I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to Cut 30,000 Words from your Story

by Patricia Bradley

Are your words written in stone? Each one precious and agonized over? Your little darlings? What would it take for you to cut five thousand of them out of your manuscript? Ten thousand? Thirty thousand?
Photo from Printmaster

No way, you say. Well, what if there was a good chance of getting it published in the smaller version? Would that entice you?

That's exactly what happened with my first book. After I cut those 30,000 words, I received a contract offer for it...and as God would have it, I also received an offer for the bigger version. 

I learned so much cutting those words, though, and a lot of the shorter version ended up in the longer version because the writing was so much tighter...and better!

I've been asked how I cut those 30,000 words, and I've always replied it was a lot like going on a diet. Very. Painful. 

First, I cut a Point of View. I didn't cut the character, I just took out everything that was in his POV. That gave me 15,000 words right off the bat. 

Of course, I added a few of those words back getting the information into the story that this character had revealed. But I netted at least 13,000 words.

Once I had that cleaned up, I went sentence by sentence, seeing if the sentence could be rewritten tighter, or taken out all together. I discovered I sometimes explained things more than once, often more than twice. You guessed--SNIP.

I also looked at passive wording and weak verbs. Both use more words. When I made the sentence stronger, often by using a stronger verb, I gained words. Here's an example:

 She looked at him from the top of his head to his feet, barely noticing that he had on  jeans and a plaid shirt over those broad shoulders...became: Her gaze flicked over him, barely registering the broad shoulders, plaid shirt, and jeans = 28 vs 14. I did that over and over and the words mounted up.   

Here's an example from this blog: The first thing I did was to... Ended up: First, I cut... (See how it works.) 

I also did a search for weasel words and -ly adverbs to see if they were needed. Ninety-nine percent of them were not. Here are a few weasel words I seem to love: seem, just, that, suddenly, ever, some, almost, but, simply...there are more, I'm sure.

And that's how I cut 30,000 words. And remember, if you cut ten words per page and your page count is 400 pages, that's 4,000 words right there. 

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite weasel words. Oh, and I'd like to know how many of you would be willing to kill your little darlings...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Listen to yourself talk

Talk Show host Larry King once said, “I never learning anything while I was talking.”

However, experience often proves that wrong. When we joke or tease, some barbed words are based in truth. In life and fiction, these can grow into honest conversations that strengthen relationships. To my grateful shock, I frequently learn while talking.

Time’s Dec. 15th issue discusses Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s creative but sometimes awkward conversation pattern. His COO says, “He’s (also) one of the best listeners I’ve ever met…. When you talk to Mark, he doesn’t just listen to what you say. He listens to what you didn’t say, what you emphasized. He digests the information, he comes back to you and asks five follow-up questions.”
My most notable example of learning while listening to what I said came when my mother neared death from cancer. My sister phoned asking me to answer Mom’s final unsettling questions about the reality of eternity and heaven. What if this was all there is?

It was the end of my workday. Hospital co-workers had left and our department was quiet as I gripped the phone, asking God for right words as I began talking. Mom could no longer speak, just listen. Because God is faithful, as I talked I learned things I had not known. I said she would soon see it’s this world that isn’t real, that it will disappear as fast as a child’s bursting soap bubble as the heaven’s reality surrounded and uplifted her.

She also wanted to live to see her youngest grandson’s baby born. Except that child wasn’t even conceived. I suddenly knew and said, “You’ll know all about that before we do. You’ll have a grandstand seat to where those decisions are made and babies are put together.” With all my heart I believed those words. I knew they were true. I spoke, and listened.

In fiction and life even conversations that don’t initially go well can be can-opener conversations taking us or characters beyond where we were before.

Awkward moments? Malapropisms?

No. Trophies gained.

Listen with your heart. Reach deep asking God for words you or characters speak. And receive His words—wonderful gifts from Him who is The Word.

Whether we’re speaking or listening, He loves filling situations with Himself.

It’s your turn. What have you learned while speaking? 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How to Have a Blessed Christmas

Recently I strolled down the mall near our house with my arms loaded with bags and my heart practically singing with happiness. Not a single one of the purchases were for me. 

Since we're "The Ponderers", I thought about what it was that made me so happy that day. God brought a verse to my mind. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)

That was it! God's word became real in a new way. Happiness at Christmas does not come from the presents we receive. It comes when we first think of God's greatest gift ever, His only begotten Son who came to this world to save mankind. Next, since the Bible is always true, joy comes when we give.

Gifts do not always have to be a material items purchased at the store. They can be kind words or actions of love. Your time can also be a gift. 

Is there someone in your life who would rather have "a pat on the back" more than a new sweater? Could your words of blessing be the best present your husband receives this year? Does a friend or relative just need some of your time during the holidays? 

But since we do love giving something gift-wrapped, let me make a suggestion for the fiction writer in your circle. Books. Non-fiction books! Why? The right kind of book can refresh their creativity and renew their calling. And let me tell the truth here. When a fiction writer reads a great Christian non-fiction book, they just may get a great new idea for the tension, the conflict, the black moment, or even the "happy ever after" portion of their book! 

So go ahead. Have yourself a blessed little Christmas as you give--just like Jesus. 

--Teri Smith

Photo from free digital photos

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Living the Dream

By Patricia Bradley

As I opened up a new document to write this blog post, I realized it would be my last Ponderer post for the year. A sobering thought. So I pondered what I might say about 2014. January and February were the most exciting but also the most painful months I’ve ever lived.

On February 5th, my book, Shadows of the Past, debuted seven days after I turned 69. It was the same day my mother was buried. God had promised me she would hold my book in her hands and she did—it came in the mail to her on January 13th.  She was even able to read a chapter or two before she became so ill.

At the same time, I signed a contract with Harlequin for two Heartwarming books. Matthew’s Choice came out in September.  A month later A Promise to Protect, the second in the Logan Point series released. That’s when it hit me that I am living my dream.

I think that’s what I want to leave you with—living your dream and what it means. The time from February until now has been filled with writing. I have worked on 5 books this year, and as 2015 stares me in the face, I have an April deadline for two of them. And Gone Without a Trace releases July 15. Living your dream can be a lot of hard work, so you may want to be careful what you pray for. J

If I’d realized exactly how much work was going to be involved would I have been as excited in 2012 when Revell offered me a contract? You bet. I’ve never been happier in my life. It took me thirty-four years to get here. That was hard work as well, writing and not knowing if anyone would ever see my stories.

I’m often asked what piece of advice would you give someone who wanted to be a writer, and I always say the same thing. Learn the craft and don’t give up--you never get too old to live your dream. Write the best story you know how and depend on God to get it published. Yeah, I know that’s four pieces of advice.

Merry Christmas! And may 2015 be your year to be published! 

Leave a comment and tell me what your dream is.

Patricia Bradley
Follow me on Twitter: @PTBradley1
Follow me on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/patriciabradleyauthor

I asked God to give me patience and He gave me a book to write.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

There is a time for everything under heaven.

By Jennie Atkns
Have you ever been given a word or what you perceived as a random thought from God that you didn’t quite know what to do with?
That was my situation after returning from ACFW. The word was PREPARE.
Prepare what? And for what? Believe me, after a year loaded with trials, I can honestly say it left me imagining the worst. But I stopped to consider where I was and what I was doing when “the word” appeared on the neon bulletin board of my mind. I was in the midst of struggling with my writing and all the decisions associated with it—traditional publisher or Indie? Agent or no agent? Or perhaps stop writing completely.
I have been striving for publication since 2008. I have completed seven manuscripts and started a dozen more. I’ve received multiple rejections, but earnestly tried to learn from each one. I’ve been told my writing is good, but for some reason I haven’t had the bites from the publishers I’d hoped for. I would like to insert here that I don’t feel my books were so magnificent that they should have been grabbed up immediately. But I had hoped by this time an editor would have showed some interest. My writing journey is no different than any other newbie writer, but it has left me questioning my current path.
I’ve been pushing to expand the exposure of my personal blog. I’ve appeared in multiple other blogs for a broader exposure. I pressed forward with my latest novel in an effort to complete it prior to the conference. Although I have always felt God’s leading with my writing, when I received “the word” I realized I’d only been trying to push my agenda. Not God’s. I was trying to jam a round peg into a square hole. As a result, I felt burned out and confused.
The time has come for me to examine what God wants for me and my writing. I don’t know where I’ll head afterwards, but I must take the time to lean on God and trust in his leading.
From now until the end of March I am abstaining from social websites, blogs, and anything that takes me away from focusing on God’s direction for my life. During that time, I plan to study more, research ways to make my writing better and stronger. Until he sends me in a different direction, I am preparing my heart to receive God’s guidance and my mind for the lessons I will learn.
Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything under heaven. Each of the examples listed in chapter 3 are opposite from each other—they are examples of all or nothing. No fence sitting, no gray area. A time to be born, and a time to die.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to love, and a time to hate are a few examples.  
For me . . . this will be a time of growth and making sure I am in the will of God. Although I hesitate to drop everything I’ve been working toward like the proverbial hot potato, I’m determined to take on the approach spelled out in Ecclesiastes and see where God leads.
I’d like to say thanks in advance to Ginger Takamiya who will take my place here on the MBT Ponderers blog while I am away.
God bless you all and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and blessed New Year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Heart-stopping fear

Delores E. Topliff
What? A ghost? We’re well-past Halloween, that holiday where spooks say “Boo” and cause heart-stopping fear. 

Ideal life and writing is not always untroubled smooth sailing. It includes surprise ups and downs that define successor show what's needed to succeed next time.

I couldn’t master bike riding at age ten until my little sister tumbled down a cellar coal chute and needed rescue. Then I quit concentrating on balance and which foot to put where and simply pedaled like mad across the park to rescue her. Bike riding became easy.

In college I couldn’t manage ski rope tows and got thrown every time until an instructor stood behind me, put his arms around me, and said, “Just relax, let me carry you up.” He did and it worked great. And what had been impossible became easy after that.

My mother’s great fear of snakes influenced us kids until I made myself fight to be a good example for my grandkids. Though snakes are still not my favorite creatures, I can touch them now without revulsion, once I know which are truly harmful and which are non-dangerous lookalikes. In some areas of Israel, I scan paths for serpents, but turn off that brain function when back home.

The Ebola scare intensified while we were away. Five airports including Chicago had begun screening procedures by our return. One mature Christian woman on our team trusts God for health issues and thrived in Israel. When we changed planes in Paris, her new seatmate was a nurse who had been visiting home but was returning to the U.S.
“Where is home for you?”
“West Africa.”
“Do they have Ebola there?”
“Further away. Our area is fine.”
U.S. Customs forms came around needing completion. The nurse asked to borrow my friend’s pen. Small requests sometimes become bigger issues . . .

Even in fiction when characters overcome challenges that defeated them before, we celebrate their growthand are encouraged to do the same.

Have you faced heart-stopping fear? Are there things that used to paralyze you that no longer do? Tell us about them, and what made the difference.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My 2014 Thanksgiving List

Faith—I must place my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, at the top of this list. He loved me enough to die for me and lavishes His grace upon me every day.

Family—The Lord blessed me with amazing parents, a missionary husband, three kids that I love to the moon and back, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and the three most sensational brothers in the world. And don’t get me started on my cousins and nieces and nephews! They are incredible.

Friends—I’ve made some new friends. I met them in my Bible Study Class. We’ve already found that we can study, pray, and laugh together.  But I also have some friends I've known for a long time like the ones I write with on this blog. We also pray together and share our love of writing. The Ponderers amaze me both with their books and friendship.

But I have one friend I’ve known for…well, really, I never remember not knowing her. Becky Dickens. When we were girls, we played for hours and hours with the old Betsy McCall paper dolls. (Anyone remember those?) Incredible imaginations transformed our bikes into “horses”. Thankfully, we now live within walking distance and take many hikes around the neighborhood sharing all these things.

Fiction—I was reading a story one day when I was a young girl--one of the old Danny Orlis books--and a temptation came my way. Some could argue that those books were not terribly faith building or not well written enough to matter. But I found enough Christianity in the book that it fortified my young conviction enough to say “no” to the temptation. Since then I’ve been inspired and convicted by many of my favorite authors with lessons from stories that stay with me long after I close the book.

Yes, I have many reasons to give thanks unto the Lord! What are you especially thankful for this year?

(Image from debspoons at FreeDigitalPhotos)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

God, Help Me! You're the Only One Who Can

NOTE: This is not a typical Ponderer post. As I was praying about this month's blog entry, I really felt the Lord speak to me about my testimony. This is my story of gratefulness for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I hope you are both blessed and encouraged to seek the heart of God for your own life.
Ginger Takamiya

The strange object appeared on the screen for the second time in my life. An eerie gray and white ring. Not quite a black hole, but it might as well have been. My womb was as good as empty anyway.
“The doctor will be in touch when he reads the results.” The sonographer was nothing more than a voice and a pair of detached hands that wiped the warm gel from my belly. “He ordered blood tests as well, if you go out the door to your right, the nurse is waiting.”
God not again. Please.
I can’t remember anything about those two days accept the phone call, when I heard the low voice of my physician on the line. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Takamiya, There is simply nothing we can do.”
Of course I wanted to be brave. Wasn’t I brave the first time? Didn’t I keep a positive attitude through the whole thing, knowing God would never let anything bad happen to me? But it had happened and no amount of bravery would keep the tears from my words this time. “Why does this keep happening to me? “
“We don’t know why your pregnancies refuse to progress beyond a gestation sac. It is simply Mother Nature’s way of selecting the strongest.” A long pause. “I can order the D & C this week.”
D & C a procedure that cleans the womb of all unwanted matter. How was I going to tell my husband, Pat. He was out on a six month deployment with the USS Stoddert and as far as I knew, there were no phones in the Persian Gulf.
 Maybe the doctor’s right. Just get it over with like last time and move on.
But Pat was not here. He would have no say this time.
I just couldn’t.
Somehow, I had to get a hold of God. “Doctor, can I please have another ultrasound. Just to make sure?”
His compassionate voice did not hesitate. “Of course, Mrs. Takamiya. If that will set your mind at ease than I’ll set it up for one week, say Wednesday morning?”
“Yes. Yes that will be fine.” I had bought myself 7 days. Seven days before I had to face the inevitable. But blood tests didn’t lie and neither did ultrasounds.
Sunday morning came and I couldn’t wait to go to church. I just knew that tiny building would be filled with people willing to pray with me and believe for healing. But as I recited my story I was met with, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” while they politely walked away.
One lady that I had grown to admire, who had been my Sunday school teacher as a child, came up to me. “Well, Ginger, how you feeling. Any morning sickness yet?”
I knew if anyone could pray with me to be healed it was her. So I mustered the bit of faith I had and with a clear, hopeful voice answered her. “The doctor said there isn’t a baby forming. But I believe God can heal me.”
A strange look came over her face that I had never seen before. It unsettled me. I watched her nose make a brief snarl as she patted my hand. “Well, honey, you just pray for God’s will.”
Words are powerful things. They can bring joy, hope, laughter, anger, pain, and produce a world of amazing results. But these words hung between us, empty and vast as space itself.
The hands of my heart had reached out only to meet the vacant air of useless utterance carelessly given.
I excused myself and went to my seat. I muddled thru the sermon, the music, the occasional greeting until I could harbor myself back home in my bedroom. No one bothered me there. I took a nap, hoping I might feel better and maybe have a clearer head when I woke up. I wanted to go talk to my daddy. Have him make everything better, but he was fighting his own battle. Last year, he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. The doctors said they got it all when they took out most of his stomach. Yet, I could hear him retching again and groaning in pain in the other room.
The cancer wasn’t supposed to come back.
How could I go to my daddy when he needed all the strength he had to fight his own battle?
My brother called from the other room. “It’s about time to go to evening service, Ging.”
Evening service? How could I even think about going back after this morning? Didn’t he understand what was going on in my life? My father was dying, my husband was in the Persian Gulf, my baby was as good as dead and he was calling me to go to church with a bunch of people who didn’t even believe in miracles anymore. After everything I’ve been through, I deserve to stay home.
So, you’re just going to give up? Roll over and die, as it were?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know where those words came from, but I have to believe they were from the Lord because something rose up inside of me that refused to give up. So I got dressed and out the door, determined that I would go to the altar, alone if necessary, and get something from God.
The sermon went in a blur and the altar call was given for anyone who needed to pray. I don’t remember the music playing, only that I stood next to the piano, very much alone. “Jesus, you died for me, you’re the only one who can help me. Please, please save my baby. Let me have this child. Heal me. No one else can.”
I waited for something, anything to happen.
How long were you suppose to wait for a miracle? No one had gotten one in some time so I wasn’t sure.
I didn’t have anything better to do so I sang with everyone else. Yeah, that feels nice. And maybe I’ll just clap my hands a little bit, while I wait.
Moments later a sense of all-or-nothing hit me and so for the first time in my life, I lifted my hands to worship the Lord. I didn’t really know how, but I was given it all I had.
Suddenly I felt a definite presence hovering above me. I had never felt anything like that and was not sure what to do so I just waited. And the Spirit of God waited. And I waited.
Then I remembered something my Sunday School teacher said years before. “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He will never go where He is not invited.”
That’s it. I had to invite Him. “Holy Spirit, come in.”
I do not know why things happened the way they did and I can’t describe very well what happened next, but a feeling of something like wind rushed inside of me and I knew God heard me and most importantly, loved me. I could do nothing but cry for several minutes over the absolute wonder of being so loved.
In that moment I understood what it must have been like for Peter in Acts chapter 2 when he went from being so afraid of people to being filled with the Spirit of God and standing in great boldness to preach the gospel to thousands that day.
I turned around to address the congregation, not knowing really what I was doing. “The doctor said I am not going to have this baby, but I tell you, I am going to have this baby, because Jesus has healed me.”
I won’t lie to you. The whole time I stood there speaking I could hear another voice shouting inside me as well.
I knew that if I heeded that voice for one moment and allowed fear and unbelief to come in, I would lose my baby. So I swatted the voice away like a mosquito and for the next three days, told anyone who would stand still for five seconds what the Lord had done for me. It wasn’t easy, but my child’s life depended on my trust and faith in Christ.
Wednesday morning I stood in a hospital gown, pacing and waiting for my turn. “Lord I believe, but as my brother in the Bible said, ‘Help my unbelief’.”
When I lay on that table, bladder full and aching, warm gel smearing over my abdomen, I knew I had done everything that was in my power to do. The rest was up to God. My mother had given me a card the day before addressed from my child to me that said,  “Don’t give up on me, Mommy.” How could I?
Moments passed as the sonographer clicked the keyboard and swiped the gadget over and back again. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to know. “Well!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear. I was just taking measurements. Here.” The screen turned and there lie my tiny son. His heart beating away as if to say, “I’m here, Mommy.”
That was over twenty-five years ago and our miracle son Patrick-Cain Hideo Takamiya just bought his first house last week. My husband and I have been blessed with five wonderful children and we consider all of them a miracle.
I do not claim to have the formula for healing. My father lost his battle with cancer and died two months after my son was born. I don’t understand all the ways of God, but I do know He loves us and His plans for us are good. I also know, that I would much rather have spent my time trusting God and believing Him to heal me than wasting my time worrying about how foolish I would look if He didn’t.
So. What do you have to lose?

Mini Bio:
Ginger Takamiya was raised in Indiana where she met her husband Pat. They celebrated twenty-five years of marriage last year and have five children, four boys and a girl and live in the woods of Missouri. Ginger is a Christian romance writer and won the My Book Therapy Frasier award in 2012 for her first novel. When she is not writing, she is active in her home church and enjoys gourmet cooking for their events as well as writers’ retreats. She is also available for speaking engagements.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Publishing, Facebook, and Social Media

By Jennie Atkins

As someone who is experiencing repeated rejection letters based on the number of Facebook friends I have (or should I say, the number of Facebook friends I DON’T have), I will admit it is frustrating to me as well as my literary agency.

I hear statements from published authors like “Just write the book in your head/heart.” Or “Write a book that will catch the attention of the editors/agents.” I’ve paid for expensive conferences to learn ways to improve my writing, but it seems more and more publishing houses want authors to have a social presence.  The consensus is we need to twitter more, create fan pages on Facebook, create a blog, do a guest post on other people’s blogs, etc., etc., etc. When are we supposed to write the next great novel?

The nice thing is the agency with which I am associated with – WordServe Literary--has started a fantastic marketing vehicle called www.faithhappenings.com to help authors reach out to the masses. It is a local and national Christian website where writers can advertise their books, and Christians have faith-based resources at their fingertips.

FaithHappenings showcases events specific to a region, from concerts to fundraisers.  It’s for authors, speakers and musicians to advertise their work. Anyone can find a wide assortment of faith-filled books, music, audiobooks and videos. By selection, one can receive daily emails with devotionals suited to their life’s needs—male or female, college student or parent.  The opportunities are endless and the journey has only begun.

So if you’re just starting your writing journey—or deep into the adventure of a multi-book contract—check out what the folks at FaithHappenings have put together. It is your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource.