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Let it Go (the emotion, that is…)

Confession. I have not yet read The Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure it’s a lovely book. Everyone I know is talking about it. And I haven’t read it for the same reason that I’ve never made it all the way through A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook. My chest constricts just thinking about it. Tears well up in my eyes and I start wandering the room for chocolate. I’m not a fan of sappy.

I know, I know. So many good books I’ve missed out on because I don’t like to face that raw emotion.

Then there’s my temper. I teach teenagers. I’m paid not to lose my temper. And with that, I’ve learned to let things roll off my shoulders. It takes a lot to make me mad these days, which makes it really hard to write a dramatic scene in a novel.

Yet, I’m working on a scene where I need to vamp it up. And I’m stuck. I guess I’m going to have to grab some tissues and force myself to read a few of those sappy books.

Joe Bunting, founder of The Write Practice, wrote this article on writing about raw emotion. His first thought was to draw inspiration from music. That, I can do. I can actually listen to songs that evoke that sort of emotion as I write. I’ve never been a playlist writer, but I know that writers are. Bunting suggests using repetition and restraint to convey the emotion. I like the thoughts, but I felt like the article could have given a few more examples. So I Googled on.

Nevermind that when I searched (when should a character let emotion go) and found Elsa, or (when should a character break down) and found Twilight

But finally, I came across this little gem: Character Rants and Breakdowns–Let ’em Rip by Beth Hill. I realized how much of the problem is me–holding back my own emotions, so I hold back the emotions of my characters. Writing and reading is an escape. Catharsis is acceptable on the written page, and it will lead readers to compassion for my characters.

This reminds me of Romans 12:15, one of my favorite verses on compassion.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

It’s exactly what readers want to do. Now, to push my sleeves up and make them feel that scene.

Write from the Heart, Write on the Heart

reading bible

A friend asked a few days ago what drives me to write Christian young adult fiction and not mainstream. Though I’ve touched on this topic in another post, one thing I didn’t mention is my deep concern that many people claiming to be Christians are not reading their Bibles anymore. They’ll say, “Oh, I saw that in a blog post,” or “I read about it in a book.”

For me, there’s only one Book, THE Book, that serves as the source of my faith. Blog posts and commentary are only manmade opinions, just as this one is. And if I’m to have a platform, that’s it. Read your Bible. More than that, write its words on your heart–Memorize Scripture. Anything I write now, or in the future, will have that message somewhere within its pages.

I drew inspiration for my work-in-progress, Cavernous, from several different sources. One was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which to me, is one of the scariest concepts–the banning of books.

In Cavernous, several US states have seceded to form their own country, the Alliance of American States. Adrian Lamb, the leader of this new nation, has printed his own Bibles, keeping only the Scripture that suits him. And sadly, many of the so-called Christians in the Alliance have not read the Bible enough to even detect that parts are missing.

Just like firefighter Montag in Fahrenheit 451, who becomes the “back-up copy” of the book of Ecclesiastes, my protagonist, Callie, carries Scripture in her heart. Thus, she’s able to resist Alliance brainwashing, since she knows what pieces are left out.

This morning, I read from Deuteronomy 11.

13 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ 16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.

18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.–Quote from NKJV, accessed from


Verses 18 and 19 could well be my mission statement. Lay up God’s words in your heart and soul, keep them in front of your eyes, teach them to your children, speaking of them continually, write them where people can see them.

Through the Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes program, my husband, children, and I have participated in an event called “Centurion of Scripture.” The goal is to memorize 100 Bible verses in a year. It seems a daunting task until you push up your sleeves and start learning verses, but after that, it’s actually pretty easy. Think about what a better life we’d all have if everyone wrote the words of God on their heart.

Don’t Your Characters Ever Get Tired?

I was critiquing a writing piece a few weeks ago and the person had an action-packed chase sequence. It wasn’t terrible, but the sequence happened over a three day span and the characters didn’t make any stops to eat or sleep.

Which was… UNBELIEVABLE. Let me tell you, if someone was after me and I had to run, my almost forty-year-old body is in trouble. I can make it about a quarter of a mile before I’m panting like a dog on a hot summer day. I’mresourceful–I might be able to trip my stalker and knock them into a mailbox or something, or grab a large brick from someone’s flowerbed and aim where the sun don’t shine. No way a story written about me could justify a character going through a three day chase scene like that.

The point is, it’s important to think about the reality of a character physically being able to handle the challenges we put them in.

I remember reading about the jump Tris made in Veronica Roth’s Divergent (which I loved), and being a little disappointed in the impact description.

Roth writes:

I hit something hard. It gives way beneath me and cradles my body. The impact knocks the wind out of me, and I wheeze, struggling to breath again. My arms and legs sting.

The physics teacher in me felt like there might be some rope burn from the net, maybe a few bloody scrapes.  Maybe she’d wobble her first few steps or something? I mean,  I know that “hottie” Four frees her from the net, but then she goes on the tour, and there’s no physical remnants of her dauntless acts.

So, the other day I had a conversation with my sis-in-law about an upcoming trip we’d like to take with the kids–an eight mile hike. She advised me to prep for the trip, cautioning that it would be difficult for an average person to just jump in on a hike like that without any training.

Makes me think about the characters in my story–a teenage girl, on the run, hiking four or five miles off-trail. I’ve added all these setting details, but I’ve basically just taken them from point A to point B. They rest, they sleep, but I’ve forgotten to add those touches of realism–aching feet, blisters, sheer exhaustion–that would keep my character from seeming larger than life.

So many tiny little details to think about when writing a story.

Going back now to reread the whole thing and look for places to add sore elbows and feet 🙂


That’s a great first line!

So… a few weeks ago, I was named Area Coordinator for the Eastern Kentucky branch of ACFW. Whoo hoo! Other than the only other Christian writer I know of in the area  is the girl who teaches across the hall from me. Lots of work to do!

Today was an amazing day. A friend and I joined three writers at a quaint little bookstore/bakery to find out a little more about what needs to happen in an ACFW chapter. I can’t stress enough what a difference this organization has made in my life. The free classes, the contests, the encouragement–like anything else, you get what you give, but I’ve received some fantastic feedback and feel closer than ever to my goal of someday publishing.

One thing that stands out to me from the day–

As we got to know each other, we laughed and told stories. One of the ladies kept exclaiming, “That sounds like a great first line!”

I think about first lines all the time, stress over them, in fact. But this woman, within a span of about 30 minutes, had already turned our simple conversation into several great ideas.  So, a new challenge for myself and anyone who reads this. Every day for the next week, just listen to everyone around you. Pay attention to their quips and greetings, and find as many great first lines as you can.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you to Kimberly Grenfel, aka Devon Winterson, who invited me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour, where I answer four questions my writing process.
And where did the last two months go? Oh, yeah, right. No snow days and working like a fiend! So much for New Year’s Resolutions! LOL. I will try to be more dedicated to researching and making blog posts. I have actually read a couple of great books to blog about over the last couple weeks.
My Writing Process . . . answered by author Monica Mynk:
1) What am I working on? – Cavernous. Its a YA dystopian Christian fiction where Callie Noland’s world falls apart when her mother goes missing and turns up in handcuffs on national TV following a presidential assassination. In the aftermath, seven US states declare themselves seceded and create a new, somewhat unstable government.  Callie is snatched from her father and hurled into the new government when men claiming to be federal agents bring DNA results that seem to prove that he’s not really her father. Okay, yeah. I really need to work on the blurb. But that’s the general idea. Will Callie compromise her faith to blend into this new government safely or even to escape and get back to her father?
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? – As far as I know, there are not many people out there writing YA dystopian Christian fiction with a political/social media spin. The ones I’ve found are either older, like 1984, or more fantasy/sci-fi oriented. My dream is that this story will be the Hunger Games/Divergent of Christian fiction an inspire faith in young ladies everywhere. One of the accusations of YA dystopian novels is that the characters are sometimes underdeveloped. The romances are not fully evolved, etc. I’m hoping to do better at that.
3) Why do I write what I do? – Honestly, I’m not sure. Some of the things that show up on my page end up surprising me. I have this dark side that doesn’t physically manifest itself, I guess LOL. I write Christian fiction because I am a Christian and I don’t want to ever be pressured into including something in a book that isn’t up to my spiritual standards. I want to write books that my kids will read and be inspired to deeper faith.
4) How does my writing process work? – I always start with the idea, which usually comes from an observation or dream, and write until I have about 10,000 words of gibberish. Then, I sift through the garbage and try to find my story. After that, I outline a general timeline, which will certainly change eight or nine times. I research for a few days and then push up my sleeves and write a few chapters. Usually I find things I need to go back and explain, so what ends up being my chapter one is about six or seven chapters earlier than my original chapter one. I try to avoid prologues.
Once I have a full draft, I try to find holes–places where adding another chapter will enhance the story. My full drafts tend to be around 50,000 words and I want 70,000. Then, I add things to deepen the POV and details to make the characters and setting pop off the page.
I am working with a freelance editor/writing coach for my current story. This really helps because she finds the big flaws in my story and rewrite them before it gets too far in. I also participate in several writing sites, primarily Legendfire, and Scribophile 
Next Monday, on March 24th, I’m supposed to have three other writers give you their own “My Writing Process” answers. I asked several people who couldn’t do it for various reasons, so if you’re a writer and you’d like to participate, feel free to tag along. All you have to do is link back to my blog, answer these four questions, and then find three other writers do the same in the following week.

Lazy Writers Never Publish Books

Post four in the discussion from Richard Bausch’s “Letter to a Young Writer.” 

I usually don’t keep New Year’s Resolutions past a week, which is why it’s pretty remarkable that I’ve already made over ten posts on this blog. It’s so hard to start new habits in your mid-to-late thirties. Kids, soccer, church, work, housework–everything seems to conspire against you when you try to take out time for something like writing. 

Without habitual diligence, the likelihood of finishing anything developed enough to publish is minuscule. This is just like anything else in life–reading the Bible, praying, completing random acts of kindness–you must persist or you fail.

The title of this post is a piece of advice I was given from one of the first people to critique my work. They said I’d relied too much on adverbs, left out too many details, and it felt like I’d just rushed to get something down on the page. I’ve come across some nonsensical dribble from authors in my time, so I’m sure that a few are falling through the cracks and getting published anyway. Still, it takes quite a bit of work ethic and staying power to complete a full novel manuscript.

While participating in NaNoWriMo, I set a goal of 2000 words per day. There were days I could only manage about 50. Other days I wrote 10,000. By the end of the month, my fingers ached, my mind swam, and I felt like I’d just finished a 5K. But I finished because I kept coming to the computer every day, opening the file and reading the words until I felt compelled to type new ones.

In his third point to young authors, Bausch says this:

“Be regular and ordinary in your habits, like a petty bourgoise, so you may be violent and original in your work.” This comes from Flaubert and is quite good advice. It has to do with what I was talking about in the first paragraph and is, of course, better expressed. The thing that separates the amateur writer from the professional, often enough, is simple the amount of time spent working the craft. You know that if you really want to write, if you hope to produce something that will stand up to the winds of criticism and scrutiny of strangers, you’re going to have to work harder than you have ever worked on anything else in your life æ hour upon hour upon hour, with nothing in the way of encouragement, no good feeling, except the sense that you have been true to the silently admonishing examples of the writers who came before you – the ones whose company you would like to be in and of whose respect you would like to be worthy. 

I often tell my high school students that any good grade is worth the hard work, and I think the same applies here. One can’t just decide they’re going to write a book, get the story on paper, and drop it off at the publishing house. 

One of my favorite Ernest Hemingway quotes supports this idea.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

In other words, writing a novel is kind of like undertaking a second job. You have to be committed, dedicated, motivated, and habitual. So, in the spirit of being habitual, stay tuned tomorrow for another glimpse into the Mind of Mynk.

Writing, Patience, and Persistence

The people who really know me will probably crack up at this title. I hate waiting on anything, but especially when it’s some kind of feedback on something I’ve done. Whether it be staying up all night to paint a room because I can’t wait for it to be finished, being unable to sleep the night before school starts, or incessantly refreshing the Weather Channel app to see if the snow is any closer, being impatient has become something of an obsession. I work on it daily, but it’s a challenge. Some of us are just wired that way.

The first week of August 2012, two months after I’d first decided to become a serious writer, I started feeling frustrated. I wasn’t improving as fast as I thought I should. I’d joined the forums, gotten some feedback, tried to improve, and then entered a few contests and fared poorly. I’d devoted a whole summer to learning how to write, after all. 

What I lacked was patience. Thankfully, others had enough patience to offer me reassurance and help me continue the path. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve come farther than I ever dreamed I could.

I recently stumbled on a quote by Richard Bausch, an esteemed creative writing professor from the University of Memphis, from this interview transcript, Washington Post, November 2003. He was asked if writing could be taught. He responded:

No. I don’t teach writing. I teach patience. Toughness. Stubbornness. The willingness to fail. I teach the life. The odd thing is most of the things that stop an inexperienced writer are so far from the truth as to be nearly beside the point. When you feel global doubt about your talent, that is your talent. People who have no talent don’t have any doubt. And it’s figuring that out and learning how to put all that stuff behind you and just do the work. Just go in and shake the black cue ball and see what surfaces. 

After finding that quote, I researched Richard Bausch and found his essay, “Letter to a Young Writer”  on the National Endowment for the Arts website.

Several things in this letter resonated with me, and I’d like to devote a few posts to considering them in depth.

In his opening paragraph, he talks about two things that have plagued me. The first are those negative thoughts of self-doubt that creep in every time someone looks at me and says, “YOU want to be a writer?”

Or, better yet, the ones who say, “You want to be a writer? Me, too. Look at my novice, underdeveloped story.”

Bausch answers this self doubt by assuring the young writer that it’s normal, painful though it may be. Writing is one of those things that everyone has an opinion on, and many people think they do well. Anyone who wants to be a true success needs the patience to trudge on when they feel discouraged. 

Something else he mentions are the things the writer must give up to achieve this dream. Choosing the life of a writer is choosing to let go of certain things. Bausch says this:

“Writing is not an indulgence. The indulgences are what you give up in order to write.You don’t go to as many parties, you don’t watch as much television, you don’t listen to as much music. You make decisions in light of what you have to do in a given day and everything except the life you lead with your family is subordinated to the hours you must work. How much you get done depends in large part not on your talent, which is whatever it is and it’s mostly constant, but on your attitude about what you are doing.”

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe I’ve written something nearly every day for 18 months. I’m terrible at keeping New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not the best at maintaining good habits. But I’m 100% convinced that I’ve been able to improve as a writer because I keep at it every single day.

If you’re dedicated, you can do it! So push up your sleeves, turn off the TV, and get to writing!


Why Christian Fiction?

At times, people on forums will make comments that something I’ve written might sell better in a secular setting. In no way do I mean I’ve experienced any persecution from critiquers. On the contrary, most of them have been highly supportive and more than fair. Still, I get the occasional one to ask why I’m so bent on publishing in that market. Other than the obvious, “Well, I am a Christian,” I had to stop and think about what that answer might be.

One reason, I guess, is that I love to read Christian fiction. There’s not a good way to explain this, but writing is sometimes as good as reading. The characters take over my fingers and I get caught up in their journey as if I’m reading someone else’s work. I enjoy being moved by someone having an emotional response to what God has done for them and growing in their faith. If I write it, I get to feel that way with the characters I’ve developed, and it’s more personal.

Second, I want to write things that will make my parents proud and that I don’t have to hide from my children. I watch or read about some of these people on TV (for about 10 seconds before switching) and it makes me wonder how they can do it. Surely their parents cover their eyes or don’t tune in at all. Surely they don’t want their children to see their inappropriate pictures and read their crass talk.  I try not to judge, but I don’t understand.

But then I got to thinking about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, and how God gives us our gifts to use to glorify him. So now, my answer to that question is how can I not write Christian fiction?

When the cast of Duck Dynasty became a household name, and I read some of their comments about why they were willing to put their family on national TV to share their faith, and the message really hit home. A lot of Christians complain that they’re trying to talk to people about God but they aren’t listening. Say what you will about Phil Robertson, in spite of his lack of tact. He’s got people listening who probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

If I publish one book and one person reads it, sees my bio, and decides to figure out where my faith comes from, then it’s worth everything I put into it.

My dream is to write a Young Adult novel with that Hunger Games feel that will speak to young Christian women and encourage them to embrace a steadfast faith.

Many thanks to everyone who is supporting me on this ride!

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Over Christmas break, I read the Divergent series.  The first two books were fantastic. The third one, Allegiant, just made me mad. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read the book, but even more than the plot twist, I was frustrated by the sudden shift to one-page chapters.

This begs the question–how long does a chapter have to be? Where do you break the story? Obviously, Veronica Roth is successful and a one page chapter was acceptable to her publishers. Still, could someone who is trying to break out with a debut novel get away with it?

I’ve struggled with this question a lot myself, and I’m certainly not the expert, but here’s what I could find.

According to Brian A Klems, with Writer’s Digest, there’s no specific rule. It just needs to deliver the plot and move the story forward, kind of like an act on a TV show.

That’s easy enough advice to follow, but leads to a follow-up–how do you know where to start and finish the act?

The best definitive answer I’ve found is from Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies.

He divides a chapter into two levels of structure, the scene and the sequel.  The scene, he divides into goal, conflict, and disaster.  The sequel is comprised of the reaction to the disaster, some kind of dilemma, and a decision made by the character. Then, the suggestion is to alternate between the two.

What I’m not sure of, and experimenting with in my own story, is whether the chapter should be divided between scene and sequel, or at the end of the whole process.  I’d love for anyone who has expertise to comment and advise the rest of us.

Can You Believe It?

You’d think writing about a real-life event would be easy.  For some reason, though, every time I try to do this, people say it’s not realistic.  This makes me just want to scream and say, “Wait!  But it really happened.  I’m telling the truth, promise!”

The truth is, it’s not about that.  It’s more about how well I’ve anchored the characters to the setting and established their traits enough that it’s believable they’d do something like that.  For example, lets say two friends were walking down a crowded street and one man sees a car coming toward the one.  Instead of dragging the friend out of the way, the guy shoves him toward the car.

Well, if you’ve painted that character as a villain, great.  It would make sense for a bad guy to do something like that.  But if it’s a preacher that everyone loves and trusts making the same action, then you’d better put in some internal reflection to back that action up before you have him do it.

So here’s what I’ve learned about credibility.

1.  Don’t tell it just like it is.  If you’re writing a story, you have to embellish details a little bit.  One reason is that real life is sometimes bland.  The other reason is because writing a story is like looking at the event through a different lens.  In the same way that touching a picture of an apple isn’t the same as holding it in your hands, a few words on a page cannot do justice to the real-life emotions you feel and the body language, gestures, etc. that you experience.  So, you have to add those in to paint a better picture.

The funny thing is that a lot of times I do a great job convincing readers that something completely impossible has happened when I can’t make them believe the truth.  I think the problem all goes back to lazy writing.  If I already know what it feels like, then why do I need to make extra effort to describe it?  Well, believe me, that extra effort makes all the difference.

2.  Fiction is supposed to be, well, fiction.  It’s important to respect the privacy of your friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers.  There’s nothing like writing something less than flattering about a friend and having them blatantly deny its truth.  (Not that I’ve done that, ha ha.  I’ve just seen examples of it).   Some of my Kentucky friends, for example, are offended when I put dialect into the story.  Sure, we really do talk this way, but it might be uncomfortable to see it in print.  A story can be like a mirror, and no one wants to stare at a bad reflection.

Only 3 this time 🙂

3.  Details make all the difference.  Good writing should make you feel something, like you’re experiencing it right there along with the author.  It’s hard to believe something that doesn’t “take you there.”  Use all the senses (thanks Kimberly Grenfell!  Best advice ever!!!).  What do your characters smell, taste, feel, touch, and hear.  If you can describe them in a way that the reader seems to experience them, they’ll be drawn in to the story.

Personal side note.  This has been a lot of fun.  Keep the questions coming.  If you want, you can comment directly on the site instead of sending me a Facebook message.  The comment box is at the top of the post, a gray speech bubble just to the right of the title.  Or, if you want to ask privately in a message, that’s fine, too. 🙂

Have a blessed day!  Upcoming: Stalking All Your Friends

Stay tuned for another look into the Mind of Mynk