Monday, July 29, 2013

To Read or Not to Read
(that's my personal question)

Following on from  Carol’s post (Burning Beliefs, July 5th) and Meredith Resce’s comment on Facebook ( June 27th Does the idea of romance -finding the handsome prince and falling in love to live happily ever after - actually contribute to the state of unrealistic expectations that makes up our western psyche? Does it contribute to the notions that I need to do what's best for me, and to the all consuming passion that is illogical and unreasonable; that often wears off and leaves the consumer empty and disillusioned with life, their relationships etc?), I have been thinking….a dangerous pass time I know!


Why do we read fiction, why do we write it?

For a long time now my heart hurts when I read fiction.

Things have been happening in my life, as a parent of a 20ish son, it has been difficult, very difficult.

Reading fiction has caused my heart to pound, tears to flow and a feeling of despair. 
Life hasn't been heading towards a happily ever after chapter. 

I have always enjoyed the trip into Anne of Green Gables land (I have read the entire series 3 times), and have devoured an enormous amount of romance stories in my years.

The queen of self-help books, I would call myself, as I have bought every book on parenting, one book I bought twice, forgetting it hadn't helped the first time I bought it!  
And yet these books too, have caused a certain amount of despair, I couldn't find a neat and simple set of steps to cover our boy! 

And so I haven’t been reading much, apart from Christian Writers Down Under, blogs and yes I admit it, Facebook.

And then along came 2 freebies in the mail.  
My subscription to the Footprints magazine allowed me the gift of these books when the magazine sadly ceased.  I was thrilled to receive them.  I placed the books in the bookcase, I was interested to read them, itching in fact, but I knew my heart couldn't stand it. 

In recent weeks we have come to a place in our family, where my husband and I have had to face up to, things don’t always work out how we thought they would and we needed to pick up life again and live.  
We have been sheltering in the fearful place of ‘what if’ for too long. 
So we took a road trip, 3 days away and it felt like a month.  We let the countryside remind us of our great Creator.  We didn't talk that much (if you knew me better you would realise what an extra ordinary thing this is), instead, in a quiet and companionable way we let the fearfulness fall away from us. 

Merriwa is a little country town, a 5 hour car trip from where we live. 
The sunshine brought healing to our hearts as we sat and watched the world go by.
And we felt ready to head back to our life, with its difficulties, reminded God's got a plan better than ours. 

The story isn't finished, however it unfolds, there is no use comparing, wondering or asking why. 
It is what it is and we will trust God for the ‘what now’.

And that's when I found the freedom to read a novel again. 

Perhaps the snatch of time away from ‘real-life’, absorbed in a novel, might even give some inspiration from the hapless/victorious protagonist of the story!

I thank God for imaginations my dear writer friends!


To read or not to read.....READ!



Monday, July 22, 2013

Living a Dependent Life

Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic
 /Freedigitalphotos.ent

I learnt independence at an early age. I got myself around by walking and catching public transport (as early as 10 years old), and entertained myself in my own worlds of sports and stories.

My two brothers and sister similarly were very independent growing up. Even though we’d come together regularly, we all cherished our alone time.

I’ve found it interesting my two boys are very dependent on others for entertainment and activity. Now that isn’t a bad thing at all. However, I’ve often struggled with their dependence and prided myself on my ability to get things done by myself.

“Many people view dependence as a despicable condition, so they strive to be as self-sufficient as possible.”1

BAM!

Yep, that’s me. I’ve prided myself on my self-sufficiency.

It reminded me of some other words Sarah Young wrote in “Jesus Calling”:

“In the world, dependence is seen as immaturity. But in My kingdom, dependence on Me is a prime measure of maturity”2

As is so common with matters of God, He turns what the world accepts as reasonable, upside down.

Self-sufficiency has become habitual for me. And that’s a problem. I’ve been grappling writing the follow-up to Angelguard. I’ve got the story, the characters and the general outline. But the words just won’t come out the way I want them to.

So what do I do? I seek to find answers, to solve the problem myself. Do more research, study new writing methods, you name it.

But none of that works.

Like Children

In Matthew 18:1-4 as Jesus is talking to the disciples He makes this statement:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Hmmm, become like children? What attribute of childhood could Jesus be referring to?

Dependence?

Children (especially when very little) need their mums and dads for everything. All the time, everyday. In addition, children:
  • are eager to believe (I still remember how distraught I was when I was told Santa Claus wasn’t real),
  • possess a readiness to receive, and
  • have a willingness to love and be loved. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Jesus didn’t just come to save us but also to be the example by which we should live. He demonstrated how to live like a child:

“The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”(John 14:10)

A lifestyle based on being dependent on the Father.

“This is not My way for you! I designed you to need Me continually – and to delight in that neediness.”3

A few years ago, a pastor prophesied over me one of many very well know verses from the Psalms:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 27:4)

Initially I focused on the second half of that verse. Fabulous, I’m going to receive the desires of my heart. Yippee!

Now I’m realizing to step into the prophecy (and write a half-decent manuscript) I need to let go of the desires and start delighting.

In Him.

No delighting, no receiving desires.

Oh, and about my writing. I’ve recently started meeting with a couple of guys from church who are passionate writers. This opportunity came out of the blue (God does that!) and it’s filled me with such positive refreshment.

And the manuscript is motoring along. I believe God loves the collaborative process. If we’re writing for Him, then He’s joined us in the process. If we’re depending on our own abilities, then He'll be there for the journey but the outcome within our hearts isn’t going to be nearly as significant.

What do you do to delight in the Lord? How do you keep yourself in a dependent state? I’d love you to share.

Notes: 1. “Jesus Today” Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson 2012, p 212. 2. “Jesus Calling” Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson 2004, p183. 3. “Jesus Today” p212


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

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Prompt + Holy Spirit = Opportunity



Writing prompts can help get the creative juices flowing.  However, if we’re open to the Holy Spirit, they can also lead to unique opportunities.  Let me give some examples.

The photo accompanying this post shows a prompt that our Quirky Quills writing group used recently.  We each had to pick something to add to a still life and then gave ourselves 15 minutes to write about it.  It seemed like a motley collection of objects, but when we read out our pieces, it was amazing what everyone had written.  There were poems and stories about racial tensions and prejudice in the United States, women forced into prostitution in the Middle East, and an amusing piece about Peter Jackson revisioning Gone With the Wind to include hobbits.  I couldn’t help thinking that the Holy Spirit had inspired those ideas.  Okay, mine was the wacky one about the hobbits, so maybe Holy Spirit inspiration is harder to argue for that one.  Then again, maybe God knew we needed a lighter piece to balance out the serious ones.  In any case, we all went away with something we could work on, something we wouldn’t have thought of without the prompt and that moment of inspiration. 

Some anthologies and writing competitions also focus on a particular theme.  For example, the Australian group Poetica Christi had the theme of “Taking Flight” for their 2011 poetry collection.  I felt God prompting me to write a poem about Joseph fleeing to Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus.  It’s since been published.  In 2012, the theme was “Into the Depths”.  I felt God leading me to write about a couple who always skirt around the issues rather than sharing intimately.  It’s been accepted for this year’s anthology.  I wouldn’t have written either of those poems without the theme as a starting point.

Recently, I decided to try my hand at a short story competition where the first sentence had to be “Heads we get married, tails we split up.”  I didn’t find that line particularly inspiring, so I thought I’d just write a light piece for fun.  Then I felt God whisper, “put them on a train in India”.  India?  Where did that come from?  But I sat down, typed in the first line and started writing about two people on a train in India.  The story took on a life of its own and ended up being a tear-jerker about an orphan girl rescued by aid workers.   I asked a work colleague to check it for cultural accuracy.  Not only did she pick up one of my cultural faux pas, but she said she really enjoyed it.  That led to a chat about the current situation in India.  Another colleague also liked it and wanted to know what happened next.  Mmm … could be a Friday lunchtime series in the making.  I wouldn’t have had those two conversations if not for the initial sentence and God’s quiet nudging.

If you’ve never used writing prompts, why not give them a try?  If you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit and willing to step out of your comfort zone, you may find opportunities opening up for you – the odd publication, relationship-building conversations, and more material that you can later develop into other projects.  Do a google search for “writing prompts” and let God and the creative juices take you for a ride.  Mmm … “take you for a ride”.  I think I’ve just found my next prompt!  


 
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").

Friday, July 12, 2013

Attention Historical Fiction Writers



Last year I enjoyed reading the novel Asenath by Anna Patricio, a story constructed around Joseph’s wife. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about this woman, so Anna researched the relevant time period and invented her life while faithfully incorporating the biblical account of Joseph. It’s a fabulous book, painting an authentic picture of Egyptian culture and religion while focusing on human relations, emotions, blossoming romance and – most importantly – God’s guidance of Joseph’s life. Reading about the worship practices of ancient Egypt left me with the distinct impression that our contemporary worship of the one and only true God seems rather insipid by comparison. The creator of the universe deserves so much more!

More recently, our Bible study group discussed Abigail, the wife of Nabal and David. The Bible paints only one scene of her life in 1 Sam 25, and two later references indicate the existence of two sons. That's all. Yet despite knowing so little about her, we can learn much from Abigail's actions. She certainly was an impressive woman: beautiful and intelligent, wise and humble, perceptive, decisive and courageous.

Studying this chapter of the bible left me wondering about the rest of Abigail’s life. What kind of family did she come from? What was her childhood like? How did she come to marry such a surly, mean man? Why did she take the risk of opposing her husband? And what was it like being married to Nabal, then being his widow, and finally being married to David? I was intrigued, thinking that Abigail would make a fabulous heroine in a romance novel.

And so it occurred to me to encourage the historical fiction writers among you to focus more on the minor characters mentioned in the Bible (both Old and the New Testaments). They could easily become the heroes and heroines of romance, action, or even thriller stories. Novels along this line have great potential of reaching non-Christian audiences while introducing the God of the Bible in unexpected ways. Are you up to the challenge?

Thirty years ago, Margaret Lepke was converted by one of her clients. She became an avid Bible student, and her practice became her mission field. Now she is a well-known counsellor, naturopath, educator and speaker who is contacted by people from all over the world. She writes about educational and theological topics, and her website http://drlepke.com.au offers many resources.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Readers are like Pickled Onions



That's us, everyone. Pickled onions. Writers and blog-visitors alike are also readers. I'm sure many of us have been avid readers since our childhood. The longer we've been reading, the more pickled we are. Let me explain the analogy in more detail.

You peel your raw onions and soak them in a delicious, briny solution that you've made up with yummy ingredients such as vinegar and brown sugar. Eventually, a chemical reaction takes place. The onions you take out are nothing like the hard onions you put in. They are soft enough to bite chunks straight out of in a way you'd never manage with the original raw onions. Some people think they are a delicious treat. Whether you like them or not, one thing is clear. They can never go back to being the same hard, raw onion they started as. They've been changed to the core.

Books are like the delicious brine and readers are like the onions. We get to soak in stories, biographies, reflections, inspired thoughts and knowledge. These are the ingredients that make up the brine. We come out better and different. We're spicier people with softer hearts. We can have more interesting conversations. We're more creative than we would have been, more clued-up about the world, more empathetic, less inclined to be self-focused.

From the time we were young, the brine has been working its special chemical reaction on us. We get to wonder, 'Would I have succombed to the White Witch's turkish delight if I had been Edmund?' We see Milly Molly Mandy living with all her relatives in that thatched roof cottage, loving their simple lifestyles even though they had hardly any money. Like Beauty, we grow to understand the Beast's many great qualities, fall for him too, and realise that judgment based on first impressions is limited. We follow the whole process of the work on Marilla Cuthbert's heart until she decides to keep Anne at Green Gables. And how could Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy end up together after the bad start they had?

We're pickled onions, and we wouldn't have it any other way. We have softer hearts. We've been given insight into human nature which makes us more understanding than we might otherwise have been. We're simply nicer people, based on our reading history. And those of us who are also writers have the fun of making up our own special brine recipes to help pickle more onions.

Paula Vince is a novelist and homeschooling mother who lives in South Australia's beautiful Adelaide Hills. Some of her contemporary adventure romances have won awards. She has loved soaking in the brine of wonderful books since her childhood, and her aim is always to pay it forward. Visit her at www.paulavince.com or www.justoccurred.blogspot.com

Friday, July 5, 2013

Burning Beliefs


The following question is one I saw posed as part of suggested writing tips;
Why must you tell this story in particular? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off?

This appeals to me because I immediately identify with the idea of writing that is motivated by the desire to provoke readers to be challenged to grow.  The stories I want to tell are based on my belief that life is a journey of learning, that life has a purpose which is beyond ourselves, and that it is often from reflecting on our own struggles and challenges, or the lives of others who have wrestled with life’s issues, that we learn our best life lessons, and come to understand what real love is, and what real life is all about.

 
 

I think this is so true!
 
Yet I’m reminded by Meredith Resce’s provocative post on Facebook, questioning the value and pitfalls of writing romance stories. In spite of so much acknowledgement that romance can have a misleading and shallow focus, and perhaps even be counterproductive for Christian writers, that romance and love are quite different concepts, still it seems that so many readers – Christian and non-Christian - want to lose themselves in a romance, with prince charming, the excitement of the pursuit, and the happily ever after ending.

I was warned when I began to write that if I wanted to sell books, I’d need to write romance novels; if I wanted to write historical fiction, it would need to be romance, couched in historical settings. The feedback I get about my novels supports this notion, but I still find it frustrating.

I’ve also come across many Christians who will not read novels at all. They are only interested in devotional material and don’t see the value of reading anything which they see as ‘fiction’. Of course, that is their choice and it may be a safe path to stick to the scriptures and purely devotional material. For all of us there’s a place for this kind of reading in our lives.

For others reading may be mainly an escape from reality; a way to relax, or enjoy the distraction of imagining a life on earth that is ideal, romantic and happily ever after. I suppose that’s also a valid motivation for reading.

Then there are those who love other genres; fantasy, mystery, historical, and no doubt there are plenty of readers who like to learn from novels, who like to be challenged to grow in their spiritual, emotional and relational lives, regardless of their preferred genre.
 
There is also the question of writing for Christians or non-Christians. How do we draw non-Christians to our work in order to influence their thinking, and yet maintain our Christian values in the way we write? If we can't do this, are we simply preaching to the converted?
 
What a challenge we have as writers! We certainly can’t address all these issues in any one story. We’ll never please everyone, or be every reader’s favourite writer.
So I’m drawn back to the original question:
Why must you tell this story in particular? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off?


 
See Carol's websites for more on her historical novels (real life with a little romance thrown in)

 
 

Monday, July 1, 2013

People Free....or not!


I thought I might go People-free, you know like Gluten-free or Diary-free.

The perfect answer to my allergy to friendship pain, don’t you think?

But alas, it isn't how God wants me to be. 

The writer of Hebrews reminds me not to give up the habit of meeting together with other believers…. I couldn't find the ‘even if they hurt you’ clause, and believe me, I searched for it!  
No amount of reading between the lines helped me to find any way of becoming People-free.
And besides, God has given me a heart that longs to give love to others, in person and in the written word.

Long ago, when I was a child, I discovered my love of writing.
My grandparents lived two hours away and so I often wrote them epistles of my life as a primary aged student. 
Looking back now, how they must have laughed at my missives!

As a school student I longed for the first Monday back after holidays (in the days when there was no such thing as a pupil-free day), on that Monday we always wrote the ‘what I did during the school holidays’ story. 
I didn't do anything terribly exciting, but I could imagine I did.  
And so a fantastic piece of work was written for the teacher to mark. 
I wonder if they ever really read them (apart from correcting mistakes) and said to themselves, this girl has talent!

Not only did I inherit the craft gene from my maternal grandmother, she also passed on to me the art of telling a good story. 
I can certainly regale listeners with a wonderful interpretation of what happened to me at work, or church or anywhere else I have been.
And so my crafting hobbies include knitting, crocheting, patchwork and taking the time to pen a good story.  I think they are good.

My husband is my biggest fan and he has urged me on from the sidelines of tapping away at my stories to put them in the public arena.
So that’s what I decided to do.

Well isn't that a shock?

Who would have guessed my manuscript was nothing to anybody but me!

(Nor did I realise the need for a professional editor).

It’s a tough world out there in publishing land. (Not new news really is it?)

The life experiences I have gathered do have need to be in the public arena, if I can save one person from hurt, disappointment or despair, I want to do it.

Self-publishing was where the Lord led me.  
              
We edited, re-edited and brought The Significant You and Me into the world.  
My book is a short read to give Christian women a little glimpse of how special we are to God.  Each one of us unique because of who God has made us to be, nothing to do with where we live, what we look like or how many ministries we have.  A splash of tips on how to get alone with God in the busy-ness of the daily workload is the way I rounded off my first piece of public writing.

My fiction is still simmering on the back burner.  With words being steamed out and others being added in slowly, all the while being stirred lovingly to bring about a delicious read for teenagers.

So People-free is absolutely not an option for me, I've got too much information, so many stories to share….and maybe something of all these things will help someone out, make them feel loved, shed light on their dark path and make a difference.

Dianne Riley

www.dianneriley.com.au 

Dianne lives in NSW with her fabulous husband and son.  A Christian for over forty years because of an amazing Religious Education teacher.  Dianne has taught RE (or skipcha, as the children call it) in local schools with great passion for over 25 years.