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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jack and Me (Or, friends who calm you down)

Photo credit
~Melissa Tagg
I’m just going to say it: If Jack Bauer was a real person, we’d be friends.

Not because I’m some sort of secret counter terrorist agent. And not because I’m all that into shooting people or breaking their kneecaps. Nope, I leave that stuff to Jack and the Chuck Norrises of the world.

Here’s why I think Jack and I would be good friends:

I’m non-intense.

No, really, it’s true. I’m not easily upset. Going barefoot on hotel carpet? Doesn’t bother me. Nor does a picture hanging crooked on the wall. Wrinkled clothes? Um, just ask me when I last ironed. (But don’t expect an accurate answer.) YouTube taking too long to buffer? No biggie, I’ll fill the time with a quick game of spider solitaire.

And that’s what Jack Bauer needs. Someone with the necessary laidback-ness to properly massage his intensity. He needs (or would if he actually existed) a friend to calm his frazzled terrorist-fighting nerves.

I’m telling you, Jack Bauer needs me…Melissa…the non-intense.

Well…okay, fine. There may just be one area of my life in which I lean towards intense. Okay, fine, quite intense. Okay, fine, super intense. (I’d say “uber” intense, but I don’t know how to make a “u” with those two dots above it.)


I am intense when it comes to writing. I am intense when it comes to my writing dream. I am intense when it comes to pursuing that dream.

Which is why I am so thankful for friends who calm me down. Who prod me off the ledge called “obsessed.” Who brave the depths of my sometimes over-intensity and remind me no one is going to die if I don't reach my word count for the day. That it's okay if I need to re-write a scene for the fifteenth time. That patience is, in fact, a good thing, and God has a pretty sweet plan, after all.

Those bring-me-down-to-earth friends are vital to my writing journey...and frankly, to my sanity. And I love 'em.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself over-intense about writing or some other dream...or anything? Who are your friends who talk you off the ledge? And be honest...considering it's been several years since 24 went off the air, is it about time I stop routinely referencing Jack Bauer?

Melissa Tagg

Monday, May 28, 2012

Freedom Comes With a Price

Greater love has no one than this, 
that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 NIV

In the midst of your summer kick-off plans, home improvement projects and holiday weekend sales events, take time to remember those who have gone before us to secure our freedoms. Be sure to thank a veteran or a service man or service woman today for continually keeping us free. Freedom comes with a price...and someone else paid it for me. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dear Heidi...(A Letter From my Novel)

I got a letter from my novel today. Seriously. I opened my email inbox, and there it was.  It’s eerie, because I was just reflecting back on Roxanne’s writer report card post

Apparently my novel wanted some input on my assessment because this is what the letter said:

“I'm dying here, and it's all your fault. I know you can see all my flaws. Everyone can. My dialogue is too chunky. My theme is myopic. My characters are too flat.

“Oh, I know you loved me once. Once upon a time, we stayed up late into the night musing on philosophical connotations and thematic elements. There was a time you could love me in spite of my flaws. Those times are past. Because I'll never get anywhere in the world unless I undergo major surgery.

“The surgery is going to be painful. Liposuctioning exposition and undergoing characterplasty are difficult and expensive, costing time and energy. It's not like writing, where you get to work on a blank slate, build me up from nothing. Cutting me down is probably like cutting yourself apart. And it takes so much longer than mere writing ever could.

“Wouldn't it be better if I just languished in a desk drawer? Because after all, that way no one else will ever see my flaws. You'll be the only one who knows that I'm imperfect. I can't possibly be worth it. It's just too hard.

“Unless you think I'm worth the effort. Unless you think there are some gems between my fat, word-padded pages that need to be polished and allowed to shine. Maybe there's someone out there who could benefit from reading me. Maybe, just maybe, I still mean something to you.
“So, what are we going to do?

“If I could give you my advice, I'd tell you to read every word of me carefully, with pen in hand, and make notes on every page, both good and bad. Tell me where a sentence needs to be made clearer. Make a note of where I contradict myself, and don't let me get away with it. Remind me of that paragraph which was one of the reasons why you loved me in the first place. Build me up by cutting me down. Every mark, every star, every heart, every scribbled, crossed out line, every single one tells me that you care about my future.

“Then sit down at the desk and read me again, notes in hand. Change things. Rip out whole chapters, I can take it. And what about that section where the plot needs to completely change? I know it'll take stitching and sewing and rewriting, but we can get through it together.

“It'll be painful for both of us. Do you care enough about me to even try? Like all relationships, this one takes time and effort to foster, or we'll drift apart. But maybe you'll decide that I'm important enough. Maybe you'll realize that I am worth the time and effort.

“Maybe you'll realize that you are, too. 

"I'm waiting for you.”

Okay, so this note was in my email today, but I think we all know my novel didn’t write it. It was actually a post-NaNoWriMo pep talk written by YA author Anna Sheehan from the point of view of my novel. I pared it down a bit for the sake of this blog post, but the original message is still clear: it’s not enough to write. We must be willing to spend time and energy editing, and we must be willing to be honest with ourselves about our writing. The only way those manuscripts can make it to publication is if we care enough about them (and the message they contain) to make the hard choices. “Build me up by cutting me down.”

Your novel is worth it.

And so are you.

~Heidi Larson Geis

Your turn: How does editing make you feel? Do you have a novel (or two, or five) collecting dust somewhere that just needs a second look and some love (and maybe a little characterplasty) to be something great? Do you have any secrets or tips to make the editing process a little easier and less painful? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Doing versus Being

                 by Pat Trainum aka P. T. Bradley

After posting on Mary and Martha a while back, I received several emails and comments pointing out that if it weren’t for the Martha’s of the world, nothing would ever get done. I agree and admit what I didn't then: This passage bothered me at one time, because I’m not just Pat. I’m a Martha as well.

So, let’s ponder the words and see if it has to come down to a choice of being versus doing.

What did Martha do that was so wrong? After all, Jesus tells us through James that faith without works is dead. So, I’m wondering here, if Martha hadn’t made lunch, what would Jesus have eaten? If food needed to be prepared, why does He tell Martha that her sister has chosen the better thing?

Maybe it’s because Martha was distracted, troubled and worried. What was she distracted by? Her many tasks. In the Greek, these words are translations of the word diakonia, which is usually translated as service or ministry. It also refers to table or domestic duties. I believe Martha had the gifts of hospitality and service and viewed these tasks as a ministry to others. But, she’d gotten so caught up in serving, that she’d created distance from Jesus. She had lost the attitude of worship.

I mean, her best friend Jesus was in the room!

And sadly her focus was on other things.

Don’t we do that? We get up and think I’ll do my quiet time later. Only later never comes. And then when the day comes at us fast, we don’t have a reservoir to draw from. That’s the key to combining Martha’s doing with Mary’s being. Spend quality time with Jesus every morning. Let him refresh you and fill you with His Spirit.

Do you have any suggestions for finding time with Him? Oh, and check out an old favorite of mine, I Miss My Time With You.

Pat Trainum

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

Monday, May 21, 2012


Image courtesy of felipedan
by Jenness Walker
This week in my town, everything’s about to change. Many people—my co-author included—are going to don billowy zip-up gowns, funny-shaped hats, and walk down the aisle in exchange for a certificate.
But it’s more than a piece of paper. It’s proof that they’ve worked hard. They’ve accomplished something great. And they’re about to move on to, well, whatever’s next. And whatever that is, something’s going to change.

Where are you at? A lot of us are facing change, even if we don’t have to wear the black robe. Are you a new mom, having to head back to work, like Amy? Are you looking at a career change?  A move? Are you getting married? Are you about to start a new WIP?
Change can feel a lot like stepping off a cliff. (Um, not that I actually know that first-hand. Living in Florida, I don’t have many opportunities to try that particular feat.) But that means we have a great opportunity to allow God to have total control. To trust Him to keep us safe and guide us to the next stop in His plan for our lives.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” Psalm 37:5 ESV

We don’t need to worry. He’s the Author, and, unlike me, He doesn’t do anything by the seat of His pants. (No disrespect intended.)

“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.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
He’s got everything under control—no surprises on His end. He knows our dreams, what will fulfill us, and what we need even more than we do. He knows everything about us. He sees the big picture. And He loves us more than anyone ever has or ever will.

That makes the next step a little less scary, don’t you think?
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in His way.” Psalm 37:23 ESV

So whatever changes are happening in your life right now, you can stop worrying. Leave it to the Author of our faith, because He’s already written this chapter.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Ah-hah Moment and Post-It Notes (Part 2)

By Jennie Atkins

In my April blog by the same name, I wrote about a trick I learned at Deep Thinkers, using different colored Post-it notes for the various parts of the story structure. Being a visual person, I could finally "see" the connections of how all the pieces parts of the story fit together. What I showed you was how I outlined the hero’s and heroine’s emotional journey along with the story plot.

Since then I’ve started working on the other parts of the story—like the romance thread. With a purple Post-it notes I add these points in the center of the chart. (I.e. first kiss, wooing, sizzle, etc.) You can do the same for suspense plot points.

Then I stepped back and got into the details of planning my story with salmon-colored notes. When I had an action scene I made notes of what the reaction scene would be. When something else happened with the story via a secondary character I made a sticky for that with another color. For scenes before and after turning points I made stickys for those as well. And for other details I thought of along the way, I added another sticky note.

Finally, I put everything in order with yellow sticky notes. I sequentially numbered each scene. Some people could use chapter numbers, but I prefer to add those to my WIP at the very end. So I number the scenes instead.

I know you’re imagining a sea of brightly-colored sticky notes…and you’re right, although I didn’t show all of them here. However, when I start going through them, I can see the story unfold. If I have to rearrange the order of the story, it’s as easy as pulling off a sticky and switching it with the out of order scene number.

The final step is getting all my random thoughts into something usable. I open up Excel and create a table with several columns. The first column is putting down in electronic format the information I’ve jotted onto all those sticky notes. The next columns vary, but they are usually for additional information like story world, character information, plot details or dialogue snippets I’ve imagined.

The neat thing is…it’s yours to do with what you want. You don’t have to do it like I did; you can set it up in a format that suits your writing style.

Now it’s your turn…What items do you use to brainstorm your plot?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cinderella in the Bible

By Teri Dawn Smith

At a conference not long ago, the keynote speaker made this bold statement: “The seed of every story is found in the Bible.”

Hmm. I decided to test it out. I suppose the typical story of the hero saves the heroine from the evil man isn’t hard to find. Try David and Abigail in I Samuel 25.  Or for a twist, there’s even the damsel saving the hero in chapter 19 of the same book. Who could forget the story of the underdog wins when David slays the giant? Obviously David lived a colorful and adventurous life.

But what about the story of Cinderella? I decided to look for the ugly stepsisters, the lovely young lady, and the Prince. It’s really a “rags to riches” story, and I found it in an unusual place in the book of Ephesians, chapter two.

Chapter two describes the “rags” as dead in trespasses and sin, indulging the desires of the flesh and mind, and living as children of wrath. Pretty tattered rags there! 
And then the riches appear in phrases such as “brought near”, “reconciled”, and “fellow citizens with the saints”.

The Prince also makes His appearance. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, comes that “He might show the surpassing riches of His grace.”

Now, every good story needs a twist, and God has one in His story. We’d like to identify with the beautiful Cinderella and welcome our Prince. But sadly, our sins made us like the ugly stepsisters! But the twist in God’s story is that He takes those living in the rags of sin and brings them into His family. He transforms the ugly stepsister into the princess!

As a writer, my favorite description of God’s transformation is, “we are His workmanship”. Look up that Greek word for “workmanship”, and you’ll find it’s from the Greek word for our English word “poem”. We are God’s poem to this world! May God help us to live so that when our family and friends observe us, they see God’s poem.

Can you think of other famous stories that have their seed in the Bible? Where would you find them?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Faith in Those First Steps

Photo Source
by Lisa Jordan

One of the young toddlers in my early childhood education program is learning to walk. She takes a few steps, pauses, realizes she is alone, then topples over. When she falls, she gazes at me with a protruding bottom lip, as if to ask, "Why did you let me fall?"

Of course I reach down, scoop her up and cradle her to my chest to reassure her while I may allow her to explore her new-found development, she isn't alone in this journey. 

Before a child learns to walk, she needs to move through several developmental stages--lifting the head, up on arms, pulling herself forward, arm over arm crawl, up on knees, pull up to standing, balance, bravery in that first step. 

Like a child learning to walk for the first time, writers need to take baby steps in their writing journeys.

Writing begins with a spark of an idea. And most writers can't take an idea and mold it into a publishable story from the very beginning. 

Writing is a process that requires mastering the fundamentals of the craft. While mastering those developing writing skills, writers will fall. Perhaps they enter contests and receive low scores. Or maybe they query and editor or agent and receive a "not for me" type rejection. Or even they have mastered the fundamentals and celebrate their first releases, only to receive less than glowing reviews.

Writers who fall under the weight of the writing process--lack of strong skills, their own self-doubt, rejections--don't have the power to stand on their own...they teeter and topple. When they fall, they cry out. Who lifts them up? 

Psalm 145:14 reminds us: The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

When we lack the strength to move forward in our own might, God places his arms under us, lifts us up and sets us on our feet. He may take our hands and walk alongside us. He gives us confidence to take that next step. He becomes our strength. As we continue down the path He has laid before us, one thing is clear--He never allows us to walk alone, even once we've found a solid faith footing in those first steps.

Your Turn: When have you felt like you've stumbled and fallen in your writing journey? How did you get through it? How did God's strength sustain you? What advice would you have for a new writer?

Lisa Jordan

Friday, May 11, 2012

Of Cocoa and Garlic: Combining Just the Right Words to Create Storyworld

By Delores Topliff

A recent spring health advisory advised foods warding off flu:  “Cocoa in dark chocolate helps immune systems, and garlic fight infections.” 

Good to know! I like short cuts and improved health so maybe I’ll add minced garlic to my next batch of fudge for the benefits of both? 


Newly married and owning just one sauce pan, when my Canadian husband asked for boiled cod, I prepared, he enjoyed, and then requested chocolate fudge. Same pan, but scrubbed in hot sudsy water—so no problem. But have you tasted cod-flavored fudge? Ghastly—like a romance novel where hero and  heroine are deep sea divers grappling for true love’s first kiss between air hoses when a giant octopus arrives entangling them further—but that’s another story . . . (I see that red pen—not worth writing, huh?)

Some writing word blends are equally disastrous as chocolate and garlic, cod and fudge, or kisses and an octopus.

Match word sounds to actions

English vocabulary doubled after the Norman Conquest when our short-quick Anglo-Saxon based English words like, “He stabbed his foe,” were augmented by longer flowery French words: “The jousting cavalier defended his virtuous damsel (demoiselle) by unseating the challenging villain.”  We may say twelve or dozen, beef or veal, depending on our purpose—both are correct. 
I love this intentional bad example from Russell Thornberry’s “Adjective Wars”: 

“A twig snapped behind me…. Then a raking of giant antlers against tree bark sent a flood of adrenaline through my veins…. I reached down slowly until my fingers rested on the slightly abrasive finish on my new Feather-Master, fiberglass/graphite, composite rifle stock. I eased my hand around the pistol grip and slowly lifted the Slobovian made, pre-1940, .337 Mauser with its sleek, fast-tapered, octagon, multi-grooved, over-bore double-compensated barrel . . .” 

I know . . . Worse than cod-flavored fudge.

Perfectly-chosen words establish storyworld and action. With his dramatist’s eye, Charles Dickens matched weather to mood, creating masterful scene backdrops. In Great Expectations, a black sky with whistling-winds blowing between cemetery tombstones precedes disaster as frightening convict Magwitch rises and nabs young Pip. Later when Pip’s unattainable, unrequited love, Estella, finally recognizes Pip’s virtues, returning his long-suffering devotion, we enjoy sunny blue skies, warm breezes, sweet spring flowers and singing birds.

Today my grocery store check-out line displayed chocolate-covered potato chips—I declined . . .

How do you choose just the right words in just the right combination to create storyworld?  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Motivation for Surprises

Amy here...

I never do anything unpredictable. I mean, never. That's why I never understood when writers would say, "Today my character surprised me by doing x, y, z."

But I finally understand. This past weekend, my little brother married his best friend. Hubby and I were supposed to fly in for the wedding with our two month old on Thursday and return on Sunday. Then work went crazy for him. After much discussion, we decided he needed to stay home and take care of things.

So, Haley and I flew from Minnesota to Florida alone. The plan: 1) be a bridesmaid Saturday, 2) fly home on Sunday, 3) enjoy my last week of maternity leave, and 4) go back to work. I loved showing my new daughter off to my extended family and sharing in the joy of Matt and Daphne's wedding. Everthing was going according to plan.

Until Sunday morning. We needed to leave to catch our plane home. But...my extended family planned to leave Monday. I didn't have to go back to work yet. Hubby was working long hours, late nights. And, my mom was driving back to Minnesota on Thursday. Add it all up and...I missed my plane.

On purpose.

Crazy? Maybe. I now have a twenty four hour road trip to look forward to with a two month old. But my motivation to sit by the ocean and spend extra time with my mom and brother, David, tipped the scales. If there is sufficient motivation, I can see why a character might surprise you. I surprised myself.

Has your character ever surprised you? Have you ever surprised yourself? What was the motivation for the unexpected action?


P.S. Sorry fellow Ponderers, I know Wednesdays is supposed to be about friendship, but I decided to rebel in all areas of life this week. Hopefully you'll forgive me. And yes, this is the view I've enjoyed since I missed my plane!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Faith and Fictional Characters

by Beth K. Vogt

As novelists, we get to decide a lot of things about our characters:

  • name
  • occupation
  • appearance
  • quirks
  • happiest moment
  • greatest dream
  • darkest moment
  • wound
  • lie
All of these details help us develop a well-rounded protagonist, one that our readers connect with. There's something else we also determine for our characters: their faith.

My debut novel, Wish You Were Here, hit the shelves May 1. It took me three years to write my first novel. I was a fiction-newbie, crossing over to the "Dark Side" from writing nonfiction. I had a lot to learn -- and to unlearn. I needed every day of those three years to write a publishable novel.                                                                  

Early on in the process, I knew what kind of faith I would "give" my hero and heroine. I wanted Daniel and Allison to both believe in God, but to have skewed perspectives of him. To be confused about who God really is. 


Because I've been there. I've been a woman of faith who had to admit her beliefs were messed up. That my rock-solid truths about God were faulty. There came a season in my life when I dubbed myself an "Accidental Pharisee." As much as I talked (and even taught) about God's lavish grace, I discovered I was quite comfortable with law, thank you very much. 

In Wish You Were Here, rather than have a character with a journey of unbelief to belief, Allison's and Daniel's spiritual journeys involved recognizing how their misperceptions affected their ability to see -- to understand -- who God truly is.Then I created situations where they discovered the truth about God. 

For me, writing fiction is writing real life. Not everyone I know believes in God. Most everyone I know -- dare I say all? -- who does believe in God also misunderstands him.                                               

Consider your work-in-progress: What kind of faith have you"given" your characters? None? The barest beginning? Rock solid? Is your hero a voice of truth to another character -- or is he the one asking the questions, the one that you, as the author, will be leading one step closer to God with each turn of the page? 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Report Cards, Anyone?

No boss looks over your shoulder. No supervisor gives you an annual review. If you’re a published author, you’ve got sales figures, feedback from editors/agents, and letters from readers. But if you’re not published yet, how do you chart your progress? A critique group? (Depends on the group.) Contest feedback? (Depends on the judge.) A self-assessment? Well, why not? It’s the end of the school year, and students will soon receive their report cards. Why not create your own writing report card? 
Here’s mine—(Roxanne Sherwood):
English Literature—A
After all, I was a reader before becoming a writer. :-)
If I couldn’t award myself a top score after years of writing, I should look for another job. But if you’re a newbie and still learning deep point-of-view or other areas of craft, give yourself room to improve.
Um . . . With Spell Check, I feel a bit guilty for this easy grade, like getting an “A” for study hall or being a teacher’s assistant. But students do sometimes make easy grades. And I probably need to pad my GPA. :-)
I had to think about this grade for awhile, since I don’t even balance my check book. But I can do word counts/page counts. My husband might argue that I really need to balance the checkbook, but I came into the marriage with full-disclosure. ;-)
I can usually find what I need, and I never ask someone for help without doing research myself first. I don’t mind helping others, but I have a pet peeve with someone who asks without first even trying to find out the answer. My problem lies with recognizing when to stop researching and start writing.
Information & Communication Technology—C 
Considering I earned a journalism degree on a typewriter and I'm now blogging here, I’ve learned a lot. But I’m still a novice. Thank heavens I married my IT guy. ;-)
Uses time wiselyUnsatisfactory
I struggle with the dreaded “blank-page syndrome” and justify wasting time by calling it social networking. As I stated above, I research far longer than the question warrants. 
I seriously need help managing files. (I'm sure I'm not alone.) A really organized author could write a blog post about this or even teach a class at ACFW.)
Shows InitiativeSatisfactory
With the help of many amazing writers, I’ve learned the equivalent of a college degree in novel writing. (I’ll consider a publishing contract as my diploma.) 
Completes AssignmentsUnsatisfactory
Could be the reason I’m not published. 
So, what's the point? An assessment shows where your strengths and weaknesses lie. I'm going to revamp my S.M.A.R.T. goals and contact a couple of accountability partners. (You know who you are, right?) Because the bottom line—and pretty much everything in life comes down to the bottom line—I don't want to live with regret that I didn't put forth the effort to make my dreams come true, but that's a post for another day.  
Your turn. What’s your writing report card look like? Any great advice for improvement?
—Roxanne Sherwood 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Friendship, Thorns and All

By Paula Boire, writing as Sara L. Jameson
You may be wondering about the picture of a thorny cactus for a friendship blog. Most of the year the cactus is a plant of thorns, maybe tiny, almost invisible ones. Maybe dagger length. Maybe long, curved hooks. But all of them, P.R.I.C.K.L.Y.

Fortunately, one thing cacti have in common is a season to bloom. Granted, it’s short-lived, but the colorful, waxy blossoms that crown them are a beautiful sight. And they dwarf the awareness of the thorns. For a time.

People can be like a cactus, with prickly places in their personalities. After all, we’re WIPS, God’s works-in-progress. God’s Word tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The amazing thing is that He still loves us. Still accepts us as we are. He's still patient with us. Doesn’t give up on us.

Friendships, like family, were meant to function the same way. Friends are fun to pal around with but the friends who accept me, thorns and all, are an enormous safety net, a huge blessing. A place to be myself. A place to grow beyond my current collection of thorns. And they can be a means to a closer relationship with the Lord. In short, they can be life-changing.

Today I would like to honor two friends: Rose and Peggy. The Lord brought Rose into my life during an extremely difficult season, one that went from tough to dangerous. 

Because Rose was a woman after the Lord’s heart, He used her to straighten out so many areas of my life, providing an acceptance of me no matter what I had done. 

Decades ago, life in an abusive marriage had driven Rose close to the Lord. The result? Such an intimate fellowship with Him that the Lord enlarged her prophetic gifts. Countless people were blessed by her ministry. Including me. Her unexpected death the day I left Romania with Romanian Security Police literally at my heels, stunned me. But it forced me to ramp up my own walk with the Lord, learning to wait until I’d heard from Him. Drawing me closer to Him.

Several years later, the Lord blessed me with Peggy’s friendship. Peggy loves the Lord with her whole heart. She is an unshakable encourager who cannot be deterred from building up and comforting others. A woman with a nurturer’s heart. A woman of prayer. Without her friendship, her unflagging confidence, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today. Because I would’ve long ago given up on my dream to write.

I’m the plant with the thorns. My friends?
They’re the blossoms.  

How about you? Has God given you friends who love you, thorns and all, who grow you in Him?