Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Goals, Resources, and Writing Deadlines by Diana Flegal

The New Year is just around the corner. I feel it bearing down, asking me questions, challenging the way I have functioned this past year, thinking I can do better this next one. It is awful to be accompanied by such a chatty specter.  After all, it can not possibly know all of my excuses, I mean reasons I did what I did – the way I did it in 2015.

But I am reexamining things, clearing out my inbox, and catching up on the reading of client proposals and filed away submissions. Pushy bugger.

This past week I was prompted to buy a book (at retail) titled, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. I think it will be useful as I encourage writers this next year at conferences, and through blogs like this, as well as when I need to provide a ‘pep-talk’ to a discouraged client. I also plan to buy Donald Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel. It was recently recommended to me by a well published author and a screenwriter. Though it was published in 2004, I am going to check it out since I highly respect these two individuals.  

I am also finalizing workshop topics and outlines for this year’s writing conference season. So far I will be attending:

February 19-21st Writers Bootcamp/ AshevilleChristian Writers Conference, at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina  

May 22-26th Blue Ridge Mountain Christian WritersConference (BRMCWC) held at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, near Asheville, North Carolina

August 3 – 6th The Greater Philly ChristianWriters Conference (GPCWC) held at Cairn University, Langhorne, PA

How do you plan to switch it up this next year, improve your writing, or schedule some serious training?

No matter how slow you go, you're still lapping everyone sitting on the couch. J

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Year-End Tasks by Andy Scheer

There’s still time to get ready.

Typically this is a quiet week in publishing. Many companies are closed or operate with only a skeleton staff. So those of us who work from our homes have a prime opportunity to prepare to begin the new year with a clean slate.

Some of my tasks are perennials. Since Boxing Day I’ve been reviewing my year-end checklist:
__ Update spreadsheet of writing income and expenses
__ Order tax preparation software.
__ Prepare new set of project file folders
__ Sort stacks of old paperwork: file or recycle
__ Back up computer documents
__ Scan computer files

I recently had an idea for a new multi-part session to teach at writers conferences. The next day or two I plan to expand some scribbled notes into descriptions to send to conference directors.

I also need to explore some new technology. On Christmas I received a feature-packed tablet to replace my deceased e-book reader. I need to read the instructions or ask some experts in my family. Likely both.

Then there are all those stacks of mass paperbacks I bought at garage sales. If we’re to have a functioning guest bedroom, I need to place them into boxes. (Even with a new e-reader, I still love old paperbacks. Especially at three for a dollar.) I plan to sort them by sub-genres and keep separate boxes for Robert Parker and Patricia Wentworth.

It’s good to start a year with at least some semblance of organization.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Diana Flegal

I recently completed reading The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It provoked in me a strong emotional response. It wrecked me. I went back to the story – reread the ending, then the opening. Set it aside, then picked it back up.  I Googled: Is The Life of Pi fiction or nonfiction?

Apparently I am not the only one to ask the question. Several sites discuss this, Goodreads included.

The author hooks the reader with an ‘authors note’. Fiction presented as truth. Martel has been quoted as stating: ‘Anything is believable if you give it the guise of reality’. After reading the fantastical tale, I couldn’t say convincingly it was a work of fiction. Though I reasoned it was, my heart was convinced otherwise.

Friends and I went opening night to see the new Star Wars movie. We saw it in 3D. Highly enjoyable entertainment, though far easier to distinguish as fiction. While I was emotionally impacted, it did not affect me the same as The Life of Pi.

The awakening of The Force happened in a galaxy far, far away. I don’t hang with Wookie’s, or own a hover craft. Pi’s adventure began in a country I can locate on a map. I know people who have visited there. I am familiar with life on the ocean, and know what life aboard a ship is like. I could identify the animals mentioned in the story.  

Four days later I still feel sorrow and outrage when I think of the things Pi suffered. Yet it was fiction. Masterfully written fiction. Word pictures so vivid, I tasted salt and grew thirsty.

Writer, strive for that kind of mastery. Practice, rewrite, read, then write some more. Don’t be in a hurry to be published. Learn the craft. Hone your skills.   




Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Styles Change by Andy Scheer

But the essentials of storytelling are timeless.

The past few weeks I’ve been watching on DVD the final season of the original TV series Hawaii Five-O. While the series began airing in 1968, the shows I’ve been watching date from 1979-80.

They look like it. The cars, the clothing, the hairstyles, the technology all make what was once a contemporary program now seem historical. Even the length of the scenes, the amount of establishing material at the beginning of a shot, and the transition between scenes belies a more relaxed style of storytelling.

Despite that, the programs still work. They display a consistent, unified style. Most important, they make good use of the timeless elements of storytelling.

No matter that the people wore polyester, the cars were huge, and so was the women’s hair, the essentials of characters in conflict remain the same. The important characters still need to be three-dimensional, but with the unexpected aspects of their personality being revealed a little at a time, through their actions. The conflict still has to make sense, not feel forced or like something inserted to advance an agenda.

Dialogue remains an essential element, best delivered a few words at a time, without lapsing into speeches or needlessly inserting the name of the person being spoken to
and especially not dropping in chunks of information the other character would already know.

Bad guys remain the most interesting when they’re not merely there to be bad and to serve as a foil for the good guys.

Peripheral characters are still the most effective when they also provide a hint of personality.

If there’s a mystery, readers continue to try to solve the puzzle. They still need enough clues and distractions to keep them guessing. And the answer still needs to be plausible.

The setting still has the opportunity to play a key element in the story, especially when it’s a place with exotic flavor or the author can include enough details to make an outsider feel like a native.

And there’s still an appreciation when a familiar character gets to say a line the audience has come to anticipate, even if in season twelve, it’s become “Book ’em, Kimo, murder one.”

Monday, December 21, 2015

Gifts, Songs, Cards, and Joy! By Linda S. Glaz

Christmas is so full of joy and tradition. It’s not just gifts, songs, cards, and special music, it’s because we celebrate the birth of Christ. 

And we celebrate the love of family. With families separated by miles many times, it is at Christmas that we make that effort to be together, to break the constraints of distance for the sake of tradition and warmth found only around the family hearth.

Oftentimes, family means close friends rather than biological relationships, but they are family nonetheless.

Often the miles make returning home impossible, but our hearts manage to find their way through memories and tears, laughter, and old photographs. Still, we make the trip home one way or the other.
What are you doing this year to make room in your heart for family?

Blessings to everyone for a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

"Face to Face with Jesus" Book Review by Jim Hart

Face to Face with Jesus is far more than a former Muslim’s experience of seeing Jesus in Heaven. Samaa Habib was a victim of a bombing while she was attending a Christian church service and tells of meeting Jesus face to face in Heaven. Her actual accounts of seeing Jesus are minimal parts of the book, covered briefly in portions of just a couple of chapters. There is greater length given to the details of her recovery after the bombing, and God’s faithfulness to her.

Before this though, she tells of seeing a vision of Jesus on the cross crucified, and of hearing God speak to her. But even these accounts take just a few pages to cover. The Epilogue recounts four specific dreams that she had during, and after, a 40 day fast.

The greater focus of Face to Face with Jesus is Samaa’s story of how she, a teen aged Muslim girl, came to faith in Jesus Christ. A gift of a children’s Bible was instrumental in revealing Jesus as the God who loved her. She tells of attending a Taekwondo class that was used by missionaries as a way to share the Good News.

Samaa shares stories of her life growing up in a Muslim country that was torn by civil war. She recounts numerous times the atrocities performed by Muslim men toward Muslim woman. She tells how Christians are often violently persecuted as the infidels, often at the hands of their own family.

One theme of Face to Face with Jesus that made a strong impression on me was that of Samaa’s growing habit of fasting and praying as a way to come closer to the Lord, and for the strength to endure persecution. She repeatedly tells of the joy she finds at the revelation that the One True God loves her with an everlasting love. This was counter to all that she had been taught as a Muslim. Much Scripture is used throughout the book as a way to confirm what the Lord was showing and teaching her.

By the end of the book many member of her family had become Christians and Samaa entered Bible School and became actively involved in evangelism and missions.

The reports of great numbers of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ are more than encouraging. It should be a cause for great rejoicing because it demonstrates that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. We can celebrate the lengths to which Jesus will go to make Himself known.

There are growing stories of Muslims, Buddhists, and others who say that Jesus has come to them in visions and dreams. However, there are those who are skeptical of these stories. It's hard to dismiss such a large number of these stories. Especially when considering the personal risk that is involved in a Muslim publicly declaring their faith in Jesus Christ. We need to examine the fruit that is born by these experiences. In Samaa Habib’s case that fruit is clear and has been used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven.

Face to Face with Jesus is a quick read with deep takeaways for the reader. It's a close look at what Jesus is doing in the lives of former Muslims. It shows the high cost of following Jesus in predominantly Muslim nations.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tech Overload or Great Science by Diana Flegal

InBound, The blog!  recently shared a Bold Talk by Amber Case titled: Designing Calm Technology. Calm technology describes a state of technological maturity where a user’s primary task is not computing, but being human. 

Calm Technology sounds great to me right now.
The last couple of weeks have been a media marketing frenzy as authors and publishers promote new book releases, and attempt to breathe new life into titles that released earlier in the year, knowing this is a time when people buy gifts for one another. No pressure there! (She says sarcastically.)   
Frankly I am looking forward to unplugging next week and the week after.
I’d like to schedule my tweets and FaceBook posts, but I have never set up a Hoot suite account or subscribed to any other service.
If you are like me, and are now ready to schedule a break from your social media posts, offers a list here of: 11 Free Services for Scheduling SocialMedia Posts    
Could be I will suffer withdrawals, but instead I will most likely enjoy the extra free time. I plan to catch up on my reading stack and squeeze in some real face time with friends.
What service do you use to schedule your social media posts? Why would you recommend it? Do you enjoy the free-time scheduling offers you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sometimes You Hit the Wall by Andy Scheer

And sometimes the wall hits you.

It just happened to me. I’m a few weeks from the end of a tedious project, editing multiple short pieces. No sooner do I solve one part, than a new challenge arises. It’s been a grind.

Mid afternoon I ground to a halt. The paragraph refused to make sense.

Realizing I’d reached my limits, I saved the file and left the table.

I took a short walk. Visited the restroom. Filled my coffee mug and ate a chocolate bar. Said a short prayer.

Only then did I return to the paragraph that had stumped me.

It opted to surrender. The rest of the piece followed its example, as did the others I edited the rest of the afternoon.

But tomorrow may be a different story. So this evening I gave myself a break. I watched a quirky TV show, plunged deep into a novel I was reading, and turned up the volume for some choice music.

Tomorrow for breakfast I’ll pour a big bowl of Wheat Chex and drink some prime Colombian coffee. I’ll wear one of my favorite shirts and pack a pastrami sandwich for lunch.

The project may still do its best to stop me. It may even succeed.

But sometimes realizing my limitations is what I need most.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Get Back Up and Fight! By Linda S. Glaz

I was reminded recently how I seem to be a “disaster” magnet in the month of December. I’ve had a lot of disappointments and family disasters in my life, almost always happening near Christmas.

There was a time when I thought it would be wonderful to land a publishing contract as a Christmas gift. I’ve heard clients say the same. But more often than not, disappointment shadows that type of thinking. If only my birthday brought a contract, if only I got a St. Patty’s Day offer. And on and on.

And while the nos aren’t exactly the disasters I was talking about, they still hurt. They continue to leave us waiting and wanting.

In fact, the disappointments smack us down, knocking the wind out of us.

Artists such as actors, musicians, writers, and the like all seem to need the validation that comes with success. So we are always looking for the next “Good for you. Job well done.” And as often happens, we don’t get it each time.

December or January through November, we all ache for moment that we think will define us. And we don’t necessarily get it.

What’s a person to do?

Get back up and fight! Never say die. Never quit.

Here I am, the December disaster magnet. Bad news always seems to happen this month in my family. But Christmas is my favorite time of year. Each year I rally around. Expect it to be better than the year before. I get smacked again! But I don’t stay down. I love Christmas, the whole month of December. It is filled with snow, pure and white. Homemade fudge, yummy and made with love. Presents…that I LOVE to buy and give. Ahh, yes. December is awesome.

Are you the same? Do you get smacked around but stay on course? Because the victor is he or she who gets back up, brushes off the muck, and forges ahead.

Which are you? Victor or failure.