Category Archives: Articles

Whenever I submit a story or proposal to a potential publisher, I don’t look at it again.

The temptation is there, believe me, enough to make me break out into a sweat. It ain’t pretty that sweat, nor is the resulting odor wafting from my over-reactive pores. My poor family.

Did I spell the agent/publisher’s name correctly?

Did I remember to include all he/she asked for?

Are there glaring grammatical/spelling errors that I missed?

I refrain from verifying one way or another, because if I made all those mistakes above, it’s too late now. And why make myself cry and gnash my teeth over something I can’t fix anyway?

Yesterday I sent off my query letter. Last night at about 3am I woke up in a sweat and heart pounding, terrified I had misspelled the agent’s name. I know I didn’t, because I triple-checked it before sending it off. At least I think I didn’t. I hope I didn’t . . .

The only issue I have now (aside from night terrors) is when to expect a response. Nowhere on the agent’s website did I see a time-frame. I’ll give him about eight weeks, though. If I don’t hear anything back then, I’ll pursue another agent (is it me, or does that sound too much like stalking?).

Too Many Teeth, Not Enough Food

Turns out I didn’t bite off more than I could chew. Quite the opposite. I went overboard.

After working on the newsletter article for a week, and praying as I sent it off that I didn’t mess anything up too badly, I received the following email.

You have done an excellent job. Thank you very much.

We are going to do some minor changes. I should have told you, but this story is meant to be used for our next newsletter. I am sorry that I did not tell you the context. A newsletter requires the story to be a bit more concise. But, we are going to use your story for our blog, as well. And, what you have written actually fits in perfectly for a blog or even a book.

So, we will use your story as it is for our blog. Readers have a bit more time. But we are going to make it a bit more concise and direct for our newsletter.

Thank you, again, for this wonderful work. It is very well done.

Here I was, stressing that I wouldn’t delve enough into the world they wanted me to, and I delved too deep. I suppose as issues go, I could have done worse and instead left the readers wanting.

I emailed her back and asked what the limit was as far as word count/pages. That way I don’t force them to reedit what I was supposed edit. I also apologized and included the hope that I didn’t create more work for them.

Funny. After I first read the email, I couldn’t help but think it’ll be the last time they ask me to do anything for them.

Is it even possible to be fired from a volunteer job?

I doubt it, but my mind tends to over-think, over-analyze, and expect the worst every time I make a mistake. After I read the email a second time, however, I’m more assured they can still use me. Overall it was positive.

Are My Teeth Strong Enough?

Recently I was offered a volunteer editing job for an organization based out of Asia helping to start new churches and orphanages.

I’ve edited one newsletter so far, which took all of fifteen minutes to do. It was quite well-written, especially for someone who’s English isn’t his native language.

I was also asked how many I could edit a year, and I told them one every two weeks would be doable.

Thinking all requests would be easy like the last one.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

A few nights ago I received the following email (in part):

“I have a very rough story (it’s a bit difficult story). You will need to work on it to be developed into a story. What I have in the attachment is a basic story and very rough outline. Will you be able to develop it into a story? The audience will be our friends in the US. If you need to do any research on alcoholism, winter or the plight of slums, you can always do a Google search. If you need any specific information, do let me know.

But you do have full freedom to do this story. You will have to rework it completely. You have that freedom.

So how do I describe the sounds, the smells and the overall sense of a place I’ve never been? I found hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the slums, so describing the look will be easy.

To create an immersion of the place for readers will be difficult, and more than a little daunting. And not only the five senses, but the spiritual sense of the place, the despair, the anger, and sorrow. How can I capture that in such a way without being over-dramatic, but to someone who has been there can say, “She got it right.”

I’ve never sat down and consciously prayed before I wrote anything. I just wrote. In this case, however, I will have to pray quite hard before a single word is typed, because I don’t think I can write this on my own — and have it be believable, and honest.

I’m writing, after all, about real people in real circumstances. To over-dramatize or change their life story to fit my idea of what it should be is the height of disrespect, both to the people who live it, and the readers who want to know the truth of what happened, and is happening.

An Opportunity, Not An Insult

Many are complaining that the guest list for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit is insulting and offensive. Even the Vatican has expressed concern.

Whether or not I think the White House acted appropriately or intended to offend, I don’t know or care, honestly. That’s not the point of this entry.

Jesus was not offended by anyone. He expressed anger (when he tore apart the marketplace in the Temple), and many times was frustratied with those who refused to hear his message.

Jesus sought out those who were hurting; who needed to hear God’s message of grace, love and forgiveness. He partied with the sinners; he didn’t sequester himself with the righteous. He came for all the sinners of the world, and that’s everyone.

If I were the Pope, I would be excited about the list, not concerned or offended. What a perfect opportunity to minister! Not as a religious figure, per se, because too many hearts are closed to religion, but as the representative of Christ, and what Christ came to earth to die for. I would treat every guest — regardless of whom or what they’re there to represent — with the same love and respect I expect to receive. Period, no judgements and no preconceived notions.

That’s our mandate after all: To go out into the world and spread the Good News. To everyone. No one can do that if they hide behind walls, or expect to be separated from those who need the Message most.

Holy Crap. Put Your Mask Back On!

Many have said, perception is reality. There’s a lot of truth to that. Too much truth. It’s like the meme I shared a few weeks back showing the cylinder and depending upon where someone is standing, they either see a circle or a square. Both are true, but neither sees the entire picture; the entire truth.

The same goes for the people we know. How we perceive them is how we know them. Much of the time, however, it’s not everything we want or need to know. How often has someone said or done something that has completely taken us by surprise, something we never expected them to say and do?

A friend of mine once told me that he didn’t want to reveal something he did earlier in his life, because he didn’t want me to change my opinion of him.

I said, “It doesn’t matter, because me knowing something new about you doesn’t change who you are, only my perception of you. I can’t hold my perception of you against you. That’s on me.”

Then again, all of us chooses how much to reveal to others. It’s a mask we put on every day. I think we’re all afraid that if we took that mask off, even for a second, we will be shunned and despised.

It’s always a risk to reveal something “new” about ourselves. People will either embrace it, or put their hands out and back away as if warding off evil spirits. I put quotes around “new,” because, although people can and do change, we don’t always reveal that change the moment it happens. It can often take years — if at all — because we’re afraid that change will result in lost friendships and even family members.

So what is a person to do, then? Do we keep that mask on, making sure we avoid revealing everything that could offend or otherwise hurt someone? Or do we say to ourselves, “This part of me is important. It’s a passion of mine I want to share”?

That’s not to say we should reveal everything. Some things are definitely meant to stay private. I’m sure you don’t want to know my every, shall we say, appetite. I’m certain I don’t want to know all of yours.

Like everything, it’s a matter of balance.

This entire entry is my bloviating way of saying that whenever we reveal something new about ourselves, we risk angering or alienating people. We should always be prepared for that, as terrible as it is. We should also keep in mind that when someone reveals something new about themselves that changes our perception of them, they didn’t change. Only our perception of them did, and that’s not entirely their fault. We, too, are responsible for that perception, and we shouldn’t be angry or hateful to them because of it.

Just as we want to be loved, ugly and frightening* as we are under our mask, we, too, must always be loving to those who also show their honest, true, ugly and frightening* countenance to us.

Because it always takes courage to remove that mask.

* As an aside, we are not all ugly or frightening inside or outside. We are all beautiful and lovable, even when we have ugly thoughts or do ugly things. I use those words only because that’s how we too often see our darkest and deepest parts of who we are — whether it’s true or not.

Old Lady Kayaking

IMG_0893Last Thursday I attended a Bloggers and Writers Workshop at Fort Lincoln State Park sponsored by North Dakota Department of Commerce.

The first part of the day consisted of travel writer and filmmaker Joe Baur who gave the attendees advice such as conquering fear of new places and new people. He shared some of his own fears such as even leaving his hometown to visit larger cities. Other sage advice he gave is since the internet is so visual, if we want to gain more readership, we must add visual elements such as photos and videos.

This in particular grabbed my attention, because I love taking pictures. I’ve also wondered how I could work it into my writing, or even if I should. It takes a bit of extra time to add visual elements to a blog post, but if it means gaining more readers, certainly the extra five to ten minutes adding the photos would be worth it.

He also mentioned that we must set a schedule for our releases (something I’ve slacked on of late). If we’re not consistent in our writing, we very quickly lose our readers.

Jenna Cederberg, Editor of Montana Magazine spoke next. Her focus was on knowing what you’re submitting your writing to. Know the magazine or publisher, because an editor will know right away whether or not you read their publications. She also stressed the importance of relationships. Successful publishing is largely due to good relationships between author and editor. Once you establish good ones, hold on to them.

After we broke for lunch, we had round-table discussions with Joe, Jenna, and Kim Schmidt, the public relations manager of the ND Department of Commerce where we could ask more in-depth questions. Kim gave us all advice on how to use social media to its fullest. Her focus was on the relationship we can build with them. They need North Dakota writers to help promote the wonders of our state that the rest of the nation doesn’t see. The best part is, when we promote them, they’ll link and add our writings to their publications and social media. It’s a win-win. She also said (and I’ve seen it, too) looking at North Dakota nationally, we’re the windy, cold, vast prairie with nothing to offer but agriculture, rising crime and oil.

When we are so, so much more than that.

But that’s another entry – or twelve.

Afterward, we had the choice to either tour the Custer House, Barracks and Indian Village, or go on a bike ride, hiking and kayaking. I chose the latter, because I’ve toured the Custer House before.

They were kind enough to provide the bikes, which, surprisingly enough, I only wobbled a few minutes before my muscles remembered that bike-riding thing. I guess it’s really true you never forget.

We rode down to where the Heart River converges with the Missouri. Waiting for us was a father and son team from Missouri River Kayak Rentals with enough kayaks for the small group. I told Kim I was staying on shore, and that I would take pictures. She said, “You really should go.”

I remembered Joe saying that we need to step out of our comfort zone. I said okay. After all the instructions (and there weren’t many), we donned our life jackets (also provided) and proceeded down to the water’s edge. I managed to step into the kayak without capsizing the small craft, which made me a bit more confident. The father of the team pushed me off and I started to row.

Kayaking never interested me. I wasn’t adverse to it, per se, but it also didn’t look all that fun. Mostly it looked like a lot of work.IMG_20150604_143510856_edited-1

And these old bones aren’t used to work. Sitting at a computer and typing all day doesn’t exactly keep the muscles in prime form. At this point, I was glad my body didn’t rebel riding a bike down to the river’s edge (even though it was mostly flat with a slight downgrade).

As I paddled around in a few circles to see how stable the kayak was, and how sharply I could turn, I realized just how easy it was. After ten minutes in the calm water, and finding a rhythm in paddling, I was surprised how relaxing it was.

With the cloudy skies, little wind and mild temperature (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), we couldn’t have asked for a better day for kayaking. I even managed to keep up with everyone who had obviously kayaked more than me (which wasn’t saying much since this was my first time).

After about an hour paddling up and down the Heart River, I understood the allure of it. How can something that took physical effort (although well within reason) could be so relaxing? Kayaking manages, and is something I hope to do again. Having traipsed many times on the river in a speed boat, fishing boat and pontoon, floating on a kayak makes a person feel closer and almost a part of the river itself. I highly recommend it.

Even (or especially) if you’re an old lady like me.

Why I Am Not Beautiful

I took a picture of a friend yesterday during a church pool/pizza party. I didn’t notice until after I downloaded the photos her expression looked like a mixture of disgust and surprise, as if she just watched someone eat a bug. I emailed it to her, because I knew she’d find it just as hilarious as I did.

Much to my surprise, she made it her profile picture on Facebook. I wouldn’t have. Heck, whenever I see a picture of myself, I literally cringe. I hate seeing pictures of myself.

As my sister and I went through our mom’s stuff after she died, we found picture albums and many loose photos of us both as children and adults. My sister told me that she didn’t want even pictures of her when she was little.

It surprised me and made me think, why would both of us be so against photographs that it’s almost like a vampire to sunlight? Was there something in our past to make us think that we never were, nor ever would be lovely enough to photograph?

I looked back and tried to remember a time when someone of importance, such as our mother, told us we were ugly. There never was a time, but neither do I remember an incident when my mom told me I was beautiful.

It’s not to say she didn’t think we were at least pretty. She did tell us a few times, but — at least to me — thought it was her way of being kind, and that she may not have truly believed it.

She did tell me once that part of the reason she and her mom didn’t get along was because her mom expected my mom to be a great beauty, and she simply wasn’t. Mom then told me that she promised herself not to do that to her own children. What mattered to her was character, intelligence and strength. She pushed us to be the best we could be mentally. Intelligence and knowledge were king. And manners. Good manners was second to anything else (to which I frustrated her to no end).

I don’t regret my mom concentrated on those things, because they are far longer lasting than perfect skin, hair and figure.

Even though I was a tomboy growing up, there was always a little girl inside who wanted to be the beautiful princess. It would have been nice to believe that I was indeed beautiful at least once.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so inclined today to cower from the camera, and turn away in disgust when I see a picture of myself posted on Facebook.

But that’s not quite fair. I have no one to blame for my reaction to photos of me. It’s certainly not my mom’s fault. She gave me the best gift of all — the desire and will to be the best person I can be. I like who I am; inwardly I think I am quite beautiful. Outwardly, on the other hand . . .

Doesn’t matter. The people who know and love me don’t see the moles on my face, my thinning and graying hair or the fact my pants are getting too tight in the buttocks.

What does that have to do with my friend’s willingness to post a photo of herself with a facial-contorted expression for all to see?

Because she knows that those who know and love her will laugh with her. To them she is beautiful for not only making them laugh, but by being vulnerable. She’s showing off to the world her — oftentimes messy — humanness. She’s not above anyone; she’s just like the rest of us. It’s that courage that helps make her beautiful.

My mom was right to not push the importance of physical beauty on her daughters. It never lasts. But at the same time, I have no need to hide. None of us is without blemish or scars, nor should we expect it of ourselves, especially if we don’t expect it in others. To do so only separates us from everyone else.

By continuing to shy away from cameras and want to burn every picture of me, I may miss out on making someone laugh and to show someone like me it’s okay to be imperfect. In fact, those “imperfections” could be the very things that make me beautiful.

Still, if you happen to see a booger hanging out of my nose, please tell me!

Christ’s Mandate

When the Aurora shooting first happened, I wasn’t surprised at the wellspring of prayers and expressions of horror on Facebook and other social sites. It was nice to see that it took about 48 hours before the baser part of our nature surfaced.

There were the expected calls for more gun control, but one person surprised me by saying her first thought was whether or not the victims had health care. Now I was going to give the commenter a hard time about it, but that would be a bit hypocritical on my part. My thought – once I got passed the incomprehensibility that someone could commit such a heinous act – was not much better. I wondered how long it would take before people started politicizing and placing blame on everyone except the person who actually pulled the trigger.

The purpose of this entry is not to disseminate what happened in Aurora, or why. I want to instead concentrate on the healthcare comment noted above, and how God expects us as both a country and individuals when faced with the poor and hurting.

I prefer to look at the world and its problems through a Biblical perspective. I’m no scholar, so it’s possible the more scholarly may find problems with my analyses. By the same token, the Bible wasn’t written by or for the scholarly, but for you and me, so I don’t think I’m too far from what God meant.

In looking up scripture with regard to giving to the poor, it shouldn’t come as a surprise I found many. I want to focus on but a few:

“But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.” ~ Deuteronomy 15: 7

“Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.” ~ Proverbs 28:27

“Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” ~ Isaiah 58: 7

“John replied, ‘If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” ~ Luke 3:11

Some argue it’s anti-Christian to fight against higher taxes in order to help the poor and needy, and they could easily use the scriptural passages above to bolster their point.

I maintain that is our duty as individuals and communities to dig into our own pockets and pound the concrete to help the needy. Read carefully the scriptures above. Notice how each one is talking directly to us. Nowhere is it mentioned that we must depend on (or pay through taxes) our government to do it.

When we decide that our taxes are supposed to help the poor, it too easily becomes an excuse to not accept the responsibility God gave us. We can simply sit in our easy chairs and vegetate in front of the television or computer and say to ourselves, “I don’t need to help my neighbor. My government is doing it for me.”

I don’t have all the statistics, but I do know we’ve spent billions of dollars “on the poor” and they are still with us. I remember hearing on the Paul Harvey radio show about twenty years ago that for every five dollars given to the government that was meant to help the poor, the poor received one dollar. I doubt it’s improved over the last twenty years.

The lady who lamented over the possible lack of insurance for the Aurora victims, I have an answer to the problem with the following news articles:

Aurora Blood Banks Booked Solid (http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_21128567/aurora-theater-shootings-blood-donation-centers-booked-solid?source=rss )

Children’s Hospital to Give Free Care to Aurora Theatre Shooting Victims (http://www.denverpost.com/theatershooting/ci_21158943/childrens-give-free-care-aurora-theater-shooting-victims?source=pkg )

Aurora Victims Relief Fund Raises Near $2 Million as of July 24 ( http://www.registercitizen.com/articles/2012/07/25/news/doc501003dca5ae3366888696.txt ) with Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures to donate a large but unspecified amount.

Those are just three I found after a 2 minute search, and I’m sure there are many others, others we may never even hear about. Yet, these are perfect examples of people meeting Christ’s mandate to care for those who need it.

And not one of those acts was mandated by our government.

As an aside I found this scripture: “When this offering is given to the Lord to purify your lives, making you right with him, the rich must not give more than the specified amount, and the poor must not give less.” ~ Exodus 30:14.

The offering in this case pertains to maintaining the Tabernacle, but with all the calls for the “Rich to pay their ‘fair’ share,” lately, I thought it ironically appropriate.

Courageous or Stupid?

A friend of mine introduced me to this quote by Anias Nin not too long ago:

Life Shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

It’s one I’d like to live by, but by and large don’t. For the most part I’m a gutless wonder, especially if I don’t know the odds of something, or if the odds are against me.

I’m not into taking risks.

Not a good thing for a writer who wants to be published. I don’t know the actual numbers, but I’m sure my chances of winning the lottery are greater. The only reason I pursue it (although my motivation is in the toilet at the moment), is because God won’t let me not pursue it. One thing God is better at more than my three-year-old is the constant barrage of “do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it . . . ” ad infinitum. Sigh. So I keep going, at times not so much because I want to, but to get God to be quiet (He never does, though. He merely finds something else to give me a hard time about).

A few entries ago I bragged about how I was hired to be the new technical editor of AugiWorld. Since then, they changed things around. Instead of one technical editor for the entire magazine, they created content managers for each software discipline. That includes standard AutoCAD, Civil and Manufacturing to name a few. The president of AUGI emailed me a while back to let me know, and asked if I was interested in writing articles.

I expressed I would love to. The hard part isn’t writing the articles, it’s thinking up a subject. Even though I’ve used AutoCAD since 1991, I don’t consider myself an expert. It’s such a massive program, I bet I don’t use 20% of its capabilities. How can I write articles imparting knowledge I don’t think I have enough of?

It’s fear holding me back, I admit, and I’m using that old adage: “Write what you know” as an excuse. Funny considering I’ve always hated that phrase. It’s an excuse not to write and not to broaden one’s knowledge and experiences.

But then an idea surfaced. There’s another program developed by AutoDesk called AutoCAD Map 3D (which comes as either a stand-alone program or part of the Civil package). This program has all the functionality of a CAD program, but with GIS (Global Information System) capabilities added. If you’re not sure what that is, think Google Earth. It’s basically a graphic database program where a person can search for almost anything using a graphical interface. For example a GIS application is for emergency services such as police and fire. They have GIS systems that not only have the addresses of homes, but floor plans, gas and water line locations. With a few mouse clicks, they can access all the information they need. Befuddled blind, yet?

I’ve used Map 3D for quite a few years, but only for converting existing data. I’ve not developed any database system from scratch. Since we’ve been hired by a few smaller communities in our area to develop a GIS system for their towns, it’s now important for me to learn more about Map.

So I asked the AUGI president if anyone’s offered to write articles about (or be a content manager for) AutoCAD Map.

He wrote back a few minutes later:

Yea, YOU!

We would love to have that!

Question: do you feel that would it fall under the Civil Content Manager, or are you suggesting you as the Map Content Manager?

Let me explain.

A content manager will work to ensure we have at least 1 article in their “industry” per issue (monthly).

Chris Fugitt is the Civil Content Manager. He is generally concerned with Civil 3D. So if you don’t feel the product needs an article per issue, then I would just assign you to work with Chris for whenever you want to write.

However, if Map (and Mapguide? GIS?) is a topic that could use the coverage in each issue (which is your call, not mine), then assigning you as the Map Content Manager would make more sense.

I spent over an hour debating whether to offer to write an occasional article or take the deep-ended plunge and tell him that Map deserved an article for each issue. The rub is that if I offered to be the Content Manager, I would have to write an article if no one else volunteered. How could I do that if I barely know the software?

Two things convinced me to offer to be the content manager. One, with a deadline every month to write an article, I’ll be extra motivated to write. Second, it’ll force me to learn the software.

My response included the admission that I don’t know the software very well. But, I added, I’m not the only newbie to Map. Many of the articles will include the things I learn along the way. I can’t be the only person just starting out with GIS and Map. After all, the whole point behind AUGIWorld is to teach both new users and veterans the finer points of a robust and highly versatile program.

Since I offered (and since he hasn’t written back which I’ve learned means he’s accepted my premise), I’ve downloaded all the tutorials and user guides available for map. They’re all in Adobe Acrobat format which means I can load them onto my Nook. I realized just this morning I can keep my Nook right at my computer and go through the tutorials that way without having to print out a hard copy. Good thing, too. The tutorial book is 438 pages, and the users guide is (I’m not kidding) 2180.

So I’ve changed the “write what you know” phrase to “write about what you want to know.” I want to learn AutoCAD Map, and writing articles about it on a deadline will encourage me to do just that.

I hope.