Sunday, December 29, 2013

Grow Your Creativity


I ran across an article that addressed the fact that the smartest people in the world who learned code were also into the arts, from painting to musical instruments. Learning code is a useful skill but can also be a rewarding hobby creating different spheres of knowledge.

Instead of common coding one can break new boundaries, using tools that allow the two working together.  To be creative in any field these days requires knowledge of technology. This leaves the grunt work to the computer so humans can focus on the creative work.  Once you foster your creativity you can pursue an artistic endeavor.

The history of Nobel Prize achievers were up to twenty-five more times likely to sing, dance, write, do woodworking, photography or music. All who claimed one of these created an intuition which gathered creative imagination. A number of studies show the similarity between art and science. An example is like a drawing that becomes a painting or novelist writing a number of rough drafts to find the one that works best.

Albert Einstein once said that “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life on terms in music”  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Learning to Trust

I received an interesting text the other day from a budding author who lives in my hometown. She has written a book and wanted to know how to get it published. This is not unusual because I have had a number of acquaintances ask this same question, or versions of it, over the years.

I am not comfortable dispensing here’s-how-to-get-your book-published advice until I have had a chance to look at the manuscript, if possible. So far, the ones I have proofread for others have needed revision. In some cases, a LOT of revision. I do not claim to be a good editor, but I have gained a certain amount of insight based on my own journey and know that a manuscript laden with grammatical and spelling errors, along with POV and plotting problems, will not fly.

Anyway, I texted the young author back and volunteered to proofread her manuscript before proceeding to the next step. Her reply was: I’m not comfortable sending it to you. I’m private about my work. My mother looked it over and now I need to know how to get my book published.

Her response reminded me of my own concerns about someone stealing my work or plagiarizing my story ideas. There was a time I worried a great deal about sending my manuscript off to publishers, only to find my book published under someone else’s name a year later! That never happened, of course. But I’d heard stories.

I texted the young woman with some general advice and concluded with: You are going to have to trust people at some point. Reputable agents and publishers will not steal your ideas, but authors should do their homework in advance and know as much as they can about the agency they are approaching. Checking out editors and publishers online, as well as reading testimonials and endorsements from other authors, can help budding authors avoid certain pitfalls. Having to pay money up front for publication, representation, or a review tells something about the nature of the agency.

Truly, I wish the young woman luck. But where she wouldn’t even let me—a friend and neighbor—look at her work to offer a “professional” opinion, I’m not very hopeful. At some point in her journey toward publication, she is going to have to develop trust.

Do any of you have other advice I could pass along to her?

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. Let me wish you a Happy New Year and the best to you and your loved ones in 2014.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And So You Are My Son - Lena Nelson Dooley

Readers, this is an excerpt from my ebook 24 Christmases, which is available in both epub and Kindle format.

And So You Are My Son

I have loved your mother for a long time. She first captured my heart with her big brown eyes when she was a little girl. I was quite a bit older than she was, so I should not have noticed her. But one day as I was rushing home from the hill outside town knowing I was almost late for supper, I ran around the corner of her house just as she walked out the gate. In my haste, I knocked her to the ground. Stopping short, I began to apologize as I lifted her to her feet. I will never forget the way she looked at me. She did not cry. Her eyes just got bigger and bigger. For many days her eyes haunted my thoughts. Soon I decided to wait for her to grow up before I married.

And grow up she did, into the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her eyes were always the center of her beauty for me. Some days they were laughing eyes, merrily twinkling. Other times the depth of wisdom that greeted me there was overwhelming. Oh how I feared her father would give her to someone else.

One day my eyes sought her among the other girls, as they often did. Without knowing why, I sensed a change in her. My heart swelled with loving her until I thought it would burst. Then I realized she was nearing the age to marry. That moment I started planning how to approach her father.

I knew I was only a carpenter, and she deserved so much more. That is what I told her father, but he did not turn me away. He did say he wanted to give Mary the chance to accept or reject my offer. That was not usually done, but I was glad. I remembered many times looking up from my work to find her gazing at me. Although I loved her and wanted her desperately, I loved her enough to let her go if she did not want me.
The time of waiting seemed endless. My agony intensified as I thought of more and more reasons I was not worthy of her. Then the summons came.

Dressing with particular care, I presented myself at their gate. As I was invited into the house, my eyes searched the corners of the room for her. My heart fell when she was not there. I knew she had turned me down. Then her father greeted me. As I returned his kisses on each cheek, my heart was thudding in my ears. He kindly cut through the remaining formalities and joyfully told me we were now betrothed. My leaden heart soared, and I was both laughing and crying as she came shyly into the room.

We were so happy as we prepared for our coming marriage. I built all the furniture for our house next to the carpenter shop.           

I had just begun to build a special chest for Mary when she came to see me that day. As she slipped into the room and stood quietly watching me, I sensed something.

She hesitantly told me what the angel had said to her, and I was shocked. She said she had waited until she was sure she was carrying a child before she told me. The one thing that was so precious to me about Mary was her innocent purity. I was not sure I even believed in angels, so I could not grasp what she was saying—except that she was having a baby. Well, I knew it wasn't mine. I felt as if someone had kicked me in the stomach as hard as he could. I almost doubled up from the pain. It must have shown on my face, because Mary rushed away with tears streaming down her cheeks.

I dropped what I was doing and sank onto a nearby stool. I guess I sat there for a long time. When I realized what time it was, the sun had set and darkness had engulfed me. I began to wonder who the father of the baby was. My mind darted from one man to another. I tried to guess who he was. I wanted to kill him for stealing what I had waited so long for. Finally, I went home in defeat.

If I had planned to bury the pain in sleep that night, I was mistaken. Tossing and turning on my bed, my mind was filled with Mary—as a child . . . as my betrothed . . . pure, then defiled. Finally, I decided to put her away privately. I did not want to have her stoned even though she had betrayed me.

I closed my eyes and willed myself to go to sleep. Then a light so bright my eyelids could not shut it out filled the room. A man was standing at the center of the light. He told me to take Mary as my wife, because the child she carried was the Son of God. He told me we were not to become one until after You were born.

The next day, I told Mary about the angel visiting me. We were soon quietly married, but there was gossip about us. I resented it for Mary—and for me. I was not sorry when we had to come to Bethlehem.

The trip was hard on Mary. I tried to make it as easy as possible, but I knew she was exhausted when we arrived. The search for a place to stay was frantic, but this stable is snug against the cold. I was happy for the privacy when You were born.

As the hard pains gripped Mary, there was not even time to search for a woman to assist her. Being a man, I did not know anything about birthing a baby. I could not have done it without God's help. It was in the very act of helping Mary birth you that you became my son. That was the only part I had in your coming, but such a special part. And so you are my son ...

                                                © Copyright 1986 Lena Nelson Dooley

My husband and I wish you a Merry Christmas and God's blessings in the new year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Making Excuses

What’s Your Excuse
We make so many excuses for not submitting our writing. I don’t have enough time. I have too many other obligations. I’m too young. I’m too old. I’ve had too many rejections. I don’t have an agent. Any sound familiar? 

Debbie Macomber spoke to these excuses at one of our ACFW conferences and age was one of the excuses. If I had used the excuse of age, I would never have been published. My agent believed in me and kept submitting my manuscripts. When I wanted to quit, friends encouraged me to keep on.
When God calls us to a task, He expects us to finish it. If we’re obedient to that call, He will give us what we need to complete it because He who began the work in us will carry through until it’s completed. Galatians 6:9 tells us not to grow weary when we’re doing God’s work because we’ll reap a harvest when God sets the time.

So many younger authors were getting contracts and having success that I wondered if He’d forgotten how old I was getting. Well, God doesn’t forget. He doesn’t sleep. He never quits work. He’s always there willing to help us reach our goals when we call on Him for help. The Lord does expect us to do our part. That part is to put ourselves in that chair and write.

Do whatever it takes to write. If you’re serious, God will help you find the time. At other times He may tell you to wait a season and take care of other things first. Listen to His voice and calling. Write as much as you can when you can. Be patient, and pray for His guidance in all that you do. Jeremiah tells you to call on Him, and He will answer and tell you great things you do not know. Jeremiah also tells you that God has great plans for you, plans to give you hope and a future. So press on to what God has called you to do whether it is to wait for a season to begin or to work hard now, for pressing on will lead you where you need to go.

So what excuses have you used to keep from submitting?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fiction Writing Tips

I'm constantly adding to my list of writing tips as I attend conferences and workshops. What works for another writer may not work for me, but I'm willing to try anything to make the process smoother and my writing better.

Here are some tips that have worked for me – in no special order:
  1. You don't have to be in the mood or wait to be inspired. Just sit down and start writing. Even if it's not good, there might be something you can use later.
  2. If the middle starts to sag, put your character in a situation that appears impossible to get out of. Then have fun making it work.
  3. Employ all of the senses, but don't feel that you have to do that in every scene. It should come natural and give your readers the feeling of "being there" without sounding forced.
  4. Add enough description to give the readers a mental picture but not so much that it bogs down the story.
  5. Write the first draft as quickly as possible. Then take time to polish and finesse your characters and scenes.
  6. Don't be afraid to delete a scene that doesn't work because if you don't do it, your editor will.
  7. Get to know your characters before you write the book. Even if you don't use all of the information in the story, you'll be able to show motivation for their actions without it coming across contrived.
  8. Use language that is easily understood by most readers. If you feel the urge to write longer words, make sure the meaning is clear in the context of the sentence.
  9. Read as much as possible. Most good writers are also avid readers. Don't limit yourself to just one genre. If you're a romance writer, read mysteries, westerns, or speculative fiction.
  10. When you are writing a long section of dialogue or an extremely active scene, read it aloud to check for flow and pacing.
  11. Give yourself some time away from the computer, or you run the risk of burning out.
  12. Be prepared for long periods of alone time, but when you are able to, get together with friends and family. Becoming a hermit isn't good for you.
  13. Stay as healthy as possible. I like to eat healthy food with an occasional indulgence and do at least a half hour of exercise everyday.
  14. All writers deal with a certain amount of self-doubt—even successful, established authors. When this happens to you, use it to make your writing better. In other words, never wallow in doubt, but you also don't want to sit back and bask in your own brilliance.
  15. Write something everyday. Even if it's just a paragraph, it keeps the story fresh in your mind.
  16. Submit your manuscript to editors or agents. Then wait. And wait. And wait a little longer. Don't call them two or three weeks after submitting and expect an answer. Remember that editors and agents have mountains of manuscripts (and other work) on their desks, and they do the best they can to get through the submissions. It's always a good idea to start working on your next project, in case they want to see more.
Now I'd like to hear from other writers. What are some tips you'd like to share?

Speaking of sharing, now I'd like to share some pictures from the last ACFW Conference with a couple of my favorite authors.
Lena Nelson Dooley and me (Debby Mayne)

Martha Rogers and me
I hope y'all have a blessed Christmas and a safe and happy New Year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing and Your Health!

I just launched my third book in “The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel” last week. The book launch was plagued by bad weather with a threat of freezing rain. Then, I got up Monday morning with a pain under my right shoulder blade that brought me to my knees. All week, it has progressed and I KNOW exactly what it is.

Four years ago, I had similar symptoms and found out I had a herniated disc in my neck. These symptoms were far too similar. I had surgery at that time and my neurosurgeon told me something very interesting. He said that soon we would have an epidemic of herniated discs in the neck. Why? Because we live in a world of digital devices. He said the constant movement of our head and neck as we text, type, read on digital devices, and study our computer screens produces weakening of the discs.

So, here I am four years later and I found out this morning I have a herniated disc at the level above my surgery — very common occurrence unfortunately. Usually it happens at about 8 years after surgery, but I have been writing away on my blog and on my books and texting and reading on my iPad, etc. Now, I am looking at repeat surgery and I covet the prayers of my fellow authors.

This blog will be short. I cannot type for very long and I never finished setting up Dragon dictation! But, I will shortly!

So, my message today from this blog is simple. Be aware of the dangers of our digital age. As authors, we spend a LOT of time in front of our computers. Study the best ergonomic solutions for keyboards, desks, chairs, etc. And, if you have any tips on keeping a healthy lifestyle as an author, share them in today’s comments.

I’m off to see the neurosurgeon! I’ll bring him a signed copy of “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Midnight Christmas Eve - Lena Nelson Dooley

About three months after God told me in 1984 to become a professional writer, He told me to use my gift to bless other people at Christmas, instead of sending Christmas cards. So that year I wrote my first short Christmas story. I'm sharing the one today that I wrote in 1996.

Midnight Christmas Eve

Dave Farris clenched his eyes closed as tight as he could, but he could still see that darn light. Why hadn’t he looked around before he chose this broken-down hotel to spend the night? The Christmas star on the top of the steeple of the church across the street hadn’t seemed very bright from the street, but up here on the third floor it was a beacon shining through the cheap drapes as if they weren’t there.

Christmas! Dave had given up celebrating Christmas when he gave up going to church. And he’d done that just as soon as he moved out of his grandparent’s home.

His parents hadn’t taken him to church. When he was just five years old, his parents had gone skiing with some friends. The two of them had been out in the snow late at night when they were covered in a freak avalanche. That’s when he had gone to live with his grandparents. And they’d been good to him—even though they made him go to church.

He hadn’t minded it too much when he was little. They had a lot of fun in all the activities, and even the services weren’t too hard to sit through. But he just couldn’t believe a loving God would take both of his parents away from him when he needed them so much.

His grandfather had even paid his way through college. He just had to keep living with them until he graduated. They couldn’t afford for him to go away. But that was one of the good things about living in a college town. Had it really been ten years since he had left them? Ten years! Back then he had been sure that in ten years he would be at the top of his field. But things changed so fast he had trouble keeping up.
He rolled over and threw his arm across his eyes. There. Finally he couldn’t see even a glimmer of light from that star. He was just dozing off again when it started.

Music. Christmas music. But not regular carolers. It sounded like angels—if he had believed in angels. Nah. It couldn’t be. But the lilting sounds danced around his room and lodged in his head, tugging at his awareness.

Since he was awake anyway, he might as well check it out. When he put his bare foot on the floor, he realized there was some kind of hard floor covering, not warm carpet, and sometime after he had crawled under the covers, the heat had gone off. Shivering, he pulled the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around his shoulders Indian style, but that didn’t help his cold feet. He walked to the window and stood first on one foot and then on the other as he parted the tissue thin drapes.

According to the clock on the front of the bank, it was almost midnight—and this was Christmas Eve. On the snow-covered lawn of the church, there was a lot of activity. He hadn’t noticed the weathered stable when he came in. It had been pretty dark. Now the whole church yard was lit by what seemed to be a million lights. And the stable had footlights flooding the interior with a warmth that encompassed the occupants and spilled out.

There in the manger lay a real live baby. He could see it’s legs kicking from all the way up there. As a beautiful young woman dressed in a flowing robe leaned toward the baby, her long dark hair obscured the baby from his sight. A man in what had to be a biblical costume hovered over them. Shepherds were kneeling in the snow, and angels were singing from a platform high above the stable. There were even some animals staked out near the stable. Dave could see a couple of sheep, a donkey, a cow. And in the shadows a camel hunkered.

The most amazing thing. People. All kinds of people were milling around talking to the shepherds, to Mary and Joseph. It even looked as if someone was trying to say something to one of the angels.

It was not enough that he was almost out of money, so he had to stay someplace cheap. But he had a whole Bible story going on right outside his window. And it was so loud he couldn’t sleep.

Dave had seen live nativity scenes before, but they had been tableaux. Pretty pictures that people looked at from afar. What were all those other people doing down there?

Without conscious thought, he pulled on his clothes. It wouldn’t hurt to go see what was happening. After all, he couldn’t sleep. Maybe a walk in the night air would help.

When he reached the street, he was soon swallowed up in a milling crowd. But ignoring those around him, he pushed toward the warmth spilling from the stable.

“Love has come ... God sent His only Son ... Emmanuel.” Words and an unfamiliar melody flowed around him.

“God! If it were only true.” Words, spoken in disgust, became the prayer of his empty, weary heart. As Dave stood looking down at that baby in the manger, all the sounds faded from his awareness, and a still small voice spoke peace to him.

It is true. The words reverberated through his broken spirit. Dave, I love you.

As Dave fell to his knees and began to sob, bells pealed. The angels sang, “Hallelujah!”

Then Dave became aware of another man kneeling in the snow beside him—his strong arm lending strength to Dave.                                        © 1996 Lena Nelson Dooley, All rights reserved.

This story is my Christmas gift to you this year.

Tell us about the most favorite Christmas gift you ever received.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Switching Horses Midstream

I really enjoyed Bruce’s article: “To Be or To Have Been—POV and Tense.” It came at a time when I was wrestling with a new novel, one in which I decided to do some experimenting. I began writing in the first person, present tense. Several noted authors write or have written in this style, so I decided to give it a go.

 Writing in the present tense is SO immediate, and it is easy to get lost in the character’s head. It is also easy to get hung up on the mundane—expressing the character’s thoughts and feelings to the point that the storyline falls by the wayside. (But what an easy way to fill the word count quota that Charisma House requires!)

Forty pages into my draft, I decided I couldn’t take it any longer. It just wasn’t working for me. Present tense is just too . . . present! I got lost inside my character’s head. Did the reader actually want to know THAT MUCH about what my main character was thinking and feeling at this precise instant?

So I spent the rest of the day converting the manuscript back to past tense. Now as I look over what I’ve written, I feel there is a better, more natural flow. And I’ve been able to climb out of my main character’s head and focus on advancing the storyline. There's nothing inherently wrong with first person, present tense. It’s just not for me as a writer.

Now regarding POV. My original draft of The Return of Cassandra Todd was written in the first person, past tense. But after consulting with my editor, I decided that my approach was too limited because I had two principle characters and wanted to give them each a personal voice. So I spent three months and rewrote the novel, switching to third person. It worked much better and I was pleased with the results.

So why is my new manuscript written in the first person when all my other published ones are in the third person? I still want to grow and challenge myself as a writer. I don’t want to always be limited to one style. Besides, the storyline for my new novel really lends itself well to the first person POV. We’ll see how it goes. Who knows? Once my editor gets a hold of it, I may be doing another three-month rewrite!

Has anyone else ever changed their mind partway through a manuscript and switched to a different POV and verb tense? Come on now, ‘fess up.