Wednesday, November 19, 2014

You Say Can't, I Say Can.

I'm feeling particularly special today.

Part of it has to do with the fact that it's my 35th birthday, and seventy-nine people just wished me happy birthday on Facebook alone, not to mention the people I saw when I went to church for the evening activities.

I could feel a cheesy grin cross my face at every single wish, so now, by the end of the day, my mouth feels like I wedged a banana in it, sideways.

It's nice to have encouragement, even from people I haven't seen in years and/or have lost contact with nearly altogether.

I was thinking about that today--how far encouragement can go.

A long time ago, about seventeen years now, someone I liked and respected very much, who I felt should know quality writing when they saw it, told me that they didn't think I could write very well. I doubt this person would know how much that one comment stuck in my brain, how it has festered there for years and years.

With every rejection letter I've ever received from any agent or publisher, that comment echoes across the years, the barb still fresh, the point still sharp. He/she's right, you know. You can't write. Everything you turn out is dull, pointless, cliched, too full of adverbs, boring, stale, overly dramatic, underly dramatic . . . and the list goes on (yes, I know "underly" is not a word).

As many of you know, I've taken to writing flash fiction to try to hone my skills and perhaps widen my fanbase a little. At one site in particular, I've written consistently, week after week, slowly making a name for myself, inconsequential though it may be.

This past week, I won third place in the contest. It was exciting to go read the leaderboard to see all the other stories that had placed. The overall winner of the contest gets the dubious privilege of being interviewed during the following week, and their interview is posted on the same site.

The writer who was interviewed was asked what writers she would recommend others should follow, and why. Her answer?:

"Flash! Friday writers, especially Karl Russell and Tamara Shoemakertheir stories makes you want to up your game every week."

Talk about encouragement! That echo from years ago, the one that whispered: You can't write. Why do you even bother? lost a lot of its oomph compared to this line that jumped off my page. And now it's been treading through my mind ever since.

For years, I've believed I was a pretender. I was a girl who wanted to write, and I tried without ever really believing that I could. Today, I finally realized that I'm a writer who may sometimes turn out something not so great, and other times, things that may have a sheen of brilliance.

The important thing is that I'm a writer. I. am. a. writer.

And today, a complete stranger who does not know me and is not influenced at all by her relationship with me, just announced that she likes what I write.

So that voice that echoed in my ears all these years, that didn't believe in who I was inside?

It can take a hike.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In Which I Play Hopscotch With Harry Potter


Last night, I had a conversation with some friends about Harry Potter. Because what else would I talk about anyway? As my friends can attest, Harry is a particular favorite of mine. A new member of the group did not share my love of the dear bespectacled wizard. She asked me, with true curiosity, how I could read and enjoy a story that so clearly deifies sorcery and witchcraft.

My first thought was admittedly defensive. Ah, here once again is the age-old argument that goes back long before Harry Potter even slipped into existence from Rowling's pen. How dark is too dark? How fictional is too fictional? How real is too real?

I've heard this argument a lot, mostly from people who have not read the books, and I'll say here and now that I don't believe there's any basis for the argument. But I'm not writing this post to debate the light and dark of Harry Potter.

When this dear woman, who comes from a completely different background than I do, and who sees many things in a very different light than I do, asked me this question, suddenly, the proverbial lightbulb popped on over my head.

God is big, guys.

That sounds cliché, but just think about it. God is so big, that He can take this one flawed story (did I just admit that the Potter books might have a flaw or two?) written by a flawed human being who does not have a relationship with the Creator God, and He can use the story to touch a whole lot of people who would never even consider picking up a Bible or going to a church service, or even reading Christian fiction for that matter.

The themes of redemption, of self-sacrifice, of good overwhelming and eventually obliterating evil that ring true through the book, have reached out to people the world over, have sparked discussions that has led many a person to examine or reexamine their own relationship with God. And Rowling never even intended it.

Huh. Wow.

And you know what else? God is big enough that He took the potentially divisive question in the discussion last night and turned it into a rock-solid dialogue about our faith walks. This woman and I came away from that conversation not only excited about what God is doing in both of our lives, but with a deep respect for the path each of us has journeyed with Him.

I wish . . .

I wish . . .

I wish it could always be like that.

I wish I could write what God gives me to write without feeling the pricking barbs of other Christians who read my work and wonder how I could possibly include such material in my books. That I could know that I'm pouring my soul into the characters that live and breathe on my pages without feeling the disapproval that trickles, however unintentionally, from well-meaning friends and family.

I know that I write in a world of billions of opinions, and that there will always be a refracted view of anything I write, a fly's vision with a hundred different perspectives of the same thing. I know that I will always have disapproval in some form, keeping company with the shining light of support for my work as well.

I wish it could be like the woman last night, though, who overcame her disapproval of my choices as I overcame my defensive attitude, and we discovered that God had a use for each of us, His vessels used to pour His Spirit in two very different manners.

So . . . my characters use foul language now and then? They slide down the slippery slope of sexual depravity? They live a life of manipulation and greed and back-biting and . . . and sin?

So . . . they're sinners in need of grace?

Yes.

Guys, listen. I've enjoyed my share of Janette Oke, and Lori Wick, and whoever the next-new-author is on the Christian market. They have an audience who enjoys the lighter side of life, and I can't fault them for it. They have a ministry, and they're faithful in it. I admire them for that.

But God doesn't call us all to the same ministry. Sometimes, we have to carve out our own niche in the rock, and it's uncomfortable, because it's a new space, unused by anyone else, and perhaps that new space is a little scary and dark, because it hasn't been tried yet.

Perhaps, instead of fearing the unknown territory, we can instead focus on how God leads his followers to new places, to introduce them to new ministries, to reach new people who haven't been touched by His word yet.

Perhaps new wine needs to be poured into new wineskins after all.

Who said that?

Oh yeah, some guy who just wouldn't go with the flow, who wouldn't allow himself to be pushed into some used niche carved by the expectations of everyone around Him.

In my writing career, I've had a lot of lines drawn in the sand before me. Write this, don't even touch that subject. That's too graphic, tone it back, would you? For the love of Pete, he said WHAT?

All those lines create a web in front of me, each strand restraining me from what I feel called to write. I could play hopscotch in them all.

Look, I'm not saying let's do away with accountability. Woo-hoo, free-for-all! I'm just saying that . . .

God is bigger than my mistakes, than any story that will ever pound its way out on the keys of my laptop. So these characters who peer out from the white pages and move around in their flawed, human condition, who demonstrate by their fictional existence that light can still pierce the darkness and find them . . .

I think I'm going to let God use them.
Even when they sin.

Because God still uses me. Even when I sin.

That's so freeing, you know?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Masquerade


Here it is, another Friday, another rambling 150ish word shot at the winner badge (or at least a special mention).

I don't carry around a case of clown phobia, so this prompt wasn't as terrifying for me as it may have been for others (if there had been four hairy-legged giant spiders eyeing the boy from the side of the bed, that would have been a different story. Shudder).

I've seen a lot of things floating around on internet and Facebook recently about death. Cancer. Diseases. A "poison pill." 

The thing is, when that time-stamp inks your life, your perspective changes. This little merry-go-round on which we revolve, the social mannerisms, the political correctness, the words we should say, the ones we shouldn't, the cues and mores and ins and outs of culture--that all gets swept aside when the shade of Reckoning slips across our daily agenda.

Deep thoughts early on a Friday. Here's my attempt to put some of these thoughts into words.
********************************
Perspective
Somewhere in this multi-ring circus of drawn-out death–
life with a closing sign, my doctor says–
the actors file into my arena.
They line up before me, balancing on their tightropes,
laughing and jesting for the audience of one,
clowns in full costume,
red grins pasted on hidden faces,
masquerading behind their smiles to tame the pain.


It’s a dance, a perfect symmetry,
where the ringmaster directs,
and the elephants trumpet on cue,
the aerialist releases the bar in sizzling tempo,
the lions wave their harmless claws at the tamer.


Funny how I get to sit in the waiting room,
counting the hours until clock-out time,
my part in the circus terminated with no severance pay.
Now I sit the sidelines, spectating.


Funny how they must toe the tightrope
with surgical precision
until someone falls off,
and they turn on him like birds of prey.


I never noticed it before.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Today's Offering: The Lady's Maid


The Lady's Maid by Susan Page Davis took me back my teenager-hood when I devoured every historical Christian romance novel I could find on the shelves of my dad's book van (he was a Christian book salesman).

Counting the Stars: I gave this one 3. I liked it. I didn't love it, I could easily put it down after a chapter or so, but I did enjoy the story.

Who doesn't love a good Oregon Trail story? I've had a love affair with the Trail since sixth grade when each person in our class spent several weeks writing our own Oregon Trail stories and illustrating them. Mine is still buried in my closet. I take it out now and then and blush over my early attempts at story creation (I think I even stuck a little romance in there. Of course. I can't write a story without it). ;)

This Oregon Trail story seems well-researched and confident in that fact. Lots of little details stand out that authenticate it for the reader, and I enjoyed that.

Enjoyed the love story, the mystery that weaves through the story's theme, and the happy ending with just enough of a loose thread to leave room for the sequel.

It's what I've come to expect from the Christian market with few exceptions. Clean, perhaps a teensy bit shallow and fluffy, good for a brainless escape if you need one. And who doesn't need one of those now and then?

I probably will not read the sequels, though that doesn't mean you shouldn't. ;)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today's Offering: Gone Girl






This review's gonna have a few spoilers in it, so I'll just go ahead and get that out in the open first thing.

Counting the stars: I gave this book 5 out of 5. Not because I'm a suspense fan, not because I'm even a Gillian Flynn fan. It was just. that. good.

Gone Girl reads differently from just about every other suspense that I've ever read in that a.) its main crutch was not based on plot and plot alone, and b.) Flynn stole a page from George R.R. Martin's strategy in this book; she caused the reader unceasing anguish as he/she struggles to decide who's the "bad guy."

Because there is no bad guy. Or there are lots of bad guys. But each one has enough humanity in them to make you see the other side, pulls the empathy from you, even if it's just a scattering, and you nod along, thinking, Mm-hmm, that makes sense, that makes sense.

It's not a feel-good book. Gracious. I felt horribly sorry for all characters involved by the end of the story, the total and absolute destruction of each person's psyche, the awful heartache of this so-called marriage.

But that's one of Flynn's master-strokes: she can make the reader cheer on a guy who deliberately carried on an affair for over a year behind his wife's back. Because the wife is worse, way, way worse. You start out thinking she's a victim, and then you come back and realize anything that doesn't cater to her formula becomes the ultimate victim.

I really enjoyed the ebb and flow of the story. Most thriller/suspense novels I've read rely 95% on fast pacing, tight plot, quick turnaround, and 5% on character development. This one was possibly closer to 50/50. I always like books that start out strong - intense description, layered language, beautiful metaphors. Quite often, though, these books that begin strong don't maintain their quality the whole way through. By the end, it often seems as if the author would rather be done (i.e. was in a hurry to get their manuscript off to the editor). I didn't feel that with this one. The writing carried superb quality the entire way through the very. long. story. Some of the metaphors and imagery, I wanted to gift-wrap for myself, a nugget to enjoy again later when I needed some beauty in my life.

I could go on. This book was, unlike Amazing Amy, simply amazing.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What's Not To Love About Castles and Marriage Proposals?

I loved the flash fiction prompt this week; there was so much "scope for imagination," as my dear literary heroine, Anne Shirley, would put it. We were bidden to include somewhere in the piece a proposal of marriage, but to think outside the box. I was so excited about the prompt that I wrote two pieces. See below. :)


I'll start with my favorite:

Waking

What dreams may come to he who waits,
Baited upon the silvery string of moonlight’s beams—
The tryst with darkness and dawn
A sacred revel of dancing shadows and fancy flights,
A brief marriage between slumber and waking.


Here, he can play the knight who rides to the castle,
Who bows before king and country,
Who woos and wins fair maiden.
Here, he rides, tall, strong, to meet the enemy,
Who returns in triumph, the honored hero.


Here, the limp is merely a distant memory,
The withered hand but a legend, folklore, fireside chat over wine.
Here, no one sees the ragged strips of flesh that cover the side of his face,
That partially blind his right eye.


Here, he is no monster.
Here, he is loved.
Here, he is whole.
Here, he proposes marriage. 


But the dawn brings divorce.

Loved the concept of the marriage during that short slice of time when the deep slumber of night fades and morning wakefulness encroaches, when dreams are sometimes at their best . . . or worst, as the case may be.

Here's my second effort. I enjoyed writing this one as well, but had some struggles with grammar, after which my inner majorly critical perfectionist made me bump this piece down to second place (or last place, depending on how you want to look at it). :)

Castles of Air

I’d known her since that time I pasted mud across her face, when we made pies in the gutter and called them chocolate. Her pigtails morphed to ponytails, and then her hair swung low across her back. I proposed marriage to her in the apple orchard when we were nine.

She baked apple pies for the reception instead of the traditional wedding cake. We made plans, she and I, for the honeymoon—a trip to Europe, to walk the old ways through history as we tour the ancient architecture, visit graves and smile at the Beefeaters in London’s Tower.

Fate called her before her time, left me to walk alone, to finish the pages of this book we’d begun. The pictures blazed in full color until she went; now their edges are tinged with brown.

I went to Europe anyway, painting the chapters with washed-out colors, gripping my aching brush to render the unfinished stories, building castles in the air.

I love doing Flash Fiction each week; what a great way to keep the creative juices flowing as I wear thin with day after day of slogging through word counts in my ongoing novels. Anyone have a creative writing bent? Come check out the Flash Fiction group of which I'm a part. We'd love to have you!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Vain Race


This was the photo prompt for this week's Flash Fiction contest, and I had to carve a story in approximately 150 words from it. I wasn't too sure about the image; it didn't awaken the Muse as I had hoped, but I gave it my best shot. I gave it such a shot, that I wrote two stories for it, which I include here. The second story WON!  Out of a field of over 75 staggering entries, my piece somehow floated to the top. Here they are. I hope you enjoy. :)

Mirror Mirror

Who do you think can lose the race first?
Who’s got the form that sprints this path the worst?
Who is the sorry one who brings up the rear?
Who is the one that runs from her fear?
Who’s the girl who cowers from the fans?
Who’s got the milky flesh of one who never tans?
Who’s fat, and ugly, and pimply, and shy?
Who’s the one who asks the mirror, “Why?”
Who’s the girl that hides behind the crowd?
Who failed so many times to make her mama proud?
Who slits her wrists and cries out from the pain?
Who cowers in her bed and waits for day to wane?

Who is this girl who stares back at me,
Who reflects, just a moment, what all of them must see?
Who’s blind, it seems, to the heart that lies within?
Who thinks her true beauty is just another sin?


I was to include the theme of "war" at some point in the prompt, and my idea in the piece above was to make it about the internal war of the girl in the mirror. Below, the war is still internal, though the piece has a different feel.

Vain Race

One runs from fear, the monsters of his past slavering at his heels.
His father’s fingers press against his throat,
Anger distends his features, twisting, purpling, panting—
Daddy’s familiar face the scene of a monster.
Death from fear or flight to freedom? Nightmares cross the finish line first.


One runs from love, tears and kisses shrouded in but a memory
The taste of her lips haunts his dreams,
Shivers across the flesh of his arms.
Mea culpa, my Father. I have sinned in the arms of a married woman.
Death from vengeance or flight to freedom? A bullet crosses the finish line first.


One runs from death, the Reaper’s cold breath shimmering in the darkness behind.
The pain creeps into his lungs, pulsing, aching.
He inhales, and a knife slices down deep inside.
He coughs, wipes the blood that bubbles past his lips, speeds his pace.
Death from bleeding lungs or flight to freedom? Cancer crosses the finish line first.