Friday, March 22, 2019

Made for me

The book was Made for Me by Zack Bush. He sat on the rug in front of their bunk bed. The baby padded over in her monkey-printed footie pajamas and climbed into his lap. The older three, each clad in a different version of mismatched pajamas, squeezed in tight together to see the pictures as Daddy read the bedtime book.

“You were made for me,” he read again and again.

And goodness, weren’t they?

They were made for him. They were made for me.

Look at that guy.

The daddy of my dreams. The daddy of their dreams.

He fights lightsaber battles and reads bedtime books, carries them up and down hiking trails and slices up apples for them. He kisses their heads and he zips up their coats, prays for their invisible owies and reminds them to use their words when they’re upset. He loves to see what they did for homeschool each day, he makes up fun stories, and he whispers in the dark to me about how funny and smart and creative they all are.

He was made for them and they were made for him.

And it was good.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spokane Christian Writers Conference- books edition

I had the most amazing time at the Spokane Christian Writers Conference. I guess I am officially hooked on writing conferences and will hopefully be attending at least one a year from now on!

We started the morning with prayer, great motivational speech from Rob Fischer + keynote speaker David Murrow, and an introduction of all the workshop teachers at the conference. We then had a quick break, workshop 1, break, workshop 2, lunch, workshop 3, break, workshop 4, break, and panel Q&A. I sat with Denise Parker and we immediately connected about some really deep, intense emotional wounds from our pasts. I felt like I’d made a fast friend before the conference had even begun!  

During each workshop time we were able to choose between three available workshops. A couple of speakers held their workshop twice, thank goodness!

My first workshop was Writing for the Glory of God from Gus Bess. This is huge on my heart and I was really excited when I saw this class available as my first one. It got me exactly as pumped and inspired as I had hoped it would! Gus Bess lives his faith and inspired us all to do the same. Also, he has the world’s greatest voice and should for sure be doing voiceovers. He’s a former Marine with an amazing story so I plan to eventually send a copy of his book to my Marine cousin. Gus’s class was so powerful in showing how fiction and nonfiction writing can all be done for the glory of God (and can all point people to God), but also in providing so much hope and joy for life in general.

My second workshop was a fiction-writing workshop with Jan Cline, focused on the oh-so important element of tension in your story. This was so huge for the story I’m currently working on, the second draft of a time slip I’ve been working on since November. I immediately had some great ideas pop into my head for my own story’s tension and I quickly jotted them into the back of my notebook as soon as the class was over. Jan also used a few movie clips to make her points even more apparent for visual learners and I was so impressed!

At this point we ate lunch and I sat with Shoshanna Gabriel, a former erotic romance novelist who quit writing those books when she became a Christian and is now focusing on contemporary Christian romance instead. If this story sounds familiar to you, too, it’s because I totally just shared this exact plot synopsis in my Christy awards post, about the book The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. I of course asked and no, Shoshanna hasn’t read it. We bonded over the struggle to find time to write when you’re homeschooling and parenting young children (she has a special needs nine-year-old and twin toddlers), and how hard it is to choose to write late at night when we’d rather unwind from the day, hang out with our husbands, etc. Another woman sat with us and she offered so much great insight to the conversation, plus I was really interested in the book she was working on! But alas, she didn’t have business cards with her and I had already forgotten her name by the time I finished my lunch and had a chance to write it down. (Lunch, by the way, was a catered taco bar. It was safe for the gluten-free crowd (apparently there were a lot of us) and I made mine as a taco salad so still felt great by the end of the conference!)

After lunch I took David Murrow’s workshop on building your electronic platform. This is something I’ve known for a while is a struggle for me. True confession: I really don’t like social media. I just don’t. I use it to fulfill a marketing obligation but don’t really use it all for personal use, other than when I occasionally get self-conscious and think my family and friends will think I’m a jerk for not using it outside of business! But it’s so important for an author, and especially a self-published author whose works are not sold in a store. Without my online platform, I have no platform. I mean, I have a mom and a grandma… but otherwise no platform. I have done lots of research on the subject and mostly already knew what I needed to do, but also felt extremely a) overwhelmed b) unmotivated c) apprehensive. David’s class gave me quite a bit more information that I hadn’t previously read or considered, but he also made everything seem so easy and achievable! I walked out informed, inspired, and with a workable list that will help me reach completely attainable goals!

I took my final workshop, Brandilyn Collins’ fiction workshop. Oh man, y’all. I loved all four workshops, like I said… but I think the order was especially God-ordained. I was so pumped and inspired in Brandilyn’s class! I really hope to take another class from her in the future. We talked all about human passions and emotions in a story and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I got out of this class! I bought her writing book, Getting into Character, and can’t wait to start it!

We took one last break, where I talked a bit with Carmen Peone about YA writing, and then we enjoyed a panel Q&A discussion before some closing remarks. I was so fired up from the great classes, I actually took the mic and asked three different questions! This was a seriously awesome session and I wished I could have taken all the other writers’ workshops, too! Dave Perry, Josh Johnson, Rob Fischer (who put the conference on), Ray Edwards, Terry Whalin, and JD DeWitt (development director for 5x5 Productions who was there to take pitches for finished books to be turned into movies or mini-series) all spoke in the panel alongside the writers whose workshops I took. There was a lot of really great stuff shared and there were also some book giveaways. I won a huge stack of books so you know this bookworm was pretty happy about that.

A few quick notes:
-I was so happy there was a quick break between each session! I didn’t have to miss anything for a bathroom break, I had a chance to refill my water between sessions, and I loved having a few minutes to process everything I’d just learned before moving on to the next big thing! 

-I brought a backup pen because I am both a writer and a classic Myers-Briggs J. Except that the first pen didn’t work and the second was accidentally stolen by an author who signed one of my books. I was at a writing conference without a pen! The kindest fellow writer, whose name I never caught, lent me hers. When I tried to give it back she told me to keep it since I’d want to take notes in the next sessions. <3 If you are reading this, THANK YOU! I’d still love your name! 

-I found advice online and not only had business cards printed specifically for the conference but also printed cards with my photo on them AND intentionally printed the smallest number of cards possible. Sure enough, three people said they were always excited when a card had a photo on it so they could actually remember who they had talked to… and I walked out of there ready to make some big website changes and therefore business card changes! I’m very glad I didn’t buy a huge box!  

I would absolute recommend the conference! Whether you have already written several books (Shoshanna Gabriel was a New York Times bestseller with maaaaany books under her belt) or just want to write but haven’t been able to get started yet (several people said this was their situation) or are anywhere between, there was just so much available for everyone! I hope to attend again next year, and you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for other Christian writing classes and conferences too!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Literary Links

I've had lots of fun reading/writing things to share for a while so I thought I'd just throw them all into one post today. Enjoy nerd-ing, friends.

I've mentioned before that I love the Christian writing podcast Home Row, but I also recently discovered Writer Mom Life. Episode 12 made me feel so many feelings about motherhood and homeschooling and how desperately I prioritize those, even over writing <3

Children's book lovers, how pretty is the 5x5readingchallenge on Instagram?

Everybody else... how pretty is the Jenn's Rainbow Instagram challenge?!

Also on Instagram, some great writing inspiration: Rise-up Writers

Book-lover workouts... I share this half in jest, half because some of these were great ideas. Also, I have been doing wall-sits basically every other day since high school, minus of course some late pregnancy/postpartum time, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've done these without a book in my hand LOL. I also enjoy marathon reading leg raises once or twice a week. I am definitely adding literary lunges to my leg day repertoire, too. 

5 simple ways to prevent carpal tunnel when writing

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Finding your ministry

My husband and I stayed up way too late the other night, talking about our life dreams and ministry.

If we inherited some crazy fortune, like a billion-dollar industry that was basically running itself, what would we do differently?

The goals he works on at night and on the weekends, he’d just do those full-time. And I would still write. Neither of us has any desire to live a life free of work. We’d just like to do it on our terms. I think that’s fairly common.

So if these goals of ours (writing is of course mine, but I secretly have a dream of doing small speaking engagements through my writing) are such passions that we would do them for free… how can we use them to give back to others?

This is much easier to see with my personal dream. The books I write are Christian books, and they’re books I pray very hard about. 10% of the profits from the Blessed by Birth sales are promised to BEMM (Because Every Mother Matters). Those speaking engagements, which I do believe will someday happen, would be beneficial to everyone involved.

Ryan’s dream is not so simple. He is not looking to write books or produce albums that will point people to Jesus. He isn’t dreaming of heading up a children’s church and he has no desire to act in Christian films. His dreams look a lot like secular hobbies.

And maybe yours do, too.

Do they?

But before I could brainstorm the ways we might make this happen, he brough up Chick Fil A. He’d just listened to a Dave Ramsey interview in which DR pointed out that most people wouldn’t think to themselves, “I’m going to serve the Lord by selling fried chicken,” but that’s exactly what Truett Cathy did when he started Chick Fil A. I worked there for a while in high school and I can attest to that. They do a lot. They’re a ministry.

So it’s interesting to think that nearly anything we do can be a ministry.

One of the doctors who helped when my toddler broke her leg told us, “I’m going to pray for her bones tonight.”
There’s a grocery store clerk in our old town who shared while scanning my groceries one day that he had just signed up to be a mentor in a new program through his church, even though he felt like he was too young to be a good mentor to anyone, and that he learned that psychologists estimate that 100% of bullying could be eradicated if every person had at least one other person out there making them feel heard and valued.
My friend works as a part-time barista and tells every single customer, “Have a great day! God bless!” when she hands them their coffee.
There’s a tree removal company in a nearby town with a Bible verse on the back of their business cards.
My mom is a human resources director who prays every morning with a fellow Christian co-worker for the state of their office.

Then I think about all the stay-at-home moms I know who faithfully make a meal each time one of the moms in the church has a new baby, or who happily take a busy single mama’s kids to school so she can get 15 minutes of peace at home before she heads to work, or who happily make cash donations or sew quilts or set an extra place at the table or fill backpacks for any number of causes (and who set an example for their babies in the process).

So now I’m curious. What would you say is your ministry? And if you don’t really have one, is it maybe because you’ve never considered the possibility that everything you do can be a ministry in some way? 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Recent reads

The Brave Learner… Full disclosure, I speed-red the whole second half of this book at bedtime one night and naptime the next day so I could turn it in at the library before they closed that evening. It was so good, chock-full of great tips, but I just didn’t finish the other book I was reading as quickly as I’d hoped and this one was only available for a week since it’s new and high-demand. I won’t implement everything of course, but I still wrote down quite a few great ideas and I can’t recommend it enough to both my homeschool mom friends AND my friends whose kids are in traditional schools! Still so many great ideas for family fun!

Ladycake Farm… I got this book through the Good and the Beautiful Library, one of the classic books they’ve re-released (their version with updated grammar and spelling) to be read by kids around seventh grade. It’s about an African American family buying 40 acres in the 1900s, and the challenges they face along the way. It’s a sugary-sweet story and you might even say it’s a big cheesy at times but I ultimately liked it.

A Life of Lovely*… I adore Annie F Downs and is the young adult version of a previous book I had already read, Looking for Lovely. She shares a lot of really personal feelings in this one and she shared a really beautiful underlying current of optimism through it all. I just loved that, and I just love her outlook on life. I have definitely set this one aside for my own girls to read as teenagers because it really is just an excellent book.

Nate the Great… I never actually read this one as a kid but when I’ve asked people to tell me their favorite childhood read-alouds, this has come up again and again. I didn’t think it was necessarily anything super special, but it was cute and I’m sure my son will like it when the time comes.

Never Let Go… I talked about this one before but now I’ve finished it. I ultimately liked it pretty well. I do like a good mystery but do not like romance stories very much so I just wasn’t too sure about how that might all pan out. I also had a hunch the entire time that ended up way misguided so that is always a fun thing.

*I received a free copy of A Life of Lovely from B&H Books in exchange for this completely honest review.