Menu

Wednesday

God Moments

Yesterday was not one of those Jesus mornings. You know the kind--your skinny jeans fit, birds are flittering around outside your window, and your hair is doing that "beautiful with ease" thing you always want it to do, but it never usually does.

No, yesterday was not like that. Yesterday found me late to class, parking in some random resident parking spot on campus because the faculty lot was full, and sloshing through the rain with a cold. I was really, really trying to have a good attitude, y'all. But the papers I spent all day grading yesterday were getting rain-splattered, and my shoulder was starting to hurt from the weight of carrying my giant literature anthology around. (Side note: why do I always choose those heavy anthologies?) So, I'm having a little pitty party for myself all the way to class, thinking things like, "Great, now I'm late, and my students are going to say all kinds of horrible things about me on my course evals next week. Not to mention, my pants are all wet from the rain. Not to mention, I have a cold, people. Shouldn't I be able to find a decent parking spot when I have a cold? And no matter that, shouldn't I be able to find a decent parking spot period? Shouldn't they have enough faculty parking available for all teachers?" By the time I got to class, I was out of breath and frazzled.

Do you ever feel like that? It's so easy to compare ourselves to others, or even to our own "highlight reel" of good behavior. Have you ever found that when your day starts of rushed, or you have a bad attitude, you have trouble stepping out of that funk?

Here's what I think the problem is. We get so focused on what's going wrong around us, we lose sight of what is going right. Trouble is real. To deny problems and mistakes and challenges is to deny the redemptive power of Christ that is strong enough to pull us through those things. We shouldn't bury our heads in the sand and pretend things are perfect if they're not. However, the battle going on in our mind is not just about whether or not we are thinking sinful thoughts. That's such a small part of it. The battle is about whether or not we are consciously putting ourselves in a state of awareness of the presence of God.

In other words, God is present in every situation, so there is always a reason to rejoice.

We have a choice in every moment.

We can choose thankfulness, or we can choose to look at what is going wrong. But when we choose to look at the burdens of this world, we become heavy laden with them. Pretty soon, we're hunched over and out of breath. We're looking around, trying to figure out where we went wrong.

When all along, God has so much more in store for us. So much beauty in the world, so much redemption, so much peace... if only we would open our eyes to see it.





Philippians 4:8

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.


Psalm 100:4
New King James Version (NKJV)
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

Monday

The Conversation

Last week, Ami McConnell shared such a beautiful story on the ACFW blog. If you missed it, you'll definitely want to check it out at this link. Ami shared her experience at the Southern Festival of Books, and how the transparency of a confessional poetry session brought everyone in the room to tears.

This story got me thinking. I've been asking myself a lot of questions about the takeaway value from my books as I polish up my proposal (for the ten thousandth time). Questions like, "What do I want people to come away from this novel with?" "How do I want them to feel?" "What do I hope God teaches them that He's taught me as I've written this story?"

But all too often, these questions presuppose something: that we are on the higher ground from our readers.

In fact, I think a lot about our Christian walks presupposes the very same thing. This is a problem. This is pride.

Now, I'm not suggesting we waffle around when it comes to the calling, the vision, and the clarity of the word of God. I wouldn't suggest watering down the Gospel to appeal to more readers. But I also wouldn't suggest towering over them with it.

Let's be honest here. Maybe of us are used to Christian lingo. We've been in the church a while. Personally, I've been a Christian since the watered-down-Kool-Aid-and-felt-board days of Sunday School lessons. It's very easy for us to become condescending without even realizing what we're doing. We don't have a higher stake in the kingdom of God simply because we've been in it longer. Just because we are mature on our spiritual journey does not mean we can afford to not be vulnerable with our readers. In fact, I'd say the opposite is true. I know I mention Robin Jones Gunn often on this blog, but this approach is one of my favorite things about her writing. She is so, so wise, and yet I have never felt "preached" at or put down as a young woman reading her books. Even as a teenager girl reading her books.

The point of most effective ministry is the point where we are most broken, for it is then we rely most upon Christ's strength.

It's all too easy to hide behind a barrier in our writing and hope to teach a lesson to our readers. But what if instead of instructing readers, our goal was to open up communication with them? Even to the point of opening up an eternal conversation with the Maker of their being? He can do a much better job of answering their questions anyway.

Have you ever been in a conversation where you felt someone was talking down to you or trying to teach you something? How can we stay honest and avoid condescension in our writing?

Tuesday

Thank You!




With Thanksgiving around the corner, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for following my blog and engaging in conversation with me and other writers week after week. I know all of you have busy schedules, and it means so much to me that you would take time out to come chat. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the big picture of this writing dream, and I'm in such awe of the community of writers God has drawn together. You will never know how much your encouragement, advice, and kindness mean to me. Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday

Interview with Beth Vogt



Last week, I interviewed my precious friend Beth Vogt on The Writer's Alley about her new book, Wish You Were Here. I had so much fun, I thought I'd repost the interview here in case any of you missed it. And be sure to scroll down to the second section where I interview the main character of Wish You Were Here, Allison!

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.”  Her inspirational contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted May 2012 (Howard Books.) Her second novel, Catch a Falling Star, releases May 2013. Beth is an established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International. Visit with Beth at her website bethvogt.com.

1) Wish You Were Here is your first novel. Can you tell us about your road to fiction publication and your non-fiction work? I was a never-going-to-write-fiction journalist. I wrote my first book, Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35 (Revell 2007), because I couldn’t find a faith-based book on late-in-life motherhood when I was pregnant with my “caboose kiddo.” I wanted to give other older moms the encouragement I’d wanted during my pregnancy. Several years later, God used a season of burnout to move me from nonfiction to fiction. Burnout became a bend in the writing road. My motto is now: God’s best is often behind the door marked “Never.”  

2) What advice would you give to our readers who are in the beginning stages of their writing journey? Relax. Breathe in, breathe out. These beginning stages are a necessary part of a writer’s life. Don’t rush past it because what you learn now becomes the foundation of your writing life. Take the time to build a solid foundation of faith, craft and relationships.

3) Wish You Were Here opens with a scene where the heroine, Allison, makes the mistake of kissing her fiancé’s brother just five days before her wedding. As soon as I read that first chapter in the bookstore, I knew I had to buy this book! What made you decide to open the novel with that particular scene? When I was burned out on writing and editing, I told my husband I was never going to write again—ever, ever, ever. Three days later, he came home and found me sitting at my computer, writing. But I told him that it didn’t count because I was just having fun with a scene I’d written for a Christian Writers Guild assignment. I’d gotten good feedback on that scene written from 3 POVS: the bride’s, the best man’s and the photographer’s. I was playing around with it, asking myself, “Who is this woman and how did she get here? And is she going to walk all the way down the aisle and marry that guy?”

4) Who are some of your own favorite authors? Have they influenced your writing? I love novels that are character-driven. I grew up reading books by Louisa May Alcott and Georgette Heyer and L.M. Montgomery. And then as I transitioned to fiction I was blessed to meet Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck—two talented authors who have helped me become a better writer. Susie wouldn’t let me quit when I wanted to bolt back to the non-fiction side of the writing road. And Rachel keeps pushing me out of my comfort zone as a writer, challenging me to not just be a writer, but to be a storyteller. And both of them help me stay grounded in my faith.

5) Allison deals with a very deep struggle from her past. Ultimately, she feels more comfortable sharing this part of her heart with her fiancé’s brother, Daniel, rather than her fiancé, Seth. Why was it important to you to include this element of the story? That was a telling moment, wasn’t it? That question—who do you feel safe with?—is often at the core of love and romance. If you can’t feel safe with someone, can you ever truly allow yourself to fall in love with them?

And now, some questions for the main character in Wish You Were Here, Allison:

1) What sorts of things do you like to do in our spare time? I could answer that question so differently. For too many years I would have said “Whatever Seth likes to do.” Now, I actually allow myself to think “What would I like to do?” I’m painting again and I’ve just invested in a wonderful new camera for my photography. I’ve even thought about becoming a part-time wedding photographer. I love happily ever afters, don’t you?

2) With all that time spent around llamas, did you ever learn to knit? No. Me, yarn, and knitting needles? A disaster waiting to happen.

3) Be honest. What happened to that atrocious wedding dress after your moment of liberation from it at the end of the book? Is it still up for grabs? I like how you describe that, Ashley – the moment of liberation. I don’t think any bride would want to wear the gown after my “freedom” moment – but it is available for photo shoots.

4) What sorts of things do you look for in a guy? Well, I’ve found my guy … he just happened to be standing next to the guy I thought was right for me. For me, the best kind of guy is the one who you can be yourself with … and who invites you to join him on new adventures too.

5) What do you hope readers will learn from your story? We often say that God can bring good out of our mistakes … but do we live like we really believe that? For too many years, I lived like I was a mistake. And I was afraid to make any more mistakes. Where’s the grace in that kind of life?

Wednesday

The Jonah Complex, Part 2

Last Wednesday, we talked about Jonah running from his calling. If you missed that post, you can find it here. In the meantime, let's continue the conversation about Jonah by looking at the end of the book.

I'll be honest. The last chapter of Jonah has always sort of bothered me. Because, really, I thought it seemed kind of mean that God would cause a vine to grow for Jonah's provision and then take that vine away. And also, this sort of scared me. If God took the vine away because He was frustrated with Jonah, what was to keep Him from taking away the "vines" in my life when I did something displeasing? Seemed a little cruel.

But I think that reading of chapter four is completely wrong. Because the chapter is fairly short, I'm going to go ahead and copy the entire thing below.


But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.
 Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

I love God's response here whenever Jonah is getting frustrated about God's compassion. "Do you have any right to be angry?" And doesn't the answer seem obvious to us? Um, Jonah, God just saved you from inside of a whale. Maybe you should be a little more grateful. But isn't it just like human nature to point to finger at someone else and say, "Hey, you shouldn't be forgiving them so easily. Look what they've put me through!"

So God causes this vine to grow about Jonah, and Jonah becomes very fond of it. Then God causes the vine to die, and Jonah becomes frustrated at God. He says it'd be better if he could just die. Seems like an over-exaggeration, right? Considering, once again, he did almost die just a few days prior?

But the thing is, Jonah is really very attached to this vine. He doesn't want to witness its destruction. The vine matters to him. The vine serves a very important purpose. So when the worm destroys it, Jonah becomes very, very upset.

Then God does a very interesting thing. He makes a connection between that vine and the people of Nineveh. He asks a couple questions. Has Jonah tended to the vine? No. Has Jonah made it grow? Again, no. And yet Jonah seems to care so much.

How much more, then, does God care about Nineveh?

That's when it hit me. Jonah is a story of God's compassion. Not His wrath, or His judgement, or His intolerance for evil. He could've wiped out all of Nineveh in one breath for their wickedness. But instead, He cares about them so very much, He does whatever it takes to send them a message of hope, a message of the gospel, a message of redemption--even when it involves a stubborn Christian and a whale.

God is so gracious to us. Whether you feel like Nineveh or Jonah, remember that God isn't taking your vine. He's trying to get you to see the incredible heart He has, the incredible value He places on each person who is hurting and looking for truth in their lives. May we keep this at the forefront of our minds as we write each day and as we live our lives, that we may begin to see the Ninevites as dearly loved.

Monday

Writing Dialogue

Hi, all! Happy Veteran's Day, and thank you to the men and women who have sacrificed for our country through their personal service or through the service of loved ones. So easy to forget the sacrifices many make for the freedoms it's so easy to enjoy.

Today's blog is all about dialogue. Have you ever reread your manuscript and gotten that bleh feeling from the dialogue? Maybe the character interactions feel flat or forced, or simply unrealistic. Dialogue is a big deal-breaker for me whenever I'm reading a new book. I don't know about you, but if the dialogue feels cheesy, I usually won't stick with the book.




So how can we avoid these pitfalls and keep readers hooked?

1) Avoid making dialogue too realistic. I think we all do this when we start to write fiction, but it's a habit we need to nix. Example...

"Hi, how are you?" She held the phone receiver to her ear tightly.
"Fine, how about you?"
"I'm okay."
"Yeah? Just okay?"
"Yeah, you know how it is. What's new?" She broke a piece of a chocolate chip cookie and dropped it in her mouth.
"Nothing. You?"
"Not much. Oh, except my job at the Godiva store."
"What about it?"
"I got caught stealing the truffles. They fired me."

All we really care about is the fact that she got caught eating truffles on the job and was fired, right? Obviously this is a silly example, but the reason we start caring at the end of this interaction is because that's the first time something actually happens in the conversation. If your dialogue feels flat, try going through and slashing all the extras. Yes, your word count might take a hit, but the conversations between your characters will be so much deeper, fuller, and more interesting.

2) Always end with a hook. Any time you're finishing a chapter or a section, cut the conversation short before it's resolved. This is my trick for hooking the readers to (hopefully) lead them into the next chapter. Think about it. When you're reading a book and it keeps you up into the middle of the night, why does it have that effect? Because you need to know what comes next, right?

Here's an example from one of my favorite books, Daring Chloe by Laura Jensen Walker. The chapter starts, "At 1:33 a.m., nine hours and twenty-seven minutes before my wedding ceremony, my fiance dumped me. By text message."

The chapter goes on to end with this hook:

Slamming the art book shut, I sprang from my seat. "He'll be praying for me? He'd better pray for his risk-taking, dare-devil friend, 'cause when I find him, I'm gonna kill him. Bet he won't find that boring."

Tess grabbed her literary purse. "Come on, Chloe. You're going on your honeymoon. And I'm coming with you, so let's go buy a bikini. I'm thinking red thong."

Who doesn't want to read the rest of the book with a setup like that? This is a chick lit novel, but the same principle applies to historical romance, suspense, etc. Give us the setup of the conflict, but just before you give the resolution, take the carrot away and tease the reader into turning one more page. Works like a charm. It's worked on me many times!

3) Make your dialogue character-specific. We should be able to tell which of your characters is speaking just based off the dialogue, even if you didn't use tags. This is something I struggled with when I first started writing fiction. But I've learned that if you take time to really develop your characters' personalities, the dialogue will shine so much more than if your characters are all coming across a bit vanilla. Work on the whole package. Yes, your plot should be fabulous. But who cares if the characters don't tug our hearts? Make them individuals. Really work on their personalities, and your dialogue will come alive. I have one character in particular in my last book who constantly surprised me with the things that came out of her mouth... it was really like I had no control over what she was going to say next, and that made her so fun to write!

4) Pay attention to pacing. When in doubt, make it snappy. No one likes to listen to someone drone on and on in real life. It's even worse if that person is fictional. Be conscious of your pacing when it comes to dialogue, especially if you're incorporating humor. Yes, some characters will be very chatty, but be intentional if you're going to write long diatribes. For instance, you may have a minor character who likes to hear herself talk, and the other characters are always cutting her off. A situation like that can work nicely. Otherwise, readers generally like the back-and-forth dialogue provides. When it doubt, especially if you're writing a male POV, make something short and sweet. Not only will it make your dialogue flow nicely, but it will also help your pacing as you work to clip off unnecessary details. Then readers will know where to put their focus rather than feeling weighed down by a lot of extra information.


What tips do you have for writing dialogue? Do you enjoy writing dialogue, or do you prefer the more narrative components of story writing?


Wednesday

The Jonah Complex

Last week, I sat down to do a devotion and flipped to the book of Jonah. Usually I read a chapter at a time, but I was drawn in to Jonah's story and ended up reading the whole thing. I'm sure you're familiar with it too. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell what is really regarded as a pagan people group to turn to Him.

What does Jonah do in response? He runs. He gets on a boat and tries to get away from the call of God on his life. Then a storm comes and starts throwing his boat around, and his shipmates are like, "What's going on? Who's responsible for this?" I love how clear and even calm Jonah seems to be about it. For crying out loud, he's taking a nap on a lower deck! Like, hello Jonah, what are you thinking? But really, how often do we do this very same thing in our own lives?

So the rest of the guys realize Jonah's the problem, they try to get him back to shore, but they're just not going to make it, so they say a prayer and toss him overboard. And then a whale swallows him. A whale. Sometimes those of us who learned this story on felt boards in Sunday School class forget how crazy that is. Can you imagine being swallowed up by a giant fish and then surviving to tell about it?

So the fish spits Jonah out, he goes to Nineveh as originally commanded, and he tells them about the destruction God is going to bring upon them. But then they repent, and God relents. What is Jonah's reaction? He's angry at God. The Message says it this way:

"Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, "God! I knew it--when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That's why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!" -- Jonah 4:1-2

Um, does this strike anyone else as unexpected, coming from someone who has just spent three days and nights inside of a whale? What I think is so neat about this story, and something I've never really considered before, is its parallel to the New Testament story of the resurrection. What does this say about the gospel story? Well in a way, Jonah is doing the opposite of what Jesus did. Jonah gets a call from God, and he runs the other way. For three days and nights, he is kept in the darkness of his sin, and then God delivers him.

What can we learn from all this?


  • God wants to use us.
  • God longs for the people of this world to turn to Him.
  • God is the one who sustains us, in His love and in our calling.
Next Wednesday I'll be talking about what happens next in the story, as God creates a vine to shade Jonah and demonstrates something very powerful and different from the expectation... at least from mine.

Have you ever felt like Jonah, running from your calling? What brought you back?

Monday

Writing Spaces

Seems like such an obvious thing, but the longer I write, the more I realize how important our writing environment really is.

Maddie is illustrating where I wrote my last book:



As you can probably tell, she approves of this spot on the sofa. It seems like a perfect idea, right? Problem is, I've found a few things happen when I write here. For starters, the position of the television directly in front is all-too-tempting... just ask my crit partner, Angie--I text message her every time I get sucked into TLC. Speaking of which, have you all seen their show Brides of Beverly Hills Weddings? Completely bizarre and addictive to watch! The other problem with this spot is that I end up hunching over my laptop, and I've actually developed neck pain from it. Not a good long-term strategy.

But a regular desk feels blah to me, you know?

So here's what I'm thinking. We just got some patio furniture (after being married 3 and 1/2 years-ha!), and the weather is cooling off gloriously. I'm hoping to take advantage of the cool temps and butterflies out here. By the way, yes, I'm totally and unabashedly copying Deb Raney's patio space! :) She was my inspiration. Have you seen the photos of her garden? Incredible. You should check out her gardening blog, The Plot Thickens. It's all about writers and their outdoor writing spaces and will definitely inspire you!



We also got another table that's a bit larger I can put my laptop on, and I'm planning to get some more flowers. Pretty stoked about how it's turning out!

To me, writing environment is so important because it shapes the kind of thoughts I have. Ever noticed you write differently in a coffee shop than you do in your office? Suddenly you start paying much more attention to smells, and before you know it, your heroine has got a cup of coffee in her hand in every scene! I know other authors will even make display boards with pictures of how they envision their heroine and setting. Deb Raney is actually one author who does this. I usually light soy candles around the house and listen to a particular kind of music on Pandora. For this last book, it was Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Some people prefer silence. Find what gets you in a particular writing groove, and go with that.

I'm hoping I can manage to write outside for longer than five seconds before a bee flies straight into my face... better be careful I don't put too many flowers out there, I guess!

I also sometimes write late at night in bed. Actually, some of my best writing happens then, once the rest of the day has stilled. I don't usually plan to write then, but just get an idea and get motivated. I think that's why my late-night writing often turns out better than my "scheduled" writing times-- it just flows from the heart, you know? Some people feel like that about the morning. My morning thoughts, on the other hand, are usually fairly consumed with the question of how many more seconds of sleep I could possibly fit in before getting up out of bed. Probably as a result of the late-night writing sessions!

Moral of the story is, doesn't matter where I write, so long as there is chocolate nearby. And I'm just going to pretend I'm kidding when I say that.

Where do you write? Have you found that a particular kind of environment works best for you? Perhaps a particular time?