Monthly Archives: December 2012

No “Wow”, just “Now”

Don’t mean to be a party-pooper, but do you know what I’m going to say when some wild-eyed person in a party hat comes up and shouts, “Do you know what tomorrow is?”?

“Tuesday.”

“But…but, it’s a new year!”

“And I’ll live it the same way I’ve lived the past years: one day at a time.”

“Are you going to watch the new year come in?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“It doesn’t need my help.”

“Well. don’t you have any New Year’s resolutions?”

“Yes. I want to be a better husband and father, preacher and teacher, and writer.”

“Sooooooo, you do get into the New Year thing, huh?”

“Nope. I “get into” improving as a faithful steward of the things that God has entrusted to me.”

Seriously, friends, I’ve got nothing against resolutions or goals. In fact, I encourage them as a practical way to journey forward. And I’m certainly not against having a lot of fun along the way. I’ve even been accused of not being serious enough sometimes. I love humor. And if I can make someone smile, it makes me happy. I’ve just never been a “party animal.”

The real work of writing a novel isn’t accomplished in the “WOWs” of life. It’s hammered out in the “NOW” of life. And I want to improve the quality and the quantity of my writing beginning tomorrow–Tuesday–which happen to also be the start of a new year. Then I want to do the same on Wednesday, then Thursday, followed by Friday…you get the idea.

One thing I’ve come to admire about successful writers is how hard they work.

How hard are you willing to work in the “NOW” in order to reach your goals?

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How To Remain Unpublished

Here are the top ten ways to guarantee that you never get published:

  • 10:  Actually believe that your mother knows more about the publishing industry than the professionals do.
  •  9:  Don’t let yourself get bogged down with learning the craft. You probably know it all anyway.
  •  8:  Become addicted to Facebook & Twitter, and then wonder why you never have time to work on your manuscript.
  •  7:  Embrace paranoia by assuming that every piece of criticism is actually aimed at you and your mother personally.
  •  6:  Chose 4000 cable channels, the top-end smartphone plane, and eating out several times a week as more important that buying writing books and going to conferences.
  •  5:  Even though you’re unpublished and know everything, assume that other unpublished writers don’t know anything about writing becasue…well, they’re unpublished.
  •  4:  Wait for the publishing industry to wise up to your writing prowess, rather than learning what it takes to get published. So why waste time on them?
  •  3:  Send a nasty note to each agent or publisher that rejects your obviously brilliant manuscript. Or go on Facebook and say bad things about them.
  •  2:  When an editor says that you have a severe POV problem, respond by saying that you’ll get right in to see your doctor because he probably “has a cream for that.”

And the number one way to insure that you never get published:

  •  1:  Never finish a manuscript. Just keep polishing the same three chapters…year after year after year.

Any other suggestions?

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Horton the Motivational Speaker

Sometimes inspirational truth is dispensed from surprising sources. It arrives with vivid suddenness, becoming one of those aha! moments.

This one came from a talking elephant. (I’ll give you a minute to reread that last sentence). Yes, I said a talking elephant…named Horton. Who did the right thing because he was convinced it was the right thing to do. If you’re a Who from Whoville, that name is nigh unto sacred. For the rest of us non-Whovillites, Horton can still be downright inspirational. The perilous pachyderm uttered one of the most important lines of children’s literature when he said:

“A person is a person, no matter how small.”

Just as there is no person who is insignificant, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no writer who is insignificant either. Yes, that means YOU. You are important. And your writing is too.

A writer is a writer, no matter how small.

If your writing moves one person, it was significant. And it had to have moved you or you wouldn’t have written it. So you and your writing qualify. You write because you’re convinced it is the right thing to do.

It isn’t contest wins or positive reviews or skyrocketing sales that makes a writer a writer. It’s their writing that does that. I urge you to finish 2012 strong. Start writing again. Or keep on writing.

Because nothing written to please God’s eyes first is insignificant. You and important simply because you exist.

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The Baby King (part 2 of 2)

Six months later

“I’m sorry, Mary, but it’s true.” Joseph frowned. “I have to go to Bethlehem.” A fresh wave of disgust for the Romans roiled his stomach. “I have no choice.”

“We have no choice,” Mary said.

Joseph reached across the small wooden table until the tips of his fingers touched Mary’s hand. Their eyes met. “It’s such a long journey, Mary. And the nights will be cold…especially if we don’t find good shelter along the way.”

Mary brushed a strand of black hair from her forehead. “But we will be safe.”

“And together,” Joseph said. He’d hoped that Mary would want to go, but would have kept that wish to himself had she decided to stay in Nazareth with her parents. But she would be coming with him. As he gazed at his beloved, he wondered if his grin was as wide as hers.

Four days later, as dusk signaled the end of another wearisome day of dusty trails and wind-swept wilderness, Joseph turned and looked again at Mary. The donkey on which Mary rode plodded along, swaying her back and forth. She smiled at Joseph, her hand gently rubbing her large belly. She has to be exhausted and sore, Joseph thought. Yet there was a glow on her face, as though her soul was ablaze with the glory of the Messiah that lay in the sanctuary of her womb. “We’re almost there. I’ll find you a place to sleep soon,” Joseph said.

But when he guided the donkey into Bethlehem, his heart sank. The streets teemed with pilgrims, the city bloated beyond anything he’d imagined.

“Where will we stay, Joseph?” Mary’s voice barely able to rise above the racket coming assaulting Joseph’s ears from every direction.

Without taking his eyes of the shifting sea of humanity flooding the narrow marketplace directly on front of them, Joseph swallowed hard. “I will find a place. I promise.” He stepped back and patted Mary’s arm, his eyes still taking in the chaos surrounding them.

“I hope so. I think the baby is coming soon.”

Several hours later, Joseph sat on the dirt floor and stared at the miracle cradled in the crook of his arm. Light, from a small fire, danced across the perfect face of the waking baby. Joseph gently stroked the small cheeks, then caressed the tiny hand that wiggled free from under the strips of cloth. Joseph placed his forefinger across the boy’s soft palm, feeling a rush of astonishment when the tiny hand grasped his finger.

The Messiah was holding his hand.

Joseph walked over to the feeding trough, carefully laid Jesus on the straw bedding. Then he sat down next to Mary and watched her as she slept. Her lips moved slightly, and Joseph leaned over in time to hear her whisper, “Jesus.” He smiled as he remembered the look that had filled her eyes only moments earlier when excited shepherds had spoken about the angel’s message. A heavenly declaration that had sent the shepherds in search of a newborn baby–“a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Joseph glanced from mother to baby, and wondered what the future held for each of them. The report from the shepherds had sent his mind racing down paths that held more questions than answers. And now, in the stillness of the Bethlehem night, Joseph pondered how this baby would save His people from their sins.

Then, from across the manger, he heard the bleating of a newborn lamb.

**********************************************************************************************

Friends, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As we look at our nativity scenes, may we never forget that Jesus was born…to die. The Lamb of God came to give Himself as the perfect sacrifice for you and me. Thank God for His wonderful gift.

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The Baby King (part 1)

Joseph collapsed inside, no longer seeing a future that included Mary. Her words stung his thoughts. Joseph, I’m going to have a baby. And Joseph knew that it wasn’t his. It was as though his heart had been pierced by a sword. Moreover, a sword held by the one he had loved more than life itself.

He swiped at the tears on his cheek. His choices were as obvious as the bulge under Mary’s clothing. Promises, hearts, and the laws of God…all broken. Joseph’s stomach churned. He couldn’t stand the thought of making their disgrace a public spectacle. And how could he allow the other men to end Mary’s life by stoning? Even though the law allowed such a gruesome result for her actions, Joseph would not let her and…her baby…to die that way.

“I will send her away privately,” he whispered. Divorce her. Let her run away. Defiled but alive.

A few minutes later Joseph stumbled into his house, and then collapsed on his bed. Sleep came suddenly.

And so did the angel.

Moments later Joseph’s slammed his eyes open, and searched the silent darkness. He jumped to his feet, his mind replaying the angel’s message as he charged out the door. By the time he reached the home of Mary’s parents sweat was streaming down his forehead. He stopped in the courtyard, trying to catch his breath. But the sight of Mary standing in the doorway stole it away again.

He hurried to her, and squeezed her hands in his. “Mary,” he said, gazing into her warm brown eyes, “an angel came to me in a dream. He told me we would have–”

“A son,” Mary whispered, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes.

They laughed. Joseph nodded his head.

Mary closed her eyes. “And we are to name him–”

“Jesus!” Joseph smiled.

Mary’s eyes widened. They both spoke at the same time, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

 

***Part two of the story will be posted on Monday (Christmas Eve).

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When Preparation meets Opportunity

I have a friend who carries a plastic spoon and fork around in his shirt pocket. When asked why said cutlery is part of his attire, he responded, “I never know when I’m going to meet up with some food.”

Sheer brilliance.

He chuckled, and then added, “You never know when preparation will meet opportunity. And I want to be ready.”

Confucius, eat your heart out. Especially if you have a plastic fork and spoon in your pocket.

Had I not just recently stumbled across a picture of myself, I’d be tempted to adopt my friend’s policy. But the picture was troubling…to say the least. Either I’m smuggling a ham in the front of my shirt or I need to call Jenny Craig. And I don’t remember smuggling any pork products. Therefore I’ve deduced that I haven’t been one to miss any cuisine consuming opportunities. Therefore, I will NOT be carrying silverware around in my pockets.

But I will take his saying and apply it to my writing journey. His “proverb” is very wise counsel indeed for the aspiring writer. I want to stuff my pockets with wisdom gained by experience. I want to work hard to learn AND apply the tools of the trade so that I can be ready when an opportunity to take the next step comes my way. But I can’t just sit around and wait for opportunity to seek me out. No siree, Bob (or Bob-ette)! I’m going to write…and write…and write some more, so that when the door of publication is opened for me, I can step through it.

It means that I can’t just start novels. I have to finish them. I need to have a few completed manuscripts “in my pocket” so that agents and publishers will know that I’m able to work hard and long. I want to show that I can last beyond the adrenaline rush that propelled me through the first few chapters.

Being a good steward of story means that we do the hard work of getting and staying prepared.

Are you prepared to meet opportunity? How do YOU stay prepared? Or, what is keeping you from being prepared? Please share your thoughts.

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My Prayer in the wake of tragedy.

Dear God,

I can’t imagine the horror experienced by so many families today. And I can’t understand the evil that caused it. Please help the parents whose children were taken by this horrible tragedy. Please help the brothers and sisters who lost siblings. And please help the children who survived physically but will be wounded emotionally for the rest of their lives. Please help everyone connected to this event.

Father, my emotions have ranged from fury to utter despair. How long, oh Lord, will You wait to judge this earth? How long until You avenge the blood of the innocent?

The conscience of America is bothered–offended to the core–by the reports of this murderous rampage. The sights and sounds are coming so fast, so relentlessly…. We are rightly outraged by the killing of 20 innocent children. Innocent. Children.

I am scared, God, because I know that no matter what we do, evil will find a way to strike. I can’t stop it. No human can. I am filled with hatred for our enemy…our ultimate enemy, Satan. As Your Son told us, Satan has been a murderer from the beginning, and He seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Please, dear God, stop him soon.

You have blessed me with the honor of being a father. I can not imagine losing one of my children in such a violent way. I can not imagine wanting to live another day. Please, please, please help the mothers and fathers in Newtown, Conneticut.

I feel so utterly stupid, so completely unable to make sense of my words. I want to scream. I want to curse. So much evil…so much death. They were just children, Lord. I’m sorry…yes, I would be appalled if it happened in a nursing home or coffee shop, but there seems to be no worse kind of evil than the kind that would harm children.

In the midst of this all, I’m wondering what pain this must cause Your heart.

Please help us all.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

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“Just Keep Pulling The Cord!”

A preacher was making his visitation rounds on his trusty old bicycle one day when he came across a boy who was trying to sell a lawnmower. “How much do you want for it?” the preacher asked.

“I want enough to buy a bicycle,” the boy said.

The preacher, who just happened to need a lawnmower, thought for a minute and then said, “I’ve been looking for a mower, so lets trade. I’ll give you this bike for your mower.”

“Great!” The boy grinned from ear to ear.

The preacher got off his bike and walked over to the mower. He pulled the cord a few times, but the engine refused to start. “This thing seems hard to start. Is there a trick to get it to fire up?”

“My dad says you have to cuss at it.”

“I’m a preacher! I’ve been saved so long I don’t even remember how to cuss.”

A twinkle danced in the young boy’s eyes. “Just keep pulling the cord, and it will come back to ya.”

There are days that I wonder if I remember how to write. And the only thing I can do is “keep pulling the cord”, believing that it will come back to me, (writing, that is…not cussing…that’s a different post).

If you are struggling with blank screen syndrome, let me encourage you to write one paragraph at a time. Don’t think in novel-length chunks. Make your goal more manageable. When you’re driving in thick fog, you very seldom speed up. The wise thing to do is slow down, handle the immediate chunk of road in front of you. Eventually you’ll get to your destination, even if it’s later than you originally planned.

You CAN finish that novel. But you won’t do it by reading about writing. And since the novel won’t write itself, you’ll need to bang out the words with your own fingers…sentence by sentence. In other words, you’ll need to just keep pulling the cord.

How do you keep writing when the writing comes slow?

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Is it wrong to be “Star Struck”?

I’ve had a chance to meet many of my favorite writers. And I’m star struck most of the time it happens. Sometimes my brain goes into temporary hibernation, refusing to allow my tongue to work properly. Ever been there?

It’s just so doggone cool to meet these published authors, especially if I’ve read their books as a fan. I still remember my fist ACFW Conference (St. Louis 2011). I knew that Brandilyn Collins was going to be there. She’s one of my favorite authors. I really wanted to meet her. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? I’m a grown–relatively mature–adult with workable social skills. Then the moment came…and went. I was preparing to get off the elevator. The doors opened, and there stood mulitpublished, award-winning, Brandilyn Collins. And I had no idea what to say. I had to look down at my name tag to remember my own name. Awkward.  I wandered off the elevator, she got on…and the opportunity was gone. Later, however, after a few rounds of Christian stalking, I did get to meet her. Then, at the same conference, a new friend introduced me to Terri Blackstock. I’m not sure what I said to her, but chances are it resembled that Chris Farley skit on Saturday Night Live. I’m sure you’ve never felt such nervousness in the presence of someone you admired. I’m riding solo on the goofball express, huh?

I just get tongue-tied around people I admire from the standpoint of a fan.

And when my tongue does work, it’s not always a good thing. I’ll spare myself the embarrassment of telling you what happened the first time I met Nancy Mehl. (Picture me slapping my forehead). And don’t listen to the members of the South-Central Kansas ACFW chapter when they say that they think I have a man-crush on Ted Dekker. I’m sure I’ll be just fine if ever given the opportunity to meet him…

And what’s really ironic is that as a preacher/teacher I talk for a living! Yes, God is a God of wonders.

seriously, it is really a thrill to meet so many talented writers whose books I’ve read. I was nice to meet Collen Coble and Rene Gutteridge at this past ACFW conference, then to have Rene come and speak to our local chapter, and sign a book for me. And to be friends with published authors like Nancy Mehl, Karl Bacon, and Deborah Raney is a blessing that has made my writing journey more enjoyable.

But do you know who else has blessed my enormously? The unpublished writers that attend my local chapter, or go to conference. These fellow stewards of story work hard to reach their goals and achieve their dreams. To them I say, “It’s an incredible honor to know you. You make me proud to be a writer. And when you get published and I become a fan of your books, just forgive me if I walk up and get tongue-tied or something dumb comes out of my mouth.”

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How “CHRISTIAN” should our stories be?

Christian story tellers write Christian fiction. I proudly belong to a national group called American Christian Fiction Writers.

What makes Christian fiction different from other types of fiction?

Is it the words we use? Is it the issues we tackle or the way we deal with them? Is it the amount of Bible references we put in our books? Or the subtle Christian themes we fold into the pages?

But what makes a book, theme, or scene Christian?

I’m convinced the answer to that question can liberating. Or dominating. Perhaps it depends on attitude and agenda. We like “black & white” answers, and that’s okay, but not everything can be so designated. For instance, here another question that stirs discussion in churches–even causes splits:  what makes a worship service a “real” worship service? Some demand the old hymns, while others want the newest praise songs. Some want a pipe organ and others get all giddy when they walk into a sanctuary and see a drum set and guitars. So which is it?

See what I mean?

When it comes to Christian Fiction, who decides what is and isn’t Christian? And what standards do they use to make such a judgment?

My opinion, formed through observation and experience, is that Christian Fiction can be defined as much by what is not a part of the story as by what is part of the story.

I believe our story should leave people thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute…(Phil 4:8a). But I also believe that we have a responsibility to keep in mind that all the things mentioned above–along with the source of our salvation–is specifically revealed in the name of Jesus. But does that mean that I have to include His name in every book? Keep in mind that there is an entire book of the Holy Bible in which God’s name never appears! Yet God included it in His collection of “books” called the Bible.

If I use Philippians 4:8 as a guide, then I’ll be careful to include story elements that honor God, AND I’ll keep from using profane things that dishonor him (such as explicit sexual content, profane language, and any other elements that celebrate “evil” instead of exposing it). But even deciding how much to hint at sexual attraction/activity, foul language, etc… isn’t always “black & white”.

I very much want to hear your comments on the questions in this post. Please take a minute to share your thoughts. Thank you.

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