Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zeal: It's Not the Same as Commitment

It's Z day!

It's Z day, it's Z day...

It's Z DAY!


Ahem. Sorry for that. 

It's Z day, a day which has me excited to wrap up this challenge and get back to my usual sparse blogging habits. Kidding. I've enjoyed blogging more frequently, and I hope to kick things up to a moderate pace from here on out.

One of the most important things I've gleaned from the A to Z challenge is the understanding that while you generally need zeal to spark a commitment, you don't need zeal to keep a commitment. 

There were days during the challenge (cough - I day - cough - V day) when I felt like doing anything but following through to the end. The commitment to do so kept me moving forward, and that same commitment brought me a fresh sense of unexpected zeal at times. Like the day I woke up wondering, "What on earth am I going to write for W?" only to look at my sweet daughter and be flooded with words I couldn't wait to get out there. Commitment kept me focused, and resulted in gifts of renewed zeal when I needed it most.

I expect this relationship between zeal and commitment can be applied to any commitment we take on in this life. If you're feeling a lack of zeal today, it's not necessarily because something is broken. It's because commitment takes work.

Just a little encouragement from me today to stay steadfast in your commitments. Zeal will ebb and flow; commitment will move you forward.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yesteryear: My (Slightly Scary) Time Travel Experiment

Growing up in Virginia, I got my driver's license the day I turned sixteen. I'm not saying it was the best idea ever, but I was itching to get behind the wheel of my Geo tracker and drive (or sputter, I should say) off into the sunset.

A few weeks after getting my license, I was handed a clunky rectangle-shaped object. It was rather large and if I'm remembering correctly, it had a retractable antenna. It was a cell phone, my parents said, and I was to keep it in my car in case of an emergency. I tossed it into my glove compartment and didn't give it a second thought. As I'm typing this, I'm realizing the battery probably died a couple days after I received it, so it wouldn't have been too helpful in an emergency anyway. Oh, well.

The point is, I didn't have it with me at all times. I didn't know my number. I'm not sure if I even knew how to turn it on. Perhaps I'm becoming a bit of a curmudgeon, but my heart has been feeling burdened recently by the fact that today's teens don't get to spend much time looking up at the world around them. They don't get to experience the awkward anxiousness that comes from having to ask a girl's parents if she can come to the phone. They don't get to do a lot of talking and listening, because they have to do a lot of typing and reading just to keep up with the status quo. They don't get an escape from the constant chatter; don't get to be alone with their thoughts - and they've never known things any other way.

This got me thinking about how I have known things another way. I remember what it was like to not be constantly connected, and yet I find myself forgetting to look up at the world around me. I find myself forgetting to listen; forgetting to study the faces of the people I love. I'm feeling drained by this lately, so I've issued myself a challenge:

I am committing to-

Hang on. It is a little scary to even put these words out there. Ok. Whew. I can do this.

I am committing to completely turning off my iPhone for an entire weekend. 

Deep breaths. It's going to be ok, Courtney.

I'm turning back the clock a few years. I don't have a specific reason for issuing this challenge, other than I have a feeling there's something to learn from this; something to be gained from unchaining myself in this way.

So there it is. I'm publicly committing to turning off my phone Friday at 5pm until whenever I wake up Monday morning. I'll check back in with a blog update next week on my strange journey to the past. If I come back at all, that is. ;)

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for X-Key: Editing, the Backspace Key, and Me

It's X day today, a day I've been dreading since signing up for the A to Z Blogging Challenge.

I had absolutely no idea what this post would be about, and then it hit me! I've been staring at this little beauty for the better part of the past month:
(This is a photo of my actual keyboard, and yes, that is a coffee stain... and dust.)
X! Ha! The backspace key was my best friend during my recent round of edits. Today, I'm providing a quick glimpse into my editing process. I realize this is the authorly equivalent of blogging about my weight, but I'm going there anyway, because... A to Z Challenge.

I began with a 74,000 word manuscript. Characterization edits, additional descriptions, and a modified beginning brought my manuscript to over 77,000 words. Then, it was time to put the backspace key to work.

This statistic makes me want to cry, but it's fascinating: By cutting out unnecessary adverbs and superfluous words such as justthat, and now, I brought my manuscript down to 75,704 words. That's about 1,500 words, and not one of those words was cut out as part of a mass removal of content. I simply went through the manuscript and plucked them out, one by one. All 1,500 of them.

Shudder.

Much love to my amazing editor for seeing the beauty past the mess! Three more rounds of edits to go, and I'm sure I'll be spending more quality time with my friend the x-key.



Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Wonderstruck: A Moment in Awe of the Great Author

I have a general aversion to being kicked in the face.

It is for this reason (and not because of any particular parenting philosophy) that I encourage my toddler to sleep in her crib. I try my best to keep her out of the bed, but sometimes it's inevitable. This week, we've been traveling, which means Little Miss has had to endure the uncomfortable confines of the portable crib. This would have been bad enough had she not come down with a cold. Just when we thought we had hit rock bottom, her two-year molars began to make their appearance. It's the toddler trifecta of sleeplessness, and conditions have been favorable for me being kicked in the face.

I awoke around 3:30 this morning to an especially rousing roundhouse kick.  

Unable to go back to sleep, I spent some time staring at my sweet little girl, who is really quite precious when she's not hurling her feet in my direction. Any mom can relate to this moment of pure awe; looking down at a perfect little human who once didn't exist and being wonderstruck by her presence.

I have been thinking a lot about characterization during my editing process, about what makes us who we are. In this early morning moment, I felt an indescribable reverence for the one who created this little girl. I have suffered loss and know full well that it is impossible for a heart to beat by man's will alone. I am certain this beautiful (and at times, spritely) person is the work of a great author. An author who has perfected the human character sketch in our DNA, and who adds His unique touch to each special creation. In a way I am thankful for being kicked in the face this morning, because it provided a welcome glimpse into this beautiful truth.

You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared    before I’d even lived one day. (From Psalm 139, The Message)

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Verruca: Win Words With Friends Using these 5 Uncommon V-Words

Isn't it funny how when you get to the end of a tube of toothpaste, there always seems to be one last drop left? You think to yourself, "This is it. The last squeeze of toothpaste." You've emotionally prepared yourself to say goodbye and open a new tube, and yet the next day there's just enough left for one more brushing session. This goes on for days, weeks even, depending on how efficient you are with your toothpaste. (Toothpaste efficiency experts are a special kind of hero in my book.)

I mention this toothpaste phenomenon because I AM that tube of toothpaste right now, but I'm not giving up the A to Z Challenge. I'm too close! Must... keep... blogging. Today (because this is seriously the best I can do) I'm listing 5 uncommon V-words you can use the next time you get in a jam while playing Words With Friends. Or Scrabble. Do people still play Scrabble? Or is that just me?

Your v-words await, blog friends! Links to Merrium Webster definitions and Scrabblefinder.com point values are below. And if you're going around using these words in your everyday speech, please leave a comment so I can give you a virtual high five for paying super-close attention in your SAT prep courses.

Vatu (noun)
1. the basic monetary unit of Vanuatu

Verruca (noun)
1. a wart or warty skin lesion (Um... ew.)
2. a warty elevation on a plant or animal surface

Vexillum (noun)
1. a square flag of the ancient Roman cavalry
2. the web or vane of a feather

Vilipend (verb)
1. to hold or treat as of little worth or account
2. to express a low opinion of

Vug (noun)
1. a small unfilled cavity in a lode or in rock

And there you have it. Take that, A to Z Challenge! See you tomorrow, when we'll see what's left in the old toothpaste tube for the letter W.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Underwear: Why my Characters are a Little Clumsy

The year was 1996. The Macarena was catching on like an unstoppable dance virus, there were empire waist dresses as far as the eye could see, and I was sitting in my sixth grade math class with a set of gleaming purple braces and an overstuffed zippered binder.

I felt something brush against my shoe and peeked under the desk to investigate. At first glance, it appeared to be a dingy rag.

I gave it a kick.

The object moved slightly, and I could see it wasn't a rag, but a pair of underwear; an old, holey pair of underwear with a thick Jockey waistband.

I stifled a giggle. What was a pair of dingy underwear doing on the floor of my middle school classroom?

This was too weird. I couldn't keep it to myself. Our desks were arranged in pairs, so I elbowed the boy next to me and pointed out the underwear on the floor. He laughed. I laughed. It was an all-around humorous discovery, and a welcome distraction from the morning's rigorous set of word problems.

I was still chuckling to myself about it several minutes later when it hit me: There was something strangely familiar about that pair of underwear.

My pencil dropped to the floor as the sickening realization set in.

It was my underwear.

I was sure of it.

This was the part where I woke up and realized it was all a dream.

Right?

Right?

Wrong. I was not waking up. This was actually happening to me. My underwear was on the floor of my math class. It had gotten stuck in the leg of my jeans while in the dryer, and had just now decided to rear its ugly head.

And I, in a moment of pure naive oblivion, had pointed it out to the boy sitting next to me.

For a while, I considered leaving it there. But this was sixth grade. This kind of thing wouldn't go unnoticed. I imagined there would be some sort of investigation to determine the owner of the underwear, so the guilty party could be tortured for the duration of their middle school career. Maybe even the duration of their life.

I couldn't let that happen. The awkward preteen years were unkind enough to me. I couldn't risk adding the label of "Underwear Girl" to my already feeble resume.

I waited until the class was packing up to leave. Then, with the stealth of a cat burglar I snatched the underwear, stuffing it deep into my binder and yanking the zipper closed, all the while making forced small talk with my desk partner in an effort to distract him.

It worked! I made it out of math class alive, with the underwear tucked out of sight. That was first period. I went the rest of the day without opening my binder, even going so far as to tell my English teacher I had forgotten to do my homework. I couldn't open the binder and hand her my essay. It was too risky.

The underwear incident was the first in a long (ongoing) series of embarrassing mishaps for me. I'm what my husband calls "endearingly clumsy" - which is just a nice way of saying it's only a matter of time before I back the car into something... again. It seems everyone has that one friend who is always stumbling herself into crazy situations. I don't have that friend, because I am that friend. Growing up, my mother would often console me after such an incident by placing a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and saying in her sweet southern voice, "Well... I guess God just wants you to be a writer."

She was right; the awkward mishaps make for great character inspirations. They say you write what you know, and I find myself writing main characters whose clumsy tendencies get them into trouble. Perhaps one day, I'll branch out and write a graceful main character who is the picture of poise. But not for a while, because I have far too many ungraceful stories to tell.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Twitter: 5 Great Writing Resources

I don't know how writers existed before Twitter. Besides being an amazing way to procrastinate when I'm panicking about a deadline, Twitter has opened up countless new opportunities for me (Tess in Boots was contracted as a result of a Twitter pitch party, for instance) and has helped me become a better writer in general.

Today, I've compiled a list of five great writing resources I found while searching the #writingtips hashtag:

1. Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling--Visualized - This one is especially poignant: "Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about until you're at the end of it. Now rewrite." (Thanks  for tweeting.)

2. 30 things every writer must do before they turn 30 - Number one made me laugh, but it's so true! Take a look. (Thanks for tweeting.)

3. The moral of the story is... - This is a nice piece on remembering the importance of theme in your writing. (Thanks   for tweeting.)

4. Getting to the Heart of Character Development - This author shares an interesting method for writing believable characters. (Thanks for tweeting.)

5. 7 Ways to Create Conflict in Your Novel - If you're plotting, this is a great resource of ideas for developing conflict. (Thanks @DeeLeone3 for tweeting.)

Happy reading (and writing)!

Follow me on Twitter here: twitter.com/CourtneyRGager

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Surprise: My Unexpected Freak-Out Over Clicking "Send"

I have good news! I just sent my first round of edits for Tess in Boots to my awesome editor, Kara Leigh Miller.

I'm pretty sure I should be leaping through a field of wildflowers, or relaxing with my feet dipped in a sparkling blue pool, or something equally picturesque and celebratory... but I'm not. Instead, I'm freaking out a little. I had to literally take deep breaths and force myself to click the send button. (I should mention I just realized that every sentence so far in this blog has started with the letter "i" - because this is the type of thing you realize when you've been on an editing binge.)

Just curious to see if any other writers have had this feeling. It's surprising to me, and it's difficult to place exactly where the feeling is coming from, except to say that sending over my edits feels extremely official, like I should be this perfect writer who never relies too heavily on adverbs (used three in this sentence - ack!) and who does not occasionally (make that four adverbs!) find herself crafting a run-on sentence such as the one you're reading right now.

I think it's safe to say I'm losing it a little. :) Time to call it a day. Check in please, writers! I'd love to hear from you.



Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Retro: Why I'm Not an Illustrator

The A to Z Challenge will make you do crazy things. Today, in an attempt to get some quick blog content up so I can focus on editing, I'm sharing some embarrassing childhood poetry I found over the weekend. With pictures!

I'm estimating this retro poetry to be from around third or fourth grade. Today's excerpt comes from my limited-edition, self-published (and self-crafted) book, Sea Poems.



Try not to be blown away by my cover art...



I'll set the stage for this work of pure poetic genius by sharing the illustration first. A few points of note:

  • That is not a magic carpet. It's a beach towel.
  • The snorkeler is wearing partially-drawn scuba equipment. I assure you this isn't a technical oversight but rather a philosophical statement about how doing things halfway will result in your demise. (Case in point: this man's snorkel did not extend beyond the water, and his only back-up plan was his incomplete scuba gear. I'm sorry to say he didn't make it.)
  • Depth perception has never been my thing.


And now, the poem you've all been waiting for. This gem speaks for itself:


I'll leave you to wipe away the single tear that's rolling down your cheek. 

Happy Monday, everyone! Is it Z yet?



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Question: Ask Me This if You Want to See Me Sweat

I guess Q is also for quirk, because today's post is going to divulge a quirk of mine. It's Saturday, so I figure we'll have some fun.

Here goes: If I am asked to name my favorite (movie, book, food, Beatle, anything), I instantly break into a sweat and start to panic a little.

I have major commitment issues, though not when it comes to actual commitment. I got married at the are-these-kids-serious age of 22. That was almost eight years ago and every day I wake up a little happier I made the decision to marry my amazing husband. (Please don't do the math because then you'll realize I'm about to turn 30 and I'm not entirely ok with that yet.)

My commitment issues tend to pop up over minor matters. In fact, the more minor the matter, the faster it sends me into a nail-biting tizzy. I once had to choose between soup and salad at Chili's. I chose soup, but as soon as the waiter left I changed my mind. I ended up leaping out of the booth and shouting, "Wait! Salad! Salaaaaaad!" in a desperate voice akin to Stanley Kowalski's famous cry for Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. I should mention that this particular waiter displayed a remarkable amount of grace and seemed unfazed by my outburst. Whew.

Occasionally people will discover I'm a writer and they'll ask, "Who is your favorite writer?" It's such an innocuous, small-talk question, yet every time it's asked I find myself flustered and stammering until someone changes the subject. It's as if all my credibility is hanging on this one simple answer. And besides, I absolutely love to read, but during this particular season of my life most of the books I read contain short rhyming words and lots of pictures. "I'm a huge fan of Sandra Boynton - her early work, not the overly-commercialized boxed sets. Because I'm a purist."

The favorite writer question is by far my least favorite writing-related question to answer. A close second is any sort of question that assumes my fictional writing to be 100% based on real people and things. "Is this character me?" or "When did that happen to you?" These are the things that keep me up at night, people.

So now you know how to send me into a tailspin. Just thought I'd share something fun, because there are only so many words that start with the letter Q. Enjoy your weekend everyone, and Happy Easter!


Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Pressure: Do You Work Better With or Without it?

When it comes to my productivity and general ability to get things done, I have a very odd Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. A large part of me is extremely on the ball and can't stand loose ends. I like things in their place and I like the swift, no-nonsense motion my hand makes when it crosses items off a to-do list.

And then there's my creative, spontaneous side; the let's-drop-everything-and-have-a-picnic-right-now side. Let's see... we'll need pie, and sandwiches, and bubbles! I love bubbles. Don't you just love bubbles?

In a practical sense, this results in my home starting out as the picture of organized perfection each morning, only to resemble a post-party fraternity house by around noon. I typically wallow in my chaotic mess for a few hours, and then it's time to scramble around and put the pieces back together before anyone catches me living my secret double life as a flaky but lovable slob.

The same concept applies to my writing, especially when it comes to deadlines. When my deadline is far enough off, I like to work at a slow pace and let myself get distracted by new ideas and outside activities. Things can get a little crazy in this place. But once I find myself within arm's reach of the deadline, my drill sergeant side swoops in to clean up my creative side's mess and get the job done.

I like a good balance of pressure. I crack under too much pressure, and yet I shudder to think of the crazy that would be unleashed if I didn't have any pressure. Just curious to see where others stand on the issue. Please leave your comments below, especially if you're the type who can get things done perfectly well without any pressure at all, because quite frankly, you people fascinate me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an epic mess to make.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Opening: The Proven, Sure-fire (and Easy!) Way to Start Your Novel

Recently I was talking to a friend about writing, and she mentioned she had an idea she'd love to write about, if only she could figure out a way to begin. "It's those first words that keep tripping me up," she said. "Figuring out how to start is the hardest part."

I found this to be very interesting, mostly because I'd be willing to bet this is a fairly common conundrum. Beginnings are so important, right? You have to draw in the reader and set the tone for the entire book. There's so much pressure to absolutely nail those first few words.

It's quite intimidating. I get it.

I shared something with my friend during this conversation, and I'd like to share it with you today, too. It's the secret to starting any novel - or, any writing at all, I should say.

Are you ready?

Are you sure you're ready? Because it might blow your mind.

Ok, but don't say I didn't warn you. 

Here goes.

The secret is...

Put words on the page.

Yep, that's it. Any words at all! 

Just start writing. 

You don't have to commit to a beginning until much, much later in the writing process. You're not marrying these words. You're taking them out on a date. No, it's more casual than that, even. You're just going for coffee. You're driving separately, and you're each paying your own way. If it goes well, great! Maybe you'll spend more time together. If not, you can part ways with ease and get on with your life.

Relax - it's just coffee!

I'm currently editing a novel for release in January 2015, and I've had four major (and I mean major) revisions of the book's beginning since my first draft. In the first version, I started the story shortly after my main character's fall, giving the reader little glimpses into what happened as the story progressed. Then I tried starting in the middle, giving my reader an early sneak peek into one of the most climactic points of the book. Then I changed my mind and went back to the original beginning. And now, I've started the book during the main character's fall, so the reader can come alongside the heroine and gain a deeper empathy for her. (Sidenote: this was my editor's idea and I absolutely adore her for it. You rock, Kara!)

The point is, it's ok to circle back and experiment a little. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most writers rework their beginnings multiple times. Your work needs a chance to evolve, so give yourself a break if you feel like you haven't mastered a brilliant beginning yet.

Put words on the page. Don't stress about where it's going. Just let it get going.

If you've been struggling with where to begin, why not take some words out for coffee today? You may have to kiss a few frogs before you find your handsome prince of an opening, but I like to think that's part of the fun.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nation (#HokieNation): 32 Especially Good Things about Virginia Tech

I can't let this day pass without pausing to reflect on how much I love my alma mater, Virginia Tech.

It's difficult for me to find words for this occasion, because none of them quite seem to fit, and yet it just wouldn't feel right to continue blogging as usual on this day of the A to Z challenge. The only thing I know to do is to hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Rom 12:9). In this spirit, I've decided to share some of the things I've found to be especially good about Virginia Tech. Here is a list of 32 such things, in no particular order.

1. The server at Owens Hall who would sing the ingredients of each and every burrito order like it was the performance of his life. (Lesser known fact: He served omelettes at D2 in the summer, and you better believe he sang those orders, too.)
2. The incredible view of the mountains on the horizon as I would drive down I-81 on my way back to school after breaks.
3. The professors who noticed, encouraged, and strengthened my writing.
4. The way the ducks at the pond would flock to my bread bag as if they hadn't eaten sixteen times already that day. Those ducks knew how to make a girl feel special.
5. The fireworks that would go off as the football team took the field for a Thursday night game.
6. The way the leaves would pile up around the drill field and crunch under my feet on the walk to class.
7. The cute neighbor boy from across the pool who turned out to be an amazing husband and father.
8. Everything about West End Market. Everything.
9. The slow pace of life in the South - something I always scoffed at until I experienced it in Blacksburg.
10. The fact that it only took about two weeks for me to honestly believe that maroon and orange look great together.
11. The fact that I still believe maroon and orange look great together, but I'm not sure if it's because they actually do or simply because love is blind.
12. The bitter wind that would blow across the drill field in the winter, if only because it made spring feel that much more amazing.
13. The natural beauty of the campus and the surrounding area. I didn't take it for granted at the time, but I still miss it as if did.
14. The girls who were placed on the 6th floor of Lee Hall my freshman year, and how quickly those strangers became my lifelong friends.
15. The writing workshops that gave me the courage to put my work out there to be critiqued.
16. The way people would flock to the drill field like it was a public beach on the first warm day after a long winter.
17. The summer I spent working as an orientation leader, which is still in the books as one of the greatest summers of my life.
18. The overly excited way the bus service would announce its arrival at "Litton Reeves!" (You had to be there.)
19. The simple pleasure of chatting away with girlfriends while getting dressed to go somewhere.
20. The limestone buildings that always made me feel like I was home.
21. The classes in McBryde 100, because sitting through a lecture with five hundred other students was exactly how I always imagined college would be.
22. The handful of classes with only eleven or twelve other students in them, because sometimes it's nice to have the best of both worlds.
23. The fact that - no matter where I was - people would stop me on the street if I was wearing a VT shirt, just to introduce themselves as a fellow Hokie.
24. The way a big school seemed to shrink a little each day, until eventually it genuinely felt small somehow.
25. The first week in our new apartment, when my roommate and I literally called the maintenance man because we couldn't figure out how to turn on the oven.
26. The many meals we learned to cook and enjoy together once we figured out how to turn on the aforementioned oven.
27. The classes I didn't love, because they taught me that sometimes you just have to toughen up and get through it.
28. The one snow day we had in four years. It was worth the wait.
29.The random student who, when he noticed my dad with a map while we were visiting for a campus tour, approached him out of the blue and offered to show us the way. It seemed so extraordinary at the time, but I soon learned it's just how Hokies are.
30. The way War Memorial glowed at night. Photos don't do it justice.
31. The fact that you could enjoy all four seasons in Blacksburg... sometimes even in one day.
32. The ugly-cry I did in the car on the drive home after graduation, because I knew that no matter how many times I returned for a visit, I could never really go back.

Virginia Tech was a beautiful, amazing place. And it still is. As I reflect on the heaviness of this day, I am comforted by these and so many more memories. I am clinging to the belief that there is still more good in the world than evil, and I am abundantly thankful for the Truth that there is so much more to life than what we can see.

I love you, Hokies!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Motherhood: Why Today's Blog Post is Late

When I went into labor late in the evening on June 30, 2012, I got sent home from the hospital because I was too happy.

True story. The nurses said that yes, I was in active labor, but I was far too happy to stay in the hospital, leisurely chewing on ice chips, hooked up to an epidural, and peacefully awaiting the blissful arrival of my baby. It was a full moon, after all, and they were booked solid. "Go home and come back when you're smiling less," they said.

So I did. By the time I got back to the hospital early the next morning, I was certainly smiling less. In fact, I was liable to give myself the epidural if they tried to turn me away again. I explained this, regrettably, in a not-so-nice way to the intake coordinator. "Congratulations!" she chirped. "You're ready!" My sweet girl was born shortly afterward, and in that moment - just like that - I became a mother. There was no ceremony, no test to pass, no certification process to complete. It was the simple passing of a moment that catapulted me into a completely new place in life.

If I'm being honest, before I became a mother I thought it seemed like the easiest thing in the world. I would often hear mothers expressing their exhaustion and inability to shower for days at a time, and I would shake my head in confusion. What was everyone so worked up over?

I prefer my humble pie served warm, thank you.

The role of Mommy, while indescribably (unbelievably!) amazing, has not necessarily come easy for me. I'm one of those let's-get-everything-done-right-now types, and for me, the hardest part of being a mother is that you can't always get everything done. Sometimes you can't get anything done actually, and you end up with seventeen half-finished projects that add up to the biggest mess you've ever seen in your life. One of the most important things I've learned as a mother is that some things can wait, while others can't. The dishes can wait. The hug can't. But I've found that the messy and chaotic days are usually the best ones.

All this to say that today was one of those days for me, which is why my blog post is a bit later than usual. I'll be back on track tomorrow. Or, who knows? Maybe I won't.

If you get the chance, hug a mom today. But do so at your own risk, because she may not have showered for a few days.

Don't ask me how I know...

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Long and Winding Road: Trailer Reveal


Coming July 1, 2014 from Anaiah Press


Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves.

Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve.  


About Linda Brendle


After 15 years as a family caregiver, Linda began writing to encourage, inspire and amuse other caregivers. She loves to travel and since retiring has traveled mostly by motorcycle and RV. She and her husband live in a small East Texas town where she gardens, writes and attends church.

Yahoo Voices: http://goo.gl/NT0bdt
Red Letter Christians: http://goo.gl/xYSvRf

Find A Long and Winding Road on Goodreads

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20983741-a-long-and-winding-road

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kicking Back: No Blogging for Me Today!

Today is day eleven of the A to Z Challenge, but today I will not be blogging.

Today I will be kicking back and enjoying a Saturday with my family. The weather is promising me 72 delightful degrees of sunshine and I plan to get my money's worth. Maybe we'll go to the park, or take a walk, or have a picnic. 

But I won't be blogging. Nope. Not me.

See, blogging about how you're not blogging doesn't technically count as blogging. Or does it? Feel free to engage in a heated philosophical debate below. Meanwhile, I'll be busy not blogging.

Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jaguar: Lessons from a Little Artist on Loving Your Work

I honestly don't know how moms survived before Crayola Color Wonder markers. These markers are absolutely amazing, because they only color on the special Crayola Wonder paper. They literally won't work on any other surface. (Can you hear that sound? That's the sound of my walls breathing a collective sigh of relief.)

When my toddler developed a passion for coloring, I was thrilled to find this product after several attempts to clean purple crayon off my window, which I assure you is not as easy as it sounds and also not as cute as the beloved childhood story Harold and the Purple Crayon would make it seem. Little Miss received a Dora the Explorer Color Wonder book for Christmas, complete with a set of Mommy's miracle markers, as I like to call them, and she has been hard at work coloring ever since.

There is one particular picture which features her all-time favorite Dora the Explorer character, Baby Jaguar. Today is not the day to do an in-depth character analysis on Baby Jaguar, but suffice it to say that he's all-around awesome in every way. Each day for months, my sweet girl has said, "Color Baby Jaguar," in a tone of voice that is teeming with focus and determination. She colors Baby Jaguar morning, noon, and night. Sometimes she'll even wake up in the middle of the night, stand up in her crib and declare that though it's 3:41 am, it is indeed time to, "Color Baby Jaguar."

Baby Jaguar has evolved significantly over these past months. He used to be a colorful hodgepodge of a thing, but now he has been colored so much that he is actually starting to disappear, sort of like a ghost. See?


Every day I'm sure this masterpiece must be finished. And every day, I'm proven wrong when my girl finds a way to improve upon her picture just a little more. I imagine that this will eventually become a sort of Sistine Chapel scenario, only perhaps even more amazing, because I'm pretty sure Michelangelo started when he was well out of diapers. 

Kidding of course. I'm really not sure what's next for poor Baby Jaguar. A hole in the paper, maybe? The point is, it's inspiring to see how dedicated and enthusiastic my little artist is about her work. She has worked on this thing for hours, yet she can't wait to get back to it. She approaches this project with a seemingly endless supply of joy and diligence.

I've been thinking about Baby Jaguar a lot as I've been editing my manuscript for its January 2015 release. There are times when I feel like I've gotten an editing note just right. Then I'll walk away, think about it some more, and decide there's room for another tweak or two. The editing process has only just begun, and I know it's going to be a long haul. I just hope I can tackle my work daily with the same enthusiasm that I've seen go into the masterpiece that is Baby Jaguar. Perhaps it would serve us all well to take this approach today.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for In Case You Missed It: A to Z Challenge Recap

When life gets a little crazy, I can be extremely creative about doing the bare minimum to slide by. Today is one of those days. For my family, this means there will likely be some form of questionable leftovers on the dinner table tonight. Fortunately for you, I can't serve three-day-old doctored-up ham on my blog. But I can recap my posts so far from the A to Z Challenge instead of blogging about a whole new topic. The marketing nerd in me actually thinks this is a good idea (and not just a desperate attempt to get through this challenge) because it will allow me to review blog stats and figure out which posts are most interesting based on their titles. At least, that's how I'm justifying this topic choice.

Click on any title below to read more. And check back tomorrow, when I'll have a more thoughtful post for you. I promise!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Harvest: How Do You Decide What to Keep?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the backyard hovering around our grapevines and plucking grapes to eat. I guess this was before the world came to the general agreement that eating unwashed fruit would result in your certain and immediate demise. Or at least it was before I cared about such things.

We had about three varieties of grapes, and I realize now that it would be nice to name the specifics here. If you're on the edge of your seat waiting to find out about the grape varieties, please allow me to let you down gently right up front: I'm not exactly sure. 

I do know that at one point, one of the varieties was the blue concord grape. I know this because of the label on an old bottle of homemade wine in my pantry, made from the blue concord grapes harvested from my childhood home.

When my family decided to try their hand at making wine, I was itching to help out. Mostly this was because I imagined it would involve stomping around in an enormous barrel of grapes like I had seen on a particularly funny episode of I Love Lucy. I was mildly disappointed by the fact that the actual chosen method for squashing grapes was squeezing them by hand through a mesh straining bag. As it turned out, this was a very un-funny process. But it was effective, and eventually there were several bottles of wine lining the basement shelves to commemorate countless hours of research and labor. (I should emphasize that this was before you could just Google "how to make wine" - so there were actual books from the library involved in the research phase. Books. From the library. It was all pretty mind blowing.)

I've never asked why the blue concord grape was the chosen variety for the Rice family's stint in winemaking. I'm sure there was a reason for it. I find myself wondering about it now because for the very first time, I have three manuscripts started, and I have no idea which one to harvest, squash, and bottle into a finished product. The first is 9,855 words, the second is 1,810 words, and the third is 909 words. All started, some more than others, and all left abandoned. I'd like to think they're aging, but the truth is I'm simply at a loss with respect to which idea I'm most excited about.

The one thing I do know is that I need to make a choice; to buckle down and commit to just one manuscript at a time. Otherwise, the ideas will turn out like the homemade bottle of wine in my pantry: dusty, unopened, and probably past its prime - full of potential, but never poured out and enjoyed the way it was meant to be.

I would love to hear from some fellow writers today about how you navigate through this situation. Leave your comments below if you'd like to join the discussion. 



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Going Forward: RoboFriend's Advice for the Weary Writer

I have a friend who I'm pretty sure may be a robot. She's a fantastic girl, and she's a dear old friend. It's just that... she's way too enthusiastic about exercise. I mean, really happy about it. Especially running. No one should like running that much! So it's only logical to assume that one day I will find out she's actually a government-issued robot, placed among us ordinary humans to whip us into shape in order to keep healthcare costs down or something.

Kidding, of course. In all seriousness, I wish I could share her genuine love of sweating, but I do enjoy spending time with my friend, and so we find ourselves working out together now and again. Usually this involves her signing us up for some new and crazy physical challenge. It is because of this friend that I've had the experience of throwing repeated roundhouse kicks to a punching bag, crawling through the mud at six in the morning while an army drill sergeant yells in my ear (true story), and my favorite of all: running Philadelphia's Broad Street Run, a ten mile race through the City of Brotherly Love. And yes, in case you're wondering, you can smell the cheese steaks while you're running. It's pure torture.

We've run that particular race twice now, and to her this is about as difficult as playing a game of hopscotch. Sometimes we've "trained together", which is just a fancy way of saying she ties a rope around my neck and drags me around for several miles while making encouraging statements to keep me from keeling over.

There is one particularly encouraging thing she told me before our first race that has always stuck with me. "If you feel like you can't finish," she said, "just remember that all you have to do is keep going forward." She went on to explain that as long as I put one foot in front of the other, no matter how slowly, I would still be moving forward. She encouraged me not to think about how many miles were left, but just to focus on continuing to make progress, even if I was barely moving (and let me tell you, folks, I was barely moving by about mile eight of this race). But I did finish, and strangely, I actually enjoyed the experience.

Today I'm in the middle of my writing race and I feel like veering off course for the nearest cheese steak stand and watching the others whiz by me. I have an editing deadline to meet, and I'm nowhere near the end of this blog challenge. I also have a little one who seems to be under the impression that her crib has some sort of elite room service package which allows her to order all sorts of things in the middle of the night. "Chocolate milk. Other chocolate milk. Tiger! Bunny! Bunny!"

I'm running on very little sleep, and I feel like there's too much in front of me. But I'm up. And I'm putting one word in front of the other. I'm moving slowly, but I'm moving forward. Thanks, RoboFriend. :)  

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Food: Inspiring Takeaways from Lucille Osborn's Psalm 34:8 Cooking Series

This weekend I had the unique and incredible experience of attending a session in the Psalm 34:8 cooking series, led by Lucille Osborn.

Lucille is a freelance food stylist, which means her job is to make food look irresistibly appetizing for various television programs and cookbooks. This alone is inspiring to me, because it provides a perfectly good explanation for why everything I cook looks so incredibly unappetizing: it's simply because I'm not a professional!

Lucille is a professional, and she's also the creator of the Psalm 34:8 cooking series, which explores Scripture through interactive cooking demonstrations. By "interactive cooking demonstrations" I mean to say that you get to eat the food she makes during the class; to literally taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)

Don't mind if I do.

This particular lesson was on the Parable of the Talents, and there were all sorts of amazing takeaways from the lesson itself. And from the food. (Did I mention the food?) But for me, the biggest takeaway was how simply and creatively Lucille is using who she is to serve the Lord.

This A to Z blog challenge is really challenging me to be more open and vulnerable, because you can only write so many surface-level blog posts before you have to get real. So let me get real with you again today: as a Christian writer, I often find myself wrestling with what it means to do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

That's difficult for me to admit, but it's true. I mean, I get that writing for the glory of God means being a good steward of resources that result from my writing, and being careful not to turn God's gift of writing into an idol, etc. etc. etc. The stories I write are what you would call  good clean fun, because that's just who I am as a writer. They have their themes, sure, and I'm contracted with a Christian publisher, so I must be doing something right. But still, I often wonder if I'm missing the mark; if everything I write should be a heavy, life-changing, world-shaking theological masterpiece. Maybe, I've often thought, that's what it means to write for the glory of God. And maybe that's the only way to do it.

I am so thankful for people who can write like that (I usually start each morning with their words, in fact), but I'm not one of them. Maybe someday I will be, but for now (to speak in terms of the Parable of the Talents) I'm more of a two-talent type of girl, and it's my job to wisely use and invest what I've been given to make an impact for the Lord. Lucille showed me in a very tangible (and delicious) way how she is using who she is to relate to others and speak truths.

It inspired me in too many ways to count and outline here (I'm on deadline, you know). So I'll just summarize by saying that Lucille's demonstration ignited an excitement for how God might use me, just the simple fact of who I am, to pour love into others I encounter on this road I'm on. It helped me to realize how very uncreative I am in comparison to The Creator. I imagine that there will be all sorts of ways to do it all for the glory of God. I imagine that there will be little moments, and big ones, too. Perhaps some days I will write life-changing, world-shaking theological masterpieces. Most days, I probably won't. But every day, I will be on the lookout for how God is calling me, in the divinely creative way that only He can orchestrate or imagine, to make an eternal impact because of who and where I am.

And who knows? Maybe I'll even learn to make perfect golden crepes, just like Lucille demonstrated.

Maybe... but I doubt it.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Early: Worms Don't Sleep in, Y'all

It's fitting that I'm beginning to write this post at 4:31 on a Saturday morning, because E is for early. 

For me, the hours before the world wakes up are the best writing hours. They're also the best coffee-drinking hours, and luckily the two go hand-in-hand. I'm not sure why early morning works so well for me. Maybe it's because there are fewer distractions, or perhaps it's simply that I'm a glutton for punishment, but I truly like this time. I look forward to it each night as I'm going to sleep (which is usually before nine, by the way).

I often hear from people who say they would write if only they could find the time. My gentle reminder to them (and my point in sharing this with you) is that you have to make the time. Writing early in the morning is a habit I got into when I was working full-time and writing on the side. It worked so well that I never dropped the habit. But it doesn't matter when you make the time, all that matters is that you do. So go find your early, writers!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my worms. Er... words.

Give me a break. It's early. ;)

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Don't Miss This! - Liberty Belle Cover Reveal

I am thrilled to be able to show you all this too-cute-for-words cover for Emily Ungar's upcoming middle grade title, Liberty Belle.



(Psst: D is also for Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of this post!)




On the same day she turns twelve years old, Savannah moves away from everything she’s known in sweet, sunny Georgia to preppy Washington D.C. Not only will she miss her best friends Katie and Tessa, Savannah will start a new school. She soon discovers that her schoolmates love to brag—about their clothes, their parents’ governmental connections, and even who has the in with the school authorities.

Unhappy and lonely, Savannah decides if she can’t make life better, she can at least make it sound that way. Soon she is living in the childhood home of George Washington, riding in the limo of the vice president’s daughter, and even moving into the former Luxembourg embassy.

All is well until she learns that her true friends from Georgia are coming for a visit. Now Savannah must create the life she’s been talking about in her letters—and fast! Will Savannah find herself or lose her friends?

Liberty Belle is scheduled to be released August 12, 2014 (Anaiah Press). Find it on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21802855-liberty-belle


About the Author: Emily Ungar is a graduate of Indiana University, where she majored in journalism. After living in seven different U.S. states by the time she finished college, she now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband and very curious twin toddlers. When she isn’t chasing after her twin boys, Emily loves to curl up in a chaise lounge with a book in one hand and a lemon cupcake in the other. Emily loves connecting with her readers, so she welcomes you to say hi on her blog at emilyungar.com. 

Find Emily on...
Twitter: @emilyungar


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Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Calendar: My Strange Plotting Secret

I was one of those kids who absolutely loved school. I even loved the smell of school. In fact, if I concentrate, I can still smell my elementary school.

Sniff... ahhhh.

I know. I have issues.

But there was one thing I didn't love, and that was pre-writing. Pre-writing involved trying out various methods to organize and plan out what you were going to write. It wasn't the writing part I had trouble with so much as it was the pre part. I would sit there staring down at the empty bubbles on my cluster diagram, feeling frustrated because I just wanted to cut to the chase and get to the actual writing already. (I generally have never liked any activity that involves an exact method of doing something, so when I was instructed to plan my writing using a certain method in a certain way, it didn't really sit well with me.) 

Surprisingly, I grew up to become someone who does recognize the immense value of pre-writing, and more specifically, plotting. Now that I'm free to do this however I see fit, the method I've found to be best-suited for my style is calendaring. 

(It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun, so I'm sure I'm not the first person to do this, but you should know that I just completely made up the fact that calendaring is an official plotting method. But, made up as it may be, it is my method, and I want to share it with you today.)

I begin with a paper calendar, usually in my case it's a freebie that has come from a local business. For some reason, I absolutely can't do any plotting digitally, so the paper calendar is critical. Then, I get to work planning out my story: when characters will meet, when conflict will be introduced, when questions will be raised, and when matters will be resolved. This is especially critical when the plot gets tight time-wise and important plot points take place in a matter of days (or hours, or minutes).

After the initial calendaring comes my favorite part of the process: once I actually start writing, things come up.

Just as unexpected things make their way onto our real-life calendars, things sometimes pop up in my story, and the characters have to shift around a little bit to accommodate these new (usually exciting) developments. Typically, after a first draft, I'll redo my calendar completely to make sure everything clicks into place. Sometimes during a revision, even more things come up, and the process begins again.

For me, using the calendar makes the story feel tangible. And besides, it makes good use of all those paper calendars we get in the mail. Save a tree, people!

So there's my strange but beloved plotting secret. What are your plotting secrets, writers? Please leave your comments below. I enjoy hearing from you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Block: Writer's Block, and How to Cope

So, here's the thing: I'm having a terrible case of writer's block with respect to how to begin this post. Would you please be so kind as to assume I have already dazzled you with some sort of catchy opening?

You would?

Great! I knew I liked you.

Now that you're hooked, let's talk about writer's block. 

For several years, I worked as a marketing consultant for a firm I adored, and one of the coolest things about my job was coming up with creative ideas. There were times when I'd literally be tasked with being zany and creative, and these were my favorite times by far.

Except... being creative rarely ever happened while sitting around a meeting table. That was usually where the assignments were dished out, though. And generally, when being watched expectantly by several pair of eyes, my creative juices would run dry. "Let me think about it and get back to you," I would say.

That's what I'd say, but it's not exactly what I meant. What I really meant was, "Let me stop thinking about this so hard."

Because for me, the biggest creativity killer in the world is over thinking. Sure, there are times when I have to meticulously outline, plot, and analyze. And those things certainly have their place in the writing process. But once it's time to sit down and actually write, I do my best writing when I'm not writing at all.

If I've spent too much time in front of the keyboard debating over my next sentence, I know it's time to pack it up for the day and go do something else. When I'm busy doing something else, I typically find my mind wandering right back to my writing and lingering there. I become distracted by my writing, instead of being distracted from my writing, if that makes sense. By the time I get back to my story, the words have all but typed themselves.

We each have our own way of coping with writer's block, and the "do something else" method certainly won't work for everyone. But if you're looking for a reason to step away from the computer for a few hours, then I suppose this is as good as any.
  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Arendelle: When do you "Let it Go" and Call Yourself a Writer?

I would be the one to kick off the A to Z Blog Challenge with a reference from Disney's Frozen, wouldn't I? But stay with me writers, because today I'm really itching to hear from you.

When Frozen hit the retail shelves exactly two weeks ago, I pretty much had the date in my calendar marked and circled three times. (I'm the mom of a toddler, so going to the movies is the difficulty equivalent of achieving a Flappy Bird score of 999. Or so I've heard... ahem... anyway.) I needed to see this movie, and once I finally did - from the comfort of my own couch with the little one all tucked in for the night - it did not disappoint.

I already have a tendency to over analyze animated films, but this one is especially layered; perfect for hosting my own internal book club conversations, one of which I will share with you today:

There is a part in the movie during which Elsa (who has spent most of her life in seclusion, hiding the fact that she has magical ice powers) is crowned Queen of Arendelle. She is forced to face the public for her coronation, and long story short, in a moment of passion she ends up revealing her powers to the horror of everyone in the kingdom. In doing so, Elsa completely freezes Arendelle, setting the kingdom into eternal winter. (Sidenote: I found the whole eternal winter thing to be especially amusing after this particular winter. Does Disney have some sort of weather monopoly which allowed them to manipulate our recent snowfall? There could be a conspiracy here....)

Where was I? Oh, right. Eternal winter. Ashamed, humiliated, and scared, Elsa flees Arendelle and heads for the north mountain where she effortlessly builds herself an impressive ice palace while belting out that iconic song, Let it Go. At some point during this song her expression changes, and there is this look of delighted relief on her face. It's as if it feels amazing to finally be free to do what she does best.

This got me thinking hard about myself as a writer. Can I be vulnerable and honest with you for a second?

For most of my life, I have felt incredibly uncomfortable calling myself a writer.

There, I said it.

I mean, I am a writer. And I have been for as long as I can remember. But actually calling myself one? No, thanks. I'll just sit in seclusion and make ice crystals - er, words - appear out of nowhere.

Perhaps I'm an overly private person? Immature? Or maybe I have suppressed identity issues? These are all working theories. But I'd be willing to bet it's not just me; that there are others who feel this way, too.

Recently, I signed my first official publishing agreement and that made me feel a little bit better about "letting it go" and calling myself a writer. Here's the funny thing, though: everything that came before signing, all the moments spent alone with the story, and all the years spent learning to fall in love with writing, those are the things that actually make me a writer. The contract is great, really great, but it's a product that comes from the core of who I am, much like Elsa's ice palace.

So my question to you, writers, is this: Are you still hiding out in Arendelle and refusing to call yourself a writer? If so, what's holding you back? If not, when did you start calling yourself a writer? What gave you the freedom to do so?

Oops. Those were several questions. But then again, I'm pretty sure this blog post was supposed to be a lot shorter, anyway. Ah, well. Tomorrow is a new day.

Please leave a comment if you'd like to join the discussion. I'd truly love to hear your thoughts. And now, without further ado, let's all burst into song, shall we?

Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore...