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Disney Channel Invaded My Writing (and I’m not sure it’s a bad thing)

I suppose almost nine must be the new preteen. What happened to my little angel, who wore us out with shows like Yo Gabba Gabba! and the Backyardigans?  Two years ago, we were hanging out on the balcony of a hotel in Pigeon Forge, and my sweet boy was holding my hand for dear life. Now, he makes sure there’s at least a foot of distance between us when we’re walking together. 

And now, he wants to watch Disney, 24/7. Dog with a Blog, Girl Meets World, Austin and Ally, and A.N.T. Farm. Overacting aside, these shows have several parts that I don’t like–the kids speak disrespectfully to the parents, the principals and teachers are depicted as idiots, and sometimes the characters are downright mean to each other. True, there’s a good message at the end of the show, but the kids want to mimic the over-the-top silly stuff. 

We try to be diligent about policing their TV and internet usage, but sometimes my husband and I get as caught up in these shows as the kids do. And then, we look at each other and wonder how we get sucked in.

It’s those little quirks, those memorable, outrageous moments that are something like a train wreck. They dump paint on each other, throw drinks in each other’s faces, fall out of chairs, and suddenly we’ve tuned in to fifteen minutes of the show. But what really catches our attention are the entrances of characters into the scene.

Since we’ve been watching more Disney, it’s changed the way I write scenes in my story. I’ve started thinking more about introducing characters and those “seriously?” moments in my own writing, and researching iconic movie entrances. Turns out, they’re in some of my favorite classics as well as some modern icons.

Take Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for example. When she stepped out of that cab, I was sold. She could have stood there and took bites out of that danish the rest of the movie, and I would have still loved it. 

Who could forget Willy Wonka’s big entrance–both Gene Wilder’s and Johnny Depp’s depictions? Peter Gibbons in Office Space?  Sandra Bullock’s emergence as Gracie Lou Freebush? 

I loved Rachel Leigh Cook’s descent down the stairs in She’s All That, and Leelee Sobieski’s prom entrance in Never Been Kissed.

How many times in our writing do we just have characters walk into a room? She went to the kitchen, he stepped into the classroom–entrances can make all the difference. 

It seems like such a simple concept, to make the character the focal point of the scene, but a lot of times we get so caught up in the progression of the plot or setting description that we forget to do it. We give them simple actions, like smiling, grinning, smirking, etc. and forget the power of a sashay, strut, or glide.

Perhaps Carly Simon says it best…although today’s critters would take issue with the “was” 🙂

 

I Can Do ALL Things

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Meet my little self-proclaimed “Peacock Girl.”

Her beautiful spirit amazes me, and her fearlessness paralyzes me with terror. This child does not believe in obstacles. She creates, loves, dreams, and experiences with every fiber of her being. But most of all, she believes.

Philippians 4:13 has always been one of my favorite verses. 

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

But do I really believe that? Do you? All things? Or just some things?

I want to be a published writer. Not just of any fiction, but of Young Adult Christian Fiction. The edgy kind, where kids will look at it and say, “Yes. That’s me. I relate to that character, and I want her faith.”

I can write a lot of different genres. I suppose I’m lucky in that regard. But I want to move teenagers to find a faith that they embrace with Hunger Games intensity. 

This past week, I received my first official rejection. Even though I expected it, it stings a little, because I’ve poured so much of myself into Cavernous. I say I have no intention of giving up. And yet, in the back of my mind, I have this little voice saying it’s impossible. One rejection, and it’s put a tiny dent into my belief.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about 2 Corinthians 5:7, and what it really means to “walk by sight.” It’s so easy to view the world through the misguided lenses of doubt and fear. Do I really trust God that He has a plan for my writing talent? Do I have the patience to let Him work through me?

Peacock Girl walks by faith because she doesn’t see those things that could stand in her way. She only sees the end game, and keeps her eyes on the goal. My goal in writing Christian Fiction is evangelism to a subset of our society who desperately need ministering. 

So I’ll press on, and I’ll pray. And I’ll get busy writing book two of the Cavernous series, because I believe it’s a message teens need to hear. If I can do ALL things, I can do this, too. 

Don’t Like What Your Kids Are Reading? Join the Clean Shelf Movement.

 

 

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Working in a school, I always hear complaints from teens that their parents don’t want them reading certain books. And, more often than not, I find them reading said books. 

I know there’s a lot of controversy over to ban or not to ban, and I have no intent of getting into that here. But what I do want to discuss is the power of our influence over what our children choose.

I stopped by a big chain bookstore today for a few minutes after a doctor’s appointment, and spent some serious study of the Christian fiction titles, disturbed to find NONE of the teen books I read this summer were there. I asked the guy for help finding Revolutionary, the third in an awesome YA Christian series, Anomaly, and it wasn’t in stock on the shelves. In fact, they don’t even have a shelf dedicated to Christian teen books.  The guy said if they’d carried the book, it would be located with the rest of the teen fiction.

Well, I was floored. For one thing, how am I as a YA Christian fiction writer supposed to market myself in a big chain bookstore if they don’t even have a stand-out place for my books?

But for another thing, how are you as a parent going to direct your teens to stories that will move them in the same ways that secular books do if they can’t even find them?

I’m ready to start a revolution. Let’s call it the Clean Shelf Movement and beg big chain bookstores, high school and middle school libraries, public libraries, etc. to offer a shelf in their facility dedicate to “Inspirational Teen Fiction.”  Perhaps, even another shelf beside it, “Inspirational Teen Nonfiction, where they can find spiritual self help books that relate to them. Don’t like what’s out there to offer them? Be the solution. Write one yourself. I’ll help you learn how. The thing is, our teens are really struggling to find inspiration in today’s world. I know this because I see it painted on their faces every single day in my classroom. They’re hungry for this, and they don’t have an avenue.

Research YA Christian authors. Some of my favorites are Jenny B. Jones, Krista McGee, Shannon Dittemore, Melody Carlson, and TONS of indie authors that you’ve never heard of, like my friend Angela Castillo, who’s written two great speculative books for middle grades. You’ll find hundreds of books to choose from in many different genres, from Ted Dekker’s Chosen, to the ever-popular Chronicles of Narnia.

I can hear the skeptics now. Some of what they read might contradict the doctrine taught at my church. Okay, I’ll concede that Christian fiction novels are written by authors of many different faiths, but one thing to note is that the guidelines they have to follow do not permit pushing doctrine in the extreme. You might come across a practice here or there that you disagree with, but you will not find books trying to turn your kid into one faith if they belong to another. I know because I’ve read most of them.

Second, if you don’t 100% buy in that it’s you’re responsibility to teach your children what must comprise their faith, and give them the tools to dismiss false doctrine in fiction as fallacy, you’re in danger of losing their soul anyway. They need to learn to hold observations up to Biblical standards and search whether these things are so.

And third, most importantly, you’d better believe they are getting a doctrine contrary to what you want them to receive in some of the mainstream teen fiction they’re currently reading. Check out this list, available on Amazon for free. They could have some of these on their phones and you’d never even know it.

Though I’m not yet published, it’s my understanding that the guidelines of the Christian Bookseller’s Association, which most inspirational publishers follow, do not permit gratuitous acts of sex or coarse language. They do not allow writers to proselytize their distinct faiths or write “preachy” stories. You won’t find things like condoning boyfriends sneaking into bedrooms to stay overnight while the parents are blissfully unaware. So, you can bank on your teen getting a clean book that won’t fill their minds with sinful behaviors that they emulate.

So, how about it, people? Write a letter to your local bookstores,public libraries, and school libraries. Research Young Adult Christian Fiction authors and include their names, book titles, and ISBN’s. Better yet, purchase some of these books, read them, and donate them. I bet you won’t find a lot of the titles there. Ask them to join in the Clean Shelf Movement, and create a space to market Inspirational Teen Fiction in a visible location, and keep titles stocked. Then support them. Go write, buy, check out, and read. 

We’ve got this, people. We’re not powerless. We can have better choices if we ask for them. 

Small edit:  Here’s a list of Christian Fiction authors, provided on Jill Williamson’s website.

A Character’s Reflex and Senses

We did the Active Shooter Response Training this week at school. Big shoutout to the KSP--it was fantastic. I learned so many things I’d never thought about before, and for the first time in my career, I don’t feel like a sitting duck. 

One thing the speaker said resonated with me as a writer. He talked about how in a scenario like a school shooting, the body tends to focus on a single sense, like tunnel vision.  The person in danger could literally see everything in the room and hear nothing. I heard what he said, but it wasn’t until we started doing drills that I really understood. We get so carried away with trying to throw in all those sensory details that sometimes we forget to check reality.

In some of the drills, we had to flee. I’ve never ran so fast in my life, and surprisingly, I wasn’t breathless. Here I’ve been making excuses about not running 5K’s and who knew I could jet across a parking lot in ten seconds, ha ha. But the crazy thing is, I remember all of the cars in the parking lot beside where I was standing. I remember details of the back of our school that I’ve never noticed before even though I’ve been out that same door several times. Everything I saw the second the drill was over is blazed in my mind.

Then it hit me (duh) that I’ve taught anatomy, and human reflexes are pretty well-researched phenomena. 

Here, for example, is one of the sites I like to use:  Our Body’s Rapid Defense Mechanism. It explains involuntary movement and what almost always happens when we get injured.

Tying this back to characters, it makes me wonder how well we pace their reflexes. When I heard gunshots in the hallway, I stood frozen for about 5 seconds before I ran, evaluating which direction was safe. Sitting in a room with someone pointing a gun at me completely changed the way I see that kind of scene. They told us in the training to fight the man, and I dove at him before I even knew what I was doing. Let me tell you, in that instance, I wasn’t thinking about what color shirt he was wearing or whether or not he had a certain hair color or style. 

What I’m saying is placement of details matters. In that 10-15 seconds that I held the “shooter’s” wrists and the other teachers helped me ambush the poor guy, my only thought was keeping that gun out of my face. Now after he was on the table and the “danger” was over, I noticed everything in the room. 

Now I’m pumped, ready to write a good fight scene 🙂

Cold Water to a Weary Teacher

Opening day of school equals exhaustion. Teachers scurry to be first in line for the copier, custodians hustle to make everything look shiny and new. We make lists, decorate, pile piles, stuff folders. To call an educator weary at this point is a huge understatement. And even worse, we have crazy stress dreams and sleepless nights, so by the first day of school, we’re fighting the urge to drag ourselves around when we should be presenting our best faces.

Weariness is, by definition, beyond tired. It’s physical more than a feeling, emotional more than aching bones and sore feet, and it’s a kind of tired that seems to promise no relief.

But sometimes, when I’m feeling especially weary, I chide myself. First world problems, right? At least I don’t have to walk with my family across rough terrain, facing the possibility of encountering robbers or other rogue characters like they did in Bible days. It’s a good reminder that weariness has been around since the beginning of time.

What did people in Bible times do? Well, archaeologists have discovered ancient energy drinks and such, and caffeine is found naturally in many plants, so I’m sure they had their version of a daily drink that served as a pick-me-up.

Scripture is full of medical remedies. Kyle Butt from Apologetics Press has written a fascinating article  detailing some of the old-time cures.

I found this one related to weariness:

Proverbs 25:25 As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.

Hydrotherapy? Cold water is refreshing and renewing. Could it bring strength and energy to combat physical weariness.

While digging through my Anatomy curriculum in preparation for school to restart, I found this article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, proposing that regular exposure to moderate cold water can help chronic fatigue patients. They hypothesize that applying cold stress could reduce seratonin levels, increase the metabolic rate, and a few other things. To test it, they planned to use a treatment of twenty-minute cold showers, twice a day.

I couldn’t find the follow-up to that article, but I did find several others that support hydrotherapy as a viable alternative treatment for many ailments.  And there are a several articles from the National Institute of Health proposing cold showers as possible treatment for depression, mild electroshock for nervous system treatment, etc. I found articles from other sites that claimed cold showers burn calories and assist with weight loss. Wonder if it will cure my teacher fatigue?

So, call me crazy, because I love nothing more than a good, hot shower, but I’m going to try gradually decreasing the temp as I get ready for the first day of school on Monday morning, in the hopes it will combat the sleepless Sunday night that’s sure to come. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Anyone else ever tried cold-water hydrotherapy?

The Anxious Writer

Weather forecasts like the one for today always make me nervous. I want to just cuddle up with my family in a cave somewhere and hide until it’s over. Twice in my life, I’ve driven in tornadic storms, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that fear. Fear is something I carry with me a lot in my life, and something I need to let go of.

Fear has two meanings–anxiety and respect. It’s healthy to want to take cover in impending weather. But the anxiety… that’s something I really struggle with, both as a person and as a writer.

Joshua 1:9 is constantly on my mind:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong, and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

 

Part of my struggle with this verse is that fear is such a physical response for me. If I have to speak in front of a crowd, butterflies fill my stomach regardless of how much I pray. If I have to drive home in a bad thunderstorm, I tremble. If I think my children are in danger, my heart pounds. Looking over a high point, my knees knock. But I think perhaps those fears come from the respect for the possibility of a dangerous or unpleasant outcome.

With writing, though, it’s another ball game. Complete and utter anxiety. What if I spend months writing and polishing this book and no one wants to read it? What if it’s not good enough? What if I finish and sell the first book of my trilogy and stall out on book two?  What if teens don’t relate to my characters or plot? What if people do read it and they hate it? What if people think I’m weird for writing Christian fiction? What if my characters come across too weak? What if I inadvertently misrepresent God’s truth?

Charles Spurgeon says this of anxiety:

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.

 

So true, and such hard advice to follow. And from a writer’s standpoint, our anxiety does not put words on a page, but only distracts us from writing brilliance.

Right now, my proposal is out there, in the hands of a couple of people who may hand me my dream or tell me now is not the time, and I’m anxious. But my brilliant editor gave me a fantastic pep talk this weekend, reminding me that I’m writing for Him, and He’s read the whole thing. Which makes me wonder–why do I not have anxiety over that?

I saw a Facebook meme earlier this week that asked why we worry so much about what others think and not enough what God thinks.

My prayer for today is that my words will please Him and further His truth.

Psalms 19:14

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer.

 

Fifty Shades of … Blush

"Life Pharmacy Westfield Albany cosmetics 2013". Via Wikipedia

“Life Pharmacy Westfield Albany cosmetics 2013”. Via Wikipedia

Hey Ladies! Yes, Christian ladies who are raving over the recently released movie trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. Christian ladies who apparently see nothing wrong with it–who are shamelessly posting it on Facebook and Twitter for the rest of us to see and share in its lustful glory. 

Let me start by saying I’m not perfect or sinless, and sometimes I struggle with temptation. Perhaps, even mild curiosity. Maybe, a pause before deciding not to click. I haven’t read this book, nor do I have a desire to read something tauted as “Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving.” But lust is a sin that affects all of us, and you never know who, by sharing, you’ll entice into a deep battle with sexual sin. Are there teenage or college girls on your friend list, looking to your example and finding that you deem this acceptable?

Just the thought should make us blush. Right? But if we’re posting the trailer on social media, we’re surely not blushing. Have we forgotten how?

Kind of reminds me of Jeremiah 6

“Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest My soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited.” 

Then, these troubling words: 

 “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush. Therefore they shall fall among them that fall; at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down,” saith the Lord.

Kind of scary, right? Enough to make a girl want to put down fiction novels for good. Unless…

We have an alternative! Today, there are thousands of writers in the Christian fiction market trying to make a positive change in the world. Multiple genres–YA Dystopian, Speculative, New Adult, Contemporary–just Google it and you’ll find tons of titles. Good titles. And a lot of free titles. You’ll find heartwarming stories that make you cry, romances that make you melt, and suspense that makes you shiver. 

Check out some of these titles from Goodreads and Amazon.

Christian Fiction readers–what’s the best CF book you’ve read lately? I just finished Luminary, second of the Anomaly series by Krista McGee. 

So, let’s forget about that whole grey thing, okay? And don’t forget to put your blush on. 

 

A Soul’s Journey–Frozen Fractals All Around

Julia set (highres 01)

By Solkoll, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sorry. It’s summertime, and I’ve seen the movie Frozen about twenty more times than I’ve wanted to, so it’s on the brain. And I’m aware that this post might solidify my status as a nerd. Just bear with me 🙂

I can’t get this line out of my head:

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.

 

Not only is it adorable to hear little girls everywhere singing their hearts out about fractals, but I thought it might be a great concept to describe the character arc of a Christian fiction progatonist through a fractal.

Factoring in this thought was something I’d just read in Krista McGee’s Anomaly, which is one of the better books I’ve read lately. In it, the main character is a musician, and she plays out her emotions and thoughts in her songs. If it works for a song, why wouldn’t it work for a mathematical pattern?

This idea isn’t completely original. I’ve tried several different methods to organize plot, including Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I really like his method, although sometimes it’s a little too linear for me. So today, as I was trying to reorganize the plot of Cocooned, the second book in my trilogy, I did a web search and found the picture at the top of my post. I imagined my four characters, each moving on their own fractal path, with the protagonist and antagonist facing off at the end of the story, just like the two bigger fractals in the picture seem to be facing off. I can see my whole plot in that picture.

I tried to imagine the white and blue spaces as safe moments for the character, that build as the color intensifies. They walk through these situations, in and out of the paths of other characters, spiraling into the climax of their own. There would be some things to draw them away from their main, spiraling path. I loved the symmetry of it, and the pacing/timing seems perfect for the twists and turns I’d like to place in the story.  It fit so perfeclty. How cool is that?

If I ever end up publishing Cocooned, I’ll share it someday 🙂

Anyone else have any cool fractal pics?

Lessons from the Classroom for YA Writers

Engaged Student

I wish I had started out as a writer first, then a teacher. I think my first few years would have been much better. Writers tend to notice things about people that others don’t.

That said, I’m thankful for the time I’ve spent trying to sell curriculum to resistant young people every day, because I think it makes me a much better writer. Here are five things I’ve learned:

1. Teens respond better to active, engaging material than passive.

In the classroom, this translates to hands-on activities and interactive models, such as the potato gun above–one of my all-time favorite projects from some of my favorite students*. In writing, this means drawing them into the action and letting them experience it as the character. They don’t want to just stand by and let you tell them a story. They want to think, feel, taste, smell, touch, fear, rejoice, and be.

2. Teens thrive on relationships.

They want to have them, hear about them, talk about them, dissect them–it’s a challenge sometimes as a teacher to get them to stop thinking about relationships long enough to teach them something. You might think I’m only talking about romantic relationships, but it’s more than that. They thrive on building strong relationships with the adults in their lives, even the elderly. They are interested in watching how two teachers interact with each other, or how a mother interacts with her baby.

That’s why I feel like it’s important to consider the relationship dynamic between ALL characters, not just the main ones, and adding in a few details to show appropriate behaviors between people. Maybe someone holds the door open and someone else thanks them. Perhaps an older couple is walking by in front of them, holding hands. Sadly, a lot of kids do not have good role models to imitate. In Christian fiction, especially, we need to keep that in mind.

3. Teens are smarter about life than we think.

I’ve critiqued a lot of aspiring YA writers, and one of my pet peeves is how they sometimes try to explain every little thing. It’s like they think teen readers won’t know the meaning of words or understand the history behind an event. Believe it or not, teens are usually pretty up-to-date on current events and fairly knowlegeable about history. After all, they get three years to study it in high school. I’ve had some great intellectual discussions with students about surprising topics over the years.

They also have experienced more than we might believe–pain, loss, joy. In fact, many of them could teach us a few things about coping.

We have to be careful to not make characters too naive. In a recent discussion with a group of young readers, we talked about the Princess Diaries and how frustrated they were with Anne Hathaway’s character being inept at so many things. While most of them liked the movie, they didn’t find her character relatable. Their average/awkward is a lot different from the way Princess Mia was painted.

If we’re not careful, we could write characters that might come across as an insult to today’s savvy teen readers.

4. Teens have short attention spans. 

It’s been my experience that teens lose focus after about 10-15 minutes. In my classroom, I have to find creative ways to throw in hooks every so often to pull them back in. And honestly, I think that’s true for a lot of adults, too. I’ve seen a lot of students take books back to the library before finishing them. Instead of being a story they couldn’t put down, it was something easily dismissed. At the very least, a writer should put a hook at the end of every chapter.  You’re not going to keep them turning pages with a bunch of info dumps, either. They’ll just flip through and skip pages to look for the next action scene.

5. Teens are brutally honest. 

One thing I love about working with high school students is that you never have to worry about what they’re thinking. If they love an assignment, they’ll tell you. If they hate it, you’ll know. So, hard as it may be to handle their blunt feedback, if you’re going to write YA, you might consider having a couple of teens read your story before submitting, and REALLY listen to their advice.

*Photo used with permission.

 

Through Devastation, Joy

The Bernie Madoff story has always fascinated me. How could one man orchestrate something that ruined the lives of so many? How could he sleep at night, knowing all of his gain was because of their loss?

Recently, I read this article from the Wall Street Journal, telling how some of the victims have done over the last five years: on.wsj.com/1gWvNJN

I think about all those people who were in retirement, thinking they were set for the rest of their lives and suddenly losing everything. Some have adjusted to a simpler life, but others have been destroyed trying to rebuild their financial lives from ground zero. I can’t imagine that kind of loss. Someday I want to write a fiction story about a character who goes through something similar.

Instances of loss are all around us. Homes burn to the ground or are demolished by tornadoes. Children, mothers and fathers are lost to freak accidents. Loving spouses bury their longtime mates. We sometimes bury ourselves in our sorrows, taking comfort in the fact that Christ understands them and sympathizes with our pain.

And yet the Bible is so clear that God wants us to be a people full of joy, not of devastation.

Someone once told me you can’t worry and be joyful at the same time. I know Matthew 6 tells us we aren’t supposed to worry, but financial stability is always on my mind. Even as a tenured teacher, I worry a lot about keeping my job as the tides in educational leadership continue to change. And I worry about costly illnesses. These days, with the changes in our health insurance policies, it seems like any of us could be just a few rough medical bills away from financial ruin.

But then, I remember Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LordI will joy in the God of my salvation.

 

How many times (a day) do I forget that my purpose is His purpose, and that my life is a vapor?  I was not put on this Earth to maintain financial stability, but rather to spread His good news to as many people as I can. Good news–joyful news. We have a Savior. He is risen! We can have eternal life through Him!

The temptation to mope through life and bemoan our circumstance is an ever-present thorn in today’s society. We have to be like Paul in Philippians 3:7–counting all things loss for Christ, and remember Mark 8:36, that if we gain the world, yet lose our soul, it’s all in vain.