Category Archives: Writing

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.

Time to Produce

The best (and most thought-provoking) part of attending the RealmMakers writers conference a few weeks ago was spending time with Terry Brooks. He was gracious enough to read the first few pages of my fantasy (you can read more specifics here if you haven’t already).

What stuck with me was this part of the conversation:

“How much time do you spend per day writing?” Terry asked.

“About an hour.” (On a good day).

He scowled at me a bit and said, “If you’re not willing to give up everything for your writing, your writing will suffer. I’m not saying you have to, but you must be willing.”

I haven’t been able to get that out of my head, but at the same time, I haven’t yet seriously asked myself that question. Simply saying “yes” isn’t enough. I have to believe it.

I like what I’m doing other than writing too much. Note the qualifier “too much,” because I do many things that do little more than waste time; things that I can afford to rid myself of. That includes television and much of social media (not all, because publishers look for authors willing and able to market themselves via social media. I just have to manage my time on social media better [more on that in a future entry]).

If I’m serious about writing and publishing, I have to take it seriously. After all, once I get a book contract (and yes, I am assuming I’ll eventually get one), I will have to meet any deadlines. If I’m not willing to sacrifice my time now to write, how can I hope to sacrifice it later?

Just Like The Rest of Us

There’s one thing I hate about meeting with agents and editors (and a famous author this time around) is the anxiety. The fear of stumbling over my words, the inability to share my story correctly, and all-in-all making a bad impression.

Before my first appointment — a fifteen-minute mentor appointment with Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara series among others), I prayed most fervently to take away my anxiety. Not so much that I say all the right things (although I prayed that too, but considered that secondary). I hate being nervous, because ninety-nine percent of the time, that anxiety is in the end completely unfounded.

As I waited for my appointment with Terry, another writer was waiting for someone else to finish theirs. I mentioned how I’ve been praying for a calm spirit, she graciously (and beautifully) prayed for and with me. Her prayer even made me a little misty-eyed (and simultaneously grateful I don’t wear makeup).

During that appointment, and a literary agent appointment a few hours later, no nerves presented themselves. I was calm, confident, but also listened more than I talked. When I did talk about my story, the words flowed out of me when I usually stumble. I also didn’t hedge or try to figure out what they wanted to hear (as if I could anyway, but still I try. I can’t help it. I know why I do, but that’s an entry for another time).

The literary agent was intrigued by my idea, but as he speed-read through the first couple of pages, he said that while he’s intrigued, the jump between the prologue and the first chapter was too jarring. Still, he did ask me to send him a proposal. Not a complete rejection, but nothing to indicate he was all that excited either.

For which I was fine with, oddly enough.

Or not. Truth is, I received the score-cards for the contest I submitted it to a few days before, and although I didn’t agree with some of the comments at first, they still got me thinking that perhaps I need to revisit the story yet again. The first couple of chapters at least.

As I talked to Terry Brooks, he offered also to read my sample chapters. I had to keep it, however, because it was the only one I brought (reminder to self: bring multiple copies next time). I did give it to him during the scheduled autograph session later that evening (I was the only one in line who didn’t have a book for him to sign, but that’s because he signed my copy of “Sometimes the Magic Works” during the mentor appointment).

He read it that night and returned it to the conference coordinator with the message for me to find him so he could talk to me about it.

I attended a Q & A session with him and fellow author Brent Weeks, and hovered over him until he finished signing several more autographs after the session. That entire hour and a half of me waiting to talk to him, I tried not to worry that he would tell me to burn those pages and never write another word.

I exaggerate. I didn’t think that at all. Nor was I overly anxious, because I convinced myself that no matter what he told me, his advice would only make my story better.

He first asked if it was YA or adult.

When I told him it’s adult, he said I need to flesh it out more. Adults tend to want to read about the emotional impact of what happens–that I need to add more exposition. The prologue was powerful, but not enough emotion of the devastation the characters endured. The same for the first chapter of another character being sold as a slave.

Other than that, he said he wanted to keep reading, the bones of my story are good, and the concept is interesting. Granted he was working off a dozen pages, but experienced authors do get a sense of good or bad writing from the first few pages. That he thought the bones were good gave me a measure of relief. As long as my story has a solid structure, everything else is detail (literal and figurative), and can be fixed. A poorly structured story can’t, at least not easily and not without starting over.

All in all, after spending $500–which included the cost of the conference and one of the few Terry Brooks mentor appointments, I got my money’s worth. Not only to spend time with one of my favorite authors, but to get a glimpse into the man behind the words. I discovered he’s a delight, funny with an almost childlike gleam in his eye, a real passion for the written word, and doing whatever he can to help newer writers learn the craft to tell fabulous stories that entertain, and teach readers new things (without the sermon, of course).

Because (with God’s help) my nerves didn’t get the best of me, I was able to enjoy both appointments and discover that famous authors are just like the rest of us. They have the same desires and passions, weaknesses, strengths, humility and humor as everyone else.