Monday, 6 December 2021
Thursday, 2 December 2021
The times are a-changing sang 70’s folk singers. Fifty years later, we're buffeted by tidal waves crashing mayhem into our lives. How can we ride them rather than flounder and sink?
Writers can express words of hope for the many who struggle around Australia, the globe.
Fellow authors encourage
Did you sign up for NaNoWriMo? Did you meet the goal to write 50,000 words? For the uninitiated, like-minded writers group in a digital ‘cabin’ to encourage each other, joke, support and share emojis of chocolate and coffee.
November is the cruellest month for tired teachers drowning in end of year concerts, student exams, reports. Plus their own performances. So I knew there was slim chance I’d meet the word count but hey, I enjoy the friendship. This year, I produced a teensy 670 words. But so what? Just to articulate a project prompts subconscious planning. My WriMo version can evolve over the next two months when teaching and performing halt.
Other writing counts
There are many forms of writing besides that novel or screenplay. Emails to politicians, letters to the editor of a newspaper. Heartening messages to uplift those who share their despair on social media. Many dread uncertain futures. How can we reassure them–ourselves–that even as doors shut, others will open?
Active vs. passive shutting
As I clear out my teaching studio for the year (maybe forever?) I'm heartened by a gospel spiritual that never seemed appropriate for primary school students:
Shut de door, keep out de devil
Shut de door, keep de devil in de night.
Shut de door, keep out de devil
Light a candle, everything’s alright.
The Light of the World
The Holman Hunt painting reminds us to open our heart and life doors to Christ.
One opening door is opportunities to share Christ's light with hurting, fearful people. To encourage those facing doors slamming on their career, business, mortgage – and life.
Edicts from our rulers threaten that those who resist will be barred from public buildings.
The lark circles higher, soars, surmounts the ugliness of the present world.
So, also we must lift up our hearts.
'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)
Keep looking up.
ABOUT Ruth Bonetti
Ruth's many earlier books give practical support for confident performance of words and music, drawing on a lifetime of experience as a musician and educator. Her Trilogy Midnight Sun to Southern Cross has won awards including the CALEB Nonfiction prize. In coming writing, Ruth is open to a genre transition...
Monday, 29 November 2021
Recently I was asked, as a representative of Omega Writers, to attend the awards ceremony of the Stories of Life writing competition.
It was a blessing to see the South Australian writers present in person and know that interstate writers were able to watch online.
Stories of Life is a great competition, giving opportunity to writers at any stage of development to apply themselves to tell a story that encourages, inspired by real life events. A number of people I know from this network and other connections were published in the anthology that resulted, and it was great to read their stories.
I have a real-life story of my own I’d like to share. It is about the love of God in a difficult situation.
It’s a true story, a little bit funny, a bit sad, but it’s an inspirational story. It started Easter 2015, on Good Friday to be exact.
As is often the case on Good Friday, I found myself part of the Good Friday church service. I was playing the piano, and my husband (the pastor at that time) had arranged, among other things, that I would play the old hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ as a background accompaniment while three people read pieces of Scripture. I needed to get a scanned copy of the music as I couldn’t find my old hymn books. I had it all sorted and I’d practiced it, and it was all good. The service went along as planned, and it was inspirational and a little bit stirring, as all Good Friday services should be.
At the end of the service my husband did one of his special spontaneous moments that he is famous for, and announced to the congregation that he would get his wife (that’s me) to come back to the piano and sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. I’m sort of used to these surprise put-you-on-the-spot ideas that pop up from time to time, and I can usually fumble about and make something happen, but I honestly hadn’t played ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ in years. I couldn’t remember half the words, was not sure which key it should be played in so that I didn’t find myself shattering the glass windows with notes that were too high. AND you know with old hymns, they are notorious for throwing in odd chords outside the usual easy progression. I just wasn’t sure if I could actually do it on the spot with no opportunity to practise first. But the congregation had their eyes turned towards me in expectation. My husband magnanimously says: “Is that all right?” He'd already told the congregation I’d do it, so it had to be all right, didn't’t it? I shrugged my shoulders and said weakly, “I guess so...”
I got to the piano and took a guess at the key, and hoped for the best. I spotted another singer who is like me (from times past and should know ancient hymns) and invited him to join me, especially since I wasn’t sure of the words. If I was going to fall flat on my face, better to have someone else go down with me. So off I launched.
‘On a Hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain...’
I’m pleased to say we got the right key, there were no awkward and difficult elusive chords, and the computer operator found the words and threw them up on screen. Crisis averted. Job done.
After the service my husband came to me aside, and he was really quite cross. He said to me: “Why did you have to make such a fuss about playing that hymn?”
I was a little annoyed myself, as I thought I’d done a sterling job under pressure and said so, pointing out how many obstacles I’d had to overcome without practise or music to guide me.
“But you’d just played it earlier in the service!” he said, prepared to continue the argument.
“No!” I replied. “That was ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’. It’s a completely different hymn!”
“That’s what I wanted you to play,” he said.
“Well that’s not what you said!”
“Yes it was. I said, ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’.”
“No, you said, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’!”
“Yes, you did!”
I waited for the humble apology, which might or might not have emerged, but instead something miraculous happened.
A lady by the name of Julie came up to my husband, beaming and full of enthusiasm.
“That is my favourite hymn”, she said. “I was so cross with my family this morning, because they were so slow getting ready for church, we missed the singing at the beginning, and I said to them, if I miss out singing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, I’ll be very upset. I’m so glad you kept it until the end.”
Several months later, Julie passed away after battling a long illness.
That Easter morning eight months earlier was the first time I had met Julie as she was new to the church. In the following eight months I got to know her really well as she travelled the journey of battling cancer.
In that time I never saw her that she didn’t say how blessed she was because God had done something for her. Even when she was weak and really quite sick, you never really knew it, because her whole outlook was God is in this moment. He is blessing me all the time.
That Good Friday morning there had been no plan to sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. No preparation, no thought of it, and my husband didn’t even mean for it to be sung. But God did. He knew it would be Julie’s last Easter Friday, and that hymn was special to her.
I know this is a bit long, but I just wanted to honour God, because when I spoke to Julie four days before she died, she said to me, all I want to do is see God glorified.
Even when things aren’t supposed to happen sometimes, they do, but if Julie was commentating on it, she would very definitely have said: ‘It was God.’
If you have something in your heart inspired by a real-life event, check out Stories of Life and perhaps you’d like to enter the writing competition for next year.
I'd like to wish all the CWD readers a blessed Christmas season, and hope that as you spend thoughtful time you may recall that story that needs to be shared.
Thursday, 25 November 2021
Naomi: Thanks, Jenny; it’s such a big personal accomplishment to have the Dragon Calling series completed. And the audiobook of Kin Seeker is a long-desired dream come true! As for inspiration, I was actually working on a completely different story at the time (it still had dragons in it though, ;) ). While world-building for that story (establishing creatures, traditions, lore and the like) a legend of a dragon began to unfurl; a dragon famous in history for … something. At the time I didn’t know why this dragon was famous, and what deeds he accomplished that made him a legend. But I was super curious, and soon my desire to find out more about this dragon outstripped all my ideas and aspirations for the original story. I wanted to follow this dragon, and write his story. And an entire five-part series grew from that.
Naomi: Dragon Calling is a five-part epic fantasy adventure, and follows the story of a young dragon named Laeka’Draeon as he embarks on an epic and perilous quest to find the others of his kind.
Jenny: Wow, our stories can have minds of their own. Such fun to see where they take us :) Tell us more about the series. Which book was the hardest to write and why?
The series follows similar veins as Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest, Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series, and Tolkien’s works. Its intended audience is the Upper Middle Grade bracket (ages 10+). I wanted the story to be accessible to a younger audience, whilst offering a meatier literary experience than standard chapter books, but keeping the overall experience wholesome.The hardest book to write … well Kin Seeker (Book One) certainly had its challenges as I was a fledgling writer, still flailing about trying to find my writer’s voice whilst also learning the art of writing itself—especially the technical and structural side. But The Last Calling (Book Five) was probably the hardest due to the enormity of pulling an entire series together, making sure all the plots and threads found their way to a satisfactory end, and just wrangling with the intensity of the story itself and all the characters involved in the dynamic and life-threatening events imposed upon them. Fortunately, by the time I had to write the final book I’d accumulated years of creative writing experience, so I was able to handle its daunting load.
Jenny: I remember similar challenges with my Book Five, Caverns of the Deep, pulling all the threads together to a satisfying series finale. What do you enjoy most about writing fantasy fiction?
Naomi: I love how I can write about any and all of the universal motives and themes found in other genres, but I can also have monsters, mythical beasts and magic, and such things be a perfectly reasonable addition.
Jenny: Yes! I'm with you with fantasy. How did you go about making Kin Seeker into an audiobook? What challenges did you face?
Naomi: First, I did a lot of research into the methods and avenues available for creating audiobooks. There’s a smorgasbord of instructive information found via blogs and websites, and all of it free! Research is vital for something like this. Also, knowing exactly what you want for your audiobook project; listening to audiobooks in genres similar to your own can help with inspiration and ideal narrator accents and styles etc.
For Kin Seeker, I wanted two narrators, male & female, and I wanted them to dual narrate the story (alternate between chapters) but be assigned specific characters. I also wanted thematic music added to the start of each chapter, for atmospheric effect.
If I was going to have an audiobook done, I wanted a dynamic, professional,
cinematic feel. It was the main reason why it’s taken years to get it done—it was going to be an expensive
I was listening to one of Merphy Napier’s (a book/ reader influencer) vlogs and discovered her top five audiobook narrators. From there, I researched them myself, before getting in contact with Kate Reading & Michael Kramer (a juggernaut duo of fantasy audiobooks). And while Kate considered that she and Michael might have voices too mature for what I wanted, she proposed I contact their son, Henry Kramer and his girlfriend, Jenna. I began correspondence with them, received voice samples, and realised I’d found the perfect duo for my story!
While I didn’t do the hardest part of the project (the voice acting), there was still a lot to be involved with. I needed to provide breakdowns of character profiles and voice ideas, as well as samples and suggestions. I also needed to compile pronunciation guides for all the fantastical terms and names.
I think the trickiest part was working out the contracts and payments. Both narrators are American, so there were conversion rates to content with, as well as Henry being part of a union, while Jenna wasn’t. The payments being large also required going through a specific international money transfer company—which required additional rigmarole. We’d also agreed to a Shared Royalty between the three of us to help lessen the initial commission costs (on my end); this required an additional contract made and signed.
Then there was the music; I eventually went with the AudioHub to acquire extended licenses for exclusive music pieces. That required dozens upon dozens of hours searching and listening, compiling, and assigning to chapters.
Finally, I chose an Australian audiobook studio to do the full audio editing (to save on having to go through more conversion rate and bank fiascos). Luckily a found a company relatively quickly; Brisbane-based, that specialised in music editing too!
It was definitely a much larger and more involved project
than I originally thought (and took around 11 months from start to finish). But
the final project is absolutely fantastic
and worth every hour and effort poured into its creation. Now … to find the
time and funds to do the rest of the series!
Jenny: I don't generally listen to audiobooks, but now I want to hear Kin Seeker. It sounds fantastic. All the best getting the rest of the series done. You are also an accomplished artist as well as a wonderful writer. How does your art intersect with your writing? Which is the hardest to do? Which is the most fun?
Naomi: Thank you for the compliments! My art and my writing are like two sides of the same coin; both are an integral part of my creative expression. I am able to bring my characters (and scenes) to life through illustrations—in addition to descriptions—which is quite advantageous, especially since my artistic style tailors toward the same audience as my series (people who love anime and animations as much as written fantastical stories).
As for which is the hardest? Well, I suppose more often than not writing is the harder of the two. Although I’ve done comics before, and they’re definitely the hardest since they’re essentially a combination of the two. And the most fun? Probably the art—since the projects take less time to do and so the ‘gratification buzz’ turn-over is more regular. But in saying that, writing probably gives me the most satisfaction, once completed.
Jenny: I love how the two talents work together, complimenting each other. Now that you’ve finished your series, do you have any other books or projects in mind? Will they be related to the Dragon Calling world or a different fantasy world or maybe even in a different genre?
Naomi: The way Dragon Calling ended left the possibility of a sequel story taking place. And one of the underlying arcs within the story offers the opportunity to expound upon an important historical event (in the form of a prequel). But I don’t feel the need to touch the world of Valadae and its timeline at this stage. Leaving it as a possibility is enough for me.
As for other projects, I do have an extensive illustrated Companion Guide I want to finish for the series, but it’s a slow WIP (and a big one) so I’ll be working on other things in and around it.
I do have plans to start a new story next year! It will be completely separate from my Dragon Calling series. In fact, it will slot into a completely different genre; at this stage it’s shaping up to be a supernatural thriller/ mystery. I’m really excited to see how it unfolds and am especially enamoured with the characters, even though I’m still only at the concept and pondering stage of the writing process.
Jenny: Something to look forward too :) Thank you, Naomi, for taking the time to share about your books and experiences.
When not immersed in her written and illustrative projects, Naomi can be found wandering the worlds created by others, either between the pages of a book or across the sweeping digital scapes of console games. Part geek, part monster-slayer, with a heart for the pure and the wondrous, Naomi endeavours to remind us that a little bit of beautiful strangeness is a good thing to have in this crazy world.
Currently, she lives on the Gold Coast, Australia, with an assortment of cats and family members.
Monday, 22 November 2021
Let me plunge us all right into this adventure together …
I have been having some serious doubts about my writing for a while.
I had been thinking about the usual pattern of telling stories and I, as a writer, was experiencing a challenging impasse of sorts.
In the midst of considering some influential and life-challenging inquiries into leadership along with (formative) perspectives on basic biblical study (hermeneutics) I came to some powerful questions. These in turn led me to some big challenges to my metanarratives.
The leadership challenge for me is huge, but in essence it has challenged me to highlight a humbling servantship that at its core has me developing ‘un-leading’ principles and practice.
The hermeneutical challenge is in synergy with this servantship/leadership paradox.
It has lead me to ask questions like this:
Were we meant to read the stories of the Bible more authentically? (aka in the context of the original writers, from God’s perspective? To the context of the original recipients?) (Duvall and Hays (2020)). What if we actually did read the stories of the bible authentically/differently? Would we understand it differently and would we live our lives differently? Would we minister differently?
Along with these questions, perhaps the most confronting thought for me as a writer was the idea that some of my preconceived notions of story telling started to be challenged (maybe even unravel a bit (a lot) ).
Take the hero’s journey for example ...
The hero archetype is generally defined as an individual protagonist who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A hero protagonist's traits help readers to understand them, connect with them, or follow their actions and understand why they do what they do.
I have been asking myself - like Papa (2016) - if the Hero’s Journey is “the chief organizing story” of human civilization and stories are the most powerful communication technology, to what extent might the Hero’s Journey be responsible for where we are at today?
Where I am at today? (“Gulp”)
How might the conceptualization of the Hero’s Journey be contributing to what we are experiencing on all scales of society, development, world issues, good things, bad things, personal vexes and maybe even sin?
What could happen if we told our hero stories differently?
What would happen if we did tell our hero stories differently?
What if the story of “me” was informed differently?
Wow. All of this is very deep and complex and way beyond the possibility of a brief encouraging read (Blog).
So I have reduced my thoughts here to a blog-length truncated thesis that starts with a “What if” question:
What if we told hero stories where the hero was a group rather than an individual?
The relationship between individuals and society has been the concern of human inquiry and praxis for thousands of years. It is addressed by sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and theologians. The bible has something to say about it too.
Many modern thinkers have taken some of their lead from Mead (1934) who theorised that the individual and society were inter-related . The “development of the individual’s self, and of his self- consciousness within the field of his experience” is pre-eminently social. Mind, according to Mead, arises within the social process of communication and cannot be understood apart from that process. this presupposes a social context within which two or more individuals are in interaction with one another (we grow and develop together, not separately).
Bellah et al (1985) and Hewitt (1989) discuss the tensions of community concerns and pursuit of individualistic interests. The tensions of individualism and collective is perhaps one of the challenges in our current social grappling. Several authors (eg. Lois 1999, Hall 2016) have highlighted some problematic notions that the individualistic Hero narrative seems to encourage including :
a) A distinction between the hero and everyone else. It puts us – everyone else – in the position of waiting for the hero to come along and fix things. Very disempowering.
b) A form of dualistic or elitist “me vs them” perspective . Rather than transcend differences and encouraging cooperation, it creates and encourages separation.
c) In the West the hero in the journey is generally a high status individual. Hence we often have heroes like King Arthur, Bruce Wayne, etc… This leaves many people out.
This is not to say that all that has been promoted as the Hero’s Journey is “bad” and/or has not served humanity. Its perspective (it could be argued) has helped in breakthroughs in the development of technologies and extended lifespans. But at the same time, humanity is deeply divided and we are destroying systems that sustain life. Our highly hierarchical, individualistic, tendencies are resisting the shift in how we are called to help to bring healing. The Individualistic Hero’s Journey is perhaps not the narrative we need right now.
Jennifer Lois (1999) attempts to answer this quandary in her paper “Socialization to Heroism: Individualism and Collectivism in a Voluntary Search and Rescue Group”. In it she examines the tension between self-interested individualism and norms of self-sacrifice in a volunteer search and rescue group . She draws on 3 1/2 years of ethnographic fieldwork to highlight how individuals were socialized into a heroic collectivist community with a commitment to make a positive, often sacrificial difference together.
The Group Hero is an emerging archetype of the Hero story that differs from lone hero stories. According to Claudia Hall (2016) of the California Institute of Integral Studies there are five specific ways:
1) Group Heroism is about participation in the larger cause,
2) Group Heroism is team based,
3) Each team member is different and everyone’s contributions are important,
4) The cause takes precedence over personality conflicts, and
5) Leadership (influence) is dynamic and team based.
She explores each of these themes using mass media examples of movies, comic books, and games, and compares how the Group Hero tenets differ from the presentation of heroism in more traditional lone hero stories. In group hero stories, success is dependent on the performance of a team. Thus, Tolkien’s Fellowship of The Ring, C.S. Lewis’ Pevensie Children in Narnia, and movie examples such as Guardians of Galaxy and The LEGO Movie can be seen as group hero stories because the main characters could not succeed without their team.
It is worth referencing that Claudia Hall applied her Group Hero archetype template to designing writing pieces that help to resolve the problem of school bullying.
This excites me considering the paradoxical challenges I offered in my stumbling introduction. It excites me because the Group Hero metanarrative seems more in-line with the biblical narrative I encounter as I re-read scripture through a collectivist contextual lens. It was like the heroes of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the 28 Chapters of Acts now had a group hero sensibility (It is about participation in the larger cause, the cause takes precedence over personality conflicts, and Influence is dynamic, egalitarian and team based). In turn this has meant that the story of the people that we call our faith gathering (church family) are intertwined not just in a story of potential individual heroism but of an ongoing ‘Chapter 29 of the Book of Acts’ collective heroic journey. It is not just a story of individual heroes or of “their story” or of “my story”, it is a “story of us”.
The “story of us” is an extraordinary perspective and meta-narrative about the people, places and events that have shaped our history and can frame our future. Because it is collective, it is more community-oriented than individualistic.
What does it mean to be community? The English-language word "community" derives from the Old French comuneté, which comes from the Latin communitas : "public spirit" (from Latin communis, "common"). Communities may have intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, and risks in common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. Community is an important aspect for our wellbeing. It helps us to be able to receive what we need and give what we have. Building relationships with people and having a place to feel at home.
As a school chaplain/youth worker/pastor of over 35 years I know the power of helping to empower healthy communities.
To be in community means to have neighbours and people in your corner.
Who is in your corner?
There are times when things can feel tough, but there are people around you who are wanting to give. This kind of hero story telling says “Please don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with others no matter what your differences/challenges: we can face this together”.
Having this kind of community is something very special! Especially in the occurrences of our contemporary world. It is special and important to have ways for people to connect and engage in as a broader community. Perhaps this is why I am impassioned by this concept of telling stories through Group Hero narratology.
Building Community is like writing a “Story of Us” that expresses the values and shared experience of the ‘us’ in our contemporary settings (neighbourhoods /towns /cities /states /nations). This means our ‘us’ can and will change over time, but many things will stay the same over many years. Mutual humility, servantship, teachability and adaptability are part of that story of us. Embracing and living these tenets helps to create a sense of unity, togetherness, and focus on our shared values.
What could happen if we told our hero stories differently?
The story of us helps to transform our worlds.
Think about the story of us for a minute by focusing on choice points……
“Choice points” are moments when you faced a challenge, made a choice, experienced an outcome, and learned a lesson together with others.
When did I feel I had to act to help others and what did I do with others to help?
Once you identify a specific, relevant choice point, dig deeper and ask yourself:
What was the outcome of this choice and how did it feel?
What did it teach me?
Some of us may think that our personal stories don’t matter or that others won’t care to hear them. But as we do community or social change work together then we have a responsibility to give a public account of ourselves – where we come from, why we do what we do, and where we think we’re going.
In your story of us is your community motivated to action to make a positive difference in other’s lives. It is also about the choices and challenges your community has faced. That said, a compelling story of us doesn’t just highlight challenges, it emphasises stories of combined progress to help give people hope. As Marshall Ganz (2009) wrote, “Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change.”
Hope wrought together becomes part of the narrative of our group heroism.
Anyway, with all of this said
- and perhaps having opened up a semantic pandora’s box –
I can’t shake this call to take this journey, and so I have begun ……
a) a re-write of several of my in-progress pieces,
b) a synopsis crafting of an entire new story with a collective (Group) Hero (a blended family grappling with their own personal inherited ghosts to face off together and ultimately be resolved to make a positive (heroic) difference)
c) my own personally deep soul searching
I would love to join with you in this great adventure.
Inspiring Hope. Empowering Change.
Bellah, R. (et al), 1985 Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. University of California Press
Hewitt, J. (1989). Dilemmas of the American Self . Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Duvall and Hays (2020) Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (4th Edition) Zondervan Academic
Ganz, M. (2009) “Why Stories Matter” in Sojourners Magazine, March 2009 (Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 16)
Hall, C. (2006) “The Group Hero: An Archetype Whose Time Has Come” In Exploring the Collective Unconscious in the Age of Digital Media (pp.214-231)
Lois, J. (1999) “Socialization to Heroism: Individualism and Collectivism in a Voluntary Search and Rescue Group. “ In Social Psychology Quarterly. Vol. 62, No. 2, Special Issue: Qualitative Contributions to Social Psychology (Jun., 1999), pp. 117-135 (19 pages).American Sociological Association
Mead, G. (1934) Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist, edited, with an Introduction, by Charles W. Morris, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Papa, M. (2016) Awakening to a Path Beyond the Hero’s Journey
Walker LJ, Frimer JA, Dunlop WL. (2010) “Varieties of moral personality: beyond the banality of heroism”. Journal of Personality 78:3, June 2010 pp: 907‐942.