Monday, December 23, 2013

The Most Epic Story Ever Told - by Adam Collings

Epic stories are very popular at the moment, especially amongst those of us who love fantasy and science fiction. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, we lap it all up. It does something inside us. In these big sprawling stories the fate of entire worlds is at stake. We find ancient prophecies, unworthy heroes stepping up and do amazing things and ultimate sacrifices being made. We can’t get enough of it. Does any of this sound familiar? Ancient prophecies promising the coming of a great saviour, very ordinary parents tasked with the quest of raising God’s own son, the death of said saviour which seems to spell doom for all his plans, then the amazing revelation that it was all part of his plan – that he had to die in order to save the human race from darkness. Certainly, Christmas is the most epic story ever told. It’s almost like all these other stories are trying to emulate the one real-life epic story.

Now don’t get me wrong, as a writer I totally understand the desire to create one’s own epic story. I'm definitely not saying we shouldn't indulge in writing or reading these epics. They're brilliant fun. I believe it’s all part of the creative nature that God placed in us.

We tend to view the Christmas story through such traditional sanitised child-like eyes that we can take it all for granted and miss just how epic it all is.

This is a great time of year to re-examine it all, to really think on it, and realise just how amazing it all was. And most of all, it’s a great time to be thankful, so thankful that God was willing to put this incredible rescue plan into action out of his great love for us – the species that had rebelled against him and abandoned him.

If you’re interested in looking deeper into the gritty realities of the Christmas story, you might be interested in a little book called ‘All About Christmas’ by E.G. Lewis. I reviewed it last year.

Have a great Christmas!

(and now from epic stories to epic cuteness. Check out my little shepherd girl and my little wise man!)


Adam CollingsAdam Collings is a writer of speculative fiction and video blogger. He is actively working toward becoming a published author. He lives in Tasmania, Australia. Adam discusses books and movies on his youTube series Stories. You can find Adam on-line at collingszone.wordpress.com or his Google+ Profile

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Struggle to Express yourself



 
O Holy Night
The words “O Holy Night” were written by Placide Cappeaude De Roquemaure in 1847 according to my Google search. Now, the author is largely forgotten and unknown but his writing lives on and has impacted people as they worship Christ at Christmas.
I think as authors, we like Placide are quite happy to remain unknown and unapplauded, many of us have hermit like tendencies any way. But we would love our writing to be useful and worthwhile. As Christian authors we would dearly love to make a positive difference regarding our own generation as we share the beauty of Christ and His salvation plan for mankind.

But for a writer it is not that easy. In all honesty it is a hard slog, there are more downs than ups. Like any other creative art form we do put ourselves out there and allow our work to be critiqued. We have a hard task, for some of us it’s just finding the time to write (that’s me) let alone dealing with marketing obstacles, etc. But we continue largely because we believe that God wants us to continue.
 In my devotional I was reading  Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest”
 I was encouraged to read for December the 15th,  the following,  “Try to state to yourself what you feel implicitly to be God’s truth, and you give God a chance to pass it on to someone else through you.” The task lies before each of us.

Let these words encourage and shape your writing for 2014 no matter your genre because who knows, one day although we are forgotten, by the grace of God our writing will live on and impact our generation and the ones to come for Christ.
So keep struggling to express Gods’ truth for perhaps it will be your words that are put to music in praise of God.
                                 REMAIN BLESSED THIS CHRISTMAS
Written by Jennifer Ann, author of Broken Pottery the life of an “African Girl” available on Amazon  Kindle at: Broken Pottery the Life of an African Girl, Kindle edition.
Jennifer also has her own blog site at: JenniferAnn/ aroma of Life
Visit her website: www.JenniferAnn.info

Monday, December 16, 2013

Something to learn from Jesus' Story Telling Style in Relation to Character Development

Having recently completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, I felt deeply grateful for the opportunity to put my hand to creating a novel from scratch, and in particular, the opportunity to work on character development. I certainly don't profess to know it all, but drawing upon my past experiences as a professional performing artist and actress I thought I'd share an exhortation with us as a writing community.

Having received feedback on my novel about how much this person was enjoying the character development, it got me thinking about characterisation in relation to story-telling and what are the essential elements that help the reader to connect with the character in the story.

It really is no different now than it was in Jesus' day.  He often spoke in parables and those parables often focused on the character of the person he was talking about, whether it was the wicked servant, the woman caught in adultery or the woman by the well.

So I think it is a great opportunity for me to remind us as writers that our characters ought to be three dimensional.  That their actions, express their thoughts, which expresses the intent of their hearts and all of this is reflective of their life - their past experiences, core beliefs and status in life.  And that the intent of their heart can move through the many wonderful dynamics of emotion before arriving at the place that we intend in terms of a resolution.

The Good Samaritan tale took two people of questionable character before arriving at the Good Samaritan's door.  Were the other two characters essentially evil?  No, they were just regular people who had perceptions that were skewed.  Were they necessary to the plot or couldn't Jesus have just skipped to the good part and told us about the Good Samaritan and his actions?

Each character, with their full personality of strengths and weaknesses, was required for us to fully understand the beauty of the Good Samaritan and his actions.  And further, the background information about why it was such an incredible act of kindness even further helps us to better understand this character in the development of the story.  So we see that all of our characters play a part in painting the bigger picture and in colouring the transformational journey and eventual resolution and we need not rush to the conclusion, but savour the journey.

I think there can be this tendency in some Christian literature that black must be really black and that white must be really white and there is little space between being lost and then being found, but I think the conversion experience can be way more subtle as characters make their way through the grey mass in between. 

I think of Francine Rivers, who I greatly admire, having read her book, Redeeming Love, and having a transformational personal experience as a result.  Francine was able to take both characters through this transformational journey as the story progressed.  She wasn't afraid to show the depths of humanity in each of the characters, to expose their negative and positive nuances, and their gradual realisations about themselves and their personal position in life, then to lead each to a resolution.  But even with Francine's book, I found the resolution a bit predictable and I couldn't help thinking, 'Yeah, yeah'.  At the time I was asking myself, how could that have better resolved?  What would have been more satisfying?  And I realised that I wanted to know more about the personal relationship Angel (the main character) was developing with God along the way.  That she went from being this lost prostitute, the reluctant wife, to suddenly getting saved and everything being wonderful.  And yes, in some ways that is a salvation experience, but there was not enough for me about the emotional depth of Angel's conversion experience and then how that was going to be played out.  Consequently, I walked away, loving the book, but with this niggle of I wish the book had ended differently, that I had been allowed to see inside Angel's heart more.

It just felt to me that because it was a Christian novel it had to be tied up in pretty packages but I feel that we ought not to be afraid to lose some of our characters along the way because that is real life.  Tragedy strikes and we cannot control the outcome, so we need not think everything has to be tied up in neat bundles, kind of like adding a sugary syrup to foul tasting medicine.

So my exhortation to this group of wonderful writers, is to take their cue from Jesus.  He was perhaps the best story teller of all time, and he did paradigm shifts to perfection.  He had central characters and supporting acts, he juxtapositioned to perfection (if there is such a word), placing light and dark side by side so that there was this immediate contrast and not being afraid to call the distinction and expose the greyness. I guess what I am trying to say is don't be afraid to express the realness of your characters, be they good or evil.  Life is messy and our books should express that messiness.  Even good people have days when they are grumpy or sad and good people die just like bad ones.  What does the scriptures say?  "The rain falls the just and the unjust"... 

Get into the depths of emotion with your characters and take the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotion as they experience the full gamut of the character's world.  Then when they finish reading, they will be satisfied and desiring more.  It is possible to write great fiction and not give people the cringe factor or feelings of disappointment when things resolve unrealistically.  And I do believe it is possible to write the Christian conversion experience into a story and it be incredibly powerful, rather than the feeling that it's addition to the story is just because it bears the title of Christian fiction.

And above all, keep writing!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Difficult and Inspirational Tenacity by Charis Joy Jackson


“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”  
JRR Tolkien
Many things have invaded my life recently like brick walls keeping the light out. I've said a lot of goodbyes, dealt with extremely crucial deadlines, been kept at work for long hours, and most recently I lost a loved one to cancer. Finding time and passion to write has been hard and honestly one of the last things on my mind. My world has gotten dark, but I don't want to be faithless so how do I keep writing?
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” 
C.S. Lewis
I may not like “hard”, but Tolkien and Lewis shout to me across the years, telling me to keep going. Telling me to persevere.

To be tenacious.

I must hold on to even the smallest bit of hope and passion I have. I must write even when I don't feel like it. I must remember the difference between an aspiring author and a serious one is discipline. I must walk into difficulty, accepting the hard things that stand in the way and keep my eye on the prize.

Last weekend a friend and I went to our local coffee shop and settled in to write. I did everything I could to put off actually writing. I showed up late, scrolled through facebook, even took my time ordering coffee. I didn't have the inspiration or passion. It's been months since I've opened the document to even try. After a little pep talk from my friend, who told me to “just do it” I finally focused on the document in front of me and began to write. Haltingly at first, but then with more excitement. Within an hour I had 1300 words written and more coming. When I left all I could think about was getting home so I could keep writing.

Difficulties are hard, but tenacity brings hope. Even a spark beats back the darkness.

Already, just days after my success I can feel the weight of difficulty trying to quench the little hope I had this weekend. BUT I can't focus on what's hard, I must focus on the prize. I must remember how words and story gets under my skin and sets me on fire.

I must remember I love it.

I must remember how creating a new world with my God-given imagination seems like the most amazing thing ever. I will push through those walls. I can almost see my characters igniting like little lights in my mind.

I'll focus on God, the ultimate Creator and most tenacious inventor ever. What must it have been like for him when he created the world? Swirling dust together to form complex creatures that reflect His image...
Seeing that crisp, blank document may send thrills through my system and ignite my adrenaline, but now the idea of typing "The End" fills me with tenacity. And hope.

What about you? What is difficulty holding you back from?

Here's my challenge. Write. Be tenacious. Even when you don't feel like it. Even when life seems hard. Watch how God uses those times to surprise you. Let passion in, hold tight to tenacity and discipline.

They'll be your best friends. 




Charis Joy Jackson is working as a missionary with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) a non-profit organization & is part of The Initiative Production Company. She loves creating stories & is currently writing a novel, which she hopes to create into a seven part series. 

Here's to a life lived in awe & wonder. 
Welcome to the adventure.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Power of Creativity by Jo Wanmer

Should I kill Bobby, or let him live?
Will they all get down the mountain alive?

   These are a couple of the difficult questions I faced in November. Inspired by the NANoWriMo challenge, I opened a blank Word Document on first day of the month and started hitting keys. It was a last minute decision. However, I had a story, well a vague, broad idea of a story, in my head. 

So began my creative adventure. The illegible garbage on the page on day one morphed into real writing by day two. Encouraged, I continued. This was new territory. Although Though the Bud be Bruised is written as a fiction, it reflects exactly what happened in my life. There was no space for making up a scene. It was as it was.

This project however, didn't have such restrictions. The characters could do whatever they pleased, restricted only by my bad typing. They did crazy, unexpected things. I started to feel like a mother trying to control a group of unruly children. Then one day, Bobby just appeared in my manuscript. He bypassed my head and my character sheets and jumped out of a cave, frightening my heroine.

I considered removing him by using the back space bar. Its like turning back time really. There would be no evidence he even existed. But something about him fascinated me. So he wasn't annihilated. However, he disappeared, frightened by my unwelcoming attitude, I suspect. 

When he returned he was such a nice boy. However, before long, he knew too much and so he had to go. Yes, I killed him. No, killed is too strong a word. He died of a dreadful disease. Would it have been more humane to have deleted him at the beginning? Maybe, but to my surprise his name has popped up in the final chapters! Who would have guessed? Not me!

As much as my characters say and do the unexpected, I have to take final responsibility for all their actions. This book is close to being finished. There is only a few more chapters (of the first draft) to write (unless something unexpected happens again). Soon I can begin editing and rewriting, sorting this creative hotch potch of words into the great story that I know it can be. I'm hope I can bring all the threads of the plot into sharp focus.

Yes, I am the creator. I have created characters, actions, conversations, danger and solutions. As with a painting I can add, adjust, change moods and hues. Whole scenes could disappear. Others will be highlighted. I am looking forward to this process.

Likewise God is the creator, my creator. I've thought a lot about His creativity while writing this story. God is unrestricted by time. Likewise, authors are not confined by the book's time line. When we adjust things, the characters and readers aren't aware it was ever different. We can write scenes out of order, or even move them back or forward in time. Such is the power of a writer.

Can God do that as well? The Bible talks about the potter molding the clay. Are we, or the created things around us, in a similar position to our characters? Does God have a backspace button? Or a highlighting function? Bold? Delete?

Crazy questions I know. But He does know the end from the beginning and in my limited earth bound thinking, I don't understand that either. One thing I do know. God is BIG. Taking creative responsibility for a book has enhanced my understanding of him...just a little.

Next time I or my family are in some sort of dilemma, I'll be tempted to ask Him to use the back space button! Or to consider a rewrite. But then I remember that the dreadful experiences my heroine suffered were necessary to enable the fulfillment of her family's hopes and dreams.

Hmm. It is just as well I'm not God the creator. His job is too big for me. But writing has given me a deeper understanding of the original Author working all things together for my good. I'm so thankful that my life is in the hands of a wonderful loving Creator and not in the hands of a fickle author like me.

What about your writing experiences? I'd love to hear about your creative adventures.

Jo Wanmer lives in Queensland and loves watching the work of the Creator in the sky, the trees and the ocean. Currently she is working on a novel with the working title of 'El Shaddai'. As pastors, Jo and her husband, Steve, delight in watching God working in people's lives, bring healing and restoration; rewriting their futures. Her other passion is speaking about the greatest power on earth, the unconditional love of God. Jo is available for speaking engagements.




Thursday, December 5, 2013

God's Path or Mine? by Nola Passmore


 
 
When I went to the Caleb Christian Writers conference in October, I was expecting to gain lots of valuable teaching and insights I could use in my writing.  The program was chock full of interesting seminars and workshops on everything from writing a series and publishing to social networking and social justice. I couldn’t wait to soak it all in.  However, I didn’t manage to attend even half of the sessions I’d earmarked because I was also involved in some of the other conference activities - giving a talk, chairing a session, running three book-doctor spots, and pitching a book proposal to two different publishers.  I also wasn’t feeling the best one afternoon and had to go to a friend’s room to lie down rather than attending another couple of talks.

I was feeling a bit sorry for myself because I was missing out on a lot of the things I wanted to do, but then God showed me what had actually been accomplished in those two days. 

  • My poetry talk encouraged one of the attendees to start submitting her own poetry.
  • The book-doctor sessions helped others and also built my confidence in critiquing manuscripts.
  • Pitching a book proposal gave me valuable insights into the publisher’s perspective.
  • A group prayer session led to a breakthrough in a personal issue.
  • A discussion with a new contact led to some part-time work.
  • Another delegate confirmed a writing project God had laid on my heart.
  • I caught up with many wonderful friends and made some new ones.

The conference was indeed a blessing.

This experience reminded me of Proverbs 16:9 – “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”  I didn’t receive what I was expecting from the conference in terms of input, but God gave me exactly what I needed and I was also able to help some others along the way. 

Do you have a story about God meeting you in unexpected ways in your writing journey?  I’d love to hear about it.


Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 90 short pieces published in various magazines, journals, and anthologies (including true stories, devotions, poetry and short fiction). She has a passion for writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same. (Some call it "nagging", but she calls it "encouragement").

Monday, December 2, 2013

Does Passion Trump Knowledge?

I have always thought that, as an author, it is wise to ‘write what you know’. However, in a world where information is literally at our fingertips, an author can write on any topic they choose. Research is simply a Google search away.
Lately I have been contemplating the value of writing from experience versus writing from research. Being a contemporary fiction writer, I have the advantage of both modern setting and imagination, so a lot of my personal experiences and feelings are easily incorporated onto the pages of my work. These advantages aside, it is still fair to say that there has been an element of my writing that has come from research. For instance, in my work there are places I have written about that I haven’t visited personally. I wonder - without that personal experience, does that make them sound less authentic to the reader?
Historical writers rely heavily on research for setting and story-line. Having to set a story in an era they haven’t lived in is a task that so many authors do well. Although, I have also read some historical novels where, although clearly well researched, the story falls flat and lacks heart.
After much contemplation on this subject, I have come to the conclusion that it is a good thing to write what you know, but it doesn't matter how much personal experience you have incorporated, or the amount of highly tuned research you have done, nothing will make up for the lack of passion in an author’s work. So, does passion trump knowledge?
This leads me to another wonderful saying: ‘write what you love’.
What do you think? Is passion for what you write more important than personal experience? When research is a necessity, will no amount of it make up for a lack of passion?

I would love to hear your thoughts. 

Rose Dee is the author of the 'Resolution' series and co-author of The Greenfield Legacy. 
Visit Rose at: 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Breaking Down the Doors by Cecily Paterson


There’s a common belief around that if God wants you to do something he’ll open the doors for you. Conversely, if he doesn’t want you to do it, he’ll shut them.

If this is true, I’m not sure God’s met many writers.

Perhaps I’ve understood it wrong all these years, but the idea seems to be that if everything works out smoothly and easily, it’s obviously God’s will. If it’s not that simple, perhaps he’s saying ‘no’.

Since day dot I’ve wanted to be a writer. But to do it, I’ve had to beat down a lot of doors and find alternative entrances. Sometimes I’ve even had to sneak under fences and scratch through bushes to get in.

Take for example, my novel Invisible. To even find the time to write it, I had to seriously reorganize my life and make difficult choices about not mopping floors and such. (Actually, that particular decision probably wasn’t that difficult…) More than not, putting the words onto the screen felt like torture. If I’d been using a pen I would have tried to poke my own eyes out. (It’s not so easy to do that kind of damage with a keyboard.)

Once it was written, the really hard work began. Agents didn’t bother replying to my query letters. The manuscript was rejected by every Australian publisher except one and every rejection was like a punch in the stomach. The publisher who didn’t reject it, didn’t accept it. But they did suggest I rewrite it. So I did that. Twice. Then they said, ‘yes, we like it’ and then they said, ‘sorry, no, we don’t’.

Bam.

A year after I’d finished it, it looked like Invisible was done for. In desperation I decided to do what I then considered the unthinkable - publish it myself. So I did the work and put it out there for free on all the places you can download e-books.

At that point all I could see was the closed doors and the very large sledgehammer I was wielding.

And then I started to feel guilty.

Should I be spending all this time writing?

In fact, should I be writing fiction at all? Was it just a vanity thing? Did God really want me to be doing something else? Like sticking to Christian non-fiction. Or starting an orphanage. Or working against climate change. Or maybe just doing a better job of organizing Sunday School.

But then, people started to download and read Invisible. And the letters started to come in.

For one girl with dyslexia, it was the first book she’d ever read start to finish. For another, it gave her courage to stand up and find her own voice. One 70 year old woman told me it opened up old wounds from her childhood but in a healing way.

And then a Christian teenager who had been struggling for a long time read it with her dad. She loved it so much that she went out and bought a journal to write down her feelings in, just like the main character, Jazmine. When she brought it home, she turned it over to see that the name ‘Jasmine’ was written on the back.

“I think that’s God saying that He’s with you,” said her dad. I think he was right.

That email was important for me. It means God is using my work and my writing, even though I haven’t been sure about it and even despite the many locked and bolted doors.

So I feel affirmed. And I’ll also continue to break down barriers and find ways to do what I’m passionate about, even if it seems like the doors aren’t wide ‘open’.

(Actually, I’m always telling my kids to shut the doors because they let in the flies and mosquitoes. Perhaps there’s something in that…)

 
Cecily Paterson is the author of the award-winning memoir Love Tears & Autism and is currently working on her third novel for young teenage girls.



Monday, November 25, 2013

When did you last share your story?

Photo courtesy of Ambro/Freedigitalphotos.net

“It’s time!”

I woke with those two words on my lips. I knew exactly what they meant because I knew who said them.

My life changed in that moment.

I knew then I was being pursued…

That’s typically how I start my story when I share it. No, not the stories I’ve written, but my personal story or to use Christianese, my testimony.

BTW, “It’s time” are also the first two words in my debut novel, Angelguard.

We make ourselves vulnerable when we share our written stories with others whether it’s our critique partners, in competitions or to the masses if we’re fortunate to be published or self-published. Increasingly with the interconnectedness the virtual world avails us, we are likely to reveal more of ourselves than authors of even ten or twenty years ago did.

Such vulnerability can be intimidating particularly for many of us introverts. But it also allows us the opportunity to share our testimony, how important our faith is, both to our writing and in who we are.

The evolution of Angelguard paralleled to some degree with a personal renewal in my faith. When I’m asked to share the inspiration behind the novel I try to share some of my faith. It makes sense to having been handed the opening line by the Lord.

I was reminded of the power of sharing our testimony in a recent message at church. The pastor1 started with this verse from Revelation:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.’ "(Rev 12:10-11 NIV)

I’d never really seen that verse before. What great encouragement it is to know that our personal stories of God’s hand in our lives have real power in defeating the enemy.

“It’s okay to feel afraid when being brave.”

We should be ready to share our story of how we became a Christian. The pastor suggested a four-step approach to doing just that (the Four P’s):

1.   Prepare it,
2.   Pray about it. Prayer raises our antenna so we’ll be looking for opportunities to share,
3.   Practice it. In front of the mirror, your loved ones, your prayer partner or small group, even cows in a field (this was the pastor’s first audience)
4.   Pursue opportunities when they are put before you.

The pastor’s message was a wonderful reminder to me to dust off my testimony and seek opportunities to share it with grace.

When did you last share your story?

Note: 1. Andrew Kubala, “No-one is you-er than you.” C3 Church Sydney Australia 10 November 2013


Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney, Australia. Ian's first novel, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aah! The Good Old Days



When I first began to write fiction in the 1990’s I experimented with contemporary fiction for a while, but soon abandoned it as I was forever hitting moral dilemmas that I felt ill-equipped to handle. I was new to the writing game and really those early manuscripts that sit at the bottom of one of my filing cabinet drawers are slightly embarrassing. It wasn’t long before I decided to write period-drama-romance. I had become a fan of Jannette Oke who ironically wrote about pioneering women, and she herself was pioneering the genre of Christian Romance. I decided to follow her lead and write in that easy-read style.

One of the reasons I felt safe writing ‘old-fashioned’ stories was that the period context allowed me to embrace my faith, the Christian values and ideals that were comfortable for me to work with. The ideals of the late 19th and early 20th century were such that my characters didn’t feel a need to swear and were somewhat bound by the Victorian moral codes that I myself still believed in. If they were tempted by sexual sin, it was a problem for them and had to be resolved as a problem. If they wanted to use coarse language, it was frowned upon and seen as unacceptable. The society of that time kept the rules for me and that made it easier for me to write.


Since those early days I have written two contemporary dramas. The first one I felt I was always bumping into these moral dilemmas and was tiptoeing around situations, trying to sound realistic without compromising what I myself believed. A couple of times my characters swore. They had to swear. ‘Golly Gosh’ simply wasn’t going to cut it to express the depth of anger and despair.
This past year I have been sitting in university lectures doing Arts subjects and my hair has practically curled with some of the language that is used. What was somewhat disturbing for me is that no one else batted an eyelid while I was in knots. You might laugh, but in one class we were required to read each other’s screenplays out loud. I was chosen a number of times to read certain parts, and on more than one occasion I was given lines that had some very uncomfortable language in it. I quickly calculated how useful it would be to storm out of the room in a self-righteous display of disapproval and decided it wouldn’t be useful at all. The feel of these words in my mouth was rather horrendous. It didn’t feel right and I’m sure it didn’t sound right, but nobody seemed to notice.

The truth is I have lived in a lovely Christian bubble for most of my life. Christian family, friends, church, Christian Schools and work associates. It has all been very nice and comfortable and not confronting. I have been aware of the four letter words, and have heard them a time or two. I’ve always wondered what the fascination is when deciding what words would be the best to use as expletives. Bodily fluids and excretements, sexual organs and sexual acts seem to be the criteria for choosing a new swear word. None of these words really have anything to do with the emotions or the sentences being spoken, but as far as popularity goes, the F word is now firmly fixed in our western vernacular, followed closely by the S word and a vast array of other four letter words from these categories.
Writing for the Christian market has meant that I have avoided coarse language as much as possible, and really I’m not a fan of coarse language anyway. I can’t see the relevance. But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that on occasion, when after a stressful day and the soup burns to the bottom of the pan, I didn’t make use of an expletive or two. I would also not be being honest if I didn’t confess that of recent times, having sat in a soup of four letter words, that some of them might have popped into my head first as the word of choice for the disaster at hand. This is usually followed up by a quick apology to the Lord.

I recall a little poem penned by Grace Livingston-Hill, a Christian novelist from the early 20th Century:

Little words like ‘bother’ and ‘blow’
Lead to bigger words
And a fiery place below


I was actually quite astounded when I read this. I loved reading her Christian novels, truly authentic period romances; however, to her they were contemporary. But the Christian attitude of the time was that there is no place for expletives of any sort for any reason, and the consequences could be quite eternally devastating. Wow. Poor old Winnie the Pooh! I had rather taken to the use of the word ‘bother’ as a way of expressing my pent up feelings.
Here I sit today contemplating the chasm that has gradually formed between my nice little Christian place and the language of everyone else in the world. In my discussion with other authors we have found a mounting frustration with some of the niceties of the Christian Bubble. Not that it isn’t nice, safe, comfortable and decent; it most certainly is, and a nice little escape from the realities of life. But that’s the point: it is an escape from the realities of life. This is a question that I am asking myself as a Christian writer. Do I just want to write nice, warm fuzzy stories that reinforce my Christian convictions and ideals? If I do, then I have a nice market of nice people who will feel warm and fuzzy when they finish. But what are the chances of other folks in the world reading these stories? Not great really. The folks I’ve met this year in the different writing and literature classes would dismiss my nice stories very quickly.
What am I saying? It’s not about the introduction of swearing, though that discussion comes up frequently. It’s not about the absence of sermonising and moralising. That is also another point of contention. I think it is about listening to the heart of the world outside the Christian Bubble and trying to understand where it’s at. I haven’t quite got a hold of what is going on to the point I can clearly articulate it, but I feel as if we – Christian writers – are on a journey of some kind, and it is a journey with a purpose. I think it is time to listen and observe carefully, and keep our hearts open to God and what it might be that He has in mind.

Meredith Resce


Meredith has been published in the Christian Market since 1997. Her ‘Heart of Green Valley’ series has been widely received. Recent publications include ‘The Greenfield Legacy’; ‘Mellington Hall’ and ‘For All Time’. These are available as downloads from Amazon.com and in hard copy from lightthedark.com.au

Monday, November 18, 2013

Keeping books alive


It's surprising what we sometimes discover. I read in a short article that when Harper Lee was about halfway through working on "To Kill a Mockingbird", she had a bad day and flung the manuscript out of the window into a pile of snow. If her agent hadn't convinced her to fish it out and dry it off, the world might have missed out on what is regarded as one of the world's finest novels, a social commentary and coming of age novel rolled up in one.

I was also amused to read that J.R.R. Tolkien always thought his "Lord of the Rings" manuscript needed just a bit more work. He always procrastinated handing it to his publisher because he was trying to fix it up somehow, but there was always some other glaring fault visible. Eventually his family suspected that it would never be done to his satisfaction. They stole the manuscript from his drawer one day and sneaked it to the publisher themselves. He was surprised to receive the call telling him, "This is fantastic!" It seems he never quite forgave his family, shaking his head and telling them, "I hadn't quite finished."

True stories such as these tell me a few things. The first is that when we are working on our books, we authors may reach a stage at which accurate, unbiased judgment is impossible. Sadly, it's the same in every aspect of life we work hard on. The housewife who slogs along, cleaning and nurturing all day might have long spells of missing how wonderful her family and lifestyle really are. With writing, although we are often loners and consider our work a solitary occupation, we do well to have a few straight-thinking allies to support us. Who knows, they may be required to save the day. Lee's agent and Tolkien's family were unsung heroes who actually played huge roles in the history of twentieth century literature.

Secondly, I started thinking about the sad waste of brilliant stories we'll never even know about. The two examples up above were saved to see the light of day, but the world must be filled with manuscripts representing hours of work which will never make their way out of dusty drawers, not to mention the ones which were probably attacked with blazing matches. It's easy to shrug about this, as we'll always be ignorant, but we'll never know how bereft the world may be, for missing some of this fantastic material. I'm sure there must be millions of pages.

So let's be encouraged to keep doing what we do for as long as enthusiasm burns in our hearts. As authors, even when our books deeply touch the hearts of just a few people, it's well worth working on them. As friends, we may be called on to help our fellow authors return to their work, because we can see the value in it, while they are blinded with discouragement and fatigue for a short time. Finally, let's always be on the lookout for gems from the past which may be resurrected to see another day. In this electronic age, I love to see old, formerly beloved titles from decades ago renewed as eBooks. With these, we are sometimes told something like, "A team of volunteers got it ready for kindle." Although they are also unsung heroes and rarely named, what a wonderful work to be part of.

Paula Vince lives in South Australia with her family. She is a homeschooling mother and award winning author of contemporary inspirational fiction, which is mostly set around her own beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons. She believes that nothing has more power and potential for good in the world than a well-written and powerfully told story.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Blessings Abundant!


With the weather becoming warmer I thought I'd bless my son with a treat from his school canteen for lunch. To save him some time I had the order written out and told him, as simply as possible, "You just have to take it from this front pocket of your bag and place it in the lunch order box. That's all you need to do. Do you understand? Yes?! Okay."  This conversation has now occurred every morning for the past two weeks! It is so frustrating; I just want to bless him, to give him his most favourite chocolate milk drink as a way of saying, "Hey, kid, I love ya!" But as much as I want him to have this, there is still that one step that he needs to take to receive the blessing.

Yesterday morning, having gone through "the speech" once again, I watched him walking to his classroom and hoped that today would be the day that he finally 'got it' and received his treat.

"Get your camera out and go for a walk this morning."


I started the car and left to drop our youngest boy at daycare.

"Get your camera out and go for a walk this morning."

Leaving daycare.

"Get your camera out and go for a walk this morning."

By the time I returned home, I knew without a doubt that this was not my mind prompting me to "Get my camera out and go for a walk this morning."  I like indoors. My computer. Coffee!  But I recalled my thoughts to my son from barely one hour earlier, 

". . . as much as I want him to have this, there is still that one step that he needs to take to receive the blessing."

And so I did. I didn't even take my mobile phone with me! And it was such a sweet, calming, relaxing time of "aaaahhhhhhh-ness" that what I thought was, perhaps 45 minutes, was a solid 2 hours of standing beneath the trees that I look out upon every single day; talking to the galahs - privy to the courting ritual of one couple that was so delightful - looking at the ways the trees moved and the patterns in their bark; I even cheered on a baby bird as his mum and dad and aunts and uncles waited eagerly for him to leave the nest and fly!

On returning home I stopped; to smell the roses, to watch a spider spinning her web, and to play hide-and-seek with Sticky the Stick Insect. I marvelled at the abundance of life dancing in the sun's cascading warmth in my front garden. 

And in all of these things, I praised our awesome God for his gift to me; this time away from my usual thoughts and actions and feelings, this gentle and most excellent display of His provision and joy and love for all creation. 

And His personal, father-heart love for me - Helen - his daughter, whom he wants to bless over and over again, in ways that will draw me out of the everyday ruts and drudgeries of life, and fill me to overflowing with his beauty once again.

May you, too, be blessed by our Father God in a big way, by the small things of everyday life.


Helen







Monday, November 11, 2013

Writers are Artists by Catherine Sercombe

I was a capable reader as a child yet I still begged my mother to read aloud to me; I would close my eyes and enter a world where I could savour the flavour of music, inhale the aroma of colours or float as easily as a helium balloon. In that world, every house had a way of escape through a secret passage, and enough room to share with a small Swiss bear who loved meringues.  I could conjure a landscape of snow-covered mountains, perilous rope bridges spanning treacherous chasms, labyrinthine underground caverns and I had the courage to conquer them all.  In the realms of my imagination, my artistic ability knew no bounds … a state of being that was quickly dispelled in real life by my year eight art teacher.  The value she placed on my practical art work convinced me I had better explore alternative career options – I gave up art and learned to touch-type.  But one day, I discovered the Reader’s Digest’s Towards More Picturesque Speech and a seed of possibility took root.

Words are a wonderful medium to work with – and they’re free!  I’ve been collecting and collating them for years.  I’ve discovered some absolute beauties.  The dictionary is a treasure-trove.  We writers can mix words together and spread them out, stack them, blend them, rearrange them.  There are endless combinations to explore.  It does take some effort, gathering tools, learning techniques, developing skills.  It takes time and dedication to produce any worthwhile work of art.  But what a privilege and joy it is to indulge the artistic muse and create more picturesque speech.

Writers are Artists – Catherine Sercombe © 2011

Tongue-tested words, selected and ordered, 
glued into patterns or crazily paved,  
mosaic montage or serpentine path    
to step out and search
or sit still and dream –
a world to explore
or snapshot of life.

Tongue-tested words, soothing or seething,
waves at the beach or crabs in the sand,
motion that rocks the cradle of souls
or crashes and churns
soft sand into grit –
a pincer of pain
or pillow to sleep

Tongue-tested words, drifting and floating,
clouds in the sky or scum on a pond,
ethereal beauty or rank saturation
of raw sore emotion
from dark fetid swamp –
truth has its beauty
and ugliness form.

Tongue-tested words, the laughter of children  
dancing and singing a rhyme in the sun,
music and mayhem, myst’ry and meaning,                     
daisies and daydreams
or we’ll all fall down –
sing me some wisdom
and I will be wise.

Tongue-tested words, surreal and confusing,
colours on canvas, flame upon glaze,        
unyielding marble till hammer and chisel
chop off the dross
and the sculpture appears –
writers are artists
creating with words.


 

 
Catherine Sercombe is a wife, mother of three, education business manager, tutor and creative writing student who lives in Toowoomba, Qld.  Described in Christmas Tales from the Upper Room (2012, Pantaenus Press) as ‘a creative and talented writer whose work reflects an infectious love of language’, Cathie says, ‘From A to Z, surely the best writing begins and ends in God.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1-2). That’s an epidemic worth spreading.’