Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Get to Know: Writing.Com

Four years ago, in July of 2006, I made the big decision. I wanted to be a professional writer. I’d been piddling around with a story for a year or so “just for fun”. Now here I was with a newborn—my first time without a job since I turned sixteen. What better way to spend my free time than pursuing my lifelong passion of writing? (And yes, I realize “free time” with a newborn is an oxymoron, but that’s another post altogether!)

So, now I’d made this big decision. I wanted to write with the intention of being published one day. Where do I start? What does being a professional writer entail? Where do I even get started?

Well, I believe I typed the words “fiction writing” in the Google search engine and hit enter. One trillion gazillion hits…great. That was a lot of help. So I pulled on my big girl panties and started clicking on every link.

One of the first websites I visited was Writing.Com. At first glance, it was a little intimidating. An interactive site where writers share and critique each other’s work—did they expect me to share too?

After some consideration, I decided to create my own account and portfolio. I had some poetry and short stories, plus several chapters of my novel that I could upload to test out the site. I was having a blast exploring and giving writers very short opinion statements along the lines of “I really enjoyed this” (b/c who was I to critique anyone, I didn’t know what I was doing).

Then it happened.

A couple of days in, I ran across The Novel Workshop. A workshop created for novel writers (a lot of WDC is made up of shorter pieces: poetry, short stories, articles, etc.) with the goal of helping writers pursue their dreams of publication through critiques and workshops. Broken down by genres for critiques, but brought together for the workshops, this was right where I needed to be.

I joined the YA genre (my first novel was a mainstream YA) and very timidly wrote my first review of a fellow member’s chapter. This is what you have to do first to get your novel up on the forum board to be reviewed. Hot dog! It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought with their required review layout.

And then I was hooked on WDC.

I’ve participated in many groups and activities besides The Novel Workshop. Writing.Com offers a wide variety of activities for writers of all levels. From contests and writing groups to classes and support groups, there is definitely something for everyone.

So, how does it work?

When you get on Writing.Com, you first register for an account/portfolio. WDC offers free accounts, but there are paid ones as well that allow you to do different things. The paid ones offer such amenities as larger portfolios, less/no ads, the ability to host your own group/forum, even have your own website from their server.

Once you’ve registered, you can create items in your portfolio. With each item you have total control over everything from presentation to privacy. So many people are worried about privacy on sites like these, as we don’t want our work stolen. This isn’t as big of deal as we may think, but to ease your fears, WDC offers levels of privacy. You can make your item available to everyone, or restrict it to WDC members of a certain level or a certain group. You can even make it private with a passcode that you give out to those you want to review your item.

Each item can also be critiqued by others. With a scale of 1-5 plus a text box, people can leave their feedback and/or gift points (GPs I’ll explain in a minute). This is a great way to gage where you are in your writing. Granted, each review should be taken with great discernment. Some reviewers are brand new writers, some experienced with their own published books. Some people know what they’re talking about…some have not a clue, but like to act like they do. The best way to get reviews is to give reviews! People are usually pretty good about returning the favor.

WDC is a lot like its own little community, complete with its own monetary system. Gift points (GPs) are a currency that allows you to do a variety of things. You can use GPs to purchase sigs, raffle tickets, or items from the WDC store. You can even use them as a reward for reviewing, or as a gift when you review something really awesome.

WDC is very dear to my heart. It’s where I got my start in writing, and where I learned enough to get me on the right track. I’ve participated in contests…even hosted a few. I’ve been a member of several groups, from The Novel Workshop to Open Door to Grace (a prayer group for fellow writers) to Freelance Lighthouse (a group dedicated to helping start your freelance writing business). I’ve enjoyed getting to know other writers through the IM, chat, and email program. I’ve made friendships that are very precious to me. I have a handful of critique partners that I love and trust…even one in Canada and one in England!

I highly recommend that you take the time to check WDC out! You may get hooked—just like me! Oh, and if you’re not a writer, you can still create an account just to get in there to read and review. You’ll never run out of things to read!

Monday, August 30, 2010

God Knows the Truth Behind the "Why"

Hey everyone! Happy Monday! It is time for another crazy week in this thing we call life.

Things have been crazy around here. Kyra, Connor, and myself have been sick for over a week. Even though I've been on meds since Tues, I'm still coughing up some pretty nasty stuff. Kyra and Connor went to the doc this morning--didn't really get any answers, just the "it's probably viral" answer. Kyra has some decongestant medicine, and I have to get a stool sample from Connor (yuck! TMI, I know).

All this to say that I didn't really have the time or energy to write up a proper blog post this morning. Never fear! I may not have a VOTW for you today, but I would love to refer you over to my friend and critique partner, Cathy Bryant's, blog where her Meditation Monday gives us some insight on the truth behind the "why" of human behavior. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Personalize It!

The weekend is here and it’s got me thinking about my personal time…and my personal space. Wait…I don’t have any personal space. Hubby and I are always complaining about not having a place that is just ours. He wants a workout room and I want an office. Granted, we have an office/guestroom that we haven’t done anything with.

My work area is usually either the living room couch or the kitchen table. It is convenient, but uncomfortable and offers little opportunity to focus the way I should. I am sure that many of you out there feel the same, and many probably don’t have the luxury of an extra room (this is the first place we’ve had where we’ve had an extra room).

Where can we find personal space and how should we use it?

Well, first we got to find that allusive space. Some good places to start looking are our bedrooms, extra rooms (even small ones normally used for storage), living room, dining area—even the porch/deck if you live in the right area. Now, in most of the areas listed, you won’t be able to take over the whole area, but even a corner would work. With some creative rearranging, you could probably squeeze in your personal space. Make sure that your family knows that this is your area…others trespass to their own detriment.

Now that you have this corner that may only be a few square feet, what do you do with it? Well, that’s up to you. For me, I need an office-type area where I can keep my computer, my notebooks, etc. For you…what are your hobbies? Your passions? Do you like arts and crafts and need a place to store your stuff and put up a small work area? Are you into yoga and other workouts and would like a place to put your mat, weights, videos? Maybe you have recently taken on some volunteer projects through your church or community and need a place to organize everything. This is your space for whatever you need.

The first step is to personalize it. This can be as easy as putting up some pictures or encouraging quotes. It can also be as in depth as repainting and hanging curtains along with getting new furniture. Stay within your budget. Many ways to personalize your area can be found around your home anyway. Write out your favorite quotes or Bible verses and use old CD cases as frames. Tear apart old calendars and use some of your favorite pictures. Get some shelves to store your stuff with some colorful or elegant organizers. Baskets are great for organizing and can be made funky or stylish. Cheap, see-through boxes will help you to see inside for easy searching.

The next step is to organize (if needed). Use the organizers above and start separating your stuff into piles that will be most efficient for you. For me, I have a file cabinet not in use upstairs. I’ll divide up my projects and research into different folders. I’ll keep a printed list of my contacts and potential clients in the front. I also need paper, ink, paper clips, pens/pencils, etc. That stuff can be kept in small baskets or the tidy drawers of a desk. Lol… Once it is organized…KEEP IT ORGANIZED! It doesn’t have to be neat, but the organization should reflect what will be the best environment for you. Tip: Once you have established your area, don’t let outside influences in. Bills should not pile up here. Your child’s art supplies should not weasel its way onto the bottom shelf. Your husband’s hunting equipment belongs in the garage.

Take a step back and admire your personal space. Let the possibilities excite you, fill you with energy, ignite new ideas and motivation. This is your chance to change the world—

[Insert child’s scream]

If you can find the time. But that, as they say, is for another entry. Enjoy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Let's Share! -- Kids Say...

Okay, I have a story that is just too funny not to tell.

The other day, I was sitting on my bed, typing away on the laptop, while Alana and Kyra were watching cartoons.

Kyra stood up and walked across the bed to stand by my side. She was quiet for a few moments before asking, "Mommy, do you have any nipples?"

Not wanting to get into a discussion about nipples or have Kyra trying to lift my shirt to look, I told her no.

She laughed. "Yes, you do, Mommy. You have one right here!" She pointed to this mole I have on the back of my neck (you know the ones that are big and stick out).

My eyes widened. Where do kids get this stuff? "No, honey, that's not a nipple."

"Yes, it is!"

"No, it's a mole."

"What's a mole?"

Here we go again...

Needless to say, I couldn't even answer because I was laughing so hard.

Your turn! Let's share some kids say...stories-doesn't have to be your own, just has to be funny!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bad Queries

This morning isn't a good morning. Well, actually, it isn't that bad, but I'm just really tired. Connor was up more than usual last night, and for some reason I had such a hard time going back to sleep each time.

Thus, I didn't quite have the cognitive ability to crank out a clever and fun blog post on writing today. So, I thought I would share something clever and fun from someone else's blog instead. You don't mind, do you?

My dear friend, Frankie, has a group blog. Last year, she hosted a Bad Query Week (my idea!). It was such a hit, she did it again a couple of months ago. I participated the first time, but was unable to in this last round. The queries were so much fun that Frankie gave them their own little page.

And I thought you all would love them as much as I did, so here ya go!

SM Blooding and Crew

My query is the fourth one down. Enjoy! (And leave a comment here to let me know what you think!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Choice and an Emotion

Over the years, I have heard much discussion as to whether love is an emotion or a choice. Many of the arguments for and against both sides are valid points. I happen to agree with both sides. Love is both an emotion AND a choice.

The word “love” is a concept that is so enormous that, like God, it can’t be limited to what it is, and what it can do. We are called to love—at all times, and in all circumstances.

When man and woman are joined in holy matrimony, they make promises to love each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. These vows are a great example of what it means to love—and why it is a choice. In any relationship, no matter how fleeting, to choose to love that person where they are, is the epitome of love.

After seeing a commercial for a small child starving in Africa, a person donates one hundred dollars to a world hunger charity, in spite of the envelopes on the table marked “FINAL NOTICE”. That small contribution to better the world is another powerful example of love—and why it is an emotion. Like other emotions, it can fill us with such passion and wields a power that is hard to control.

A mother and father spend their nights awake, praying for their wayward child. They live in constant fear during the late nights, and shake their heads in pain and confusion when they get a call from the police department to pick up their child for possession of an illegal substance. Still, they pray…and love. And even when everything comes to a head, and they have to put their foot down to make the child see…there is a thick layer of love around it all. These situations are the best examples of what makes love a choice…and an emotion.

Sometimes, we want for love to be one or the other. To make it bend to our needs, to fit it in that proverbial box. But we can’t do that. We can’t take the emotion out of love, or it lacks passion and purpose. Neither can we take out the choice, because…let’s face it, love is never easy. And in a world where everything is so temporary, and we are given to our desire to runaway when times are tough—the ability to say, “I am going to love…” takes resolution and a strong will.

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Cathy Bryant, author of Texas Roads. In her novel, the heroine has a rocky relationship with her mother that goes from strained to all out war over the course of the story. In the end, with no attempt to make ammends on her mother's part, the heroine forgives her and they work out their differences. I had to think long and hard about whether or not that felt realistic to me. By society’s standards, this woman would have every right to despise her mother, possibly cut her out of her life for good. No one would blame her, they would probably think she’s better off.

It took awhile for me to realize the bigger picture. Love is both a choice and an emotion. The emotional side told the heroine that this is her mother—the woman who raised her and gave her everything she thought her daughter needed. She may not have done everything right, but her mother loved her in her own way. It also gave the heroine permission to hurt, to feel the pain of her mother’s betrayal.

The choice to love her mother would have been much harder. Her mother was cruel and catty, a very disagreeable character. But she chose to love her all the same. The heroine chose to be the bigger person and take the first step…a step that would lead to forgiveness and healing.

While this relationship is not the overall plot of the story, it was definitely a strong subplot that is a wonderful demonstration of love.

As we walk through life, we run into all sorts of people. Some are easy to love, some are not. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39) God calls us to love anyway. Why? Because nothing is more powerful than love.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Get to Know: Alex Lidell

Welcome to the next installment of Get to Know!

As you all know, I belong to an online critique group called The Novel Workshop. One of my most dedicated and favorite critique partners is Alex Lidell. Like Cathy Bryant, Alex and I don’t write in the same genres, but that doesn’t bother us. I love that Alex makes me think and always challenges my thought patterns (and she keeps me from being too preachy!).

Alex was one of the top three finalists in the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest this year. Her YA fantasy, Service of the Crown, is one of my favorite reads! Although she didn’t win the Amazon contest, she did win over an agent, who in turn got her a contract with Dial Books for Young Readers (a Penguin imprint). I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am for her.

Welcome to Faith, Hope, and Suspense, Alex!

To start with, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.

About me? I’m so much more used to talking about my characters. Okay. Let’s see… I am 29 years old and have been an avid Young Adult fantasy reader ever since my elementary school librarian stuck Tamora Pierce’s Alanna in my hands.

I was not a lit major in college or grad school. In fact, I tested out of freshman English, convinced my advisor to count fencing toward some other requirement (European history, I think) and tried to give my trusty cliff notes to my roommate, who WAS a lit major. She spent freshman year trying to explain to me that she really does want to read her assigned books because that is what lit majors do. I figured it was just one of her weird quirks, like running. (Note to self: Find her and tell her about SOC. She’s going to look at me cross-eyed.)

I actually learned to write at the Young Adult Novel Workshop, through a combination of getting and giving feedback. And I read a lot of writing books. SOC is my first novel, but I have revised it so much that by now it is nothing like what I originally typed up.

Can you give us a little blurb about Service of the Crown (SOC as we fondly refer to it as)?

A girl from a noble family struggles to become a fighter at the Crown's military academy, as she negotiates her best friend's use of drugs to control his healing magic, and the notorious past of her mysterious mentor.

Where did you get the idea for SOC?

When I graduated and moved away, I started to miss those 2am conversations you have in the dorm room. I needed some cool, opinionated people who’d come hang out in the middle of the night. So Savoy and Renee (my main characters) showed up. We started together on March 20, 2007 and are still going.

What was it like to make it as far as you did in the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest?

Weird. I had a year worth of rejections behind my belt and was only in the contest for the Publisher’s Weekly review, which all quarter-finalists received. After that, I was waiting to get cut already. I KNEW I wasn’t going to make the finals and I wanted to keep querying, which I could not do until I fell out from the contest. When the call came that I was one of the three YA finalists and was going to Seattle, I was in total shock. Leigh Feldman, my totally wonderful agent, contacted me about that time as well. It seems good things happen when I give up on waiting for them.

Now that you have a contract, you’ve begun the edits on SOC. What is the hardest part about working with an editor? The best part?

The hardest part was accepting that my favorite character can’t be the star of the show because of his age. The best part, is feeling that this is “for real”. Also, I can already see the editor’s comments making the book stronger.

I know there are certain parts of this story that you have to leave out or rework in ways you didn’t envision. How does it make you feel and how do you manage to push through these feelings to make the necessary changes?

It’s a challenge, a stimulating one. Sometimes, I get to re-visit my favorite scenes (which are fun) and write them from a different perspective. Sometimes it’s permission to do something I have never done, like adding romance. And sometimes it’s a puzzle: given tools X (ie. Renee’s POV) and limitations Y (ie. Her character’s abilities) accomplish goal Z (i.e. tell Savoy’s back story).

What has been the biggest surprise for you coming into this part of the publishing process?

My Agent’s favorite SOC character. Won’t tell you who she liked best, but will tell you that I just sat there and blinked at her. And then my editor said the same thing, but I was prepared and did not blink at her for quite that long. In practice, this means that as part of my editing, I am turning “up the volume” on some aspects of the novel and turning it “down” on others. This I expected. What I didn’t expect was which aspects would get turned which way. I have to say though, these guys (well, ladies) are right. The revisions are making the novel stronger.

If you could name the top three things that helped you to get where you are today as a writer, what would they be?

My crit partners. Starbucks. Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Work with reviewers but don’t ask questions you don’t actually want answers to or ask them of people whose opinion you don’t want to know. It annoys them and messes with you.

Do you have a favorite book/author?

Alanna by Tamora Pierce. I can’t say that it’s the best book I have ever read (in fact, I like some of Pierce’s Protector of the Small series better), but it’s the book that inspired me the most in the genre. And I recently read the Cain Mutiny which was awesome.

Anything else you would like to say to the readers?

That’s all I got, Rare – but if anyone has specific questions or comments or wants to talk about their writing, they can find me on twitter (@Airdale51) or Facebook (Alex Lidell). Thanks Rare.

Thank you, Alex, for joining us here today. You’ll have to come back when your novel is out to let us know where we can purchase it!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Believing God's Word

2 Timothy 3:16

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I have a Christian friend that doesn’t put much stock in the Bible. He is always going on and on about how so-and-so changed the Bible at this time, and how someone else changed it another time, and how many things tend to get lost in translation. Therefore, he concludes that you really can’t trust everything you read. Good advice, in most cases…but not with the Bible.

Verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 tell us that God has complete control over His Word. As the little side note in my Student Bible says, God-breathed is where the term “inspired” comes from. We don’t know how God inspired the writers, but we know that He did. And I think the same goes to everything that has happened to the Bible since.

The Bible is essentially one of the strongest ways that God speaks to us in modern times. From the time we are young in faith, we are trained to study God’s Word. Why? Because that is the basis from which we live our lives. So much of our direction, encouragement, and learning is found there.

Why would God let anything happen to the Bible that would compromise its most important message?

Last week, I talked about finding time to study the God’s Word. This week, we need to realize the importance of believing the God’s Word.

Why do you put your faith in the Bible? Do you ever question what has happened to the Bible over the years?

Friday, August 13, 2010

What's in My Handbag?

Thanks to my good friend, Frankie, you all get to hear all about what's in my purse. So...


At least not at the moment.

Since becoming a mommy to a newborn PLUS two ecentric preschoolers, I carry a large, sturdy diaper bag. Yep. I am a mom.

Do you want to know what is in the diaper bag?

Well, diapers...duh. (along with changing pad and wipes)

A couple of pullups (in case my big girls have an accident)

Two changes of outfits for Connor

A baby blanket

Two spitup cloths

A container for formula

A bottle of water (sometimes the baby gets it, sometimes I steal it)

A bottle (cause a baby cannot drink formual from a water bottle)

A packet of peanut butter crackers (I'm diabetic so--quick snack)

My wallet (of course)

An epi-pen (nice lil contraption to keep my throat from swelling up and suffocating me)

An inhaler (um...basically the same function as the epi-pen, but for asthma. lol)

Three pens (One blue, one pink, and one purple-b/c I'm so colorful!)

A notebook (Duh--b/c I'm a writer!)

The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction Writing by Jeff Gerke (hey, I was looking for that yesterday)

(Wow...my shoulder hurts just thinking about carrying all this around.)

A couple of books/little toys (for the girls when we have to go somewhere like the doctor or ACFW meetings)

Bandaids and antiseptic spray (b/c my girls should have boys)


Mini-sewing kit (just b/c someone gave it to me)

And I think that's it... *turns diaper bag upside down and shakes it*

Ooo...a penny. :)

Oh, and my angel. I have a little angel who's been smushed onto a coin that's supposed to watch over me.

And that, folks, is my purse...er...diaper bag. I'm exhausted now. Must go find a bed.

Now I have to tag 5 people. Hmmm...

Jill Kremer

Tamara Hart Heiner

Ren Black

Cathy Bryant

Cindy Wilson

Monday, August 9, 2010

VOTW - A Chosen Generation

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

A chosen generation—

A royal priesthood—

A holy nation—

His own special people—

What a glorious inheritance we have received in our salvation! Upon accepting Christ as our Savior, we were adopted into the family of God. We became Sons and Daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Belonging to a family comes with both joys and responsibilities. Being part of God’s family is no different.

A chosen generation: God offered the ultimate sacrifice in the death and resurrection of his Son to call us to Himself. Those of us who heed that call are chosen. We are chosen to be part of the family, and we are also chosen to serve Him in a way worthy of our calling.

A royal priesthood: When we accepted Christ as our Savior, we were gifted with the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of us, speaking to us on spiritual matters. As a result, we are changed, not just internally, but on the outside as well. We lead by example. In the rest of the book of 1 Peter, Peter shows us how Christians are to live, talking about such matters as submission to those placed over us and suffering for God’s glory.

A holy nation: What is a nation, but a unity of people under the same governing body. In our case, we are believers united in Christ under God’s protection. And, as with any nation, we are all unique individuals who must work together to ensure the nation runs smoothly. God sets us each aside for His specific use.

His own special people: Once we were lost, and now have been found. Adopted into the holy family of God. Verse 10 says that once were not a people, but now we are part of God’s people; once we did not know mercy, and now we do. God’s mercy. We are human—sinners in need of redemption—and God showed us mercy. Praise be to the Father!

The list of joys and responsibilities could go on and on outside of these verses. However, we know that ultimately "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Eternal life in the family of God, at home in Heaven.

Today is Monday and we enter into a new week. We should consider how our words and actions reflect both the joys and responsibilities of being adopted into God’s family.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Update on Me

It's Friday, ya'll! Bring on the weekend!

Yesterday, Connor turned seven weeks old. That's right...lets hear that collective "Aw...". He's becoming such a big boy. Last time I attempted to weigh him on my scale (I stood on it first without him, then with him), he was almost twelve pounds. Quite a little chunky monkey--but so incredibly cute. His head is more steady now when he holds it up to look around, or right at me. He also has more control over his smile and has the biggest grin!

We're still getting up once or twice a night to feed him. It isn't so bad--except when hubby is gone and I have to do it every night, all night. Yeah, that can really wear me out.

My oldest daughter is warming up to Connor, finally. She atually held him for a little while the other day, and she started talking to him. Yay! My younger daughter still wants to be a little mommy, but Connor is almost too big for her to hold! Still, she is good about throwing away diapers and helping to feed him.

In other news, the editing process is coming along...slow but steady. I'm moving into Chapter 10 sometime today (I hope). I've done some rearranging of scenes to smooth out the timeline, added in more setting (one of my weak points), and actually rewrote a couple scenes. Other than that, the majority of the editing is basic stuff-grammar, word choice, sentence structure-the little things that tighten up the writing.

So, what's going on with you? What news do you have to share?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Death of a Delusion

Once upon a time, I wrote a story. This precious story was my pride and joy. I had done it. I had completed a novel. But where to go from there?

I reclined on the couch with my laptop on the cushion beside me one last summer day. If I wanted to get serious about writing, I needed to figure out a plan of action. That day, I stumbled across Writing.com, and—after creating an account—I stumbled upon The Novel Workshop. Well, surely they could help direct my path.

As soon as the application went through, I joined the YA genre workshop. Score! I was gonna be the next Lois Duncan or R.L. Stine or…well, some other popular YA author when I was a teen. I just needed some feedback first.

Ask and ye shall receive.

In my na├»ve delusion, I had no real clue what it meant to write a novel. Yes, I had done what many have not—completed the first draft of a novel. But that was only the beginning. I wrote that draft with little to no knowledge of the craft. I’d written it out of pure enjoyment.

Reality hit like a ton of bricks.

In The Novel Workshop, we post our chapters for review by our peers, and everyone has to post at least one review per week. Being the newbie on the block, several people took a crack at my first chapter—and crushed my delusion with a sledgehammer.

All of the sudden there were invitations to Adverb Anonymous, lectures on show vs. tell, terrified screams at narrative summary, and a search and destroy for dialogue tags (esp the ones that went beyond plain, old “said”).

I think my jaw stayed in the dropped position for an entire week. What did they mean by all that stuff? Huh? What was wrong with the way I wrote? On the plus side, they all thought I did a great job of creating realistic characters and that the overall plotline had a lot of potential.

At least they were kind enough to find something positive to say after shredding the very skin from my body and leaving me to bleed on the floor.

Of course, with each shredding, new tougher skin grows back. And with each review, a little more knowledge was garnered and stored for future application.

That’s how we all learn. None of us were born great writers. We had to learn the ropes, just like in any other art form. There are rules and guidelines, expectations that we were unaware of at the time. We just wanted to write.

This experience teaches us one important fact—a writer must always be teachable. Times change, rules change—life is always changing. So is the publishing business. The elegant, flowery writing styles of the classics rarely work in today’s society that demands instant gratification. Subjects that were taboo even ten years ago are surfacing across the board.

And thus, the writer is an ever-growing, ever-changing creature.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Get to Know: Cathy Bryant, Heart-Stirring Stories, Life-Changing Grace

Welcome to the first installment for “Get to Know:”, where I’ll be interviewing writers in various stages of writing and publishing. I believe that no matter what the stage we are in, there is always something for us to teach others—even if we don’t know it.

To kick off this new column, it is an absolute pleasure to introduce to you a good friend and one of my favorite critique partners, Cathy Bryant!

I met Cathy a couple of years ago through the American Christian Fiction Writers, we were both looking for critique partners and, even though we write in two completely different genres, we paired up. I can’t speak for her, but I figured that our differences would be assets to each other. We might pick out stuff others in the same genre might not. (Cathy’s note: Agreed!!!)

Cathy is the author of Texas Roads and the soon-to-be-released A Path Less Traveled. She also maintains a popular blog entitled Word Vessel and a monthly newsletter.

Welcome to Faith, Hope, and Suspense, Cathy!

Thanks for the invite, Ralene! I always enjoy spending time with you!

To start out with, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m just an ordinary person—a wife with two grown sons, one beautiful daughter-in-love, and the most precious grandson in the world. I teach private music lessons and write stories. In my spare time (Ha!) I enjoy reading, home improvement projects, watching movies, spending time outdoors, gardening, hiking, and canoeing.

How/when did you decide to become a writer?

I don’t think I decided to be a writer; it’s more like I just am. I truly believe when we acknowledge God as sovereign Lord in our lives, He directs our paths (the theme of A Path Less Traveled). Writing is just part of the path He put me on. I’ve been reading, writing, and telling stories since I was a child. This time in my life is when He chose to bring it to the forefront.

You took the unconventional route and got your novel self-published through Smashwords. What prompted that decision?

The short answer is because I felt that’s what God wanted me to do.

The decision to self-publish was difficult for me, mainly because I knew the stigma (especially in the writing world) against authors who are self-published. I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so the thought of setting myself up for ridicule and even hostility, was like stepping out in front of a firing squad…without a blindfold! Texas Roads was a 2009 finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest, and that opened doors for the book to be considered by several traditional publishers. In fact, the book was being considered by two different publishers when I felt God leading me to go the independent route. So I withdrew the manuscript from further consideration and jumped off the high dive!

Why did you choose Smashwords?

Smashwords.com was the starting point for Texas Roads because I wanted to make the book available first as an e-book. Smashwords.com was the logical choice because they also serve as a distributor to several online stores, including Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple. Next, I made Texas Roads available in print at Amazon.com. As the largest online bookstore, Amazon was again, a logical step. Just recently, I made the book available in print through Ingram distributors, so the book can be ordered at brick and mortar bookstores. I may change the order of that process a bit on the second book in the Miller’s Creek, Texas series—A Path Less Traveled—available Fall 2010.

What do you think are the pros/cons of being self-published?

I wrote an entire article on this at my blog. Here’s the link, in case anyone wants the long version: http://wordvessel.blogspot.com/2010/07/benefits-drawbacks-of-self-publishing.html.

Here’s the short version: PROS-you maintain control of your work (you call the shots), you set the timetable (no months, and even years, of waiting), you keep more of the profits per book (40-85% rather than 10-15%); CONS-the stigma (which I’m thankful to say, is decreasing), upfront costs (just like any business), and the biggest for me is the workload (no corporate help with distribution, publicity, design, etc.).

Do you think you’ll ever try the traditional route?

I’m a big believer in “never say never,” but now that I know the ropes of publishing a book, I’m not sure a traditional publisher can offer me a better deal.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read, study, pray, write. (Sounds like a movie title, huh?) =)

Read the kinds of books you want to write. Read a wide variety of books—non-fiction, classics, books outside your genre.

Study the craft of writing. There are an awesome number of great books and classes available to help you become a better writer. Take advantage of them, and apply what you learn to your writing.

Pray about the direction God would have you take with your writing. Let Him lead. It will take away so much of the pressure.

You can’t be a writer unless you write. Writing isn’t for wimps. It’s hard, lonely, mind-numbing W.O.R.K. Write constantly, and when you’re not writing, think about writing. (Yeah, it’s a form of mental illness…) ;)

What are the top three things that you think helped you to get to where you are as a writer today?

First, my relationship with God. He’s the reason I write—my motivation. He’s also my inspiration, and daily drips into my mind the direction He wants me to take and the ideas that come out in my stories and articles.

Second, encouragement from family and friends. My family and friends have been so awesome to encourage me in my writing. They’ve never once belittled me or my writing, and have been willing to sacrifice and help in whatever way they could. I feel beyond blessed!

Third, amazing resources of information, in the form of books, classes, organizations, and other writers and readers (including my awesome crit partner)! =) All of these are the whetstones to my words. They sharpen my humble, and often feeble, attempts at writing, and make my words sing!

Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book?

Mmmm, I have several…but I’ll be nice and list just a few.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers will always be a favorite. This story touched my heart with God’s truth and love, and was a huge catalyst in my desire to write Christian fiction.

Another favorite is Anne of Green Gables. Anne and I are best buds, and I still relate to her on so many levels, almost like we’re sisters under the skin.

I’m also a huge fan of Susan May Warren. She writes so many different kinds of stories, and all of them well. She’s also a great writing teacher. I’ve yet to read a book she wrote that I didn’t like.

Is there anything else you would like to say to those reading this blog post?

If you’re a writer, hang in there! It’s easy to get discouraged and distracted. The enemy will do anything to keep us immobilized, but our God is greater than all. Depend on Him, and He’ll see you through.

Thank you, Cathy, for allowing us just a little peek into your world. It is a blessing and a pleasure to enjoy this time with you.

The pleasure and blessing is all mine, Ralene!

You all can find Cathy's novel Texas Roads here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

VOTW Psalm 119:114

“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” –Psalm 119:114

God’s word holds more power than our deepest fears.

God’s word holds more power than the fiercest army this world can build.

God’s word holds more power than the devil himself.

Yet, how many of us spend sufficient time studying God’s word? I know I don’t. Too often, I let life get in the way. I pretend that it’s okay to push my study time to the side “just for today” to pursue some other distraction (i.e. kids, work, cleaning). And maybe skipping it for one day isn’t that big of deal—but when one day turns into two, and then three, and before you know it a week has passed. You blink again and it’s already the first of the next month. Where did the time go?

Like I said, I’m guilty of this more often than I care to admit. I love reading the Bible, absorbing everything God has to tell me. So why do I keep letting life get in the way of something I love so much?

Well, it’s like salad.

Yes, I said it’s like salad. Follow me on this.

I love salad! That may make me slightly weird, but I do. Give me a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, and hardboiled eggs any day! But—I love French fries, too…and pizza.

Some days, when faced with the choice of salad or French fries (or pizza), I opt for the French fries. Why? Maybe because it’s easier. Maybe because it’s more comforting. Maybe because I just like to savor the warm deliciousness as it slides over my taste buds and…oops, sorry. I forgot myself for a minute. Anyway, my point is, there are many different reasons I may decide on French fries in the moment—but they are definitely not better for me, right?

Starchy, fried-in-oil sticks of death—OR—lush green bed of renewal and taste? Potatoes that will clog my arteries and grow my hips—OR—Salad that will control my blood sugar and give me energy? The choice is simple.

So, like the French fries, the many distractions in my life that I feel have to be dealt with may satisfy me in the short term. Too soon, though, the consequences start to show on the hips—er—soul.

We need to remember that, although something might be easier or seem more important, doesn’t necessarily make it better for us. For a more lasting satisfaction that will help us, not just in this world, but the next, we should make more time to study God’s word for us. It’s calorie free!