Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

Yes, it has happened. I turned another year older last Thursday. I reached the ripe old age of 29, at which I will remain for the rest of my adult life. That’s the way it works, right? I had a wonderful week celebrating…from cards and warm wishes from family and friends to the happy homecoming of my husband. Plus, who can forget the cake? Calories don’t count on your birthday, you know.

I think my birthday falls at a great time of the year. May 20th falls just close enough to six months into the year, that as I take time to reflect on my life and my goals, I can take stock on those pesky New Year’s Resolutions I made on January 1st. It’s not always the most pleasurable part of my birthday traditions, but it is a necessary one. After all, without a system of checks and balances, how do we make the system work properly, right?

So, I went back to my blog post in January and reread that exciting, “let’s usher in the new year with passion” post. One thing that I realized right off the bat? I was WAY too perky when I wrote that. It must have been one of my non-morning sickness days. The second thing that occurred to me was that I was either too ambitious in my goals, or life just got in the way more than I intended. Either way, I didn’t accomplish near as much as I had hoped by now.

Here is a copy of my goals:

1. Write 500 words/day except for Sunday/holidays on either manuscript or blogs so that I can get in the habit of writing even without inspiration. I'll keep track of this on a spreadsheet.

Well, this one definitely flew out the window until about two months ago. I don’t think I hardly wrote a thing until April. However, now that morning sickness is over and the girls have been able to get outside and run off some energy, I have more time and, more importantly, energy to write. While I don’t think I’ve quite made it up to 500 words EVERY day. I have been getting better. So I intend to keep this goal the way it is and continue to strive to meet it.

2. Finish DS by the end of February so that I can enter it in the Genesis Contest and submit to MLP (and others).

Well, if I didn’t start writing anything until April, this definitely didn’t happen. If you follow this blog, then you know that although I wanted to work on DS, I was having issues with completing it. I recently did a complete read through, and then had a brainstorming session with a critique friend of mine. She inspired me to get my rear in gear and I actually did my first writing session on the ending of DS the other day. Yay!

Now, my new goal is to finish the rough draft of DS by the time Connor comes and then the final draft by August 31st. Wish me luck!

3. Write the first draft of the sequel to DS by the time the baby comes so I am not stressed about getting it on paper and can relax and edit.

Yeah, read number two.

4. Have the sequel finished by the end of the year.

While I think this goal may be a little harder to achieve, I don’t think that it will be impossible if I stick to (and exceed) my daily writing goals. I think it wouldn’t be too out of the realm of reason to think I could at least finish the rough draft. Do you?

5. Write/submit queries for at least one article/month for the year. This is a good way to break in, and possibly a way to make a little extra money.

I haven’t even looked at this one. I still think it is a viable option for me, and I really would like to get the experience and still contribute some to the household income. My goal is to revisit this in July/August and start from there.

6. Go to the ACFW conference.

Sadly, this is not an option for me this year. I thought my husband had this week off, but he doesn’t and he can’t get it off. I will really miss the conference opportunities this year, but look forward to next year when hopefully there will be more options for me.

7. Keep up with my blogs by creating new posts at least three times a week.

This is another area that was rough for the first few months of 2010. However, like the rest of my writing, it has picked up since April. While I don’t always make the three posts a week, I am posting more and more. Part of my problem sometimes is finding something I think would be interesting for you all to read about. Over the last month I’ve come up with some ideas and theme days that I hope will keep the readers (YOU!) coming back for more.

8. Read one writing and one non-writing book/month. (This month the writing book is Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas and the non-writing book is This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.)

Yeah, if you think I didn’t have time and energy to write, I didn’t have much more for reading either. I still don’t think this is an outrageous goal; I just need to focus more on making time for reading. Right now I’m reading Brandilyn Collins’ Getting Into Character (yes, still…I’m telling you—no time and energy) and John B. Olson’s Shade.

Now, I’ve reflected on my goals, figured out where and why I came up short, and reassessed. I made new goals and new commitments to follow through. It’s your turn! What goals did you make that need some tweeking? Share!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Conflict vs. "Nice"

“Write what you know.”

“People want realism.”

“Life is not always exciting.”

One day I was having a conversation with a friend about one of my favorite TV shows, Army Wives. My friend, however, can hardly stand the show. She thinks that it is not an accurate portrayal of military life. The probability, she says, of all that occurs in the show happening to that group of women is close to impossible. These people have faced not only deployments and other “normal” military life issues, but also bombings, suicide, divorce, injuries, and other unusual life events.

Yes, my friend is very right. It is unlikely that even a quarter of what these spouses have gone through in the shows three seasons would happen to a group of friends in real life. However, like any other TV show, the show would likely fall flat on its face without all the twists and turns. They need to keep all the viewers in suspense, while reaching the individual.

The same goes for our novels.

In a critique group I belong to online, we often get new members in and I have the honor of reading a different story from a new writer, and a common mistake I find in plot are those “nice” scenes. There might not be anything technically wrong with them. They might be well written and have a funny moment or two. But overall they lack two things that every scene needs: to push the plot forward, and conflict.

The first is easy to determine if we consider our plotline and the main characters goal in the scene. First, the scene has to fit in the plot, it has to have a purpose. Why did you put this scene in the story and how does it take the story to the next level? If we know how it pushes the plot forward, then we need to consider also how it works for or against the POV characters goal in both the scene and the overall novel. This creates conflict to build upon in the next scene and the next and so on.

If a scene doesn’t push the plot forward or pertain to the POV character’s goals, then it either needs to be rewritten to include those things or it needs to be deleted all together.

At last year’s ACFW conference, I had the honor of listening to Donald Maas give a workshop based on his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. He emphasized over and over again the need for conflict on every page.

There are essentially two levels of conflict to consider. The first is building tension and suspense through having a scene work against the goals of one of the main characters. Maggie needs to get to the supermarket…seemingly mundane. That is until she is run off the road and finds herself in a ditch. On the other hand, Dan wants to talk to Susie—the hottest girl in the senior class—but every time he approaches her, he is shoved aside by her jock boyfriend. Okay, those are a little cliché, but you get the picture.

The other level of conflict is more in the details. In order to create conflict on EVERY page, we have to get creative. Too often, our characters interact, both with themselves and with other, in ways that are just “nice”. Unless they are having an outright argument, they pop off a conversation with hardly a speed bump. Filling out a conversation with moments of tension, even in a simple scene, will add conflict that will keep the readers engrossed in our stories.

So, remember that when you sit down to edit your next scene. Why did you put it in the story, and how does it push the plot forward? Can you pinpoint conflict on each page?

Monday, May 17, 2010

I am a Promise

With my husband gone a lot, when the girls go to bed, I have a lot of time to think. Sometimes, this is a good thing. Lately, though, it’s been kind of oppressing—even bordering on depressing.

Baby number three is on the way and will probably make his appearance sometime in mid-June. Baby #3! What was I thinking? I have enough trouble with a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old, how am I going to handle a newborn baby?

I’ve never been the best housekeeper, but with a newborn, the time and energy I’ll have to clean will diminish even more. But I need to make sure the house is clean for the girls and for the baby.

On top of all that, what about my writing? When will I have time to write? When will I have the energy to even WANT to write? Will I make my goal to have an agent by the time I’m thirty?

Yes, these are probably all completely normal worries—and typically, I’m not much of a worrier. But lately, these things have just seemed so much bigger than I can handle (even if they’re really not).

A couple of days ago, I was pouring out my heart to God on the subject of feeling overwhelmed. While I was praying a song I used to sing in children’s choir came to mind. “I am a promise. I am a possibility...And I am learning to hear God’s voice and I am learning to make the right choices.”

Those words are only a small portion of the chorus, but as I prayed they spoke volumes to me. I was reminded of the Bible verse Phil. 1:6, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

I am still a work in progress. I am not perfect (well, duh). But by God’s grace, He will give me everything I need to balance my life. I have to keep myself open to His leading and train myself to listen for his voice. If I rely on Him, He will not fail me. He will give me the strength, patience, etc. that I need to move through this big change in my life.

God has plans to prosper me, not to harm me (Jer 33:11), and I know He won’t give me more than I can handle. So what is the use of worrying? Yes, my priorities may change. Writing may have to take a back seat for a few months. The girls and hubby may have to step up for a couple of months and help with the cleaning more than they usually do.

The best news of all is that this precious baby boy is a gift from God. He would not have given him to us if we were not prepared to take on the challenge. Praise the Lord!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let's Share! -- Fun scenes

As a suspense writer I love a good action scene or an unforgettable twist, but I also love writing those fun scenes. You know, the scene (or part of a scene) where, in the midst of all the drama, the mood is lightened slightly by a funny image or a witty comment.

Bits like this are great for easing tension in a overbearing scene. Of course, like all tools in a writer's arsenal, they can be overused as well. Too many of them can break the tension, shattering the illusion we spent so long building. These scenes are a great way to show a different side to the characters as they grow and change throughout the novel.

For instance, in Dividing Spirits, both the hero and heroine can be a little too serious. I mean, it's kind of hard not to be when people around you keep dying and you know the malevolent force is supernatural. But my heroine can tell when the hero's moods are getting just a little too "in a funk", and she will squash her seriousness just to get a smile out of him.

In the following scene, Ninevah and Graham just had a huge argument the night before where Graham said some rather rude things (he always seems to be sticking his foot in his mouth).

Graham found Ninevah in bed the next morning. He rapped lightly on the frame of the open door and waited until she looked his way. His stomach dropped. Her skin was still too pale.

She sat up, beckoning for him to come in.

“How are you this morning?”

“Tired.” Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Well, the past few days haven’t exactly been a vacation at the beach, have they?”

She laughed. “No, not even close. I think I’d much rather be at the beach.”

“Me too.” He chuckled with her, but then an uncomfortable tension settled over them. His feelings from last night demanded to be addressed, but he actually had business to attend to. He sat down on the edge of her bed. “I came up here for a reason.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

“Rochester’s hearing is tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? I must have lost track of time.”

“Even though you don’t remember anything about the accident, I still think you should come. I have to go.”

“Why should I go?” Her eyes bulged. “They don’t want me to testify or something, do they?”

“No.” He held up his hands. “I just thought maybe, since you might be starting to remember things, if you saw him in person, it might jog your memory.”

Ninevah focused on the ceiling. He waited for her answer, but she remained silent.


“You really think I should?”

He nodded.

“Okay. I guess that gives Miralee and me even more reason to go shopping. I need a suit.”

“The hearing is at nine, I’ve got to be at work at seven, but I’ll be back here about eight to pick you up.”

“Why don’t I just go to work with you?”


“Sure. You can give me the grand tour of FBI headquarters, introduce me to your co-workers—let me interrogate someone.” She wiggled an eyebrow.

He inhaled. At least she was in a better mood. “Why not?”

“You’ll let me interrogate someone?”

“No. But you can come with me.”

Do you see how Ninevah strives to lighten the mood with all the tension in the room?

Now, why don't you share? Pick a short scene with tension AND a bit of "fun" to share. I look forward to reading them!

Monday, May 10, 2010

May Update!

Welcome my friends!

This week has been an especially trying week for me. Hubby is off on another business trip, so of course, everything has to go wrong. Right? It's the military wife curse.

On Thursday, I had an OB appointment. It was supposed to be an easy one--in and out. However, the doctor had a hard time getting a consistent heartbeat from baby Connor. So, after several tries and a stint on the NST machine, she sent me to the hospital (45 mins away!) for observation. She freaked me out by asking if there was anyone to pick up the girls (who are with me b/c I don't really have a babysitter at the moment) and mentioning she didn't "think" I'd need to stay overnight. Eek!

I get down there and the nurse hooks me up to another NST machine and starts asking all the normal questions. Finally the doctor comes in to listen to Connor's heartbeat. Connor's heartbeat was irregular. *big gulp* The doctor leaves to confir with my high risk pregnancy doctor from another clinic. At this point, I'm praying with all my might and really trying not to panic. I was terrified and felt very alone.

A few minutes later, the doctor comes back in. Apparently, he felt that Connor had some condition that, while not normal, was not unusual either. I can't remember what he called it, but he said that it usually resolves itself before the baby is born. Relief just washed over me. Something not to worry about. Just a small hump to get over. But what if...

Now, we all know one shouldn't play the what if game, b/c we can worry ourselves into a frenzied panic, but sometimes you just can't help it. I realized I'd made arrangements for if something happened a little later in the pregnancy, but not now. What if something happened now? My husband was gone. My family is hours away. I haven't found a babysitter since my old one moved away. What would happen to me and my girls?

This is where the sound, comforting voice of my own mother comes in handy. She's great at helping me calm down. She offered some advice, but just with a calmer mind, I realized one of my friends (a teacher) was in her last week of work until next fall. She readily agreed to help out if needed. My other friend, though more pregnant than I am, also offered whatever help she could. If push came to shove, I can also call the Family Readiness Group leader for my husband's unit for help. My worries began to ease, and I realized (for the millionth time) how very blessed I am.

They released me from the hospital with warnings not to have any caffeine or cold medicine. My high risk doctor said they'd do an echo and another bio at my appointment this week, just to follow up.

I am so grateful for my friends and family, but especially for my Lord. God is the one thing that kept me from outright panic at the situation I faced. He is definitely my strength and my peace. Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I don't have a lot of time for a blog post today, so I thought we'd have some fun!

I'm in the beginning stages of plotting out my next novel, a sequel to Dividing Spirits. At the end of Dividing Spirits, there's a world-wide disaster and most of the people in the major cities die from a virus that kills instantly (long story, but don't want to give away the story!). So there are several cities that just cease to exist overnight...

What do you think the world would be like two years later?

What would the economy be like?

Do you think the governments would have cleaned up these cities by then, or kept them gated off as Danger Zones?

What about progress? Technological advances, medical advances...would they keep up at the pace they are at now? slowed? ceased all together?

Help me brainstorm my world!