Monday, April 29, 2013

The Confidence Challenge

The Confidence Challenge

"Are you a writer?"

"Well, I've written some. I'm actually a (insert profession here; contractor, receptionist, stay at home mom)... but I- yeah, I write." The words just get past your lips and fall, the pathetic little letters scatter about your feet and blow away with a puff of wind. 

While you polished your 'elevator speech' and pored over every word in query letters, a casual meeting catches you off your game, and out comes the truth! You're not a writer, you're a fake. You want to be one, but you're not quite there. You've written some articles, but that doesn't count.  

The truth is that you are writer, even if you're not published yet. You write, don't you? One of my teachers used to say, "We are writers, and now we shall write," to segue us into a creative writing session. 

I prefer people that struggle with their identity. I've met numerous writers who are quick to tell of their brilliance, have blogs about their craft, and are completely unteachable. Many have self-published, as the agents and publishers (the fools) have yet to gasp their excellent works, and they tell you of their writing conquests as piles of unsold books occupy their garages like stalagmites.  

You can't casually meet an agent, publisher, or even the man on the street without coming across like a schizophrenic. It might pay to work on a writer elevator speech that quickly and concisely communicates who you are and what you see as your writing skills. But the elevator speech isn't going to cut it if you don't believe it. You may want to perform some confidence exercises. 

Stand in front of the bathroom mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and declare, "I, _______, am a writer." Hold up whatever you may have published, even if it's a 200 word recipe. Leave it in the bathroom and do it every morning until your confidence builds and you believe in yourself. 

The worst place to feel like an imposter is at a conference. You enter the dining room and it's jammed with people talking- publishers, agents, and of course writers. Your confidence wilts. "What am I doing here?" Shake it off, take a deep breath and do it. You're a writer.

While at a conference, you've got to take risks. Start conversations at tables. Look around for people who are alone and chat with them. You find a solo fellow writer and she's writing a book about collecting bottles. What's that got to do with you? You can practice your writer elevator speech to her. Offer to practice your pitches to one another. 

You're not alone. There are writers out there- published writers- who feel like fakers because they haven't sold ten thousand copies, haven't won any awards, haven't gotten their favorite series published, and feel like posers. Ignore the poser in you. Get out there, wherever there is, and be yourself. Be a writer.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Book Review: Beauty to Die For

Sometimes you just want to read something light and fluffy.
Beauty to Die For, a spa mystery
Kim Alexis and Mindy Starns Clark
Christian Suspense
BH Publishing Group, Pure Fiction
c. August 2012
ISBN: 9781433672934
Print $14.99
Kindle: $9.99
Former supermodel from those 1980 days of acclaim Kim Alexis teams up with best-seller Mindy Starns Clark to write the spa mysteries. Beauty to Die For is about one of those former-model types, twenty-five years after the hype.  
Juliette Taylor gets the gumption to walk away from modeling through a magical afternoon meeting with the perfect dream man while stuck at an airport. Marcus Stone is at a crossroads moment in his life as well, and the two of them challenge each other to be true to themselves, and to meet up later when they get their lives together. Twenty-five years of Stuff Happens. 
Meanwhile, Juliette opens up her own very successful skin-care business. A Christian, Juliette also does retreats and conferences, aka Juliette Taylor Events. Her skin care products, however, were used as a terrorist money-maker front when her products were counterfeited and sold with substandard and dangerous ingredients. When a former colleague dies right at the very spa Juliette is conducting one of her Events, Juliette hopes and prays a counterfeit JT Lady product isn’t to blame. 
Since Marcus has become an expert in disaster prevention and relief, he participates in busting the counterfeiters. Once he sees Juliette’s name as a potential suspect/victim, he devises a plan to meet her again. Now divorced, he’s ready to reclaim his soul mate. But does she feel the same? 
The counterfeiting also affects the spa workers, and while sometimes a lethal reaction to particular ingredients is just an accident, sometimes it’s murder. Clark walks a fine line when she reveals information late enough to almost be cheat-the-reader material. Fortunately, the revelation does nothing to add to or change the plot or character motivations. 
It’s fun to see how Juliette and Marcus get together, work together and save each other. A subplot includes a romance between coworkers at the spa. Self-examination by faith-based characters will challenge readers to do the same. Told from multiple viewpoints and flashbacks, Beauty to Die For has some slow moments and repetitious re-hashing angst, but otherwise, those who like lighter-side suspense with emotional men and long-lost and found love will find a few enjoyable hours of entertainment.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Forty-Five Minutes Between Words

Long time ago, one of my long-distance writing buddies said it could take him up to forty-five minutes to get a sentence just right. I've seen a picture of him. He doesn't do what I do during those forty-five minutes of word-picking. He's too skinny.
I pace and eat. Eat and pace. Pace to the kitchen for something to eat, and eat my way back to the keyboard. Heaven help me.
snackWhere on God's green earth did I get the idea that words flow magically from a brain drugged on peanuts and pork rinds? Pop the top on a soda and discover the perfect synonym. Bypass the apples for the chocolate pudding, and the next scene will fly from my fingers to the computer's hard drive in record time. Throw in some whipped cream, and the scene will even come out perfect on the first try!
Uh-huh. Yeah, right.
But I have to admit, my writing has improved, although the improvement has nothing to do with stuffing my face. It has to do with actually taking the time during the edit to get a sentence just right. And studying books about writing. And noticing how successful novelists do things. 
Another friend of mine is wondering when the literary light bulb will illuminate her work, when she'll finally get it. Usually, I just try to be encouraging: "It'll come. Don't quit. Keep trying." Now that my light is shining a bit more, I realize I'll have to alter my advice to my friend: "It'll come. Don't quit. Keep trying. Stay out of the kitchen!"
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Inspiration and Creativity

            Creation remains one of human experience’s unsolved mysteries. Does the thing that has not been before come from outside (inspiration, whose root meaning is a “breathing in”)? Or does it come from within the person (creativity, the ability to make new ideas or things)? Or can it be a combination of both? We will reach no ultimate conclusions on this question today, but we can speculate on several examples.

            Among these, some of the most fascinating occur when someone takes a fresh look at something others have observed for years. One afternoon in 1921 in Culver City, California, the silent film producer Hal Roach was gazing out his office window, watching children at play. Many of us have delighted in sights such as that. But to Hal Roach came the stroke of creativity: If children at play entertained him for a full quarter of an hour, why not film them to entertain moviegoers? The result was the popular series of “Our Gang” comedies (also called "The Little Rascals") that amused audiences until about 1944.
            Something similar happened in 1941 to the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral when he and his dog returned from a hunting trip. Burrs had stuck to his clothing and the dog’s hair. This had been happening to people ever since clothing, dogs, and burrs existed, but de Mestral asked what made the burrs stick. He found that burrs had tiny hooks that latched on to any kind of loop. From that discovery he developed the product we now know as Velcro.
            In each of these cases the stimulus came from outside, but the creative act came from inside the observer. These and other instances lead me to believe that some external stimulus is usually required to spark the inner creative impulse.
             Similar things happen to writers, one example being my poem “Married Love.” From graduate school days I had admired Renaissance art, particularly those paintings and schematics that tried to capture all possible meanings of a selected concept within one work of art. And Edmund Spenser had attempted the same kind of structure in The Fairie Queene with extended passages about the House of Pride and the House of Holiness. So I decided to try something similar with the House of Married Love, using images to suggest all the wonders of that love. But the idea would not have been complete without imaging the barrenness of counterfeits of love that lie “outside the house.” Again, the stimulus came from outside, but the creative act to develop something new came from inside.

            Things like that also happen in writing novels. In my thriller The Lazarus File, I had the hero/pilot hijacked to arrange his meeting with the totally dissimilar heroine. The only use I had for the hijacker was to make that happen. He held the hero at gunpoint on the airport ramp in Medellin, demanding that he make a flight to move the heroine out of guerrilla territory. As I wrote the scene the hero naturally asked what would happen if he didn’t make the flight. Then this speech happened, totally unplanned: The hijacker looked sad and said, “"Ah, Señor…Before the Sabbath I must attend confession, and some patient Father must hear the tedious catalog of my sins. Why would you add your murder to that sordid list? You should be more considerate of the priesthood."

            After that chop-logic I knew I had to get more mileage out of the hijacker. The creative act had come unbidden, but planning would be required to capitalize on it. So I had the hijacker tackle straightforward problems with outlandish Rube Goldberg schemes that somehow always worked. I had him speak in clichés that he never got quite right: “You will find the grass is greener when you are not straddling the fence.” And readers liked the character so much that I brought him back in Deadly Additive, with a son who boasted, “I am a sheep off the old black.”
            In the end one doesn’t know where these ideas come from. But it seems to me that something outside provides the stimulus, and the creative impulse and craftsmanship take over from that point.

            What are your ideas on the subject?

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Beyond the Valley by Rita Gerlach

Sarah Carr thought the most difficult trial of her young life was being widowed and pregnant. She could never have anticipated that the worst was yet to come.

Seeking refuge with her deceased husband’s family, she hoped they would take pity on her predicament. Instead, Sarah was greeted with coldness and ruthless betrayal that led to imprisonment on board a ship to the American Colonies—a land rife with Revolution. Would faith in God strengthen her through the pain, the humiliation, and yet more loss? Finding comfort with one man, only to be torn away from his love, Sarah’s trust in God was put to the ultimate test during the bleakest of circumstances.

Beyond the Valley swept me up in this story of the desperate widow who faced one trial after another. The degradation of human bondage, while being sold from one slave owner to the next, was heartbreaking and revolting. Sarah waivers between feeling strong and, at other moments, succumbing to despair. The seeming hopelessness of her situation grips a reader with the depravity of the sinful nature of man that is nurtured in the system of slavery.

Author Rita Gerlach has crafted a masterful piece of historic romance that draws a reader into the saga of Sarah from page one to the final paragraph. It takes a skilled writer to maintain a reader’s hope for love when its flame is threatened by a deluge of disheartenment. In Beyond the Valley, Gerlach has deftly woven a satisfactory tale of romance that survives amidst all obstacles. It is a triumph worth reading.

Beyond the Valley is Book 3 in the Daughters of the Potomac series. The first two novels are Before the Scarlet Dawn and Beside Two Rivers.

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