Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A cast of characters

I was recently traveling and ran into one of those nobody's-going-to-believe-this situations. We were stranded twice by snow both coming and going to our destination and the situation gave me plenty of time to see my fellow humans in action. Not in a physical sense, because we (180 of us) were confined to a plane for 5 hours, then confined to a small airport terminal for another hour, then shuffled through a series of bus seats and hotel lobby lines for another 12 hours. It was a "hurry up and wait" sort of time as we waited for decisions beyond our control to be made and carried out.

Out of that 180 passengers, I ended up with a list of people that stick out in my memory:

*The adventurous older gentleman (and I don't use that term lightly) that braved the icy tarmac on two bad legs because he had to get a photo of the whiteout. He breeds dahlias and has had one on the best seller list for 8 years in a row.

*The young soldier that was quick to mention his time in Iraq but wouldn't give up his place in line to help a mother with an 8-month-old baby and a pile of luggage.

*The pretty young woman that did the rounds, entertaining children and helping the elderly - even offering to share a room with an older woman who was tired. She quickly bonded with a number of people and they became the unspoken tenders of the entourage.

*The weather-beaten maintenance man who's cigarette never left his lips in the storm as he loaded unclaimed bags in after the cattle-packed passengers on a bus.

*The "just so" petite blond wife and mother that tried to inform the authorities (a loose term since no one actually seemed to be in charge), her husband and her teenage daughter that she "doesn't bus". Her exact words as she sprang off the bench were "I don't bus!"

*The quiet young man who was one of the last to get a room because he did take time to help with bags and suitcases and parcels but did it all without really talking.

*The TSA agent-turned-tour guide that "jollied" the grumpier passengers into checking out the small town we landed in. His enthusiasm for his home town was evident.

Obviously, we were living a story of a particular nature during our extended hours together. Some people I spoke with and some I just observed. But in that mix of people I've seen hints of another story brewing. I'm not sure yet what I'll do with them but there's a tantalizing sense that it's all there, just waiting to be given its proper shape.

It's the stuff a writer dreams of.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Storytellers & Writers

One thing I have been learning, both as a writer and as an editor, is that a storyteller is not necessarily a writer. And a writer is not necessarily a storyteller. Now, a writer must tell a good story but that does not make them a good storyteller.

Where have I noticed this? Watching author presentations; reading stories from beginning writers that have worked with children for years; visiting classrooms where a teacher may be one or the other but not both. Now there are skills on both sides that can be learned. An author I met once took clown classes so that she would feel more confident and more physically expressive in a classroom. And writing is a skill that can be refined and developed at any level.

I think it's always worth exploring the "other side" of this tandem. Because when someone is both, its SO much fun!

Friday, March 20, 2009

A spider sketch

Just another idea from my sketch book last week. I was reading that some experts think spiders are not aggressive, they are just short-sighted. When lunch might be on the line, it's "bite first - ask questions later."

Do you suppose glasses would help?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lyrical prose

Sometimes you run across language that absolutely delights. Not particularly because of the information it's conveying. It's something that goes much deeper.

One of my favorite all-time authors is Jay Williams who wrote over seventy children's books in decades past. His picture books are an absolute delight with their turn-the-tale endings and sheer imagination. I collect his books and was going through my shelf to see if I might have found a new gem to add. It turns out I already owned a collection with that particular story and I got lost in the delight of his worlds again.

And I found this:

"Fred was good-looking and bright, but he was very absent-minded. This was because his head was full of music."
From "Forgetful Fred" in "The Practical Princess and other Liberating Fairy Tales" by Jay Williams, illustrated by Rick Schreiter.

So much for show-don't-tell! But this works magic in me every time I read it. I get the same sort of thrill from "Sarah Plain and Tall" or even "Mrs. Tibbet's Typewriter". It's a beautiful simplicity that goes straight to the heart of the story. And isn't that what storytellers always hope to do?

But sometimes the business of writing takes the luster off the joy. The scuff of editing leaves us hoping there is still a gem to shine through when we're finished. And when that happens, I go back to my bookshelf and dive into the writers and illustrators that remind me why I hope to follow in their footsteps.

It's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A literary frog

I think I'm starting to get a grasp on why children's writing is the right spot for me. It seems that I have an overdeveloped sense of the absurd. The idea's too ridiculous? Ridiculous! Too far-fetched? Fabulous! Let's stretch our imaginations and make silliness sacrosanct.

Why? Because I think when we laugh, we learn too. It's the spoon full of sugar. It's the rainbow in the rain. It's the soft fondant center in the Easter Creme Egg.

So with that thought in mind (and, I'll confess, an Easter Creme Egg as an occasional diversion), I've been having some fun in my sketch pad this week. Here's what happened on Monday:

I call it "Reading Past Bedtime" and it's once again available as a coloring sheet on my website.

But for now...it's late and I have a good book waiting for me. I hope it's a silly one.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Author visit with Sharon Hinck

The weekend is almost here, and what better way to prepare for it than to sit down for a chat with Sharon Hinck, another of the authors that participated in the Christian fantasy Motiv8 tour. It's been my experience that a person creative in one area will often be gifted in other creative areas and Sharon is no exception.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What led you to writing?

A: I've always been an avid reader and have loved to write since I could pencil my letters, but in high-school and college I focused more on music and theatre and dance. I spent years teaching ballet, choreographing for community and college theatres, and acting. In grad school I minored in writing and began to publish magazine articles, which helped get my feet wet in the writing world. After graduate school, I was the founding artistic director of a Christian performing arts company for ten years, and then was busy raising my family. As my children got older and the creative urges grew, God led me to small Christian writer's group, and my early love of writing.

Q: You have written in a variety of genres - Christian fiction, fantasy, "mom-lit" and nonfiction articles - did you find the cross-over difficult either personally or in terms of industry trends?

A: It's much simpler (and general recommended) to write in a specific niche and build readership in that arena. I meant to do that. I wrote contemporary fiction about ordinary moms on their faith journey and the extraordinary things God does along the way. But some of the heroines actually traveled to alternate worlds (Sword of Lyric series) and some dreamed of doing great things while wrestling with their meaning and purpose in the midst of modern-day struggles (the Becky Miller books) while some pursued artistic dreams (Symphony of Secrets) or walked the courageous journey toward healing (Stepping into Sunlight). All I can say is that I wrote the story that God stirred in me each time, and have to trust Him to get the stories to the people He meant them for.

Q: As a writer, do you plan first or let the story develop as you write? How does a typical writing day look for you?

I'm a "discovery" writer. The character comes to me first, and I begin to explore with the character and see where things go. When I was working on my novels, I'd usually roll out of bed and write a few hundred words immediately to prime the pump. Then after morning chores, I'd buckle down and write about 1000 words - whether that took a few hours or all day. I also spend time honing the earlier chapters, and then quite a bit of time with the "business and fellowship" side of writing - doing interviews, answering emails, critiquing chapters for critique partners, editing, etc.

Q: What marketing techniques or events have you found to be most
successful for you?

A: I've tried many of the things various authors recommended to me, and found the best idea was to prayerfully ask God which things to invest time in. Often He'd guide me to invest a lot of time over an email prayer for a reader who had written to share a struggle they were facing, or open a door for me to meet with a tiny book group - and I wonder if those activities remain closer to the ministry He's called me to than T.V. and radio interviews, or large public events. An author I admire said that she sees two parts to her writing ministry - the themes and truth of the stories that she writes, and the interactions she has with people because of having written those stories. I try to keep that in mind, and keep asking God where He wants me at any given time.

What advice would you offer to newer writers or those that are just beginning their journey into the world of publishing?

Be totally focused on the joy of serving Christ, and measure your success by making God smile. Over and over, as you are tempted by discouragement, envy, frustration, or pride, keep trying to release the question of human approval and success to Him and tuning your ears to His Word.

Q: How did the Motiv8 tour come about? Had you met any of the other
authors before?

The year before Motiv8, I was part of a "Fantasy Four" tour (Val's comment: a clip from the tour is below) of the east coast with Wayne, Christopher, and Bryan. I'd met Bryan at Mt. Hermon writer's conference years earlier, and got to know Wayne and Christopher via email and phone. We all gathered at ICRS in Atlanta, wielded our swords, and began traveling.

For Motiv8, I'd already known Donita from writer's conferences, and had met L.B. And Eric at ICRS. And of course, we all did a lot of communicating (oh, those goofy email threads!) during the year before Motiv8.

What were some of the benefits of working together with other Christian fantasy authors?

It's so much more encouraging to share events--Each of the Motiv8 authors was so generous. Over and over, I saw authors telling readers about the books of the other writers.

Q: What's next on the horizon for you and for your readers?

I've been doing interviews to support the release of my latest book, Stepping Into Sunlight, and taking a bit of a sabbatical as I seek God about the next step. I have a few things in the works, but I'm not sure where He'll lead me next. Since I love "to do" lists and being organized, and having five-year plans, etc., uncertainty is an uncomfortable place for me. And of course, uncomfortable places are where God can do a lot of work in us. So I'm praying I can stay out of His way and let Him do His work, and that I can be joyfully obedient for whatever He asks me to do or NOT do.

Thank you, Sharon!

If you want to know more about Sharon and her books, visit her website at www.sharonhinck.com for interviews with Sharon, music from the Sword of Lyric books, writer's resources and more.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Secret lives

Authors, as a rule these days, don't seem to be expected to maintain any sort of privacy about their lives. (Unless you're earning enough money to buy a moat and a fleet of lawyers, that is.) Writers are encouraged to build a "readership" often even before they publish a book. So they Twitter and have MySpace and Facebook pages and Yahoo groups and blogs and all sorts of things.

And I understand the logic behind it (really, I do) but there are still elements of that kind of constant contact that I am not comfortable with. It's probably partly a personality thing but it's also a priority thing. We all know how easy it is to waste time online, often to the detriment of our work. I once heard agent Wendy Lawton refer to the "Everything-but Writer," the person that knows all the marketing & networking tips and tricks but never actually gets around to writing. It can be a tough balance to achieve.

I mentioned in my last post that we'd read some Beatrix Potter as part of Read Across America Day. And it made me a little curious about her writing and her life in general. So I did a little hunting. (See, time online when I should have been writing.)

What a fascinating woman! Did you know she was a respected mycologist? She was fascinated by fungi, and even had a paper presented at the Linnean Society (by an uncle, mind you, since women were not allowed at that time). She became an expert sheep breeder, specializing in Herdwick sheep. She was also an active conservationist, buying property in the Lake District and later donating it to the National Trust. She kept a journal in a code that wasn't cracked until 20 years after she died. (I suspect because her parents seemed to so actively discouraged her scientific and romantic ambitions.) In short, she was smart, talented, imaginative, independent and remarkably accomplished for a woman of her times.

What did all this lead me to believe?

If Beatrix Potter had a JacketFlap account, I might have asked to become her friend.

All images from the public domain.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Stack

No, no, not "The Shack,"
The Stack

With yesterday being Read Across America Day, I decided to spend a few guilt-free hours just reading. The challenge was choosing what to read.

I heard once that what you read tells a story about you. It was in one of those "random kinds of questions editors or agents might ask" sessions and this one caught my attention.

"So, what are you reading right now?"

Whew. Well, I actually keep three stacks of books at my bedside. The ones I'm actually reading, the ones that I've just finished reading (or want to read parts of again), and the "I plan to read these real soon" titles.

But for better or for worse, here's my stack:

Actually reading:

*My Bible (on an aside, I read a review for a very interesting new book called Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible By David Plotz - I LOVE the concept because, trust me, it's all there! Romance, intrigue, mystery, law, humor, espionage, natural disasters, alternate lifestyles, dieting...the works!)
*Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett
*In the Teeth of the Evidence and Other Mysteries by Dorothy Sayers
*Much Ado About Murder edited by Anne Perry

The ones that I've just finished reading (or want to read parts of again):

*The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie
*Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
*Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh
*Starsky & Hutch #7 adapted from TV by Max Franklin (although in fairness, my husband put this on my stack. Not sure I remember why but I think it had to do with the clothes they wore or something)
*God is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg (have to admit, I like Ortberg's writing but I bought this one for the cover)
* 4 back issues of Reader's Digest (which I should file because I don't expect to read them any time soon)
*8 issues of Focus on the Family magazine (see filing comment above - I've read a few articles but it may be awhile for the rest)
*and a Wild Card - The Look: Does God Really Care What I Wear? by Nancy Leigh Demoss (seriously, I have no idea how this got there and have never even heard of it before. Obviously it's not in the right stack.)

Hmmm. I think some of these titles are overflow from the next stack,

"I plan to read these real soon":

*The Octopus's Garden: The Secret World Under the Sea by Dr. Mark Norman
*The King of Torts by John Grisham
*SSN by Tom Clancy
*The Saracen Blade by Frank Yerby (may not get far in this one but we'll see)
*Monster by Frank Peretti
*Crazy Facts About Spiders (Scholastic edition)
*Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx
*Chazown by Craig Groeschel
*The Search for Significance by Robert McGee
*Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schultz
*a special abridged edition of The Spiderwick Chronicles: Great Escape that came in a cereal box

That's my personal stack. On the professional stack, well, it's more of a library sort of stack. But I hear books also have insulation value so I know that when I sit down to read in my studio, I'll have a nice warm place to do it. And the really good ones I'll let you know about so you can read them too.

For yesterday, I chose to finish Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. Next time it might be At the Altar by L.M. Montgomery. And we browsed some of A Treasury of Bunny Stories by Beatrix Potter.

What's in your stack?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Read Across America Day

Today is Read Across America Day and students everywhere are getting to focus on reading. This year's theme from the NEA is a particularly Suess-y one and I know in my neighborhood, striped hats, slippers, teddy bears and students clutching pillows are headed for the buses on their way to a giant pajama party for Read Across America.

Looking for resources for your day?

A great place to start (of course) is the National Education Association. They have all kinds of resources including certificates, lesson plans, bookmarks and more. And this year with their Seuss theme, they have also partnered with kidthing to provide four classic Suess titles as free digital downloads for your classroom through the month of March. Also available this month is a free digital copy of Dear Mr. President.

Of course, we all know that not every child will be excited about a day of reading. If your child or student is a reluctant reader, can I recommend some personal favorites that might spark their reading interest? Some of my favorites can be found on my website or on my Jacketflap profile. Another great resource, too, is Just One More Book, a site that provides reviews and author interviews to help you find just the right book to interest your readers.

If the challenge is a print or learning disability, you might also want to check out Bookshare, an online digital library that provides free access to over 43,000 books for students with qualifying disabilities, plus some supporting reading technology helps.

Now go find that great book and enjoy Read Across America!