By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Category: Writing (page 1 of 10)

New Beginnings

“’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.”

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Pen writing once upon a time on blank paper

It never fails. The sudden flip of the switch turning on the light bulb of an awesome idea comes when you’re smack dab in the middle of your current project. You may grab a notebook and jot it down for later or even take the time to type out the opening paragraphs to use when your time is your own. But first things first, you have to finish what you’re working on. You’ve got a deadline and a blank page to fill.

In my last post, I discussed the difficulty of endings and that anxious feeling one gets when the end is in sight but still unreached. When you’ve got a new project waiting, the feeling intensifies. You’ve tried to purge it from your mind so you can continue on with your Work In Progress, but it calls to you from where it’s hidden in the dark corner of your mind. You keep telling it to hush until finally, your WIP is complete. You’re free of the deadlines and free to pursue a new WIP.

You approach your idea file almost bursting with anticipation. You flip through each possibility wanting to make the right choice. All the voices of all the ideas shout for your attention, but one invariably raises its voice above the others. This is the idea you choose to pursue. The others slink back to their hiding spots in those dark corners of your mind, pouting until their turn finally comes.

You turn on your laptop and open your word processing program. A blank page fills the screen full of possibilities and waiting to be full of life. The cursor blinks in anticipation of the words that will soon cover the page. It’s time. The idea steps into the light, and its energy courses through you and into your fingertips loosing itself through each touch of the keyboard.

Worlds take shape. Fully formed characters emerge to take their place on the stage your idea created. Characters and plot step in time together creating a beautiful dance of tension and resolution in the ballroom of your setting. It’s a passionate dance that will leave future readers steeped in emotion and fully invested in it. The story becomes a thing of unrivaled beauty. And it all starts with a new beginning.

By the Book: With the three books in Katie’s story complete, I find myself at a place of beginning. I love Katie’s story, but I can’t deny the fresh dose of excitement I feel for my new WIP. Starting something new can be scary, but it can also infuse your life with new energy and excitement. If you’re facing a new beginning with trepidation but know it is where God would have you, pray for Him to reveal aspects of this change that you can be excited about. Ask Him to give you a different perspective about this new adventure and fill you with hope and anticipation for it.

Endings

Chalkboard with the end written on it

It is finished. At the beginning of August I turned in book three in Katie’s story to the publisher. I’ll have edits to complete once the editor has finished with it, but Katie’s story has reached its conclusion. There will be no more days filling in the blanks for her. She has her ending, and I hope everyone thinks it’s a worthy one for her.

When I started writing Faith’s Journey (and at the beginning that’s not even what it was called), the words poured out of my fingertips into my laptop. I was excited to sit down each day and put her story on paper. By the end of Faith’s Journey I had read my own words often enough that I was dull to it, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for beginning the next chapter of her story with Grasping Hope.

The second story was harder to write, but I still found myself enthusiastic for the telling. And as I grew close to the finish line, I again found myself ready to reach the end. I was more than ready to begin the final installment of the telling of Katie’s life.

Looking back at Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope, I now realize I didn’t know how hard writing could be at times. Relentless Love pushed me further than the other two books. I looked forward to giving readers an end to Katie’s story. Excitement to see where her story took her and the growth she would experience kept me at my computer, but the final piece to her story was the hardest to write. Why?

I think part of it stems from the anxiousness I feel to have the story completed. By the time I got to the final chapters of each book, there was an unsettled feeling in me. I’d read my own words enough times that I needed distance from them. And, like any long journey, the last few miles from home seem to take the most time to complete. You know the destination is close, you want nothing more than to reach the destination, and the miles you can cover so swiftly in your mind do not go so quickly in reality. I’m finding the same anxiousness as I travel the last few chapters to each book I write. The end is close enough I can almost touch it, but not quite.

This feeling played into the writing of Relentless Love, but it was more complicated than that. There was added pressure going into the last book of the series. Knowing it was the conclusion to Katie’s story, I wanted it to be the finale everyone needed. We met so many people along the journey, and I didn’t want to leave readers in limbo about how their lives ended up. I wanted Katie’s story to be true to life and show her growth in a way we could relate to it. And after all she went through, I knew Katie’s story should end on a positive note. All this played through my mind as I wrote Relentless Love making it the most difficult of the three to write.

Endings can be hard whether we’re talking about writing or life. Fear can threaten to spiral out of control when we unexpectedly lose a job or face a deadly diagnosis. Anything that makes us turn from our current direction without warning or want on our part can settle like weight on our shoulders. It can affect our interactions with others, our self-esteem, and our outlook.

Even when it’s something we desire, stepping from the known to the unknown can be difficult. To leave a job we don’t like for a new one seems easy, but it can cause unease. If we’ve been at the job any length of time, we may not like it but we will have gained a level of understanding of how things work there. To leave this known entity, no matter how bad, and begin again in a new environment can be unnerving. Our joy at the possibility of something much better is tempered with the hesitation of moving into new territory.

While it may be natural to struggle with these issues when coming to the end of things, we don’t have to fall under the weight of the struggle. As Christians, we have scriptural promises to turn to for comfort and strength. With access to the internet, we can easily find God’s promises to us in any situation we face. Simply focusing on the character of God as seen in His word can bring peace, hope, and strength for the endings we face. Taking time with Him each day can change our perspective and help us go with grace through whatever we face.

I would issue a word of caution about relying on others to point you to your hope whether it’s an internet search, your pastor’s sermon, or even this blog. It’s easy to find a verse in scripture to back up anything we want to believe. We are responsible to keep God’s word in context. An individual scripture has to be taken in light of the whole to find its true meaning. To do this, we have to do what Timothy says and study the Word to be able to understand the Word.

Best Laid Plans

Botanical garden pictures, fountains, hedge mazes, flowers.

You know what they say about best laid plans. Or if you’re like me, you have to google the rest of the saying because people stopped using the complete phrase. It’s actually, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That was my weekend.

The main character in my work in progress owns a cupcake truck. Rural southern Illinois is not known for its food truck options. The closest place for sampling the fare is St. Louis, Missouri. I researched to find one with great reviews and my husband and I left Friday night. We would spend the night and be at the food truck when it opened on Saturday.  The day would give me valuable insight into locations, ability to operate in the cold winter months, and the food truck atmosphere.

While enjoying the botanical gardens Saturday morning, I checked Facebook every hour for the food truck to post the day’s location. When opening time came and went without a post, I messaged them. The return message was prompt and disappointing. They were closed for Labor Day weekend! I tried to find other trucks, but none really appealed to me. I couldn’t find locations for the couple that we agreed sounded okay. I couldn’t keep searching because reading in the car was making me sick. We stopped looking. My research trip was suddenly research-less.

Choosing to stay positive, we visited an antique mall we’d seen. We were unimpressed. Everything on our list of things to do was failing to deliver. We were having a pleasant time and enjoying the time spent together, but our plans weren’t working out as we’d hoped.

On a whim, I found a used bookstore since Andy and I love the one we go to in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  We stopped. Like everything else, we enjoyed ourselves, but it probably won’t receive a return trip. It did, however, give us the prompting we needed to take a less familiar way home, off the interstate.

Barn, tractor with wagon, country store

While we drove the highway through forgotten small towns, we decided to pull over if anything we saw looked good for lunch. If not, we’d just wait until we got home. That’s when I saw the sign for Eckert’s orchard. We have several orchards in our area, but even the most commercial ones are not like this. It was home-grown fun for the entire family. Eckert’s boasts a restaurant, custard stand, country store, garden center, and U-pick apple and pumpkin fields complete with tractor pulled wagon rides to the trees or vines.  They even had a carnival area for the kids.

Our first stop was the country store filled with products made from the produce of the farm. The store contained everything a small country market would have along with gifts and home décor. We quickly had more on our list of things we’d like to try than we guessed possible and decided to eat first, shop second.

We weren’t sure what kind of quality could be expected at an orchard restaurant, but we were pleasantly surprised. The portions were good, and the food was too. The service was excellent. Everyone we met at the restaurant and in the store was pleasant and helpful, taking the time to chat with us. With our hunger satisfied, we went back to the store and spent way more than we should have on fudge, cider, pancake mix and syrup, flavored coffee, cider doughnuts, and grilling sauces.

Eckert’s orchard wasn’t on our list of things to do when we set out for the weekend, but it was the highlight of our trip. On the way home we talked about how we would have missed it had the food truck been open or if we hadn’t veered off course to find the used bookstore. We wouldn’t have seen it if we’d taken the interstate as originally planned or decided to call the trip done and wait to eat until we arrived home. So many things in our plans had to go wrong for us to end up in the one place that turned into the most memorable part of our weekend.

How many times do we gripe and whine to God when things don’t go the way we planned? How many times do we pout over missed opportunities and unexpected twists in our lives? We lay out great plans for our marriages, families, careers, and ministries only to lash out at God as if He’s betrayed us when something we didn’t plan and don’t like enters into our carefully constructed pictures. We intended to go through life on the fast-moving interstate only to find ourselves on the backroads of a country highway. And I can’t help but wonder how many times we’ve missed the times of joy, redemption, and restoration God has for us around the next bend in the road because we’re too busy focusing on how all our best laid plans have fallen apart.

There Goes My Groove

Scene from Emperor's New Groove. I'm sorry but you've thrown off the emperor's groove.

I know I usually start with a quote from a children’s book or about writing or reading, but this one is from a children’s movie. That counts, right? Besides, this quote sums up my current life situation. Let me explain.

For the last several years my husband has worked two jobs, not including pastoring and teaching martial arts. This has been difficult on the family in many ways, but we’ve made it work. God recently opened up the opportunity for a new job which allowed him to quit his part-time position. Yay!

I’m thankful for this change. I’ve been praying for this change. I know it will open him up for more time with ministry and family. It will reduce his stress levels. It will allow him to do things around the house that have been neglected for far too long.

It’s been a while since he was home regularly at night, and a lot has changed. We have only one child still living at home. He is the one child we’ve never had to do extra running for, no practices and no volunteer hours. We joke that all you have to do is occasionally throw cheese crackers into his room to keep him happy. The stress of the previous years of running has dissipated as our empty nest grows closer.

Another major change is my writing. In the last few years, I’ve moved from struggling writer to, well, still struggling writer. But now I’m a struggling published writer. With two published books and a third due to release in June 2020, I’ve added a slew of new activities to my writing resume.

No longer do I simply write and research markets. I have to do those things, learn more of the craft of writing, grow my presence in front of my intended audience, learn marketing information and techniques I never cared about before, and take care of the business side of writing. It’s a tall order, especially when I just quit my full-time job as a receptionist to help provide at-home care for my grandmother with dementia.

I had gotten into a groove. I knew when I needed to write on my manuscript. I understood when that had to be put aside to finish the day’s blog post. Research, classes, and business development all had their places. I came home from my day job tired, but most nights, I could focus and get done what needed doing. Then came the change.

With my husband home, everything is different. He asks what’s for supper. He never did that before because he got home late enough that he didn’t eat. If I suggest leftovers, he asks me if it’s because I “have to write or just because”. Does it matter? But now supper is on my to-do list.

He’s home before I am in the evenings. I feel like I should be spending time with him. But if I do, I won’t get my writing or anything else writing related done. It’s a tricky situation without a clear answer. He’s not against me writing. He’s my biggest supporter. But I struggle with drawing that line now that he’s home.

Add to this the mental and emotional strain of caring for someone with dementia, and I find myself without motivation at the end of the day. Making dinner, spending time with the husband, and needing a mental break form a perfect cocktail of reasons to choose the living room sofa instead of the office chair each night.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know the answer to my current situation. Time? It’ll probably help. Long talks about what is expected with my husband? That would probably help too, though I know it’s not high on his list of things to do! Prayer? Always a great place to start. And so I ask you to pray with me. Pray God shows me how to handle this new stage in my writing life. Pray He helps me find my groove again so I can get back to doing this thing He’s put in my heart to do.

Cast of Characters

peppermint candy

Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope focus on the lives of two people, but the cast of supporting characters is large. From family members and friends to co-workers and customers, the list of people waltzing through the pages of my books is long. It has to be. You can’t tell a person’s story accurately without acknowledging the people they come in contact with. It’s these interactions that give readers insight into who our main characters are at their core.

While you may not need to name the guy at the movie theater who takes a ticket or the girl who hands your main character their sweet tea in the drive through, a short glimpse of some of the lesser seen characters adds depth and realism to the story. To discover a slice of a character’s past helps readers understand and relate to the main character on a deeper level.

In Faith’s Journey, Katie returns to the church from her childhood. In the pews she sees the people who play a part in her memories from attending as a child. Not every person is named, but a few snapshots let the reader have a more intimate view of Katie’s life growing up in a country church in southern Illinois.

Naming and writing the characters becomes a challenge at times. None of my characters are real. They are the products of my imagination, but there are times when real life has given inspiration. When naming my main character, I chose a name I love dearly, the name of my great-grandmother. Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan and I spent many days together when I was a little girl. She taught me to embroider, quilt, and a few other sewing related crafts. She told me stories of when she was a little girl. I loved my granny, and I wanted to name this character after her.

However, Katie McGowan is not my great-grandma. Katie’s choices, reactions, and personality in my books is nothing like the person I knew growing up. She looks nothing like my great-grandma. I’ve simply honored her with the same name.

I also knew a Cal growing up. I don’t believe the man I knew ever had the blessing of being a father in his life, but he was the type of man who would be a father to many who needed one. He isn’t the character in my book, but he’s the type of person I wanted in Katie’s life. Cal was the perfect name for Katie’s father who she adores.

Sometimes it’s a familiar action that makes it between the pages. Growing up, there was a couple I loved to sit with through Sunday services. My mother never minded as long as I was quiet. The man always had a peppermint in his pocket, and I always ended up with it. The memory is a sweet one that I’ve learned is similar to the experience of many who grew up in country churches. Though the character doesn’t return for any other scenes, I gave Katie a similar memory as she surveys the familiar faces in the pews upon her return to her home church.

One of my favorite characters to write was Gigi B. Readers can meet her in Grasping Hope and see her again in Relentless Love when it releases in June 2020. Of all of the characters I’ve written, she is the one most closely inspired by someone in my life. I have an adopted aunt, really my mom’s best friend I’ve been close to my whole life. She’s not nearly as old as Gigi B, and she doesn’t quite have Gigi B’s flair for the dramatic. But I’ve always seen her as stylish and funny and sassy and wise. It’s a unique combination that picked me up when I wrestled with my first broken heart as a teenager, and it was that type of person Katie needed in her life as well.

Gigi B’s life experiences and the words she speaks in my books are all her own. They aren’t life memories placed inside the pages of fiction. But who the character is to the ones she loves is a picture of who my aunt is to me and, I’m sure, other in her life.

By the Book: Creating a great cast of fictional characters adds realism and depth to a story. The characters in your own life do the same for you. They provide comforting memories for the future, encouragement for today, and, sometimes, even challenge us to grow in faith. Just as they are characters in your life, you are a character in theirs. Measure each day’s interactions using 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to determine whether or not you’re allowing God’s love to flow through you to the characters He brings into your life.

Different Voices

“The baby owls thought (all owls think a lot) – ‘I think she’s gone hunting,’ said Sarah. ‘To get us our food!’ said Percy. ‘I want my mommy!’ said Bill.” – Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Mother Owl and Babies

 All parents of small children know there are some nights you dread story time. When your little angel asks you to read Elmo Blows His Nose (I made that title up, but you know they publish things like this all the time) or some other equally unimpressive and unimaginative story for the thousandth time, all you can do is suffer through. You remind yourself that you’re spending time with your child and instilling a life-long love of reading (at least that’s what the research says).

But there are those nights when the book really is a wonderful story and a joy to read. I always felt that way about Owl Babies. The premise is simple and taps into every young child’s need for family and security. The illustrations are dark and earthy, perfect for a story about owls in the woods. But what I really loved about reading Owl Babies to my children was the fun I got to have playing with voices.

Sarah, Percy, and Bill are siblings as unique as my own children. Each has a different personality and way of relating to the news of their missing mother. Sarah always sounds so grown up in my head. I give her a steady, logical tone. Percy jumps on whatever bandwagon of thought Sarah voices, only he is a little younger and more excitable. That always factors into the way I read his lines. Then there’s Bill. Poor little, nearly hysterical Bill. The baby of the owl family. Each consecutive “I want my mommy!” gets a little more desperate when I read his lines. And their differences each spoke to my children in different ways. Each child had an owl sibling they related to most because the author took time to make them unique.

They may be owls in a children’s book, but what made it a joy to read Owl Babies to my children is something we need to remember in our own writing. Each character has their own personality, their own sound. The rhythm and speed with which they speak is unique. Even the area they came from plays a part in how they sound. (I can’t help but think of the line from Sweet Home Alabama. You know the one. “Honey, just cause I talk slow doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”) And a character’s actions before, during, and after they speak can highlight their differences even more.

It’s important to consider all of these things when writing dialog for a character. If something they say is out of their norm, it’s important to note the difference and give clues as to why it happened. Is the uneducated, poor serving girl trying to impress the rich, handsome duke? Her speech will be different when addressing him than when she is in the privacy of her own hovel.  Is the bear of a lawman dealing with a small, frightened child? He may lower himself to the child’s level and speak in softer, easier tones to coax the child into doing what is needed. But when he’s interrogating the culprit, he’s back to barking orders, red face and all.

When authors take the time to understand their character’s way of speaking and interacting with the world around them, the reader gets a more well-rounded, relatable character. It works whether that character is a person or a baby owl. By leaving the cookie cutters behind and letting each character be their own person, we give our readers more to relate to in our story. The more they relate, the more the pages will turn, and the more the messages of our stories will be heard.

By the Book: It’s important to remember God gifted each of us with unique personalities, interests, and experiences. Sometimes it’s hard, but try to take time to appreciate these differences I the people you interact with each day. When it’s especially hard, make it a practice to think about the difference you are having trouble with and turn it around. When could that trait come in handy? What situation might benefit from having that personality type? Thank God for His foresight to make us each uniquely suited for the purpose He has for us.  

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.

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