Category Archives: Writing

No Bad News

I think we can all agree social media and much of the Internet can be a toxic place. It’s where we vent, argue and too often call each other nasty names—all without having to accept any consequences thereof.

We also have the choice to either not participate, or offer something better.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to offer something better.

Over the last few years, I’ve written short devotions for my church (about 300 words or one page each). Some are pretty good—if I say so myself—and there’s nothing stopping me from sharing them with the rest of you.

The surest cure for emotional and mental toxicity is emotional and mental positivity. While some of you may not share my faith, I promise nothing of what I share from now on is an attempt to preach at or convert you. My only desire is that you find a little joy and hope in my words.

Consider my page from now on a no bad news area.

Motivational Asides

Some like to create controversy. It boosts their readership–clickbait if you will. While I like to see as many readers and comments as anyone else, since I don’t receive any funds from the number of clicks/reads I get, I can’t really claim clickbait status.

When people click on my Twitter profile, this is the first tweet they see:

“I use Twitter to comment on politics, culture, and religion. I’m opinionated, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I like hearing differing points of view on varied subjects because I want to learn.

“I always appreciate civil discourse even if we disagree in the end.”

I also like to give my point of view on subjects with the hope it’s different enough that people will stop and think about it, maybe even do their own research to discover whether I’m right or full of [censored] (believe it or not, it’s been known to happen. Occasionally).

Do I hope to change minds? Absolutely! Do I expect it? Nope–as frustrating as that can be at times.

In talking to a friend recently, I mentioned how I may have lost a few friends online due to all my bloviating of late. I don’t know for sure, because I don’t keep track, and there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

That was a lesson hard learned, honestly. We all want to be loved, respected and heard. When I was a wee youngin’, friends were difficult to come by. While I have some guesses as to why, only when I reached my twenties did I figure out that love, respect and a listening ear can’t (or should) be forced. I have to freedom to choose whom I will love, respect and listen to, so how could I ever believe everyone else didn’t have that same freedom?

So while I like to share my opinions–however controversial–and be heard, I also want to give as many people as possible the same opportunity–even if I disagree.

Part of being heard is to listen, so if you’ve waded through all my rants of late relatively unscathed (or scathed, but waded through anyway), you have my undying love and respect. And, if you walk away from this entry with anything, I want you to know that you have also been heard.

Apathy

Either I’m not getting enough Sun, my hormones are completely whacked out, or it’s a combination of both, but I’m suffering from a severe case of apathy.

I’m not sad or depressed, but I can’t seem to find a reason to care about much of anything more than what I’m required to do for work and family. I’m either in automatic or neutral, and don’t care enough to change gears even when I know I should.

I keep thinking I should be concerned, but I’m not. Mostly. Actually, I am concerned, but not enough to do anything about it.

Part of why I’m writing it down is so that maybe, just maybe doing so will push me out of this odd mood I’m in. Sometimes seeing what I’m thinking and feeling on the screen helps me to find a solution to whatever is bugging me.

Change o’ subject (sort of):

I’m thinking of changing the name of my blog again. This time to “Dear God. I Have Questions.”

Two reasons for this.

Once again, I volunteered to write several devotions for my church’s yearly Lenten devotional. Eight, actually, which is the most I’ve volunteered to write so far. In one of them I admitted I don’t love or trust God as much as I know I should. I take much of my faith for granted, and worse, when it starts to matter, I hide it away, afraid.

Many non-religious accuse religious people, Christians especially, as following blindly, never asking challenging questions. For some, that’s probably true. I’ve heard enough stories where church leaders have punished people in a variety of ways for daring to challenge their beliefs or orthodoxy.

Yet that’s far from biblical. In both the Old and New Testaments, God and Jesus encouraged questions and seemed to enjoy being challenged (as long as the questioner was genuine in wanting to learn). For example, in the Old Testament, Jacob literally wrestled with God–and would have won if God hadn’t cheated. In the New Testament, never once did Jesus condemn anyone for asking questions. Sure, he was tough on the Pharisees, but he also knew their motives; their questions were meant to trap him, not to learn.

I want to focus my blog on studying God’s word to strengthen my relationship with him, and hopefully show others that to be a Christian actually means to ask a lot of questions, to challenge our current religious thinking, and yes question what the Bible says about certain subjects we find objectionable or problematic (while at the same time knowing that my understanding of said scripture is what’s flawed, not the scripture itself).

I also hope that by increasing my time of study, it’ll kick me out of this apathetic funk.

Under No Uncertain Terms

I know I promised to talk about Philipians 4:7-9 in my last entry, but I decided to put that off for a bit. Instead, I want to talk about why I write, and why I can’t stop no matter how much I complain about it.

Back in 2000, I noticed that most mainstream science fiction contained little to no references to God (and many being downright hostile to religion and the idea of a higher power unless it was some ethereal “force” or “universe”).

On the flip-side, most novels labeled as “Christian” had scant little science fiction or fantasy.

I mentally lamented this one day, and a small voice in my head said, “then you write it.”

I ended up writing my first novel in three months. I did nothing with it for quite a few years, because I knew that while the bones of the story were good, the writing itself needed a lot of work. I attended some online writers courses, bought lots of books on writing, and attended writers conferences. I even queried several publishers and agents (to no avail).

In 2008, I had my son, and two years later I wondered if I should pursue publication. I would always write, including blogs, devotions, and journaling that few people would see, but nothing else. Taking care of my boy and working meant I had little time for anything else. I was fine with that.

However, at sixteen I gave my hands to God to use as he saw fit. Quitting on the idea of publication wasn’t entirely my choice, so I needed to ask him what I should do before making any decision.

At about the same time, I heard about a contest for unpublished novelists. It’s called “Genesis” and sponsored by ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). An author submits a synopsis and the first fifteen pages of their completed novel. In return, regardless if a person’s novel wins or not, the three judges return a scoresheet with comments/critiques about where the story worked, and where it needed improvements.

I decided to submit my story, but at the same time set a “fleece before the Lord,” (see Judges 6). I asked God that if he wanted me to continue pursuing publication, tell me by allowing my story to make the finals. Not win, though. I figured that would be asking for too much.

Fast forward a few months. One night I received a phone call, but didn’t recognize the number. Figuring it was spam, I let it go to voicemail. The lady who called left a short message congratulating me on making the finals in the Genesis contest, speculative category.

My first response? Crap. A large part of me wanted to quit. I liked my life as is, and after so much time, so many roadblocks, money spent only to get more rejections, that part didn’t think continued pursuit was worth more of the same.

Fast forward almost twenty years since I penned my first draft, I’m still an unpublished novelist. That’s not to say I’ve been sitting idle, and have zero successes, though. I now have written five complete novels (two need serious work), have published short stories and am an acquisitions editor for Havok Magazine.

Nor do I have anyone to blame for my lack of novel publication other than me. I simply don’t submit enough. Part of it is procrastination, but it’s also extreme pickiness. Too extreme, probably.

Some might say I should go the indie route, and I have thought and prayed about it quite a bit. I keep getting the sense that God doesn’t want me to. At least not yet.

Writers tend to feel a lot. About everything. No matter what happens, we always think of the worst possible consequences. We can’t seem to help ourselves. No one should be surprised, because that’s what we have to do in our stories. That kind of thinking can’t help but spill over into reality.

I submitted a short story for another anthology, and received comments back in less than a day. Many of his changes would affect the plot significantly, but not it’s impossible. That same day, I received edits for my fantasy from a fellow writer who said that she feared her edits would make me think the story is terrible when it’s not (I haven’t looked at them, yet, though).

That knee-jerk-reaction-the-sky-is-falling reactionary part of my psyche once again told me I’m wasting my time. I suck as a writer, because after 20+ years I have scant little to show for it. That alone should prove how bad I am. After all, very few endeavors could have a worse track record. Imagine being a doctor with little success after that many years!

Granted that’s not the best comparison, because mere spilling words onto a piece of paper doesn’t physically heal or harm anyone.

In the end though, all that lamenting, pouting and whining is irrelevant and a waste of more time. God told me during the 2010 Genesis contest that under no uncertain terms am I allowed to quit. It might take another ten years (although I pray it won’t take that long) before I see any of my novels in a bookstore, but I have to keep working on it. Sometimes (most times), it’s all I have to fall back on to keep me moving forward. Luckily it’s been all I needed (even if I do grind my teeth while accepting it).

Oh, and my novel did end up winning the contest.

Must. Write. Story.

Two people so far have directly responded to my short story in “Beatitudes and Woes”:

“Andra I think you deliberately ripped my heart out. I loved the story but that ending. Oh my gosh, how could you do this to me! I hope it leads to a series of yours.”

“You’re story was fantastic. You’ll have to tell me what happens to him.”

When two people want more, how can I not? I mentioned it on Facebook, and they both told me how thrilled they are.

So far I’ve written a rough outline, and plan on writing the actual story in the next few days. Based on the outline, it’ll be novella-length for certain. I’m not sure it’ll reach full-novel length, but being a pantser (short for flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer), I can never guess how long my story will be until it’s done.

I’ll also be participating in a group called “October Write Fest” on Facebook. It’s similar to the idea of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, but in October, and less strict as far as reaching a 50k goal. We can set smaller or larger goals, short stories instead of novels, for example. Plus October has one more day and fewer important holidays to interfere.

Oh. Pertaining to my previous entry: “Ignorance is Preferred – For the Moment,” my first instinct was right. The letter was indeed a rejection. As usual, I allowed 24 hours to feel sorry for myself, but after that, it’s back to work. That includes writing this next story, and querying more agents. I have a good list, so it’s only a matter of tailoring my letters to each agent and sending them off. I’ll keep you updated.

Ignorance is Preferred. For The Moment

I wrote previously about meeting with an agent at the Realm Makers writers conference, and how he asked me to send a proposal. I decided to send it via regular mail, because he mentioned once during a Q & A session that he preferred it over email. Emails tend to pile up and get buried. If it’s on his desk in an envelope, he’s more inclined to read it faster.

Yesterday when I took the mail out of our mailbox, I spotted my SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) stuck between a dental cleaning reminder, and a stack of store coupons.

My first response: “Great. Another rejection.” Especially considering the thinness of the envelope indicating it contains but one sheet of paper.

I couldn’t open it. I was already in a sour mood last night (no particular reason; I get that way sometimes). Why make it worse by intentionally reading a rejection letter?

Still it sits on my dining room table, buried under those coupons and dental cleaning reminder. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to read it after work today. Chances are good, regardless, because I am curious. That and what if I’m wrong, and the letter is merely to ask to see the entire manuscript?

I think there’s a 25% it’s to ask for more; 75% it’s a rejection. Hence the desire to remain ignorant and hopeful instead of knowing and being disappointed.

The Superior Storyteller

As a writer, I often wonder, am I telling my story (fiction or real) in a way that people will both understand and embrace? Especially as a Christian who wants to relay certain truths (without the sermon), storytelling is my avenue by which I feel called to do it.

Sharing stories isn’t new. It seems to be ingrained in every human, perhaps even in our DNA. Storytelling goes back to cave-dwellers before written language. Scribes wrote down a leader’s accomplishments many times in the form of a story, sometimes true, often embellished to make said leader appear larger-than-life, and thereby worthy of being followed.

The Bible itself is full of stories. Whether you believe they literally happened the way they’re written or not is–as far as stories with a point go–irrelevant. Because the truth (or message) of that story is what matters. Many of Jesus’ words also took the form of stories, because he knew his audiences. To simply say, “don’t steal,” wasn’t enough to drive the point home. By creating characters who stole, and showing how those characters had to face sometimes devastating consequences, the listener (or reader), can better relate to the story, remember it, and hopefully apply the lesson to his/her own life.

I’m reading “Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine to Aquinas,” by Curtis Chang. The author also talks about telling stories, but on a macro, societal level. On page 29 he says, “The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch [or era]. History is replete with examples of epoch-defining power gained by superior storytelling.” He then goes on to use examples of the Nazis (negative), and the American civil rights movement, namely Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and his “I have a dream” speech (positive).

To use a cliche “the pen is mightier than the sword,” in many cases this is true. Hitler wielded words that turned Germany from the biggest loser in WWI to a world power in only a few decades. Dr. King wielded words that gave minorities a bigger and more influential voice in American society and politics. Their speeches often included narrative that, as Chang put it, “[took] every thought captive.”

As a storyteller, I and others like me sometimes forget the impact our words can have on others. Too often we think our words will never matter. While we may never spur a new epoch in our history, what about that those who take our words to heart, and in turn influence others who do change the course of history?

If you’re not a writer, and have no desire to be one, nevertheless, tell your stories. Show others the lessons life (or God) has taught you, so they may avoid the mistakes you’ve made, and instead enjoy more success.

Be a superior storyteller; take people’s every thought captive so that those who might otherwise lead them astray can’t.