Friday, June 29, 2012

America, Home of the Free and the Brave

"On that day of our nation's birth in 1776, Thomas Jefferson tells that in the little hall in Philadelphia, debate had raged for hours. The men gathered there were honorable men hard-pressed by a king who had flouted the very laws they were willing to obey. Even so, to sign a Declaration of Independence was such an irretrievable act that the walls resounded with the words "treason, the gallows, the headman's axe," and the issue remained in doubt. Then a man rose and spoke. Jefferson described him as not a young man, but one who had to summon all his energy for an impassioned plea. He cited the grievances that had brought them to this moment and finally, his voice failing, he said, "They may turn every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. To the mechanic in the workshop, they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the Bible of the rights of man forever." He fell back exhausted. The 56 delegates, swept up by his eloquence, rushed forward and signed the document destined to be as immortal as a work of man can be. When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors. Fifty-six men, a little band so unique, of which we have never seen the like since, had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor." Ronald Reagan I love our country. I am stirred to tears at the words and music of "The Star-Spangled Banner" or "America the Beautiful" or "God Bless America." We pray daily for our country to remain free, Christian and Conservative. Each day it seems be become less and less of all three of those important virtues. This prayer-song is so appropriate now: "God bless America. Land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her Through the night with the light from above. From the mountains to the prairies To the oceans white with foam. God Bless home, sweet home."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Morning Pages

June 28, 2012
Morning pages. theree pages of thoughts spewed out without editing. Its difficult for me to do morning pages because I'm big on editing and I mean BIG! I want to stop and fix and finess each word, each sentence, each paragraph. Stream of conscious that's what morning pages are suppose to be flowing ongoing spewing out all the garbage that is gumming up your mind and creativity. So, where do I go from here?

I learned to do morning pages from a young couple years ago who introduced me to a book called "The Artist's Way." A book about creativity and how to unblock years of cretive blocks and allow creativity to flow. It's an awesome process. So, on with the pages. I am worried about getting my book finished on time for my dead line. Is it sluggish is it boring is it overwritten? I love the subject matter, but can i do it justice? On we go. I'll keep a positive attitude today--that this will be as excellent a day as yesterday. I accomplished a lot yesterday and hope the creativity keeps flowing.

Creativity is a cat which can not be controlled. no sitting on command, or fetching a ball. Sometimes you can get a cat to play with the help of a cat toy, but most of the time its allusive. Such it is with creativity. So, on we go with morning pages not worrying about grammar, spelling or  punctuation just writing. Getting the words down on paper. Words, thoughts, feelings. No worries about the form and structure. It's not a novel its just morning pages. Three pages of stuff.

I feel better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What to do about a Bad Review

Here's an admission - I have started tuning to Radio 4 occasionally. I am officially middle-aged. I listened to Radio 1 until I was in my early 20's, and have been devoted to Radio 2 ever since. Growing up, my mother had Radio 4 on constantly (the theme tune to "The Archers" is the soundtrack to my childhood) so I associate it with, erm, slightly older people. But Radio 2 gets very boring in the evenings when it focusses on music genres I don't like, so I tune to Radio 4. Which is where I found this gem from American author Adam Gopnik about how to respond to a bad review. It's well worth a listen.

I'd like to say I've never had a bad review. Unfortunately that wouldn't be entirely true. Maybe I'll just say that I've never had a bad review in print, but on Goodreads a couple of people were unimpressed by my books. One gave Honeymoon Heist one star and said that she had failed to finish it because she didn't like the characters. Another just said that the book didn't grab her but she wasn't sure why.

I send all reviewers of my books a bar of chocolate. British chocolate is the best in the world and I consider it a good investment to spend £1 on a 100g bar of Galaxy or Dairy Milk (plus £5 on postage, if it's going to America) to thank someone for spending their hard-earned money on my book, and taking the time to write a review about it.

OK, so it's probably actually a very poor investment given that I will spend far more on chocolate and postage than I will earn in royalties. But I send the chocolate to all reviewers, whether their review is good or bad, so I feel I'm thanking those who left a good review, encouraging others to leave reviews, and heaping burning coals on the heads of those who give a bad review:

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22, New International Version)

That's my version of the four-months-later friendly letter. Anyone got any other suggestions about how to handle bad reviews?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Standing Alone

During the beginning of my seventh grade year, I was invited to join ranks with one of the most popular groups of girls at school. I’m not sure why—it might have been because I was in the same ward as a couple of the girls who already belonged and this was their version of “fellowshipping” me. My family wasn’t as active in the Church at the time and dedicated leaders had already gone to great lengths to include me in mutual activities during the summer. 

Regardless, I weighed the pros and cons and eventually accepted their invitation. I’ll admit it boosted my self-esteem--which at that age was quite fragile. We had moved back to this area a couple of years before and my shy nature had hampered my social status. It hadn’t helped when a girl who befriended me, passed away from a rare kidney disease a few months later. After that traumatic experience, I retreated into a shell of isolation.  

Joining with this boisterous group of girls helped pull me out of my secluded state. They were fun, looked up to by the others in our class, and I no longer felt alone. Then one weekend they decided to have a slumber party. There were about 14 girls in this group and all of us were to gather at one girl’s home Friday night after school.

I felt so excited—knowing this was a major social event. My mother drove me the five miles into town to the house where the party would take place and as I exited the car with my sleeping bag and small suitcase, I was certain this would be a night to remember. It was . . . but for a very different reason than the one I’d anticipated.

It started out as a typical gathering of preteen girls with lots of giggling, pizza, pop, and candy. We played several games outside and when it grew dark, we retreated to the family room downstairs where we rolled out our sleeping bags and prepared for bed. After we had all changed into nightgowns or pajamas, we sat around on our sleeping bags and visited for several minutes. 

Finally, one girl suggested that we play the game of “Truth or Dare.” I wasn’t familiar with this particular pastime and as they started, I began feeling uneasy as the questions asked became quite crude. The dares weren’t much better. I sat there in shock, knowing that things had taken a decided turn for the worst. Then, suddenly it was my turn. I slowly stood and faced these new friends. I refused to answer the vulgar question directed my way. I was then hit with a dare that went against important standards, items I didn’t realize were implanted in my soul until that moment.

I stood quietly for several seconds, contemplating my fate. I knew that if I refused to cooperate, I would probably be asked to leave, and that my membership in this particular group would come to an end. Nevertheless, I stood my ground. I looked around at the faces watching me and said simply, “This is wrong, we shouldn’t be playing this game.” I was then assaulted by several taunts like: “Chicken!” “Baby!” etc. and so forth. I began making my way to my sleeping bag, intent on packing my things and calling my mother for a ride home. Before I could roll up my bag, another girl moved to my side. She stood bravely and faced the others.

“Cheri is right—this is wrong and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

After this girl spoke, two or three others moved to our side of the room and echoed their support.  Gradually, every girl admitted this wasn’t a very good game and those guilty apologized for indulging in it. The atmosphere changed and the rest of the night was fun and lighthearted.

I learned something about myself that night—I was stronger than I had ever believed. It was okay to be different and not follow the crowd, especially when it veered toward items that were wrong or harmful. A couple of years earlier, a wise grandmother had cautioned me to avoid being a “sheep.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant by that until the night of the slumber party. 

If you are acquainted with sheep, you know that they tend to follow around in a group, regardless of the danger involved. If one of the leaders decides it’s a good idea to work their way through a weak spot in the fence, they will do just that, and the others will follow, often with perilous results.

Through the years, I’ve tried to avoid the sheep mentality, and have followed my own path. This hasn’t always been a popular choice. People are often offended or outraged when I ignore the “norm” of the moment to pursue what I know in my heart is the right thing, at least for me. I have made many mistakes along the way, and tried to learn from them. None of us can be perfect in this mortal world, but each day, we can strive to be a little better than we were before.

Someday, we’ll all stand alone, facing our Redeemer with what we have done, and become. I suspect that money and material items won’t mean anything. What will matter is how we conducted ourselves through a variety of mortal tests. Were we kind? Patient? Thoughtful of others? Did we exhibit faith when the way wasn’t sure? Did we stand up for what was right—even if it wasn’t a popular choice? 

As I saw years ago, sometimes making a positive difference  means being brave enough to stand alone. History is full of examples of those who did just that and changed the world for the better. It lies within each one of us to be as they were—we just have to step away from the crowd and follow the path we know is right.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't get too close; I might bite!

Okay, so I'm a grouch today.  I've been snarling at political pollsters who keep calling, complaining about my uncomfortable office chair, and seriously considering jumping to the last chapter of the tedious book I'm reading.  I'm on edge waiting for my doctor to call with the results of all the tests run yesterday and I'm exasperated to be home an unscheduled day and not feel like doing any of the million and one projects waiting for me to get around to them.  I'm not really sick; I just hurt with a massive stomach ache and cramps in my back.  I just want to know what's going on, get it fixed, and get on with life.

I've never had a surplus of patience and this little setback proves I haven't changed any in the years since my father used to say, "Hold your horses, show a little patience." 

I've been taught patience is a virtue, but that's a concept easier to accept when all is running smoothly than on a day when I seem to be running into brick walls.  Today's world is one of quick answers, immediate gratification, and instant information. Once modern conveniences such as microwave ovens and computers terrified me and I didn't understand all the hurry.  Now I wait impatiently for the microwave to ding and fume when the computer is slow to load.  Intellectually I still question why everything is a big rush, then go right back to tapping my foot and wanting something or someone to move a little faster.

Over the years I've learned impatience can be costly.  People get hurt when they give into impulse. Disappointment is the result of allowing impatience to push a writer into submitting a manuscript before it's ready or rush a relationship that needs time to grow and trust to form. A lot of life is missed by rushing around and skipping over the quieter aspects of life.

It's quite possible I'll never master the art of patience.  It's not likely I'll ever be among those who never murmur or complain either. Surely there must be some virtue too, in those of us who rush head long into each task, who want to see goals met and tasks completed, and yes, do some yelling when life isn't fair.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flag Day!

June 14, 2012

Today is Flag Day in the USA, and I am flying the flag.
I am humbly grateful to be an American.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Writer's Retreat

I had to think quite carefully about where to put the apostrophe in my title, because I'm writing about both writers' retreats generally, and my own personal recent retreat.

My family and I just had our annual holiday. We went to Wales for a week (where the Diamond Jubilee festivities were steadfastly ignored, and the bunting was all about the Olympic Torch relay) and, true to form, it barely stopped raining for ten minutes. We had to abandon all plans to visit castles and beaches, and were forced to read books, sleep a lot, play board games together, relax and watch TV.

However, the cottage we stayed in had a "garden room", a little outhouse hidden away and accessible only through the garden. It had light and power. So I shut myself in there for much of the week and wrote over 10,000 words, plus edited and reordered my novel. It was heaven! Once in a while the children would run out in the rain to find me, and when they did it was a real wrench to drag myself out of the story and back into real life.

I also read a magazine for writers that week. It described a writers' retreat centre in Scotland. Like my garden room, it has no internet access, so there is nothing to distract the resident writers from their creative endeavours.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided (lunch is left on a tray outside the room so as not to disturb the artist at work) and complete silence is demanded during the day. The retreats last a month at a time. Price wasn't mentioned in the article.

Much as I enjoyed my week of solitude, shut away with just my characters for company, I don't think I could do it for a month. And I did miss the internet - I needed to research several things, and had to leave blanks in the novel so that I could fill them in when I was back in civilisation. I'd love to have three or four clear hours a day just to write, but more than that might be more than I could stand. I need real life going on around me too.

Would a month-long writers' retreat be heaven for you?

Thursday, June 7, 2012


We've all heard the saying that truth is stranger than fiction.  It has to be because some things that happen in real life just won't fly as fiction.  We need to bear this in mind as we create twists and turns in our novels.  There are just some things the reader can't buy into even if it did happen to someone real.

Most of us have been recipients of fortunate coincidences, possibly a miracle or two, or found ourselves in the middle of some unlikely incident that changed our lives.  These events may be highly spiritual highlights in our lives, may have saved us from some terrible tragedy, or taught a powerful lesson, but when a writer is tempted to use such events in novel writing there should be a big red caution label plastered on the screen before them.  I'm not saying don't ever write in a miracle, just lead up to it with care, plant clues along the way as you would for a mystery or suspense novel so that it is plausible. Too often a miracle is just a replacement for the cavalry suddenly riding to the rescue because the writer has painted him/herself into a corner and doesn't know how to get out. This holds true for conversion stories too.  It's just too convenient for someone to suddenly join the Church without any soul searching, questions, or a spiritual epiphany.

Have you ever been reading along and found yourself thinking, "Oh sure, I bet she really did that?"  That's a good way to pull the reader out of the story and make him or her want to throw your book at the wall. Overly dramatic rescue scenes involving impossible gymnastics do this for me every time.  So do intricately detailed escapes that only a hero with an advanced physics degree might calculate.  Okay, if the hero is a PhD rocket scientist I might buy it, but if the girl who is so dumb she goes down the cellar steps in the dark pulls it off, you've lost me.

There are too many reality shows on TV that  have little to do with reality.  They're scripted, people! All those phony heart to heart talks with the camera are not reality. They may be fun to watch--or not, but they're a poor example for writers who want characters and actions that feel real to readers.  I read an article earlier this week about a few pathetic people who have so fallen for such shows they actually think that like in the movie Truman they are living out their lives in front of TV cameras.

Since I'm a reviewer I read far more books than I review.  Often I find a have to skip reviewing a book because it is based on the writer or someone he/she knows and the writer has tried overly hard to be faithful to the "true story", to what really happened.  Too often the story falls into the "I wouldn't have believed it if it  hadn't happened to me" category.  If that's the case, the incident doesn't belong in a novel; put it in your journal, a biography, or family history.  Oddly enough, fiction, which is a made up story, has to be believable. 

Another sin against reality I see at times, and one I've had trouble with myself, is hovering.  Just as some parents create selfish, helpless children by helicopter hovering over them, excusing instead of correcting their mistakes, writing their reports, yelling at teachers who correct them or give them a poor grade, etc., writers are sometimes so protective of a beloved character nothing negative can happen to him/her, the character is so perfect he/she doesn't make mistakes and doesn't grow.  This isn't reality and the reader knows it.

Three novels I read recently are excellent examples of making both characters and their actions believable.  I'm not a fan of science fiction but I liked Fractured Light by Rachel McClellan a great deal because her main character Llona feels real.  She talks, thinks, and agonizes like a very real seventeen-year-old without the teen clich├ęs.  She reacts in ways that suit her age and her prior life experiences. McClellan made me feel like her fantasy world is real.  The second book that fit my criteria for feeling real is Sian Bessey's Within the Dark Hills.  Annie and Evan are caught up in the very real Welsh coal mining world of the 1800s.  The fires, floods, coal dust, men, women, and children working like slaves is so real the reader feels as though he/she must go wash off the coal dust on her own skin if the book is set down for even a few minutes.  Heather Moore, writing as H.B. Moore presents one of the best conversion stories I've ever read with the Daughter's of Jared.   The conversion is so subtle as Naiva struggles with the concept of deity and faith, the reader is almost unaware the groundwork is being laid.  Naiva is stubborn, loyal, exasperating, often makes foolish choices, has a huge capacity for love, has deep rooted insecurities and low self-esteem, is intelligent, and has a strong desire to do right.  In short, she is achingly real and stirs a strong identity factor in the reader. She finds herself in terrifying, but believable danger. Though Moore bases her story on a short episode in The Book of Mormon and stays true to the few details given in the scriptures, her fictional enhancement feels alive and real.

As writers we want to be clever, original, imaginative, memorable, but when doing so, it is wise to remember we lose our readers if we aren't real.  All the cleverness in the world, the true adventures, and the stranger than fiction experiences won't cut it if they go too far in suspending the reader's literary reality.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Work or Play?

What do you call two weeks abroad, work or play? My daughter had a conference in London and one in Portugal and invited me to go along and play while she worked. My husband, the wonderfully supportive guy that he is, said by all means go. So I did.
We arrived in London after a ten hour flight. I've never flown business class international...I could never afford it. (Shelley used her points to upgrade us) I love those seats that fold down into a bed....though I wondered which would overcome me first: my claustrophobia or sleep. But I read Sian's book till I finished it, then cocooned into the bed and actually slept pretty well, at least until they woke us for breakfast at 4 am.
While Shelley attended her conference, I scoped out the places my characters will go and planned what they will do while in London. Don't know If they are going to make it out to Leeds Castle, but I think they must go to Canterbury Cathedral. Loved it! Wish Imcould worked in a visit to Anna!
Our time was too short in London, though I'm not sure I could have survived walking any more. I did 13 plus miles that day. Loved the little cafes in the crypts at St. Martin's in the Field and St. Paul's.
We flew to Porto, Portugal om Saturday and though it is only a couple of hours flight, the trip took eight hours...two hours to the airport, two hours there waiting for the delayed flight, two hour flight and almost two hours from plane to our hotel. Traveling with my much traveled daughter is sheer pleasure. I just follow her lead and she takes care of everything. No stress. No problem.
Our hotel faces the main square in Porto and is incredible. I asked them to please unlock the French doors onto the balcony, and after I signed a release, we can now enjoy the hustle and bustle of the square below us.
I printed the list of the ten best things to see and do in Porto, and the ten things you should not miss. I've managed to do all but a couple. Two favorites besides the incredible cathedrals were the J.K.Rowling connections. Tradition has it when she came to Portugal to be with her husband/boy friend (Need to research source said one, the other said the other) that she wrote part of Harry Potter in the Majestic Cafe...a beautiful, elegant, upscale cafe/restaurant. We went there last night for dessert...split an order of scones and cream and a sliver of cheesecake. Delightful. Of course my characters will visit there and enjoy the ambiance and maybe a little mystery as well.
I sent you the pictures of the book store that she patterned the library after in Harry Potter. I can't say enough about that amazing place. So I've walked up and down hills and taken bus tours and eaten at wonderful little cafes where cute waiters love to talk to my daughter in Spanish..almost all of them speak at least three languages! I've plotted and planned and taken thousands of pictures and walked a minimum of ten miles a day...usually fifteen. Unfortunately, we eat late when she gets out of conference so I'm not losing a single ounce with all that walking!
She finished her conference today. Tomorrow and Saturday we are taking day tours out of Porto, then flying to Madrid on Sunday to catch our plane back to reality. But for a little while I lived the carefree life of the international traveler and I have a million stories to tell in the sequel to Too Many Ghosts. Now I just to get home and write them.

Posted for Lynn Gardner