Friday, December 28, 2012

Life's Little Miracles

Photo Source

It's been a crazy ride. Here in the United States in the span of a couple weeks, we bore witness to the horrific pain one human being can inflict on a community and a nation, and we turned around and celebrated the biggest holiday for 'giving' on our calendar. Human perseverance is truly miraculous. Miracles have been on my mind, in fact. What constitutes a miracle, exactly, and why are they a mysterious presence in our lives?

I was thirty-three years old before I saw my first woodpecker. (What's that got to do with miracles, you ask? *Laugh* Read on...) We'd just bought our first house, and I was standing on the deck admiring our back yard, a half acre of planet Earth that we could now call our own. I listened to the birds chirping, and somewhere at the back of the property, hidden beneath the dense tangle of leafy vines, a creek gurgled. Suddenly, above the backyard din, a succession of hollow raps popped across the air.

I couldn't place the sound. It came again, to my right. I turned my gaze, searching the tree canopy, and finally spotted a gray, thick-shouldered bird with a scarlet head, clamped to an oak trunk, banging its beak with surprising rhythmic speed. A woodpecker! I watched its strange behavior for a while, and I realized how odd it was that I had witnessed baboons and black mambas in the wild before ever seeing a live woodpecker.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, the day of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut: I was running around the house, trying to prepare for the holidays despite the grief tearing at my heart and getting absolutely nothing accomplished, when a large woodpecker out the back windows stopped me in my tracks. It tapped away at its tree trunk, offering me a great view of the detailed ruffles of black, white-tipped feathers down its back. As I watched, it hopped down and began rooting its beak around in the leaf-strewn lawn. A second woodpecker joined him, his red head bobbing in and out of the foliage. Then I spotted another in a tree. And another, higher up. They seemed to be everywhere. I lost count at eight. Eight woodpeckers, at once!

It was one of Life's little miracles; the kind you feel was delivered deliberately to you.

Miracles happen all around us. We notice the big ones, the earth-shattering good news that change the trajectory of our lives and fill us with wonder. And we search for them during the darkest of catastrophes, when ordinary people show extraordinary kindness and compassion, often at great risk to themselves. But big miracles are few and far between. Little miracles, on the other hand, happen every day.

A little miracle exists amidst what's ordinary and reminds you of the mysteries at work in the universe. It heightens your senses, grips you with gratitude, and stirs your soul. It makes you acutely aware in that moment, as God whispers a message to your heart. And if you aren't paying attention or you're caught up in insignificant distractions, a little miracle can easily unfold before you, going unnoticed.

With such sadness in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, I've decided to get a jump on New Year's resolutions by creating a Miracle Jar. In the year to come, I'll be watchful for Life's little miracles. When I witness one, I'll scribble it down on a scrap of paper and drop it in the Miracle Jar. Whenever I need a boost (or a story idea...), I'll read through them. I've already got a few small miracles in there, along with my woodpeckers:

*Ornament4R* Early morning and I'd just finished my run. The sun broke through the clouds as I walked to cool down. I felt light and airy, and giddy with happiness. Angels whispered. I thanked God for my good health.
*Ornament4G* A stranger held the door for me and looked right into my eyes when she wished me a good day.

*Ornament4V* Late afternoon, I came into the kitchen to stir the sauce just in time to see my fourteen-year-old son lean over my twelve-year-old daughter's shoulder and explain the solution to a math problem she couldn't work out.
*Ornament4B* At bedtime, I turned the hall corner in time to see my daughter hug my son goodnight before disappearing into her room and closing the door.


Every day I peer out the back windows, on the lookout for my flock of woodpeckers. I have yet to spot a single one. Thank goodness I slowed down, pulled my attention away from the unfolding tragedy that day, and noticed them, or I would have missed my little miracle.

In the New Year, I'm going to be present, live in the moment, and remain vigilant so I receive all the little miracles God sends my way. And may your Miracle Jar be full in 2013, too!



Have you witnessed any miracles lately? 

                                   


Monday, December 10, 2012

Best of Vine Leaves Anthology 2012


Today launches an exciting anthology of micro-fiction and poetry, the creative brainchild of authors Jessica Bell and Dawn Ius. The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2012 is a wholly unique project; there isn't another collection out there like it. Here's Vine Leaves's twist: Every selection within, whether prose, poetry or script, is a vignette.

"Vignette" is a word that originally meant "something that may be written on a vine-leaf." It’s a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim does not lie within the realms of traditional structure or plot. The vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting or object. It's descriptive, excellent for character or theme exploration and wordplay. Through a vignette, you create an atmosphere. 

The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2012 is a book of brief offerings that pack powerful punches, perfect for everyone on your holiday gift list. (Available at Amazon.com by the end of this week.) Here's where you can find this gem of a collection today:

To order directly from eMergent Publishing, click here.

Important Vine Leaves Literary Magazine and eMergent Publishing links:


Vine Leaves Literary Journal: http://www.vineleavesliteraryjournal.com/
eMergent Publishing: http://emergent-publishing.com/




                                   


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Na-NOW WHAT-Mo



December is Na-Now What?-Mo

National Novel Writing Month is nearly over. For marathon writers everywhere, the end of November cues a collective sigh of satisfied relief. The rigid, daily ritual of vomiting out 1660-word bucket-fulls of raw, creative genius will slacken, and like coming off any intense schedule, participants will often be left physically exhausted and emotionally drained. It's natural to need a break from writing after such a strenuous stretch. But beware: that little break can easily turn into weeks of full blown writer's neglect, especially around the holidays when seasonal demands take priority over creative pursuits. Don't let a film of dust form on your keyboard! Here are five ideas for warding off the pitfalls of writer's burnout and maintaining a sane dosage of NaNoWriMo momentum:


1. Resist the urge to jump right into NaNo novel revisions. It's too soon, and your burnout will likely intensify. Put the manuscript away; close the file, tuck it neatly into its folder tree, and leave it there. Stephen King says in his book "On Writing," that he puts a new manuscript in his desk drawer for at least three weeks. That way, when he does read it, his 'fresh eyes' easily detect plot holes and character development issues needing attention during revisions. Sage words from a true master of the craft.

2. Write a new story. It doesn't have to be a new novel; in fact, I suggest tackling short or micro fiction. It'll be good to finish a project, bolstering confidence to then go on and finish the NaNo novel. The idea now is to shift gears, head down a new path and see how the perspective changes. Entering a contest is a great way to prompt you while presenting a deadline to keep you creatively on track. Good ones that run every day or month at Writing.com are "Daily Flash Fiction Challenge and "Twisted Tales Contest. (Writing.com membership is FREE.)

3. Try your hand at one of those God-awful end-of-the-year letters people like to send at Christmas time. (Okay, I admit it, I write one every year. Don't judge me! *Laugh*) Instead of recapping all the wonderful accomplishments you and your family members have achieved, which tends to bore even the most loving of readers, try approaching it as an exercise in creative nonfiction, where you share a special memory or an insight gleaned in 2012. Even if you don't end up slipping a copy into every holiday card you send, you may uncover something about yourself you wouldn't have known had you not articulated it in this way.

4. Find yourself too burnt out of creative energy to write? Practice your revision and editing skills by pulling out an old story from your portfolio and revamping it. Not only will this train you for the revision phase of your NaNo novel, but you may uncover that elusive twist of magic that takes the story to the next level.

5. And if you really can't get that NaNo manuscript out of your mind, don't fight it. Try writing short stories or scenes starring your novel's characters. Explore them from outside the timeline of your book. Tell about an incident from their childhoods, or describe their first kiss. You never know what you might learn about them that may come in handy during revisions!


The intensity of writing 50,000 words in a month is exhilarating but exhausting. In the weeks following NaNoWriMo, beat writer's burn-out by writing a little every day. Look for new projects that kindle the fires of creativity. Before you know it, the time will be right to re-read your NaNo manuscript and start revisions. And when that time comes, you'll be ready! 



Question For Next Time: How do you decompress after the intensity of NaNoWriMo? 


[Published by me today in Writing.com's Drama Newsletter.]

                                   


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Show & Tell in a Nutshell

Click to add me to Goodreads!
Have you been told there's a little too much telling in your novel? Want to remedy it? Then this is the book for you!

In Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing you will find sixteen real scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. Dispersed throughout, and at the back of the book, are blank pages to take notes as you read. A few short writing prompts are also provided.

Not only is this pocket guide an excellent learning tool for aspiring writers, but it is a light, convenient, and easy solution to honing your craft no matter how broad your writing experience. Keep it in the side pocket of your school bag, throw it in your purse, or even carry it around in the pocket of your jeans or jacket. Enhance your skills, keep notes, and jot down story ideas anywhere, anytime.

If you purchase the e-book, you will be armed with the convenient hyper-linked Contents Page, where you can toggle backward and forward from different scenes with ease. Use your e-reader's highlighting and note-taking tools to keep notes.

The author, Jessica Bell, also welcomes questions via email concerning the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, at showandtellinanutshell@gmail.com

Reviews:
“Jessica Bell addresses one of the most common yet elusive pieces of writing advice—show, don't tell—in a uniquely user-friendly and effective way: by example. By studying the sixteen scenes she converts from “telling” into “showing,” not only will you clearly understand the difference; you will be inspired by her vivid imagery and dialogue to pour through your drafts and do the same.” ~Jenny Baranick, College English Teacher, Author of Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares
“A practical, no-nonsense resource that will help new and experienced writers alike deal with that dreaded piece of advice: show, don’t tell. I wish Bell’s book had been around when I started writing!” ~Talli Roland, bestselling author

Purchase the paperback:
$4.40 on Amazon US
£3.99 on Amazon UK

Purchase the e-book:
$1.99 on Amazon US
£1.99 on Amazon UK
$1.99 on Kobo

About the Author:
The Australian-native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.

For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit: 
Website
Blog
Twitter
Facebook

                                   


Friday, November 2, 2012

Semicolon: Old-School or Archaic?

I'll admit it; I am fond of the semicolon. Some may accuse me of sounding like an old-school grammarian, but I hold the English language and all the grammatical rules that govern it in high regard. They are the authorial tools that allow me to communicate with accuracy. Thoughts flit through the mind, intangible and abstruse, and capturing their essence is a writer's first challenge. Without proper punctuation, the version of those abstract thoughts that makes it onto paper can be flat, lackluster, and bereft of nuance. When used correctly, the semicolon is vital in establishing balance between two thoughts, defining a relationship, and cuing the reader that attention should be paid to a nuance in the author's message. 

It turns out, not all writers and editors share my enthusiasm for the semicolon. Debate about the relevance of the semicolon in today's contemporary fiction has people passionately divided into two opposing camps. Those who disagree with me believe the semicolon is an archaic mark that looks pretentious and doesn't fit with today's modern writing style. Before I discuss this once highly respected punctuation mark, let's conduct an informal poll to gauge authors' opinions on the following question. (You will be zipped over to the poll page to see results. Please click the 'Back' button below the results on the poll page, to be redirected back here.)

Is the semicolon worth saving?
pollcode.com free polls 

The English language in America is changing; there's no doubt about it. Texting on our phones and posting on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have given rise to a new degenerate language which is abrupt, coded, and transparent. Abbreviations pass for words. Capitalization is reserved for denoting shouting. And punctuation is used almost exclusively to decorate with smiley faces. i luv 2 write. imma b published 1 day. OMG FURR REELZ dat b da truf :))

The effects on our culture are unsettling. We're increasingly conditioned for brevity, and our attention spans are shrinking. Some writers and editors maintain that strong book sales result when they cater to these shifts in cultural perceptions. The market is flooded with books stylized by plots with lightning-speed pacing, which depend on stripped down sentences that are punchy, declarative, and void of the artistic flourish of a by-gone era. The popularity of today's bestsellers seems to confirm the belief that readers don't want stories bogged down by long, lush sentences, and this speculation serves to perpetuate the cycle.

However, it's a misconception that semicolons are no longer needed in today's fiction. It is simply untrue.

According to English language punctuation rules, there are three specific situations that necessitate a semicolon, even if you don't "like" them. In each case, use of any other punctuation mark is incorrect, period.

1. Use a semicolon between closely related main clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction (such as and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet).
         Example: "I never vote for anyone; I always vote against." (W. C. Fields)

2. Use a semicolon between main clauses linked by a conjunctive adverb (such as however and therefore) or a transitional expression (such as in fact or for example).
         Example: "It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." (Voltaire)

3. Use a semicolon between items in a series when the items themselves contain commas or other marks of punctuation.
         Example: The sites being considered for the new Volkswagen plant are Waterloo, Iowa; Savannah, Georgia; Freestone, Virginia; and Rockville, Oregon.

(Source for numbers 1-3 above.  )


The semicolon is also a tool for crafting strong sentences that convey a relationship between thoughts. In a July 19, 2012 New Yorker article called "Semicolons; So Tricky,"   Mary Norris says this about semicolon usage:

"If the sentence "She looked at me; I was lost for words," occurred as dialogue in a piece that I was copy-editing, I would be tempted to poke in a period and make it into two sentences. In general, people -even people in love- do not speak in flights that demand semicolons. But in this instance I have to admit that without the semicolon something would be lost. With a period, the four words sink at the end: SHE LOOKED at me. The semicolon keeps the words above water: because of that semicolon, something about her look is going to be significant."

Semicolon use may be on the decline in the United States, but it is not destined to become obsolete. The poll you took above was borrowed from Richard Nordquist who polled readers of this article.   As of the writing of this newsletter, the results showing the semicolon IS worth saving are as follows:


Total Votes: 922

Yes. I use semicolons in my own writing: 748 / 81%
Yes, though I don't use semicolons: 41 / 4%
No. Though I still use semicolons, they'll soon be obsolete: 47 / 5%
No, I don't use semicolons: 70 / 7%
What's a semicolon? 15 / 1%



Question: Do you use semicolons in your fiction? Why or why not? And, were you surprised by the poll results?




                                   


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!




A little poem for your Halloween enjoyment!





I'm A Vegetarian Vampire
By Nicole Ducleroir

I’m a vegetarian vampire
Cursed with eternal life
Roaming the night in search of food
I can cut with a butter knife

My skin crawls, my stomach churns
at the thought of sinking my teeth
into the flesh of an animal’s neck
and sucking what runs beneath

From sundown to dawn, I dig around
in gardens and grocery trash
Collecting delectable, edible bits
to add to my sarcophagus cache

Beet juice ambrosia down my chin
Strawberry stains on my fingertips
Pomegranate, you rock my world
Cherry Kool-Aid mustached lips

The vegetarian vampire does indeed
indulge in one lament
For I’ve been told how delicious is
tomato sauce with a garlicky accent.


Happy Halloween!


[To purchase t-shirts with the above clip art, visit ShirtSpread.com!] 



                                   


Monday, October 29, 2012

Dance on Fire Sequel Released Today

The wait is over for fans of horror author James Garcia, Jr. Today, the sequel to his popular 2010 debut novel Dance on Fire is released. Heroes and villains we loved and hated -- and loved to hate -- in the first installment of this crossover vampire series have returned to reek more havoc in Kingsburg, CA. Members of this small  community are still  recovering from wounds inflicted when they were caught in the cross-hairs of two warring vampires, Nathaniel and Vincent. It's five years later, and things are about to get bad again. Very bad.

From the book description on Amazon, we learn Dance on Fire: Flash Point opens five years after the death of Steve and Angie Rosen's only child, Tiffany. Imagine the couple's shock and elation when they receive an unexpected guest to their Morro Bay, California home: their daughter. Tiffany explains she lost her memory from the terrible head wound inflicted during the fire that destroyed the family's Kingsburg home. And now she suffers migraine headaches that force her to hide from daylight in order to prevent agonizing pain. 

(You don't believe her story, though, right? No, me either.)

In fact, Tiffany's story is only half true. Tiffany is a vampire and Steve and Angie's daughter in name, only. She sleeps during the day and hunts for human blood during the night, and she has come back to enact a twisted revenge upon those who ruined the plans of her master, who is none other than the first Dance on Fire book's starring villain, notorious vampire, Vincent. And she is not alone. She brings with her four other vampires, all who carry great evil in their black hearts.

Meanwhile, the good vampire, Nathaniel, has pledged his service to the people of Kingsburg, but he is no longer among them. He lives high in the Oregon mountains near the California border, seeking whether God might yet have a place in His kingdom for him. 

When Nathaniel discovers that Tiffany has returned, will he be too late to stop her? And will his desire to protect his friends destroy what God has begun in him?


Dance on Fire: Flash Point is available for download in eBook format. Order your copy HERE.

James Garcia Jr. began writing when he discovered horror novels while in junior high. Later, he set aside his dream of being a writer while he and his wife started their family. Later still, while approaching his fortieth year, he began to feel the haunting desire to see that novel completed. After twenty years, "Dance on Fire" was published in 2010. James is an Administrative Supervisor for Sun-Maid Growers of California. 
Jimmy's social media contacts:


                                   


Friday, October 26, 2012

5 Tips to Create a Writer's Retreat at Home

A typical item on every Writer's Bucket List is "Attend a Writer's Retreat." In a perfect world each one of us would be granted time away from jobs and household responsibilities for a couple days every year, where we'd gather with fellow creative souls in mountaintop chalets, seated in deep-cushioned chairs around roaring fires in stone masonry hearths, and we'd write. Since this idyllic scenario only applies to the fortunate few, the rest of us have to be creative about how we carve out special time for writing inspiration.

"Getting away," says Judy Reeves, author of The Writer's Retreat Kit, "is the wish and dream and fantasy of every writer I have ever known and, I expect, of nearly every writer I will ever meet, except for those rare and blessed souls who are lucky enough, or determined enough, or rich enough, to already be 'away'."  So the real question becomes, how do we "get away" without spending a dime or leaving our homes?

Here are Reeves' tips for creating the writer's retreat experience, right in the comfort of your home.

1. Consider the word 'retreat' as a concept, not a place. So what if you're still home? The place where you write becomes less important as long as you can release your ties with the outside world and enter a place that invites you to connect with the Self.  Let the heart, mind, imagination and body align so that you write with intention; that's the key. Allow fresh inspiration to flow, just as you would do if you were physically attending an out-of-town retreat.

2. Create a safe and nurturing space to write. When I close my eyes and think "retreat," I see sun-dappled Adirondack chairs on a leaf-strewn deck in the woods in fall. You might see a sandy beach in December, or a breezy villa in the Greek Isles. All we really need is a sheltered place where we can let go of our defenses and slip into our solitude. Find the best place for you, whether it's on a blanket under a tree in your backyard, or in a back bedroom with walls you've covered ceiling-to-floor in road maps, or at the dining room table where you've draped white gauzy fabric over the windows and lit a slew of scented candles.

3. Embrace rituals that signal it's time to write. Sometimes tuning out the drone of life's distractions is difficult, if not impossible. But as mentioned above, a retreat is not just a place, it's a state of mind. Developing a ritual that alerts the mind it is time to calm down will benefit the writer ready to "retreat." The best relax-your-mind rituals invoke the senses. Examples to try include lighting incense, sipping herbal tea, playing music, chanting, or taking a shower.

4. Plan your retreat. This seems like a no-brainer. But what strikes the difference between a regular writing session and a retreat is that the retreating writer completely removes herself from ordinary time and the demands of everyday life. Obviously, this takes planning. Ensure you will have time alone; arrange for food to be prepared or delivered; plan to do no housework or laundry chores; turn off the TV; and close the Internet browser. It is possible, through careful planning and intention, for retreats at home to be deep and rewarding experiences.

5. Establish and prepare a theme for your retreat. The whole idea behind a retreat is to reinvigorate your inspiration through writing in a relaxed and creative environment. Reeves shares some truly exciting ideas for retreat themes. Here are a couple to get your gears grinding:

  • Beginnings and Endings -- Begin writing at the front door of your home and move through the space, stopping to write as you go, until you arrive at the back door. 
  • Family Stories -- Drag out a box of mementos or old home movies. Touch objects. Smell the perfume of the past. Watch yourself in black and white, as a young child. Remember and write.
  • Snapshots -- Collect your photos from all over the house and surround yourself with them as you write. Get inside the images; write from the places inside their borders.
  • Write by the Moon -- Sleep outside during a full moon. Take a moon bath. Get slides of the moon and project them onto a blank wall of your retreat space. How 'far out' can your imagination go? 

You don't have to have a wallet full of disposable income to experience the magic of a writer's retreat. With some creativity and intention, anyone can create a writer's retreat in their own home or backyard. Invite a couple writing friends to join your adventure. For more great home retreat ideas, pick up a copy of Judy Reeves book The Writer's Retreat Kit, available HERE. 

Have you ever experienced a Home Writer's Retreat? What was it like?


                                   


Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Shouldn't Be Alive


*Bullet* Two scuba divers surface in open ocean to find the dive boat has left them behind, miles from shore. ~*Bullet*~ On a ski vacation, a father and his eight-year-old son are caught in an alpine storm and find themselves miles off course, somewhere in the Sierra Nevada wilderness.~*Bullet*~ A cinematic photographer and his crew are filming footage of an active volcano when their helicopter crash lands in the crater. ~*Bullet*~A married couple in their late sixties becomes stranded in the mountainous Mexican dessert when their jeep overturns. *Bullet*

The scenarios above share several common denominators: They are all true stories. Each was immortalized as an episode of the reality television series I Shouldn't Be Alive. They each possess elements of an exciting Action/Adventure plot. And -- (writers take note) -- they epitomize the drama of the human experience when victims are faced with their own mortality.

For anyone unfamiliar with I Shouldn't Be Alive, a typical episode takes viewers through that fateful adventure when the spotlighted victim(s) nearly lost their lives. Beginning with the morning of Day 1, actors reenact the victims' movements leading up to a cataclysmic event, during the chaos as all hell breaks loose, and through the long days of survival and despair that follow until finally, mere moments before rasping their final breaths, they are rescued. Intermittent with the action are snippets of testimony by the real-life victims, stoic yet teary-eyed, which hammers home for viewers the realization that harrowing events like these could happen to anyone. Even you.

Now that's drama.

I'm a reality survival show addict. And yes, it's a bit embarrassing to admit it. So, to rationalize my dedicated viewership, let me tell you what I observe in every episode that relates (thank God) to writing.

Every episode contains the following:

*Target* The inciting incident, usually an accident involving a combination of human and mechanical failures, terrorizes the victims and sets off this chain of emotional responses: Blinding Fear (We're gonna die!*Right* Euphoric Relief (We're still alive!*Right* Cautionary Optimism (They're looking for us; we'll just tend to these wounds, sit tight, and wait.) *Right* Utter Dismay (They'll never find us; we're out of water; I think this is infected...*Right* Courageous Resolve (I have a plan...*Right* Abject Despair (I'm out of ideas. My God, this is it. This is really it.*Right* Exhausted Elation (We're saved. Oh God, it's really over.)

*Target* As the events unravel, we observe absolute proof that human beings are resilient creatures. With every step forward the victim takes to reverse his perilous situation, he inevitably falls three steps back. For example, in the episode with the helicopter crash in the volcano crater, the radio was damaged and the photographers realized their only chance of survival was climbing out of the crater. They made it pretty far up the crater wall. (GOOD). The air was less toxic and easier to breath higher up (GOOD). The crater wall was unstable and tiny shards of volcanic glass sliced their hands each time they slid down in the ash (BAD). Unable to continue up or go back down, they became stuck under the crater lip, out of view of rescue choppers (BAD). One guy made it back to the crash site and repaired the radio (GOOD). Alerted rescue chopper couldn't approach due to sudden inclement weather (BAD). And on, and on, and on.

*Target* At one point in every episode, the least injured or fittest victim must make the decision to leave the hurt or weaker person behind and try to find help. This is an excruciating choice to make, never more poignant than in the story of the father and his eight year old son. The dad made sure his boy was tucked into a tiny cave, out of the elements. Still, frostbite had already stiffened the boy's feet, and the wilderness surrounding him was home to hungry wolves and bears. The dad knew it could be days before he returned with help, meaning his young son would be alone, without food, those long days and nights. And there were no guarantees the dad would make it out, at all. Heartbreaking!

*Target* Almost every victim reaches a moment when they are resolved to the futility of their predicament. They will likely die, in a few hours, in a few days. With this acceptance comes the need to express themselves to those they will leave behind, so they write a letter to their loved ones. Last words of endearment, final requests, apologies. Their words are beautiful and emotional. Just thinking about writing a letter like that inspires stories in my mind.

Fiction writers can take plenty of notes on the craft while watching survival shows like I Shouldn't Be Alive. There are a couple other reality series like it, such as I Survived which focuses more on victims of violent crimes than man verses wilderness stories, and When Vacations Attack which is all about life-or-death crises that happen to people while on vacation. Each of these series showcases again and again the resilient human spirit in the most dangerous of circumstances. For me, it's the drama within the action/adventure that makes it so impossible to turn off.


Question For Next Time: What's your television addiction? Tell me how your TV guilty pleasure impacts your ability to write stories.



[By Nicole Ducleroir. Published October 3, 2012 in Writing.com's Drama Newsletter.] 




                                   


Friday, September 28, 2012

Mormon Diaries

It's my pleasure today to promote Sophia Stone's autobiographical essay collection, Mormon Diaries. It is a personal and honest story of one woman's faith crisis, and the journey she took to find answers to her burning, questions on spirituality.

"Brought up in a religious home, Sophia believes the only way to have a forever family is by following church leaders and obediently choosing the right. She goes to the right school, marries the right man in the right place, and does the right thing by staying home to raise her children. But when she starts asking questions about grace, love, and the nature of God, she realizes her spiritual struggles could rip her family apart." -- Sophia Stone

I wanted to ask Sophia some questions about the journey that inspired this book. Her answers were insightful and encouraged me to read more, in Mormon Diaries.

Thanks for joining me today Sophia. I've never been a religious person, even though I was raised in the Catholic Church. People of faith don't easily accept when you question their tenets or beliefs. I always dealt with that by keeping my questions and my disbeliefs quiet, private. Why did you hide your faith struggles from those closest to you?

I was afraid my faithful Mormon family and friends would think me either prideful or influenced by Satan if I admitted to doubting The Church. There’s a common phrase faithful Latter-day Saints use to explain away uncomfortable issues: “The Church is true. The people are not.” Those who leave the church are often labeled as angry, easily offended, prideful, lazy, or deceived. There’s no good reason to doubt, no good reason to question, no good reason to stop believing. Faith yields loyalty and obedience.

How is your family coping with this? Do they support you?

Well, it depends on what part of my family you’re talking about. My kids have been great, but they’re pretty young. I’m continually amazed by the open mindedness and trust of small children. I really think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said that unless we become as little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

My husband, on the other hand, is having a really hard time. We’ve had to do some negotiating about the kid’s religious education. He wants them to believe in Mormonism and is very much attached to the outcome. The thought of his kids choosing to leave the LDS church is absolutely devastating to him. 

There are certain things that (for him) are non-negotiable. The kids WILL get baptized at age eight whether I want that for them or not. The kids will continue to go to the Mormon church each Sunday until they turn twelve. (He’d said eighteen originally, but has since softened). 10% of his income will continue to go to The Church whether or not I agree with that particular donation. We’re a single income family so that’s a pretty big deal, but he’s frightened, truly frightened that if he stops paying a full tithe, he’ll lose his job.

Although, in fairness, he say it has nothing to do with fear. Rather, he has faith in the principle of tithing. God will bless him for his financial sacrifice.

As for the rest of the family, my mother is struggling, the brother just younger than me acts as if he doesn’t know, my older brother has been accepting, and my sister is unpredictable. I’m not even sure how to characterize that relationship at this point. So overall it’s been a mixed bag where tolerance is concerned. As for support—no, I do not have family support. Nor is it something I can reasonably expect.

My husband is also a non-religious person, so I never had to wrestle these tough, faith-based issues with him. It's testament to the strength of your relationship that you're able to work through it with him. My extended family, however, is very Catholic. So, I can relate to the last part of your answer. So basically, I wonder how do you get someone who thinks you’ve been influenced by Satan to consider your point of view? 

Short answer: you don’t. 

Long answer: It’s odd to be on the other end of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric. I always considered myself a fairly good, honest person. And I have to admit that I don’t feel like a different person just because I don’t believe in Mormonism like I used to. Certain things just don’t change, you know? I still like chocolate milk shakes. I still like people. I feel, in many ways, closer to God than I did a year ago. So it’s been kind of shocking to have people who always trusted me assume the worst.
 
Yes, that is the hardest part, for me too. So, how do you build relationships with people who think you are broken?

Oh, man, I wish I knew. Honestly, it depends on how important their Mormonism is to their identity. Those who are capable of accepting my brokenness without trying to fix it are much easier to have relationships with than those who work extra hard to fix me.

Yes! I live in the South, and people here (in general, so not everyone) feels the need to "fix" me so I'm normal again and want to go to their church. But what people on the outside think isn't important. It's what's going on inside your inner circle that counts. So, how has your change in beliefs affected your marriage and children?

I think it has benefited my children in a number of ways. First, by showing them that goodness isn’t based on legalistic rules, they are more accepting of themselves and others. Second, by helping them see that there isn’t one right way to be a decent human being, they are able to think the best of people. Third, by opening up to other ideas and spiritual philosophies, they are more open as well. 

As for my marriage, my change in beliefs has brought to light problems I’d been ignoring for years. Things having to do with power dynamics, issues with inflexibility, and some fundamental disagreements in parenting styles between my husband and I. My marriage has suffered and I worry about it often. But I also know that without the insights I have now, the relationship would continue to grow more unbalanced and necessary change would never occur.

I’m crossing my fingers and holding out hope in the marriage department.

I'm rooting for you guys! I have room for one more question. Tell me, who should read your book?

Anyone who wants to better understand how religions indoctrinate children, how they can unite and separate families, how they can bring peace and turmoil at the same time. Anyone who wants a more personal understanding of how it feels to grow up in a legalistic religion that values trust and obedience more highly than free thought, or anyone who wants to understand Mormonism. 

Please don’t misread that to mean my book is factually perfect. It’s not. It is based on my experience, and everyone’s reality is different. But I stand by my claim that people who leave Mormonism are often in an isolating place. It’s hard for an orthodox believer to understand why anyone would leave. It’s hard for those who’ve never been in a fundamentalist religion to understand why leaving one is such a big deal. To both these groups, I’d say, “please read this!” Understanding is vital.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I wish you the best of luck with Mormon Diaries continued success.





Mormon Diaries is available through these links:



Also, follow Sophia's tweets at Twitter.com --> @ask_a_mormon. Sophia will take any questions about Mormonism and answer them minus the usual spin, under the hashtag #mormonquestions.




                                   


Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's In The Mail

                                                                September 6, 2012

Dear Blogger Friends,

         I used to write letters. I guess we all did, right? As a society, I mean. Back before the computer age brought us lightning fast email and instant messaging, we wrote letters to each other. Remember the excitement of dropping that envelope in the mailbox down on the corner, knowing that in just five to seven days the recipient would slip his or her finger under the glued-down flap and read your words? How about watching for the postman each to day to see if, nestled among the bills and shiny sales circulars, a hand-addressed envelope from a friend waited for you? (Okay, a bunch of you have no idea what I'm talking about. Bear with me and read on, K?)

         You're probably wondering where I'm going with all this. Let me start by saying I recently received a special gift that brought my attention back to the art of letter-writing.

         I was sipping coffee with my cousin, Melanie, at her dining room table, listening to her talk about her visit with our extended family in upstate New York. She described the morning she spent with our ninety-year-old grandmother, beloved family matriarch and lifelong pack rat, who is on the decline and succumbing to ever-longer bouts of dementia. Nona was having a good day, though, and seemed to know who Melanie was as they chatted in her sunlight-flooded nursing home room.

         When Nona had tired, my cousin kissed her good-bye. In the hallway, an aunt offered to drive Melanie down to Nona's house where, she explained, she had found a box of old letters which my cousin may be interested in saving.

         Melanie held up two stacks of yellowed envelopes for me to see. Turned out, some of the letters had been written by her father in the seventies, when he and his young bride were stationed at the Army base in Germany where Melanie was born. My hand went to my heart. These, I knew, were a true treasure. We were all devastated when my uncle passed away, but none more than my cousin. Melanie had barely been a teenager.

         Melanie held the second stack up. Her eyes sparkled as she smiled, pushing it across the table to me. These letters, she explained, all have "Skeldon" written in the return addresses. Skeldon is my maiden name. 

         Two of the letters were written by my father to Nona when he was away at college. One of them even tells his mother about a girl he met named Diane, who he planned to make fall madly in love with him. It worked. Diane is my mother.

         The other letters, all postmarked in 1943, were penned by my paternal grandfather, James Adam Skeldon. 

         This is what I already knew: Nona, a blushing bride, had learned she was pregnant with my father just a month after my grandfather had shipped out with the Navy during World War II. He had come home on leave for three weeks in 1944, when he met his one-year-old son for the first time. James Adam Skeldon, Quartermaster, Third Class, died at sea on January 12, 1945 when his submarine, the USS Swordfish sunk off the coast of Japan.

My grandfather, James A. Skeldon

         With my cousin's gift, I realized I was poised to learn much more about my grandfather, and in his own words, too! I tucked those fragile, yellowed envelopes safely in my bag and left Melanie's house a much richer woman than when I'd arrived that day.

         I become emotional every time I read my grandfather's letters. In each one he addresses Nona as "My Dearest Mary," and he signs off with "As Ever, Jim." He talks about the ups and downs of life at sea, the day-to-day activities with his shipmates, his loneliness, and his frustrations. There is also hope in his words. It's the hope that gets me. A knot forms in my throat every time he writes, "When I get home..."

         When the gamut of emotions have run their course in my heart, I'm able to turn my attention to the art of letter writing, to the beautiful ceremony imbued in each: The date in the upper right hand corner, surely written before anything else; the greeting, a prerequisite formality that's softened by my grandfather's delicate terms of endearment; and the body of the letter, rich with voice, so that I can almost -- almost -- hear him speaking.

This reminded me of something I read in Bird By Bird.

         In that book, author Anne Lamott shares her knowledge on the creative writing craft and how to deal with the blockages writers often face. She devotes a chapter to the concept of using the letter form as a writing tool. She says, "When you don't know what else to do, when you're really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can't just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling part of your history -- part of your character's history -- in the form of a letter. The letter's informality just might free you from the tyranny of perfectionism."

         I say, why not take this exercise one step further, and allow your character to write the letter? Maybe even to you! Because just like my grandfather's voice floats off the paper when I read the letters he wrote, so too will your character's voice come through.

         And listen, I can't be the only person with a pack rat grandmother who's kept every scrap of paper ever written to her. The next time you need some inspiration, seek out those old letters I'll bet are tucked away in a family member's attic. Trust me, they are filled with amazing stories to tell!

   As Ever,