Story Matters

An author recently posted on Facebook asking for feedback on one of his series. Unable to turn down an opportunity to read a book in one of my favorite genres (two actually. The series is a combination of sci-fi and fantasy), I eagerly accepted.

I ended up loving the story and characters, and the author graciously sent me the other two in the series as well as a prequel novella.

In one of the emails, he mentioned that he was pushing the release of the final two (out of five) due to an illness. I was bummed, but I also know the importance of one’s health takes precedence.

Yesterday, the author posted that his cancer had returned, and the doctors gave him about two months to live.

My completely selfish response was what you might expect. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll never read the rest of the series now!”

As you also might expect, I mentally berated myself for thinking such a thing. I did post a comment saying that I would pray for him and his family, but it felt hollow as I typed.

Do I want him healed, or if not, that his family experiences God’s strength and comfort? Absolutely. But my prayers still feel tainted by my selfish and silly desire to read the final books, when a man is dying and a family is soon devastated. What’s an incomplete series compared to that?

Or am I wrong?

I heard a story years ago where a woman dying of cancer wrote Stephen King. She asked him to tell her what happened at the end of his “Dark Tower” series, because she wouldn’t live long enough to read the remaining — and as yet unreleased — books.

Sadly, he couldn’t answer, because even he didn’t know at the time.

Studies have found that those who read fiction are statistically more empathetic. Understandable when you think about it.

When reading about fictional characters, we learn their thoughts, motivations, loves, hates, fears and desires. Something we don’t always see or get in real life, because few of us lay ourselves bare with the exception of a scant few — if that. As we read, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters, and we can’t help but correlate their experiences, thoughts and feelings into our own life and those around us.

To give an example, I’ve never been clinically depressed. I didn’t understand how debilitating it can be, and I used to quietly scoff at those who did. Until I read “Becoming Olivia” by Roxanne Henke. The book is about Olivia who has a great life, but can’t shake the depression that seemed to come out of nowhere.

After reading it, I will never again scoff at anyone who suffers from depression again.

Now it may seem at this point that I changed subjects on you. First I talked about selfish prayers, then I jumped to how stories make us more empathetic.

What both illustrate is the importance of stories in our life. They not only entertain, but can convey certain truths. Stories, like most other arts engage us emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. They can also live beyond the creator’s own life. Plus we never want the story to simply stop with no end in sight.

We are built to both create and listen to or read stories. They’ve been used since the advent of language to remember our past as well as convey truth. Even non-Christians know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale (although technically, it was a fish). Whether they literally happened is always up for debate, but their messages still stand many millennia later. The same goes for Dicken’s “Oliver Twist,” and “A Christmas Carol,” Shakespeare’s plays, many Greek tragedies, and countless others.

Stories matter. My selfish response and a dying woman’s letter is evidence of that.

Still, I do hope God will ignore my selfishness behind the words of my prayers, because I never want to see a person die so soon, and his/her family left to pick up the pieces.

The Devil of Pride

I recently engaged in a conversation on Twitter about why the mere statement of a scientific fact makes some people go into a near apoplectic rage (yes, I write it that way because I wanted to use “apoplectic”).

More accurately, many of the responses seemed angry if not enraged. My opponent admitted that the fact itself didn’t anger him so much as the political motive behind it.

I responded, “I don’t understand why it should. Facts help us learn to question our current beliefs; that we could be wrong — or we could be right, and we now have more confidence that our opinions have real merit. We should all be willing to learn, because that’s how we grow.

“Who presents those facts, and their perceived motives behind those facts should be irrelevant. If one of my opponents presented such a fact, while I may be initially irritated, I will set aside my emotional reaction and thank him/her for it.

“Perhaps that’s just me.”

After I wrote that I realized if I could point out a single problem with our society, it’s pride. When we succumb to the devil of pride, we become so sure of our beliefs, we grow rigid, unable and unwilling to grow, learn or change. Our intellectual opponents we soon see as our enemy, and that enemy must be destroyed at all cost.

Part of pride results in depending more on our emotions instead of facts and logic. We should then not be surprised when we and others react emotionally when we see facts that contradict those emotions.

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before ruin, arrogance before failure.” (TNK)

I also like Proverbs 16:16: “How much better to acquire wisdom than gold; To acquire understanding is preferable to silver.” (TNK)

Another problem with pride is it can destroy our relationships. When we don’t allow opposing views even from those we love, the end result is a deep loneliness. No one likes spending time with someone who refuses to listen. If someone at least gives a different view a fair hearing, it doesn’t matter if they don’t change their mind in the end. That they listen is enough, because they approached the discussion with humility.

We are human. That makes us flawed. We’re not right all the time; it’s impossible. A little humility and willingness to learn, to acknowledge our flaws can go a long way in mending relationships instead of destroying them. Humility can also help us find joy instead of unrelenting anger, defensiveness and frustration.

Best of all, we decrease the chance of looking foolish when we’re forced to face the facts.

October Write Fest

Last year a fellow writer decided that writing a 50k novel in November just wasn’t feasible, mostly due to Thanksgiving. We decided that October would work better. Fewer holidays other than Halloween, and one more day than November.

I created a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/118124512172076/) so myself and others can participate, and hold each other accountable. We also don’t hold to the 50k rule like NaNoWriMo, but state our goal at the beginning and hopefully stick to it. I failed last year. I had hoped for 50k, but I barely passed 10k.

This year I hope to hit the 50k, or at the very least finish a dark fantasy I started about eleven years ago. I keep putting off finishing it because it is so dark. The darkest story I’ve yet written.

God in a Leaf

One of my favorite scripture verses is Romans 1:20: “For ever since the world was created people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

During my morning walk a few days ago, I found these:

Notice how the leaves look almost like parachutes or kites to carry the seeds away from the parent tree? If I were to label the quality of God in the leaves, I would say he is an engineer. Only an engineer with intimate knowledge of gravity, botany and aerodynamics could create a leaf of just right shape and size to carry one or several seeds into the wind.

I am endlessly fascinated at how one tree reproduces and how the seeds are carried away (either by wind or animals). How can I not be awed by God’s thoughtfulness in a single seed attached to a single leaf of a single tree? And how each tree produces seeds so different from almost every other species.

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:26)

I love the fall, with the turning trees, cool weather and the birds beginning their migration.

If anyone’s been following US politics, you’ll know it’s been a tough week, regardless of what side you’re on politically. It has for me, which is why I’m so grateful I was mindful enough to study my surroundings and spot those leaves. They reminded me of what’s important. Not politics, that’s for sure, even though I will continue to pray for all those involved.

Tomorrow, as cold as it might be, I will be out by the river with my camera to take many pictures of a hopefully calm day so that my spirit might also be calmed. Perhaps I might hear God’s whisper in the wind reminding me not to worry or fret. No matter what happens here or elsewhere, he is in control. Always has been. Always will be.

Thirteen Years Later

The other day I wanted to post something on a Facebook group called Realm Makers Consortium. I didn’t know what exactly, except that it be humorous. After staring at that evil cursor for about two minutes, this popped into my head:

“I asked God to teach me patience, so he made me a writer.”

Writing, like any other skill, takes a lot of work. Years of work and study. Learning the rules, knowing when to break them, reading a lot of books both in and out of our chosen genre to discover what works and what doesn’t. Why certain tropes and writing structures work for some genres and not for others. Writing hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of words to discover our own unique voice.

Deciding what to publish, when, to whom, to go indie, vanity or traditional. To spend countless hours searching for editors, cover artists for indie publishing, agents and traditional publishers. To wait weeks if not months for that almost inevitable rejection letter, yet still hopeful for an acceptance. Trying to convince ourselves that another rejection won’t hurt as much as the last one, and to not want to scream into a pillow and vow we will never write another word when it does come.

A few days ago, I went back through my original blog about my journey to get published, and I tried not to cringe at the date of my first entry: September 16, 2005.

Have I really been at it this long? Should I be embarrassed that after so much time I have so little to show for it?

Or should I be grateful?

Because I trust God and his plan for me, I’m going for grateful. I haven’t sat idle while I wait. I’ve spent that time writing, reading, studying and honing my craft. When I look back at what I wrote thirteen years ago, I have improved. Much of it was unpublishable, but I couldn’t see it at the time. God did, however, and that’s another reason I am grateful.

Heart Treasures

Heart Treasures

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~ Luke 2:19

I tried writing down everything that happened at the writers conference last month. The good, the bad, the exciting and the boring. I wrote about the first two days, but stopped half-way through the third.

I couldn’t go any further. Like Mary, I needed to treasure it as well as ponder.

During the conference, I signed up for a fifteen minute appointment with a literary agent. I practiced my pitch in one of my elective courses just prior to my appointment, and I continued to mentally recite it as I walked through the hotel.

The moment I sat down with the agent, I started my pitch. I didn’t get but a few words in when he said, “Show me what you have.”

Okay. Fine by me, because I was stumbling over it, anyway. I gave him my “one sheet” which contains a back-cover blurb, the genre, word count, and my bio which includes my writing credits.

He read the first page of my fantasy (and latest novel), stopped less than a page in and said, “I have a question for you. Why aren’t you published, yet? This is really good.”

“Honestly,” I said, “I haven’t tried that hard. I’ve been concentrating on writing and improving my craft.”

He nodded and continued to read. He spent over half of appointment reading it. I spent that time staring at his two massive football rings, and ached to ask him who he played for, and if they were Super Bowl or division championship rings.

He finally had to force himself to put it down, and asked if I had anything else.

“I do.”

“Did you bring them?”

I did, and took them out of my folder. His expression indicated that he was pleased that I did. I pulled out the first chapter of one and said, “This one is a lot shorter, so it won’t take you as long.”

He skimmed through that one and asked more about the books’ genres, what genre I preferred to write and if the books were YA or adult.

In the end, he not only asked me to send him the full manuscript and synopsis of my fantasy, but the other two as well. He even bragged me up a bit to an editor for Tor sitting next to him, and recommended I sign up to meet with her as well. She was full up, however, and I never got a chance to accost her during meals or elsewhere.

I sent him everything about two weeks ago. I expect to get a response in the next six weeks or so. Hopefully.

I don’t expect him to take me as a client, though (or at least tell myself not to). My books have received interest like this before, and ended up being passed over.

Even so, that the agent literally couldn’t put my story down says — and means — a lot. It also shows that all my hard work has yielded good results after all.

Stealing Labor

Someone shared the article below on a Facebook group I follow, and I commented thusly:

“The article was infuriating enough, but some of the comments . . . I would charge any of those people who think an author can’t be harmed by electronic piracy to try writing and publishing a book (some authors can only afford to publish ebooks). Then they will understand just how much it costs, both in time and in money.”

I’m also reminded of when I purchased a student-version of CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) software for $250. When it arrived at the school, at least five people descended upon me asking for a copy.

“Absolutely,” I said. “For $250.” Their expressions were priceless. I then told them, “I didn’t pay $250 just so you could get it for free.” The same thing happened after we built our garage. Several people came to us asking to store their boat, motorcycle, you name it. I said, “Absolutely. For $30,000.”

My parents taught both my sister and me that we should always value the work we do, and to never allow people to expect us to give away our labor for free. In fact, I had to purchase my mom’s prints at full price, but when she needed me to draw a few things for her, she paid me a per/hour rate to do them.

So, yeah, I get a little upset when people expect others to give away their labor at no cost to them. I guarantee if someone told them they needed also to work for free, they, too, would get a bit upset.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/08/elitist-angry-book-pirates-ocean-of-pdf-author-campaign-website