Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing Conference Report...

I recently attended my very first writing conference.
I've been putting it off.
Mostly due to my lack of believing I'm a writer.
And the fact that I haven't finished my novel.
Turns out, that doesn't matter.
I turned in the first 10 pages of my unfinished novel to be reviewed by a couple of agents.
I brought two of my children's books.
I brought several of my devotionals.
And I put my big girl panties on and decided to be brave.

We arrived and I immediately checked in for the boot camp.
A crash course in social media and establishing your platform...
My platform...
I've never considered a platform something to have...I mean...wow, okay, gotta work on that.
I realized that I have a lot of work to do in addition to actually writing my novel!
Then we dove into the classes and workshops and lunches and dinners and meetings and panels...
It was 3 1/2 days of constant, unending inspiration and information.
I was overwhelmed.
But I learned so very much...
I learned something that will stay with me and shape my writing from this point on.

Some set up...
My underlying premise for writing is to share my faith.
I want to entertain.
I want to inspire.
I want to provide fun in word form.
Ultimately, though, I want to offer hope...I want to offer the possibility of salvation from hopelessness.
At least I thought I did.

The first day was a little discouraging.
Between a non-review of my novel manuscript - "Keep going."
I felt discouraged.  I wanted something more...even a negative bit of advice...tear it apart...I've never done this, give me something to grasp and learn from...
Nope, I doubt the first agent had even read it.
And, really, I've heard agents don't want to be bothered with unfinished manuscripts, what if it's never finished?
But this was a conference, where people come to learn, so I learned that it's true...it's not worth their time.
Okay.
Then I approached an editor to see if I could pitch a couple of devotionals (a huge risk for me...I don't just approach people...I don't just jump out of proverbial airplanes without a parachute!)
She told me that I had written for the parent and she was looking for parenting advise in dealing with children...not encouragement for parents.
Good to know...no harm, no foul.  She was very nice.  I didn't lose any blood.
Then we had dinner with an editor.
Editors and agents host tables at these conferences and you sit and eat with them as if they're normal people.  (Turns out they are!)
We were going around the table sharing what we like to write and one of the things I shared is that I love to write encouragement for moms...among a host of other subjects.
"Moms don't read" was the editor's reply.
"I did" interjected one woman.
"You're the exception." he replied.
Boom!
He's right, you know.  They're busy wiping bottoms and noses!
So the discouragement settled right into my heart.
Maybe this writing gig isn't for me, I thought.
Maybe I'm not meant to be an author.
Maybe I'm not good enough.

And then we settled in for our keynote address from a pastor in California.
His message:
Write as worship.
wow.
My heart soaked those three words into its core.
And God spoke to my spirit.
You are not writing for you, you're writing for Me.
Amen.

My heart shifted and discouragement packed its bags and left the building.
Material success and accolades weren't important, joy was what I sought.
The joy comes in writing the words for the glory of my Savior.
So the conference continued into the second day and the third.
I had meetings with editors and sold some devotionals.
I received another review of my novel that offered critique and encouragement.
"Interesting character and the writing is good"
Thank you.
I pitched my children's books and the agent liked them.
My heart was encouraged.

So, the take-away for me is that when my heart is wholly focussed on the One who gave me every ability that I possess, I will find success.
Success is defined by the amount of joy in my heart, not the dollars in my pocket or my name on the cover of a book.

*The inspiration I soaked up from that conference has sparked such a flood of words since my return from my vacation.  I feared all of the information was dumped somewhere in Yellowstone National Park, but it's still knocking around in my noggin!  I'm so thankful for the opportunity to learn from well-known authors and editors.  They were so generous with their knowledge and experience.  So, so grateful!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Some Thoughts on Ironing...

© HA! Designs

Why?
Why would you iron?
One of my greatest skills is my ability to avoid the chore.
Confession time...and this is a true story so please don't judge me...or do...I'm confident in my anti-ironing convictions.
My sister was teaching my daughter to sew (she's the seamstress in the family, every family has one)
And they needed to press a seam before sewing it...or something...
I don't sew so I don't know.
Ironing is part of the reason I don't sew.
But I digress...
She said "Let's heat up the iron so you can press the edge down."
My daughter said, and I quote:
"What's an iron?"
I know you're thinking that she must have been three or four years old at the time and you'd be wrong.
She was probably nine or ten.
Whatever.
So the other day I was pawing through clothes at the Goodwill outlet.
An aside...
If you haven't been to a Goodwill outlet, you simply haven't thrifted.
Period.
So I was sifting through piles of clothes in a bin with my friend when she found a cute blouse and held it up.
It was cute, albeit wrinkled, so I glanced at the label.
Ha!  That's what I thought.
"It's linen...you know you're going to have to iron that" I said with a scowl.
And she said "Oh, you're right" and threw it back on the pile.
I loved her just a little bit more...
Then she asked me about ironing.
And I indicated that I'd rather chew on chalk than iron (however I probably said something slightly less dramatic),
Let's just say that my dislike for the chore was conveyed.
She said that she ironed her husband's shirts, which caused me to shudder.
Although I have been known to iron a shirt or two...
Grumpily.
Then I told her that one of the perks of the empty nest was the dry cleaners...
Since we're no longer feeding hoards of teenagers,
We can afford to have my husband's shirts pressed.
It's worth every red cent.
And picking up the plastic-covered smooth shirts is soooo satisfying.
Our dry-cleaning lady knows me well...she has the clothes rack moving around the track as I come through the door.
For the record, I do still iron on occasion...
Usually the occasion involves a major holiday and a tablecloth and a closed dry-cleaners.
But it's fairly rare when a shirt gets ironed in our house.
I'm very careful to buy clothes for myself that do not need ironing,
And my husband has plenty of shirts pressed and ready to go!
My iron enjoys semi-retirement in a cupboard over my washing machine.
Next to a can of starch...circa 1990.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mom-Mode...


My kids are grown and gone...mostly.
Emily is home for the summer and I love having a "kid" in the house again.
But since she started her summer job, I've noticed that "mom-mode" has kicked in.
She gets up at 5am to get ready for work.
Her quiet stirrings slowly wake me up...
And rather than staying in bed - she certainly doesn't need me to get up,
I get out of bed to chat with her as she eats her breakfast.
I did this when the kids were in high school...long after they needed their mom in the morning.
Maybe they wished I wouldn't get up...but I did.
It's mothering I feel compelled to do even though I'm not doing much of anything...
Except being interested...
And wanting to wish them a good day and send them off with an "I love you!"

Mom-mode appears in other ways too...
My "teenager" chicks are being picked on by the older hens.
They spend most of their time on one side of the pen...that side changes as the hens move around.
Often quickly.
Squawkingly. (a new word)
It would be funny if it wasn't so mean.
Who knows...maybe the chicks are chirping obscenities at the hens...
Maybe they're disrespectful.
Maybe they deserve to be pecked once in a while
It could be the equivalent of getting your mouth...er...beak washed out with soap.
I don't know.
But mom-mode has kicked in and I peek out the window from time to time to monitor the situation.
Sometimes I go to the pen and scold the hens.
They hear "blah blah blah"
But it makes me feel better.
They often chase after one of the chicks right in front of me!
Spiteful creatures.

Today mom-mode kicked in when I learned that someone I used to know has lost her daughter.
She found me on social media about a year ago...
We have never been close, but she "friended" me and every now and then I see something she posted.
Nothing out of the ordinary...
Until a few days ago.
Her daughter died unexpectedly of a sudden illness.
That's all the info there was.
She didn't post a thing.
Her close friends were offering their prayers and condolences.
Her daughter was around the same age as my kids.
So when I read it, I went into mom-mode.
My stomach felt punched.
My heart raced.
I imagined what she must be feeling and then I stopped trying to imagine that...
It was too painful and dark.
I prayed for her...that God would wrap His arms around her and fill her with His peace that passes all understanding...
And I posted a lame offering of support.
And a promise to pray.
And I have been praying.
Because that's what moms do...
For their kids and for other moms.
Mom-mode at its finest.

Mom-mode is uncontrollable and undeniable.
I can't help it.
No mom can.
It's a gift imparted by God to every mother.
In different ways.
At different times.
To share love and protection and comfort with the world.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Massacre at Spurgeon Meadows


It could be a headline...
Except it won't be.
There was a massacre in my back yard last night.
A bloodbath.
I heard something early in the morning....
Was I dreaming?
It sounds like birds...
"Heather, what is that?"
"Mmmm...I don't know"....
I must be dreaming...
The sounds stopped.....
The sounds began again...
I tossed and turned...not thinking what I heard was odd.
What an annoying noise!
Then I woke up because I realized it was dark and I was hearing birds!
I ran downstairs and flipped on the porch light.
A raccoon ran from my chicken tractor.
It opened the door and helped itself.
I didn't realize they could do that.
There were five teenaged chicks in my tractor when I went to bed.
There are two left.
Two frightened chicks who witnessed the murder of three of their friends.
They were frantic.
There was a headless body by the door...
Feathers strewn about outside the tractor.
The scene of a crime.
My heart broke.
How could I have slept so soundly?
I gathered up the two remaining chicks and put them into the coop with Aretha and Gladys,
Named for their beautiful black feathers and their prolific chatter...
And explained that the little ones had been through a traumatic experience and now is the time to step up to the plate and be nice.
They just sat on the roosting pole scowling about the early wake-up call...
The ruckus hadn't awakened THEM...
I was hoping they would put their feathered wings around the two little traumatized pullets and help them to feel secure.
Nope.
The first sign of scratch and it was all about survival of the biggest.
I'm disappointed in them...but I understand...
They're chickens after all.
And if I've learned anything from being a chicken farmer.
Chickens are not very bright.
So today I'll be a coop monitor...
So far, so good...the little ones are cautious.
The big ones somewhat oblivious.
I can't wait until Aretha starts crowing like a rooster...
Can you imagine?
A traumatic night and then that?
They'll think they're in an episode of the twilight zone.
poor things...
So I'll clean up the crime scene later...after a nap...
gross.
And hopefully, hens don't have the memory of an elephant...
Hopefully they forget things easily.
Like how their farmer slept through a massacre...
Where three of their friends were breakfast for a raccoon.
RIP.

Monday, June 15, 2015

On Writing...

I've read several articles by famous authors...
About their writing process.
How do they get their novel out of their head onto the paper?
It seems to be different for everyone.
From extensive plotting and planning before the writing begins,
To just flying by the seat of their pants.
I'm more of a "Let the story tell itself" type of person.
I have a general idea of where I'm going,
But as I write, things happen naturally.
Often what happens is unexpected.
Sometimes I delete the new idea...
Sometimes I love it and it changes the direction I was going.
Sometimes I like it, but it doesn't fit where I put it.  
Maybe that should happen a little later on...
So I set that part aside to be pasted in another chapter.
I have found that I like to edit as I go.
Which is a bad thing.
And I'm trying to stop that.
It's not easy.  
I want it to be just right.
That's not a bad thing.
But it's not time for that yet!
I need to get the story onto the paper...
Then add the details and move things around.
So I struggle along.
Learning what my process is...
With stops and starts and start overs...
Until I finish...
Toni Morrison said:  "I wrote my first book because I wanted to read it." 
I want to read my book too...
And that inspires me to keep going!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Case of the Cat in the Morning-Time...


My cat, Lola, is a creature of habit.
She is so predictable, I could set my coffeemaker by her...

I get up at approximately 6am.
As I creak down the stairs...
An aside...can you hear yourself go down the stairs?
I can.
My knees sound like crinkling cellophane...
Yet I don't feel them, I just hear them.
#almost50
Where was I?
As I creak down the stairs, Lola moves from the couch, where she's been slumbering,
To the kitchen...to stand in front of the fridge...and wait.
For fresh water in her "inconvenient bowl".
Her bowl is a custard cup that sits along the wall in the kitchen by the fridge.
I blame my daughter for that one.
She started this "water by the fridge" thing.
Her water bowl and food are in the laundry room.
Apparently she needs water in two locations because she is "special".
After I begrudgingly fill her water bowl, and gush over her cute way of looking up at me,
I get my coffee and sit down to check email, read news, and see what my friends are up to on Facebook.
When I do this, Lola parks herself nearby...
To do some personal cleansing.
And by personal, I mean private.
I don't want to see or hear her personal cleansing first thing in the morning.
Honestly, there is no good time for that.
So I swat her away.
And she goes into the bathroom to tell her "friend" what a jerk I am.
She jumps on the toilet and gazes in the mirror to have a loud, mad conversation with another cat.
It's like "coffee with friends" but angrier.
And psycho-er.
Either she thinks we keep her nemesis in the bathroom or...
She has a very compliant friend who doesn't eat her food or drink her precious refrigerator water,
And only shows up when she wants to see her...
Or when she needs to gripe about her housemates.
When her rant is over, she finds a comfy place to nap...usually on the couch or in a sunbeam...
And she rests from the busy morning she's had.
It must be exhausting to deal with the utterly predictable humans she's trained to do her bidding.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Going Outside...

(This is a rerun - because I needed a reminder!)

On Going Outside
            Ah, the comfort zone, that wonderful, glorified prison.  I love being comfortable…coasting…dreaming.  I can talk a big talk without risk, but it’s putting feet to those dreams that takes me to the edges of my comfort zone.
            I distinctly remember having a sleepover with a friend when I was in grade school.  The fun activity we decided to do was to write a book.  I wish I had saved that partially written book.  I wrote three or four chapters.  It was about babysitting and I remember that my protagonist was thrilled to have been offered one dollar an hour to babysit for the new neighbors.  I also remember asking my mom to come upstairs to hear our progress.  She sat patiently, listening to 10-year-old sentences strung together with 5th grade panache.  My 10-year-old self didn’t doubt that one day I’d write a book!
            Why does our adult mind tell our childhood dreams that they are stupid, impossible and unreachable?  Why do we listen?  Comfort.  It’s comfortable to stay the same.  It’s pleasant to live day to day without fluttering butterflies in our stomachs or the stress of potential rejection.  Then maybe it hits us…I’m ______(insert age here) years old.  In 10 years I’ll be 10 years older whether I did that thing I’ve always wanted to do or not.  C.S. Lewis said:  “The future is something everyone reaches at a rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”  True, Mr. Lewis, very true.
            It’s time I start doing the things I’ve had in my heart to do.  Time to dust the cobwebs off those dreams I’ve tucked away behind the responsibilities and joys of motherhood.  Time to be brave and exposed and vulnerable, and do the things I’ve always told myself I would do but haven’t had the guts (or is that faith?) to do. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6