Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I just finished a second draft of my romance novel, right on schedule! This is fairly unprecedented for me. (Being on schedule, I mean.) And on top of that, I figured this draft would be about 5,000 or 6,000 words too long, and turns out I'm only about 1,800 words over the limit. That shouldn't be too hard to fix.

The next draft will mainly be tying up loose ends, polishing, and cutting. The end is in sight. Yay!

Hope to say something more coherent tomorrow. But if I don't get back to you before then, I hope you all have a wonderful, peaceful, joyous Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How Subtle is Too Subtle?

I told you last time I'm always playing catch-up. I know you probably heard all about the movie Fireproof a couple of months ago, but that was during my blogging break, so I'm just getting around to it now.

In case you haven't heard, Fireproof is the second movie (after Facing the Giants) produced by a church in Georgia. I believe it's called Sherwood Baptist in Albany, but I've just spent far too much time trying to track down that nugget of information with my computer freezing up and refusing to cooperate, so I'll take a guess and move on. Anyway, I liked Facing the Giants but thought Fireproof was better. Not just because they had a "real" actor this time around, the highly likeable Kirk Cameron, but also because this movie seemed more realistic. Facing the Giants made you feel good, but to me things worked out a little too neatly for everyone, leaving the impression that if you love God, all your dreams will come true and you will live happily ever after.

Fireproof shows more of a real-life struggle as a fireman (Cameron, playing Caleb Holt) makes a decision to try to save his marriage, when his wife is ready to file for divorce. The intriguing part is that Caleb initially is no more enthusiastic about his marriage than his wife is. There are hurt feelings on both sides. It's hard, and they want to quit. Caleb agrees to try a 40-day "Love Dare" to please his father, which involves doing selfless things for his wife and his marriage each of the forty days.

And for the entire period, his wife (Catherine) rejects all his overtures. She's suspicious of his motives, or doesn't even notice what he's done. At the same time this is going on, Caleb's father is trying to get Caleb to work on his own spiritual problems and to accept Christ. But Caleb isn't interested. In one of the more powerful scenes, Caleb and his dad go for a walk by a lake and they come to an area that has a large wooden cross and benches in front of it. Caleb says youth retreats were once held there. He rages to his father about Catherine's bad attitude and says he's sick of the whole thing and ready for divorce. He says something like, "How can you keep loving someone who rejects you over and over?" Dad quietly puts his hand on the cross and looks Caleb right in the eye. Caleb gets it. So did I. Jesus still loves him, even though he rejects his Savior over and over.

The writer in me was screaming, "Wonderful! Gives me shivers! Please don't explain it and ruin the moment."

But they did. Caleb's dad proceeded to explain in great detail the conclusion his simple gesture had already made. And to me, the moment was watered down. Powerful became preachy.

That's how it came across to me, anyhow. I'm sure the makers of the movie, though, wanted to make sure that the audience got the gospel message. So what do you writers, readers, and movie-goers think? Should we spell everything out to make sure everyone "gets it"? Or go for the powerful, artistic moment and hope the symbols carry the message?

One more sidenote about Fireproof. There was a great song in the soundtrack that could be the theme song of this blog. It's called "While I'm Waiting," by John Waller. It's about the pain and difficulty of waiting for the Lord to act, and how we should behave in the meantime. I'll close with a little sample:

I will move ahead, bold and confident,
Taking every step in obedience.
While I'm waiting
I will serve You. . .
I'll be running the race,
Even while I wait.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why Didn't Someone Tell Me?

One thing you will notice about me and my reading habits. I'm always playing catch-up. I'm constantly discovering "new" authors and books that other people were excited about months or even years ago. For a brief period of time I was cutting edge, when I was reviewing books for Novel Reviews, but then I went back to my old habits.

I spent October and November reading all seven of The Chronicles of Narnia books. For the first time! (They're very good, by the way. But you already knew that, right?)

Last week, in my quest to find another Christmas-themed audio book, I picked up The Christmas Secret by Anne Perry. My first Anne Perry book. I absolutely loved it! It's a cozy mystery so it didn't exactly keep you on the edge of your seat with danger and suspense, but the atmosphere--snowbound in an English village in the 1890s--and the period detail kept me riveted. When I finished, I wanted more. And turns out this Anne Perry person has loads of cozy Victorian mysteries out there. Who knew! Okay, everybody but me.

Still, I'm excited to find she has more Christmas books, too. I picked up The Christmas Guest at the library yesterday. So far it's hysterical, with the acid-tongued Grandmama Ellison being sent against her will to spend the Christmas holidays with her former daughter-in-law.

I also ran across the unabridged audio of The Fellowship of the Ring, which I may tackle right after Christmas. No, I've never read Tolkien, either.

What else am I missing, I wonder?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Traditions for Readers

We hear all the time about Christmas traditions--things that people do every December with their spouse, or their kids. Some people want to hear Christmas songs over and over. I am apparently developing the need to listen to the same audiobook every Christmas.

I've always had books I love to read every December, that help me get into the spirit. I'm a little disturbed about how my habits have changed, though. I seem to have slid from inspiring Biblical fiction to brain candy and fluff.

For a long time, I kept rereading a wonderful book called How Far to Bethlehem. I think it's out of print now, but if you've never read this, check for a used copy on amazon.com or at your local used bookstore. It's written by one of my favorite authors, Norah Lofts, and it follows different characters from the nativity story (each of the Wise Men, Mary, Joseph, Herod, a Roman soldier, the innkeeper, the shepherd) in the months and hours leading up to Christ's birth. All these characters you've come to know separately converge in Bethlehem at the crucial hour, brought together through heart-stopping, dramatic turns of events. Lofts was a secular historical writer, but she had such an amazing way of bringing characters and past times alive, and this book was no exception. So by the end of each reading, I was ready to sing "O Holy Night" and literally fall on my knees!

My tradition for the last three years or so is not as lofty. I've gotten hooked on the audio version of Skippnig Christmas by John Grisham. I'm not sure why I enjoy it over and over. Maybe because Grisham also has a way with characters. By the time you finish this short bit of fluff, you feel as though you know every resident of Hemlock Street, including my favorite, the roving boy busybody, Spike.

Luther Krank is not exactly Scrooge, but he is definitely--well, cranky. In the beginning of the book, I sort of sympathize with his desire to escape the shallow, materialistic mess that Christmas has become. Trouble is, he substitutes another shallow, materialistic pursuit in its place. He and his wife decide to skip Christmas altogether and take a cruise, which involves new clothes, dieting, tanning beds and the like. By the end of the book, the plan has backfired on them in a big way and--you guessed it--Luther learns about true generosity and giving.

Do any other readers out there have Christmas favorites that you're dipping into again this year?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fun Stuff

In addition to writing, I've had a lot of other things going on during my official Blogging Break.

I went on a conference for work, but fortunately went with a colleague who loves antiques and crafts as much as I do, so we made a number of fun stops along the way. You've heard of the kid in the candy store?

Well, this is how happy I look when I'm loose in a yarn store. The colors! The ideas! The possibilities for things to knit when I should be writing!

You know that Yoda is often seen lurking around my workplace. A few weeks ago, he was visited by an old friend. Actually an old adversary--and there I am caught between them!

Last but not least, my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. This is a photo of them on the beach in South Carolina about a year ago. Sixty years! Now that's perseverance. My husband has probably fainted dead away just thinking about it.
(Thanks to Felicia of Fluffy Flowers for the yarn store and Darth Vader photos)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Finally an Update

It's been weeks since I announced I was taking a blogging break so I could focus on the novel manuscript that I wanted to finish up before Christmas. Some of you have asked me how that's coming along. I'm pleased to report that I made a lot of progress, although not as much as I'd hoped. Actually, I'd hoped to be finished by now, but that didn't happen. But I do have a rough, rough draft and am now into the rewriting phase, which is much easier for me.

I definitely need this to be easier. Writing this manuscript has been one of the toughest projects I've ever tackled--not because the story was all that difficult. I think the real problem has been my attitude. Pardon me if you've heard this story before, but some of you have asked so I figure it bears repeating. (And if you would like to hear my original whining, click here.)

My agent swears that the only real way for me to break into publishing is to write category romance novels, like for Steeple Hill. She does not say that writing these books is easy, just that there are more opportunities for new writers in this genre. I resisted for ages, particularly since I don't usually read those novels. I have nothing against them; we just all have our preferences, and romance novels are not one of mine.

Furthermore, I'm long-winded, I love subplots, and I enjoy playing with language and mood and atmosphere. And that's the type of book I've been writing. And trying to sell. And not selling.

I pointed out to Janet, my agent, that if I can't compete and get a contract with a novel I think plays to my strengths, how will I compete against all those other writers who love category romance--and are already good at it? But she's the agent God sent me and I didn't want to look back on my life and think I was too stubborn to take this opportunity. So I'm trying.

I sent the first three chapters to her a few weeks ago for review, and she had loads of problems with them. I wasn't surprised, since I'm so out of place with this genre. Writing those chapters, I felt as though every word were being pulled out of me, like a tooth or a fingernail. Makes me hurt just thinking about it.

I rewrote the chapters as best I could and send them to Janet, along with a note asking her to feel free to tell me if she thought I was struggling with this category too much, or just wasn't "getting it." That even though I had put in a good bit of time on a first draft, I didn't mind admitting that I stink at this (I put it more professionally than that) and move on. I had folks praying for me that weekend, that God would show me how to proceed based on her response. I was almost hoping she would tell me to stop.

Instead, she said I was now on track, the story was fast-moving and had likeable characters, and she definitely thought I should go for it. So I guess God isn't ready to release me from this yet!

I'd love to think that means I'll publish this novel, but I know from experience that isn't necessarily the case. There are other things He may want me to take away from the experience. I'm having to learn to focus, to make every word count, to skip the atmosphere and get to the action. While I don't want to lose my own voice, it certainly doesn't hurt me to learn to write cleaner and not allow myself to ramble. (Just read a few of these blog posts if you'd like confirmation of that!)

Since Janet told me I'm on the right track, my attitude has been better and I'm finding my rewrites to be easier--like yanking out a hair instead of a fingernail. I think I had been struggling with fear and a sort of hopelessness, not believing this had a chance. I needed that encouragement.

And even though I didn't finish during my blogging break, I still hope to be finished by the end of the year. Yikes! I just realized that's less than four weeks away.

I better sign off and get to writing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And the winner is...

Christina Berry!

Christina is really on a roll! Not only did she win the $25.00 amazon.com gift card, but she also just made her first book sale to Moody. If I were a betting woman (not that I am or anything, you understand, cough cough) I might ask Christina to take a trip to Vegas with me and stand very close.

Ah well, congratulations to Christina. More for achieving her dream of becoming a published author than for winning this little contest. And all joking aside, getting that book contract is an achievement, representing years of hard work and, of course, perseverance!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Last Chance to Enter the Drawing

Wow, it's been so long since I posted, I'm having to remind myself how to do it. I had to think to remember how to log in.

When I left for my blogging break, I promised to hold a drawing for a $25.00 amazon.com gift card when I came back. I plan to do that tomorrow, so here's your last chance to enter the drawing. Just leave a comment on this post if you want to play (be sure I know how to contact you if you win), and I'll announce the winner tomorrow.

Thanks for sticking around!