Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Writers Plow Their Literary Field

I took a look back at my blogs and found this one. In the midst of writing The Sanctum, my soul was screaming. I've come a long way since then. I'm proud to say this novel has also come a long way, and will be released as an e-book within a few weeks. This field is now ready for harvest.

April 8, 2010
I've been plowing my literary field this spring. My office is a mess. I've written scenes for my next novel; they're splayed across a long, skinny table as I work relentlessly on this story. I'm concentrating on my research and pulling it in as needed. In a few weeks I'm visiting a wolf sanctuary. If my suspicions are correct, wolves are not what they have been portrayed. A critical piece of the narrative, the wolves represent the strange and the misunderstood. That which needs protected. Not destroyed.

As I roll deeper into the story, I'm finding--once again--my characters have voices of their own, totally separate and apart from mine. It's a bizarre metamorphosis. I look down and suddenly my fingers are those of a thirteen-year-old girl, fair and fragile. Within minutes, they turn old and masculine. They're covered with tobacco that clings to my arms like pine resin. They belong to a black man who types as fast as the wind. He's got a few things to say. Because it's 1960, and the times, they are a changing.

A scene change and my hands belong to another character. They're slow and angry, and hot to the touch. Dangerous. They belong to a man, this time he's white and wrinkled. The fingers pound the keys and occasionally they ball into a fist. But just like that, they fade into another set of hands and suddenly I'm needing to get up and find my own fingers again. I need coffee. A break. It's not easy allowing these characters to flow through you and come out your fingers. It's not easy.

I have to laugh. I think I've read and studied every good book on writing from here to eternity in the past twenty years. But nobody can teach you how to tell a great story. Don Maass has come about as close to anybody I've heard, but in the end ... I've learned it's almost a spiritual thing. My explanation is that we have to become somebody else.

We have go inside the man/woman/boy/girl/animal we're writing about. Look at the world from their eyes. A good storyteller can write it down and make it believable. But a great storyteller can become his or her character and make it real. I can only hope that in the end, that is my accomplishment.

One does not write to fulfill a fantasy. Or to become rich. A real writer writes until their eyes dim and burn, until their skin goes puckered and droopy, until their finger bones unhinge and scatter. Until they shrivel up and fade away. Take away a writer's pencil or keyboard, and you strip the soul away. A writer is many people, patiently waiting for their turn to tell their story. A real writer writes because if they don't, they go mad and become a conglomerate of all of the characters stored inside them.

That's it. It's how God made me. I can't help it. I plow my literary field and life goes on. Until one day when it stops. Hopefully, by then, every character inside of me will have had their chance to use my fingers.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

No More Charlatans!

Slimy TV preachers (both men and women) who beg for money and then buy jets and gold toilets and subsidize their large families with six-figure incomes and estates … there’s no one to blame but their followers. Are folks really not aware of the oppulent lifestyles of the rich and religious? It boggles my mind when I see them on TV in huge arenas filled to capacity.

Charlatans! And it's not just southern preachers. These megachurches exist in every state!

Are you giving these people your hard-earned money?

Stop and think before you send in that tithe and love offering. Does God really need my money? Or does He really intend to test my faith on a regular basis by whether or not I give my last dime?

I swallowed that dogma for years and chased the feelings of eternal security until my feet were worn to bloody stubs.

Am I now an apostate? Have I forsaken the cross?


I learned that we cannot control God by "giving until it hurts." I've had it with folks praising God on camera and living like the devil when the house lights are turned off.
I've heard a TV preacher even go so far as to say … “Nobody living high on the hog around here!” Oh yeah? Hmmm. If a member of the congregation asked to review their books, would they open them freely? What about the jet parked at the airport? What about the millions spent on “mission” trips? Who benefits, really? Any idea how much that costs? Does a church really need millions every year to keep the electric on? The questions here are endless …

I guess another question is, who wins more souls? The little church with the white steeple down the street, or the gigantic church that covers several city blocks? The big, blustery televangelist or the quiet country preacher? Is one better than the other?
Seems to me we need to take a lesson from the new pope. Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis this year. Humble, the man cooks for himself, lives in a small apartment, and rides the city bus. It is said he has reigned-in the spending at the Vatican.

The following statement has explained away the sickening excess of some Pentecostal/charismatic ministries. I’ve heard it said numerous times. “God wants His people to have the best.” Um, no. Not at the expense of those who struggle to put food on the table. This could also be said another way. “God wants His Pastors to have the best.” That’s the way many evangelical churches have been run for the past few decades, and it’s time we said… ENOUGH.

Pastors have hopped on the Prosperity Message bandwagon over the years when they saw how much it added to their competitor’s bottom lines. But it’s way out of control. The guilt and shame they hold over your head, as if they're God with a big stick, it has to stop.

J. Lee Grady, who wrote Fire in My Bones in the May 2013 Charisma magazine said, “God opposes pride. Pompous religious display, ego-driven greed and Pentecostal popemobiles have no place in a Spirit-filled movement …”
He's right.

I think that’s the majority of televangelists these days.

No more bodyguards!
No more $10,000-per-night hotel rooms!
No more private jets!

No more Charlatans!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Middle Of The Book

Back in the ‘sixties when geezers over fifty drove DeSotos and watched Lawrence Welk and kids under twenty drove Volkswagen vans and painted peace signs on their faces and me and my sisters were the only ones on our block who wore bobby socks and saddle shoes, this girl moved two doors down with poker-straight hair and Bob Dylan records and no mother.

Well. Talk about your run-on sentence.

First sentences of any novel should do that. They should pin you to the wall and hold you like super-glue. A first sentence is filled with magic and pierces your heart or peaks your interest to the point that before you know it, you're five chapters in.

But what about the middle of the book? Doesn't it deserve the same?

Lately, I'm finding I've spent as much time on the arc of the story and the chapters following it as I have on that first sentence. Some novels I've read lately have left me flat in the middle. As if the writer had a great idea for the beginning and end, then just filled in the middle the best they could. Sometimes with paragraphs and chapters that have very little to do with the actual story. As a result, my eyes skim over a third of the middle just to find out what happens at the end.

I think the middle of any story should be every bit as thrilling as the beginning. It sometimes answers questions, agreed. Maybe even ties up a few loose ends. But a skilled writer knows how to up the ante, raise the stakes, and turn the tide in the middle pages in ways the reader never sees coming. A good writer can introduce a new character (another rule breaker) or change point of view all while keeping the tone and voice throughout. Keep me enthralled through page 200 and I'll be your biggest fan.

The middle should set up the ending without giving it away. But it's often the most overlooked. It is also where readers find giant pauses. A place they can stuff in their bookmark and put down the book. The question is, are they anxious to get back to it or do they hesitate to pick it back up again?

The middle of the story is where the heart is. Writers, by all means, pay attention to it. Give it as much love as the rest.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stainless Steel And Granite

I took some time off to regroup and spend precious moments with family. Now that I'm back to work, I'm finding myself overwhelmed with thoughts and ideas. The workload is heavy, but I'm slowly digging myself out. Getting organized is a process when leaving my desk for any length of time.

What has struck me funny the past couple of days is one, my blog is all over the place, and two ... I don't care. I blog when I can, when I have something to say, and I write only what's on my mind. Religion, current events, on writing, publishing, family matters, garage sales, or shopping for a new bra. I have no notion that folks follow me because I might have some awe-inspiring thing to say about writing or because I make them laugh with every blog. I don't. I know that. Blogging, for me, is a personal thing. My human emotions are up and down, and therefore ... so is my blog. It goes against all the current blogging rules, but again ... I've never been much for playing by the rules.

While I've been relaxing the past week or so, I've flipped on the TV a few times to watch my favorite HGTV shows. Once again, I'm astounded by the number of young couples buying homes with huge budgets. Couples who want (make the whining sound here) "granite" and "stainless steel." Couples who hate the color of the walls, the flooring, or that the two-car garage isn't "big enough." Michael and I shake our heads and laugh. Out loud.

Michael's first home was an apartment with no sink in the bathroom. They brushed their teeth in the kitchen. Michael shaved in the kitchen. Their tiny black and white TV sat on a cardboard box covered with a tablecloth. Rabbit ears. Need I say more?

My first home was a single-wide on wheels. I didn't have a color TV until sometime in the 1980s. Flatscreen? Not on your life. No such thing. Cable wasn't even invented yet. But we did have the latest gold linolium and shag carpet. Lord, we never replaced carpet when we moved to a new place, we just scrubbed the hell out of the old stuff.

Putting a roof over our heads and food on the table has always been priority number one. Having a decent car to drive and clothes on our backs was a struggle at times. In fact, I've never had granite. Or stainless steel. Or new furniture for that matter. Over my lifetime, I've purchased new mattresses, but that's about it. My furniture has all been second hand from my mother or my sisters or friends. I've done plenty of garage sale shopping in my lifetime, and have gone through more cans of spray paint than you can imagine.

So when I hear someone whine that the open-concept living isn't "big enough," ... I want to scream. And what's the deal with popcorn ceilings? I hate them, too, but for crying out loud. It's a roof over your head!

When did twenty-somethings start thinking they have to have the best of everything before their 30th birthday? When did "starter homes" become a thing of the past? Four bedrooms, three and a half baths? Are you kidding me? My son's crib stayed in the livingroom until he was two. There was nowhere else to put him. As far as I know, he's not had any trauma from it.

I think about the house I grew up in, how we only had one bathroom with no shower. Tub baths were the norm for us girls. Stainless steel appliances? Ha! My mother was happy when her oven worked. There was no dishwasher, except for me. Granite counter tops? White laminate with gold fleck. Not one family on my street had grainite counter tops.

What's wrong with a little struggle? Learn to appreciate even the small things in life, like an extra twenty bucks left over after the bills are paid, more than two pair of shoes, and eating out. What happened to us? Why are so wrapped up in labels and fancy cars? What's wrong with clothes from Kmart and keeping a car long enough to pay it off?

I'm wondering if I'm starting to sound like my grandmother and her "Great Depression" speeches. Still, I think we're spoiled. We've had it too good, and technology has changed us.

Look, there's nothing wrong with having it all. It's how you get it that matters the most.

I look back at the single-wide I lived in. It was nothing fancy, but it was clean and I was proud to pay that $100 a month rent. Those avocado-green kitchen appliances are long gone. It's been over 30 years since then. The road from there to here has been full of pot-holes and empty promises. I may not see my mansion until I walk through the Pearly Gates. Until then, I'm happy with my old farmhouse, my 2006 Honda, and shopping for bargains at Kohls. If there's one thing I've learned in my lifetime, happiness can't be found in stainless steel and granite.

Blessings to you and yours.