Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Trash, The Photo Album, or The Mirror

Opportunities to learn and grow in God's word are endless. Certainly, Bible study and prayer are useful and deliberate methods, but God presents us with many more candid glimpses of His truth throughout the course of our everyday lives. A sermon at church, a song on the radio, a clever bumper sticker quote, a conversation with a friend, even God's whispers through His creation or the world around us can provide nuggets of truth with applicable potential.

When God serves us a helping of truth, a lesson to learn from, what is our response? I find that the options I usually filter through can be represented by a trash can, a photo album, or a mirror. 

Option A: The Trash
When truth is hard to hear and requires an uncomfortable change or sacrifice, it is easiest to ignore or discard it. The problem with throwing out truth is that it keeps comming back, often in more and more direct and difficult ways. When something in your life causes a roadblock between you and God, He will deal with it. Not because He tries to spoil your fun or punish you, but because those roadblocks prevent his blessing on your life and cause seperation between you and him. The sooner you deal with it and remove the roadblack, the sooner God can hold your hand, heal your hurts, and show you His love.

Option B: The Photo Album
This tends to be my most automatic response. When truth is presented, it is easy to see how other people need to learn this lesson. How much easier would your life be if your _______________ [boss, sister, husband, fill in the blank] learned this lesson? Suddenly you begin concocting ways you can be the voice of truth into the lives of others. Often these intensions seem noble in our minds. We genuinely want to help others. But let me assure you, God doesn't need your help to teach someone else a lesson. His methods are much more effective than your and if He teaches truth to other people in your life, it repairs rather than damages your relationship with them. If you try to be the one to change others, it will almost invariablely cause damage.  

Option C: The Mirror
The third and most difficult option when faced with a lesson of truth is to look in the mirror, examine yourself and allow God to show you areas in your own life where change is needed or where truth can be applied. When God's truth jumps out at you, it's not an accident or a cooincidence. It's because God wants you to apply it in YOUR life. He doesn't teach us to shame us. His truth will always enrich our lives and bring us closer to Him. If we are willing to allow God to teach us, grow us and change us, we will always walk away from this mirror more beautiful.

Lets be women who choose to look in the mirror when we are faced with truth. Let's allow God to bring out the true beauty He created in each of us through the application of His truth.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Voices in your head

There are two voices. One screams loudly for your attention. It's hard to ignore. The other is a still small voice, maybe only a whisper. Sometimes you must be still, free from the distractions of television and telephone, to hear it.

"You are far from perfect," the loud voice taunts. "You're always making mistakes. Everyone else is better than you." The enemy voice strips away your worth. "Don't be yourself."

"I am perfect. I never make mistakes." The whisper of the soft voice holds the authority of a loving Father. "You are valuable. I created you for a purpose that no one else can accomplish." Peace wraps around you like a blanket on a on a cold day. "Be who I say you are."

One voice speaks a lie. He is the enemy, a vandal trying to cover the beauty of your soul with graffiti in hopes of disabling your potential.

The other is the voice of Truth, the one true God. He washes the graffiti and uses your mistakes to build the beautiful architecture of your character.

There are two voices. Who are you going to believe?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sarai's Story

Psalm 28:1-2

To you, LORD, I call;
   you are my Rock,
   do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
   I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
   as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
   toward your Most Holy Place.

 Can you relate to David as he cries out to the LORD for help? Do you feel like God hears you? Does He give you the help or answers you seek? I'm guessing many of you will answer no. The answers or help we seek are rarely the answers or help He gives according to his perfect plan. Who can presume to say they know a better way than God's way?

Rest assured though, Sisters, He does hear and He is working His perfect plan through your situation.

Genesis 12 begins the tale of a woman named Sarai. Sarai was far from perfect. She was moody, impatient and sometimes foolish. But her life was far from easy. In a day when a woman's worth was based on her ability to produce offspring, Sarai was barren. Her husband decided to pack her up and move her across the country (probably without consulting her first) far away from everyone she knew and loved, then he pawned her off as the sex slave of a foreign ruler, left her to run off to war, got Sarai's servant girl pregnant then wouldn't stand up for her when the servant made her life miserable. God even seemed to make a promise he didn't keep - He promised her a son, but her child bearing years dwindled then ceased all together. At the age of 90 this post-menopausal woman had been written off as a loss, a total waste of time, a laughing stock, a failure. Her husband believed her to be the barrier between himself and God's promises. She felt worthless and no one would have argued with her. Her very name had become associated with failure.

Have you ever felt utterly defeated? I know I have. Perhaps this defeat led to a cry to God like David's words from Psalms 28:1-2.

But God had not forgotten about Sarai. In Genesis 17:15-16, God appeared to her husband, Abraham, and told him “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”  

Why did God say this to Abraham instead of just appearing directly to Sarai? God begins this promise with a command. "You are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah." Sarah means princess. God told her husband to quit calling her names. He was commanding Abraham to quit viewing Sarai as a disappointment. In fact, God took it one step further. Not only was Abraham to drop the stigma, he was to call her princess. When Abraham went to Egypt with Sarai, he didn't claim her. Abraham allowed her to be taken into Pharaoh's harem because he would not claim her as his wife. By renaming Sarai "Sarah", God, the King of kings, claimed her as his princess. He elevated her to a position of the highest honor. God stood up for her. Abraham was no longer allowed to even utter her name without giving her honor.

How incredible is that? I serve a God that stands up for the broken and defeated. He stood up for me and He stood up for Sarah. And even more amazing - that's not all God did! God kept his promises! God gave Sarah a son. And through that child God raised nations, great kings (including David who wrote Psalm 28), and even God's own son - Jesus Christ. Sarah may have questioned his timing and methods, but He knew what He was doing all along. The birth of Isaac, Sarah's son, was clearly miraculous. If he had come within the natural course, God's intervention may have been ignored, overlooked or explained away. Both Sarah's inability to have children and the extreme delay in the coming of the promised son were intentionally plotted in God's perfect plan. God was not punishing her or ignoring her. Through all of that pain and heartache, He was making it obvious that she was His chosen princess.     

Are you hurting? Do you feel forgotten, under-appreciated, worthless? Take heart, Sister. God has not forgotten you! He will claim you as His princess. He will stand up for you! He will fight for you. He will be your strength and your shield. Never give up hope. David ends Psalm 28 with this:

Psalm 28:6-7

Praise be to the LORD,
   for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
   my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
   and with my song I praise him.

God did not give up on David. He did not give up on Sarah. He did not give up on me. He will not give up on you. Cry out to Him. He will hear you.

Feel free to post prayer requests in the comments or email me. I will gladly pray with you. andrea.michelle.wood@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another step on the journey

The ACFW national conference begins one week from today and I find that the nearer it gets, the more I eat, dream and breathe ACFW. Thoughts, anxiety, hopes, pitch, fears, excitement, one sheet, questions, ideas, prepare, do's and dont's, pack, memorize, research, polish ... I'm sure some of my fellow newbie's can relate! And I know that the friends I talk to regularly are sick and tired of hearing about it!  Even my bed has been completely taken over by my suitcases!

I've become hyper focused on what to wear (and what to eat so they will fit), what to bring, what to pitch, and the list goes on. It just feels like this is the single most important weekend of my entire life. And if I mess it up it will be the death of a lifelong dream. (I'm not damatic at all - wink, wink)

No wonder I've been stressed! That's a lot of pressure to put on myself. And the beautiful, freeing truth is  this is not my make-it-or-break-it moment. It's only another step on the divinely charted journey God is leading me through - a journey that is far from over, no matter what happens next week.

It never ceases to amaze me how God can summon scripture from the recesses of my memories, brush the dust off of them and present them to me as if they were brand new truths, perfectly applicable to my situation. How sweet those precious words are when they are whispered to my anxious soul just when I need to hear them! How wonderfully patient my Savior is as He reminds me of the promises He delivers though His word!  

Here are some of the gentle reminders that have been popping into my head in the last few days.

Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Joshuah 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 27: 13-14 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Scripture is the balm for my soul - and it's unscented, so I can take it with me to ACFW. ;)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Generational Wisdom

This evening I was discussing ACFW and the delicate balance of hopes and fears with my mom. After pouring out all my anxiety and excitement over my first writer's conference, my mom, (Janelle Wood) shared some wonderful truths with me. These truths transfer so very well to the plight of the unpublished writer that I asked her permission to post her thoughts here. I hope it is as meaningful to all my fellow writers as it is to me, especially in light of the stress of preparing for ACFW.

A little background about Janelle Wood: Almost three years ago, after working at the same place for 15 years, Janelle was unexpectedly laid off. She spent almost two years searching for a job in the difficult job market. After hundreds of applications and dozens of interviews, she wrote this article to remind her of the lessons God had been teaching her thought her season of unemployment.
Lessons from the Unemployment Line…and Exodus
                Last Sunday our pastor spoke on the familiar passage from Exodus 14. After watching God’s awesome power demonstrated in the ten plagues, the Israelites were finally released from Egypt. But Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his armies in pursuit. When the Israelites came to the Red Sea, they could not go forward, and were surrounded by the enemy. The Israelites complained to Moses, saying “what have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? . . . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (vs 11-12)
                Over the past months, there were many times when I could identify with how the Israelites must have felt—a sea of hopelessness at my back, and the enemy of self-doubt surrounding me.  I must confess that at times I have demonstrated the same lack of faith as the Israelites, even though I have seen God’s faithful provision many, many times. I have wondered if God knew what he was doing.  I’ve wondered if God brought me to the desert to die. I’ve wondered if God really did have a plan.  But even through my doubt, God’s answer has often been the same as His response to the Israelites: “The Lord with fight for you; you need only to be still.” (vs 14)
                 During this unwelcome journey through unemployment, I am learning many things—most of them things I really should have learned long ago. But, if you are among the one in ten people on the journey with me, be encouraged by these reminders. If not, thank God for your work, and rejoice in these truths. 
Lesson 1: God is my provider.  It is not my job that provides my needs, it is God. Sometimes he has provided through my job, but right now He simply wants me to trust Him alone.
Lesson 2: God is my sufficiency. I don’t need the approval or affirmation of anyone except God.  As long as my heart is right with Him, and I am walking in obedience-it is sufficient.
Lesson 3: God is my identity. I am not defined by my job or my income. I am not incomplete because I don’t have a title or a business card. I am a child of the King and complete in Him.
Lesson 4: God is my creator.  I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He prepared in advance for me to do. (Eph 2:10) He created me to be perfectly suited to do the things that he wants me to do. He didn’t miss a skill or aptitude, or forget about an attribute when He created me. I am exactly as He intended.  
Lesson 5: God is Faithful. I do not need to be afraid, He will never leave me nor forsake me.
Lesson 6: God is my destiny.  My professional future is not in my hands, or the hands of my interviewers or evaluators. It is in God’s hands and His alone. This does not excuse me from doing my due diligence, but it frees me from the bondage of perceived failure.
The Red Sea has not parted for me yet, but it is no longer the sea of hopelessness.  It is becoming the sea of opportunity—opportunity for God to show himself strong and faithful—to work a miracle in my life.  The enemy of self-doubt is still poised, but the angel of God and the pillar of cloud (vs 19-20), in the form of some lessons re-learned, have come between me and this destructive enemy just as they did for the Israelites.

Shortly after writing out these thoughts, a door was opened and Janelle has now been happily employed for almost a year.
Thanks Mom for sharing these thoughts!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tag Line

As the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) national conference nears I'm frantically trying to finish up all the little projects that I thought I had all the time in the world to do. Today's panic project is ordering business cards. I've designed several but haven't decided yet which one I should send to print, and time is quickly running out! (Thank goodness for three day shipping!) I've asked around and read blog posts and emails from people who are much more experienced about what to include. Recurrently, these advisers have suggested that I include my tag line. Problem is, I don't have one ... yet. So I need your help.

A tag line is like a writers motto. It should explain the writers style and genera or intended audience. Examples: Camy Tang (romantic suspense) Romance with a kick of wasabi, Kaye Dacus (Romantic comedy) Humor, Hope and Happily Ever Afters, Trish Perry (Romantic Comedy) True Love. Real Laughs. Pure Fiction., Lauralee Bliss (Historical Romance) Love the way it should be. These are just a few examples. Look up your favorite authors web site. Authors usually list their tag line right under their name on their site heading.

I've come up with a few ideas, but nothing I love.
Cord of Three Strands Romance,  Redeeming Romance, Lost and Found Love Stories, Chosen One Romance, Faith, Hope and Love Stories ...
I think I like Redeeming Romance best so far. Is it too overused? Please feel free to vote for your favorite or give a suggestion in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Floppy Disk Box and the New York Times

Each summer each of my daughters spend a week of quality one-on-one Grandma time with my Mother-In-Law. She always plans great activities and day trips. My kids LOVE their Grandma week.
This year my middle daughter, Faith, spent part of her week with Grandma searching for treasures at a Flee Market. Faith brought home several trinkets and presents for her sisters, Daddy and me. One of the treasure she purchased for me was this:

This small wooden box was designed to organize floppy disks. It even has a little floppy disk emblem attached to the front of the box. (My 8-year-old had never heard of a floppy disk) After this box had floated around my house for a few weeks without finding a good home, I was ready to sneak it into a bag of goodwill donations. After all, what was I going to do with a floppy disk box?
I decided I had better not throw it out without at least asking her what she thought I needed it for. I didn't want to hurt her easily bruised feelings. Her answer melted my heart.
"Mommy, I got you the box because after your books get published, you're going to need somewhere to keep all your fan letters."
Needless to say, I'm keeping the floppy disk box. Even if Faith's notes are the only fan letter it ever holds, it will forever remind me of my daughter's faith in me.

Faith, Trinity and Me
Last winter, my oldest daughter, Trinity, made my day when she asked if I would get her a subscription to the New York Times for her birthday. I thought it an odd request. I told her I thought there were other things she would probably enjoy more. "But Mom, I want to be the first one to know when you're books make the best sellers list."
If ever I feel discouraged, my little home-grown fan club is quick to boost my spirits and give me a reason to persevere. Thanks Girls. You never cease to make me smile!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This year, as I have been working toward getting my writing ready for submission, I decided to enter writing contests. The benefit of entering contests is, of course, the chance of winning the title of "award-winning novelist", but perhaps more practical and necessary is the volume of feedback for the minimal entry fee. Feedback from people in the publishing world is crucial for an industry newbie like me. If I were to pay individually for critiques, it would cost me hundreds, but for the $25-$35 entry fee for a contest, I receive comments, suggestions, criticism, and detailed scores from at least three judges, more if I advance into semi-final or final rounds.

The three contests I found to enter were:
  • The Genesis Contest through ACFW
  • The Touched by Love Contest through the Faith, Hope and Love chapter of RWA
  • The Fraiser Contest through My Book Therapy
For a longtime hobby writer with little prior exposure to the publishing world, the idea of exposing my hard won words to potentially brutal criticism was more than a little scary. But learning to have thick skin is another lesson I know I need to learn in order to survive in this industry.

Discovering that I was a semi-finalist in the Genesis and scored in the top 20% was a huge boost. I was so excited! Unfortunately, when the finalists were announced, my name was not among them. I didn't really go into these contests expecting to win, so, although I was disappointed, it wasn't surprising.

A few days later I found out that I had not finaled in the Touched by Love contest either. Unlike the Genesis, there is no semi-final round in the TBL, and I didn't make the top three. I must have had higher hopes for the Touched by Love than I thought I did, because I was really discouraged that I didn't final.

After not advancing in both the TBL and the Genesis, I really had no expectation for the Fraiser, so I was absolutely shocked when Susan May Warren called me personally to let me know that I am a finalist. I started shaking and I cried a little (happy tears)!

The only down side to finaling is having to wait until after the winner is announced to get my feedback. The comments and score sheets from the TBL and the Genesis were somewhat helpful, but also confusing and frustrating. Each round and contest I got at least one very high score and one that was disappointingly low. Everyone's personal opinions are so different, so many of my comments contradicted each other. It's hard to apply criticism when one judge loved the characters and another judge thought they were weak, one thinks I use too much description and another praises how my description paints such a vivid picture in their mind.

Even if I'm not sure how to use the contradictory critiques, it's still so helpful to hear how a reader perceives the story. Many comments were helpful and I was able to fix problem areas and apply the concepts to my other writing. And the feedback was not all bad. My judges were all kind and complementary.

I don't think I'm allowed to quote the judges, or I'd just post the comment, but one pro level judge gave me the highest complement I've ever received. Basically she said that I'm ready for publication and this was the best manuscript she had read in a long time. I keep going back and re-reading it, just to make sure I didn't dream it up. Encouragement like that is very motivating. It sooths the sting of the less complementary comments. 

My scores for the Genesis were (out of 100 possible points): First Round: 95, 93, 87; Semi-final round: 95, 90, 77 and the Touched By Love (out of 150 possible points): 152, 137, 115.

If I haven't gotten a publishing contract by next year, I'll enter again. In the mean time, I'll be working on applying my critiques as I am rewriting and polishing Saving Savannah.

The Fraiser winner will be announced at the ACFW conference in St. Louis in September and I'll be pitching my book to agents and editors for the first time (scary!). Wish me luck in the Fraiser finals and pray for God's guidance and direction as I seek an agent to represent my work and a publisher to print and market it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Known Facts

25 facts about me in no particular order
1.       Faith in God is my foundation, the solid rock I stand on. Without God I am nothing. He is my all in all and when it comes down to it, nothing else matters. If you know me and you don’t know this about me then I have failed Him. It wouldn’t be the first time or the only way that I have failed Him, but I strive to avoid it.
2.       I walked through the catacombs under Paris, stood at the top if the Eifel Tower, toured Notre Dame, saw Leonardo Divinci’s Mona Lisa, and explored Marie Antonette’s bedchamber in Versailles. I wish I could travel more. I love going interesting places.
3.       My first kiss was on stage in the play “Into the Woods”. I played the Baker’s Wife. I was 18 years old.
4.       My husband is the only boyfriend I ever had. We will celebrate our 12th anniversary in August. I was 19 when we got married.
5.       I went swimming with wild stingrays in the Cayman Islands.
6.       I’m a writer. I have worked as a staff reporter for two news papers.  The large majority of my published writing can be found on the pages of the Winthrop News, but my true passion is creative writing. I’ve written several novels and someday I hope to get them published. I finished my first novel when I was 15 years old.
7.       The Bible is my favorite book. It has something for everyone.
8.       I took belly dancing classes. I loved every minute of it!
9.       I’m creative. I love creating beautiful things. My many hobbies reflect this: Writing, sewing, cooking/baking, gardening, acting/directing, cake decorating, interior design, graphic design, arts/crafts …
10.   I have absolutely no natural ability in the area of organization. If I seem organized at any given moment it is either a well practiced front or the result of painstakingly concerted effort.
11.   I’m very bad at math. I can barely add. My mind shuts off at the first mention of numbers.
12.   I’m a terrible housekeeper. It drives my husband crazy. I try, but I always seem to run around in circles without getting anything finished.
13.   I met my husband on a blind date. My roommate in college set us up. He’s her cousin so now we are related.
14.   I have three wonderful, beautiful daughters. I adore them. I fear the coming years because I know I will not be able to protect them from everything. If they turn out to be just like my sister, I will be a very blessed mama.
15.   My oldest daughter and my sister are closer in age than my sister and me.
16.   I have many idiosyncrasies. I hate having anything touch between my toes. It grosses me out to be touched by pruny fingers or toes or to touch anything when my hands are pruny. When I get in the shower I have to wash my hair right away, because if I wait until my fingers get pruny I can’t stand to touch it.
17.   When I was a child the feathers from my feather pillow somehow pierced my ear. To this day, I still occasionally have fragments of the feathers work their way out of the scar on the back of my left ear.  
18.   I have moved more than 24 times in my 31 years.
19.   I acted in 16 plays and played a leading role in five of them. I also directed 5 plays and participated in drama troupes. One of my drama troupes performed puppet shows and skits in the public schools of Paris. We were the first Christian group ever allowed in the public schools in France.
20.   I have worked as a model. I hated it.
21.   I love to sing but I don’t like listening to music.
22.   Coffee. Enough said. Also, Cheesecake, chocolate and peanut butter together, chicken marsala, and spinach dip with Hawaiian sweet bread. Yum. 
23.   I hate city traffic. It freaks me out, especially when my truck driver husband is driving.
24.   I once few a small plane.
25.   I started college when I was 17 years old. I went full time Post-Secondary as a senior in High School to Crown College. Ten years, one marriage, three kids, one change of my major, and seven moves later, I graduated with my degree – a double major in Communications and Christian Studies.
Wow! This list makes my life sound more interesting that I feel like it is. :) I'll go to bed counting my blessings tonight!
I’d like to challenge my readers to come up with a few little know facts about yourselves and post them in the comments. I’d love to get to know you all a little better!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring Break and Exciting News

After a few crazy weeks in a row I'm looking forward to the return of relative normalcy! The last week of March I was hard at work preparing entries for the Fraiser and Touched By Love writing contests. Immediately following my submissions, we had a fun-filled spring break with a houseful of company.

Between our family of five and the seven Hutchcrafts, we had 12 people in our three bedroom apartment (8 children 10 years and under) all last week! We had a blast, but I feel genuinely sorry for the family that lives in the apartment below ours!

We celebrated my youngest daughter's sixth birthday at the local indoor water park while our friends were here.

I got to have some fun decorating her cake-one of my favorite hobbies! She insisted on a Tangled theme. She wanted Rapunzel with her feet in a pond and her hair all over the cake. (Where do they come up with this stuff?)

The oldest six kids loved rock climbing at the local YMCA. It was so great to share fun times and make memories!

The last two days since the Hutchcrafts left, we have been playing catch up with school work (I home school my three daughters) and housework (no fun). So a phone call I received yesterday was a much needed boost of encouragement.

About a month ago I entered the Genesis contest. The ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Genesis contest is a national competition for unpublished novelists. I just learned that my entry - the first 15 pages of one of my novels (contest rules say I can't reveal the title publicly) - has been advanced to the semi-final round! This means my entry scored in the top 20%! What a surprise!

These three contests are the first competitions I have ever joined, but I hear that it is a great way to get the feedback of professionals from the publishing industry. It's my goal to use the feedback to edit my book.

Praise God for small victories that confirm His direction! Thank you Lord for this encouragement!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Snowy morning

Spring is supposedly just around the corner. I'm not sure I buy it. This was my back yard this morning. Judging from the blanket of snow and the coating of frost, I'm guessing Minot didn't get the memo.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Romance?

     When I first tell someone that I am a writer, the reply is invariable. "What do you write?" My answer, Contemporary Romance, gets a variety of responses, but perhaps most comon is "Why Romance?" Today, I figured I'd try to get to the bottom of that tricky question.

     First and most obviously, I like it. I am a girl after all. Not that being a girl means you must like romance. (I threw this in here just for you, Cindy :)) But I'm the girly-girl type of girl. Okay, I admit it. I hate getting dirt under my fingernails. Monster truck rallies do not excite me. My hair changes color on a quarterly basis. I would love the excuse to shop for an evening gown.

     That being said, I'm deffinately not totally helpless. I hang my own pictures. I can put together a shelf without a man's help. I'm not afraid to make the 11 hour drive back "home" to Minnesota in the driver's seat. And I will kill a bug (if there is no one to hear me scream).

     Part of being a girly-girl is a lingering love for fairy tales. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel (or Tangled-really cute!) I love the idea of being taken care of and being vitally important to someone else. I love the idea of being chosen. I love creating characters that fit together and ballance eachother out. I love the unique relationship development of a romance. 

     Romance appeals to me for another, perhaps more important reason. The romantic relationship has the potantial to display attributes of God's character that do not present themselves in other human relationships. Let's look at the development of a romantic realtionship and observe the similarities.

    Attraction: A good hero is attractive. He may or may not be handsome, but he always posses qualities that make us want to get to know him and draw closer to him.

     Wooing: The hero may give the heroine gifts, listen to her, affirm her with his words, spend time with her, do things for her, and innocently touch her, etc. He is willing to pursue her because, in his eyes, she is worth the effort.

     Love: We want to see our hero and heroine fall in love. Love always requires vulnerablity and trust. The characters can get hurt by offering these valuable gifts to the wrong person. Once they have found the right person to bestow their vulnerability and trust upon, they seek an unconditional love. Often a heroine will discover that she is a better person because of the hero.

     Battle: Every good story has to have confilct. After the hero and heroine are in love, there has to be a test. We hope that the hero is willing to fight for the heroine. A battle often means casualites and sacrifice. What is the hero willing to give up to win the heroine? What is she willing to give up the make room in her life/heart for him? When the battle is won, the relationship has endured. It will be stronger for the challenge.

     Committment:  It's time for permenance and promises. They are eacother's chosen one. This is often a time of perperation for the wedding. The bride readies herself for the wedding. She works to make herself beautiful for her groom. (the diets, the hot oil treatments, the facials, the waxing ...) She picks out a white dress. She sends out invitations and tells the world about her love for her groom. Meanwhile the groom is working to extablish a home and provisions for his bride. He wants to take care of her.

      Intamacy: When the relationship has been proven and a committment has been made, the couple will have oppertunities to take their relationship deeper. I'm talking about emotional intamacy, not physical. The couple will reveal their greatest hopes and dreams. They will seek support for their challenges and pains. They may get to know eachother's friends. An adjustment takes place in their lives (how they spend their time, who they interact with, what they choose to do with their money, how they relate to thers, etc.).  These changes reflect the effect of the relationship. 

     Hopefully you can see some of the similiarities between a romance and the relationship God seeks with us. His attributes are attractive.We are designed to want him. He woos us through the love letter of His Word and his gifts and blessings to us. He wants to spend time with us. He will listen to us and answer our prayers. He loves us and desires our love in return. God will fight for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice to provide a way for us to be together. Are we willing to sacrifice the distractions in our lives to make Him our priority? When we committ to God we are blessed with his love far beyond "till death do us part", On the contrary, death will not "do us part". As His bride we should be keeping our hearts pure, telling others, and making ourselves beautiful to Him by following the example of Christ. We are his chosen ones. He didn't have to give us free will. He did it because He wants to be our chosen one as well. He wants to take care of us. We can never know God enough. Even as we live out our committment, we can continue to take the next step of intamacy with God. The deeper in love we are, the more our lives will reflect our relationship with Him.

     Why romance? Because God is my hero and I want to fall in love with Him over and over. I only hope that I will become a clearer reflection of Him through each new story.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lie vs. Truth

     One of the layering pieces that I have learned to incorporate into my work from My Book Therapy is the lie journey. This is the spiritual journey a character takes through out the book that begins with a lie they believe and ends with the truth setting them free.

     One lie that I find myself believing is that my efforts can't really make an impact. Unless I write some earth shattering epic that will go down in history, that movie studios will spend millions to turn into a blockbuster and professors will refer to in their philosophy classes, then I can't really make a difference. Early on in my writing journey, someone told me that my writing was a self-indulgent, frivolous waste of time. These lies made me ashamed of my craft for many years. I was a closet writer. I seldom let people in on my little secret.

     God has been working in my heart to dispel this myth through His word, encouragers in my life, and a community of writer friends that affirm the pursuit, but today I came across this post on the MBT Ponders blog. It embodies the truth that sets me free from my lie. I love the wonderful picture of Christ and the practical application for us writers who strive to follow His example. Follow this link to discover how Christ used stories to share his message.
The MBT Ponderers: The Ultimate Storyteller

     Today I proudly follow a rich tradition of sharing Christ's message of hope through stories.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Mentor and a Map

     Last fall, shortly after my husband began his job in North Dakota, I had the privilege of getting to know award winning, bestselling author Susan May Warren at an Alliance Women’s retreat. What an incredible answer to prayer that divine appointment was!

     Suzie introduced me to My Book Therapy, her story crafting service designed to help writers develop their craft. She teaches a series of retreats that take writers through the novel crafting journey step by step from idea to sale. She pulled some strings to get me into a sold out Story Crafters Retreat (the first in the retreat series) just a few weeks later.

     At story crafters I learned all about structure (definitely my weak point). In February I was able to attend the Deep Thinkers retreat to learn more about word smithing and adding layers to the plotting structure. I learned so much! My writing will be forever chaged! By September when I’ll attend a pitching seminar before the ACFW conference, I should have my current work in progress (WIP) ready to pitch to agents and editors.
     God gave me the passion and the stories, but Susan May Warren taught me how to write. I would recomend My book Therapy to anyone who has any interest in novel length fiction. Suzie’s teaching transformed me from a hobby writer to a marketable author (I hope :). So thank you to Susie, Rachel and all the My Book Therapy voices. When I met all of you, it was like someone was speaking my language for the first time ever. My Book Therapy is the best thing that's has happened to my writing since God first breathed life into my passion!

     Check out My Book Therapy at http://www.mybooktherapy.com/ for a complete list of services including a Book Therapy fiction editing service, retreats, a writers' forum, and many other amazingly helpful resources that will exponentially improve your craft!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Winding Road

     The stories kept coming. And I kept writing them down. But I didn’t know what to do with them. God sent a much-needed friend to encourage me and walk along side me through my journey.

     With April's encouragement, I queried a few publishers for The Key to My Heart. I even had a couple requests for the full manuscript. But after all the rejection letters, I decided to change my approach. One piece of advice I gleaned from my research on the publishing industry was that you have to be published to get published.
     So I changed my major from elementary education to communication. Through a campus job as a press writer I got my first few bylines. It was a start.
     After graduation, I was hired as a staff writer of a local newspaper. I also worked in the office doing composition, layout and graphic arts. The job helped me hone my writing skill and afforded me bylines in several area papers (as some articles would be shared with papers from around the area).
     Last year (2010), our family relocated from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to Minot, North Dakota where my husband found a job driving truck on the oil field. I finally had the chance to focus on my creative writing, but I still didn't have the skills to polish my novels to a marketable quality.

     I began praying that God would show me the next step.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Story and a Promise

     A story took root that very moment and became the story of my heart. I sat down at my computer and began typing. I typed every spare moment for four months.

     Through the process of writing The Key to My Heart, God worked miracles in my life. He set me free from the chains of depression and renewed my love for my husband. He rekindled within me a long neglected hobby that burst into a burning passion. And, although I didn’t realize it at the time, God gave me a promise that He would transform my husband into a man of God. I saw that promise fulfilled a few years later. Praise God!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Black Moment and Epiphany

     I met my husband when I was 18. We were young and impulsive and got married too fast. My new husband wasn’t all that enthused about my acting dreams and moving to New York wasn’t on his agenda. I had a baby, then another.

     Between all the bitterness I was harboring about my surrendered dreams and the post-partum hormones, I went into a downward spiral. Dark depression held me captive for several months. Although I loved my baby girls, I had lost my zeal for life.

     The turning point came when I hit rock bottom. Finally I turned to God and cried out for help. I thought that my only talent, my only outlet to serve God, had been stolen away from me. I didn’t think I had anything to offer Him, anything He could use. And he answered me in a way I never expected. God said, "I’ll use your daydreams if you’ll let me. Just write your stories down."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Bunny Trail

     After I got that novel out of my system, I set my writing aside and didn’t give it another thought for several years. My daydreams found an outlet in theater.

     I participated in about 15 plays, joined a drama troupe, worked with puppets and traveled to Europe in my acting days. I took getting into character very seriously.

     Developing a character for theater wasn’t all that different than developing a character for a story. I wrote them all back stories and focused on creating powerful motivations and stakes to move the character on her journey.

     Theater became my passion. It made me feel like I was a part of something larger than myself. There was always a camaraderie among the cast that I couldn’t seem to find in my regular life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The dawn of the daydreamer’s journey

     I started my writing journey when I was 15, but it really all began long before that. As early as I can remember, I lived in story world through my daydreams.

     The Laura Ingalls Wilder books hooked me on reading in my pre-teens and planted the seed of a writer's dream in my head. Before Laura, I had never really given much thought to where the stories came from. I felt like I knew Laura. Part of me began to think, maybe if she could do it, so could I.

     After Laura Ingalls, I began reading inspirational romance. For years I devoured every Christian romance I could get my hands on.

     Eventually I got board with the material available and my daydreams began to take the shape of unwritten novels. Finally, I picked up a pencil and notebook and spent every moment of my free time for several months hand-writing my first novel.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

North Dakota Girl

     I'm from North Dakota, where cowboy boots and blue jeans always fit the dress code and size two girls blow away in the first strong gust of wind. The snow, ice and sub-zero wind chills might drive away all but the hearty-most souls, but if you can withstand the weather, Minot does have its charms. The landscape is beautiful. The stereotype of flat land doesn't prove true up here. We have scenic rolling hills, prolific wildlife and fascinating oil rigs. The people are friendly too.
     Okay, enough with the optimism. Honestly, if I can't be close to family, I’d rather live where the temperature can reach 85 in the dead of winter, but this is where I’ve been planted. I can pout and wither, or praise God and bear fruit. I choose to flourish.
     A little about me: Last fall, when my family moved to North Dakota, my wonderfully supportive husband offered me the opportunity to stay home full time. What a blessing it is to have time with my kids and time to devote to my writing every day. Formerly, I spent a few years as a newspaper reporter. My work was published in several Minnesota newspapers. While in college, I also had a few articles published in magazines. Currently I'm working on polishing my novels and pursuing publication. My husband, Dave, and I have been married for almost 12 years. We have three wonderful daughters. I love God and do my best to serve Him with what I have been given. I'm involved several ministries at our church including music, drama, AWANA and women's ministries.    
     Growing up, I was a pastor’s daughter and the oldest of four siblings. I had one of those really great jumped-out-of-a-fifties-TV-show kind of families. My family (Dad, Mom, two brothers and a sister) moved from South Dakota to Minnesota when I was 13. We skipped from town to town in both states several times. I attended 7 schools before I graduated high school. I received an AA in general studies, a BA in Biblical Studies and a BA in Communication from Crown College in St. Bonifacius MN.