in the palm of his hand, made Himself like us: human. Frail. Flesh and bone.
~The miracle of Christmas - thousands of years of history, of war, of genealogy, of politics, were all orchestrated to create this moment.
~The power of Christmas - God ... Jehovah, YAHWEH... was living, breathing, within the body of a man. That Man took on the forces of Hell and Death and triumphed!
Let's never forget that, my friends.
It's Christmas Eve. My family is busily bundling up the last few packages that have been cached away in closets and dresser drawers and tucking them under the tree. Christmas dinner is in the early stages of creation. I'm sure that the scene at your home is similar to mine. And so, my friends, I will leave you with this quote from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra:
"May God keep you and protect you on this, and every, Christmas Eve."

December 19, 2009

A Brief Update

I'm sure most of you are aware of my somewhat suicidal goal to finish the first draft of my first novel by December 31. Needless to say, December has been a blur for me (Mom nearly sent me into panic when she mentioned last night that Christmas is only a week away).
But, I thought I'd take the time to at least give you all an update on my progress. Right now Son of the Shield stands at 80,850 words and Thirty-Nine chapters. I've been cranking out an average of around 2000 words per day (with yesterday being my all-time record - 3,300!).
Only thirteen days left, folks. Can I get Draft 1 finished by December 31? Well - if I don't, it won't be because I didn't run myself ragged trying.

December 10, 2009

A Writing Prompt: The Stray's Story

Probably everyone (and especially those who live in rural areas) has at least some experience with stray (kittens, dogs, parakeets, etc.). My family is no exception. From a pure-bred blue whippet valued at $2000 to a litter of rottweiler puppies and a sampling of everything in between, we thought we'd seen it all.
Until the stray horse showed up last week.
So right there you have a writing prompt. You have a relatively normal occurrence (a stray showing up) with enough twist to make it interesting (strays don't usually come in the form of horses) and an unanswered question (Where did she come from? Why would anyone dump such a sweet little mare?)
Put your imagination to work! Spin the story behind that stray (horse, dog, cat, iguana) that mysteriously showed up at your house. What is the stray's story?

On Writing Prompts

One of the many weird things about being a writer is that periodic tendency to say that we have "nothing to write about". Which is roughly equivalent to a fashion designer saying she has nothing to wear.
I'm not casting judgement, and I'm as guilty as you are, but the fact remains that if you have had contact with some other intelligent life form (actually, intelligence is optional) at some point in your life, you have something to write about. The best place to find that magical inspiration we writers are always talking about is in and among those little dramas of everyday life.
But, since many of us suffer from the "nothing-in-my-life-is-worth-writing-about" syndrome, I've decided to start occasionally posting examples and samples from my own life and the lives of my friends and family - examples of those "little dramas" we all experience that, with a little imagination, can unlock worlds of ideas and "inspiration".
As always, readers, feel free to share your own!

December 7, 2009

When you can't take it anymore...

Let me say right off that this idea is not original with me. I got it from my friend The Traveler. She was working on a story and became extremely frustrated with her main character, so much so that she finally wrote herself into the story and killed him off.
I found that idea to be quite brilliant. So, when I recently started having issues with one of my own characters, I decided to write myself in and have it out with him. Now I didn't kill him off (after all, he is my favorite character) but I did let him know how frustrated I was with him. And wouldn't you know - it worked! After I had written the scene I felt much better. The writer's block was cured, and I went back to work. So I thought you all might enjoy reading my little conversation with Ivan.
(Setup: Ivan is the highest human authority in his country. He's in the command tent on a battlefield, waiting for the armies to position themselves.)

A sound came from Ivan’s right. He turned, and started when he saw a young woman standing next to him. How had she gotten in? He didn’t recognize her – he had never seen anyone dressed as she was. She wore pants instead of larrons, and a long-sleeved shirt with a gray and green pattern that made him dizzy when he looked closely.

“Who are you?” he asked, jumping to his feet.

She took a deep breath. “Wow. I finally get to meet you. My name is Mary – I wrote you.”

“You – what?”

“I wrote you. I’m the one telling your story.”

Ivan had no idea what this girl was talking about. “My story…?”

“You’re my favorite character, Ivan. But I have to tell you that I’m really irritated at you right now.”

Ivan was even more confused – if he had never even seen this girl, how and why should she be irritated at him? He strongly suspected that she was crazy, but she had caught his curiosity, so he ventured to ask “Why?”

“Because you won’t stop feeling sorry for yourself!” she said, startling Ivan with the volume at which she spoke.

“Quiet! I don’t know where you came from, but if anyone hears you they’ll want an explanation.”

“They won’t hear me,” the girl said wearily.

“How do you know?”

Mary shrugged. “Because I said. I can do that. I can say there’s a tree growing in your tent and there will be. See?”

This girl must have been insane. “There is no tree in here.”

Mary stared at a point behind the table. Ivan turned to look – there was a tree growing in the tent!

“How did –“

“Like I said, I’m the one telling the story here. I can do that. But the tree in the tent isn’t the point. The point is that I want to know why you won’t stop feeling sorry for yourself!”

“Feeling sorry for myself…”

“Yes, feeling sorry for yourself! Look, all this stuff that's happened isn't your fault. It was the way the story had to go, and I didn’t have any choice about it either. I don’t like it any more than you do – well, I might, but I’d have to think about it – anyway, the point is it’s not your fault. But you just keep on and on gloomifying all of these otherwise good scenes with your self-pity and I want to know why!”

“Self pity! Young lady, I—“

“Look Ivan,” the girl had softened her voice and her expression. “Look, I know you’ve been through a lot. I know about Lynessa.”

Ivan’s confusion and curiosity grew with everything the girl said. How did she know about Lynessa?

“Ivan, I know how much you loved her, and I know how much you miss her. Really. I do. But you’re not accomplishing anything by feeling sorry for yourself about it! You’re letting what’s happened to you bog you down and damage your usefulness in The Shield’s service!”

“You know of The Shield too?”

Mary nodded. “I serve Him just like you do. Only where I come from He has a different name.”

That made sense, Ivan supposed. The first thing this Mary character had said since showing up that made sense!

“Look,” Mary said, “Ivan I could stay here and talk to you for hours – there are so many things I’d love to ask you. But I’ll figure them out on my own eventually, and I’ve got to go and get on with the story. The main thing I had to say was – sit down first. You’re too much taller than me.”

Ivan was somewhat startled when he actually obeyed the order. He hadn’t intended to at all.

The girl smiled. “I love having that power. Okay, here’s what I wanted to say, and then I’ll be going:”

Ivan jumped when the girl grabbed him by his shirt collar and shook him.

“Adelphia needs you, Ivan, so stop feeling sorry for yourself! There’s a lot that has to be done in this novel before December 31 and your gloom and doom isn’t helping me get it done! I can’t meet this goal without your cooperation, so get your act together and let’s do this, alright?!”

Ivan was completely incapable of speaking.

Mary let go and smoothed out Ivan’s collar, then straightened and took a deep breath. “Good,” she said, smiling, “I think this has been a great help. Thanks for your time. I’ll see you around. Oh – and that message from Reylan on the table? – you’ll want to open that pretty quickly. It’s from the commander, about troops in the north end of the valley. Tell Gabriel ‘Hey’ for me.”

Mary was gone.

Ivan didn’t move for a minute, looking warily around in case she showed up again. But she didn’t.

Well, he thought, taking a deep breath and shaking his head, he couldn’t waste time wondering about it. After all, there was a lot to be done before December 31 … what in Reyem was December 31?

December 2, 2009

Donita K. Paul: What are They Thinking?

After being away from my ‘Write Like the Pros’ series for a long time, I’m finally back with the next installment – Donita K. Paul.

A couple of years ago I bought the book Dragonspell for my younger brother for Christmas. Since the book was the first in a series, I figured that I had the next year’s birthday and Christmas lined out as far as Caleb was concerned. Wrong. He went out and bought the rest of the series himself. For months all I heard about was “Kale this, Dar that, Fenworth something else…” To hear Caleb talk you’d have thought they were real people.

When I started reading the books for myself, I realized that they almost were real people! I felt like I knew them – especially the main viewpoint character Kale. I knew how she would react to a situation before she reacted. I knew how she would feel about a given person or event before she expressed her feelings.

So how did Mrs. Paul pull that off? By showing the reader the character’s thoughts.

Read Mrs. Paul’s books and you’ll find them loaded with character’s mental decision-making processes, inner struggles, and unspoken opinions. This offers the reader a tremendous amount of insight into who the character really is and gives them the sense that they really know them.

Think of it this way: when you meet someone for the first time, naturally you start with the conversational basics (where are you from, where do you work, what are you studying, etc.). But then you start moving towards learning their opinions and thoughts on a very casual level (what kind of movies do you like, what do you do in your spare time…). Once you get past the ‘stranger’ stage and begin to get more comfortable with the person, you start asking deeper, more ‘thoughtful’ questions (what are your religious beliefs, political views, dreams, personal goals, and so forth). Then you move on to questions regarding current events (the political race, the concert, the terrorist attack, the tornado).

As you learn a person’s thoughts on certain issues, you will be able to determine, at least to some extent, their thoughts on other issues. For instance, I am a conservative Republican and a Christian – that should give you some idea of where I stand on issues such as abortion and cloning.

This is what it means to really know a person. When you can predict their (thoughts, opinion, reaction) regarding an issue or circumstance, and do it with at least moderate accuracy, you know – really know – them.

And this is part of what makes Donita K. Paul’s characters so lifelike, so personal – she writes their thoughts! We know what they’re thinking. We know that even though Kale adores Paladin and truly wants to serve him, she still struggles with feeling unsuited and unworthy. We know that even though Kale has great respect and admiration for Wizard Fenworth’s wisdom, she still gets frustrated with his forgetfulness and painfully long thinking spells.

We know Kale because we know her thoughts. We know what she thinks. We know how she thinks. And we care about her because she feels like a friend.

I know that my own writing is sadly lacking insight into my characters’ thoughts, and I’m sure many of us can afford to put more character thought into our fiction. It can be tough, and it requires a great amount of preliminary character development, but just read Donita K. Paul’s work and you’ll see – the result is worth it!

November 18, 2009

Cold weather calls for a hot drink!

I don't know about where you live, but here in the midwest it is getting cold! Today is the third day in a row of gray skies, icy wind, and rain-that-might-turn-into-snow. Our high yesterday only made it to 39 degrees! Such dreary weather does much to heighten one's appreciation of fireplaces, sweaters, and hot tea. So, I decided that for this installment of "The Starving Artist" I would share some of my favorite hot drink recipes.
Sugar Cookie Tea
Put a plain black teabag in a mug and fill the mug about 2/3 full with boiling water. Let the tea get extra strong, then remove the bag. Fill the mug the rest of the way with milk. Add 2 or 3 drops of vanilla extract. (For those of you making faces, it doesn't taste like sugar cookies, but it does smell like them.)
Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate
Make a cup of plain (or dark) hot chocolate. Add about a tablespoon of heavy cream to it. Sprinkle the top with pumpkin pie spice and stir it in. This is one of my favorites!
Cinnamon Cider
Put fresh apple cider in a small pan and heat it on the stove (cider that's fresh-pressed at the orchard is best!). Once it's hot, pour it into a mug and add a cinnamon stick. If you want a stronger cinnamon flavor, float the cinnamon stick in the cider while it's heating, or sprinkle some ground cinnamon into it.
What is your favorite hot drink for a cold day? As always, be sure to share it in the comment box!

November 11, 2009

Christian Fantasy?

The fantasy genre can be a controversial subject among Christians. Some will say that all fantasy is wrong, period, while others hold that only certain fantasy, usually a particular book or books, is wrong. Fantasy is like any other genre – there are bad specimens of everything.

The aspect of fantasy that raises the most fuss has to be the common association of fantasy with magic. Face it: fantasy and magic go together. Magic is part of what makes fantasy what it is. I have, pinned to my bulletin board at home, an article from Writer’s Digest on fantasy, and it states: “fantasy always involves some kind of magic”. That’s just the way it stands.

Which poses an interesting problem for Christian writers, since the Bible makes it clear that Christians should have no involvement with magic, witchcraft, or sorcery. Where does that leave those of us who want to write fantasy?

First, it depends on the kind of magic you’re talking about. There are two basic types of magic.

The first one is simply the manipulation of natural laws. For instance, having a character draw energy from a tree to give them enough strength to survive a wound, or allowing them to deflect light waves, making themselves invisible. I don’t have a problem with this kind of magic. In all honesty, we use it ourselves – it’s just a matter of perspective. For example, technology that we take for granted today (Wi-Fi, GPS, Genetic engineering) would appear spectacularly magical to someone from the sixteenth century.

“Mind-speaking” falls into this category. Real-life people can feel another person staring at them. A person paying close attention can feel the mere presence of another person in an otherwise empty room. When my brothers and I were little, our mom could tell whether or not we were telling the truth before we ever said anything. Close friends can often communicate with only their eyes. So really, “mind-speaking” in fantasy is just an enhancement, an exaggeration of a skill that we as humans already possess.

The second type of magic deals with wizardry, witchcraft, and sorcery. Webster’s dictionary defines a wizard as a man with “possession of supernatural power by compact with evil spirits”. A witch is basically the feminine counterpart of a wizard. Sorcery is defined as the use of “evil supernatural power over people and their affairs”. This is the kind of magic I have a problem with.

Magic consisting of superhuman power granted by an alliance with demons or other evil spirits is what Christians have to be careful with. I’m not going to say that your writing should contain absolutely none of this kind of magic, although if you feel that is should that is certainly up to you. In Reyem, the fantasy world where my novel is set, this kind of black sorcery is used very widely, but only by the pagan Moritarcs, the enemies and “bad guys” of the story. The Protected (Reyem’s equivalent of Christians) are forbidden to use magic or sorcery.

Now, they do from time to time accomplish some superhuman feats, but it is with power given to them by The Shield (Reyem’s name for God), not the power of sorcery or witchcraft, and not whenever they choose – they can use it only when The Shield allows them to. It’s no different than the apostles performing miracles in the New Testament, using power that God gave to them. Which brings us to the issue of “good wizards”.

I’m as much a fan of Gandalf and Fenworth as anybody, but considering the definition of the term “wizard”, can Christian writers really have “good wizards” in their stories? I say yes.

According to the dictionary a wizard’s power comes from his alliance with a spirit or spirits. In the case of an alliance with evil spirits, the wizard would be given power in exchange for something. But if the wizard is a follower and servant of the God of your fantasy world, why couldn’t that same God have given him superhuman power to use in His service?

***

Magic will always be a tough and tricky subject for Christian fantasy writers. There will always be questions of where to draw the line. But in essence, it’s not about the power. It’s about what the power is used for, and where it comes from.

November 9, 2009

The Fact in Fiction

I usually get strange looks when I tell people that I want to spread the truth through my writing, considering the fact that I write primarily fiction. How can you share the truth through made-up stories set in made-up worlds?

For a secular writer, that would be a legitimate question. But for a Christian writer, the answer is simple. True Christians are grounded, firmly anchored in the Truth. In John 14:6 Jesus tells us that He is the Truth. So the Truth is in us; it is part of us; the Truth is what saves us. In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said that our words come from what is in our hearts. So if we fill our hearts with the Truth, it will be reflected in our writing … even if we’re writing fiction.

Jesus used fiction to communicate the truth – just read the parables. The Sower, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and others – all fiction used to make a powerful point.

Look at the Chronicles of Narnia. How many Christians can read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and say that there is no truth in it?

I’m not saying that your writing should all be allegorical. My novel, Son of the Shield is not allegorical, but it is nonetheless a story of rebellion, repentance, redemption and forgiveness – the forgiveness of both God and Man. There is truth in that.

If the truth – the real truth – is embedded and rooted in your heart, it will come out in your writing.

November 3, 2009

Autumn Trail Mix

I love autumn – bright leaves, busy squirrels, brilliant sunshine, and blustery rainy days. A chilly autumn day calls for long hours of writing, and an appropriate desk-side treat. But if you’re like me, you don’t want to spend your long writing hours making the appropriate desk-side treat. The solution: Trail Mix. Quick, easy, and delicious. This fabulous recipe is one of my favorites:

Autumn Trail Mix

~Candy Corn

~Honey-roasted peanuts

~Raisins

Just three ingredients – but a wonderful combination that’s great to keep around, especially in an attractive little bowl within easy reach of your writing spot…

What is your favorite trail mix combination? Be sure to share it in the comment box!

"The Starving Artist"

We’ve all heard the phrase. I suppose whoever invented it had a point (after all, writing really doesn’t pay that well) but the picture presented is kind of depressing (i.e. you’re unsuccessful, no one appreciates your work, you can’t even make ends meet and afford to buy food, etc.) and the implied self-pity is very annoying.

So, you may ask, why title a blog series “The Starving Artist”? Simple: writing is hard work, and writers need good food to sustain them. And anyway, writing is much more enjoyable when one has a good snack to go with it!

It’s always been a principle of mine, that no one to visit my house leaves hungry. Henceforth, that principle applies to The Lair as well. My ‘Write Like the Pros’ series and other postings will continue as usual, of course, but I’ll be on the lookout for writer-friendly recipes to share with you all from time to time. Feel free to share your own favorite writing treats with the rest of us by posting them in the comment box – the more the merrier!

October 31, 2009

A Poem for the Last Day of October

October's Bright Blue Weather
O sun and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather;
When loud the bumble-bees make haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And golden-rod is dying fast
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;
When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;
When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;
When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;
When springs run low, and on the brooks
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;
When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather.
O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather!
~Helen Hunt Jackson (1830 - 1885)


My Writing World Today

These days I’m busier than ever with my writing. I started a new undertaking this semester - teaching creative writing! It has been a new and exciting adventure for me – a little scary, but a lot of fun. God has blessed me with wonderful students, and each one of them has challenged me in a unique way.

I am currently hard at work on my first novel, Son of the Shield (SOTS). Novels are a world unto themselves, I have learned, and SOTS is no exception! Immensely challenging and occasionally very frustrating, SOTS has nonetheless been an amazing journey and a true blessing (albeit a very well-disguised blessing sometimes). SOTS is a high-fantasy epic, and the first in the series, The Adelfian Prophesies. December 31, 2009 is the goal date to have the first draft finished – very lofty, I know, but I’m shooting for it anyway.

I am also the co-author of another novel-in-progress, Daybreak. My friend Heather and I have joined forces for this urban fantasy adventure, and it has been a barrel of fun! We are both having a blast and eager to work on the rest of the trilogy.

Aside from SOTS and Daybreak, I am always in the middle of several smaller projects, usually poems or short stories. Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book of poems, all set in the same fictional town of Applestock. And there are always new poem or story ideas to be considered and jotted down.

In addition, I am a monthly writer for Apricot Pie, a website for home schooled writers. I have been a member for a little over a year, and it has been a delight every step of the way. Our founder/chief/editor, Ben, has put a lot of work into making Apricot Pie a wonderful place for us members to share and comment on each other’s work, and his efforts have made the site a true blessing!

One of the things that I am passionate about is the fight for the truth. In an age and culture where the agenda is everything and truth is optional, I am incredibly burdened to proclaim the real story, the way it really happened. As one way of doing that, I manage Chaqar-Aletheuo, a blog where the truth is diligently sought out and presented without shame after careful and thorough on-the-ground-research. If you are interested in becoming an investigator/writer for C-A, leave me a message in the comment block and I will contact you.

And of course, I have The Writer’s Lair to manage and keep up for all of my friends and guests. My goal is to make the Lair a place where Christian writers feel welcome; a place where they can find helpful resources, advice, and godly encouragement. Writing can be a rough journey, my friend. But you’re not alone. God has given me a burden to encourage and serve other writers – even if writing professionally is not God’s plan for your life, we are all obligated to use God’s gift of the written word to our best ability and for His glory – and I hope that The Lair will be a place where we can do just that.

Write well, my friends!

October 26, 2009

Growing Up Writer

My writing has come a long way since the days of El Nino. It’s been an interesting road, with many interesting steps and stops along the way. There were countless poems and short stories – as L.M. Montgomery would put it, “yards of trash” – and even several works that I had the audacity to call novels. Naturally, I considered all of them to be masterpieces. My poem “Shadow Women” was destined for the Pulitzer Prize, I was sure. I patiently bided my time, waiting for The Long Way Home to be discovered by a director and made into the next blockbuster. Coyote Hill would certainly make the best-seller list as soon as it hit the market.

Then I grew up.

Recently, my friend Heather and I were sharing stories about how we became writers, and how our writing has matured over the years. Heather described how her writing had matured gradually, getting better and better over the years. For me it was a little different: it seemed like one minute I was a kid who liked to write. The next minute, it clicked, and I was a writer. My writing style changed overnight – literally – just as I was ready to begin my first novel … my first real novel.

I lost the ‘to-edit-this-would-be-a-desecration’ attitude (yes, I was one who suffered from that affliction) and buckled down to editing with a vengeance. Within a few months, however, I had discovered that editing-as-you-go is very poorly named, because you don’t actually go anywhere. Editing-as-you-go should actually be called ‘editing-as-you-sit-in-place-and-make-yourself-miserable’. So with that lesson learned, I started a new battle: learning to silence the inner critic.

That, I confess, is a battle that I am still fighting. Just when I think she’s silenced and locked away, I hear her naggy little voice over my shoulder…

In October of 2008 I began a new quest: seeking publication. My novel was still in the first chapters of the first draft, an infant still in need of shelter and nurturing, but I had several poems and short stories filed away in my collection of work. A good bit of the collection consisted of the aforementioned “yards of trash” that, for sentimental reasons, I had not parted with. But there were a few pieces that showed some promise, I was sure of it. So, I selected one and sent it off. Nine days later the rejection came back. I had told myself all along to expect a rejection, but I hadn’t really believed that I would get one. However, after recovering from the three-month-long funk brought on by that first rejection, I sent out another piece. And received another rejection. But this time I fired back the very next day with yet another submission.

And this one was accepted!

The acceptance letter could have been the Pulitzer Prize itself and I would not have been more ecstatic. The $5 check that came in the mail could have been $5 million and I would not have screamed any louder.

But most importantly, the next time I told someone I was a writer and they responded by asking “Have you published anything?” I could say “YES!”

October 21, 2009

How I Became a Writer

I can say with total honesty that I have been writing stories since I learned to read and write. I have a scrapbook containing pages of practice-pad paper on which I scrawled with crayons stories, plays, and the illustrations to match. Not all of my stories made it to paper. Some I merely acted out while running wild on my parents’ farm, accompanied by my co-writer/supporting actress, a Yorkie terrier named Esmerelda. Whether they actually made it to paper or not, I was always writing stories.

Strangely enough, however, I was fourteen before I realized that God wanted me to be a writer.

I was standing in a convenient store staring at a rack of greeting cards when one of them – a painting of a Friesian horse galloping through the fog – sparked a story idea. As the day progressed and I went about my business, the story grew in my imagination. The Friesian horse became El NiƱo, the leader of a wild herd descended from horses that had survived a shipwreck on an uninhabited island many years before. By evening the idea wasn’t just a story idea – it was a book idea!

I started writing it by hand in the back of my journal, but worried that I would run out of pages. I commandeered a blank composition book from the school room and was about to begin copying the beginning of the story into it, until it struck me … I could use the composition book for a different story! I wasn’t limited to just one book.

That was when it dawned on me – I was going to be a writer!

October 20, 2009

Stephen R. Lawhead - Bring it to Life with Description!

Stephen R. Lawhead

About two and a half years ago, I discovered the work of Stephen R. Lawhead. His book Hood (from the King Raven Trilogy) was the first one I read, followed quickly by the Song of Albion Trilogy and the Dragon King Trilogy (while I was waiting eagerly for Scarlet and Tuck to come out).

Mr. Lawhead is a seasoned veteran of the Christian writing industry, so I decided to make him my next subject in my series, Learn from the Pros.

The main thing I’ve learned about writing from reading Mr. Lawhead’s work is that descriptive detail is okay. Most writing experts will tell you to keep description to a necessary minimum and “let the readers fill in the details”. To a person like me, who loves describing the characters, scenery, and architecture in my stories, that advice is far from uplifting. But if we want to succeed, we just have to grin and bear it, right?

Not according to Stephen R. Lawhead.

Read his work and you’ll find it rich with vivid description – towering cities that leave you speechless, sweeping scenery so real that you feel like you’ve been there, monsters that make your stomach turn, and characters you would recognize on the street. From the breathtaking ramparts of Askelon to the ancient forests of Wales, Stephen Lawhead leaves you feeling like you’ve been there. Lived it. Touched it.

How does he do that? He describes it!

Experts tell us to let the readers use their own imagination to fill in the details. But how does that make you feel like you’re really there? When you step off of a plane in New York City, you see exactly what it looks like. You don’t have to use your imagination to “fill in the details”. The details are already there, waiting for you. And when you leave, you feel like you’ve been there, because you have been there! You craned your neck to see the tops of the skyscrapers. You stood on a sidewalk and heard the noise of rush-hour traffic. You smelled the cafes you walked past. You didn’t just see the city, you experienced the city.

Now, granted: you didn’t read every billboard you passed. You didn’t examine the physical appearance and clothing of every pedestrian you met on the sidewalk. You could not possibly take in every detail there was to take in, nor should descriptions in your writing give the reader every possible detail about the subject being described. Your story should not get lost in your descriptions, and the plot and action should still be clearly visible. (i.e. after six pages of solid description, the readers have probably forgotten what the characters are doing and why they’re doing it in the first place) But don’t get the idea that the plot and action are all you’re allowed to have. Plot is the story’s skeleton. Action is the story’s muscle. Don’t leave her at that! Put skin on her; dress her up; maybe even give her some makeup and jewelry.

Writers – especially those in the fantasy genre – don’t throw a bunch of nondescript characters into a blurry, vague world and expect them to act out some excruciatingly detailed plot. Give the characters character! Make them unique and distinct. Don’t leave your readers to wonder where they are. When a reader picks up your book, they’re accepting your invitation to enter your world. Be a good host – don’t leave them to find their own way around. Take them by the hand and show them around.

Read Stephen R. Lawhead’s work and you’ll see: there’s nothing like entering the world of a story and feeling like you really lived it!

Clive Cussler - Rules don't mean anything!

Clive Cussler: Rules don’t mean anything!

Read any book on how to make your writing better, and I guarantee that somewhere in it they’ll tell you to study published work. “Learn from the experts! Watch the pros! Study their technique and see how they do it!” So I’m starting a blog series on techniques and styles that I observe and learn from the pros simply by reading their writing. It promises to be interesting, and I’ll do my best to make it fun!

During a recent go-round with the flu, I spotted one of Clive Cussler’s novels on the dining table; having heard Clive Cussler’s work praised as everything from “riveting” to “spell-binding”, and knowing that he has written several best-sellers, I picked it up.

An amazing amount of reading can be done when you lack the energy to do anything but lay on the sofa. In one day I read the first 150 or so pages. I’ve got to be honest: the action was creative, exciting, and non-stop. It’s a wonder that Sahara is the only movie to have been made out of a Clive Cussler book.

But as far as writing style and technique go, the only thing I have learned from Mr. Cussler so far is: “Rules don’t mean anything.” Here are some examples of what I mean.

Rule: “Don’t use adverbs ending with -ly unless they are absolutely necessary! It’s better to use vivid verbs to describe the action taking place!”

Clive Cussler says: “Trembling with fear, they tenderly carried him to a canoe and gently lowered him inside … Upon reaching the beach they quickly laid him on the sand and paddled furiously back to shore.”

Rule: “Do your research and know what you’re talking about, but don’t bore your readers with unnecessary and dry details.”

Clive Cussler says: “He led a lonely private life since his wife of twenty years died from a heart attack brought on by an iron overload disease known as hemochromatosis.”

Rule: “Study the human mind. Learn how people react to different situations and give your characters realistic reactions in your writing.”

Clive Cussler says: (Setup – the main character is standing in the open doorway of a helicopter piloted by his best friend. The chopper is one of two involved in a low-altitude, low-fuel dog fight over the Peruvian jungle. The main character has only one rifle containing only two bullets. The guys shooting at him from the other chopper have a grenade launcher and twelve rifles. A conveniently beautiful girl in the main character’s chopper ties a rope around his waist “to keep you from falling out!”) As the Peruvian mercenaries position themselves to launch another grenade, the main character smiles at the girl’s thoughtfulness and calmly replies “I don’t deserve you.”

Rule: “If it has moving parts, it’s a magazine, not a clip!”

Clive Cussler says: “The gun spat twice and went silent … Pitt jerked out the clip and saw that it was empty.”

And I haven’t even finished the book yet.

So, to all writers who find themselves crushed under the oppressive weight of thousands of writing “dos” and “don’ts” I say: Take heart! It would seem that the brutal, rigid “musts” and “must nots” we fear so much are actually more like “should considers” and “might wish to avoids”. I’m not saying you should throw the rules to the ducks and let your writing get sloppy – but relax! Loosen up! This is creative writing, not nuclear physics! One little mistake isn’t going to kill anybody.

Yeah – Mr. Cussler breaks a lot of rules. Possibly uses too many adverbs. Perhaps throws in a bit too much technical detail. Made a few errors in terminology. But I have read few stories that were as fast-paced, adventurous and fun as this one. Clive Cussler obviously loves what he does, and I think that the most important lesson we can draw from his writing is … have fun!

James-Style Writing

Yesterday morning my pastor spoke on “Practical Christianity” out of the book of James (one of my favorites). He mentioned the fact that a lot of people see James as rough, even harsh, because he doesn’t water down or sugar coat anything. That’s a turn-off, even offensive to a lot of people. But James’ straight-forward “this-is-the-way-it-is-period” approach is one of the things I like so much about him; even though I’m not writing scripture, I want my writing to have the same hard-fact style as James’.

In our culture today, everyone is scared to death of being blunt, worried that they’ll “offend” somebody. So we dull the edges and blur the lines until the truth is so soft and mushy that people begin to find it palatable.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care whether we offend people or not – if offending someone can be avoided, then avoid it by all means! But as Christians it is our duty to tell people the Truth. If telling the truth offends them, it offends them. That does not excuse us from our duty. I would rather know that a person knew the truth and was offended by it than spend my life wondering whether they knew or not.

Gentleness is as critical to our presentation of the truth as anything else – but it’s a hard skill to practice. We have to be straight-forward and honest, like James was, but we must be gentle. One of my favorite quotes from Paul Tripp says “Truth that is not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it has been tainted by other human agendas.”

It is easy to hammer the truth into someone’s skull and trounce on whatever misguided beliefs they hold. But ripping them apart with a prideful “Thus saith the Lord” attitude is as damaging as it is sinful.

Yes, gentleness is essential. But we cannot get so caught up in being gentle that we go beyond “gentle” to “soft and useless”. “If the salt has lost its savor…it is good for nothing”! If we make the truth so soft and “inoffensive” that it doesn’t mean anything any more, it too is “good for nothing”.

So I’m going for James-style writing. Be gentle, but tell the truth. Don’t sugar-coat it. Don’t water it down. Don’t let the salt lose its savor.

October 7, 2009

Welcome, traveler...

You have come upon my lair ... the place I call home, the place where I house my treasure, the place where my dreams and adventures are born. Please, make yourself comfortable. Search the world of my library if you like, or, if it better suits you, explore the tunnels and passageways of my home.
But if you are truly brave, with a heart for adventure and no fear of danger, come with me. Let me take you on a journey that you will not soon forget.
Enter, and be prepared...

~The Dragoness