Sunday, December 28, 2008

Revisiting a New Year Sermon

What emotions are you experiencing as you face the prospects of a new year? Anticipation? Uncertainty? Eagerness? Fear?

The year that is coming to an end has generated many emotions, challenges, and difficulties—everything from a devastating hurricane to an divisive election. What will the year ahead hold? For those of us trying to break into the field of publishing, we can’t help asking those inevitable questions about whether 2009 might be the magic year about which we dream. But we know it could more easily be a year of further disappointment, perhaps outright rejection.

A number of years ago I heard a sermon on the last Sunday before the new year, and I’ve never forgotten it. Its topic was the seven times Jesus is recorded as saying “fear not” in the book of Luke. Some of the occurrences are in familiar passages, and each carries a distinct message.

1:13: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”
1:30: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”
2:10: “Do not be afraid, [shepherds]; I bring you good news of great joy…”
5:11: “Do not be afraid, [Simon Peter]; from now on you will catch men.”
8:50: “Do not be afraid, [Jarius], just believe, and she will be healed.”
12:7: “Do not be afraid, [friends]; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
12:32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.”

As I review those verses and the comforting words of my Savior, it is inevitable that my mind wants to apply them to my adventures in trying to get Tangled Strands accepted by a publisher. Has my prayer been heard? Have I found favor with God? Will an e-mail or phone call bring me that coveted good news? Will God open up for me a whole new area of ministry from Christian fiction? And surely it can’t be as simple as “just believing” to see it happen?

No matter what the answers turn out to be to those questions in relation to my writing, I find solid assurance in the last two. Whether I ever get published or not, I have the Savior’s assurance that I am “worth more than many sparrows.” And whatever theologians have to say about the Father “giving us the Kingdom,” I know that my eternal destiny is sure, and I know that I have tried to do my best for that Kingdom all through my life.

So . . . with God’s help, I want to face the year ahead without fear—whether fear of what is going to happen in our country and the world or in my efforts to put my story out there for examination and possible publication.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saying Good-by to Christmas

After all the anticipation and preparations, Christmas is over. With few exceptions, the gifts we worked so hard to choose have been opened, the food we spent so much time preparing has been eaten, and the wishes we sent have been received. Children are enjoying new toys—and some adults are, too. Our ears are about ready to stop hearing the Christmas music we looked forward to a few weeks ago, and our eyes are almost ready for us to dismantle the decorations we have been enjoying.

Many of us feel blessed beyond measure. We have cherished times with family and friends and have celebrated a cornerstone of our faith, the birth of our Savior.

Others among us have had a different experience with the season. In the midst of all the festivities, they have struggled with illness, grief, loneliness, and melancholy. For them the end of the season comes with relief.

And it can been even worse. Tragedy is no respecter of seasons. Last night a mother was murdered, today the father arrested, and last I heard the ten-year-old son could not be found. Is he hiding somewhere in terror? And tomorrow’s headlines will tell of the angry, vengeful man who went to the large family Christmas party, shot several people, set the place on fire, and later killed himself.

What do we do with Christmas in the midst of a world like that?

During our country’s tragic Civil, War Henry Longfellow wrote the words to the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” He begins with words about bells, “wild and sweet,” repeating words of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Then he looked around him and wrote the third verse that has long haunted me.
And in despair I bowed by head:
“There is no peace of earth,” I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

I’m grateful that Longfellow didn’t stop with that verse but went on to write two more, including this third one:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead nor doeth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

I’m grateful for that reminder. Yes, Christmas is over, and I don’t expect right to win out over wrong any time soon. But I cling to the fact that God is not dead nor doth He sleep.” I’ll take that assurance to bed with me tonight, and I’ll take it with me into the new year that starts in seven days. Without it, saying good-by to Christmas would be an empty exercise. With that assurance, I can file this Christmas away with all the others in my memory bank and look forward to whatever God has for me before another one rolls around.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Delays and Dilemmas

I’ve been thinking about two things that often dog our paths and cause frustration. One is delays, and the other is dilemmas. I’m dealing with both right now. Both can be unavoidable, despite our best efforts, and both can be unpleasant.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been dealing with three delays. Though I’m a missionary who always determines to get the Christmas mail out by the first of December, we didn’t finish ours until yesterday. Though I look forward all year to the ambiance of a home decorated and lighted for Christmas, our only decorations so far are matching wreaths on the dining room wall. And as a writer trying to break into the Christian fiction market, I know the importance of being timely with submissions, yet the submissions are hung up on the second part of my title—dilemmas.

Some dilemmas are not as big as others, but they can still trip us up or slow us down. My husband has a yen this year to get a new tree, but what kind? He’s intrigued by those new ones with permanent lights—but they are expensive, I can’t imagine how you store them, and they mostly come with all white lights (I’m partial to soft colors). Another current dilemma is that we can’t decide what to do about our two daughters and their husbands for Christmas. We’ve tried matching gifts, gift certificates, and taking them shopping, but each of those has met with one catch or another.

Meanwhile, I’ve dealt with dilemmas related to my Tangled Strands novel—how to arrange the text to make the “three sample chapters” I submit, and shall I send to both interested publishers at once? Bigger than any of those dilemmas is an unexpected turn in the whole thing. On September 3, 2008, I wrote a blog titled “What? Make it the beginning?” It told about members of my writing group suggesting that the scene they had just critiqued would make a good opening for the story. That would require huge changes, but I knew almost from the first moment that it was a good idea.

Since then I’ve written a new beginning, starting the story six months later. The scene they liked so well as a beginning is just that, in the form of a prologue. Now I’ve received strong but opposing advice from two respected critique partners – 1) ditch the prologue; you’ve got a good beginning with chapter 1; and 2) oh, you must keep that scene as the opening! What to do??? I need feedback from some fresh readers, but who? “Friends” aren’t too hard to come up with, but I should also query a few who have experience with both writing and editors.

That leads to yet another dilemma—who to ask and how do I ask them? Though the author community of which I’ve been a part for two years now is incredibly generous and helpful, I am reluctant to intrude on any of them (it’s the holidays…they have their own deadlines…yada yada).

Both delays and dilemmas can have a good side, if we are willing to look for it. They can drive us closer to God if we let them, and they certainly teach patience, persistence, and perseverance. They can also produce subtle or unexpected blessings. The volume of Christmas mail brought fresh gratitude for all the friends God has given us. The house-decorating delay is going to result in some special time with our grandchildren as they help us play catch-up.

And the submission issues? “Special results” for that are still unknown—to me, but not to God.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fun With the 50s

I’m making progress on the reworking of my Tangled Strands story, and as I move ahead in it, I am finding more ways to show that it is happening in the 1950s. For someone like me who lived during that time, it is a lot of fun.

I’ve chosen to give the characters in my story cars that are not longer in the market. Sharon drives a little green Rambler, Agnes drives a “vintage Studebaker” (in honor of my grandfather who never drove anything but a Studebaker), and young Chris drives a classy Chevy Bel Air. We caught an old Mayberry episode tonight, and Barney Fife was splurging his whole nest egg to buy a car for $300! Of course there were no seat belts in any of those cars, and Interstates to drive them on were just coming off the drawing boards.

Other things were different, too. Not only were there no cell phones, there were no cordless phones. Most homes had only one phone, and it was anchored to a wall or sat on an end table. And the phone numbers began with words, like MOntrose 8-6931. You dialed the MO and the numerals, which gave you the seven digits we still use. Area codes were perhaps being dreamed of by those who had to think about such things, but the rest of us had no idea about them yet. And when Barney's car broke down out on the road, Andy set out to walk to the nearest phone he'd noticed in passing at the gas station a half mile back.

And then there was music. The only music you could have in your car was from the radio—yes, we did have radios. In your home, the only music you could play would be on what was called a record player because—guess what? It played records. The round black record spun on a turntable and a needle “played” the music by riding in the ridges in the record. Though it was nothing compared to what we have now, it was still a rather amazing thing, if you think about it.

As for stereo, I have to tell you a true story. This happened in the early 50s, just a few years before my fiction story takes places. I was in a Christian boarding high school in central Florida. A special speaker came to visit named Jim Voss. He had been a gangster with perhaps the most famous gangster of the time. Jim shared with us his testimony of how he gave his heart and life to Jesus at the end of a crusade with a new young evangelist named Billy Graham.

Jim had a treat for us—a brand new invention that was not available for sale anywhere at that time. He had a truck load of equipment with him, and it took him almost all day to set it all up on the stage at the front of our chapel. The equipment covered the whole platform, and some of the pieces were as big as Jim, which was pretty big. Then we all came together for a demonstration of this new marvel—stereophonic sound! I remember him playing some music where you could hear some instruments on one side of the stage and some on the other side. But the pi├Ęce de resistance—with all the lights in the auditorium turned off—was the sound of a train going from one side of the stage to the other. It sounded like that thing was going right through our building.

I’ve never forgotten something Jim said at the end of that demonstration—and you can imagine how it has returned to me many times as things have changed in the decades since. Jim assured us that such equipment would never be available for home use because it just wouldn’t be possible to make the equipment small enough.

I thought about that again today when my son was showing me his new iPhone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Discovering Facebook

I’ve known about Facebook for a while now as I’ve heard my kids talk about it. My first thought was oh, no, not another social network! Don’t people have enough to do these days but to sit around cultivating invisible relationships? It’s true many people find such relationships easier to carry on than face to face ones. I also figured it would be one more great way to waste time, or at least to spend time that I should be spending on something else. Besides, as a still-active missionary, I already had enough relationships to keep up with, including lots of long-distance ones and some online ones. I didn’t have time to add any more.

At the same time, I knew I would sign up with Facebook eventually as a means of spreading the word about my book, if and when it gets published, but I figured I could wait until such a time as I knew for sure that was going to happen. Then this week I got an invitation from a long-time friend, and next thing I knew I had gone and done it. Yikes! And the next thing I knew, friends were coming out of the woodwork. That was cool, though I soon learned my daughter was putting them up to it. “Oh, but that’s the only way they’ll know you’re there!” For now, I have to take her word for that. The truth is, it has been a pleasure to make a lot of connections, including old friends and former students.

So now the challenges for me are keep it in balance (i.e., not let it become my master), to learn enough about it to make it really serve me, and to find ways I can perhaps use it to be a blessing. And would you believe that God threw in a little confirmation that this is a good move and the right time? A real-life friend gave me a heads-up about a blog just posted by a writer about the many ways writers can use Facebook to network and get the word out. By jumping in now, I have time to learn about those things so that when the time comes to use them, I’ll be ready to roll.

If you’re a new reader of this blog, be sure and read the two paragraphs at the right that tell about this book I keep talking about. You may even want to go back and look up some earlier posts about what’s going on with it. And feel free to make a comment.

I never cease marveling at how things have changed in my lifetime. Growing up in a missionary family in central Africa during WWII, we went months without any connect with the outside world--not just relatives far across the ocean but even coworkers a few hundred miles away. Now I can not only “talk” to family members on other continents, but I can peek in on the lives of friends all over the country and the world. If you’re too young to have experienced that difference, you’ve missed something.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Improve or Destroy?

Before I got seriously involved with today’s community of Christian writers, a number of my friends and family read Tangled Strands. I readily admit that the fact that they liked the story (one even admitted to shedding tears over the ending) is what gave me the motivation to bring it up to today’s standards in order to see it published. In fact, though they are polite about it, I’m pretty sure some of them have never understood why I had to “mess with it.”

Today I was going back over a seven-point framework developed by another author. He calls is the “seven beats of your story,” and we in our local writers’ group were challenged to apply it to our “work in progress” (aka WIP). I forgot that I worked my way through the whole thing several weeks ago, so it was most interesting to read my analysis. Perhaps the most interesting thing was at the very end after I’d made a stab at the seven points. This is what I wrote:

A BIG questions is this: If I try to pour my story into a mold made to fit all the “rules” and style matters of today, am I going to improve my story or destroy it?

Ouch! But it is a fair question, and it deserves an answer. There are two issues main to address in the answer.

First, I can truthfully say I am confident the end result is going to be better for all this work I am putting into it. I’ve been sharing some of the reasons with you as we go along in this blog. Some I’m electing not to get into because I don’t want to bore you to death. In fact, it has been an encouragement to me, as I’ve worked on this new beginning, that I never find myself wishing to go back to the original or wishing I hadn’t decided to make the change. So many things in that old beginning had bothered me for years, and they are now gone.

Another important issue is that, in all the things the writers teach about what makes good fiction (and not just in this day and age), they all agree on one thing and say it over and over: “It is your story, and you have to tell it in your voice. All of that supersedes any rules.” Admittedly, that makes for a challenge—to follow the principals of good fiction, to learn from what others have learned along the way, and yet to apply all of it in your own “voice” without destroying your story. (Author’s “voice” is not easy to explain, but it is related to the unique way in which one uses language.)

Another thing that everyone agrees about is that “story is king.” In other words, if the author tells a story that captures imagination and holds readers’ attention, that is more important than whether the author followed a bunch of rules.
So that is my challenge, and I’m doing my best to walk that tightrope between following proven methods and staying true to my story and my own writing style. Feel free to say a prayer for me after reading this (smile).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Of Seasons and Snags

When I woke up this morning, I decided I would like to live in Hawaii. Why today? Because it was 25 degrees outside our house, and my beautiful summer flowers came to the end of their lives. The first hard freeze of the winter is always a sad milestone for me because I love my flowers. Fortunately, I’ll have a few more days, maybe weeks, because I have five portable pots with lovely New Guinea impatiens. They have been in the house the last three nights and will get to go out again for the end of this week because the weather is going to be nice again.

Every year I have to remind myself afresh that the seasons are a totally scriptural thing. God ordained them, and they have their purpose in our world and our environment. Since I’ve spent two segments of my life in the tropics, I’m not always sure what those purposes are, but I accept that God mandated seasons for certain parts of our world. In addition, this is a good time to remind myself that I’m glad I don’t live northern Minnesota or Canada.

Today most of my time on Tangled Strands was spent going back and trying to work out the little riddles and knots I had left along the way. I always write notes to myself as I write fiction. I’ve usually done it in bright blue text (I imagine one of the reasons I like flowers so much is because I like color so much). But this week I’ve discovered how to use the Comments feature in my Microsoft Word software. With a couple of clicks, I can write my notes so they appear in the margin rather than as part of the text, and they don’t effect the word count of my text.

So when I’m writing away and I come to a snag, it works better to leave a note about the snag and get back to it later. I find that more effective than stopping my train of thought to work out a kink when it first happens. Some of those today were “simple”—as in “not complex,” but not necessarily easy to solve. One of them, for example, was about the phone in the story. In a couple of places I had the phone in the kitchen, but in another scene, I have a main character working in the kitchen, deliberately making noise so she didn’t eavesdrop on the phone conversation in another room. Remember, this is the 1950s when we didn’t have phones in multiple rooms like we do today. Like I said, it wasn’t complex, but that didn’t make it easy to resolve. It turned out to be, not a matter of figuring it out, but rather of deciding which I was willing to give up. I gave up the phone in the kitchen.

Others snags were about word choice. One was needing to look up the history of trucking to see if over-the-road truck driving was a viable career in those days. Another was a whole section I needed to rewrite.

Whatever it was, it was progress.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Conveying Truth Without Preaching

I’m going to take a break today from talking about my progress (or lack of it) with Tangled Strands and talk about some of the changes in Christian fiction over the years, and about one in particular. I’ve referred in this blog to things that have resulted from cultural changes—readers wanting less description, more action, and consistent point of view. The truth is, two or three decades ago, Christian fiction did not have a good reputation at all.

Author and literary agent Ron Benrey in his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction (yes, one of those, and it’s really good) writes, “The complaints of critics and book reviewers that Christian fiction was boring, preachy, formulaic, heavy handed, and clumsily written…drove Christian publishers to hire editors who truly understood the craft of fiction. In turn, these editors found writers who could write compelling novels that simultaneously delivered explicit Christian content” (p.24).

He goes on to say, “Editors at Christian publishing companies have set high standards and expect authors to deliver high-quality manuscripts and proposals.” They “quickly reject manuscripts that have weak stories, sloppy prose, poor characterization, tacked-on Christian messages, . . . and careless point of view” (24,25). When I was an editor for Zondervan many years ago, a manuscript came in that had a story my boss thought was worth publishing, but the author had used the book as a platform for propagating the denomination’s theology. There would be a chapter or two of story, and then the characters would sit down and talk theology for a whole chapter. My boss gave the manuscript to me with instructions to cut sixty pages of it, including all the “preaching.”

Tangled Strands doesn't contain any preaching. In fact, it doesn’t even include a church service. It does carry strong Christian messages about forgiveness and God’s sovereignty, but they are woven into the story. Sometimes truths are shared from one character to another, but sometimes a character discovers something or works through a challenge on her own.

It took me a while to appreciate the changes that have come about, and I admit that I thought of them as simply style differences and perhaps whims of current writers. Now that I understand the quality issues better, I have more respect for these changes I am trying to implement. I guess all this effort I’m expending is to try and become one of those who can write a “compelling” novel that still delivers a Christian message. At least I will have tried.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where Did the Rhythm Go?

Or Rethinking Who Reads Your Story

I’m sorry to admit that the rhythm I spoke about last time didn’t last, and I’ve been struggling a bit—until today (more on that in a minute). In the meantime, other things have come up that I could have talked about, but I never got myself to sit down and do it. But I’m here now.

The online course from my American Christian Fiction Writers’ group right now is about critique partners and groups. That’s when authors read each other’s work and offer feedback. The two authors teaching it are two I’ve mentioned here before—Deb Raney and Tamera Alexander, and they are gems. They’ve been “crit partners” with each other for five years now (get used to that term; you’re going to hear it here), and a beautiful friendship has resulted for them. Tammy is the one I chose to do my paid critique at the conference last month; Deb did it for me the year before.

One discussion that developed in the class was whether ever to use non-writers, including family members, to read your work. Whereas I had been exposed to the idea that feedback from non-writers’ didn’t count (“your mama’s gonna like your story no matter how bad it is”), these two successful authors and others who chimed in say they definitely use “readers” in addition to those who formally “critique” their work. That was good news because I have valued the opinions and feedback from non-writers over the years, including family members. In other words, there is a place and a need for both. That’s great to hear.

The best news for today is that I think I have come to the “end” of the new beginning of my story. If you haven’t been following this saga, you won’t know what I mean, but that’s okay. It’s not all polished yet, but it is well along to way to that. I feel like I am getting back into that rhythm. What I am going to need now is two or three friends who have never read it before (or not in the last four years) to give it a read and see how it flows and whether it has any gaping holes in it. After a little more work, I’ll be ready to share it with those who have read it before. And of course I’m going to have to get feedback from some “writers” as well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Getting into a Rhythm

First of all, a correction. I’ve no idea what I was thinking when I said I was nine thousand words into my new version last time I posted. I was just over three thousand. Now I’m pushing five thousand.

The important thing to say this time is that I think I am finally getting into a rhythm. One thing helping me is realizing that I don’t have to polish as I go. I’ve been editing and polishing this thing for so long (years!) that I find myself stopping to work on improvement when I see some words aren’t quite right, or I haven’t thought about sensual details, or I’ve put something in that duplicates something I’ve already covered. I’m getting it through my head that I don’t have to fix those things now. I can go back and work on them later. Right now the important thing is to get this new beginning off the ground and catch up to the point where having changed the beginning no longer matters. I haven’t tried to decide where that will be, but I’m confident I’ll recognize it when I get to it.

I had a sweet moment today when I found a perfect spot to slip in a sliver of a scene from the very first page I wrote back in 1975—the spot where Chris tells Mollie he’s thinking of taking a vow against kissing (all the rest of that scene is gone now). I hadn’t worried about losing it, but in this brand new scene I was writing—again with Chris and Mollie in the kitchen, only now they are married—it dawned on me that I had a spot where it fit perfectly.

I have written two brand new scenes yesterday and today, and that has been a pleasure after working over old ones for so long. It’s been nice to find out I can still do that, and I have another one to do coming up next, hopefully yet tonight, depending on how it goes. This is one I side-stepped when I wrote the original. Back then, I chose to let this scene happen “off stage” while I took the reader into the kitchen to watch what was happening there with two other characters. Now I know I have to deal with that scene head on. It lays an important foundation for that slap scene that started this whole change-the-beginning business. I’ll let you know next time how it went.

One another loose end, by the way, in case you remember when I was thinking about making serious changes in some character names . . . I’ve made my decision, and I’m changing only one. It’s not a major one or first name. To keep Baldwin and Barrett from being confusing, Sharon will now have the last name of some of my ancestors I didn’t know about until 2000, the Champlins.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Of Engines and Emotions

I’m happy to report that I’ve made some progress on getting that engine of creativity going to get this revision off the ground. See the end of the previous blog if you don’t know what I’m talking about. My new version of the story is starting to come together. I’m discovering effective and subtle ways to introduce readers to important things that have gone before. And so far, close to nine thousand words into it, I haven’t spun a single scene of straight back story.

As I’ve mentioned before, I first began getting a handle how to deal with back story when I read Susan May Warren’s Reclaiming Nick two summers ago. So it was a special treat for me to be able to study under Susan for two classes at the conference last month. One was about how to create a “story world” for your readers, and the other was on how to show a character experiencing emotion rather than just naming the emotion. As the introduction to the course said, “Readers don’t want to be told what to think and feel. They want to discover the story along with the characters.”

I learned there are four levels of showing emotion. The easiest is simply to state it. Picture, for example, a gal discovering a large spider in her bathroom sink. She was terrified. A deeper level is to state the emotion along with an action: She jumped back in fear. A third is to use action only and not name the emotion at all: She screamed and slammed the door. The fourth is a little more difficult, and I’ve been too busy working on my story to figure out a good example of how to expand on the emotion with a metaphor.

And yes, I got the Nick and Rafe books of the Noble Legacy series signed (one of my daughters has read them and the other will be soon) as well as the newest one I bought about their sister Stephanie, which I’m reading now. And after class I got my picture taken with Susie.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Putting Back Story in Its Place

Most people have an idea what “back story” is. In simplest terms, it is anything that happened to the people in your story before your story began. There’s nothing wrong with “back story” itself. Everyone (real as well as fictional) has back story, and many of us are guilty of boring others with tales of our past. In the same way, amateur authors tend to swamp readers with far more back story than those readers are interested in knowing.

As I stated in the right margin here when I started this blog, when I wrote my story all those years ago, the first thing I did after writing an opening scene was to plunge into a fairly thorough back story on my cast of characters. I felt it necessary because their lives were so intertwined. Nevertheless, when I got the thing out in recent times, I found myself worrying about that back story. I wish I could say I was smart enough to figure it out myself because, as I look back, I see that on my own I worried about the very things I now know are brick weights around the neck of a fiction story.

The bottom-line problem with back story is simple. Whenever the author moves to a scene of back story, the main story is stopped in its tracks and the reader’s attention diverted. Even if you make the back story an active scene, you have still stopped the main story and left the reader temporarily hanging. You can get away with snippets of that but not major blocks of it nor repeated blocks of it.

It took me a long time to make peace with what I was hearing about back story. I tried all kinds of things in efforts to make it palatable. I created new scenes with my key characters and broke up the back story among them. I cut some of it—-but I still worried about it. Wouldn’t readers get bored with all this “reflection” the other characters were doing and start wondering when the story was going to get back to Sharon and what happened to her after she skipped town with her charmer?

Of course they would! And I finally got it through my head.

The thing that bothered me most about making this change is that, by starting the story six months later, suddenly everything during that six months became—you guessed it--more back story. I wasn’t a happy camper when I heard over and over that readers don’t need to know nearly as much back story as authors thinks they do. Finally, that is another thing I have made peace with—a little reluctantly, but mostly in a sort of epiphany of understanding when I finally started getting it.

A cool thing I’ve learned in the process is how to use back story to tease the reader and stir up curiosity. Refer to bits of previous events, telling how a key character was affected by it, but don’t spell out what happened until well into the story. I got good practice doing that in those eighty pages that have gone away. For that reason, my efforts on them were not wasted. Hopefully, I am better able to handle what I have to do now because of what I’ve done before. And I’m happy to report that I’ve been able to preserve a couple of my favorite scenes by giving them to another character in a later time and scene.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Challenges of Crafting a New Beginning

I’ve told how my writing group started the ball rolling with the idea that I should start my story later—six months later, in fact. I think I’ve mentioned the confirmation I got about that through the conference last month (including my conference critique) and how I started feeling really good about the idea. I’ve got another blog started where I go into the reason it is such a good and even necessary idea.

But an idea’s simply being good and right doesn’t make it easy. One thing that helped me finally get started is that I haven’t gone about this by cutting anything. No, the old version(s) of the story are still in tact on my computer. What I did was start a brand new file, with a brand new name, and even in a brand new folder. I simply copy and paste what I want into the new file. That much has been good.

To give a bit of framework on which to hang some of the things I’m going to say, the story originally started with Sharon taking off with a charmer in the yellow convertible. Now it starts when she comes back months later. I’ve already surprised myself by how easy it was to write one sentence that fully covered the essentials of the first two chapters.

But that was the only thing that has been easy. By following this new plan, I have to introduce everything all over again—my characters, their relationships to one another, the setting of the story. This, I have found out, is much more difficult than it was covering those first two chapters in short order. The decisions have been harder than I imagined. How soon do I have to get the name of the town into the story? I’ve lost the good way I had before to communicate that the father in the story is dead. The opening conflict is between Sharon and Mollie—how soon do I have slip in the fact that Mollie has married Chris in the interim? How can I subtly communicate that Chris and Larry are best friends, not brothers?

And so it goes. Our local writers’ group is trying to “marathon” with our writing during this month of October. We can count our progress in number of words written or amount of time spent on it. By the very nature of what I’m doing, mine comes out a mixture of the two. My biggest challenge—okay, hindrance—so far is the fact that I do my “real” work at home as well, so I end up working on Tangled Strands in snatches that are never easy to measure on any scale.

So the one thing that is clear is that I haven’t really gotten off the ground with this challenge. I’ve done some racing down the runway, but so far I feel like the racing hasn’t come from the engine but from my feet out through the bottom of the plane, like that comical scene in The Gods Must Be Crazy 2. I don’t feel like the engine in my little plane has kicked in yet, and that makes most everything a struggle so far.

But I keep taking a deep breath and churning my legs down that runway. I have to believe that sooner or later, this little plane will become airborne.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Experience of Faith

I suppose it’s not surprising that my roller coaster ride has kept slipping back to mind during the last four days. When I looked up its website, I found this: “…this triple spiral-looping coaster makes you feel like you've landed inside a funnel cloud as you zoom down a 128-foot drop through an actual mountain at speeds of 70 mph.” Huh? I did that??

An experience like that is an experience of faith. Oh, you don’t have time to process any thoughts, but some clear impressions do flash through your consciousness. Expanded, mine went something like this as I plunged into that Hail Mary curve and catapulted into that drop described above: “What have I done? Am I going to die? No! I’m not. People have done this before and survived. I’m firmly anchored, and this has to be safe.”

All this has directed my thoughts towards parallels with life. Sometimes things hit that throw us for a loop. Illness strikes with a harsh diagnosis. Nature roars in and mows us down with a hurricane or tornado. Financial crisis threatens. A loved one is snatched away, and we are left reeling.

That’s when it makes all the difference to have an anchor of faith that says I will survive this because I am firmly anchored. I will survive this because God has gone before me. His omnipotent hand is on the controls. Nothing about this surprises Him. Yes, I placed my faith in that Tennessee Tornado, but far more is my faith in the God who keeps this universe running, literally, like clockwork—even when we feel the earth threatening to give way beneath us.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Of Roller Coasters and Fresh Challenges

Sometime in the last five year I got a wild idea. I decided that before I die, I would like to ride a roller coaster. Why? It’s not as if I’ve always been a daredevil kind of personality. When it comes to the serious things of life, some folks might even consider me a stick in the mud. So don’t ask me where this yen came from. When I first got the idea, which was also the first opportunity I had to do it, I’d been undergoing therapy for my neck, so such a thing would have been foolhardy.

Because roller coasters aren’t on every corner in life, I’ve gone stretches of time without thinking about it. But this weekend, my husband and I have visited at a theme park, and it occurred to me that the place undoubtedly had a rollercoaster—though it was not visible in the central venues of the park. Hmm. Did I dare? Would it be foolhardy? When I checked the map of the place, I discovered it had two, one of them looking from the map to be more monstrous than the other. I decided the better part of wisdom, given my age and lack of experience, was not to choose the most monstrous-looking one. My sweet husband didn’t stop me, bless his heart, though he wasn’t feeling up to joining me.

So I did it. Even though the Tennessee Tornado isn't one of those creations that tries to outdo all the competition, it is plenty serious . . . breath-snatchingly fast, upside down in a complete circle twice, and sharp, sharp turns that would have launched me like a Hail Mary pass if I hadn’t been securely anchored. The scariest moment was a complete surprise, which added an extra flash of terror. We came charging up over a high peak—and there before us was a solid wall! This would have been a serious place to scream, but I didn’t (then or ever). Instead of plunging into the wall, we plummeted straight down, low and under the wall—and into a dark tunnel with strobe lights.

The good thing about going at such mind-bending speeds is that almost in a flash it is over. As we walked away, I overheard someone say it lasted a minute and forty-eight seconds.

Did I enjoy it? a friend wanted to know. In the sense that I came away completely satisfied that I had done it, yes—but I don’t feel any need to do it again. (Big smiles all around)

If I can do what I did today, then I have to believe I can rewrite the beginning of my story the way it needs to be done. Truth is, the more I think about it, the more I know it is the right thing and the more excited I am to get started. During the last several days I’ve been waiting on the Lord to show me how to go about starting with that scene my writing friends thought would make a good opening.

With God’s help, I think I’ve figured it out. Now to try and do it. Can’t be any harder than riding a roller coaster for the first time at my age.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Invitations and Awards

I can’t believe I’ve been home from conference almost a week now. It’s fun to relive some of the special moments, including the two when I was invited—when I have the thing revised and “ready”—to “send” to them a proposal and sample chapters. Invitations to send are highly treasured. It doesn’t promise something will come of them, but it is an important step. I had three invitations to send from the conference I attended in May last year, and I “sent,” but none of them materialized into anything further. Nevertheless, they were good experience.

Now let’s see if I can put in a picture and get it in a good place. It was nice to see author Deb Raney again. I studied under her at Blue Ridge last year, and she sort of remembered me. She told me that she and Tamera Alexander (more on her in another blog) both had to cut the original beginnings of their early efforts. BUT--the last night of the conference, three of Deb’s recent books won the prestigious Book of the Year award. I’m hoping some of that rubs off on me .

Meanwhile, my mental wheels have been turning about my story, and I’ve been journaling. I think when I get back from this weekend trip, I will be ready to tackle at it. And my local writing group has decided to make October one of our periodic “marathon” writing months. Isn’t that timing perfect? (Of course we still have to keep up with the other parts of our lives.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


This was an experiment with how to add pictures, but apparently I can't delete it now. Oh, well. At least I know how to do it for the future--without experimenting. I want to add pictures of some of the authors I'll be talking about when I share some of the things I learned at conference.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Look Back and Looking Ahead

We got home from the conference late yesterday. My husband tells me we traveled 1800 miles. Joan and Krista and I not only did well together but we had had some really good times. All three of us missed our husbands, and Krista missed her three little girls, but we all profited from the conference and were glad we went.

Sunday night on our return trip we stayed with my daughter Laurie and family outside Chicago. The evening had some excitement when their sweet Desi dog tangled with a skunk in the backyard while son-in-law Rick was setting up the patio with their comfortable chairs around the fire pit. As we three sat there with our laptops, we got to laughing, so much so that Laurie said, “I think you ladies had entirely too much fun on this trip!” We didn’t argue with her.

On the rest of our way home Monday, we did that long trek the length of the state of Illinois. After lunch Joan was driving. She has some fascinating family history about an ancestral family where some of them were massacred and some captured during the French and Indian War. Joan’s next a novel, about a third already written, is built on that true story. We were having a great time talking about it when suddenly Krista realized we had missed our turnoff onto I-24 that would take us across Kentucky toward Nashville. Fortunately, she caught it when we had only gone eleven miles beyond, and we were able to cut across another road to catch the right one without backtracking.

As for looking ahead, a few minutes ago I printed out the “storybook” blocks of text that I will use to decide what to do with the eighty pages/forty scenes that will be affected when I start the story at a new and more active point.

It was interesting to talk to some other authors about this at the conference. Gail Martin, who has now sold 2.5 million books, told me that on the first book she published she had to cut the first 102 pages. Deb Raney, who had three books in three categories win “Book of the Year” at the conference, said she and Tamera Alexander have both had to cut multiple pages from where they originally started some of their books. It’s apparently common for less experienced authors to start their stories too early before the real action begins.

What I will do is cut out the blocks of text that I printed (in very large type so they are easy to work with) and use them to sort those parts of the story. Examples: What happened in this scene will be gone completely. Or, I need the essence of what happened in this one, but I’ll have to work it in another way. Or, this scene may need to be a full-fledged flashback (though I will have to be sparing with those). The biggest challenge will be how to subtly work into the new beginning what has happened before that point. I’m sure you’ll hear more about that as I go along.

In closing for tonight, I can’t believe how many typos were in the blog I posted from the hotel. Sorry about that. I fixed some of them on the trip home, but I discovered yet another one today. They were all the kind of thing spell checkers don’t catch because the wrong words were nevertheless real words. I guess it happens to all of us.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Big Day at Conference

It has been long day.

It started early for me, sometime between three o’clock and four o’clock. I spent the next two hours in bed practicing my “pitch” in my head and praying about the day ahead. In addition to the big “continuing ed” class in the morning and three workshops in the afternoon, I had my paid critique with Tamera Alexander, an appointment each with an editor (representative of a major publishing house) and an agent, as well as two introductions to give for ladies teaching two of the classes I was taking.

Krista (one of my travel companions from Nashville and a first-time conference attendee) was also nervous about the day, so I was happy when the Lord reminded me of—and I shared with her--that wonderful promise that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Oh? So when we feel inadequate, we have all the more opportunity to experience God’s help in special ways. Today was a perfect opportunity for that truth.

Fortunately last evening we were able to get Internet connectability (I know, that’s not a word, but it works for this; maybe ten years from now it will have become a word). I say fortunately because I needed to get from the website the info I needed for the two introductions—how many awards they won, the fact that one of them has sold 2.5 million books, and the services they both offer to writers through their websites.

As it turned out, when I got on the net in the morning, I found two items of major interest on my work e-mail, so I was grateful afresh that we had been able to arrange of Internet access here in our hotel room.

So how did the day go, you ask?

I’m happy to report that I would say 90% of it sent super-abundantly well. God definitely came through, and He gets all the praise. The editor invited me to send a proposal and sample chapters of my book when I have them ready. And the Lord set me up perfectly with the impromptu opportunity I was hoping for to speak one-on-one with Angela Hunt about how much her class helped me get on the right track when I took it in 2005. Angela is the keynote speaker for our conference.

Sometime soon when it is not so late, I’ll give you an update on the matter of restructuring the opening chapters of my story. For now I’ll just say that today brought clear confirmation from the Lord that I have to do that—and I am happy about it. My original opening and all the ways I’ve tried to improve on it over the last four years have continued to leave me concerned.

Now I know why. Though I haven’t figure out the “how” of that restructering yet, I'm actually getting excited about it. I have confidence that God is going to guide me through it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thirty-six Hours from Now . . .

That’s about how many hours are left until I and my two traveling companions set out for Minneapolis and the writers’ conference. Someone warned us about last minute tensions and panic, and I thought at the time that I was doing pretty well. But the panic started setting in today. You know those last-minute jitters you get when you start wondering if you’ve remembered everything?

For a writers’ conference that is multiplied because I have all those strange things to think about such as whether my pitch is good enough, and whether I’ve printed everything I need off the Internet, and whether I will remember everything I need to get copied to the flash drive before I leave. Hmmmm.

Then there is the matter that came up Saturday about whether I need to consider restructuring the beginning of my story. I committed it to the Lord and told Him I was sure He would give me the right answer in His own time. I didn’t have to wait long to know what I need to do and to have peace about it.

No, I’m not tearing into the story and starting to chop it up. That would be foolhardy. Instead, I’m going back to exactly what I was doing before Saturday. I’m continuing where I left off in polishing and applying what I’ve been learning. That’s my first priority. Deciding what to do about rearranging anything is not something to be rushed into.

Part of what comes with the conference is one appointment with any editor of your choice and one with an agent. You submit four choices for each, and when you get there, you find out with whom you’ve been scheduled on both counts (possibly your first choices, possibly not). That’s another area you commit to the Lord for His perfect will and direction. There are additional chances to meet and talk to editors and agents at meals and informal encounters.

So there is a lot of anticipation stirred together with a lot of unknowns. We’re told our best preparation is being well “prayed up,” and I’ve been working on that. I’ll be grateful for the prayers that anyone else wants to add to mine. It’s hard to believe that next week at this time I should be freshly arrived at home. I’m confident I’ll be loaded with some rather amazing memories.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What? Make It the Beginning?

We had an interesting time at our monthly writers’ meeting this morning. The agenda for the meeting was to offer each other critiques on two pages that anyone wanted to submitted. Five of us were brave enough to do it, though two of them ended up sick and couldn’t come. (If you want to be a writer, you have to learn to accept input and even criticism from others, so this was a good practice opportunity.) Of the nine of us present, at least three were published authors.

The two pages I chose were a scene with an emotional conflict between two main characters (twenty-year-old girls). Near the end of the scene, one of the girls hauls off and slaps the other one because of something she said. The scene ends with the slapped girl saying caustically, “All I’ve got to say is, you’d better not cause my brother any more grief!”

Since I hadn’t offered any background with the two pages, those reading it didn’t know what had gone before or that the scene comes about eighty pages into the book. Imagine my surprise when the group liked the scene so well that they thought it should be the beginning of the book! We discussed it around for several minutes, and I said I’d think about it.

And I have. It is just possible that, after all this time and all the work I’ve put into the first quarter of my story, I am going to need to restructure at least that much of it.

As you can imagine, you will be hearing a lot more about this.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not a Hoax, Just a Long-ago Mistake

Nowadays all of us on computers are forever getting e-mails with great or dramatic news that turns out to be a hoax. Well, it turns out our Mayflower connection was not correct after all, but it was not a hoax. It was simply a mistake made a century ago which had been corrected in some records but not all, and not the one I was looking at that day. I have to admit it was fun while it lasted, but no real damage is done. I hadn’t even gotten used to the idea. Also this week I’ve learned that, while my ancestor William Compton had his jaw shot off and died fighting in the Revolution, the second Consider Tiffany, in a completely different ancestral line, was a Tory and on the side of the mother country, England.

Much more important at the moment are the preparations for conference. The two ladies and I who are traveling together have burned up the wire with a few e-mails about the trip--like route, whose care we will take (looks like it will be ours), how we will share costs of gas, what we like to do in the car, where we like to eat, do we get car sick? We all plan to attend our monthly meeting this Saturday, so we’ll be able to finalize things in person then.

I’ve made decisions about the outfits I’m going to take, keeping in mind that it should be cooler in Minneapolis than what we’re having in Nashville now. Probably time to put away the sandals and white shoes. I need to get my hair cut this week. Tomorrow I pick up my business cards from Staples.

I still haven’t decided whether I’m taking the laptop with me, but I’m guessing I will. I still need to print out the file I’ve collected with names and brief sketches of those of us who are first-timers (we’ve been getting some great online advance orientation). I also need to print out my proposal and synopsis again, as well as the bios and pictures of the agents and editors who will be at the conference. I’ve been studying them, trying to get a head start on recognizing them.

I think it is all coming together.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Freight Train Bearing Down

The American Christian Fiction Writers’ annual conference was a long way off when I first wrote about it back in May (“Minneapolis Writers’ Conference” and “Learning Craft at a Conference”). Those blogs are in the Archives down the right side of this site; click on the little triangle beside May.

Now the conference is bearing down on us like the proverbial freight train. An endless number of messages have gone back and forth, forums have been buzzing, and advice—good advice—has been available on every side. Everyone is talking about one sheets, pitches, and appointment etiquette, not to mention clothes, business cards, and a lot more.

To get to the conference, I’ll be traveling with two ladies from my local writer’s group and sharing a hotel room with them. Two weeks from now, on Wednesday the 17th, we’ll be on the road all day, getting as close to Minneapolis as we can, then finishing up the next day.

The conference starts on Thursday afternoon with a special session for first timers, otherwise known as newbies. Then we’ll have the first of three keynote addresses by Angela Hunt. There will be panels to introduce the agents and editors who have come to the conference. Part of the evening program is worship and devotions, and at the end of the evening, the first round of late-night chats. The next morning we’ll begin with the classes, and in the afternoon the workshops.

Volunteers do a lot to make the conference run smoothly. Some time ago, a call went out for volunteers to introduce the presenters at each class and workshop, and I jumped in. I got my assignments this week, and I am delighted. I’m going to get to introduce an author who helped me a huge amount with one aspect of my writing—Susan May Warren. I haven’t met her in person yet, but her first book in the Noble Legacy series, Reclaiming Nick, helped me see the way to do “back story,” compared to all the advice I had previously heard on how not to do it. I hope one of these days to tell you more about it. Of course I’m going take along Nick and the one about his brother, Rafe, and get them signed . (Lord, will I ever get to sign books for folks?)

I’ve also been assigned to introduce Gail Gaymer Martin, the teacher for the Level 2 Continuing Education class I’ll be taking. In ten years of writing, Gail has signed forty fiction contracts and has more than two and a half million books in print. I’m looking forward to learning a lot from her.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Mayflower?? You're Kidding!

It has been my impression, in the years I’ve been interested in genealogy, that the gold standard for prestige was if you descended from someone who came over on the Mayflower. That was fine, but it didn’t have anything to do with our family. In 2000 we discovered two ancestors who were involved in the Plymouth Colony during its first twenty-five years, and we figured that was as close as we would get. One of those was Anne Hutchinson, who made her way into the history books and to an expressway in the Bronx, as well as her daughter Susanna, the only one who survived the family massacre by Indians.

This past spring my fellow genealogist in the family, my nephew Matt, discovered a new branch of ancestors that we hadn’t known about. I wrote about them in my July 2 blog entitled Of Roots and Names. You may remember it was a line with the unusual name of Consider Tiffany. Matt has been working hard firming up the research on the line and getting it entered in our database.

This afternoon I was browsing back through the tree, noticing some of the female lines that brought other names into the tree. Suddenly, a name caught my eye. Ruth Brewster. Brewster?? There was a Brewster on the Mayflower. Surely not…. But one click and two generations later there it was – there HE was. Consider Tiffany’s wife Naomi was a great-granddaughter of Ruth Brewster, the grand-daughter of William Brewster who came on the Mayflower! He not only came on the Mayflower, but he became a top leader of the colony.

I’m still shaking my head over it, and fascinating stories are already coming to light…Ruth’s young father losing his first wife and their three children before the Mayflower ever sailed, and William Brewster’s children who came with him on the ship being two boys named Love and Wrestling. Now there are some names for characters in my Tangled Strands story -- NOT.

But I have been seriously thinking, once again, about making name changes to some major characters—thinking about it but not yet generating courage to do it. At least two of the changes need to be made, and I’ve come up with nice family-history names that would work well. But the changes I’m thinking about would be HUGE because they are three of the most prominent names in the story. One family member is still trying to get used to the last such change I made a couple of years ago.

These would be changes to names I started out with forty years ago. Could I adjust to them? Even if I could, what about others who have been closely involved with it in recent times? One thing for sure, if I’m going to do it, I must decide and do it before anyone else reads it. Like an editor or a publisher.

Which brings me to an invitation I already have. But this blog is long enough. I’ll save that for another one. And I'll keep you posted on what I decide about the names.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Waiting Game

No one likes to wait. In our American culture, we have become very bad wait-ers. We honk, we holler, we stew when someone makes us wait. We look for shortcuts and the fastest way to get somewhere or get something done. Just look at what a thriving and integral part of our culture fast food has become. Meanwhile, inventors produce a steady stream of products designed to do things for us faster.

Most of the time, however, our God is not into “fast.” Part of that is because time doesn’t exist for Him. With a thousand years being like a day, waiting as we know it has no meaning for Him. But He does know something about waiting because waiting is one of His special tools. Because He is God, He understands what waiting means to His children. The good news is that, because He is God, He knows exactly how to use the waiting for good.

Writers, especially those of us who aren’t published, know a lot about waiting. We wait while we learn the craft, we wait to find the right critique partner, the right agent, and we wait for responses from publishers. Most of all, we wait for that illusive piece of paper called a contract. Even after that, we wait through all the steps of the publishing process. Finally, we wait for that incredible moment when we hold that published book in our hands.

So why, if God is so powerful and can do anything, even in the blink of an eye, does He elect to make us wait? You know the answer, don’t you? He lets us, makes us, wait because He knows that what He will accomplish in us during that wait is more important, in light of eternity, than whatever it is we are waiting for. When people make us wait, it may or may not have a worthy purpose or outcome, but when God makes us wait, we can be sure that He will have a divine and worthy purpose. God uses waiting to accomplish in us things He knows will deepen our faith and strengthen our character.

Our task is to stay in tune to His voice and to trust that He knows exactly what He is doing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh, Good! A Comment...

I’ve been watching for an opportunity to talk about comments to blogs, and with this last blog, I got one – first a comment (thanks!) and then an opportunity. More than one of you have said you made an attempt to add a comment but didn’t succeed. So you’re made your comments by e-mail, and I much appreciated them. That hasn’t been a problem and still isn’t especially one. However, it could be a problem in the future, so I’d like to see more of us figure out how to do it.

Up until now, I’ve been writing this blog mostly for my friends and for myself, but if publication ever does loom on the horizon, the blog will be a major way to publicize my writing efforts. I’ve even heard that in this age and age some publishers, when they are considering publishing you, they check out what you already have online, whether it’s a blog, an author’s website, a ShoutLife site or other such. From that they not only get a taste of your writing, but they get an idea of how much of a “public platform” you have, how well you are known, and the like.

Right now, looking at my blog, most could only conclude that not very many people know me or are reading my stuff. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting pressure on anyone or worrying about this. The same thing happened to me when I tried here and on a couple of friends’ blogs. But I tried a couple more times and got the hang of it.

What you have to have is a Goggle “account” with username and password. If you don’t think you have one, click on “Sign up here” and put in an e-mail. You probably don’t want to use your main one, so open a gmail one or some other free one. It isn’t something anyone but you needs to know. Then choose a password and type it twice also.

Yes, they give you the bit of hassle about copying the letters you see, but that is a precaution so that I don’t get dumped on with tons of automated spam. You do have to give a name, but not your last name. If you want to develop a profile with picture, more fun, but not necessary.

Come on. Be brave. I look forward to hearing from some more of you. I’ll notice—and I’ll reply to you.

Later: for a clearer explanation of all this, check out the long comment written the day I posted this.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Celebrating--and Celebrating

We Americans have become great celebrators. We celebrate birthdays and much more. We celebrate graduations, Christmas, and Fourth of July. We celebrate new jobs, departing coworkers, and the birth of babies. And we celebrate anniversaries.

Last winter when the new 2008 year crept upon us, my husband and I started thinking about the fact that this year would complete fifty years since we got married. Fifty years! Could that really be? Fiftieth anniversary? Wait a minute! Fiftieth anniversaries happen to other people. Fiftieth anniversaries happen to old people. Could it really be happening to us?

Since it was, we figured we were supposed to celebrate somehow, but that idea brought frustration. How could we celebrate? Our children live in three states, but even worse, our friends live all over this country. There was no way to choose a single location that would be adequate and appropriate. Our friends in Nashville are still pretty new and mostly surface friends. Yes, we probably still have friends in Dallas where we lived for twenty years, but they were only one segment of the friends with whom God has blessed over these five decades.

Then it occurred to us (remember we’d never done this before) that maybe it wasn’t necessarily our place to plan a celebration. Maybe it was up to others to do that—and that’s what happened. The anniversary itself was on August 5, but it turns out we have been celebrating all summer. Our dear family members have seen to that.

In June, thanks to the generosity of a daughter and son-in-law, it was a week with our three kids and six grandkids at a lodge in the Smokies. In July it was the cruise to Alaska, deepest thanks to Fred’s sister and husband. The first weekend of August my sister and husband hosted us for a dinner party and an outing to the Blanchard Springs Caverns. Friends were there from as far away as Illinois and family from as far away as Albania. My sister lives in northern Arkansas where, in 1983, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with my parents on their 50th. So it was special to be there in the same place for the actual date.

On the afternoon of the actual date, Fred and I drove home to Nashville. Our favorite habit when traveling is to stop in mid-afternoon for a Dairy Queen blizzard. Would you believe that the DQ on our route that afternoon turned up at exactly three o’clock, the hour of our wedding? When we got home that night, our Nashville family came over with golden balloons to tie on our mailbox and coffee cake for breakfast.

But we weren’t finished. Ten days later when we came out of church Sunday morning, our car was decorated with balloons, crepe paper, and big words on the windows, “Just married 50 years ago.” Strangers at Subway that day were so impressed with our fifty years that they paid for our lunch. It turned out to be the doings of our Nashville family again.

Meanwhile, cards were arriving at home, though it crossed my mind briefly that it didn’t seem like as many cards as we might have expected. Oh, well. Our letter mentioning the anniversary had gone out months before, so it must have slipped some people’s minds by the time the date rolled around. That happens to me all the time.

And we’re still not finished. When we arrived here in Dallas last Sunday, our daughter shocked us with a 3-inch-fat scrapbook full of cards, memories, and pictures from those friends we knew were too scattered to get together. In fact, the cards have come from 22 states and seven foreign countries. So that’s where all the cards were that didn’t arrive at our house! Tomorrow night she is putting on an open house for us, and that may turn out to be another whole story.

Finally, Fred and I have tentative plans for a final hurrah, just the two of us, when during October fall colors we plan to make a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway in an eleven-year-old convertible.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Walking on Water

This time the reason I haven’t written for a while is because I haven’t been able to settle on what to write. I’ve come up with several possible topics—fear of failure, forty days of prayer for the conference next month, “If you don’t run, you can’t win"—but every time the words have refused to go on the paper.

The idea of that last one, the one about “If you don’t run,” came from the book I’ve been reading in my quiet times recently. I love the title—If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. I’ve been impressed at all the author, John Ortberg, has been able to come up with out of that one story—everything from “boat potatoes” and all they miss to “God does some of His best work in caves.” A recent focus has been about failure and how God wants us to learn from it, not just bury the pain and keep trucking along blindly without letting the failure make us better.

Ortberg retells a story from the Chariots of Fire movie. Apparently Eric Liddell’s chief competitor was a guy who wasn’t used to losing. In fact, it sounds as if he hadn’t lost in a long time. He was so upset that he exploded to his wife, “I don’t run to take beatings, I run to win! If I can’t win, I won’t run!” To which his wife wisely replied, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

All the while I’ve been working on this Tangled Strands story, working on bringing it into the writing styles of today and along the way discovering some story elements that will make it stronger, I’ve had similar thoughts run through my mind. The truth is, all my efforts to polish it and to get it published don’t guarantee that it will get published—but if I don’t make those efforts, it for sure won’t happen. It’s true that Peter’s attention wandered from Jesus to the storm and he started to sink, but the disciples who never got out of the boat (those boat potatoes) never got to experience the thrill of walking on water that Peter did.

If I never see Tangled Strands published, at least I will have tried. In the meantime, I’m learning and growing and keeping my mind agile. I’m enjoying memorable experiences I would never have had otherwise, such as meeting and interacting with well-published authors. I am energized by all of it, and I have the satisfaction of knowing I am doing all that I can to make publication happen. Ah! Now there’s the idea for my next blog!

So if you’ve gotten out of some boat in your life recently, taken on a daunting challenge, good for you. If you’re still clinging to the side of the boat, worrying about what the waves will do to you if make yourself vulnerable to them, then I urge you to take courage. You’ll never experience the exhilaration of walking on water if you keep hanging on to the boat.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Slaying Darlings

That’s ominous-sounding, isn’t it? I first learned the term from Angela Ewell Hunt when I took her fiction-writing course at the first writers’ conference I attended in 2005. Since then, I’ve heard others talk about it in other terms, but since that was my intro to the idea, it’s the one that has stuck.

It sounds ominous, and it is. Everyone admits it is as “un-fun” as it sounds. It is not surprising that we authors have powerful and possessive feelings about the things we write. The stories we tell, the characters we create, and words we put on paper feel as if they are children we have birthed, and in a sense they are. We hurt when folks criticize them, we wince when others don’t understand our intent, and we bleed when an editor wants some of them CUT. That’s what is called, by this name and a few others, “slaying your darlings.”

As an author, you have to have a tough enough skin to endure all of the above, or you’ll never make it in the profession. You have to be willing to hear what others say about what you’ve written and to accept their words with grace. I’m told you have to learn to lick your wounds in private and then rise above them to make intelligent decisions about actions that may need to be taken. For most people, this is a cultivated skill, not something that comes naturally. And all of it is slaying your darlings.

So do I have the skill? Let’s just say I have developed a little more of the skill than I had years ago. Have I experienced slaying some of my darlings? You bet. And as long as I don’t throw in the towel on my writing efforts, I’ll have to do a lot more in the future. Even if you get published, you have reviews to face.

These thoughts are with me today because I’ve just figured out that by practicing some of the writing styles that seem to be mandatory for today’s readers, I have turned up with a result that I’m afraid is counter-productive. I may have to go back and pull most of those new sections that I wrote because they now make the story drag on too long.

Am I wailing about it? No. In fact, I’m not going to do anything about it right now. After thinking and praying, I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and keep working forward in the story, continuing to look for where I can polish and make stronger. I’m going to keep in mind these conclusions but not do anything about them until I can talk to some experienced authors. That might happen in my local group, and if not, I’ll make it a goal at the conference in September.

Even if I end up not using those sections, the effort to write them will not have been in vain. For a writer, the important thing is that you write. Not everything has to be published or seen by others. For a writer, working with words is a reward of its own, and all of it helps you hone your craft.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beyond the Bridge

It’s been two weeks since I posted here, and what a two weeks it has been. I’ve been to Alaska and back, I’ve spent an hour parked at the end of a glacier, I’ve been on a drive all the way around Mt. Rainier, and I’ve even made airport stops in Las Vegas and Phoenix. I ate four-course dinners seven nights in a row and had my bed made every morning by someone else. I’ve enjoyed two visits with long-time friends, including some we hadn’t seen in thirty years. I’ve transfers more than a hundred pictures from my camera disk to my hard drive, and I’ve deleted a couple hundred e-mails.

I succeeded in canceling the book club before I went away, I discovered how to make the insert key overwrite and how to change the default font. With the help of the IT people at headquarters, I have my work e-mail operating on the new computer, and just today a son-in-law (bless him!) spent over an hour getting my Thunderbird mail set up with my three e-mails that come through it.

I did not get anything accomplished on Tangled Strands, as I had hoped, but on the flights home I did spend solid time studying my craft. I learned about action objectives, subtexting, and the four Ds that make up a good plot. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed with what I was learning, but other times I realized that, oh! I’ve already been doing what it says; I just didn’t know it had a name. At the same time, I made note of places where I need to do some of those things more.

Am I happy to be home? You bet! The suitcases are unpacked and back in the attic. I’m cooking simple meals and making the bed myself. I have to get out and walk by six a.m. because of the heat. Life has returned to routine, and that is fine. Though I whole-heartedly reveled in the pleasures of the last two weeks, I like my life and my routine. I’ve grateful to God for His blessings and His goodness. It’s been a busy summer, but it isn’t over yet. We have another celebration on our behalf coming up, and I may have a workshop to conduct, plus I have two manuals on which to do my annual proofreading. So I won’t be twiddling any thumbs, you may be sure.

Life is decidedly rewarding or blessed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Getting Past the Bridge to Pleasures Beyond

You’ve heard about valleys of life that follow mountaintop experiences? Well, I have not been in a valley following the mountaintop last week, but I have been in a strange kind of suspension between frustration and anticipation. I feel like I’m on a swinging bridge high above a chasm. A most delightful experience awaits me in less than 72 hours, but first I have to survive the bridge.

This bridge is full of things that produce nostalgia for typewriters and a simpler life. Specifically, getting up and running on a new computer can be as frustrating as it is rewarding.

 Because things are not working as they should be, I’m still checking three of my e-mails on the web and my work e-mail on my laptop. I don’t have my primary IM program up and running.

 Because I couldn't access it effectively, I needed to stop the mail from my writers’ groups, including a course I very much need to take--but I went through all kinds of hassles before succeeding. Thankfully, when I can carve out the time, I’ll be able to access the course from the archives.

 I can’t find the way to decline this month’s selections from the book club, though I have done it many times before. That website keeps showing up with nothing on it.

 The insert key won’t work in my new Word 2007, but I don’t have time to ask those who I know will be able to help me.

 And I can't even count how many places are refusing my username and password. Could that too have something to do with the new computer?

While all this is happening, in our third bedroom open suitcases and piles of folded clothes are helping me keep my eyes on the pleasures that await me on the other side of the bridge. Awaits us—my Fred and me. In celebration of our 50th anniversary early next month, we’ve been gifted with a cruise to Alaska! I'm still not quite believing it. It's a Christian cruise, too, with times of Bible study and lots of music. I can assure you, I am looking forward to it, especially with the 100-degree temperatures we've had outside our doors here today.

I’m also looking forward to being able to think about my Tangled Strands story in settings of peace and beauty. Having never done this before, I’m not sure how it will work in practical terms, but the laptop is going with me. No, not for e-mail, but simply for me to work on my story. I’ve learned so many things in the last year that I’m eager to apply, things like "deep POV" and strengthening a story with layers. But not surprisingly, around here life keeps getting in the way. Writing efforts such as this can be done in snatches, but it is much more effective and enjoyable if one can focus and keep a smooth train of thought.

So I’ll live with this bridge for another 48 hours, but then I’ll walk away from it for a spell. If the frustrations above aren’t resolved, I’m all but sure they will wait for me until I return. Hopefully, the lovely memories and needed refreshment from beyond that bridge will provide inspiration and help uncover solutions.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Of Roots and Names

I’ve just come from two most unusual and memorable days. On Monday, along with my sister and her husband, my nephew and his three children, we visited the graves of sixteen ancestors and were graciously invited into two ancestral homes. Eight of the sixteen are third great-grandparents to my sister and me, which makes them fifth great-grands to my nephew’s children. One of the homes was built in 1860, and the stones in the basement walls were most surely laid by an ancestor, a stone mason, who was born during George Washington’s first term as President.

If Monday was a special day, Tuesday followed in its footsteps. On that day, we discovered the graves of a new set of great-great-grandparents that we hadn’t known were in the area. In fact, until a few weeks ago, we hadn’t even known their names. For genealogists, such a finding is a thrill, and this one was made even more special by the fact that Grandmother Maryette’s exquisite headstone carried the names of her parents, another generation that we didn’t have anything on.

With my interest in genealogy, I’ve ended up using a number of names from my family history for the characters in my Tangled Strands story. Agnes was my aunt’s name, and Porter is a major branch of our family. My maternal grandmother’s name works well in Fern Lake, Fernville, and Fern Haven. Betsey, mother of the stone mason mentioned above, is a fourth great-grandmother who died following the birth of her second child. And when I decided I needed to change “Sallie” because it was too close to another name in the story, I found a perfect exchange in “Mollie,” another great-great. Roxy, yet another, has a minor role in Tangled Strands but will have a major role in a later story called Silken Threads.

Given that every novel needs some unique touch that keeps it from looking like every other novel, I’ve thought a lot about whether genealogy could provide such a touch to Tangled Strands. However, since I didn’t include it from the beginning, I’m afraid it might feel tacked on (which it would be). If I ever sell TS and get to write the other books I envision in the series, I might be able to weave it effectively into that.

Speaking of names, we recently learned of some unusual names in our family tree. Ever hear of anyone named Consider Tiffany? Seriously—his first name was Consider and last name Tiffany. And we have two of them—a father and his son. We’ve done some speculating about what the ancestors might have had in mind in using “Consider” as a given name. If it had some other shade of meaning in those days, so far we haven’t a clue what it might be. I still have trouble picturing a person when my eyes rest on those words.

One thing for sure, I won’t be borrowing that name for a character in any of my stories. But I already have a good idea for how I can use Maryette .

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Launch Parties

The topic of the week on my writers' loop this week was launch parties. Who would you invite and what would you do? I hadn't thought about it before, but once I did, I surely had fun. Tangled Strands will make wonderful launch parties! Below is what I wrote up for the Loop.

My story, Tangled Strands, is set in the late '50s, so it will be huge fun to plan a launch party. I'll be able to dig out my beautiful black-and-red-hibiscus circle skirt (yes, I still have it!), though my granddaughter will have to wear it, not me. If I can't find anyone else with circle skirts, I could make a couple. Anybody have one of those with a poodle? Of course we'll have to have some in those amazing crinolines we used to wear--and saddle shoes.

We'll have wonderful music like "Love Me Tender," "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," and "Moments to Remember," and of course we'll have to have hula hoops (again I'll defer to the grandchildren). Depending on the crowd, maybe we'll have some sing-along time with the music. I know the seniors at our church here could pull it off with class.

A theme of my story is watching God straighten things out after we've messed up, or tangled, the strands of our lives. Crocheting as an analogy is threaded through it (unintended pun, but it works for me). So at the launch party I'll have drawings for bud-vase doilies I've crocheted (I haven't decided on a pattern yet) and a grand prize of a larger one.

Who will I invite? Now that is a challenge because, as a missionary for many years, I have good friends scattered from Florida to Washington state, from the panhandle of Texas to the Hudson Valley. Even our children are in three states many hours apart. So I may need to do this launch party on a small scale in a number of places. I'll have to have lots of postcards for invitations, and I imagine a doily will be a motif on them.

I'm excited about the possibilities. Anyone ready to sign up for one?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Editors, Agents, and Conference

Registration opened last week for the ACFW writers’ conference in Minneapolis in September. It took a little scrambling for me to make final decisions on which editors and agents to request to see, but I took my courage in hand and got registered before the first day was over.

Even before registration opened, the conference buzz had begun on the forums. Pre-conference weight-loss challenge? Hone your tag line? (A tag line is a 20-words-or-less teaser for what your book is about.) Discussions of conference clothes? Searches for roommates, discussions of airline tickets—-everyone is getting into the mix.

With the registration fee, one gets a fifteen-minute appointment with one editor (from a major publishing house) and one agent (remember that agents are almost essential these days since publishers no longer accept unsolicited materials). On the registration form, you get to list four of each, putting your four in order of your choices (first, second, etc.). Between now and September, a scheduler works it all out.

I did my homework by reading the online descriptions given with each editor and agent. Those descriptions gave an idea of what a publishing house is looking for or what genre of fiction an agent represents. I say I did my homework, but that didn’t guarantee anything. Only God knows whom I should talk to, so when it came right down to it, I had to use my best judgment for my choices and then leave it in His capable hands.

The good news is that those fifteen-minute conferences aren’t the only times one can speak to a faculty member. Each dining table carries the name of an editor or agent, so we get to mix with them at meals, asking questions and learning from answers given to others. I’m told the faculty often go around the table asking each writer for a nutshell about his or her book. That’s one of those times when we have to be ready to pull out those one-sentence taglines--and then see where the conversation goes from there. I’m told we’re free to talk to editors and agents most any time during the conference—except we’re not to follow them in the restrooms to sneak a little one-on-one time. Horrors! I hope not.

Curious about my tagline? This is only one version of it, but it is one I hope will stir curiosity. “She tossed his love aside for a ride on a whirlwind—-until her iridescent bubble burst in the wind.” Now if I can just become comfortable enough with those first words to be able to launch into them on a moment’s notice. Hopefully by September . . . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tangling the Threads

I have been crocheting since I was a child. For many years it was with yarn and a fat hook. Then it was with big balls of thread bought at Wal-Mart. Now I do it with finer thread from spools my sister buys in South America, using a hook whose point is as fine or finer than the lead on a pencil.

In recent months as I’ve stared at my hook sliding into a space between threads, grabbing a strand of thread and pulling it back through, I’ve not been able to escape the impression that what I was simply “tangling” the thread. Oh, I was tangling it in a very organized manner, but nevertheless I was mixing those threads in a way that one could consider to be “tangling.”

Sometimes I tangle them in a wrong way. When I do that, I end up pulling the strands of thread out, sometimes several rows. I fix the mistake and start “building” all over again. When that happens, it isn’t fun, but if I want a satisfactory result, or end product, it is necessary. Of course if I would follow the pattern more carefully in the first place, I could avoid having to pull things out and having to start over.

I imagine by now you have an idea where I am going with this. Tangled threads? Tangled strands? There had to be an analogy in there somewhere. As I lay awake in the wee hours of one morning recently, the analogy sorted its way through the fog.

As we humans live our lives, we are the ones doing the “crocheting.” If we follow the patterns set by our Creator in the Book He has given us, we can produce, or build, a life that is beautiful and useful. Being human, however, we often mess up. When we do, we need to back track, maybe undo, unravel, and start afresh.

That’s what happens to the main character in my Tangled Strands story. As my “tagline” puts it, “She tossed his love aside for a ride on a whirlwind—until her iridescent bubble burst in the storm.” What happens when she comes back, how she has to unravel, undo, and “rebuild,” makes up the bulk of the story.

I’m confident the story line and the crochet analogy will work well together. All I have to do is find effective ways to make that happen. I’m working on it!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Retreat in the Smoky Mountains

The first week of June this year was one I will never forget. Our family gathered at a pine lodge in the Smokies as an advance celebration of my husband’s and my 50th anniversary a couple of months from now. We were eight adults, six kids, and three dogs in five roomy bedrooms. The two on either side of the game room downstairs each had two queen-size bunk beds, if you can picture that.

The setting was magnificent. To get to the lodge, we drove up and up and up a steep, curvy road till we were close to the top of one of the foothills of the national park. The view from the decks included nearby forest and in the distance ridge after ridge in fading hues of smoky blue,. The Big Dipper was directly overhead, and the stars were brighter than in the cities where we live. Quiet times with God in the mornings were especially treasured.

We hiked a couple of days and hit the nearby towns a couple other days for shopping and savoring the Smoky-Mountains atmosphere. We had six laptops among us, so we were able to keep tabs on our e-mail; for several of us it was work related. The kids and dads played hours of laser tag.

Three evenings after supper, the rest of the group indulged me in requested time to focus on some family history. The first evening I produced our wedding invitation, reception napkins, laminated newspaper stories of the wedding, the orchid from the center of my bouquet, and of course pictures. Most, including the professional ones, were black and white, but Grandpa Gross had a wonderful new innovation called colored film, and all the pictures he took have now come to us. One evening the two youngest put on a “party” that got all of us down into the game room trying out the various game equipment. Another evening we played a version of the old Newlywed Game. We who had fifty years’ to remember … lost. Oh, well.

So did I get any writing done during those six days? Are you kidding? Did I do any thinking about Tangled Strands? You’d better believe it. Have I had a chance since then to add action to my thoughts? Don’t I wish . But I’m looking forward to it, and it will come.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Books on Craft

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when I attempted to get some things published, I invested in a number of writing books. Unfortunately, those are all but useless now. They’re not only for writing styles of earlier times, so not of much use to me, but no one else wants them either. When we looked into selling them online, we found every one of them already in attempts to be sold by others. So much for trying to salvage something from my investment.

Meanwhile, as soon as I joined the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) community, I started hearing about books that are “absolute gospel” for today’s fiction writing. I invested in four of them and started digging in. Then I laid out for a fifth one. I found all of them helpful. The four were Stein on Writing (Sol Stein), Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maas), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (Maas), and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King). All these are quoted and referenced over and over in the online discussions. The fifth one was also by Stein, How to Grow a Novel.

The problem—though maybe I shouldn’t call it a problem—is that I keep learning about more and more must-have books. Since those first ones, I’ve added Plot and Structure (James Scott Bell) and Getting into Character (Brandilynn Collins). At the Blue Ridge conference last year, I took a workshop from Ron Benrey and learned about the book he had coming out the end of the year—The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction. Now that’s a title for you.

Now the latest buzz is that James Scott Bell’s new book on Revision and Self-Editing outshines even his first wonderful one. Another “must-have,” according to those who have acquired it. And so it goes.

So have I read all these treasures and digested everything in them? Well, no. They aren’t the kind of book you read “kiver-to-kiver” like a story. You study them. You use them for reference when you aren’t sure and when you need to look up something. But I can promise you this: I’ve done a much better job of absorbing and applying what is in them than the gal writing on the ACFW online group today who told about buying lots of writing books but having them sit on her shelf “as virginal as they arrived.”

Not mine. Look inside any one of them, and you’ll find it well marked in multiple colors, proof that I have been working to get my money’s worth as well as to improve my craft.

In time, I know I’ll want to lay out for that new book by Bell, but first I’ve got to focus on Brandilynn’s book on character because that is still an area in which I need to grow. Or is it Bell’s first book that I need to spend more time in?

And I’ve only scratched the surface on the one for idiots. Hmmm.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

How We Got into the '50s

When I wrote about “that year” in my piece a few days ago, I deliberately didn’t mention what year I was talking about because I haven’t yet discussed the time setting for my story. Because of the way Tangled Strands has evolved over the years, the time setting has bounced around a bit.

For starters, remember that I wrote the bulk of the story in 1986-87. So I wrote it as the world was in those days. Fine. When I got it out about four years ago and starting working on it again, one of the first things I knew I needed to do was “update” it into these times. So I started working in things like cell phones, seat belts, child car seats, and the like.

Then I let my son read it. I’m not sure how far he was into the story when he said to me, “Mom, I like your story, but it feels like it happened in another time.” Well, true because it was written in another time, but I assured him I was updating it by adding things like cell phones. “No,” he said, “it is more than that. It has the feel and values of another time.”

I didn’t fully understand what he meant, and I was still sure I could “fix” it with additions of modern things. But I never forgot he said that. It wasn’t until sometime later when I was playing with the ages of my characters that it hit me full force—Don Paul was right: Tangled Strands really does take place in another time, a previous time. (Don't ask me how Don tagged it for the ‘50s since he wasn’t born until ’64! ).

My first idea for solving this was to set it in the time it was written—the late ‘80s. When I attended the Blue Ridge Writers Conference a year ago, I decided to use that question as my conversation starter—at meals and when I spoke to authors, editors, and agents. Could I sell a story set in the 1980s? Predictably, I got a variety of opinions, but more than one who really knows the field told me, no, it wouldn’t fly in the ‘80s. The ‘80s aren’t “old” enough. They aren’t current, but they aren’t old enough to be “historical.”

The idea of the ‘50s, on the other hand, generated enthusiasm. The ‘50s, one multi-published author said, are “romantic” and she could see it making a good story setting. And to think my son told me that many months before. Hasn’t it been the experience of all civilization that parents tell their children things they don’t believe until they discover it themselves much late? Occasionally it happens in reverse . Thank God for sons with two Masters degrees.

Placing it in the ‘50s, I thought, shouldn’t be too hard since I was not only alive in those years, but I wasn’t a child. I did high school, college, and marriage in those years. I know they didn’t say things like “Way cool!” in those days. Of course I now had to go back and pull out all those cell phones and seat belts. I’ve found more than just those, and I’ll share them here from time to time.

Much more weighty than things like that are a couple key story elements that are a real challenge to put in that decade. For one of them I’ve found a compromise solution, but I’m still struggling with the other one. Things just weren’t done like that in that time, yet the element is crucial to the story. I’m not giving up. As I’ve said before, stay tuned!

By the way, the year for which I needed the Easter date was 1959. And another quick search on the Web brought me the complete TV schedule for that year with all those innocent programs we used to enjoy . You’ll have to watch for some of them in Tangled Strands.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nailing Down the Dates

This week I have ended up working on something I hadn’t had in my mental list before. When I wrote Tangled Strands and all the times I’ve worked on it in recent years, I’ve had only vague generalities in mind as to when things happened. I knew the story opened on a hot August day (but not which day). A major event and a whole new part of the story began with “a biting February wind,” but again no date. I had the baby being born in “early June,” and the events leading to the climax happened Labor Day weekend, but in between those anchors all I had were those vague generalities.

This week I’ve been trying to chart the scenes, including verbalizing how each scene contributes to the advancement of the plot, and I ran into a timing problem. I had Larry calling his mother “a week after” Chris came to see him—but that didn’t put the time anywhere close enough to the spring break he was talking about.

That got me looking up once again the calendar for that year that I’d already located and bookmarked on the Internet. Then I realized that, because of that “spring break,” I really needed to know the date of Easter that year. Again, the web came through. Easter was March 29. That helped a lot, and I managed to nail down several dates. However, since one of the major events is tied to that spring break, I’ve begun to wonder whether it is a problem that I never mentioned Easter in the story. Hmmm.

As you can see, one thing leads to another. At times like this I wonder if I’ll ever finish getting it “into shape.” So far, I’m confident that all the things I’ve talked about in this blog are things that would matter to an editor and that might make a difference between being accepted for publication or not. Or at least they are things that I would have to fix eventually, even if by some chance I should be offered a contract before having done them.

So I keep plugging away. Lord, help me make better use of my time. Help me have the wisdom to make quick decisions about what needs to be done. Help it to come together in ways that will glorify You.