Tag Archives: Why do I write?

Happy Birthday to Joe; Lessons Learned from a Sparrow’s Journey

5 Jul
Sparrow in prison book cover

Still a Good Summer Read!

This week we celebrate a birthday, of sorts, as my baby, “Caged Sparrow” is officially one year old. I suspect that’s about 20 in book years, judging by how much of my energy went into raising it.

Although completing one book hardly qualifies me as an expert in anything, I would like to share a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few years, because I know my dream was just one in a sea of dreams still to be fulfilled in the world.

It’s been two and a half years since I walked away from my “day job,” a job that paid quite well, where I loved my co-workers and needed to invest only three more years to qualify for retirement benefits.

But I couldn’t shake the pull to write full time.

I tried to ignore it, working 8-hour days during the week and spending my nights and weekends juggling responsibilities as wife and mother. Stories and characters filled my head until I thought I might burst. Every once in a while I’d have to steal away to a quiet corner and dash off a few pages of one project or another. Rarely did I finish anything. I did create a collection of short stories, but had no idea how to market them.

My one annual indulgence was to escape every May to attend the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference near Asheville, NC. Although I felt like a phony there, a pretend writer surrounded by real writers, I couldn’t stay away. Something about the creativity flowing through everyone I met wrapped around me like a lasso of possibility and just kept tugging.

This IS where I belong.

I drank in the writing seminars and workshops, basked in the warm writing talk at every meal, and left the conference on fire to keep writing, even though nobody wanted to read my short stories.

“Short stories just don’t sell,” said the experts.

Then “Caged Sparrow” fell into my lap in a most unconventional manner, during small talk in a lounge area at the writers’ conference with two women I’d never met. When I mentioned I liked to write people’s stories, the first, Linda Rondeau, became quite animated.

“I know someone with a story!” She then described this former undercover cop who had been framed and sent to prison among the very people he’d been putting in jail for nearly 20 years. As she finished telling me about Joe Tuttolomondo, the second woman, Diana Flegal, leaned over and said, “If you write it, I’ll take a look at it.”

She’s an agent! Who knew?

The rest is history. I started planning my departure from the typical work force almost immediately. Most of my co-workers expressed incredulous encouragement. I couldn’t blame them for the incredulous part, as I felt the same.

Am I really going to do this?
Why yes, I really am.

Today I’m barely making a living, editing documents and writing short stories to cover the cost of gas and groceries so I can write my own stories on the side. Both family cars will need to be replaced soon, the front porch is falling down, and there’s this barely perceptible drip, drip, drip coming from the pipes above the kitchen ceiling. But I’m not worried. As with everything else over the past two years, somehow, the Lord will ensure those issues are taken care of.

joe

Who could say no to someone filled with this much joy for the Lord?

I may go back to work at some point, but I haven’t regretted leaving for a minute, because Caged Sparrow is an actual book, available in book stores. And because Joe is so gosh darned tickled pink to have his story in print, it makes me giggle inside. And because I am a “real” writer and have been since I was 14. (To anyone who feels the same as I did during my early writers’ conference years, know that you’re a writer because you write, not because you sell.)

 

I will wrap up by telling you some of the advice I heard along my journey:

 

It’s irresponsible to quit your day job for a dream. To that I say, humbug. If it’s really your passion, you’ll find a way to make it work. I’d trade 12 “safe” years for two years of living on the edge while doing what I love. Oh, wait, that’s what I did.

Nobody reads memoirs. Humbug again. These are real stories about real people. Memoirs can inspire, uplift, encourage, and enable others to dream. Perhaps if we could get our young generations to read more memoirs, we’d need fewer animated cartoon heroes. Oh, and did I mention, at this year’s writing conference, it took first place in the 2016 Selah awards for best memoir, and overall director’s choice for best non-fiction book of the year! Not bad for something nobody wants to read.

Self-publishing is risky business. So is crossing the street. Sometimes, however, self-publishing is the only way to go. Although Ms Flegal did take on my book, she met up against a brick wall of “nobody reads memoirs” publishers, so I took it back. I’m glad I did, because Joe’s story needed to be told. Of course, if you’re planning to go this route, ensure your book is professionally edited, make sure you’re linking up with a reputable company, and get yourself a kick-butt cover designer, but then, by all means, go for it.

Without a publisher, you can probably hope to sell about 300 copies. To that I say, 1,300 copies later, wait, what?

If you’re going to autograph your books with a reference, make sure you memorize it. Okay, this I have to agree with. I chose the encouraging, hope-filled verse from Proverbs 16:9, which states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” because it’s the story of my life. However, somewhere around the 30th copy I noticed I was referring people to Proverbs 19:6, which is NOT my life verse at all. In fact, it states, “Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.” No doubt, the recipients of those autographs are still confused. (NOTE: If you’re one of those lucky few, consider yours a special “error copy,” which will no doubt be worth something one day.)

So here I am, about to release my second book, “From the Remnants,” and still clutching my collection of short stories that some expert has told me won’t sell. Considering all the advice I’ve received recently, what do you think I’m going to do with these?

You are correct…which is why I’m now resuming work on “The Perfect Parent, Parables for the New Believer.”  Details coming soon.

——-

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God – Ecclesiastes 2:24

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You

20 May

In order to tell you about this book, I’d like to introduce you to two very important people.

flag_bear_thmbThe first is Cathy Schrader, who makes teddy bears. Not just any teddy bears, but bears that bring comfort to hurting people. Sick children, orphans, victims of abuse, recovering addicts, people who have lost loved ones . . . essentially, her bears are for anyone who needs a hug and a reminder that none of us is expected to make it in this world alone, and that, regardless of how shattered we feel by an event or a series of events, every remnant can be gathered and put back together and can become something lovely.

How does she know this? Because her own life has been shattered. Again and again and again. There are no words to describe the heart-wrenching sorrow of closing the lid on a tiny white coffin, or the anger one can feel toward God when it happens a second time, or the fear of standing before a figurative tidal wave that’s bearing down on your family and you realize the only optional direction is forward.  Just how does a woman move forward when the God in whom she’s supposed to place her trust and faith keeps disappointing? And yet, when this happened to Cathy, she did move forward. And from the shattered remnants came something lovely. It’s been a long journey and, yes, she still feels sadness when she looks back, but her life is filled with joy.

If you asked her how, after all she’s been through, she’s not curled up in a ball afraid to raise her head for fear of intercepting another missile of darkness, she’ll tell you two things.

First, that she didn’t get through it on her own, but instead had to relinquish any thought that she controlled ANY part of her life. If there’s another missile headed her way, she will get through it, with help. Second, in order to learn this lesson, she had to do some mighty odd tasks for the one who did save her from the darkness.

Offer the town drunk a ride on a rainy day.

Use her last dollar to buy something for someone else.

Make teddy bears. From remnants.

That’s right, it wasn’t her idea. In fact, it never would have occurred to her, because she had never sewn a stitch in her life when the topic came up. But those bears became the catalyst for an unusual story of light and hope.

If you want to know more about Cathy’s story, I’m pleased to tell you it’s all contained in a book called “From the Remnants,” which should be hitting the shelves just in time for your summer vacation.

Now, before I forget, let me introduce you to someone else: Brad Harding, a man about whom I know very little. Yet.

I suspect he has a great sense of humor. He must have, because we’ve now worked together for a few months and he hasn’t fled. We haven’t even met face-to-face, so I can’t give you a proper introduction at all. But I can say one thing about him:

Brad is a fantastic artist with an eye for detail and an uncanny ability to read my mind through email. Because of that, I can announce with pride and excitement, the cover for “From the Remnants” is complete and ready for its official unveiling.

Ain’t she a beauty?

front_cover



 

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.” — Joel 2:25

Deadlines & Rocket Surgery: Lessons Learned from a Lil’ Ball O’ Hate

16 Jun

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” — Douglas Adams

So, the big Caged Sparrow debut date came and went, and I’m still staring at a not-quite finished project. I tried so hard to make the promised deadline, but life had other plans. Good plans, mind you…purposeful and fruitful disruptions, but disruptions nonetheless.

I am reminded of something Carrie, my former boss and now great friend, used to say whenever someone would complain that we’d missed an arbitrary deadline because of changing priorities. Usually some self-appointed informant would storm into her office all purple and blustery and announce, “That document! It’s LATE!”

As if we didn’t know.

Carrie would calmly look him in the eyes and ask, “Late for what?”

Best boss ever.

Lil' Ball O' Hate

Tony-the-illustrator’s rendition of Ms Carrie in Mother Hen mode

Carrie has more common sense than anyone I know. She’s a tiny thing, who can tie a belt around an NFL jersey and still look ready for a Vogue cover shoot (not an exaggeration—I’ve seen her do it), yet she packs a lot of spitfire in that little frame, particularly if someone tries to strong-arm one of her Quality and Dissemination chicks. You’ve never seen a more effective mother hen. (Heheh,that’s why we lovingly nicknamed her Lil’ Ball O’ Hate.)

I loved working for Carrie for many reasons; she’s not only wise, but also funny, brilliant, calm in the face of (our) perceived calamity, and she can do some amazing things with chicken and a can of Cheez Whiz. Working with Carrie taught me to focus on the larger picture—what’s really important here? That may be why so many of her words of wisdom are echoing around my brain this week.

Carrie is full of…wisdom. (Missed opportunity, Q&D Gang, I know.) My favorite Carrie-ism, although least relevant to this post is, “It’s not rocket surgery, you know.” Logically, I should have omitted that for the sake of flow here, but I couldn’t NOT share. So there you go.

Carrie also taught me that one of the most important steps in a project is the final “quality control” check. I was so tempted to skip this step in Joe’s book, because I was THAT close to making the deadline, and I’d told so many people it would be ready. I didn’t want the book to be late.

Then I heard, “Late for what?”

…and I realized I’m only shooting for June 15th because I set a June 15th deadline.

Yes, I could actually hit the “go live” button right now if I really wanted to. All the parts are there. Joe has given his final thumbs up; Tony, the illustrator, has patiently tweaked the cover so often the words, “just one more time, I swear” no longer carry meaning (but it’s exactly the right cover now!); and I’ve received excellent feedback from my beta readers, Mary, Becky, and Michele, who noticed a few missing words, some awkward phrasing, and one extremely improbable juxtaposition in the space-time continuum.

Which brings me to another Carrie-ism. Having people find mistakes in my writing doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, particularly mistakes found before final print. I think of the beta readers as angels who, knowing what a klutz I am, walk ahead of me clearing tree branches and stones from path so I don’t fall on my face. At the office, on the rare occasion when a typo did slip through the cracks and make it to print, we could count on some arrogant know-it-all to toss a copy of the manuscript on her desk, offending typo circled thirty times in thick black marker.

“Sure, I see it,” she’d say, and then grin. “But did ya happen to notice the seven thousand words here that we got right?”

So, yes, I could have rushed through the last few steps and uploaded the final version, but as my hand hovered over that button, I thought of Carrie again.

I remembered her more than once staring down a petulant customer, usually someone who thought an editor can zip through a 75-page passive-voice nightmare between the two-hour staff meeting and the mandatory pot luck luncheon and have enough time left over to design a cover for it. After all, editing is just reading, right?

“Look, Bud,” Carrie would say, “you can have it right or you can have it right now, but not both.”

Page One edits

One day when I’m famous, I’ll tell the story of how I rewrote the first page of Caged Sparrow a gazillion times and it will be funny, somehow.

So I’m not going to rush this. I’m going to finish these last changes unhurried, and then get one more proof copy so I can see for myself that the cover looks exactly the same in hand as it does on the screen, and THEN, I’ll hit the button.

New arbitrary deadline: 27 June.

Carrie would be proud of me, I think. If she’s still talking to me, that is…

You see, Carrie is such a great boss, she once left a card on my desk that posed the question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

…at which time I decided to quit my editing job.

So, essentially, this book is pretty much her fault

Best boss ever.

—————————————————-

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. – Psalm 145:15

Story of a Story: Caged Sparrow Announcement

15 May

It’s hard to say when Caged Sparrow became a book.

The Event occurred in Buffalo, NY in the late ’70s, when Joseph Tuttolomondo was convicted and sent to prison for a crime he did not commit.

The idea to write about it began even earlier, when he and his wife started collecting newspaper accounts of his arrest and recording details of his story in case “one day” ever came.

He thought “one day” had arrived many times, but the timing was never right, so he got on with his life. Then he met someone named Linda at a dinner in Florida. Linda, a writer, showed an interest in his story, but biographies were not her genre.

A year later, Linda met me, by chance, some would say, at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, NC. I had been trying to tell people about my writing projects, hoping to find some backing. The conference was nearly over. I’d given up telling people I write contemporary parables and sat moping in a lobby area of the hotel, thinking the entire week had been a bust. It didn’t make sense, considering how many people were praying for me to find my direction. I had a whole team of friends praying, because I’d honestly believed something was going to happen at the conference that would enable me to quit my “day job” and write for a living.

Linda sat down across from me and just started talking. “And what do you write?”

A harmless question. I’d answered it many times that week. I didn’t know her, and I didn’t particularly want to chat, but manners suggested I should at least be polite.

“Personality stories,” I answered. Where did that come from? I’d not written personalities since my Marine Corps days, when I wrote for the base paper. They’d always been my favorite assignments.

“Oh, you do?” She beamed. “I have a story for you!”

Next thing I know, I’m flying to Naples, FL to meet quite possibly the sweetest, most humble man I’ve ever known. He told me his fascinating story and I brought it to Virginia as a box of letters & documents, and about 12 hours of recorded interviews.

I quit my day job.

Since then the project has gone from data to text, to chapters, to completed story. It became a proposal a year ago, and was picked up by a wonderful agent. The agent tried for months to find a publisher for it, to no avail. Undeterred, I decided to publish it myself. After many revisions, this month I uploaded it into a template and received a proof copy of what it will look like. I will make one final revision, after I hear from Mary, a friend and editor who is reviewing it for grammar and flow.

So, is it technically a book? I think so. Although you can’t order it yet, the critical elements are all there: Story…check; ISBN…check; author bio…check; UPC code…check; and, to my absolute joy, an incredible cover…CHECK!!!  Here’s where I give a shout out to Anthony Cash, who can hear pictures and transform them to paper. He listened to Joe’s story and made the most remarkable cover anyone could hope for.

Next week will mark two years since that day in the lobby. I estimate it took about a year longer than necessary because of all I had to learn along the way. Then again, I think the timing is perfect. I hereby announce that Caged Sparrow will be available for purchase June 15, via a link on this website and as many other venues as I can find.

But for now, I’ll give you a sneak peek at the cover…

Sparrow in prison book cover

Coming soon!

A Year of Living Precariously: What is Success?

22 Jan Road in the woods

By Rosemarie Fitzsimmons

What does success look like?
This week marks one year since I traded my 9-to-5 job to start a freelance writing business from home. Naturally, I find myself reflecting and wondering if it was a good decision.

Financially, one could argue it was a disaster. I made one tenth of last year’s income (and much of that came from working 20 days in the old job), and my writing has yet to achieve confetti-strewing victory status. However, I hadn’t expected great riches in the first year.

So what measuring tool should I use? How about the divided paper list of minuses (regrets) and pluses (encouragements).

Do I have regrets? Absolutely. I regret missing out on the office Fantasy Football league this past fall. Every Sunday, every highlight, every game promotion—pretty much every time I saw a football on television, I wondered about the ol’ gang. Like, who had Demaryius Thomas (my money’s on Rob) and who in their right mind would had the good fortune to pick the Eagles defense?  More than that, I miss the Monday morning recaps and Friday trash talking. Big regrets there.

And I regret being away from people I came to love over my 12 years there. I miss the get-togethers, the Styrofoam rocket wars (probably shouldn’t mention those, but it’s not like I would get in trouble) and the electrifying brainstorming sessions, especially those first moments where we’d see a solution forming and ideas would just burst forth, each one building on the last. I hadn’t anticipated how deeply I’d miss my coworkers. I miss the creativity, the humor (the cat rarely laughs at my puns the way Albert did, although the cackle is eerily similar), and the practical jokes…knowing I’m potentially alienating a sizable portion of the PW readers by not giving the entire story here, I feel compelled to tell the gang that I STILL giggle when I think of mailing the Justin Bieber doll to Puerto Rico.

Surprisingly, that’s it.

On the positive side, I’ve been greatly encouraged by the way my family met many financial situations head-on this year and emerged, not only okay, but with far less debt than we’ve had in many years. How is that even possible? Well, to be honest, we did kick a few cans down the road, but every time there was truly a need (broken vehicle, vet bills, oven replacement), the money just seemed to show up. I realize the Bible teaches us that this is just God’s way, but it’s still a concept that surprises me every time I witness it. One day, just as I was starting to panic over our empty fridge, my neighbor came over out of the blue and handed me a check for walking and caring for her dog. I hadn’t asked for payment, nor expected it, and she wouldn’t take it back. It was just enough for a trip to the commissary.

Last year I wrote one book, 15 short stories, and about 30 blog posts—all fulfilling, fun work. The short stories provided enough income that I could keep writing, and now I’m looking at the possibility of having a book announcement for you by the end of next month.

I also met many new people through the freelance work I took on this year. They’ll never replace my gang, but they keep me from talking to myself and I enjoy them immensely.

Best of all, my heart is happy. I’m doing what I love and the peace of mind is incredible—not to mention the short, snow-less, and traffic-free commute. Despite what may look like (and at times feel like) stalling, I know I’m on the verge of something. I’ve learned to be content in the waiting, even though I don’t know what or when it will occur.

As I look at my list, I’d have to say the plus side is the weighted side.

Yesterday I sat at a table with some friends, and we were discussing how you know if you’re on the right track. Becky pointed out that the apostle Paul, who penned many of the letters in the Bible, and who we all know was on the right track, died with no clue that his letters would still be around more than 2,000 years later, changing lives by the millions.

I can wait a bit longer.

Road in the woods

Can’t see where the road leads, but I’m loving the walk.

So, what is success? I still don’t know. But in my annual State of the Rose report, I can say with confidence, I’m at peace, I do believe I’m right where God wants me to be, and I’m ready for another year of this.

Also, if the fantasy league ever decides to open the roster to non-employees, I’m there. I still won’t take the Eagles defense, but I’m there.

Hope among the Embers

31 Dec Ocean

Author’s note: This blog was written in response to yesterday’s writing prompt challenge on A Writer’s Path: Ten Quote Tuesday, in which we were to write about “A human cage, built without a lock.” It’s a great writer’s site–very inspiring.

Hope among the Embers

My shelter sits on the edge of the Sea of Fear. I have all I need here.

I’ve been building this place for nearly 50 years, and I’ve stocked it well.

The floor is warm, lined with newspaper clippings and childhood essays with large, red A-plus marks scrawled across the top. The yellowed by-lines on some of the articles whisper my maiden name. I re-read the stories now and cringe at my poor grammar and worldly naiveté. Still, I keep them because of the accolades from teachers and publishers; their sparks ignited a fire that still burns in the shelter’s camp stove.

The shelter beams were fashioned over many years through friendships and mentorships. I run my fingers along the loving, encouraging messages engraved throughout in scrawling gnarled script. “I love your writing.” “Don’t ever give up.” “If you ever write a book, I’ll certainly read it.” Each beam is treasured. Some can never be replaced.

I’ve fortified the walls with tools of the trade. I’ve joined writers’ groups, taken tutorials, purchased How-To books, attended online seminars, and traveled to conferences. I’ve taken more notes and saved more useful files than I’ll ever be able to read, even if I knew where they’re stored on this blasted computer. Still, it gives me peace to know they’re there—if I ever need them.

Photographs pasted on the walls chronicle 40 years of growth and maturity, depicting victories over mind and body. Swimming across the Sakonnet River. Gaffing trees. Rappelling. The first time I fired Expert at the shooting range. Periods of extreme grief. The love of a good man. Raising two boys. Unspeakable joy. Jobs of increasing significance. Walking away from the last job to write. Writing a book. Rewriting the book. Rewriting the book.

Firelight from the camp stove illuminates the open front door and the sea beyond. I sit with my belongings and watch the water’s ripples kiss the shore. Hemmingway, Poe, Harper Lee, Erma Bombeck, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Orson Scott Card, Maya Angelou, Nicholas Sparks. My tables, my chairs, my blankets, my friends. Nestled here, I’m safe and I’m happy, but I’m not content.

There’s something out there, across the water, and it is good. My raft bobs at the pier, like hope ready to burst. It’s big enough to carry me and my shelter, and everything in it. But the sea is so vast. I don’t know what creatures lurk in its depths, or whether a storm sits on the horizon, preparing even now to churn the waters into a frenzy. If that happened, I’d lose everything. I look across the sea, and wonder…

Enough for today. I reach up and pull the shelter door closed, then snuggle against the cold with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Drowsily, I listen to him whisper from across the years:

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.” 

The fire in the camp stove has been refueled. Tomorrow, I will try again.

Ocean

Or perhaps it’s a sea of endless possibility…?

Writing Tips about Readers: One is Enough to Get You Started

19 Sep
Stephen King's On Writing

Good place to start a writing journey

Today’s blog is inspired by Stephen King, and an unknown reader.

I’ve just finished reading a book that I recommend to anyone who writes or wants to, whether for a living or just for the simple pleasure of putting words on the page.

It’s Stephen King’s On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft.

Author’s Note: Let me make it clear here, I tend to avoid Stephen King books because I have an imagination that cannot relinquish images once they flash before my mind’s eye. (The Green Mile’s John Coffey is as real to me as any person I’ve ever met; he scares me, and he’s one of the good guys.)  However, I appreciate good writing and admire King’s work because he can create those vivid images, and in a way that seems effortless. In fact, if he weren’t such a phenomenal writer, I wouldn’t have to avoid his work—how’s that for a back-handed compliment?

But this book is different. It’s a beautiful depiction of writing as a passion that, once it grabs you, simply must be acknowledged and satisfied. King’s memoir weaves stories of his personal journey with bits of advice and encouragement to writers and examples of beautiful prose in a way that would have inspired me to quit my day job if I hadn’t already. He makes me appreciate anew the joy of writing for writing’s sake.

And as a bonus, from the pages of King’s beautifully written narrative, I’ve picked up two valuable bits of advice that I’m incorporating into my life right away.

The first is that to write, one must read. If Stephen King says so, it must be so.

All I can say is, YAY!

(If there were a way to make that look happier without one of those flashy neon “marching ants” borders, I’d do it; it’s just that cool. But for now, “Yay!” will have to suffice).

So, in the Portrait Writer’s world, reading is now a sanctioned, necessary part of the job. That’s like sending a kid to a candy shop for time out. To all of you back at the office who are still suffering through those annual training classes on filling out travel claims and understanding the importance of submitting form 3C with your timecard request to adjust for an unanticipated increase in traffic volume on I95, I can only say…

“Boo-ya! I’m studying Barbara Kingsolver!”

Of course, I will share my reading adventures and recommendations along the way, so you can skip right to the good stuff on your own reading list. (Life’s too short to waste time reading bad books.)

The second concept I’m adopting is to write to an ideal audience, and this epiphany couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve learned over the past few weeks that not everyone likes everything I write (gasp!) and, if I took to heart all the advice I’ve received lately, my next blog would be a politically correct, non-offending piece of drivel. I’m grateful for every person who reads my blog, and I appreciate your feedback, particularly because it helps me see some things from different perspectives, but it won’t change my writing. In fact, I suspect that when I hit a nerve, it’s not the words that cause you to wince.

King suggests writers choose one person that they respect and know well, and write only to that person. And so I have identified my ideal reader as a young man we’ll call Fred. He’s well educated and knows who God is, but has never really read God’s love letter to mankind. He’s angry at this entity we call God and, as a matter of fact, is gathering evidence to support his claim that if God does exist, He can’t possibly care for us very much. I cannot convince Fred otherwise, but I can show him over time why I believe differently.

And by the way, Fred thinks I’m hilarious. That’s why every once in a while I have to write something silly, just to make him laugh.

Fred, I promise you that if you keep reading, I will keep writing. I wish I could promise more, but the rest is not up to me. I’m a Proverbs 16:9 girl; I’m not sure where this train is heading, but I’m glad to be along for the ride.

 

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Pr 16:9

 

Love Tosses Caged Sparrow Over Another Hurdle

27 Aug

I honestly believe it will never be this special again.

First, some great news…We have an agent! Her name is Diana; she read my proposal for Joe’s story and asked for the manuscript Friday. Over the weekend I went through it one last time and pronounced it finished Sunday night. I sent a hard copy to Joe and electrons to Diana; she is now working on finding the right publisher. I couldn’t say for sure whether Joe or I was more excited, but as I listened to Joe’s elation over the phone Friday, I was tickled to pieces to have witnessed it. (I do believe he did a little jig.)

Completed manuscript

One step closer to the book rack!

It was a sobering moment, Sunday night when I hit the “send” button, and with one click, transmitted more than a year’s worth of work and dreams off to an unknown world in cyberspace. I sat there staring at the “message sent” notice for a long time, contemplating the true scope of this journey, which actually began in the early 70s, sitting with my Nana in her giant four-poster bed, listening to her read from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I became so inspired by Laura’s storytelling gift that I knew, just knew, it was what I wanted to do for my life. I started writing with abandon, and when my English teacher, Mr. DeRobbio, said I had a gift, I positively soared. I was going to be a writer!

But I didn’t do it. Not really. I stifled the call to write, with a military career (during which I wrote as a journalist, but not for myself–yet even there I received encouragement from people I admired and still try to emulate, like Pat Gibbons, Tom Bartlett, and Ken Smith-Christmas…), and I put it aside for two wonderful children and years of busyness. All the while, I knew God was nudging me…“So, when are you going to start?”

Then He put friends in my life to nurture and encourage, each one sending me a little closer to the ledge—Susannah Johnson’s “The Artist’s Way” class pushed me to Sarah’s writing group, where she, Martha, Meredith, and Anne dared me to dream about “what if?”

One domino toppled the next. I found myself at a writers’ conference that fanned the spark into flame, and met inspiring people like Beth Pensinger and Erin Elizabeth Austin. Over the next year I was a fly on the FB wall, watching their struggles as Beth wrote and published a sweet read called, “Let Me Fall: The Love Story Between God and His Dimwitted Daughter,” and Erin inspired thousands by sharing her battles and victories over darkness and founded Broken but Priceless Ministries. I’ll never be able to express to these women how integral they’ve been in my journey, and yet we barely spoke to each other.

But I STILL didn’t listen, so God forced my hand. He sent Linda Rondeau, a fellow writer and perfect stranger. She just appeared outta’ nowhere, armed with a story about a man who went to prison for a crime he did not commit and looking for someone who might want to write it. Another domino. This led to Joe and his awesome story.

Desire, ability, a story that absolutely HAD to be told–I had no more excuses. I even had my husband’s wide-eyed, “I’m-a-bit-nervous-but-I-know-this-is-important-to-you” blessing, and two sons who were glad to see me doing what I loved. And then sweet, sweet Phanalphie, of RhueStill Inc., who didn’t even know me yet but read my writing and offered me a net to jump into, and she probably would have flown out here from Oklahoma and pushed me off if I’d asked her to.

And again, I didn’t leap off the cliff. I more or less attempted to inch my way over the rim, scraping my knees as I fumbled blindly for toeholds, and I found myself only a couple of feet down, clinging to a ledge by my fingernails, half in and half out of two vastly different worlds. It took more nudging, by many more friends. Carrie and Kevin, my best friends and confidantes from work, helped pry my fingers off the ledge by assuring me that “the gang” would be fine, and although they’d miss me, I had to leave or risk going through life not knowing. Since I left, both of them have sent me inspiring notes when I really needed them, and many others from work continue to check in. Chuck and Rebecca check in almost daily, and let me whine on their e-shoulders when things don’t quite work out the way I want them to.

I also received tremendous support from my prayer partners, Kathy, Dino, Linda, Chris, and Michele, from my neighbor Julie, and friends and family from all over like George, Heidi, Jo, and Willa.

And a book was born.

While I was writing this I thought, you probably wouldn’t want to read a bunch of names of people you don’t know, but then I realized, this isn’t about the names. You do know these people. They’re in your lives as well. You just call them something different.

The bottom line is, if there’s ANYTHING you want to do, you can do it, but not on your own. Dare to dream. Then surround yourself with positive, prayerful people, and listen to God’s nudging; remember that He put this desire in your heart in the first place.

I will write more books. Joe’s story is powerful, but it probably won’t make either of us famous. I will write better books, and more than likely a few flops. I may even receive recognition for some, although that is not my measurement of success.

But it will never be like this. This is special. This is the end of the beginning. And you helped.

Thank you.

Leaping into the Light

12 Jan

I believe this earth is just one big battlefield for good and evil.

I believe that every one of us, whether we want to be or not, is part of the battle, and that during our short time on this earth we each do three very important things:

  • Chose a side
  • Find our role in the war
  • Help equip others to do the same

All roles in warfare are vital. We need soldiers on the front lines to shield us from the fire, factory workers to produce equipment, scientists to develop tactics and technology, doctors and nurses to keep us in fighting shape, listeners to keep us sane, and teachers; oh boy, do we need good teachers to prepare our children for the fight ahead and teach them to seek truth.

For the past 12 years, I’ve been an editor with an Intelligence organization. I serve with a fine group of warriors who stand at the edge of darkness, peering into the vast unknown for signs of the enemy. After they’ve sifted through evidence, trends, and potential implications, I help them articulate their findings effectively. It’s a good job. I’ve learned a lot about the world, made many friends, and enjoyed a steady paycheck. If I stick with it three more years, I’ll qualify for some good benefits for my retirement years.

Two years ago, I participated in a leadership training course that included an exercise designed to help us identify our strengths and passions and figure out what to do with them. After culling through a lengthy list of phrases beginning with the words, “I most like to ____,” we each created lists of 40 possibilities, then culled that to 20, then 10, then 4, then circled the one that we thought best captured who we are. We posted our discoveries on the walls around us, and I read with awe the passions of my coworkers:

  • “I most like leading a team.”
  • “I most like solving difficult problems.”
  • “I most like to collaborate on tough assignments.”

These were some focused individuals; I could see the Intelligence field was a perfect fit for them.

I, on the other hand, culled my list down to, “I most like to create art and beauty.” Hardly a warrior’s creedo.

Over the past two years since that course, I’ve been mulling my discovery; there’s no place on the battlefield for art and beauty, I thought. But lately, I’m not so sure. Perhaps that’s exactly what the world needs more of. Still, I cannot shake the notion that, although I am good at what I do in the Intelligence arena, I don’t belong there. My battle is elsewhere.

Where there is light, there can be no darkness

Where there is light, there can be no darkness

My role, I think, is to fight evil with light; to help those who may know which side to fight for, but have yet to make a formal pledge. I think I’m also supposed to encourage those who are fighting in the darkest corners and who think evil might be gaining the advantage. We can’t lose, of course, because the battle has already been won, but sometimes it can feel like we’re losing.Where there is light, there is hope. When I pick up a pen, light emerges through art and beauty.

That is why I made my decision; I’ve given notice at my work that as of January 24, I will no longer be an editor serving the U.S. government. On that day I will become an ordinary writer, serving in the Army of God. The pay will be horrible, particularly at the start, but I know the Lord will provide for our needs.

My first order of business, of course, will be to finish writing Joe’s story. He’s been more than a little patient with me since last summer, and I hope he will find the story worth the wait.

After that? Who knows? The Portrait Writer will be open for business; after that, anything can happen.

“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
  1 John 1:5

Fire and Water: Wrestling with Doubt #739

30 Oct

The fire crackled with life as it swept its way across a stack of manuscripts, greedily consuming page after page. Through tears I watched the pristine white papers transform into thin, black feathery curls that peeled off, danced momentarily with the updraft and then drifted resignedly down into the ashes.

Fire consumes a life's work

Death of a Dream

I thought I might be able to rescue a scrap or two by pushing some of the charred lumps to the side of the fireplace, but my mother must have read my mind. She grabbed the metal poker and stabbed at the carbon-coated mass to separate the blackened pages; she was determined to destroy every remnant. I could smell the words in the stench of burnt ink that wafted around me. I was 14, and newly enamored with the life and writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was my first experience with death.

“Writing is a waste of time,” she spat, her breath so laden with alcohol I worried the fire might flare if she got too close. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was matted against her head with the sweat from days of neglect. She pointed the poker at my chest and slurred, “Don’t you dare tell me you want to be a writer.  It’s a pointless dream that will amount to nothing, and 40 years from now you’ll be a sorry loser, wishing you’d never started.”

She flung the poker wildly, just missing my head, and staggered from the room. I stayed there for hours, sobbing and staring at the black pit long after the fire died, trying to come to grips with the idea that every word, every sentence, and every page of every story my mother had ever written, was gone forever.

Today, nearly 40 years later, I am profoundly aware of the significance that moment has had in my journey. Somewhere in my heart, I believed her. I’ve spent the past 40 years skipping along the edge of the sea, yearning. Occasionally I’ve ventured ankle-deep, savoring the warmth and trying to imagine what’s “out there.” But I’ve never leapt with abandon. People ask me what I’m afraid of, and I remember the charred remains of dreams and the scent of unread words. It is my image of hopelessness.

That was the image in my heart this morning after I missed yet another self-imposed writing goal. I could hear my mother mocking me, reminding me that I have no business dreaming when there’s work to be done. Another failure. Who am I fooling?

But I cannot quell that constant, gentle song of unwritten words that calls to me above the din of the world’s demands. As is my habit, rather than follow the call, I tend to lash myself to the Siren of perceived obligation that is my “real job.” How did things get so backward?

Then this morning I read a familiar verse in the book of Jeremiah (29:11), and it spoke to me anew:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I’m reminded that I can start again and again, as often as I wish to, because I have hope and a future. There’s a whole big ocean of possibility out there and I’ve not even dared to snorkel across the top. The only thing stopping me is me. I can choose whether to listen to voices past or the voice of the future. It’s not a waste of time. It’s His plan.

And He says, “C’mon in, the water is fine!”

 —–

“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it” Bill Cosby