Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On asking why ...

Story, Lord. I don’t get it. Is it really just all about the story?

Here you made me a writer, and I’ve spent years now, studying story. Here I am reading Accelerant, and thinking ... Haegan, poised on the edge of doubt and fear, longing to be released from his own calling ... yet guarded unseen by two Deliverers. Why? Why Haegan? Why don’t the Deliverers just mete out divine judgment, and be done with it? Why the long, terrible, painful journey?

Why my own journey? Why do You choose fallible men to carry Your word and do Your will? Why do You continue to let us slash and hurt each other, disappoint each other, trample Your grace and spurn Your mercy, and yet ... You love us? You choose us and draw us into Your kingdom, to have us do Your work and eventually make something of us?

I don’t get it. What’s the point? Why not torch the word into oblivion? It’s what we deserve.

And later—much later—I’m thinking about the propensity of life to set us up for heartbreak. Is that You? Just as we writers search for the great dramatic irony that fuels our stories, are You also building that into the story that is our lives?

... when I am weak, then I am strong ...

... God’s light shines brightest in the darkness ...

... after death, then resurrection ...

 ... His loss, our gain ...

... humble yourself, and He will exalt you ...

Really, why? What is the point?

And He whispers to me, You don’t need to know that yet. Just trust.

I realize, maybe that IS the point. To trust. To walk. As I’ve said before, not the destination (at least not any that we perceive with our human minds as a destination, here on earth), but the journey.

Every step of the way toward the One who, as He told Abraham, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

Because HE is the point. He is our destination.

And I guess that really is all I need in this moment.

Monday, August 01, 2016

On Books: To Review or Not To Review

For anyone who follows me on Goodreads, you may have noticed how terrible I am about updating my reading lists. Several reasons for that. One, my reading habits are often random and sporadic. Two, as someone who's trying to walk a fine line between being honest and yet not putting a stumbling block in front of others, I may not always want to admit what exactly I'm reading ("do you have freedom? good, enjoy it between yourself and God and not before those who would be offended"--a rough paraphrase about "meats offered to idols" issues). Three: I might be reading for contest judging and can't really SAY that.

Of the ones I admit to reading, I review even fewer. Part of that is because I know I'm picky ... I hate hurting people's feelings ... and I'm blessed with SO MANY writing friends that I can't possibly read everyone's stories, much less be perfectly objective about the writing. I did recently offer to read and review a novella written by a fellow Colonial Quills author, Tamera Kraft. It was a very good story, lingered with me long after I finished it, and yet I only gave it 4 stars.

Why?

For starters, Goodreads has a slightly different rating style than, say, Amazon. 4 stars according to Goodreads is "I really liked it" while 5 is "it was amazing!" I rarely give books a 5-star rating anymore unless I'm just head-over-heels in love with it ... but I've read a lot of perfectly good stories, perfectly enjoyable ones, that might not peg the "amazing" in me because of some nitpick or another. So they get 4 stars.

I'm a writer too, for crying out loud. And studying the craft tends to bring out the nasty internal editor. It's been a hard fight to regain the love of reading for its own sake.

Also, I'm picky. Did I mention that I'm picky? :)

This year, because of the prodigious (for me) number of books I've read already (many of them contest reads), I decided to keep track. As of last night I've read a total of at least 65 novels and novellas, just this year. If that seems excessive, I assure you my husband and children read a lot faster than I do! I won't tell you everything I read but I might, just for fun, tell you about some new favorite authors, and what I like about what they do.

In the meantime, if I've reviewed your work in the past, or if I happen to offer a review in the future, please try not to be disappointed if I "only" give you 4 starts. Because after all, 3 stars on Amazon might translate as a "meh," but Goodreads says it's "I liked it." :) But if I feel like I can't give you at least 4 stars, I probably won't write a review.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Resurrection of HopeResurrection of Hope by Tamera Lynn Kraft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young woman still grieving the loss of her fiancĂ©, a young man determined to take care of her as penance for that loss ... he knows he’s no substitute for his friend, who died in the Great War, but he’s loved her forever.

One problem, though ... he can’t risk telling her how he really feels.

The opening scene of this story sucked me right in. The rest is a little slower, a little less emotionally gripping, but this is a very sweet story. I could feel the ache and weariness of Vivian’s grief, of her struggle for Henry’s attention and approval. Though painful at times, the emotional and spiritual journey of both characters is brought to a beautiful and satisfying conclusion.

I was given a copy of this book by the author for an honest review.

View all my reviews


Saturday, May 28, 2016

And life goes on ...

So much for my intent to post more often!

We just finished up a very busy week of visiting with our oldest son and his wife and our grandbaby of not quite 9 months old, celebrating our second-oldest daughter’s graduation from high school, and having front-row seats to our second-oldest son proposing to his girlfriend. So much joy, so much life, so much potential for even more life and joy ... and at some point, more sorrow and heartbreak.

Because today the son and daughter-in-law and grandbaby had to pack up and drive back to her parents in Omaha to catch their flight home in South Carolina. And the front-row seat to the other son’s engagement was via modern media, 1600 miles away.

And graduating one kid from high school at home is always bittersweet because the uncertainty of college and adulthood comes next.

And ... we’re all waiting for news of whether my oldest daughter, after dealing with infertility for almost three years, and suffering the pain of a very early miscarriage last month, is finally carrying a baby with hopes of holding it in our arms and not just in our hearts ...

The newly engaged son called very late last night, choking back tears that his Grammy is in heaven now, and he can’t immediately share with her that her last prayer for him was answered yesterday.

As wonderful as life is, sometimes we can hardly wait for the coming day when there are no more goodbyes, no more separations and no more loss. As I told them all last night, it isn’t that we immediately want to go end it all, but it seems every experience just sharpens our longing for that.

I have to remind myself that we need to embrace the longing as fully as we seek to embrace the joy.

Because there are joys enough on this journey to savor and celebrate, as well as the joy that awaits us at the end.

And that grandbaby is absolutely beautiful. :)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

If We Do Not Lose Heart

Long, long journey through the darkness
Long, long way to go ... (Enya)

It’s hard to keep going with a dream, year after year, when you see door after door shutting in your face. Hard to keep believing that dreams even matter, in the face of real life and all its brutality.

I’ve written before on why stories matter. God has a way of using them to sneak truth past the barriers of the heart—consider Jesus and His parables, or the way most of Scripture is basically story after story. With all the things I could be doing with my life—and all I have done, aside from story spinning—I’m amazed that the call to Story has remained the strongest constant for me, after the call to be a child of God.

But oh, it’s a hard road at times. Not that God hasn’t graciously given me bits of validation along the way. It’s part of what’s kept me going.

Everyone has doubts, I know this. There are times mine amount to merely flopping around in my insecurity, knowing I need to just put Behind In Chair and Hands On Keyboard and WRITE. There are other times when discouragement fills the air like a dust storm, in every breath I take whether I choose it or not, choking me and making me wonder if it really is time to hang up this silly writing dream and get on with real life. I mean, just how many writer’s conferences can I ask my hardworking husband to spend money on, before I can begin paying that back? How many late nights do I stay up, pounding out words on a page, making me slow and cranky with my family the next morning? And when, like last summer, every drop of my energy and then some goes to intensive care of a loved one, and I know that my efforts are just temporary at best, and then an entire summer’s progress evaporates in a matter of days and I know it’s completely out of my hands ... I wonder if it’s all just an exercise in futility anyway and why should I return to being so driven?

Then, in the aftermath of Mom’s passing, knowing I face the same physical issues she did, I wonder how many more “good” years do I have before the diabetes overtakes me and I too begin to physically crumble? What do I want to spend that time on?

I want to live more intentionally, of course. But what that actually means—? Planning takes time and thought, which looks dangerously like doing nothing to everyone else. But it’s time I must take, regardless.

I also know I don’t want to burn the rest of my years chasing a fickle publishing market. Over and over the past few months I’ve heard, Write your heart! Write the story God gave YOU. Be the you that He made you to be, not an imitation of someone else.

So, if God made me to be a writer, and if I believe He gave me these stories, then ... it only follows that He has a plan. Maybe that plan doesn’t involve publishing—or at least not traditional publishing—but it could. And once again I’ve needed direction, confirmation, that I’m still on the right path.

I mean, there’s waiting on God, and then there’s just waiting. Right?

You see, just after Mom’s passing, I received the news that Sue, my agent of just over a year, would be moving on to something else. Startling, disappointing, but I knew God has His reasons, and a plan. In the meantime, Sue mentioned another agent—twice, even—and though I had my doubts that she’d be a perfect fit, based on what she says she’s looking for, I have a lot of respect for this woman after watching her for years in the industry and following their agency blog, so I took the leap. I also had doubts that the project I was pitching her (something brand new) would really fit with the particular publisher Sue told me to mention, but I mentioned it anyway.

And then I waited some more. The doubts became more intense.

Years ago, the Lord told me that when He opened doors for me in this business, it would be in such a way I’d know it was Him doing so and nothing else. This was no exception. Like most things of this kind, however, it loses so much in the actual telling.

The upshot of it all is that I’ve just signed with a new agent. Tamela is incredibly comfortable and enthusiastic and encouraging so far, and my head is still just spinning with awe when I consider the groundwork that led to this, all things that God set in place, some more than ten years ago.

And as a bonus ... I’m being given free rein to go as "big" with the new story as I like. I'm almost dizzy with the possibilities.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9, NKJV)

The season isn't over, not by a long shot. There are still miles to go on this journey--and make no mistake, I know it's more about the journey than the destination.

But I'd say God has given me a really huge chunk of validation this time, wouldn't you?

Fresh hope is so very sweet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Writing Through Grief, Part 6

No discussion of writing through grief would be complete without my explaining how deeply I owe my writerly self to my mother.

I was reminded of this two weeks ago, and it’s taken until now for me to face actually writing about it ... and posting it. At this point, I'd appreciate being able to just move on with life, not think about things, and definitely not cry. And up until, oh, last week, every time I think about Mom, or about anything else emotional, I’d instantly tear up.

I’m trying to rebuild some momentum with the writing. Difficult at moments with some extra reading I’ve needed to do—contest judging, which I really enjoy. But writing blog posts has come more slowly, too.

Beyond that, though, I’m finding it nearly impossible to focus. Already suffering from what I term motherhood-induced ADHD (...25 years of being interrupted EVERY TWO MINUTES for hours a day), I’m finding if there’s anything else going on in the room that I might find even mildly interesting, I’m constantly distracted.

Not terribly conducive to getting a piece of story knit together.

I keep thinking how profoundly unhappy Mom would be if I gave up writing altogether. Which I’ve considered doing, at least where fiction is concerned. (We won't even discuss the "story of my heart." Almost 35 years of working on the same story series that isn’t even remotely published yet ... at what point is enough enough, and you move on?)

But ... something won’t let me. It isn’t even the thought of Mom frowning at me from heaven, because hey, the disapproval of our Creator is so much more weighty. LOL, or should be. It’s just—realizing all over again how connected my writing was to her. And now that she’s gone ...

She’s probably the biggest reason I’m writing at all. An artist as well as a voracious reader, she never minced words on what she felt I was good at, and my childhood attempts at artwork met one day with an exasperated, "You just can't can't draw!!" So, when she encouraged my early writing efforts, I took it seriously.

Through my teen years, she championed me, read anything I threw her—and found enough promise in it to ask for more. She could listen to me rattle on for hours about my characters and storyline. She was the one who first suggested that instead of having some vague, nebulous concept of “strangers” who gave the Gift—why not have THE Stranger? Their own colloquial term for God? And I remember the look on her face as she said it—a suppressed smile, full of joy and knowledge, as the suggestion took hold in me and sparked an answering excitement. For the first time, I had a storyworld I could intimately connect with my own faith ... because of her.

She also suggested plot twists. I forget how many. She even drafted a short but pivotal scene from the POV of a minor character, a scene that I kept with very little changes. Oh, and the lyrics of a song that’s also pivotal across several stories? She wrote that.

Later, after about 15 or so drafts of the story, she started refusing to read my revisions. I started writing when I was 15, for crying out loud, and every time I’d revise I’d be a little older, a little wiser, and think, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen like that” or “That’s just stupid.” :) Eventually, it wore her out.

I quit asking her to read drafts. Eventually, I even quit asking her to read new stories. But she remained the one complaining the most strenuously that nobody seemed interested in publishing me (or representing me), and she never stopped hoping to see my original stories in print. She was definitely the most excited when I got that first contract, a surprise in the opening session of the 2012 ACFW conference. Even if it was for a humble little historical romance novella.

She told everyone who would listen that her daughter was a published author. She even insisted on handing out bookmarks when she was in the hospital year before last, after surgery to repair a shattered hip and later quadruple bypass surgery.

It was so embarrassing. :)

After she lost her eyesight (not to mention the use of a computer), I read her my later novels, and the two novellas. She grew to love those as well as my early stories, and it gave me much joy to be able to put my first published volume into her hands.

I'm still hopeful that someday I'll see a version of that first story in print ... dedicated, as I used to tease her, to My Editor, the Mom.

And no, I still can't quite believe she's gone.