The Sympathetic Antagonist

phantomI posted an informal poll on Facebook asking readers whether they rooted for the Phantom or Raoul to end up with Christine at the end of The Phantom of the Opera movie.

One commenter asked, “Why would you choose the controlling, reclusive psychopath?” In the real world, I most definitely wouldn’t. The character of the phantom was a controlling murderer. I would never encourage anyone to be in a relationship like this. His control over her and his surroundings and disregard for life were apparent. He is blatant in his tactics and you can easily avoid them, unless, apparently, you are Christine.

Raoul is also manipulative and controlling. He’s simply more understated with it. He tells Christine her fears are unfounded. He encourages her that all she needs is him in her life to be protected. If she will walk away from the bad, the life he gives her will be practically perfect. He downplays her feelings for the phantom as not real. She could never actually have any positive feelings for such a monster unless brainwashed.  That being the case, what she feels for him is unimportant and should be dismissed.

Christine is better off on her own. She needs to figure herself out before committing to a man. Her trauma started with losing her father, continued as she mistakenly associated the phantom with a promised otherworldly guide sent by her father, and then was rounded out with the fear inducing events of the movie. She’s been through a lot emotionally, and it would be best for her mental and emotional health to process these things before pursuing a committed relationship.

But that’s not the point. Focusing on character, I want to look at the phantom again. He is clearly the antagonist. He is an obsessive, controlling murderer. Yet there are people that struggle with his loss at the end of the movie. Why? Why would intelligent, emotionally balanced individuals who would NEVER condone such relationships in real life be left feeling less than satisfied at the end of the movie?

The answer is a key to making our own antagonists better. Without background information, the phantom is only evil bent on the destruction of everything to get what he wants.  In this one sided world he is completely selfish and there is nothing about him to garner anyone’s sympathy. We would actively cheer for his demise as good triumphs over what is so clearly evil.

But we are given the phantom’s history. Tortured and unloved, his first memories of life are horrific. His own mother didn’t want him and thought him a monster. She’s probably the one who sent him to his childhood tormentor. To escape abuse and constant public humiliation, he has to kill the man who has caged him for financial gain. To stay safe, he lives apart from everyone in the network of tunnels running under the theater. He’s learned there is little to no compassion for one like himself. Though he’s around people, he is on the outside, a feral child looking in at what he cannot be part of.

Through Christine he finds a way to interact with the world. He helps her improve her singing. Her voice becomes his voice to the public. He is obsessed but believes it’s love. All he knows of love is the messed up version he’s seen lived out on stage. When his “love” is threatened, the phantom reacts, escalating in his protection of that relationship. As she chooses Raoul, he lashes out in retaliation against those who would take not only his voice but also his love from him.

When Christine reaches out to him in the end, the truth begins shine through. Love doesn’t despise based on the flesh. Even he can be treated with compassion. To make sure the one they love has what is best for them, a person will give up their own wants. For the first time, the phantom begins to understand love and responds with his first action of real love in allowing Raoul and Christine to go free. It breaks his heart and he hopes she will choose him, but he lets her leave. Then, he leaves the only life he’s known taking nothing with him except her ring. He loves her throughout her life, letting her live in peace with Raoul. We see it in the rose and ring left on her grave. He loved her by letting her choose and going on without her.

Because the one who created the phantom’s character gave us insight into his past, we get to see him as more than evil. He is broken. The tormented became tormentor to protect the life he knows. And because he is not evil for evil’s sake, because he shows signs of growth in the end, we are left with the hope that he does become more than what he’s been. His pain brings our compassion, and that compassion coupled with the promise of change leaves some wishing it could be different for him.

As a writer I want to remember this when writing antagonists. Unless I’m writing a purely evil character, I need to give them motivation. I need to give them hurts and triumphs and losses. The only thing that separates the antagonists from the protagonists is what they do with those events.

It’s been said that an antagonist is the protagonist in his own mind.  As a writer I must remember to show this to the reader. I must leave my antagonists vulnerable and redeemable. In doing so, I create a character who is more relatable and realistic. I give permission to the reader to feel compassion for the way the antagonist’s hurts have shaped his life while still holding him accountable and avoid writing into my story a cartoon villain whose sole purpose is causing trouble or inflicting pain.

 

Changing Winds and a Chance to Win

mary“‘I’ll stay till the wind changes,’ she said.” Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

The winds have changed directions unexpectedly and drastically in the few weeks since summer began.

In my writing life, the changes have been wonderful. God blessed me with the opportunity to grow as a writer through attendance at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and the KenTen Writers Retreat. Gorgeous, peaceful scenery surrounded me at both. And in addition to everything I learned, I got to connect with other writers of faith. It is an incredible encouragement to spend time with people who love the same things you do, minister to others the same way you do, and understand the joys and struggles of that ministry because they’ve been through it like you have.

The winds changed for my family while I was at my second conference. Both my mother and I were away from home during this time. This left my grandmother’s caregiver and my aunt by choice to care for my elderly grandmother in our absence.

The diseases of dementia and Alzheimer’s do not play nice. The most loving, sweet, and considerate people can become irritable, impatient, and rude. Dealing with outbursts and hatefulness day after day is taxing. It doesn’t matter that it’s uncontrollable and far from personal. It takes its toll. I got the call on Wednesday that Friday would be the caregiver’s last day with Granny. My mother would not arrive home from her mission trip until Sunday evening.

With the exception of the two and a half days I attended the conference, I’d already been taking the evening, night, and early morning shifts with Granny while my mother was out of town. The caregiver’s departure didn’t change that. But those winds of change blew through hard and fast when my mother asked me to consider taking the caregiver position. My mom knew she could not give 24/7 care to Granny. She understood that Granny related better to family than anyone else. And she wasn’t ready to consider a nursing home for the woman who has given so much of herself to her family through the years, especially when she would be aware of her surroundings.

My husband and I took as much time as we could to pray and discuss our options. That Friday, I turned in my notice at work. I would finish out the next week, before becoming Granny’s caregiver. Yesterday I said good-bye to the people I’ve worked with for almost two years. It’s bittersweet. And before you ask, no, I do not feel prepared for what’s ahead.

In fact, one thing I’ve already learned in taking care of Granny is that the winds change constantly. What brings peace one day may induce frustration on the next. And the days can go from sunny and bright to dark and stormy in seconds. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. But she is my grandmother, and she needs me. I will continually seek God’s wisdom, pray for grace and mercy, and love her as best I can.

These changing winds are why you have a quote today in place of “What I’m Reading”. With everything happening at once, I’ve not been reading this week. I’m going to look through my TBR pile tonight and hope something jumps out at me. It’s my plan to have everything in my blogging world back to normal this week.

Before I go for today, I promised in the title a chance to win something. The something is a copy of my second book, Grasping Hope. I was interviewed by Hallee Bridgeman this week. There were some unique questions included that I had a lot of fun answering. And in the interview is the contest link. I hope you’ll take the time to stop by. You can find it here:  http://www.halleebridgeman.com/interview-with-heather-greer/

See you Monday!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (This Week)

I just got back from the KenTen Christian Writers Retreat, and I wanted to share some things I learned from the experience. I hope you enjoy it!

  1. Retreats and conferences are made better when enjoyed in a beautiful, natural setting. Montgomery Bell State Park was wonderful, and the weather was perfect.

  2. kenten7Sometimes being moved out of your comfort zone can provide wonderful surprises. I shared a room with someone I didn’t know. That isn’t an experience I would ever seek out on my own, and it caused a little stress before I got there. God blessed me with a wonderful roommate for the conference. She and I enjoyed several fun conversations and some meaningful ones as well. I hope to keep in contact with her and see her at future conferences.
  3. When you put a fantasy writer and three contemporary romance writers together to brainstorm, a simple stained glass window can become a door to another world and an idea for a time slip novel is born. An added bonus, give them extra time together, add Ground Hog’s Day (the real one, not the movie), and the idea of a compilation project to come up with a great idea for a collection of novellas like no one has seen before!

  4. If you want to win at trivia, this is the team to beat! The Fantastic Four lived up to their name. By the way, did you know The Six Million Dollar Man was based on a book? P.S. The lady in the selfie with me is an excellent trivia night creator and host. Thanks for a fun evening of laughter with everyone!

  5. Writers are interesting people. We don’t mind being compared to a bag of Hershey Miniatures, and it’s surprising how many mini candy bars and bags of M & Ms a group of thirty writers can go through in two days. We like creative and quirky ways of explaining what we do. And hearing a writer say, “I’ve got to figure out how to murder him after I kidnap him” is not cause for alarm. We love to laugh together. We are each other’s cheering sections. And, as evidenced by the writer’s survival bag and motivation bags we received, we really care about seeing each other succeed at this thing called writing. As a side note, plot bunnies apparently multiply like regular ones. I had a whole fluffle (yes that’s a real term) in my bag!

Eustace Clarence Scrubb

dawn treader“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Wow. Could there be a better opening line and character description? Immediately readers, even the children for whom the story is meant, will be able to identify the Eustace’s in their lives. With one sentence the “nails on the chalkboard” existence of Eustace is firmly planted in our minds.

C.S. Lewis draws us in with the first pages of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and he continues to lead us through the misadventures of Eustace. We can understand the sentiments of Lucy and Edmond as they deal with his attitude of superiority, and we find it too easy to give in to the idea that he gets what he deserves as things fail to go in his favor. He tries our patience just as he does the same to every creature on the Dawn Treader.

When an author so completely gives us an image of his or her characters, it’s easy for them to become real to us. Suspending our disbelief to accept Narnia and Aslan and dragons as real is only natural. But a great description is only the beginning.

In a well-told story, readers get to know the characters. They get to see beyond the actions and outward appearances to who the characters are at their core. C.S. Lewis describes this occurrence in another quote from Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

“‘In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’

‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.'”

There is more to a star than what is is made of. There is more to a character than their looks and behaviors. It is an author’s job to give their characters souls. In doing so, readers are able to enjoy a fully formed person as complex as the ones sitting beside them while they read.

But in a well-told story the characters evolve through their failures and triumphs. This is not to say they become perfect versions of themselves. Readers don’t want perfection. They want a better understanding of reality. Even in fantasy, there has to be something for the reader to connect to. If readers see themselves in the characters then they also need to see attainable hope. We won’t reach perfection, and I find it frustrating to read about someone who always does the right thing. I want to see the one who tries and fails and gets up to try again. It makes a character work. It made Eustace Clarence Scrubb work.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

It had begun. It was not finished. And we can appreciate this in the characters we read about. Sometimes it is more difficult to appreciate in the real world with the people affecting our day to day lives. We sit in church and judge the one who tried and failed or the one who is traveling at a snail’s pace in their journey of faith. We place people on a pedestal of perfection that no man since Jesus has been able to attain. We hold them to this impossible standard and crucify them when they fall. Just like we did with Eustace at the beginning of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we fight pleasure at their circumstances when they seem to get what they deserve.

But often we fail to let ourselves relate to them. We color over our own failures. In Jesus’ words, we “look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye”. (Matthew 7:3) When we realize we are all Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and we almost deserve it, we find patience we didn’t know we possessed. We find empathy that desires to see those we previously rooted against become the people God created them to be. We learn how to come along beside our brothers and sisters to encourage each other to continue to grow in faith. We stop taking note of every failure and choose to look at God’s cure in them that has already begun.

My People

Calendar Board with Business Cards.jpgWe were created for community. We were created for relationships and interaction. It seems strange to say that as a card-carrying introvert. More than many, I value my time alone. I use time without the pressures of social interaction to recharge my batteries. But as much as I need my quiet time, I cannot deny the need to connect with people on a personal level.

My love language (and if you’ve not read the book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, you really should) is quality time. Sitting in front of the television together doesn’t count. I need to really connect with those I love, and that same principle carries over into my friendships. I’m happiest in social interactions when I can share something I love with others. And I don’t think I’m that different from everyone else.

As believers, God has given us the church to fill this need. Scriptures throughout the New Testament reinforce the idea that believers need each other. In Acts, the first church sold their worldly possessions to join resources with the other believers. They relied on each other for everything. In Romans, Ephesians, and Corinthians we’re told that believers are all one body made up of many parts working together for the good of everyone and the glory of God. And Hebrews tells us not to avoid coming together in worship and support of each other. We are supposed to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep”. (Romans 12:15).

First and foremost, I am a believer. However, it goes beyond that. I said the body is made of many members. Some of us are teachers through writing. Whether non-fiction or fiction, there is a message God has placed in our hearts to share with others. It doesn’t matter if the message is one of challenge, correction, or encouragement. It’s a message God has entrusted with us to share with other believers in a way we are passionate about. He has given us the ministry of writing to come alongside others in their journey of faith. These Christian writers are my people.

I had the opportunity to spend last week with my people, and I have never felt more at home. I wish it could’ve continued indefinitely. There were over 500 people who understood my struggles, my hopes, and my successes. They’ve faced the same frustrations and celebrated the same accomplishments. We worshiped together, learned together, and shared fellowship all week. It was an amazing time, and I don’t want to forget it.

More than the experience, I don’t want to forget the connections. God put each person I came in contact with at the conference in my life for a reason. We do understand each other, and with that shared understanding comes a responsibility. It is the same responsibility I have to the believers in my life at home. It is the call to share in each other’s successes and sorrows. It is the call to lift each one up in prayer.

I left the conference with several business cards. A lot of them have pictures on them, and, as an introvert who isn’t given to remembering names, I’m thankful for that. I’ve tacked several to the calendar boards in my office. I want to keep them handy for business needs, but it is more than that. I want to keep them in front of myself daily. I want the gentle reminder to pray for these people who have the same faith I do and the passion for sharing it through the written word. These are my people, and I need to remember to lift them up to God just as I hope they are doing for me.

By the Book: Think about the body of believers God has placed in your life. What similarities knit you together? What can you do to remind yourself to pray for them each day?

If I Only Had the Nerve

cowardly lion.jpg“‘But how about my courage?’ asked the Lion, anxiously.
‘You have plenty of courage, I am sure,’ answered Oz. ‘All you need is confidence in yourself.'”  – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

I realize this is a Write or Right Stuff Wednesday type post, but seeing as it’s Saturday, I didn’t think it would be proper to name it as such. And since I’ve just returned from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, I haven’t read anything new this week. I’m under a pretty tight deadline right now on book three, but I hope to return to the usual blog format in the next week or so. Forgive me for the lack of consistency!

This week was amazing. I met a lot of writers. Some are just starting out and others have written for years with many published books under their belts. We came from different areas of the world with different genres of interest and different home churches, but we were able to gather each day for worship. Then, we spent the day learning more about ourselves as writers, the craft of writing, and how to market. We encouraged each other as companions on the writing journey instead of competitors. We prayed with and for each other. We shared favorite writing tools and apps. We exchanged business cards to keep in touch. As I said, it was amazing, and I didn’t want to leave.

Thursday came and, ignoring my desires, the conference ended. I came home with a new excitement about all aspects of writing and ideas of how to find improvement in each one.

Riding that wave of excitement while browsing the aisles at Wal-Mart may not have been my best option. I needed ink. That’s all I needed. Yet the electronics aisle sent out a siren song that could not be ignored. My cart found its way there of its own volition, and I stood face to face with the smart phone accessories.

As I looked at the tripods available, I tried to tell myself they didn’t have the one I needed. The one the presenter used was more professional and versatile. This one was a tiny one that didn’t adjust in height. On the other hand, my budget is more of a non-adjusting budget and much less than a professional budget. Maybe it would work for what I needed. It did come with a blue-tooth remote to start and stop video or take pictures. That’s pretty important, right?

I picked it up.

But it’s only an idea. What if no one is interested in mini book review videos to pair with the written reviews on my website? It would be a total waste.

I put it back.

Of course, how will I know unless I try? It could be fun.

I picked it up again.

Fun? I don’t like having my picture taken, and my voice sounds so strange when recorded. Why would an introvert such as myself even be considering this foray into the videoed world? Honestly, nothing sounds more horrifying.

I put it back.

But didn’t I just spend the week reaching outside my comfort zone and interacting with strangers? Didn’t I just make myself say “hi” to them even before they said it to me? Didn’t I just spend the week learning all these great things to put into practice? And isn’t my tagline “where a love of God and good books meet”? And isn’t the message of God’s love for us and us loving Him back one I want to get into as many homes as possible? And wasn’t I considering that very thing when this idea struck?

I picked it up again. I made my way to the checkout line, and I completed my purchase before I could second (or third or fourth) guess myself. Excited for the possibilities, I put it together and tried it out. Success! The tripod holds the camera, and the remote starts and stops the video as it was designed to do. I texted a couple people who gave me the green light on the idea. Confidence boosted.

Now, the tripod sits on the shelf across from me waiting patiently for the first video. Or maybe it’s silently judging me from across the room for not having started my video review series yet. It’s hard to tell from this distance. Maybe it’s reserving judgment until a time when it can accurately determine if I’m ever going to work up the nerve for the first video. Of course, more than likely, it is an inanimate object and doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other.

I suppose I could be putting my own feelings onto the tripod. It is a rather small one to carry such heavy thoughts. I want to pursue the things I know to pursue in effort to live out the purpose God has for my life. I don’t want a lack of confidence to keep me from making the most of the things He has brought into my life. But going against my introverted nature is a significant task.

I can avoid this particular activity without fear of falling into disobedience. I don’t think God actually instructed me to take this path. I don’t feel His hand pushing me to do it. I believe it is simply one more way I can take, if I so desire, to broaden the avenue where His message can be heard. But the idea is there, and it will not let me go. I know the idea will not make or break anything in my life. God has given me a ministry, and He is the one who will bring the results. It is my job to keep moving forward. And like the cowardly lion, I hope I find the courage is already inside me and I have the confidence I need to free it to move forward. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Mothers and More: Favorite Characters

Erin Davis (1)Mother’s Day is almost over. Tomorrow there will be no more breakfasts in bed. There will be no cards and gifts. The blatant expressions of love and attention shown on this day will become a distant memory to give us strength through the year as those we love try our patience.

Everything about today seemed to revolve around the women in our lives who have had a hand in making us who we are today. I’m doing an author challenge on Instagram, and even today’s assignment called attention to moms. Today participants were to post a picture about their favorite mom characters. I’d love to say I posted one about the mom in my own book, Faith’s Journey. I couldn’t do that.

Unlike my own relationship with my mom, Katie’s relationship with her mother is tempestuous. It’s been that way since Katie was a little girl, and the continued discord causes a great amount of frustration for Katie when she returns home to care for her injured mom. Sharon McGowan is not my favorite mom character.

No. My favorite mom character from my books isn’t the mom at all. Gigi B, introduced in Grasping Hope, is the grandmother of Katie’s best friend. She has the style of Helen Mirren and the sass of Flo from Mel’s Diner.  She is fun and outgoing, never hesitating to be herself. But she is more than just stylish fluff. She’s a godly woman who loves those around her in word and deed. Her wisdom is the kind that comes from walking with God faithfully through the years, and she doesn’t hesitate to share it with those who need to hear God’s truth.

She may not be the main character in my books, but she is a character that means a lot to me. I don’t write people in my life into my books. The characters are all their own, and they’re products of my imagination. However, Gigi B does have real life inspiration thought it’s not found in my grandmother. (My grandmother is wonderful, but she is not a Gigi B!) My aunt has been that kind of person in my life. She’s always been in my corner, and she’s a ton of fun to spend the day with. She is a loving, giving woman full of life who loves God. She’s always been stylish and outgoing, two things that will never be said about me. And I’ve learned a lot from her.

My aunt may not be Gigi B, but she is the type of person I wanted the character to be. Honestly, she is the type of person I’d like to be in my life too. Not the stylish or extroverted parts (though a little help in the style department couldn’t hurt). Those are great, but they don’t make my aunt who she is inside. And though it sounds cliché, it is what’s inside that counts.

What’s inside is a heart that loves God and loves others. My aunt is a woman who will hurt with you, laugh with you, and pray for you. If she can help, she will. She exemplifies living faith. And she’s not the only one. God has blessed me with a godly mom, grandmothers, and others throughout my life who have shown me what it means to live for God each day. They are the women who encourage me to be the type of woman God would have me to be. And I am thankful today and every day for their example that spurs me on to become more Christ-like each day.

Write Stuff Wednesday: An Interview

2f8c97e9-014e-4796-9373-22b108cebe0eUsually I post a quote on Wednesday, but today I had the opportunity to participate in an interview. This interview had some really great questions, and I thought I would share them with you.

I want to thank Elisabeth Trainor for thinking of me for her 5th grade research project on becoming an author. It was my pleasure to help out. I hope your project is a success!

What are some of the responsibilities you have at your job?

My main responsibility as an author is to write, whether it’s the next book I’m working on or something for my blog. I’m also responsible for promoting my books. This includes doing interviews, being a guest on other blogs, participating in book signings, speaking to groups, and creating images to post on social media that tell others about my books.

Is this the job you went to college for?

I know several writers who went to school to get degrees in English or creative writing. While I’ve taken several courses and attended workshops to help make me a better writer and increase my knowledge about the business aspects of writing, my course of study in college was psychology. But even that aids me as a writer by giving me additional insight into personalities to help me create more realistic characters.

What are some of the best things about your job?

I love creating new people and places for the readers to connect with. I have always loved stories, and now I get to create them for others. As a Christian author, I love that God has given me a way to encourage other believers through something that I am passionate about. Plus, I can work at the time of day that is best for me. And if I want I can do the writing part of my job in comfy clothes!

What are some of the worst things about your job?

I don’t know that there is any part of being an author that I don’t like. There are parts of it that are more difficult for me. I’m not a math person, but working for myself I have to be responsible for the tax information our state requires. That is definitely not fun. To help promote my book, I have to learn new computer programs or apps. I’m not proficient with a lot of these things, and that makes using them frustrating until I get used to them. I also have to talk about myself and my writing. As a fairly introverted person, this is very uncomfortable for me. But I’m getting better at it.

Why did you choose to be an author?

Reading has always been one of my favorite hobbies. Each book introduced me to new friends and places I’d never visited. The stories I read would show me new perspectives and ideas I hadn’t thought about before. As I got older and read more faith based fiction, I found a lot of truth in the stories that I read. The people the authors created encouraged me and challenged me to grow as a person and as a Christian. I came away from the best books I read excited and wanting to create that same experience for others.

Where is the most comfortable spot you like to write at?

I have a comfy chair in my office. It faces a large window that looks out over the field behind my house and the woods beyond the field. It’s a very quiet, peaceful scene. When the weather is cool enough, I like to open the window, look out, and write with the fresh air coming into the room.

What inspires you to write?

Overall, I think the reason I wanted to be an author is what inspires me to do it. But there are people and things that continue to keep me focused and encouraged. I believe God gave me this ability and passion, and He inspires me to write in ways that will allow others to know Him more. I still find inspiration when I read a really good book. It leaves me anxious to get back to work on my own stories. When I’m feeling less motivated to write, I have a local writer’s group and friends that encourage me to get back to it. They help me work through what’s holding me back and cheer me on when things are going well.

Do you write non-fiction or fiction?

My books are fiction. They are set in the real town I grew up in, but the people and situations are all from my imagination. My blog posts are non-fiction. They are all about writing, reading, and living a life of faith. One day, I’d like to have devotional books that pair up with each fiction book I write. Those will be non-fiction as well.

Who is your favorite author and why?

My favorite non-fiction author is Sheila Walsh. Her books deal with the real issues that come up in living a life of faith, and she handles each one with honesty and openness. It’s nice to know someone isn’t just telling you something from theory but instead from a life that’s lived it out.

My favorite fiction author is Kristen Heitzmann. Her stories draw me in. She’s an amazing story-teller, and I come away feeling like I’ve been visiting with friends. The messages in her stories have helped me with things I’ve gone through in my own life. I got to meet her once, and she is also a very kind and encouraging individual.

How did your book get published?

After I completed the manuscript, I researched publishers and agents. A lot of publishers won’t take new authors without getting the material from an agent. So, I had to approach both. I sent out several query letters explaining the story and why I was qualified to write it. I also had to give them information on my writing training, accomplishments, and how I could help market my books.  I got rejection slips. Most authors do. But I kept sending it out. Authors need to learn how to persevere.

Mantle Rock Publishing accepted the manuscript, and I signed a contract with them. The book had to be sent to them for edits. As I completed them, I sent it back. Their cover designer worked on designing the perfect cover for my book while I was busy editing. Then, with the edits done and the cover design approved, the publisher sent it to the people who would make it into the actual book in time for the release date. I will never forget the first time I held my finished book in my hands. I’m blessed to have this job.

Right Stuff Wednesday: The Places You’ll Go

pillow“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” – Dr. Seuss – Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Do you have a car pillow? We do. We didn’t until my youngest son (who is a teenager by the way) decided the drive to school was the perfect opportunity to catch a few more minutes of sleep since seven o’clock is terribly early to wake up. Even waking him at seven is a process. He has to be woken up at least three times before he stumbles out of bed, dresses, brushes his teeth, and falls back into bed until it’s time to head out the door.

I have a feeling the culprit in this situation is late nights. As much as his morning struggle might cause frustration, I’m aware of the old adage “those who live in glass houses should not throw rocks”. Most days, I live in a glass house. My issue may not be sleeping instead of getting ready for work, but there are plenty of times I need a push, or two or three, to accomplish anything in my writing life. I have weeks overflowing with motivation and accomplishment. But there are also weeks I come home from work, make dinner, and follow that up with making excuses. I’m tired. I can’t think. I just want some quiet time without having to do anything.

My bad weeks are really bad. And writing is something I want to do, something I enjoy. Monday’s excuses become Tuesday’s excuses become Wednesday’s excuses until a new habit has formed. I find myself wanting to write but not enough to get the job done. Eventually, like the third call for my son to get out of bed, something shakes me out of my apathy. Deadlines, inspiration, or encouragement re-awaken my motivation. I turn on my lap top, and the words flow until the next bad week.

I wish I could say writing was the only area of my life where I need the occasional push. I can’t even say writing and housework are the only areas. And believe me, I need a hefty push in the housework department! No, as much as I hate to admit it, my spiritual life takes a hit every now and then when apathy comes calling.

Sometimes the deficit is found in my prayer life or time in God’s word. I know I have a relationship with God. And I know relationships are built by time spent together. I know prayer and scripture are two of the best ways to spend time with God. That, along with strengthening us for the spiritual battles we face, are why scriptures tell us to pray continually and to hide God’s word in our hearts. But sometimes I let other things get in the way. Even though I want to be close to God and strong in my relationship with Him, I choose other things and let time with Him go. Soon, I’ve developed a new pattern that is hard to re-write.

Other times I need a nudge to do what God has asked me to do. Whether it’s doing something kind and unexpected for a friend in need or giving to the beggar on the street corner or taking an uncomfortable step in the direction of the ministry God has placed on my heart, I feel God’s gentle nudge showing me what He wants me to do. I feel it. I want to obey, but I don’t want to enough to get out of my comfort zone. I let my fears, doubts, or desire for comfort or control stand in the way of doing what I know God wants me to do. Soon, my world is revolving around me more than it revolves around Him. I’m stuck.

I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes, but I’m not moving anywhere in times like these. I need to realign my focus on the things God says are important. I need to surround myself with those who will encourage me to continue growing and moving forward in my faith. If music or books or radio preachers inspire me to live out my faith daily through obedience and time with God, then I need to keep those things in my life regularly. When apathy tugs at me, I need to see it as the spiritual battle it is and do what I can to fight the lack of motivation. Only then can God move me in whatever direction He chooses, and that is the direction I want to go in.

Right Stuff Wednesday:Adventuring with Alice and the Pevensie Children

alice“It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

Think about the life of your favorite book character. What draws you to that person? Do you see a bit of yourself in them? Can you relate to their struggles? Or do you find a challenge to be more than you are as you consider their life?

Whatever draws you to them, one thing is certain. The best characters grow throughout their story. It’s story writing 101. Your character develops as your story progresses. A stagnant character is more than likely a boring character.

The same circumstances will change each character in a different way. Consider the four Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They faced the same circumstances, but their own personalities shaped how they saw those experiences and their reactions. The end result was four children growing in ways unique to them.

This personalizing of the character’s responses and their individual growth may be part of what draws us to one character over another. I may relate to and learn from Lucy while you may aspire to be like Peter. Of course, maybe you’ve felt like you had to prove yourself and come up on the failing end one too many times. If so, Edmund’s journey from failure to redemption may be the most inspiring part of the story for you.

To see a beloved character revert to behaviors they’ve previously grown out of can break a reader’s heart. We want more for the characters we love. They’ve changed. We know they have, and we know it is pointless for them to return to the more immature version of themselves. Who they were yesterday has no place in their today. They’re different now.

As frustrating and heartbreaking as it can be for a reader to see this happen in the fictional world an author has created, it’s worse when we see it in our own families. The consequences in a book end with the last chapter. The consequences in the real world can continue for generations. Especially as a spouse or parent, watching our loved ones fall into old patterns of behavior hurts. Seeing the pain they inflict on themselves can cause our own emotions to bounce between disbelief, anger, disappointment, and hurt.

If it’s this way for us, imagine what it’s like for God. We are His creation. When we accept God’s forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are reconciled to God. But He doesn’t stop at offering us a Savior and saved relationship. God adopts us into His family. He makes us His children. And He doesn’t leave us unchanged.

Scripture is filled with examples of the need to grow as believers. We’re compared to babies as we start our faith walks, but we’re encouraged to learn and grow into spiritual adulthood. We’re instructed to be dead to sin and our old self and alive to God. We’re told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God tells us we are new creations and the old us has passed away.

God’s word also warns us that we will battle the old self. Paul speaks of wanting to do the things that please God but finding himself doing the opposite. We are not slaves to sin anymore, but there are times we live like we are. We are human, and we fail. We revert to old patterns. We forget who we are and whose we are. We slide back into the old self, and we pay the price. Our witness is weakened and our relationship with God becomes strained. Those are just spiritual effects. Depending on what we slip back to, there can be physical consequences for us and those we love.

How must God feel when He sees us revert to our old selves? He knows more completely than any earthly parent the harm those ways cause. He knows how much better the path He sets out for our lives is for us. He wants His best for us and sees us choose the refuse of our old lives over and over again. Can you imagine the disappointment and hurt that must cause?

But also consider the joy when we choose to be who we are today instead of trying to be who we were yesterday? Nothing brings me greater happiness than seeing my children learn from mistakes and grow into more of who God designed them to be. Through grace and mercy, failure is not once and for all. They can find forgiveness and turn away from the person they were yesterday. When they do, my mother’s heart celebrates. God’s joy is more complete than my own, and it isn’t reserved for our children. It’s meant for His children and that includes me and you.

Like Alice we need to understand that being who we were yesterday is not an option. We need to keep changing and growing.  In stories it’s called character development. For us? I’d have to say it’s character development too.