Sunday, March 30, 2008

Venturing a Writers’ Conference

So with the encouragement of my friend Jane, I began to think about doing something with my story. Like what?

For years I had been getting brochures about writers’ conferences, and for years I had been tossing them. Why? Partly I didn’t have the money, but also because my conscience wouldn’t let me spend money on them unless I was seriously committed to doing something with my writing. I decided that if I was now prepared to get serious, a writers’ conference would be the place to start.

I began looking at online websites of Christian conferences. The second one I checked out made me do a double take. The Florida Christian Writers’ Conference was scheduled to meet in Bradenton, just south of Tampa, March 3-6. Late on March 6, I was due in Orlando for my department’s annual meetings. I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly if I had scheduled both events just for me. I could schedule my flights to go before the conference and come back after the meetings. In other words, my organization would pay my transportation to the conference! All I had to pay was the conference fee (which was enough).

I took that as a confirmation from the Lord that this is what I was supposed to do. Was it also a confirmation that pursuing publication was something God wanted me to do in the days ahead? It seemed so. Often since then when I’ve become discouraged, I’ve gone back in my mind to this provision. I’ve clung to it as at least one concrete sign that God wants me to work on this.

The rest of the provision was that I had friends in Sarasota, next door to Bradenton, who were willing to pick me up at the airport, put me up overnight, and drive me to the conference the next day. Another family of friends picked me up at the conference and drove me up the pike (Interstate) to organizational headquarters and dropped me off. The things I learned at that conference were exactly what I needed to get me off on the right foot. All about that next time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Your Mama Don’t Count

I am well aware that everyone connected to the writing and publishing industry is adamant that what friends and family think of what you’ve written just doesn’t count. I understand that to a degree, but not totally. It’s true they don’t have the “professional” perspective, and it’s just possible they might be partial—but that doesn’t mean their opinions can’t matter about whether your story has potential.

For me, the opinions and responses of friends and family members have been crucial, not only in encouraging me to do something with this thing, but also in some crucial decisions about the direction it has taken. More on that in time. In addition, I have a couple of family members who are excellent at catching things I have missed and in helping me discuss plot intricacies. And now God has provided me with a long-time friend who is into writing and can give me professional feedback as well as personal opinion. So I count myself fortunate.

Without the encouragement of friends who have read the story, it would have been easy for me along the way to decide that either it wasn’t worth the effort or I wasn’t justified in putting so much time, effort—and money—into it.

That brings me to the fall of 2004 when a new online friend read it—piecemeal through e-mail. She not only gave me valuable feedback, but she encouraged me enough that I began to think maybe I should once again pursue publication.

At that point, it had been seventeen years since I finished writing it. That’s when it dawned on me that if I were ever going to do anything, I’d better get to doing it because I most likely didn’t have another seventeen years to think about it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back to Tangled Strands

So what’s this about a novel being written twenty years ago but I’m still working on it? In one sense that is true, but it is a bit of an exaggeration. The hard work I’m pouring into it now has not been going on for twenty years.

In the beginning I made a couple of forays into finding a publisher, but I didn’t know much about what I was doing. In the meantime, through all those years, I’ve been busy with the full-time ministry to which God called Fred and me in 1970. Though I had a handful of things published — devotionals, adult Sunday school lessons, some teen programs, I wasn’t trying to "establish a writing career.”

Though I started Tangled Strands on a typewriter, the bulk of it was written after I got into computers. That was after I taught myself word processing, step by painful step, straight out of a loose-leaf manual in a three-ring binder. The novel, in a separate file for each chapter, was carefully save on my computer. Through the years as I got new or upgraded word processing software, I opened each chapter and saved it to the new version.

Along the way, I picked up more about how things should be done, and I set myself to applying what I learned. One I remember was about “speaker attributions” (though I didn’t learn that term at that time). Instead of saying, “Larry said…Sally said…Chris asked” and the like, you avoid boredom by showing them doing something that cues the reader to who is speaking.

Example: Mollie took a sip of her coffee. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

What I didn’t know was that behind the scenes a revolution was taking place. Not only was Christian fiction changing in character and quality, but our culture itself was changing, a lot of it as a result of television. The bits and pieces I was learning were only a sample of a whole lot more to come and of ways I was going to have to make huge changes--not in my story but in how I told it. Again, stayed tuned, and we'll see if we can walk through it hand in hand.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Real Easter Sunrise Services

In the tropics, the sun comes up around six o’clock every morning. On Easter mornings, our whole family, and most of the other families at our mission center, would rise and dress in everyday clothes. Then we would mount our motorcycles (the only means of personal transportation we had) and set out on the gravel roads, up and down small hills, a mile or so across the center. The highest hill was our destination.

From the top of the hill we could see the lake—a long lake with palm trees all around. The hill was at one end of the lake, and the sun came up at the other end. There we spread blankets and sat on them while we sang, prayed, and listened to a brief meditation on the Resurrection. While we were doing that, the sun would slip into view at the other end of the lake. One year, with the help of a narrow crosswind, the sun was reflected in a huge golden cross the length of the lake.

Now that is an Easter sunrise service.

Where I am this morning, it is 36 degrees outside and dark. I probably won’t feel like it’s Easter until I get to church, but that’s okay. The evidence and assurance of the Resurrection are still true and still a lynchpin of my life.

One of the last years we were there, we didn’t get to have our sunrise service on the hill. Subversives had kidnapped one of our coworkers in January and executed him a few weeks before Easter. Our center was under guard by the country’s military, and they deemed the hill too far out and insecure. So we met close in with soldiers around and a machine gun in plain view. But it was still Easter, and no amount of threat from the outside could shake the faith in our hearts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Seventeen years ago today

On the one hand, it is hard to believe my mother has been gone seventeen years, but the feeling that she’s been gone “forever” is even stronger. Not only has a lot happened in those years (two presidents have served double terms, for example), but our lives have changed immensely. They saw only one of their six grandchildren married, and all seventeen of their great-grandchildren have joined the family since they’ve been gone.

I still remember the day I gave Mother and Daddy their first demonstration of what a computer could do. It turned out to be their only demo, and it happened on my six-inch-screen Kapro computer. They never heard of the Internet or e-mail, yet computers and e-mail have come to dominate my life. I’ve learned more about their ancestors than we could have imagined, and my nephew and I have put reams of it on a personal website. Instant messaging wasn’t even dreamed of by anyone I knew in those days, but with it I daily stay in touch with my daughters and my sister. Periodically we have to comment on how much Mother would have loved IM.

My parents did know about my “book” before they died. (Maybe it’s a story, not a book, until it gets published, but my family always calls it my book.) Since that was before e-mail and they lived in another state, they saw it on perforated reams of paper from a dot-matrix printer. I still had a dot-matrix copy of it until about a year ago, but it was so out of date that I finally routed it to the recycle box.

Part of me is sad that Tangled Strands wasn’t published so my parents could have held it in their hands. My heart wants to tell me they are cheering on from heaven the work I am doing on it now. Whether or not that’s true, my task is to be faithful in what lies before me each day. In the last ten days, “what lies before me” has been learning how to set up a blog—another one of those things my parents never imagined.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Captain Jack Is Not a Pirate

You don’t believe me? Yes, I know there is a Captain Jack who is a pirate, but he is completely imaginary and only lives as he is brought to life on the big screen by an actor named Johnny Depp. No, I’m not talking about Johnny Depp’s fantasy pirate persona. Our Captain Jack is very much alive and completely real. Not a fictitious thing about him. He is exceedingly loving, and he is warm and furry. You’ll find his picture on this website, though labeled with his initials, not his full name.

That's because we call him CJ the majority of the time. We do that for several reasons, the first simply because it is much faster to write when I am IMing with my daughters. It is also easier to say. There’s another reason, too. I couldn’t picture myself standing on the back patio at 10 p.m. and hollering, “Captain Jack!! Time to come home, Captain Jack.” No, that would never do. Our smart little guy recognizes the CJ and responds to it quite nicely—for a cat.

You’ve heard of Long John Silver, the pirate who was missing a leg? Well, this furry little pirate is missing one, too. Notice his lack of hip on the right side in the picture. But that is a story for another time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tracking Down the Music

After my friend Pat read Tangled Strands, she started asking me about the music. She wanted to know the melody that went with the words. I had never had or seen music for it, but the melody was clearly in my mind and I could sit down and play it by ear on the piano. However, since I live in middle Tennessee and Pat was in South Dakota, that didn’t do her any good.

Pat searched the Internet with no success. I asked my sister to go through our mother’s old song books, many of them from the 1950s. Nothing. So I posted on the boarding-school discussion group asking if anyone remembered the song—and bingo! Corky not only remembered it, he remembered the trio that sang it. One of the trio members is active in the current group, and we have her e-mail, so I wrote her. A prompt response from her husband. told me Mary Jean was in another state with a daughter waiting to deliver a baby. So I had to wait for her to get home.

Meanwhile, the question had come up about copyright issues. If the song was still under copyright, there was no way I could quote from it in my story. Ouch. My mind started churning with how I could possibly communicate the message of the song without quoting the words.

After Mary Jean got home, she searched her trio books—and she found it! She also found that the title of the song was not “Tangled Strands.” Its actual title was the first word in the chorus—“Transformed.” We had a school reunion coming up in a few months, so we waited until I saw Mary Jean then. That’s when I got the music to my song – and Pat got it, too.

Getting the music gave me, for the first time, the name of the author—a Mrs. F.G. Burroughs, and it gave me a copyright date, 1920. Even though the copyright was renewed in 1948 by a music company, both those dates were old enough that it had a good chance of being in the public domain. A fellow member of my local writers’ group works in music copyright, and she could not find it. Recently I learned on an Internet site that anything older than 1922 is in the public domain.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Story and Its Song

The seed idea for my novel isn’t the only thing with its roots in the 1950s. While at boarding school outside Orlando, I heard a song whose words and melody planted themselves deep in my heart and in my mind. I’m not sure how I got the words so firmly in my head, but through the decades that followed, I remembered two verses. Somewhere deep in the heart of the last century, that song gave birth to my story. In addition, the first line—“Dear Lord, take up the tangled strands”—gave me the title for the story. From the beginning, the title has been Tangled Strands.

I’ve long heard that publishers, on things they agree to publish, often come up with a different title than what the author had, and this happened recently to a writer in our local group. Since the song is the theme of my story as well as its title, I’ve never been sure how anyone could separate them or come up with something else. However, I feel confident in my heart that it I ever get a publisher, I will be so happy about it that I will make every effort not to grouse about changes they want to make, including even the title.

But as I resurrected work on the story in the last three years, the question came up about where I could find the song. How could I learn if it is in the public domain?

To find out how it took four people to help me track it down, stay tuned.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Faith in Walking Shoes?

Almost as soon as I began looking for a “tagline” in connection with my fiction writing, this phrase came to me. A tagline is like a motto. So what do I mean by “Faith in Walking Shoes”?

I don’t mean anything complicated. Though I majored in Bible at a well-known Christian college, I am not a theologian. I simply believe that our faith needs to be real and something we live out in our daily lives.

My faith means everything to me, and faith means a great deal to the key characters in my novel. I don’t preach any sermons in it, and at this point, I reference only one Scripture. My characters with a lifetime of faith provide spiritual guidance to those who do not have it. My main character is one who went through the motions of faith but never made it truly her own.

In the development of the story, I made an effort to achieve a delicate balance. It has turned out to be more like a challenging tight rope. I want it to be clear to my Christian friends that it is indeed a Christian book, but I want to do that without filling it with Christian jargon. I want my non-Christian friends to be able to read it without feeling as if they have stepped into a strange and unfamiliar world. I even dare to hope they will enjoy it enough that it will whet their appetites for more.

That’s a big order, and only time will tell to what degree I succeed. Meanwhile, I will continue to make every effort to live out my own faith in the walking shoes of my daily life.

The phrase about the stepping stones and road blocks, under the title at the top of this page, was born a decade before the tagline about walking shoes. I am pleased with the way they go together.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Story Behind the Story

I've been thinking for a long time about starting a blog about my writing journey, but I haven't had the courage. Now an online class through my writing group has given me that courage, so here I go.

The 90,000-word novel that I am working on has a long life and a story of its own. The seed idea for it came to me in the 1950s. In the 1960s I created the main characters and jotted some notes about setting which can still be found in it today. In South America in 1975, I sat down and wrote five pages, single spaced, on a san-serif typewriter. It was Chapter 1, and all the rest back story. Horrors!

Ten years later, when it became clear we would not be continuing in South America, I brought those five pages home to Texas and by fall of 1987, I had the story completed. What has happened since then, especially in the last three years, is a drama all its own as I have learned better writing techniques and worked to bring the thing into the writing styles of this century. Stay tuned!