Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Genres of Writing

At a dinner, not too long ago, I was asked about writing. I struggled to put into words my thoughts on the different forms of writing, but since then, of course, after some time to think about it, I’ve had some ideas:

Poetry . . . lyrics . . . they’re a thought, a movement, a feeling grasped. Poetry and songs tell a story of mood that captures the listener and causes them to feel the same feeling for a fleeting moment. It’s small but powerful, the way we influence others with our emotions through writing. I can listen to a song and feel like a party or a funeral or anything in between. I can want to give . . . or want to take what’s mine . . . want to worship . . . want to sacrifice . . . want to sing along or lie down and sob, all from a song.

Short stories are down and dirty. Characters are full-color from the moment they hit the page. There’s no time to mess around . . . only time to be messy and real. Their message is told in a few short scenes, every word counts. Literally. But there's a raw beauty to it. I find it thrilling when I've accomplished it.

Novels are a long, slow sweetness. We can take our time learning our characters and their stories. We can take our readers on a leisurely walk through the woods, discovering things we never knew ourselves. There’s room for error here, because there’s always the next chapter, the next time to make it right. Novel readers are so forgiving, so long-suffering in our efforts to tell a great story. Our greatest challenge is that climax, that final ending page. These are the characters that will live on in their minds for as long as they will live on in ours.

Screenwriting is all about action, dialog – the visual and the heard. Camera angles, color and motion, fill our minds as a story meshes out. Imagination isn’t needed so much as it’s lead. Lead into a labyrinth of thought and design. I’ve barely grasped this art. It’s hard. It requires tying my left hand behind my back and only using select senses. But in that, we can find another way. Like a blind man who has more attuned hearing, a better sense of touch, so has the screenwriter without exposition, twisting and turning with the medium of film.

Journalism. Sterile. Without right or wrong. Such a challenge of viewpoint. To write as if you have no voice. As if you have no background with all your morals and values and beliefs. Suspend all that and state the facts as your eyes and the eyes of the eyewitnesses see them. Let the readers decide. This must take discipline. Suspend poetry. Stop story. Allow the facts to simply speak for themselves. Wow. Did Jesus do this when He described heaven? So often it reads like he's just "stating the facts" and letting the truths He revealed blow our minds.

I’m sure there are more disciplines in the writing world. But these are the ones I’ve lately considered. My advice? Try them all. Write poems and songs and story, long and short. Write your day as if you had no emotion attached to it. And then, turn around and write that same day like a sit-com or a Hallmark Hall of Fame drama. Try them all. If you do, you’ll grow stronger and you will use each devise to better the others, to better yourself. Your readers will thank you.

And now, I think I’ll go back to this short story I’m working on. It’s about a forty-something man on the road . . . and (smiling) I know so little about him yet.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Photos From Nashville!
Nick loved being so high
up and riding in the elevator!

Julie and Mary-Beth at P.F. Chang's

Karen Ball and her friend Peggy -
Isn't this a great photo of them!

The B&H girls and me at our
"girl's night out" they were so
much fun and are wonderful

I got a gift basket!?! Yeah!

The LifeWay building and campus
was huge.

B&H Sales Conference in Nashville, Tennessee

“You’re on!” Mary-Beth, my author relations person, shout-whispered, running toward me as I walked out of the ladies room and down the hall of the Life Way building. I wasn’t supposed to speak until 9:30 AM but apparently they were running early. What luck! I didn’t even have time to get really nervous as they introduced me. Instead, I had to burst through the door, scoop up my notes and head toward the stage, hoping I wouldn’t trip in my high-heeled, platform sandals. As I headed toward the microphone and the podium, my knees beginning to shake and my palms starting to sweat, I prayed one of my more eloquent prayers, “Okay Lord, this is it.”

Time to give my speech.

I stared out at the sales and marketing people, eighty or so upraised faces, and tried to smile, opening with a crack about blacking out – my voice shaky while I promised to “come to” if they would wave some Starbucks under my nose. That got a laugh, and so, a little encouraged, I plunged into my Olympic relay-race analogy. Which, I hasten to mention, the Lord had just given me the night before. I’d worked hard on my speech, had it mostly memorized according to instructions . . . but the night before, in a lovely hotel room that the publisher put me up in, I lay wide awake most of the night while God...rewrote….my….speech. Ahhh! Why does He always wait until the last minute? But I was sure. I knew what He wanted me to say, and while it was pretty raw, “very transparent” as my editor later said with a kind smile, I was certain it was His message for this group.

After explaining to the crowd how much I viewed this process as a team effort – first me writing it, then the editors and art department polishing it up and then the sales team taking it on the road - and how incredibly blessed I felt to just be standing up there (I finally have co-workers!!) I plunged into how I began writing in the first place. It’s the question I’m always asked, “How did you start writing?” Or, “What made you want to become a writer?” Or “Have you always written?” In trying to honestly answer that question, God reminded me how it all began. On one hand, I have always loved lyric writing. As a girl, I used to swing on my swing (one of those 10 pound weights at the end of a rope tied to a big, old walnut tree in our yard) and make up song after song for God. I didn’t care who was around or if anyone heard me, I just worshipped him, loud and long. I also wrote some poetry and had a “diary” as we called it then, which my brother would find and break into (those locks never worked!) waving and taunting me until I chased him down and wrestled it back. But on the other side, the darker side, stories became a sort of salvation to me. In the second grade I began having night terrors. One, in particular, was so bad I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side for three months (literally). I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep, I was as white as a sheet - the fear dogged me until I felt like I was living from panic attack to panic attack. I looked like I was being haunted in my early grade-school pictures, and I felt like I was being destroyed. My parents prayed for me, encouraged me and tried everything to help me overcome my fears, but nothing worked.

I have a son who was diagnosed with ADD and Dyslexia. For years he struggled to read, doing phonics programs over and over and then taking a special “Discovery” class in 4th through 6th grade. It helped and he’s a much better reader now, but something happened during those early years that has become a special strength for Seth. Because he couldn’t read the world around him, he saw everything differently. Seth can easily remember faces, pictures and symbols. He remembers little details, saying things to me like, “Mom, did you see that man with a red hoodie? He had on a couple of rings on his left hand, curly black hair and a big, jagged scar on his arm?” I look around clueless. “What man?” Now, when Seth looks at signs he doesn’t just read them, he notices things like - letter shape, color, lighting, a missing bulb, etc. While I just read it, Seth really sees it and I know that someday God is going to use this gift in Seth’s future work. That’s kind of what happened to me. To help myself sleep at night, I started to focus my mind on building stories and characters, not allowing the fearful thoughts a chance to come in. This took intense concentration. But after awhile, I got better and better at it until eventually, I could fall asleep within minutes of lying down. Years later, I now see that what the enemy had planned for my destruction, God used for good. When I first sat down to write a novel, the scenes played out in front of my eyes with the ease of long practice. Praise God, He really does make beauty from the ashes of our lives.

You could have heard a pin drop in the conference room as I told them that story and then the eight hard years of struggling to find publication. My eyes filled with tears as I told them when I’d reached the point with God where I just couldn’t hope anymore, and the times I laid it all down. After I was done (I pretty much forgot to talk about the plot of the novel and just wanted to get off that stage!) my editors and several dear people rushed toward me to pray for me and my work, this writing work. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

I guess I learned that people are honored when we share our real selves with them. It doesn’t take anything away from us for them to know our weaknesses, instead it provides an opportunity for hope in the side of good. We cannot fathom what God understands . . . and the million creative ways He can use the circumstances of our lives toward our good and for His glory!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Indianapolis ICRS Trade Show

Mid January I attended ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) a bi-annual book trade show in Indianapolis where my publisher had a booth (the booths were huge and really very nice!). They invited me to join them, meet people I'd only heretofore known on email, and get a peek into the world of book selling. I finally met Tom, my acquisitions editor, you can't help but feel the person who first believed in your work is a hero. Yes, I gave him a big hug! I chatted with David about the big plans they have for fiction, and with Robin, their marketing guru. I'm so blessed to be a part of this team of people. I also got Francine River's autograph. One of her books, The Last Sin Eater, was made into a movie and she was there promoting it.

But back up the story. Before going to the show, I was asked to make a book video for Snow Angel. I was really nervous, had touched up my makeup about a hundred times in the car on the drive downtown, driving my husband crazy! It was all good though. The videotographer met me, a very peaceful, down-to-earth kind of guy at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. He showed me where to look while he filmed, asked me questions that I had ahead of time, that he fully expected me to have the answers to. But you know, as many times as you practice some speech, at least for me, it all goes out the window when the real event happens. As the video progressed I laughed a little, cried a little, and hopefully, told my heart in regards to this novel, Snow Angel.

God gave me this scripture a few years ago. Isaiah 54:2-3 "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen you stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in the desolate cities."

Who me?

Wow. As I begin to do these things that are required of me, I am in wonder at God's plan. It would seem, as far as I'm brave enough to spread my tent stakes, God will provide opportunities for me to "enlarge" my tent. I don't know all He has in store, can really only imagine it, but it's so exciting now that it's taking off. I have co-workers!!! I have a novel that I slaved over for enough years that I could have earned a PhD in something. The work is paying off and in all my imaginings . . . I couldn't have guessed all God has in store. I can't wait to see the next page in His story for me.

The moral to this story is "Never Give Up!" If you have something inside you, I don't care how small or large or crazy it seems, go for it. It's who you were created to be. If anything is so large in your heart that you can't let go of it . . . don't let circumstances, people, things, make you second guess it. Don't let go of it. We only have one life to live. God implanted something in each of us at birth . . . an eternal DNA, for eternal purposes, that won't fade away if we listen to its quiet call. Follow it like the "yellow brick road" of Oz, like Scarlett's "Tara" like anything that seems so in your blood you keep coming back to it no matter what happens to deter it. Never forget, we have an enemy who seeks to kill and steal and destroy us. Don't let him. You've only one life to live.

I want to thank anyone who takes the time to read these blogs. There's so much information out there that if you are happening upon this, I have to believe that there is a purpose for it. I hope my little stories of success, of persevering in my dream, are inspiring you in yours . . . because I want to encourage others that all your dreams are possible and real and God-breathed. Don't feel any guilt or condemnation for dreaming your big dreams. What were we created for if not to reflect God’s glory, pointing the way to Jesus? Read Moses' story . . . where we are weak, He is strong. His glory is unimaginable.

We are like the snowflake . . . like Elizabeth in Snow Angel . . . individual and greatly loved and crafted by the Creator. We are able to become all that we were created to be. It's in our destiny. Don't let the daily grind steal that from you.