May 30, 2012

Son of the Shield Status Report

Only seventeen days left to go on the deadline, friends. I'm nervous about it getting so close, but I'm also getting pretty excited. I'm starting to see all the little pieces of the story that have been disjointed or in a mess until now come together and start to look presentable, and after so long trying to organize this monstrous mess that is a happy sight, I can assure you.
I feel like I've been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster the last few days, though, since I'm moving so fast through the manuscript. One minute I'm in the midst of a furious battle, then an angry tirade (the character's, not mine) then a one-on-one swordfight, then a capture, a chase, an escape (insert Peter Falk's voice saying 'revenge, giants, monsters, true love, miracles...') etc.
My characters and I are all going to be utterly exhausted by the time June 16th gets here. But that's okay, because starting June 17th, we're all taking a vacation. I'm going to sit in a lawn chair under the maple tree and start on the stack of new books that have been piling up waiting to be read, and my characters will all be free to relax and do whatever it is they do when we're not together trying to organize the three-ring circus called Son of the Shield.
But until then it's back to work. Daylight's burning.

May 28, 2012

Remembering Warriors

Be they rugged rangers, mighty centaurs, fearless mice, chivalrous knights, or valiant dragon riders, we writers spend a lot of time creating and writing about warriors of one kind or another. And what reader isn't constantly longing for some new tale about a noble, selfless warrior? Their stories are the ones that take us on heart-pounding journeys through laughter, tears, darkness, shadow, struggle, bravery, sacrifice, love, and pursuing what's right no matter the cost. Their stories are what keep us going back for more.

But our fictional warriors and heroes wouldn't mean much if they weren't rooted in reality. Without the sacrifices and bravery of our real-world warriors, our ability to appreciate the fictional ones would be greatly diminished, if it existed at all.

So this Memorial Day, take time to reflect on the true stories of our real-world warriors who gave everything they had, right down to their very life, for what they believed in... with no guarantee of a happy ending. That's what true courage and valor look like, my friends.

May 23, 2012

5 Things Writers Live in Fear of...

... but don't have to.

In spite of the fact that we spend our days battling fire-breathing dragons, fending off hordes of evil vermin, rooting out spies and traitors, and embarking on impossible quests doomed to almost certain failure, all without a moment's hesitation, we writers do have our own set of fears to face - fears so deep and dark and ominous that at times they can leave us almost paralyzed.
Some of these fears are well-founded. Others, not so much. But we still live and suffer with them. So my goal for this post is to talk about some of the things that make us otherwise stalwart writers turn pale and trembly and, hopefully, put a few of those unfounded fears to rest. Here goes. (The list is arranged in no particular order, by the way.)

Fear #1. Rejection Letters  This is probably the single biggest fear of new writers (and possibly some not-so-new-ones as well). Waiting for the first one is the worst. Many writers (myself among them) have the idea that that first rejection letter will somehow crush all their hopes and dreams, brand them as a failure, humiliate them beyond recovery, and possibly even send them into deep mourning.
The Truth:  Writers, sometimes we write things that simply aren't up to par. It happens, and there's no shame in that. Listen to the radio or watch the news regularly, and it won't be long before you hear about some product being recalled because of factory defects - from companies with entire teams of designers, engineers, supervisors, and product testers who are supposed to prevent things like that happening! You're doing this on your own. It happens.
Sometimes the publisher simply doesn't need what you've written right now. Say you submit a fantasy short story to a magazine; you have no way of knowing that the editor just received 50 fantasy short story submissions last week and has already got plenty to keep him well-stocked for the rest of the year. Your story might be great... he just doesn't need it right now.
You're not branded. A little embarrassed, maybe. Branded as a failure, no. About a year after receiving my first rejection letter from an online magazine, I went on to receive my first acceptance letter - from the very same magazine. Just because an editor rejects a piece of your work doesn't mean he or she is rejecting you as a writer.

Fear #2. A Stolen Manuscript  Many writers are absolutely terrified by the thought of doing all the hard work and pouring their soul into a manuscript, only to have it stolen and published by someone else. Some writers are afraid that another writer will steal their work; others are afraid of submitting their work to a publishing house, worried that the publisher will steal their work.
The Truth: Ask yourself what another writer would stand to gain by stealing your novel and submitting it to a publisher under their own name. Unless your name is Ted Dekker or Beverly Lewis, there's no guarantee the novel will be accepted. Even if your name is Ted Dekker or Beverly Lewis, your name is your strongest selling tool. Someone submitting Ted Dekker's newest manuscript under the name Francis Anderson still isn't guaranteed the attention the same manuscript would get if it had Ted Dekker's name attached. If someone wants to make a dishonest fortune off of you, they can make way more money by spending 20 minutes online and stealing your identity than they could trying to publish your manuscript.
A publisher has way too much at stake to steal your manuscript. Even if they think it's fabulous, destined to become a hot best seller, it's in their best interest to deal honestly with you, the writer. Publishers are in business to make money. Stealing a manuscript isn't going to get them far in that department. No writer is going to sit quietly by and let their book be stolen and sold out from under them. It won't be long before the internet is abuzz with the news; the authorities and lawyers will be brought in; no writer will ever entrust that publishing house with their work again. By the time the dust settles, that publisher has lost way more money than they ever could have gained with a pilfered novel.

Fear #3. A Stolen Idea  What if someone hears your story idea, steals it, uses it to write a novel, and sends it to the publisher before you do?
The Truth: The human imagination is an amazing thing, in that multiple people can be prescribed identical story guidelines, and the resulting stories will be nothing alike. My friend LoriAnn once held a writing contest on her blog to demonstrate that very principle. She gave the readers the first line of a story, the last line of a story, and a set of elements and phrases the story had to contain. It was remarkable to see the variety in the submissions.
So even if someone does hear your story idea and use it for themselves, it isn't going to end up the same - unless of course you gave them a detailed, point-by-point outline of the entire thing. Which, of course, is entirely preventable. Just keep your detailed plot outlines to yourself! Save it for when the book is published and let your audience read it for themselves.

Fear #4. Losing Years of Work  If your computer crashes, or gets fried in a lightning storm, or your house burns down, what will become of your writing?
The Truth:  Be afraid. Be very afraid. ; ) Just kidding. While this fear is actually very legitimate (I have lost work to both a computer crash and a lightning storm on separate occasions) this situation is entirely preventable, and there are a host of safeguards you can set in place to indulge your paranoia to your heart's content. In this case, paranoia is a good thing because it leads to preparedness.
My personal strategy consists of backing my laptop up onto two separate 2GB flash drives. One of the flash drives stays at the house, the other comes with me everywhere I go. That way, if the house burns down while I'm gone, one flash drive is still safe with me. Conversely, if I fall in the river and destroy one, the other is still safe at home. Occasionally I'll email a piece of my work to a friend or to my parents' computer for additional security, and there are tons of online backup services available for very little cost. Having a hard copy printed out is never a bad idea either. That way if the electricity goes out or the internet crashes, you still haven't lost everything. In my opinion, you can't be too careful when it comes to protecting your work. On one occasion my friend Heather even ran back into a building with a tornado bearing down on her to rescue the disc she had stored her writing on. There should be some kind of writer's medal or award for dedication like that. : )

Fear #5. Running out of Ideas  As a writer, your ideas are the life of your calling. What happens if you run out?
The Truth: If from this moment forward I never had another story idea, I would still have enough to keep me busy well into my sixties, possibly longer. That's not an exaggeration. I've already resigned myself to the fact that I will be leaving many unwritten story ideas behind me when I die.
Now, I'm sure not everyone is the same way. Still, let me ask you this: Did you become a writer because you just thought it sounded like something fun to do, so you sat and waited for an idea to come? Or, did you become a writer because you had something inside you that just had to be written and wouldn't let you have any peace until you wrote it? I'm guessing it was the latter. You write because it's just in you to write. Your brain is designed to concoct these things. It's just the way you're wired. You can't help it.
Yes, even the most highly creative person goes through dry spells, when the creative juices just won't flow. I've had plenty of those spells, and to this day they still scare me a little bit. But they don't last forever. Sooner or later something will spark a story idea or inspire a perfect line of poetry, and you'll be off again.

In Conclusion: You may not struggle with all (or any) of these fears, and that's awesome. But I know I did for a long time, and having someone lay them out in the open for me would have been a relief and a blessing. I hope this post can be that blessing for someone else.

What do you fear as a writer? Is there something you used to fear that you've since gotten over?

May 21, 2012

Observations from the Whiteboard

Last summer I installed a small whiteboard on the wall of my bedroom/office, and it's proven invaluable for making story outlines, jotting down ideas, and making notes I know I'll only need for a while. At the moment, it's covered from top to bottom with notes on Son of the Shield. That should come as a surprise to no one, but this morning as I was dashing around trying to get ready for a trip to the used bookstore (Reason #1 I will never be a millionaire), I suddenly looked up at the whiteboard and noticed a recurring theme among my hastily scribbled melee of notes and ideas.

A few examples:

"...This will add a lot of depth and intrigue..."

"... you need to increase the intensity and emotion in this section..."

"... the readers need to feel the devastation..."

"... Make this part a chapter ending to make your readers freak out..."

Hmm. Well, if one were to draw a conclusion from my notes-to-self alone, I suppose it would be reasonable to assume I'm writing this novel just for the sake of torturing readers and dragging them to the brink of some kind of emotional breakdown. Let me make it clear right now that that is NOT my intent. If it were, I could accomplish it with much less trouble by simply dressing you all in wool socks and sweaters and throwing you into a pit filled with crushed-up Styrofoam peanuts... while playing Skillet CDs in chipmunk... and reading Amish romance aloud... and I'm sure you're beginning to get the picture.  ; )  Truly, I'm not doing all this just to torture you guys. I'm just trying to tell a good story.
That being said...


May 16, 2012

One month to go!

That's right, friends, my deadline for finishing Son of the Shield is exactly one month from today!

Will I make it?

May 15, 2012

Interview with Sarah Holman of Homeschool Authors

 Ladies and gentlemen, I'm honored to have a special guest here at the Lair with me today. Sarah Holman, in addition to being a Christian, homeschooled writer, is also the founder of Homeschool Authors, a blog dedicated to featuring and promoting - you guessed it - homeschooled authors and their books. She has most graciously consented to an interview, so please make her feel welcome!

Hello, Sarah, and welcome to the Writer’s Lair! Could you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I am a Christ Follower first and foremost.  Following Christ has led me to some wonderful and exciting places in my 22 years on this earth and I try to share some of my adventures on my blog ( I have two amazing parents, six awesome siblings, and two adorable nieces.
Writing is my passion. I spend many hours every week in front of my computer writing and editing books.  Currently I have two book published with the third one to be published soon.
When not writing I can be found at my job at my Representatives office, reading, chatting with friends, and hanging out with my siblings.

What gave you the idea to start Homeschool Authors, and how did you get started?
Remember how I said that God has led me on many adventures?  Well Homeschool Authors was a God inspired idea.  As a self-published writer, I am always looking for ways to market my book.  One day I did a search, trying to find a list of books by homeschool authors to put me book on.  I couldn’t find such a list, so I did what every good homeschooler would do in that situation, I did it myself.

I already knew about six or seven authors so I put them on the list.  After that I started asking the authors I knew if they would be willing to do an interview.  I was amazed at how quickly the list grew and how many authors were eager to be interviewed.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Finding the time to keep up with the demand.  I get between five and ten e-mails a week for Homeschool authors all of which I have to respond to.  I am so pleased with how many authors want to be interviewed, have their books reviewed, and the be added to the list.  However, at times it can be overwhelming.

What is the most rewarding moment you’ve had as a result of starting Homeschool Authors?
You asking for an interview? *Wink* Seriously, I think the most rewarding part has been to connect with the writers.  I have met so many wonderful men and women through e-mails, each of them with stories to tell.  Their enthusiasm for Homeschool Authors, and bursting desire to tell stories is both rewarding inspiring to me.  Their appreciation and friendship are all the reward I need

The book standard requirements at Homeschool Authors are pretty high (and there’s NOTHING wrong with that!). Is it ever difficult to find books that come up to par?
My personal reading standards are very high and sometimes it does feel like I can’t find a book.  However, through Homeschool authors, I have found some wonderful authors (Elisabeth Allen, Molly Evangeline and Rachel Coker, just to name a few) that also have high standards in their books.
One thing I do understand though is that different people have different likes and dislikes.  Although I don’t like fantasy and dark books, I don’t think they are evil so I list those. I think that if people with high standards would look harder for good books and connect with others that share their standards; they would be surprised at how many good books they would find.

There seems to be a strong sense of community and support among homeschooled authors. What are your thoughts on the reason(s) behind that?
Isn’t amazing?  I have had some people buy my book just because I was a fellow homeschool author.  I think that it is because homeschoolers have a sense of community wherever they find themselves.
I have been to many political conventions and every time I have met homeschool students and graduates.  We may have many differences and we may not be great friends, but we will stick together because we have something in common.

The last few years have seen a big influx of homeschooled writers into the literary world. What do you think the reasons behind this are?
The number one reason is that there are more homeschoolers.  Homeschooling is not only becoming more accepted, but as more and more homeschoolers graduate, they are shining a good light on homeschoolers in general.  Publishers are finding that homeschoolers have a lot of talent and have an eager community of readers waiting.
I think another reason is that self-publishing is easier and not as frowned upon as it used to be.  Many homeschool authors can test their literary wings by publishing a book.  It costs them nothing, so they have nothing to lose, except for their pride if it fails.
Also, homeschoolers tend to have higher/different standards then non-homeschoolers. Many Homeschoolers start writing because they see a need and want to fill it.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of this trend?
I hope it continues!  I not only hope we get more homeschool authors.  I hope we start forming communities like Homeschool Authors to help each other get better.

Writing and publishing both come with a lot of challenges, and the literary world can be a tough place for anyone to break into. Do you think there is a unique set of challenges facing homeschooled writers, or are the struggles pretty much the same across the board?
 I think homeschoolers actually have an advantage; an eager homeschool community.  If we can get the word out about sites like homeschool authors, and about the authors themselves, I think that they will go far.  The biggest obstacle to homeschool authors doing well is the same as any author, getting the word out.  Anyone can help overcome this! Your readers can buy homeschool authored books and post reviews, tell their friends, host interviews and giveaways, anything they can think of to get word out. 

What advice would you give a homeschooled writer who was just getting started?
Get a team of readers/editors to help you and be ready to accept criticism.  I know it can be hard, especially at first but it helps make your book better. People say my books keep getting better, and I tell them it is because I listen to those around me. Don’t have any friends willing to read your book?  Get plugged into the online writing community.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Authors; published or not published I urge you to join the Homeschool Authors Yahoo! Group (
For readers; support homeschool authors by buying their books and leaving feedback on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.
Bloggers; help us spread the word by adding the Homeschool Authors button to your blog.

Thanks so much for taking time to share with us, Sarah. You have a great ministry going at Homeschool Authors, and I hope to see it continuing to thrive!
Thank you for having me Mary!  I look forward to the day I can add your name and books to the Homeschool Authors list.
I'm looking forward to that too, Sarah!
You can learn more and join the growing community of homsechooled authors by becoming a follower of the Homeschool Authors blog.

May 12, 2012

Son of the Shield - Status Report

Wednesday I spent an approximate total of six hours editing/rewriting sword fight and ambush scenes. During those six hours I had the Minas Tirith theme from the LOTR soundtrack on repeat (Click Here to listen) since it makes such great ambush music, but I'm pretty sure it's permanently engraved on my brain now. I've even dreamed it the last few nights.
Son of the Shield has some awesome revamped ambushes in it, though! (If I may say so without sounding boastful ; )
Special thanks go to my brother James, too, for all his help and insight on how the mind of a man works. I'm sure by now he's very tired of me saying "Okay, James, so if you were in this situation and so-and-so did such-and-such..." but he's been very patient and helpful, so hopefully my male readers of the future won't be disgusted with me. : )
The project as a whole is moving along well, and I'm very hopeful about making my deadline. 
A fellow Christian writer, Brian McBride, also gave me a great idea with some graphics he did for his own WIP (you can check them out Here, at his blog) and I'm starting to think about doing something kind of similar.
First things first, though - and finishing Son of the Shield is definitely first!

May 9, 2012

Had to share...

The following is the transcript of a real conversation with my brother Caleb.

Caleb: "Hey Mary, you know what would be awesome?"

Me: "Yeah - a hairband with the inscription from Aragorn's hunting knife engraved on it."

Caleb: "Oh... uh, I was gonna say 'helicopter jousting'."

LOL - I love my brother.

May 8, 2012

Deadline: June 16th!

Son of the Shield is getting close, my friends. I'm very close to completing the final edit/rewrite/overhaul before it's ready to start showing to publishers. Progress is even starting to speed up, the more I get done, sort of like putting a puzzle together - the more pieces you get put in place, the easier it is to find where the remaining pieces belong.
Still, as just another way of keeping myself focused and motivated, I've decided to set a deadline for having it done. I'm the kind of person who thrives on a good challenge (part of why I love NaNoWriMo), and deadlines have helped me stay focused on projects in the past, so it ought to work now too.

I've chosen June 16th as the deadline for having Son of the Shield finished.

Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, June 16th is my birthday so it's an easy date for me to remember. Two, June 16th is close enough to be a challenging deadline to meet. Three, June 16th is far enough out to be realistic and allow time for unforeseen disasters such as tornadoes (always a possibility where I live), farming troubles, work or family crises, nuclear war, civil unrest, outbreaks of the bubonic plague, etc.

So, all you noble, faithful followers who have been hearing of and waiting for Son of the Shield for so long, take heart! The time is drawing near!
But wait, there's a task for all of you as well. (You didn't think I'd let you off that easy, now, did you?)
I set a deadline for myself because I wanted to have a goal to work towards. But now that I've shared it with all of you, it's official. And I expect you to hold me to it. I am officially granting permission to each and every one of you to nag, harass, and pester me about it. I'll be posting some kind of progress update on it at least once a week... but if I don't, you may torment me about that too.
And when it's finally finished, I plan on having some fun here at the Lair to celebrate my biggest writing accomplishment so far. I don't know what it will include yet... Some behind-the-scenes looks at the writing of Son of the Shield, perhaps, or maybe even some sneak peeks?... but I guarantee it will be a lot of fun. Your dedication and nagging will not go unrewarded.  : D

And with that, I'm off to work on Son of the Shield. June 16th is only thirty-nine days away!

May 2, 2012

Here in the Power of Christ, I Stand.

This afternoon I was reading an article by Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis. He was speaking about the horrible trend that has swept the church and caused many professing Christians to compromise their beliefs and allow evolutionary ideas into their worldviews. Many of these people have done so because they are insecure in their faith in the authority of God's Word. They haven't been shown the evidence that supports the Genesis account of creation exactly as it is written. Somehow, they have come to believe that scientific 'evidence' outweighs the authority of Scripture, and a tragic number of Christians have stopped speaking with authority because of this. It has become very easy for the atheists and evolutionists - who are speaking authoritatively, whether they are justified in doing so or not - to drown them out.
This is an issue that is continually on my heart, so imagine how encouraging and refreshing it was when I read the following in Ken Ham's article:

"In Mark 1:22 we read that many people were astonished with Christ's teaching, for He spoke as one having authority. Today, we can speak with this same authority, because we have the Word of God! Jesus Christ, the Creator and the Word, has given us the Bible, and He told us how He created all things."

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read that.
Don't let them intimidate you into compromising on your beliefs, my friends. If you find an evolutionist's arguments or 'evidence' intimidating or jarring to your beliefs, don't just sit there and let it gradually erode your faith away. Make war against these lies and the Liar they came from!
Do an in-depth study of the Genesis creation account - I'm talking with a concordance and everything. Look up key words and learn exactly what they mean in the original language.
Find good books, articles, documentaries, and lectures on apologetics and go through them carefully. Answers in Genesis is a great place to start. The Institute for Creation Research is another fabulous resource. Master Books has a library's worth of resources available. (And of course, I'd be more than happy to recommend some of my favorite resources with anyone who asked. ; )
Talk to your parents, a pastor, or a friend who has not allowed themselves to compromise on their faith in light of scientific 'evidence' that supports evolution. Tell them what you're going through (don't be afraid to be honest and tell them you're confused and struggling). Ask questions. Ask them to help you study the topic that is bothering you and learn the truth about it. Ask them to pray for you. Email me and ask me to pray for you - that's what Christian brothers and sisters are for.
Above all, pray for yourself and ask God to help you learn to stand on the authority of His Word. God doesn't lie, friends. He can't lie. It's completely contrary to His nature, and He wouldn't be God if it wasn't.
Even Christian creationists don't have all the answers, and many things are still mysteries to us. But we still have the words of a God who doesn't lie, and He has told us what we need to know to stand on those words.
Like the song says:

"Til He returns or calls me home, here in the Power of Christ I'll stand."

Stand strong, my friends.