Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

It is barely Friday now. This almost became a Saturday bonus post, although many of you won't read this until the weekend is past anyway.

But Friday has been good to me, and I didn't want to neglect it. It's now nearly ten o'clock, and I am between the movie night with the kids (Night At the Museum... so funny!) and movie night with my husband (the last of our Horatio Hornblower movies - there have been, I think, nine of those in all spread over several weeks). I have a glass of wine, a laptop, and several great days settling in my soul.

I thought all week about this post, about all the little things I am thankful for. I intended to write about things I am addicted to; good things I can't get enough of.

Beach towels, for example. What is it about beach towels that make me feel this intense need to stockpile a closet full of them, to buy every pretty one I see? Is it the bright colors? The Hawaiian flowers or ocean life depicted on them? Is it the faint scent of Coppertone and chlorine that is hidden in the back of my brain that wafts across my memory when I see them? Is it the feel of the warmth of the sun on my skin, that wonderful, relaxing sensation I enjoyed before the days of skin cancer warnings and hints of wrinkles? Maybe it is just the hope of summer coming, of long lazy days with my family, and vacations where the sand is soft and the water clear. Maybe it is because the places I most need beach towels are places I love to be.

In any case, I bought two more this week. Knowing I shouldn't. Knowing I didn't need them. I walked by and picked them up. Put them down. Picked them up. Walked away, and then came back.

I am addicted to beach towels.

And cocoa dusted almonds.

And library books. I can't walk out with just one. Or two. This week I had a stack so high I knew I'd never get them all read before I had to return them. After checking out, on the way out the door, I saw a book that's been on my list to read since before it was published. I looked at the book. I looked at the stack. Next week, it probably won't be there, I reasoned. It may have a wait list a mile long by then. I'll be sorry, I thought. So I took the book and went back to the checkout desk.

It is a fantastic book. I am now addicted to that.

So many good things this week.

But today, before I wrote this post, before I even got out of bed, I counted the days left in the school year: the days left that my kids are in school and my schedule is still to some extent my own. And I am down to a very few.

This year did not go how I intended. In September I had great plans of finishing my novel, querying it and writing an entirely new novel. I'd be done with that one by now. And have an agent. And join a gym and be ten pounds lighter.

And now it's summer and I have less than fourteen days of clear schedule left in the school year. Looking back, I did much better on my gym plans than my writing plans. As hard as I tried, which admittedly at times was not as hard as I could have tried, I have not finished a new novel. I certainly started quite a few, but none stuck.

And this morning, looking back over the year, and looking forward to today, I decided now was the time to kick it into gear. Now is the time to seize the day. If an agent is still to be acquired with the book on submission, than that is awesome, but there's no time to wallow in the fact that it hasn't happened yet, and no time to wait around for it to happen tomorrow or in some vague future. Today is the day to make a new book, a better book, another start at my dream.

So I shrugged off the gym and stayed at home and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And for the first time since the finished book, it was easy, and a joy, and so engaging I almost missed picking the kids up from school. And the weekend is on us with plans for breakfast out and time at the pool, and all I could think about was how sad it was that I didn't have more time to write.

So today, on Friday, in counting what is a good thing, my most good thing today is finding my groove again. Feeling as in love with writing and with my book as I have ever been. Having that desire to do it over just about anything else.

Better than beach towels and cocoa almonds and stacks of books to read.

This is my very good thing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I just finished plotting my latest novel. I have to say, seeing it all laid out like that, beginning to end, characters and subplots and suspense and all... it feels almost as good as finishing the actual book.

I've discovered over the last few months how important it is for me to do this: to lay out the book in at least the sketchiest of ways, so that I know where I'm going and how I plan to get there. My first attempt at a novel was one of those that I just sat and started writing with only vaguest ideas of what I wanted to write. The second - the one currently on submission - came to me all at once, and the plotting was more a formalized way of getting what was already in my head on paper.

As I've started a few novels the past couple months, I haven't had the discipline to really pull the story out of my head, do the grunt work that was necessary before writing. As such, the pages fell flat and the characters floundered and I grew frustrated and disenchanted with them.

I can't outline a book. I suppose what I am doing is actually an outline of sorts, but a more wordy one, a style that fits me much better than a traditional outline. I can't do a chapter by chapter either. That feels too constrained for me.. I never really know where a chapter is going to end or begin, or what extras I'm going to need to add that I didn't expect.

What I have is the merging of two structures I found some time ago in researching writing.

The first came off the internet somewhere. I'm not sure where, but if you know and want to tell me, I'd be glad to give credit. The second is from a book. I thought it was Noah Lukeman's book The Plot Thickens, but it turns out not to be. From my notes I think it's possible it's from Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb's book called Your First Novel. At least, that is the book name scribbled at the top of the page. It could have been a book that was recommended to me and that page was the first space I found to write the title, but I think this method comes from there.

So here it is. My plotting Method.

3 Act Method

Act I (25%) Set up characters, motivations, backstory. At the end of this section, a dramatic event propels the main character into conflict
Act II (50%) In the middle of this, the MC discovers a secret, by the end is the start of big confrontations with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Conflict rises steeply.
Act III (25%) Obstacles are overcome, MC must make choices

Percentage Method

Stage 1 (10%) draw reader in, identification with hero
Turning Point (10%) new opportunity, new journey often followed by MC refusing to take the journey or by into the opportunity
Stage 2 (15%) hero reacts, formulates plan
Stage 3 (25%) hero is overcoming obstacles
***Turning Point (at the 50% mark) hero must commit, there is no turning back
Stage 4 (25%) goal is more visible, stakes are higher
***Turning Point (at 75% mark) Major setback, a do or die moment
Stage 5: (15%) Final push; conflict becomes overwhelming, MC must give everything; accellerated pace; MC determines his or her own fate.
Stage 6: Aftermath, what life are they living now

When I plot I use 300 pages as my guideline. Thus the above percentages would be:
p 1 - 30
p 30 - 60
p 60 - 105
p 105 - 180 (turning point at p 150)
p 180 - 255 (turning point at p 225)
p 255 - 300

Obviously I'm not stringent about the page number and things falling exactly in the timeline. It's more of a guide for me, to help me pace, to get suspense and conflict in the right places, to see how the story is going to progress, and conclude, before I sit to write.

Flexibility in the process is key for me, but having this helps move me along, keeps me from getting too sidetracked, and always provides a new scene to be contemplating as I'm washing dishes or driving kids around.

There are a ton of ways to write... this is the one that worked for me. Maybe someone else will find it useful too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I just posted my first real post over at our new 4 Corners Critique Group blog. It is what I would have written here had I not had to write there. So this blog gets short ended today because I am low on time. Go read it if you have time, and tell me what you think.

As for Some Mad Hope, all I have for you today is a dinner table conversation from last night. Just to show you how all-consuming this writing thing is.

My six year old writes books daily. She puts lots of papers together, staples them in the middle, and writes and illustrates them in her spare time at school. Every day we get two or three new installments to read at dinner.

Last night her book was about a baby bird who learns to fly. It was a happy book.

My son - who is ten - pipes up:

"You should have made the baby bird fall out of the tree and die or get hurt. Agents would like that better. It has more drama."

And here I thought he never listened to me!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Post Memorial Day Post ("It's a weekend of sacrifices"

My husband actually said that to the kids on Friday, when we decided not to take the trip out of town we were intending on taking. Thunderstorms were forecast for all of our destinations, so we decided to just stay home. And go shoe shopping, which everyone needed to do. The foot situation was getting dire in the household.

Let me tell you, we were surprised when the kids were as excited about getting new shoes as going to Philadelphia!

We managed to spend the entire day Saturday at the pool, which was heavenly (although I didn't actually swim... I sat by the side and read.... did I mention heavenly?).

Sunday was church, shoe shopping, and a rare movie in a theatre for us.

And Monday... well, Monday is Memorial Day for us in the US. So we did what the day is intended to do. We honored those who have served - and died - for this country. We took the metro out to Arlington Cemetery (with a million of our closest friends) and walked around the cemetery talking about how each of the seemingly never-ending gravestones marks the life of someone who loved this country enough to fight for it.

The graves go back to the Revolutionary War and continue to the present day. There are over a quarter million people buried there. It is truly humbling to look as far as you can see and see the graves stretched out over hillsides and across creeks with barely a breath between them.

I love this country. I've traveled lots of places, lived in other countries. but this is always home to me. We are far from perfect. Often I am exasperated and angry at this country. I am sometimes angry that every step we take to make it better, we take a step away from what it was founded on and meant to be - one not necessarily requiring the other... it just ends up that way.

But I love this country. I love that we can say what we want without fear of prosecution. I love that I can go to church on Sundays and worship God freely. I love that I am free to pursue whatever job I want, that I have the opportunity to make my life, and that of my children, better than the ones who came before me. I love that the sky is the limit. I love that the supermarkets are dependably full of food. I love that even though I don't always agree with my government, for the most part they are still about making this country a better place instead of hoarding power and wielding it over us. I love that it is relatively safe. I love that I as a woman can drive, and vote, and hold equal positions as men, and raise children, and speak in public.

And I am so humbled and grateful that generations of people before me have given me those right and privileges, and that for some that cost them their lives.

Today, life goes on as usual for our family. The husband is back at work, the children back at school, I am back at the computer. But I am glad, for a brief moment, we took the time to stop and think about what a gift our lives are.

When you stop and think about that, it wasn't any kind of sacrificial weekend at all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Taking a Leap of Faith

It's officially Summer tomorrow around our house. That's right. Tomorrow the pool opens.

We've been counting down to this day since February, but I never actually thought it would get here so soon. That, and I thought it would be warmer by this time. I'm not sure I'll be getting in that water, but by golly I'll be there!!

I took this picture last summer. Hard to believe that is the same boy who ten months prior wouldn't get his face wet at all... not in the pool, the ocean, the bathtub, with a washcloth. The boy was scared to death of water touching his face.

Then suddenly last summer he decides he's going to jump off the diving board. I admit, my husband and I rolled our eyes a little and gave each other that, "oh yeah, right."

But he did it. He got up on that diving board, took a running leap and just did it.

In December it was time to start writing again. I'd written, revised, edited, queried, and now had three agents with my full. (As a totally weird aside - although not weirder than the fact that almost every agent who requested had a name that started with J - I have always had three out at a time. When one gets rejected, the exact same day another request would come in. Very Strange. Two weeks ago the tides turned and I got a fourth. I'm not sure what that means...)

Anyhoo - my "baby" was out there, and it was time to start writing again. I tried a bit of YA, got sidetracked by the death of my friend, then started something new in January. At which point I really started praying. Because I'd been wondering if I should maybe write Christian fiction. Specifically.

To preface the next remarks, I need to get something clear. I don't hear God. I have lots of voices in my head - stories, characters, past friends, soundtracks, myself narrating myself through the day and debating myself - but never God.

But every day I prayed, I got a VERY clear voice saying "WAIT."

I knew it wasn't me, because I would never ever tell myself that (unless it had to do with cleaning a bathroom). Patience is not even in my top 100 qualities.

I tried writing a different book, and I heard, very clearly, WAIT.

No matter how much I tried to write, no matter how many plots I planned out and characters I bio-ed, the voice was still there. WAIT.

I can't say I was patient with the voice very long. I thanked God for talking to me finally, but I made it clear I wasn't too excited with the message. For one, couldn't he be a little more specific? What was I waiting for? And to what purpose did waiting serve in writing? I could wait for an agent, but for writing? What was the point in that?

So I pushed on. Eventually I crowded out the voice.

And I lost loving writing as well.

So I finally sat back and said, FINE. I will wait. (But I probably didn't say it very nicely.)

And then came the request from the Christian agency that seemed like a really good possibility. I can't tell if I think it's a good possibility because I just really want it, or because I just know. But still, it feels like a hope I haven't had in a while. And suddenly I realized, somewhere in there, that it wasn't about just getting an agent or getting published. It was about getting a Christian agent, and being able to write what is really, truly in my heart. To write about my faith.

But - and I've blogged this before - there are not that many Christian agents taking on new writers. There is a whole world of secular agents. And to choose to go in this direction crosses off all of those other possibilities. Along with the one agent who I adore, who wrote such wonderful things to me, who told me to send anything else I had that wasn't faith oriented, who is, in any other situation, a dream agent.

So I prayed. Again. And this week, clear as day, in the middle of laying all of this out to God, actually (and I blush writing this) weighing my options with God, he spoke again.



And I knew what it meant. It meant I needed to get off my fence. I needed to stop waffling between two sets of odds and plant my flag with him. I needed to stop making my fiction what it isn't, and write what I really, truly want to write.

So I made that leap. But a private leap is easy to go back on, so I am making it official here. With no promise of an agent; no publishing deal. No better odds than I had last week. It is truly a leap of faith. God gave me a talent. I am going to use it for him.

Kimberly Derting always asks debut authors on her blog, "Would you rather be a bestselling Rockstar Author or an Acclaimed Literary Author?" I love that question, and I've thought about it a lot. But I've also decided that for me, it's neither. For me, all I want is to make a difference somewhere, with someone. I want to change the world, or at least one person's view. I want to give someone a character they can identify with and say, "I know how that feels. I've struggled with that too!!"

In the moment that I decided I would take that leap of faith, all of the scraps of papers and lists of plot ideas, book themes, characters I've been scratching down for months that seemed random and undoable, all of a sudden came together. Every one of them.

Last week, they were random bits of stories that had no grounding. Today, they are a whole series of books about the lives of the people who go to the First Baptist Church where Babs and Travis and Ashley and Logan (from my last book) go.

It's not about the Babcocks. They are just the first family. Each family will have its crisis, its own book, told from its own point of view. And through them, the lives of these Texas women will be woven together in a tapestry of love and forgiveness and grace.

The book I am writing now will be about a sexting scandal that rocks the church and its youth group - how something that starts with seemingly innocent fun ends up in the court system, with the possibility of ruining not just the lives of the two kids involved, but their families and the church as well.

The others that follow will involve a manslaughter case, drug abuse, a suicide, a financial scandal. The possibilities are endless.

And what I love is that each will be completely independent of the others, and yet at the same time take place in the same town, with the same peripheral characters, some of whom may get their own spotlight, while others, like Brenda and Yolanda, will remain the doing backbone of the church without their own storyline.

I feel good about this. Really good. Really right. The way I haven't since I wrote SKON. I am excited about the possibilities that lie with this.

Possibilities that may or may not come with immediate success or with an agent representation offer right away. And I feel okay with that. I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Wherever that leads, that is up to God.

I love the pieces of the puzzle. In January, when God was saying WAIT, I didn't think I needed to be in Christian publishing. And the agency that set me on this path of hoping, wasn't even on the Internet anywhere yet. When super-dream-agent told me I should look into finding a Christian agent with the contacts necessary to publish SKON, just that week their listing showed up, even though they've been around for a long time. And meanwhile all these book ideas were floating around with no anchor, piling up but looking rather hopeless. Until I told God okay. Okay I'll leap. And suddenly they all made sense.

God's timing is perfect.

I know not all of you out there are fans of Christian fiction. I know not all of you are fans of God. I know some of you don't believe in God at all. So if you have stuck with me through this post, thank you. I hope I haven't scared you away. And I hope I'll write things you like to read anyway. Because I'm all about the struggle.

So there it is. My big reveal.

I'm leaping as we speak...

Thursday, May 21, 2009


You know, it turns out I already knew the answer to yesterday's question and I just was afraid to say it out loud. So for those of you who publicly and privately reassured me that it's okay to change my mind, even after 15,000 words...

Thank you!!

And you know what else? It turns out that as soon as I let it be okay to relegate the WIP to the dark recesses of my computer memory:


And by it, I mean IT. The book I've been wanting to write... a whole slew of books... of ideas and characters and a direction I want my entire writing and career to go in.

Can someone say anvil off my shoulders????

Just by letting go of the idea I was stubbornly holding on to because I was afraid of not finishing something.... I have found my joy and love and excitement for writing again.

I'll write more about it later. For now, I'm off to work on the new WIP. I haven't been this excited about my writing since I finished the final pages of SKON.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Question for YOU

I'm slugging through. Writing this book is like walking through knee-deep mud. I know writing is hard for most writers. I know in my head that both of my first two books were sometimes hard to write.

But I loved the books in my heart even when they were hard to write. I always loved the concepts, loved the characters, loved the idea of what they would someday be.

This book is so much harder. In my head I think it's a good idea. I know the plot and the characters. I even feel connected with the main character in the way that my heart breaks for her when I think about her. But I don't love it. I don't love spending time in it. I am constantly rethinking it. Debating it. Not just is it a good plot or a good story, but is it the right one. It doesn't mean I even think the writing is bad so far. I just don't feel like this is "the one."

So you writers... what is your opinion on this? Does a writer need to love the book they are writing and be unable not to write it - feel bound to write it or they will burst? Or do you just slug through it, hoping eventually it will be something you'll feel proud of?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Too Many Metaphors for One Post...

I had a whole post ready to go about my weekend... about what I wanted to be doing this weekend (going to the Joint Services Air Show at Andrews Air Force Base, walking around awesome jets and helicopters and military men, and taking amazing photos of them flying... these are from our trip out last year, before I got the new and better camera... I really, really wanted to be there this year to get better photos with my new and better camera!!)...

But what I did instead was clean the house - namely my daughter's room, which she had taken upon her six year old self to reorganize and it closely resembled the local dump, with higher quality stuff...

And while I'm quite sure there is a great metaphor for writing in there somewhere, I'm going to skip that and head right into something else I read today.

Janet Reid directed me to Courtney Summer's blog post about the editing process. And while I'm not there yet, boy oh boy did I identify... and surprisingly find a bit of encouragement.

I loved this part:

If I don’t make note somewhere about how hard they were to write–because they’re all hard to write–I would never believe they gave me any problems at all. The euphoria of finishing acts like a pleasant amnesia ray, which I’m assuming is a kind of mental suit of armor designed to keep me writing books.

Which reminds me of labor and giving birth, which makes sense, because writing a book has often been compared to giving birth (which makes the book the baby, which then becomes the object of the common editing phrase, "You gotta kill the baby," which is really just perverse and sick and begs the question... huh??? Could we as writers not come up with a better metaphor??)

But I digress.

The thing is, this book I'm writing is really hard. It's like pulling teeth. Or cleaning a six year olds' room. Every word is hard. And it's easy to think that the last book just poured out of me so naturally and easily. Which I'm sure it didn't. And remembering that would help tremendously every time I think I need to give up this one because something this hard just can't be a good book in the end.

Which bring me to the editing part of the post. She did major editing. Like spring cleaning a six-year old's room editing. Like "lets take this manuscript and put out three boxes - one for stuff to throw out, one for stuff to take out of the room but maybe keep for something else, and one for stuff to deal with. Now lets take all that stuff that's left to deal with and find a new place for it, clean it off if it's dusty or covered in the sticky stuff that's left when you remove stickers from places they shouldn't have been, let's vacuum out all the excess lint and dust bunnies and webs and polish it all off to a shine!"

(Look at that! There was a writing metaphor there after all!)

What I most found encouraging was the even though the first draft of her book was in very rough condition, even though it got a major overhaul and replotted, reworked, rewritten, she ended up with something she is very proud of.

So even though my writing right now is tough... even though I fear it may not be the book I want to end up with, I can't rewrite it better until I'm done with it, and actually have something to work on.

So time to stop whining and wondering and second guessing and just get to work.

When I've finally birthed it I can kill it.

(yeah... I still don't like that metaphor!)

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

Tiger Swallowtail

Yay for Fridays!! Yay for warmer weather and thick green leaves and longer days, (Boo for allergies, but we won't go there).

So Jen wrote a good post about not allowing the anger or depression or sadness or slowness of the publishing process affect your optimism. Go read it. And resolve to be more positive.

So what's good this week?

1. TV. This is so shallow. I know. But it's end of the season and things are getting really good. I get to watch 3 hours of Survivor this weekend! Grey's Anatomy is one for two hours as I write this. And next week the fleet of summer shows starts. Do you remember when summer meant the onslaught of reruns and really bad made-for-TV movies? Not anymore! Bring on Wipeout! Bring on America's Got Talent! Bring on a new Army Wives season! Bring on some really cool looking pilots! I'm ramping up the DVR for a whole new host of possibilities!

2. Barbecue! I've done most of the cooking this week on the grill. There's nothing like the smell of meat on the grill, smoke wafting on the breeze, the taste of jerk chicken and hamburgers and ribs. Corn on the cob. Onions and peppers and tomatoes all marinated and grilled. And no dishes. Yay!!

3. Birthdays. This week was my husband's birthday and normally I feel a bit...ummm....put-out by having to take on all the arrangements for every birthday in my immediate family, as well as grandparents. It's a lot of work. But really, when it comes right down to it, it feels amazing to make one person feel totally and completely special.

4. Grass. Leaves. Butterflies. Birds. Thunderstorms that light up the sky at night. Farmers Markets. Starry skies. Fluffy clouds. Azaleas. All things spring.

5. The minute the kids get off the school bus. They are talking before they even hit the pavement, running towards me with hugs and stories of their days, and no matter how bad my day has been, it's always better when they get home.

6. Exclamation points. Not mine, because on the blog I way over use them. But I've received a couple of agent emails lately with exclamation points. It feels big when I see that. It feels like hope. It feels like possibility. It feels like they are as excited as I am.

7. You all. For reading my journey. And being a part of it.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Play(list)'s the Thing

No news on the writing front, so I'm going to lay off my public contemplations of my future spiritual and career-oriented journey (although I must say that I do so appreciate all of you who have commented and are supporting me whatever I choose! Putting this growth process on blog has made me feel particularly vulnerable). So on to other topics.

Hmmmmm... other topics. Is there something other than writing?

Oh yeah, running!

So two weeks ago my husband gave me an iPod Touch. I'd lusted after the things vaguely, but couldn't justify paying that kind of money so I used my cheap plastic mp3 player I picked up at Wal-Mart for twenty bucks when I went to the gym. It worked fine, but it didn't allow me to arrange the songs in any particular order.

The iPod lets me customize my playlist into what is becoming a killer workout playlist! So much so, that I might end up having a heart attack in the middle of the gym because there is no time to let up! I mean, who can slow to a jog when Katy Perry is singing Hot and Cold, or Kelly Clarkson is belting out...well, almost anything off her new album.

Every time I start to feel like my chest is going to explode and my heart is going to zing across the gym like an out of control bullet, or that I'm going to drown in my own sweat, (is that just TMI?), every time I feel like as soon as this song is over, I'm going to slow down a little, another awesome song comes on and it's impossible to not kick it up another notch. (I love the fact that just when I think I'm giving in, the song To The Beat Of Our Noisy Hearts comes on... "We just go on and on and on and on to the beat of our noisy hearts..." So fitting!!)

It's worked well (or badly, depending on how you look at it) for playing into my penchant for "one more thing." I'm always late trying to get in "just one more thing" before I leave the house, one more errand before I pick up the kids, one more page before I turn off the light.

This huge fault of mine is probably the single most important factors in pushing me to run harder and further each day. That, and my dislike of uneven numbers and a feeling of incompleteness. I can't stop in the middle of a song. I have to finish the song. And stop before the next one begins. But I can't stop at an odd mileage either. Like 5.13 miles. That's just weird. So I think, I'll just hit 5.25 - an odd number but at a quarter mile, acceptable. Except by the time I get there, a song is still going and I think, heck, a quarter mile's nothing. I should at least do 5.50... a much more even number. Halves are good. But when I get there, I think, well, if I can do that, it's only four more minutes to hit 6 miles and that is a much, much better, more even number.

And so it goes.

A little OCD, I think. Possibly? You think?

But hey - a little OCD, a little iPod... I'll be running a marathon by September!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finding My Niche

When I was a college freshman, the first story I wrote for a creative writing class was one about a young teenage girl who was sexually abused by her father. She was very alone, a mostly self-imposed exile created by shame and fear. Despite a world of people reaching out to her, she continued to pull into her self. In the words of one of my critique partners, it was a macro piece of writing. One in which, in the last lines, her father calls to her, and she returns to him.

It stunned the class, the darkness of the mood and the unresolved ending, earning me an A+, a solid beginning to my career, and a strong reputation in the writing department.

More importantly, it made me realize the impact of reality on writing. At that point in life - for 18 year olds - stories usually wrapped up neatly, resolved if not completely happy. But when I wrote, I thought, "What would really happen here? What is most likely the outcome?" And I thought most likely, the young girl wouldn't be able to tell the deep dark secret, and the cycle of abuse would continue. And the power of that amazed me.

All of my writing has continued in that vein until now. The two loners who are drawn to each other and out to prove they're no different than the cool kids...then end up in a drunk driving accident after drinking too much. The six year old whose sister is dying of leukemia who gets left behind by her grieving parents at a funeral. The young woman who pushes away the one person she loves most because she wants so badly a taste of independence.

(Gee, now that I think about it, I think all of my writing has been macro character studies... note to self: must work on plot!)

Babs story was, I think, the first I wanted some semblance of happy ending. Not all neat and tied, but something happy. But within the book is a tremendous struggle of belief, wrestling with how God can be good and still let kids die; how he can say he answers prayers when so many bad things happen despite people praying for them; wondering if God can bring good things out of the bad, does that justify the bad?

And though it was very important to me that the book end somewhat on a positive note, I also didn't want to make those struggles easy, or offer pat answers, or any answers at all.

I'm feeling more and more drawn to this kind of writing: this Christian based fiction without all the answers. Real struggles without real answers. Finding a peace in God while still having a whole lot of puzzle pieces missing. Because this is how I see life. How I think a lot of people see life.

My sister wisely once told me that there are two types of Christians: the easy Christians, who accept everything without question, who are mostly joyful and at peace, and the struggling Christians, who wrestle daily with the hard truths of scripture, and wrestle with God for the answers.

As I continue to work my way through Christian fiction books to broaden my experiences (earlier pretty limited to historical Christian fiction and non-fiction), I'm finding that to be a place lacking. There are many more novels where the answers are too easy, a clear right and wrong. That's true to many things in Christianity... God is a God of absolute right and wrong in many aspects of life. But there are many areas in which there is not a guideline laid out of how to deal with current social issues, human issues of the heart, where we are called to pray and draw on the Holy Spirit, and then hope we are listening well enough.

I am more and more drawn to this - the struggling part of faith. And the more I let myself be open to the idea that this could be my niche - the more excited I am. My list of book ideas is growing, outlines forming. I am excited about the possibilities, and yet humbled by the weight of that kind of writing. And the responsibility of tackling issues of faith in a real and meaningful way.

Is it marketable? I don't know the answer to that. Perhaps there's a reason there isn't a lot of fiction that follows this path. But maybe, just maybe, it's time someone wrote it. And maybe, just maybe, that person is me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Day Bonus Edition

My niece got me into Taylor Swift. She's fourteen going on fifteen, passionate about music, and a total joy to be around. You can't not smile around her.

Talking on the phone with her about the newest album, she gushed, "Don't you just love the song Fifteen!! It's my favorite!" To which I replied, totally laughing, "That's because you're a teenager."

She asked what my favorite was and I said, "Best Day. It always makes me cry." And she replied quickly, "That's because you're a mom."

So today, even though I'm not her mom, she sent me this video. It still makes me cry.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

There's Nothing To See Here... Let's Move On

Crisis averted. Blood sugars normal. No hospital trip necessary. Thank you all for taking my little rant about my health to heart. You're awesome!

Moving on...

I've been thinking lately about the early process of publishing... getting the agent to read and love the book we've so carefully crafted. And I came to this conclusion:

If I'm not getting offers it's because of at least one of these three things:

1. The query isn't good enough
2. The writing in the manuscript isn't good enough
3. The subject/plot isn't appealing to the readers

Maybe this all seems like common sense, but I found it so helpful mentally to lay this out, because it helps me to know how to proceed, and it's encouraging. And I like lists. :)

I think my query is fine. I've gotten at least 12 requests (I stopped counting at some point, when the process starting really dragging out), which may not be 50% request rate, but is still fair enough to mean it isn't awful. I've also had at least 5 referrals from agents who got my query but just aren't taking on new clients or thought someone they knew would be a better fit.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't think it's my writing. I only say this because my mother and husband have read my book and say I'm a fantastic writer.

Just kidding!!

No, really, aside from people I know (including my writing group, whose job it is to critique and yet are such good friends now they probably have some bias too), the personal responses from agents are all very positive about the writing. I've gotten more complimentary rejections than I care to count! And I've gotten quite a few fulls requested from partials, which can't mean I'm an awful writer, right?

So the only option left is the story.

And the more I think about it, the more I understand how this is often the big stumbling block for writers. You may write a kick-butt query, and write like a dream, but if the agent just isn't that into your topic, doesn't connect, has seen too many similar, it's going to be a no.

While I thought my topic - a child dying, a mom finding a cure in stem cell therapy - would be timely and dramatic, I've had several agents say they just aren't interested in repping books where children are in danger or someone is dying or where there is some political agenda in the story (which I promise there is not!). It doesn't matter how good the writing, they just aren't interested. I suspect some of the form letters came from agents who read the pitch and thought the same thing: it's just not my thing.

This isn't entirely a bad thing. Once an agent really took time to write a lengthy email to me about the book, and why she couldn't represent it even though she loved my writing and the story, I got it. She told me to send it to Christian agents who would be able to find a place in the market for it.

And so I did. And now I have some serious interest. Maybe all that time I was trying to appeal to the wrong people. Maybe it wasn't the story, it was the audience.

But as I'm moving forward in writing my next project, I look at that list and think, if I'm going to have to start all over, scrapping my hope for the last book and querying based on a new book, am I covering all the bases? In other words, if I can write a query, if I can write well, then my focus needs to be on writing an amazing, unique story that will capture the attention of agents and readers alike.

Not that it's easy to do that. But it helps me focus on what I need to do this time around, should the last time around not work out (although I'm still keeping my fingers crossed - or saying my prayers - that MOCKINGBIRD will find it's home at one of the four agencies still holding the full). You can't rub a crystal ball and see what agents are going to want, but you can work really hard to make your idea interesting and unique. I admit, I tend to be lazy that way and so my stories have been less Wow! and more, yeah, that's life.

If you are in this place like me, querying, waiting, figuring out what your next steps are, just remember: you can't please all the people all the time. Not every agent is going to love your book. If you know your query is good, and you know your writing is good, then rest in the knowledge that all you need is the right agent to connect with it. And when you move on to write something else, work hard to make it unique and different and appealing. Try to think objectively: is this the kind of book I'd read about on another blog and have to go out and get based on the blurb?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's My Blog and I'll Cry if I Want To

Forgive me if this post comes out whiny or cranky. Frankly, I'm working on less than four hours of sleep, none of that more than 30 minutes in a row. And I feel awful to boot.

I'm a bit of a control freak, and I like to be in control. I am certainly learning I can't control everything, but there are a few things I still would like to know I'm in charge of. One of them is my diabetes.

Since diabetes is really just a lack of insulin for me (darn pancreas that decided it had had enough), control should be as simple as taking synthetic insulin through shots. I just manually have to control my blood sugars as opposed to letting it go on autopilot. I use this thing to do it:

It's called an insulin pump and I wear it all the time. It's like my mini-pancreas. It's about the size of a small cell phone and it has a tiny tube that runs from the pump into a catheter I put in my abdomen. Sounds gross, but really, no one even notices it, and most of the time, I can't feel it. But all day it delivers a small stream of insulin in me to keep me alive, and when I eat, I just hit the buttons and it delivers more insulin. No shots. Sounds easy, right?

Except - and this is a huge EXCEPT - the science on this "let's mimic the pancreas" is very flimsy. And my body is very unpredictable. You'd think every time I ate, say, a ham sandwich made from exactly the same materials, I could take the same amount of insulin to cover it. You'd think if I exercised exactly the same amount every day, I could set my insulin for the same amount to cover how my blood sugar would rise or fall. You'd think, with a small amount of math, I could keep my blood sugars in the normal range easily. After all, that's what math and science is about, right? Having a right answer?

BUT: I can't. Because every freakin' day my body decides to do something different. I am like a moving target for that insulin.

And yesterday, I couldn't get it right. After coming home from the gym, my blood sugar was surprisingly good ( it usually goes up, but sometimes it goes down, so I wait and see and then adjust). I thought, Ah! Today's going to be one of those good days!
And then I ate lunch. A small lunch. Only 15 carbs (the carbohydrates are what you have to count to determine how much insulin to use). But my blood sugar went haywire. Into the 200s. Which is bad. I pushed more insulin. And it went to the 300s. I start freaking out. I change every variable I can (insulin, catheter, tubing) and push more insulin. Into the 400s.

I change it all again and then give myself a real shot, with a real needle. It slowly goes down to the high 200s. I haven't eaten anything else, and am guzzling water like I just crossed the Sahara ( highs make me thirsty). I think it's still going down, so I eat dinner. About half of what I'd normally eat. It shoots back into the high 300s.

This is not me. I am never that high. And I have never not been able to get my blood sugars down when I needed to. It's almost as though the insulin itself is causing my blood sugar to go up.

I change it all out again. This is getting expensive now. By eleven at night it's in the high 200s again. It's going down, I think. I'll read a little and then test again, just to make sure.

At midnight it's in the low 300s. At one it's in the 400s. I have no freakin' idea what is going on. Even if I hadn't taken any insulin at all for my food it shouldn't be this high. Another hour like this and I'll be in the hospital.

I change everything out again, and give myself another shot. I've given myself enough insulin at this point to have killed me three times over. I'm going to bed. I give up. I figure my blood sugar is either going to be 800 by morning, or 20, and either way I'll be lucky to wake up.

BUT: I also wear a sensor. It's the size of a quarter and attached directly to my skin, and it sends my blood sugar number to my pump every five minutes. It looks like this:

And if my blood sugar goes too high or too low, it makes this obnoxious beeping noise that won't go away until you hit a series of buttons. I've been hitting these buttons all day. I don't know why I thought I was going to get any sleep. All night they beeped, and in my hazy, fatigued state I'd glance at the glowing screen and see my blood sugar numbers continuing to creep up. And up. And up. I was scared to sleep too much, but too tired to know what else to do.

This morning I started all over. New bottle of insulin. New tubing. Another shot. I got it down to 104 after 24 hours of this. Now, two hours after it came down and hit normal, without eating anything, it's creeping back up.

I am beyond frustrated. And I feel tired and groggy and hungry. And confused. And worried. Because I'm pushing enough insulin now that whenever whatever is causing my blood sugar to go so high goes away, I'm going to be in a world of trouble.

I hate it because it is now controlling my day. I didn't go to the gym. I didn't have my coffee. I'm pricking my fingers every fifteen minutes to make sure I don't need to keep 9-1-1 on speed dial.

It's gone up 10 points just in the time it took to write this.

God, I don't complain about much in my life. I'm mostly very healthy, and I'm exceptionally thankful for that. And I'm happy to deal with living with diabetes if this is what you think will make me stronger. But really... I'd be so grateful if we could just go back the way things were three days ago. When I didn't feel like I had to review emergency information with my kids. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In Which I Relive My Most Embarrassing Moment

Long long ago, in a far distant galaxy, I went to college. At that college I did not major in English, but I did take a fair amount of writing classes... I think I filled every elective with writing classes. Which may beg the question why I didn't just major in that, but I was far too practical for that.

Anyhoo, I took lots of writing classes, and I learned a few things in them, one of which was that there were a lot of people who wanted to be writers, and that most of them couldn't put two decent sentences together, let alone a 20 page story. Another thing I learned was that I should keep my mouth shut.

The idea that I actually learned that is, I suppose, debatable.

The incident that spawned this little lesson was a round table discussion of the writing class about books. I happened to be taking a young adult literature class at the same time (that, miraculously, wasn't an elective - oh joy! I got to read about 30 YA books for credit!! It doesn't get better than that! But I digress...).

I'd just finished reading a book that I thought was horribly written. Flimsy plot, awkward use of language, flat characters. But it was engaging story-wise, and held some real emotion if you could sift through the bad writing. So I posed the question:

Can a good book be badly written?

This got the attention of the professor, who then played 20 questions with me about the book. I tried to be coy; I hate slamming authors and criticizing their writing, especially by name. And this guy was a big name in YA circles. A bestseller. But the professor wanted to know why I thought it was bad. I explained the plot - or lack thereof - and the fact that all of the characters seemed to be stereotyped cardboard cutouts, and that the language seemed very contrived. You know the kind - when adults write books trying to pretend they know how kids talk.

And he asked why then I thought it was a good book. And I said, well, beyond those things, something about it touched me. It was about war, and at the time my boyfriend was fighting in Kuwait. It felt personal. And relate-able.

And he pounced on that to pronounce that then it couldn't have been bad writing.

(The horrible and embarrassing end of the story is that he finally wrangled the name of the author, who I only named under severe duress and peer pressure, and it turned out the author, who I had been berating for a full ten to fifteen minutes, was a close personal friend of the professors. Ouch!)

The reason I bring this up is that, in an effort to get a more full feeling of what Christian fiction is, I've been reading more of it lately. And I chose one particular author because she is widely known and has sold tons of books. And I was left with the same feeling. How can a book that is so badly written I can't stop thinking about that, cause me to cry? If I don't like the story, the plot is contrived and preachy, the characters are one-dimensional, and only seem to serve the point of teaching the reader a moral, and if the dialog is hokey, and if the description is repetitive to the point of making you want to throw the book down in a tantrum...

How can this be a good book?

And yet I read it. All of it. And I cried when the flat, one dimensional character died and when the other flat one dimensional characters had to find a way to grieve and move on. But I was disgusted with myself the entire time I was crying, because all I could think was, "How can I cry at this drivel! I don't even like it!"

So what about you? What makes a good book good? Can a good book be badly written? Can a beautifully written book be a bad one? And why do agents and editors leap at these when there have to be thousands out there that are both?

And maybe, more importantly, does the blog look good in pink? My husband says I am so not a pink blog girl, but I kinda like it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stay Back - I Feel A Sneeze Coming On

I'm not saying things are out of hand or anything, but why do people panic when you put some animal name in front of the otherwise innocuous word flu?

Yes, I'm talking swine-flu. The pandemic that has killed one person in the U.S.

Today my daughter stayed home sick. She's in kindergarten. It's not the first time. They share pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, snacks. It's inevitable they'll share their germs.

This time she has a cold. Just a yucky, clogged up sinus cold with lots of mucus. But when I called the school to let them know I knew she wasn't there (hooky is a real problem with kindergarteners, apparently), they asked for her symptoms.

I swear, I have three elementary school kids and I have made my share of sick calls, but this is the only time they've asked what was wrong.

So my answer? "Snot. But she doesn't have a fever or aches or nausea or chills or cough or sore throat. In other words, it's not the swine flu. Is that what you're asking?"

I was nice when I said this... I know these people so I don't want to be too snotty (ha ha!). And she laughed but said, "Yes. We're being required by the health department to ask what the symptoms are of kids who get sick."

I want to know why no one cared when there really was a pandemic in the school of strep throat or scarlet fever, or the good old regular stomach flu.

I'm not a fan of germs of any kind, and I really have had my fill of throwing up and runny noses and fevers. I don't care what you call it, I don't want it. I'm going to wash my hands a million times a day and carry Germ X around in my purse no matter what the current pandemic is. But it's going to have to be a whole lot worse for me to wear a mask and rearrange my life.

It seems to me some people need something to worry about. It's always one thing or another. Most of it never happens. And when it does happen, all that worry did nothing to prevent it.

It makes me think of how common sense God can be. With all the things in the Bible that are deep and beyond understanding, maybe the hardest ones for people to grasp are the simple ones.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25-26 (New International Version)