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THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 2

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 2

ProofReadingSecrets

The Valley of Elah or The little things that make Proofreading Secrets of  Best-Selling Authors valuable to writers 

by Kay DiBianca

I bent down to pick up the little stone. It was round and flat and smooth in my hand. Such a small thing, hardly important among the thousands of similar stones that lay in the dry creek bed.

I stood and our guide led my husband and me through the valley where gentle hills shielded us on either side. Alone in that idyllic place, we were captivated by the peace, the shalom, of our surroundings, and I found it hard to believe we were standing on the site of one of the most famous battles in history, the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath.

We’re all familiar with the story: “Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:40

I’m not sure I appreciated the magnitude of David’s task until I picked up that stone and realized how small it was. And yet one of those stones, slung more than three thousand years ago, saved the young nation of Israel and changed the world.

The lesson is clear: little things can make a big difference.

***

When I sent my manuscript of The Watch on the Fencepost to my newly acquired editor, I was pretty confident I had found all the obvious errors. But when she sent the corrected copy back to me, there was so much red ink I thought I should offer to buy her a new printer cartridge! The errors were small, but they added up to a manuscript that looked amateurish.

Since my editor was Kathy Ide, I figured it might be wise to pick up a copy of her book, Proofreading Secrets of Best-selling Authors and skip the embarrassment of sending her an updated document with a bunch of errors again.

Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors is a concise reference guide to issues of punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling (which she calls “PUGS”), using The Chicago Manual of Style as its basis. It explains, for example, when to use “blond” vs. “blonde.” And when to spell out a number instead of using a numeral. And when you should use an apostrophe and an s or just an apostrophe when forming a possessive. These may be small things, but a knowledgeable reader may toss your book aside if she sees too many of these errors.

Like those little stones we found in the Valley of Elah, Kathy’s book provides lots of ammunition to help writers conquer the “PUGS” giant. Little things really do make a big difference.

***

kathyideI am delighted to welcome Kathy Ide as the guest for my second article on the craft of writing. Along with her numerous activities in writing, editing, and mentoring, Kathy serves as director of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference. She is also owner of the Christian Editor Network LLC, the parent company of four divisions for aspiring and established freelance editors and proofreaders. In addition to Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, Kathy has written the Capitalization Dictionary. She is also the compiler and editor of a four-book series of Fiction Lovers Devotional books, including 21 Days of Grace, 21 Days of Love, 21 Days of Joy, and 21 Days of Christmas.

 

Welcome, Kathy, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay!

What made you want to become an author?

I’ve been an avid book lover since I was a little girl—reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. In my thirties, a friend from church asked me to help her prepare for a writers’ conference she was directing, then invited me to attend. I went mainly to meet people whose names were on the covers of books I had at home—celebrities in my eyes! At that conference, I discovered that authors are “real people” and that most write in their spare time. I decided to give it a try. I scooped up one of everything on the freebie table, including sample magazines and writers’ guidelines. I wrote an article for a magazine I’d never heard of. When they sent me a check for $100, I was hooked!

Why did you decide to write Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors?

After I’d been writing for a few years, I started doing some proofreading book manuscripts for Moody Publishers. If I thought a word was misspelled or a punctuation mark was wrong, I had to write the dictionary page number or the Chicago Manual of Style rule in the margin to prove it. When I realized I was looking up the same words and rules over and over, I began a “cheat sheet.” Over time, it grew long enough that I put it in a three-ring folder. When my fellow authors, editors, and proofreaders saw it, they wanted it a copy. And they asked me to add other issues they struggled with. I eventually self-published it as Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling. That caught on, and I kept adding more sections that my colleagues requested. When I was offered a contract with a traditional publisher, they wanted to change the title—so people wouldn’t think the book was about dog grooming! When a colleague came up with Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, I loved it. So I gathered tips from the authors I’d met through years of writers’ conferences to add to the book.

How do you manage to juggle a busy schedule of writing, editing, mentoring and all your other responsibilities?

Good question! It truly is a “one day at a time” thing. I start each morning asking God what He wants me to do that day. And I seek His direction throughout the day as well. At the end of the day, I choose to trust that whatever I didn’t manage to accomplish must not have been what God wanted me to get done that day.

In addition to daily guidance, I regularly ask God if there’s anything I’m doing that I need to either stop doing, find someone else to do, or get more help with. When I feel stretched too thin, unable to accomplish well all the things God has called me to do, I consider my priority list. What items on that list are things that only I can do—being a good wife to my husband, a good mom to my boys (even though they’re adults now), a good godmother to my sweet little girl? Which things can I get more help with (even if I already have an excellent team working with me)? Are there things that God called me to do at one time that He wants someone else to take over now?

What one piece of advice would you give to new authors?

View what God has called you to write as a calling—every bit as important as if He had called you to be a pastor or serve on the mission field. He knows who He wants to reach with what He’s put a passion in your heart to write. And He knows the exact moment when that person is going to need to read it. So pursue this vital calling by learning the craft of writing, polishing your work through critique partners and professional editors, make connections with fellow writers and other industry professionals at writers’ conferences. When “life happens” and you get distracted from your writing goals, or when you get rejected by the agent or publisher you were sure was the right choice for you, don’t get discouraged. God knows about the circuitous journey from idea to publication. Trust His timing. And don’t give up.

Do you have any books coming out soon?

In 2020, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas will be releasing the long-awaited sequel to Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. I’ve combined the information in the flyers I give to my editing clients with tips from multi-published writers I know to create Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

Most of my favorite craft books are about writing fiction—not just because that’s what I enjoy reading most, but because nonfiction books can be so much better if they include anecdotes that use fiction-writing techniques. And narrative nonfiction (especially memoirs) can truly come to life when written with these techniques.

I’ve most enjoyed Story by Robert McKee, The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas, Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins, and Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

What do you do when you want to get away from all your responsibilities in the publishing world?

Vacation with my husband! Rick is exceptionally patient, understanding, and supportive with my crazy schedule. So I make a point of spending focused time with him when I can. A few years ago, we bought an RV and jet skis (used, but new to us!). One of our favorite vacations involves getting together with family members and renting a houseboat for a week on Lake Powell. Rick and I are out on the jet skis all day, exploring the many coves and inlets of the lake with their massive rock walls so similar to the Grand Canyon, then spend relaxing evenings chatting with the rest of the group, hearing how they enjoyed the motorboat, kayak, or traveling slowly down the lake and enjoying the scenery.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My website, http://kathyide.com/

Mount Hermon writers conference, https://writers.mounthermon.org/

SoCal writers conference, https://socalcwc.com/

Christian Editor Network LLC, https://christianeditornetwork.com/

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you, Kay!

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 1

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 1

PlotAndStructureFlying Blind or How I found Plot & Structure by Kay DiBianca

I was learning to fly! In the initial stages of earning my private pilot’s license, I had mastered the basics of flight, all flown with an instructor under visual flight rules (VFR), which means I only flew in good weather where I could see the ground and the horizon. Although I had learned how to read the various gauges on the instrument panel, my flying skills depended on what I could see outside the cockpit. This is known as “flying by the seat of your pants.”

While my instructor and I were out for a training session one afternoon, he suggested I get a little practice in instrument conditions. I knew I would eventually want to master instrument flying, so I happily agreed to his suggestion to ascend into a cloud bank that was a couple of thousand feet above us. He contacted Air Traffic Control and got us cleared into that airspace, and I started the climb.

As we approached the base of the clouds, little gray tendrils of cloud stuff began to glide by the windscreen. That was no big deal – I could still see the ground clearly. But then suddenly, in the time it would take to say, “Houston, we have a problem,” there was no ground, no sky, and no horizon.  We were in the clouds, enveloped in a gray mass of a swirling cotton candy-like substance, and all the visual reference points I relied on were gone.

I can still recall the feeling of a knot in my stomach when I realized I didn’t have the skill to fly the plane in those conditions. I wanted to drop down out of those clouds and get back to the comfortable world of VFR. But my instructor wasn’t buying it. “Looking out the window isn’t going to help you, Kay,” he said. “You know how to read the instruments. Use them to fly the plane.” All the information I needed was right in front of me: the altimeter, the attitude indicator, the heading indicator, the airspeed indicator, the turn coordinator, and the vertical speed indicator. Refocusing my attention wasn’t easy, but when I concentrated on flying by the instruments, I learned to control the aircraft in that murky world of water vapor. A half hour later, we ascended out of the clouds into clear blue sky, wings level, and safe.

I learned a lot that day – and not just about flying.

When I sat down to write a novel, I was having a great time. Maybe we could call it a “writing by the seat of your pants” experience. The story flowed out of me. Characters materialized, scenes developed, and every day was a new writing adventure. But after I finished a rough first draft, I realized I had a story, but not a novel, and I doubted I had the “talent” to make that happen. I needed the equivalent of instrument training to instruct me on the tools to craft my first effort and make it interesting to readers. Fortunately for me, an editor suggested Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.

When I read the Introduction in the book, I knew I had come to the right place. James Scott Bell dismisses the “lie” that you have to have a special talent to write well. In the first two pages, he convinced me that writing was a craft that could be learned by hard work and discipline. My journey was just beginning, and I had found the right guide.

Plot & Structure is a field manual for excellent writing. Mr. Bell outlines a list of essential elements to learn how to plot. The book covers fundamentals of structure, character development, dialogue, and scene selection. And that’s just in Chapter One! The rest of the book adds meat to the bones, along with writing exercises, tips and tools, and cures for common plotting problems.

I was able to identify the type of plot I was shooting for (a quest) and move elements of the story around to fit a logical flow. When I finished the next version, I still had a lot of work to do, but there was a structure to hang the story on. I had found the instruments to write with.

If you’re interested in improving your writing in order to craft a dynamite story, take a look at Plot & Structure and see what it can do for you.

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JSB Author Photo 2015I am thrilled to welcome James Scott Bell as my special guest to this first blog post on the craft of writing. Mr. Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer.

 

Welcome James Scott Bell and thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me!

You were trained as an attorney, right? Why did you decide to switch careers and become an author?

I always wanted to be a writer. I didn’t really think about becoming a lawyer until I was about to get married. By that time I’d been convinced by others that you couldn’t learn to write fiction. So I went to law school and started in the profession. It wasn’t until about ten years later, when the desire to write hit me again, that I decided I would try to prove them all wrong, to see if I could learn this craft. When I discovered I could, I kept at it and eventually got published. I kept practicing law, though, for a long time, until eventually the writing overtook it. It was more a steady transition than a “switch.”

Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?

That’s always a hard one for an author. Among the craft books I’d say Write Your Novel From the Middle, because it’s an angle no one had come up with before, that I found on my own and which proved helpful in my own writing. To see that it has helped so many other writers in the same way is extremely gratifying.

Among my thrillers, Try Dying was particularly satisfying to write, and turned out to be the start of a trilogy that has, in Book 2 (Try Darkness) my favorite opening line: The nun hit me in the mouth and said get out of my house. And in Book 3 (Try Fear) is the most perfect ending I’ve ever written. Many people have asked me if I’d write another in this series, and I’m always saying no because I don’t want to mess with that ending.

Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Why?

Glimpses of Paradise, because it was the longest novel I’ve written and involved a ton of historical research. But the end result was extremely satisfying.

When did you start writing books about the craft of writing?

I started to write articles for Writer’s Digest and teach workshops on the craft. Since I’d learned taught myself to write commercial fiction, I was excited to teach others how to do it. I was approached by Writer’s Digest Books to see if I’d be interested in writing a book on plotting for a new series they were doing called Write Great Fiction. That was right in my wheelhouse. It came out in 2004 and is still in print. That led to other books for WD, and then several books I’ve done on my own tightly focused on important topics, like dialogue and voice.

 What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

It’s the same answer every time: write to a quota. Get in the habit of writing a certain number of words every week, week in and week out. You have to practice what you learn in craft books and classes. You have to exercise your imagination. You have to produce the pages if you want to make it in this game.

Figure out how many words you can comfortably produce in a normal week. Then up that by 10% and shoot for that weekly goal. Break it down into days and write each day if you can. I write six days a week and take Sunday off for recharging. My average has been 6,000 words a week for nearly twenty years. Not every word has been published, of course, but no words have been wasted. It all goes toward learning the craft.

I understand you have a course about fiction writing through the Great Courses curriculum. Can you tell us about it?

The Great Courses is a fantastic company. It started by recording some of the best college professors, serving the market for continuing education. They’ve expanded into all sorts of subjects since. Top quality and production values. I was honored to be invited to be their professor for a course on writing bestselling fiction. It’s a a 24-lecture series, available on DVD or streaming.

Do you have any new books coming out soon?

I’m always at work, so it’s always “soon.” I’ve got three books in the works—fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. Not sure of the release dates yet, except to say, like Orson Welles in those old wine commercials, we will sell no book before its time. For those who want to keep up with what I’m doing—and get a free novella besides—they can go to: 

 

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read philosophy and theology and the occasional novel. Watch film noir. Do L.A. things with my wife. 

Who was the most influential person in your writing career?

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Bruce, thought I had talent, and expanded my world. I kept in touch with her until her death at age 90. She got to see me become a published writer.

Other than your own books, what one book about the craft of writing would you recommend?

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

www.jamesscottbell.com

Thank you for sharing your expertise with us on this blog post today!

BRING ME WHAT YOU DO HAVE by Lori Altebaumer

I’m so pleased to present this article from my new friend, Lori Altebaumer. Enjoy Lori’s insight on the challenges and triumphs of the writing journey.

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LoriAltebaumer

 

To say I enjoy traveling would be a very misleading statement. I do sometimes enjoy the actual journey, but not always. What I enjoy is seeing new places. The traveling to get there is often more an ordeal I’m willing to endure as a necessary evil in order to get there.

I get car sick on winding roads, cantankerous at airport delays, and I’m scared of heights. But in the end, these are usually small prices to pay in order to experience things such as walking on the Via Sacra in Rome or viewing Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps.

If I want to experience something monumental—perhaps even have a mountain top moment—I know there is a price I must pay to get there. Whether it is eating airport food for three straight days or agonizing over another rejection letter for my manuscript, there will be parts of the journey that I simply won’t enjoy. I long for the mountain top moment, but I must pay the price to get there.

But what about the parts that I tell myself I can’t do because I don’t have the skill, knowledge, talent, or time?

The Israelites, on their journey out of Egypt and into the Promised Land—the land God gave them—let this kind of thinking keep them wandering in the desert for forty years.

In Numbers 13 we read the account of the spies who were sent into Canaan to scout out this land of milk and honey. They returned reporting it was everything they had been told it would be.

Yes, the land is beautiful and bountiful—but the people are giants, but the cities are fortified, but they look at us like we are grasshoppers.

Of those sent to spy, all but Joshua and Caleb, focused on the reasons why taking possession of the land God promised them just wasn’t possible.

Instead of pressing on into the bountiful land God had called them to, they spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. And not just wandering, but going around the same mountain year after year, passing the exact same sights and landmarks. They may have been the first people to understand the saying ‘stuck in a rut.’

God could have swooped in and wiped out the enemies of the Israelites, but in his divine wisdom that’s not what he did.

I love writing, I love spending time with God creating and exploring thoughts and stories, choosing just the right telling of the words he gives me. I think of this love of writing—not necessarily the ability to write well, but the passion for writing and the delight it gives me as a gift from God—my Land of Milk and Honey.

But…I’m fifty-one years old and that’s kinda old to be starting this.

But I don’t have any formal training in writing or communication.

But I’m not as good as….. (so many names to choose from here!)

But they tell me I need to have a platform. I must market and use social media.

God could swoop in an remove these obstacles for me, but in his divine wisdom, that’s not what he has done.

Perhaps if the Israelites could have heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand their trip to the Promised Land might have ended differently. Matthew tells the account of Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand (see Matthew 14:16-18). When Jesus told his disciples to feed the people, the disciples focused on what they didn’t have. They didn’t have enough food for that many people. They also didn’t have anywhere they could go to get more, and probably not enough money to complete the transaction if they could have found a place to purchase food. Jesus told them to feed the people and they responded with a reason why they couldn’t.

But Jesus wasn’t limited by their lack. Not their lack of fish, funds, or faith. Instead, he told them to bring him what they did have. Five loaves of bread and two fish.

And he took it, multiplying it until it was more than enough.

In my writer’s journey, as in any journey, I can choose to tell God why I can’t or give him a list of all that I need but don’t have—as if he doesn’t already know.

Or I can bring him what I do have.

And then trust that if God doesn’t remove the obstacles in my path it may be because he plans to use them as stepping stones in my faith.

What challenges or obstacles do you wish God would remove from your path? How might God be using them as stepping stones in your relationship with him?

LAUNCH!

twotfLaunch3

Fifty years ago. I watched as the Apollo 11 spacecraft lifted off its launch pad on July 16, 1969. And like most of the people on earth, I watched the lunar module land on the moon a few days later.  Many of us will never forget the names of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the astronauts who flew that mission.

But the incredible achievement of putting a man on the moon extended far beyond the efforts of those three brave men. It took an enormous team effort of 400,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians to accomplish the moon landings.

I’ve thought about the meaning of the term “teamwork” a lot during this past week as we prepared for the “launch” of The Watch on the Fencepost on February 22, 2019. Although I’ve always considered the book the product of my own creativity, now I realize it really is the result of the work of many people who contributed to the story, the publication, and the marketing. I’d like to thank a few of them here.

My husband, Frank, read every version of the manuscript and gave many suggestions of ways to improve the plot and the writing. Other friends and family members read early versions and provided positive feedback and encouragement.

Professional editors Jennifer Pooley, Rachel Hills, and Kathy Ide led me through multiple revisions of the plot and writing. Other professionals in the literary world including Beth Lottig, Mel Hughes, and Barbara Curtis provided their constructive expertise and support.

I had the good fortune to be offered a contract with CrossLink Publishing. Rick Bates, the Managing Editor of CrossLink, gave me the guidance and assistance I needed at every step in the publishing process. David Welday supplied essential marketing know-how.

I requested and received endorsements from authors, editors, ministers, and executives. Their kind words about the book that appear on my website, on the back cover of the book, and on Amazon’s book page, have helped stimulate interest in the novel.

Frank and I have attended writers’ conferences where we’ve met novice writers and experienced authors, all of whom have been generous with their help and advice.

I’ve been invited to write guest articles on several blogs, giving me additional exposure to the reading community. I participated in a Facebook Party recently hosted by Tamera Lynn Kraft which introduced me to new friends who share an interest in good books.

The people in charge of events at several local venues have been hospitable in hosting book signings and talks. These include the Germantown Public Library, Novel Bookstore, Barnes & Noble stores, and the McWherter Senior Center. The Cherryhill Book Club is hosting a book signing and the McWherter Center Writing group has been very supportive in many ways.

Celebrate Lit will conduct a blog tour from March 2 – 15 so the book will be featured by twenty-seven different book reviewers on their blogs which reach thousands of readers.

A lot of folks signed up for my newsletter, and we had fun with a puzzle contest, so now I’m preparing for the next puzzle and looking for more ways to engage this great group.

Friends have bought books, come to book signings, commented on blogs, and helped out in a host of ways that I can never repay. And I’ve found a whole new group of friends in the writing community, where I continue to receive enormous encouragement and valuable information about the craft of writing.

All these people are part of the reason that The Watch on the Fencepost made it to the launch pad. And if you’re reading this blog post, you’re a part of it, too.

Now it’s time to BLAST OFF. So fasten your safety belts and join me in the cockpit. The trip has only just begun!

THANK YOU ALL!

THE JOURNEY

Have you ever noticed that your attitude at the beginning of a major project is different than it is at the end? Here’s a pictorial example from the San Diego Half-Marathon (13.1 miles) which I ran a few years ago:

San Diego Half Marathon 2016 Mile 3 300ppi

 

This picture was taken at about mile 3 on the perfectly beautiful San Diego course. You can see me smiling, enjoying the wonderful weather. Looks like I was having a really good time.

In the beginning, it’s fun.

 

 

 

San Diego Half Marathon 2016 Last Mile copy

 

Here’s a picture of me at the end of the race. Less than a mile to go. No more smile. I was very tired and my right hip was sore.  I just wanted to get over the finish line.

At the end, it’s all about getting it done.

 

 

 

 

As I look back at that race, I notice a remarkable similarity with other times of my life when I took on major projects.

When I started college, I was so excited to embark on the new adventure. But by the time I was a senior, I just wanted to finish so I could get on with the rest of my life. Happy to be done.

I’ve noticed the same behavior in software development teams. Whenever we started a project, everybody was rarin’ to go. Top of the mountain ebullience. But after months of slogging through the hard work of programming, resolving issues and facing unanticipated problems (we termed it “the valley of despair”), the team just wanted to get it done. Glad to have reached the finish line.

But here’s the surprise: the process of writing a novel has been very different for me. It’s not about a race or a project with a finish line. It’s all about the journey.

I started out to write my novel with lots of excitement and enthusiasm mixed with a little fear. I spent months typing away at the keyboard, coming up with the plot and shaping my characters and their challenges. I often fell asleep thinking about the story, and I even laughed out loud at some of the things my characters said. I finally got to the point where I thought I had a good story, so I sent out query letters. I got back rejections – imagine that!  Yes, it was disappointing, but thanks to all the information I had about novel-writing, I had expected it.

When I realized I needed help, I moved on to the next phase: looking for a professional editor to provide feedback and mentor me through the process. I was fortunate to have found Kathy Ide who has been my guide through the revision, rewriting, and book proposal steps. It took a long time and several iterations of rewriting and revising. I had to change the entire Point of View approach. As hard as that was, it was undeniable that the revision process made the story much better.

I spent many hours putting together book proposals and sending them to publishers who would accept a manuscript directly from an author. I didn’t know if any of them would be interested, and I was prepared for more rejection.

But then I received an offer to publish from a small publisher. Soon after, I got another one. In the end, I had several offers, and I chose Crosslink Publishers. Being a complete novice, I thought we could probably get everything done and release the book in a couple of months. That was about nine months ago. You would think waiting for such a long time would be frustrating, but it wasn’t. I had lots of work to do to prepare for the launch.

And all along the way, I had the great pleasure of meeting an abundance of interesting and talented people who share my passion for words and have become my friends.

The Watch on the Fencepost will be officially released on February 22, 2019. As I look back on these years, I savor the memories. I don’t feel like I’ve reached the finish line, but just the next milestone in this fascinating journey of novel writing. And like all fascinating journeys, I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.

Consider this snippet from “The Road to Ithaka” by C. P. Cavafy:

“Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
So you’re old by the time you reach the island,
Wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”

 

What surprises have you had in your writing journey?

What encouragement would you offer other writers?

 

MEMORIES

memories1I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, a city sometimes described as “a beautiful lady with a dirty face.” But I don’t identify Savannah as my hometown. That distinction belongs to my Uncle Fred’s farm a few miles up the road from Guyton, Georgia, where I spent most weekends of my youth.

My parents, my brother, and I would leave Savannah Friday afternoon after my father got home from work and drive the thirty miles or so to the farm. There we shared a large, brick house with a bunch of aunts, uncles, and cousins. All the children were young, and we were allowed to run wild outside all weekend, climbing trees, playing baseball, or watching the trains rattle by on the tracks just outside the fence.

My cousin Joan and I were the only girls among an abundance of boys, so the two of us  would occasionally be commanded to sit with the women and shell butter beans until our colanders were full and our thumbs were all mushy. Then we could escape to the more exciting world of pestering the guys and sharing our secrets with each other.

Our country surroundings boasted no majestic scenery like the American west. No urban sophistication like the big cities. There was certainly nothing that would recommend such a place to a tourist. But I can still feel the warmth of the Georgia earth beneath my bare feet as we ran races on dirt roads. And I recall arms tight around my waist as I sat sandwiched in between my cousin Billy and my cousin Joan, all of us astride Ol’ Dan, the gigantic gelding that yielded to our childhood antics and ignored our commands to “giddyup” as he plodded around the lake. And I remember bouncing up and down like a cork on the ocean as Uncle Fred drove his Cadillac across plowed fields with giggling, bobbling children in the back seat.

I have long since moved away from my childhood haunts, redefined by choice and chance. But Joan and I still talk on the phone and laugh at our youthful foolishness. And the memory of those days is warm in my heart. And I am so grateful.

  • What memories do you have that helped define you? Please share them here.

BOOK CLUBS by Vicki Fioranelli

I’m delighted that Vicki Fioranelli has agreed to write this blog post on book clubs. As the leader of our book club, Vicki is uniquely qualified to talk about the enrichment that comes from reading and discussing good books.

On a personal note, I want to thank the members of the Cherryhill Book Club for their support and encouragement as I walked through this very interesting time of writing and publishing a book.


 

BlogEdwinna

She walked into book club clutching the current book in her arm.  She wore warm ups because she had just finished a round of golf.  Her hair is white and at age 80 she still tap dances.  Right behind her strolls the newest, as well as the youngest member; a paralegal whose job allows her BlogAnnMariethe flexibility of attending book club at 1:30 on the third Friday of each month. The remaining 10 members of the neighborhood book club are jusBlogVickit as diverse and interesting.

Book clubs are in vogue and come in many shapes and sizes.  There are the wine groups, the intellectual groups, the children’s clubs, and a growing BlogLindaKennardnumber of all men clubs.  Our club happens the be held in a small gated community, Cherryhill.  Our members’ backgrounds hail from the deep south to the suburbs of Boston and places in between.  Liberals sit beside conservatives and we are comprised of Catholic, Protestants and Jewish faiths.  We boast of a published author among our group, as our BlogMaggieown Kay DiBianca recently released the mystery, The Watch on the Fencepost. Other careers include retired educators, a master gardener, an alumni director emeritus, a journalist, an artist, an ordained minister, a caterer, and more.BlogMarcia

Because we are a neighborhood club, we have the unique privilege of knowing everyone in our 44-family community; thus our format every month is a bit unique.  We begin with what we call “housekeeping” before BlogJanelaunching into the discussion of the book.  Housekeeping includes a short discussion on houses for sale, illnesses, and any important issues from the last home owners association meeting.  In other words, it might be construed as “gossip of Cherryhill”.

After simple refreshments, the discussion begins.The 7-year-old club was BlogLindaOrtonformed with 4 basic rules, though the rules are bent and exceptions have been made on occasion.

  1. It is preferred that the person recommending and discussing the book has actually read the book.
  2. Discussion questions are used to lead the session.
  3. No “one person” dominates the discussion.
  4. No judgments are made on others’ comments.

I dare say, in my opinion, we seek to broaden our appreciation of BlogSheryldiverse authors and types of literature.  In fact, if we find ourselves choosing too many of the same themes or genres, our hand is called and the subjects change.  As with all boBlogLindaSerinook clubs, members are stretched to read books they would not have ordinarily chosen. Some are even out of our comfort zone
.  BlogNyla

One of the most pleasurable aspects of any book club is viewing things from another’s point of view, stretching our minds, and respecting others even when we disagree.

In a time of society’s disconnection, in large part due to the obsession and BlogKaydependence on electronic devices, in my opinion, book clubs provide more opportunity for connectivity and interaction.  At Cherryhill, it’s even more: It provides a sense of community, growth, and caring.

 

Thank you, Cherryhill book club.

REFLECTIONS ON LIGHT (Part 2)

light2In REFLECTIONS ON LIGHT (Part 1), we looked at the story of the healing of the man born blind. Notice that the man’s sight wasn’t just restored since he never could see. He was given the gift of sight by Yeshua. At the end of the long miracle story, the man utters a memorable sentence: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

In this article, I’d like to tell you a story from my youth. My family lived on a nice street where there were seven or eight other houses on our block. Back in those days, neighbors knew each other pretty well, and they knew each others’ struggles and family issues.

There was a very nice family that lived on our block. Mother, father, and a couple of kids. I will call them Mr. and Mrs. X, though that obviously wasn’t their real name. We knew this family well. They were kind, hard-working, honest people. Salt of the earth.

However, there was a problem, and many people knew about it. The kind, quiet, hard-working Mr. X would occasionally have a drink of alcohol after work with his friends. Apparently, he was one of those people who couldn’t hold his alcohol because after taking a drink, he ceased being like kindly, intelligent Dr. Jekyll and changed to be more like you-know-who. It became known that he would be loud and belligerent with his family, though I was unaware of any physical abuse. Still, such behavior couldn’t have been good for his family, and I knew the children suffered.

I was a small child when I asked my mother why Mr. X yelled at his family. She told me that he was a good man, but he just didn’t realize the harm he was doing. She also told me I should pray that God would open his eyes to understand his problem. I did pray, and I learned that many other people also prayed for Mr. X.

After a time, things seemed to straighten themselves out in that family. I grew up and moved away, but once when I was visiting my parents, my mother related something special to me that she had learned about Mr. X.

It seems that during those troubled years, Mr. X went for a drive. It was a Sunday, and he was alone in his car when he heard a voice. It was the voice of a minister on the car radio. The minister was preaching a sermon about the evils of alcohol, and he said, “If you’re drinking alcohol, stop drinking because you’re hurting your family.”

If you’re drinking alcohol, stop drinking because you’re hurting your family.

Now I don’t know this for a fact, but perhaps Mr. X had been raised in a family where drinking and yelling were common, and maybe he was just following his own father’s example. But suddenly, in the course of that short automobile ride, Mr. X’s eyes were opened to the harm he had been doing to his wife and children.

You guessed it – he stopped drinking. Completely.

Think about it: One afternoon. One man driving in a car heard the voice of a preacher whom he didn’t know, and who certainly wouldn’t have known him. One sentence. And it changed that man’s life, his family’s lives, and who knows how many others.

How could that happen? Some minister sat in a recording studio and his words were turned into radio waves. (Did you know radio waves are a form of light?) Those radio waves floated unseen through the air onto Mr. X’s radio antenna, where they were reformatted into sound waves. And everything changed. An entire family had been saved.

Was that a miracle? I don’t know. All I know is that man was blind, and then he could see.

 

Words have power, and those of us who write have the ability to use that power to enlighten the world through our work. I pray God will richly bless us in the new year with the humility and wisdom to reflect His light.

How do you use your writing to enlighten others’ lives?

REFLECTIONS ON LIGHT (Part 1)

light

LIGHT: noun. something that makes things visible or affords illumination.

In this season of Chanukah and Christmas, we celebrate LIGHT. Jews remember the miraculous lighting of the menorah when one day’s oil lasted for eight days. Christians celebrate the birth of Yeshua (Jesus), the Light of the World.  Both refer to God’s power and glory manifested through light.

The first words we see about LIGHT are the first of God’s words recorded in scripture.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” — Genesis 1:3-4

Speaking of light, I have to mention my favorite miracle story. It’s from the book of John, chapter 9. It’s the story of the healing of the man born blind.

It’s a very long miracle story, full of disciples who missed the point, hypocrites who were only interested in stopping the Nazarene, and one man, born blind, who surely had no hope of ever receiving the gift of sight.

Yeshua explained to his disciples that the man was born blind not because of his sin or his parents’ sins, but so that God’s glory could be manifested through this man. Then Yeshua declared “I am the light of the world” and proceeded to heal the blind man.

The men who opposed Yeshua didn’t like this one little bit, so they tried to disparage the miracle by claiming this man wasn’t really blind to begin with. They even brought in the man’s parents and tried to intimidate them into saying he wasn’t their son. Finally, you can almost feel the tension as they tried to turn the healed man against Yeshua. “Don’t you know this man is a sinner?” they asked.

Then the man who was healed utters one of my favorite statements in all of scripture. He said, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Though I was blind, now I see.

“The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;” — Isaiah 9:2a

In many ways, we’re all born blind. As we learn and grow, we catch glimpses of the truth, as through a glass darkly, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think we understand all of God’s truth. We need God’s healing miracle in our lives just as the man born blind needed it. Without God to open our eyes, we’re likely to grope around in the darkness and fall into a ditch. It’s the wise person who knows that he relies on God for his understanding.

What can we as writers do to reflect God’s light through our work? How can we be helpers in spreading His truth to a dark world?

“Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.” – Psalm 119:105

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY CHANUKAH!

Holiday Traditions by Judy Karge

At this time of year when we are all considering our multitude of blessings, I’m honored to have Judy Karge, author of A Light in the Dark: Reflections on Proverbs, as my guest. Judy has written a delightful and innovative piece on the subject of holiday traditions.

Read and enjoy!

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JudyKarge2

It’s November: time for those wonderful lifelong family traditions…or not.

I know that holidays often revolve around religious traditions too, but this is a brief look at how my family adapted to a restructuring of our holiday celebrations.

I always marveled and envied the generational groups that attended the church we chose after our marriage and relocation away from where we grew up. These families filled entire sections of pews on holidays, and continued afterwards in celebrating traditions that had stood firm for years.

This was not unfamiliar to me. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin where the third week of November brought hunting season and the beginning of “the holidays.” Electric ranges ran non-stop for at least two days as the women in my mother’s family created a feast for one of the season’s major events: Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year. These ladies were exceptional…and competitive cooks.

My stand-out memory of the meals we hosted is piles of wet, white, embroidered flour-sack towels accumulating during the unending rounds of dish washing needed to get everyone fed.  That was merely the end. Preparations started a month earlier as we made cookies, fruitcakes, and sweet-breads. Nothing was store-bought except the fancy paper napkins. The house was cleaned, the silver-plated silverware polished, and we prewashed the rose-patterned china Mom had purchased one plate-at-a time from the Kresge Five and Dime.

I never imagined these traditions changing. But shortly after our wedding, my parents moved to a different city for a job opportunity, my husband’s parents moved to Florida, and my husband and I as well as our siblings moved far-afield as well. There were no “over the river and through the woods” trips to grandma’s house on the holidays as I had known. And even when we could manage to get together, we stayed at houses and in cities that were foreign to us. Our kids never got to sleep in our old bedrooms or experience what had been our childhood traditions.

We eventually settled into doing Thanks-Christmas across the state at my folks’; doing church and Sunday School Christmas activities and a pre-Christmas celebration at home, followed by driving south for a third Christmas in Florida. One year I brooded while decorating the house, telling my husband I was disheartened that with the rushing around and triple celebrations in different places, our children would have no real traditions to remember. His reply…maybe this was our tradition and we needed to embrace it.

From then on we looked for opportunities to make holidays memorable. Some years we got together with friends who also lacked nearby family. There was the Trinidadian Thanksgiving with exchange students our friends’ daughters brought along home from college. There was jerk turkey and a regular bird that year…and a sprained arm as I recall. We ditched the turkey another time in favor of Dutch chili. It was named thus because the woman who made it was Dutch. Her kids were such picky eaters that she made a basic chili and provided a buffet of fixings with kidney beans, onions, macaroni, cheese, sour cream…and hot sauce. This tradition continues anytime we make chili, to remember a friend who is no longer with us.

There were more traditional meals during years I received holiday turkeys from work. But at a summer get-together after the boys were married and grandchildren started coming, we spoke honestly. We all admitted to liking turkey leftovers, but not the whole bird. There was the further admission that we all loved getting together, but no one loved of the formality of traditional dinners—or the work involved. With our newfound honesty, we started having fun.

Our first venture away from a Norman Rockwell dinner scene was our “All Pie” Thanksgiving. Pie is the part of the meal we enjoy but never have room for. So we started with pie! The turkey pot pie and a canned-fried-onion crust beneath a green bean casserole were the most traditional. The spaghetti pie, shepherd’s pie, and some entries merely served in pie plates were fun and tasty. It was amazing!

A newer tradition that my husband and I initiated is to celebrate “near” the holiday. This has eased the stress on our sons’ families, allowing them to decide what they want to do. Sometimes they’ll go to their in-laws, and sometimes they celebrate quietly, creating their own traditions.  We may still do a traditional dinner when we gather, but it usually has a twist. Last year our 16-year-old grandson cooked a turkey dinner as a scout project. That was awesome. And since one of our family additions is of Cuban heritage, we’ve had a Cuban traditional meal with plantains, black beans, yucca and pork. Also amazing.

This year we’re doing an All Costco Thanksgiving with ready-to-go items from that superstore. I’m looking forward to it because it means shopping with my daughters-in-law. While enjoying that meal, we’ll come up with the Christmas menu. We’ve had a soup sampling; a sandwich sampling; a cheese board extravaganza, and even one very fancy meal where one daughter-in-law practiced recipes for an event she was hosting.  We love to eat, but we’ve simplified the process so our brief time together isn’t spent cooking and doing dishes, and no one is burdened with lengthy preparations. I always make one new thing when I host. There have been hits…and misses.  Last Christmas we honored our ethnicity, calling it “The Cubans and Reubens Christmas.” We had croquetas and Cuban sandwiches, and a corned beef and sauerkraut dip with rye bread. Since our granddaughter is Chinese, we added eggrolls and dumplings, along with mojitos and German beer.

Traditions can involve customs you can’t imagine not doing. But traditions may also evolve from the loss of what had always been done, or be revitalized when discussed honestly. Whether it’s a turkey, tofurkey, eggrolls, croquetas, all pies or Dutch chili on the table, the most important part is cherishing the time together.

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