Monday, August 31, 2009

Retreat and Writing

We had so much fun at our retreat this weekend that I have to tell a little about it. I know we all especially thank Christine's Aunt Diane for letting us come to her lovely home and farm for two days of natural solitude and beauty to write in. The quiet made it so easy to concentrate. I was able to get almost an entire first draft for a short story/possible picture book finished and worked on a novel as well. (Had to force myself for the novel because I'm not enjoying it yet.) The horseback riding and exploring created breaks, and the companionship of serious writers was the best! (The food was great too.)

So about that novel. I had to face some issues while working on it this weekend. For instance, whenever I think about writing it, I experience an unpleasant tingle of fear. I don't get it when I write picture books. I don't know why the quantum physics novel provokes that response. Perhaps because it's serious rather than humorous. Perhaps it's too far outside my comfort zone. Whatever the case, I'm going to keep plugging away at it. At the very worst, I'll walk away with having become a better writer just for the effort.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A New Favorite.

I was recently introduced to a new author that has quickly became one of my favorites. A year or so ago a cousin called me out of the blue specifically to recommend this author knowing my enjoyment of reading. Feeling my plate was already full of things on my read list I never sought the author. A few weeks ago this same cousin lifted my ipod and loaded about seven of these audiobooks onto it. I am now officially hooked. I have listened to three and a half of these Romantic-Suspenses. Surprising, because this is not my usual read.

Who is she? Dee Henderson. I googled her, she is the daughter of a minister, she resides in Springfield, IL but is involved in a church in Lake County. She is formally an engineer. Her books have won a host of awards, including the prestigious RITA Award, Bookseller’s Best Award, and National Reader’s Choice Award. She is obviously doing something right.

I started with, True Courage. From the moment I pushed play I was sucked in. Having no idea what to expect, (never having read anything like it before) it was exciting and mysterious.

FYI, this ipod lifting cousin is male. They are not just "chick" books. My husband is in the middle of his first one and is enjoying it immensely.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inspiration vs. Technique vs. Commitment

Inspired writing comes from the heart. Excellent writing utilizes skills and technique to express that inspiration effectively. I read a discussion this morning on technique versus inspiration and that seems to be the gist of it. And, I would agree that without inspiration, technique is rather empty. You can make a beautiful soda can and fill it with an FDA-approved beverage, but garlic-flavored soda is not inspired and no one will want to drink it.

My inspiration for this blog comes from reading and reacting to the discussion on Facebook, but the actual writing of it stems from the fact that I have made a commitment to post today. As I see it, commitment is part of the perspiration referenced in Thomas Alva Edison’s famous quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” An idea without execution never becomes a reality. A thought left unexpressed leaves no impression.

Technique assists commitment by providing a framework. If you find a really wonderful taste (inspiration) – like say, orchid-flavored tea – and use approved bottling, marketing and distribution [techniques], and invest time and resources (commitment), then you may come up with a winner of a product! The same formula holds with writing, I believe.

inspiration + (technique + commitment) = success

On Technique: Ecclesiastes 10:10 (NASB) “If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.”

On Commitment: Proverbs 10:4 (NASB) “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: Choices by Deborah Lynn Jacobs

We all make choices. Some are good. Some are not. Nothing impacts your future like your choices. Recently ICL interviewed Deborah Lynn Jacobs about plot on the message boards (here's the link: Deborah is the author of Powers and Choices. Since she was talking to us specifically about plot, I decided to pick up her book from the library and read it.

Choices is the story of Kathleen, a girl whose brother has been killed in a auto accident. Kathleen feels responsible for his death since she called her brother to rescue her from a New Year's party where she was stranded because she didn't have her driver's license. As her subconscious searches for an alternate time where he is still alive, she begins to shift between the alternate universes that are developed based on her choices.

The premise behind this book is quite interesting, and we see the differences in Kathleen's life not only based on her own choices but those of the people around her. She quickly discovers that she has to deal with the results of her bad decisions, and I consider this the strength of the book. It is her journey to discover the power of her personal choices. The ending is satisfying as the author shows Kathleen using her power of choice in not only determining her future success, but in also correcting her decisions of the past and impacting the lives of others positively.

This is definitely an upper teen or adult read since some of Kathleen's choices aren't good. Because of this, you won't find it in the children's area at the library. Be forewarned that it contains some language as well as sensitive subjects you would probably want to discuss with a teen such as drug use, appropriate relationships, and submission to authority.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Last week we had five extra people come stay in our home. They were the family of one of my closest and dearest friends. It had been almost nine years since we last saw each other. During our first couple days together I don't think we took a breath catching up and talking about old times. The value of friends.

I don't have a lot of close friends but the few I have I cherish. Their value to me is priceless. They are gifts from God and I am so thankful for them.

Someone to laugh with, talk with, share your joys, your dreams, your sorrows. Someone to encourage you when you need it, or just listen. The value can not be measured!

I will always remember a poem I once read as a girl.

Make new friends but keep the old,
one is silver the other gold.

This is for all those friends I've made in my lifetime. Some now, and others past, out of touch, but never forgotten. Thank you for the wonderful gift you have given me. The HONOR of your friendship!

Oil and perfume rejoice the heart; so does the sweetness of a friend's counsel that comes from the heart. Proverbs 27: 9

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Politics and Nursery Rhymes

What do politics have to do with children and writing? A great deal, if Mother Goose had anything to say about it.

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

This nursery rhyme with its reference to "all the King's horses, and all the King's men" could easily be a political statement. Father Peter Walker, Rector of the Parish Church of St. James the Great in Colchester, England, wrote*: “Humpty Dumpty was not an egg, as we might have believed but rather a gun. It was a great and impressive gun mounted on the Roman wall, near the parish church of St. Mary, Colchester. During the siege of Colchester that part of the town came under attack from the Roundhead forces and suffered greatly. The top of the Tower of St.Mary's church was blown off and destroyed. The gun, mounted near by, ‘suffered a great fall and all the King's horses and all the King's men, couldn't put Humpty together again’.”

According to other sources, Humpty Dumpty had been mounted to protect the Parliamentarian stronghold of Colchester during the English Civil War, which lasted from 1642 to 1649. However, this city to the east of London, had fallen under the control of the Royalists. The cannon was felled after a siege lasting eleven weeks, and then Colchester returned to the hands of the Parliamentarians. Soon thereafter King Charles I and his forces were defeated throughout England.

Much of the cause of the English Civil War lay in King Charles’ efforts to force change in the way people worshipped and to close down any but the Church of England. Those who supported him were called Royalists. The other side, for whom Oliver Cromwell eventually became the leader, were known as the Parliamentarians. They believed that the monarchy must share power with the Parliament. They were also known as Roundheads because of the men's Puritan hairstyle, a short haircut that looked like a bowl, as opposed to the long flowing locks and wigs of King Charles' and his courtiers.

Another famous nursery rhyme alludes to the English struggle between politics and religion:

“Mary, Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.”

This Mary quite probably refers to Mary Tudor, the first Queen Elizabeth’s elder sister. When Mary became queen, she demanded that England return to Roman Catholicism. Iona and Peter Mason Opie theorized that the garden in the rhyme is an allusion to graveyards that were increasing in size with the bodies of those who wouldn’t comply; the silver bells and cockle shells were slang for instruments of torture; and the maids were an apparatus similar to a guillotine.

Children do not remain immune to the affects of politics. But, the nature of politics can be difficult to explain and, in certain circumstances, even dangerous. With home-schooling parents often under threat from social workers and local governments, and when students are punished or humiliated for carrying Bibles, the value of a nursery rhyme as a code becomes apparent. The greater the chasm between ruling parties and under-represented ones, the more valuable the nursery rhyme can be for teaching the truth.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Just Write It

We all knew that Nike had it figured out with their slogan, but it wasn't a new idea. All through history people have said it different ways.

• Pick yourself up by your bootstraps
• Put your shoulder to the wheel
• Staple your bottom to the chair
• Get the lead out of your feet

And then we have the advice of those who have gone before:

"The greatest of me is diligence." —William Shakespeare
"Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are not performed by strength, but perseverance." —Samuel Johnson
"Diligence overcomes difficulties, sloth makes them." —Benjamin Franklin

Ouch! That last one pretty much says it all. And all of them were writers, by the way.

This week I enjoyed Kristi Holl's blog Making Change Stick. She mused about the boring job she used to have, but how she went to it daily and put in her eight hours anyway. Why spend eight hours a day doing something dull? She had to. That was where her paycheck came from. And there was always someone looking over her shoulder making sure she did what she was supposed to. Then she turned this idea to writing. Imagine if we approached writing in the same way. You know. As a JOB. What a thought. Her post is a wake-up call to the serious writer.

In the words of Larry the Cucumber, "It moved me, Bob."

Yes, the biggest problem I deal with as a writer is NOT WRITING. I can find a million things that need doing daily other than writing. But if writing is really a job to me, then I must treat it like a job. I will have to, as Nike said, just do it. So...

Hi ho, hi ho. It's off to write I go!

P.S. Here's the link to Kristi's post if you want to read it:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Day in the Country

How do people live in the city? I know many do, and claim to love it.

Last week I visited my Aunt's property near the border of Wisconsin. She has sixty acres, with two lakes, walking trails through lush woods with creeks winding in and out, and elaborate landscaping. Every time I go there I want to take it all in. The tranquility and stillness of the country.

I suppose city life can be considered exciting. I like exciting, at times I enjoy a fast paced life, but a quiet walk in the country can be so revitalizing. Not that I get much quiet when four children are along, but it's great to share it with them.

Then I return to the typical suburban neighborhood. Where I walk out my door and neighbors are to the right, left and front of me. Why did we buy this house again? Oh yeah, it was the large kitchen with the granite countertops and the master bath with the jacuzzi tub. But my view... three story town-homes. Oooops!

But I am THANKFUL, God has given us such a breathtaking, wondrous world to enjoy. God is good!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hills Rejoice

It’s my turn on Tuesdays...

I have been reveling for the last few days in the verdant hills of northeast Iowa. Storms have been passing daily – some of them quite strong. And, as I write, a good friend of mine sits in her house lit only by candles tonight. However, the rains have had benefits. The greens of the landscape are varied and intense, the flowers are gorgeous, the raspberries as fat and sweet as I’ve ever seen them, and the broccoli prolific.

Driving through Backbone State Park (Iowa’s first) we felt the cool relief of the tree-shaded air from the August afternoon heat. The Maquoketa River was running clear, cold and deep and flowing over the fords. My niece and I waded in it until our toes got numb, and about twenty-five other people – children, parents, teenagers and even a grandma – were frolicking there as well. They seemed to last longer in the water than us, even laughing and splashing each other!

We walked the trail along the Devil’s Backbone, a spine of ancient coral. The trail is rough and rocky limestone with the river flowing at the base of the cliffs. A swallowtail wafted in the air before us. A chipmunk stared at us suspiciously from under a bush, until we got too close. Then he rustled his little stripes away.

The trees and bushes along the trail grow so densely, that the only place to see the river on either side of the ridge is by venturing out onto the occasional barren rocky outcropping. With a little thrill of fear (my niece and I are both a bit fearful of heights), we approached the edge to catch the light dancing off the river so far below. The sight and sounds were almost magical.

I have hiked that path and waded in that river many times. But today, the sense of it lingered with me in my skin. It isn’t the mighty Mississippi River valley or the shores and dunes of the magnificent Lake Michigan, or the great Smoky Mountains, but this corner of northeast Iowa is lovelier to me than all of them – at least today.

Wind quakes the aspen
River sparkling and singing
Clear air, clean water

Psalm 65:9 (Message) Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Deck her out in spring showers, fill the God-River with living water. Paint the wheat fields golden. Creation was made for this! Drench the plowed fields, soak the dirt clods With rainfall as harrow and rake bring her to blossom and fruit. Snow-crown the peaks with splendor, scatter rose petals down your paths, All through the wild meadows, rose petals. Set the hills to dancing, Dress the canyon walls with live sheep, a drape of flax across the valleys. Let them shout, and shout, and shout! Oh, oh, let them sing!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Happy Monday (which it will be by the time you read this)

I like Mondays because they're the beginning of a new week. There is so much to look forward to. So, happy Monday!

This post is just to say hello. Most of what I've been doing is preparing for homeschool, which is looming large on the horizon. I was able to attend the Home School Expo in the neighborhood and learned a lot. But since it's important to do some writing daily, I've been trying to do that too. Presently I'm working on a rhyming story called I Heard It From the Chicken. I don't usually use poetry to write a story, but it seemed to fit for this one. We'll see how it turns out. Here's the beginning for you to check out:

I heard it from the chicken,
So I know it must be true,
'Cause chickens have integrity.
They're honest through and through.

It wasn't quite the dead of night,
But it was pretty dim.
A phone call for the farmer's wife
And Chicken listened in.

Comments from the poetic out there?