Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Birthday Reflections

Understandably (for some), I started struggling with my birthdays as they rolled around each year ever since I hit 27. I was frying chicken on my 27th birthday, and I remember the sobs wracking my body as I forked the cutlets into a pattern and flipped them in the hot grease. My poor husband, who couldn't understand what was happening, but was perhaps afraid that I would soak his super-yummy-smelling supper, tried his best to figure out what was wrong. Between gasping, choking gulps of air, I managed to wail, "I'll be thirty in three yeeeeeeaars!"

Obviously, I survived the debacle, and as any 34-year-old would do on their birthday, I decided to make a list of 34 things that I feel have shaped me into the 34-year-old that I am. Because that's what 34-year-old's do, right? ;)

1.) I once put orange juice on the All-Bran my mother forced me to eat when I was young. Not only did it instill an even deeper hatred of the cereal into my sensitive soul, it also solidified my empathy with my own children, who decidedly do not. like. All-Bran. We are a Cheerio family. :)

2.) If one of my fingernails tears, I get shivery-shivers up and down my spine. I've recently noticed that it's not just a personal thing. If I see a torn fingernail on someone else, I get the same shivers. If I don't have a pair of fingernail clippers to offer them, I drive myself batty with irresistible impulses to run to the nearest store and buy a pair to deliver to them. Which is ridiculous. But never-the-less a part of who I am.

3.) I like peanut butter and mayonnaise. Together. In a sandwich. Or on a banana. Whichever.

4.) Busch Gardens has become a second home to me since I've married my husband. Family tradition on his side dictated that we visit there at least two or three times a summer. I've discovered that I kind of like knowing how to get from Point A to Point B without a map.

5.) Along the same vein, I love kiddie-coasters. They're more my speed.

6.) Some people struggle with their in-laws. I am one of the blessed individuals that is probably just about as close to my in-laws as I am to my own parents. I love this.

7.) Reading is my own personal paradise. A book, to me, represents a journey, a vacation, an adventure, a happy dream.

8.) Which is probably why I love to write, because those dreams don't want to live only in my head. They want to crawl out and give life to other people's dreams as well.

9.) I grew up watching my daddy put aside other priorities to make time for his wife and children, so in turn, I married a guy that spends time every evening when he comes home playing hide-and-seek, or coloring, or Candy Land or baseball or soccer with the kids.

10.) Consequently, the shrieks of "Daddy's home!" that ring with joy and gladness through the house when his truck comes up the driveway is perhaps my favorite time of day.

11.) There should be an intravenous method of injecting chocolate straight to the blood stream. Although that would take away the taste, which is, of course, the best part. So never mind.

12.) I find it inexpressibly sad that Jane Austen never knew what an iconic hero she created when she wrote about Mr. Darcy. Or perhaps she knew, because she created his character, but she had no way of knowing that he lives on in the thoughts of people in the 21st century, and probably will continue to for years to come.

13.) I didn't read Harry Potter until I was twenty-three years old.

14.) I have a secret wish that I had received my owl-post when I was ten years old that invited me to live out my education at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, I'm just a Muggle. Sigh.

15.) I admire people who listen quietly. And then they produce this jewel of thought at some point in the conversation. It's clear and lucid and beautiful, and it's obvious that they've been shaping it and forming it for awhile before they produce it for inspection.

16.) Me, I just vomit words in a never-ending stream, and then wish I could erase half of what I said.

17.) The longer I walk this path called life, the more I realize how little I matter in the grand scheme of things, and the more I am in awe of how much God matters. The diminishing of my own importance is actually a good thing, I think.

18.) When I was in first grade, I had an imaginary giant pet dog that I named Blackie, and he was my friend. He brought me enormous comfort, because as a shy child, I didn't hang out with many other actual humans.

19.) I graduated to imaginary pet horses by third grade, and I named them Tornado, Cyclone, Sun Raider, and Firestorm. They ran in front of our car whenever we went anywhere, and I practiced "driving" them with imaginary reins. It was loads of fun.

20.) Once in first grade, I signed "Nobody" at the top of a paper that I was supposed to hand in. For kicks, I guess. I remember terrible embarrassment and agony when the teacher held it up at the front of the class and asked, sternly, who had done this. No one confessed - that would have been horrific - and I didn't realize that she would have found out by process of elimination anyway. She never scolded me for it; maybe she sensed my shrinking soul.

21.) Out of all the literary characters out there, the one with whom I identify the most is Anne Shirley. And Tim is my Gilbert.

22.) I gain no end of satisfaction from the fact that I was close friends with Tim before we ever started dating. He's a man of few words, so I think if we had started dating without the solid friendship there first, I would have tried and failed to fill long periods of stilted silence. As it was, those silent stretches were comfortable and easy, like pulling on a favorite shoe, each curve of the sole fitted exactly to the heel and toes, and no rubbing and consequent blistering.

23.) When I was a child lying in the darkness of my room at bedtime, I used to pray with intense fervor, "Please, don't let me see an angel," as I stared at the black walls. I'm thinking I thought it would be like seeing a ghost. Maybe it would have, I don't know. One never appeared. 

24.) I've always had a sensitive spirit. So much so, that I remember going into my mother's bedroom one time after I was supposed to be in bed and telling her, "Mommy, I feel guilty." She put her book down and asked, "About what?" I shrugged. "I don't know. I just feel guilty."

25.) Summer camp should be a significant part of every child's experience.

26.) The fruit of the Spirit that I have the most trouble exhibiting is self-control. Particularly when there is chocolate in the room.

27.) I look significantly different than I think I look when I run or dance.

28.) I'm pretty sure I was born in the wrong time period. Victorian era is much more my cup of tea. And then just when I am in danger of grave era-envy, I remember things like out-houses, and no air-conditioning, and layers and layers of underclothes and petticoats in the hot summers. And chaperones to go anywhere. It helps vastly with being content in the 21st century.

29.) Tim and I make adorable babies.

30.) Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." Since I was a kid, I've wanted three things more than anything else. I wanted a husband. I wanted children. And I wanted to write. Today, I am married to my best friend. I have three adorable children who make my life crazy and beautiful at the same time, and I have the ability to stay home and write my imaginings onto paper (or a hard drive, as the case may be). I am feeling mighty blessed.

31.) I am surrounded by quirky friends. This makes me feel better about my own quirkiness.

32.) There is an in-between-ness about my piano skills. I passed the Mary-Had-A-Little-Lamb stage years ago. But I never quite got to Mozart level. That is, I play Mozart's works with bumbling non-precision. I'm sure he would hang his head in despair if he could hear me.

33.) Friday is my 9 1/2 year anniversary of marriage to my husband. We've had our ups, downs, and inside-outs, but we've never lost sight of each other through it all. Neither have we lost sight of the One who brought us together. When I was a kid, I did loads of planning how my white dress was going to look and how I was going to do my hair on my wedding day. I didn't think a lot of what would happen after that. So I can't say that it's like I expected, because it's not. It's a whole lot deeper.

34.) Thirty-four is a whole lot more than I thought when I started this post. Took me awhile to wrack my brains for some of these. To close, here's a quote I put on my "About Me" section to the side of this blog, but it resonates deeply with me. "I may not be the best at what I do. But what I do, I do the best that I can."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cinderella in the Streets

I don't know about you, but when I was a teenage girl growing up, I loved to go back to my mom's bookshelf in my parents' room and pull out a Grace Livingston Hill book. Anyone familiar with Grace Hill? Let me sum up. 

Grace Hill wrote the same book with about a hundred different book covers. Exhibit A. Perfect girl. Exhibit B. Perfect boy. Exhibit C. Evil girl. Exhibit D. Evil boy. Plot line. The good girl ends up with the good boy, and the evil girl and the evil boy end up broken somewhere.

So. I loved those books, I truly did. I read Crimson Roses, The Christmas Bride, Brentwood and Cloudy Jewel at least fifty times. Each.

But as I grew older, and my taste in fiction developed, I began to nurture a hunger for characters with whom I could identify. This girl who struggled not with the vileness of sinful nature in these books? She was a stranger to me. One-dimensional. Flat, dull, tasteless.

Enter Francine Rivers into my literary world. Ah, the power of books like Redeeming Love and The Atonement Child. I began to find characters that, like me, struggled with sin, hate, loss of self-control, other abominations that God finds displeasing. 

The redeeming quality in all of her characters? Grace. Specifically, God's grace. Just like in my own life.

I met Mary Ball on Goodreads, and per further discussion, agreed to a blog switch with her. Below is her blog she sent me. I was impressed with her commitment to creating realistic characters in her inspirational fiction. I believe she will touch many lives through her fiction because she creates characters to whom each of us can relate. 

Enjoy her post. Happy reading! :)
Tamara Shoemaker
One Author's View on Christian Fiction

I love to read Inspirational/Christian fiction (most of the time). I want to read a Christian novel that highlights the characters as real people who kiss, have doubts and often befall temptation. After all, none of us is immune to troubles.

I don't enjoy namby-pamby novels. If the characters are too good or holy, I can't relate to the novel. I think Christian fiction should show flaws, while bringing the characters to the understanding that the Lord is their guide and can see them through.

Inspirational novels needs to encourage ways a person can survive in the everyday world, not in a fairytale land, with soft green meadows, of "I never have a problem" plots.

I need stories to proclaim a faith, which flows from the spirit and a hope for a better tomorrow. These personalities need to have things happen, same as everyone. The only difference should be the way the characters cope with life and temptations in the real world.

The focus of a Christian novel should be to show how people could become stronger; seeking out a better life with the Lord's redeeming mercies.

I scribe stories with characters that deal with unpleasant things, but somehow find a way to forge ahead, while developing a relationship with God.

Each of us handles situations differently. The way we react to things certainly depends on our outlook of life, but if I can use my writing to open up a new way of thinking or to strengthen someone's faith, then I've done my part.

I create Christian fiction to show ways of escaping the bad things that happen, regardless of the effects it can have on us.

If you're a Christian writer, then I believe that no matter where you are in the author pool, whether you're with a major publishing house or small company, you probably started out with a desire to share the Lord's grace. After all, showing the world a gentler life is important.

I remember a book signing I attended; a man approached my table and asked about my novels. I replied, "I write inspirational fiction. My characters go through everything we do, but if they didn't know the Lord, then they would find him by the last chapter."

He laughed and said, "I didn't think God was lost."

I smiled, and then answered, "No, He's not, but a lot of folks think He is. It's like misplacing your keys, and then you find them later. They were on the table the whole time you were searching. You just didn't see them."

That's where Jesus is, right at the end of our fingertips if we reach for Him.


Mary L. Ball is a member of ACFW. Her fiction novels, whether suspense, mystery or Christian fiction will always come entwined with a bit of romance.

She has two published novels by Prism Book Group, Escape to Big Fork Lake and Stone of Destiny. She recently submitted her third fiction novel, which she dubs Redemption in Big Fork Lake. This novel will take the readers back to Big Fork Lake for a visit.

Connect with Mary: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inspirational-author-Mary-L-Ball/
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Mary-L-Ball/e/B007O97Y0E/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Her novels are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online stores.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Fourth Wall

So I know what the fourth wall is. I know the "wall" between an actor and his audience, and I know the mortification of a director if one of his actors shatters that wall (unless, of course, it's called for in the script).

In the world of writing, I wouldn't have thought we'd have a fourth wall. After all, we don't act and perform and strut our stuff in front of an audience three, four, five nights a week. We don't prop one foot on a fake "hill" of green foam and pensively enunciate to the gathered masses: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more."

Or do we? Do we not write and write and write our aspirations and plot points and daydreams into printed words and weave them into a grandiose work, then fling that work out upon the pages of society? We do our best, then cower in relative obscurity as we ponder what the world thinks of us.

Once upon a time, it used to be that a novelist would write a book, but the only feedback they would receive would be from their publisher. Then after a bunch of years, novelists were more aware of feedback, but the only method of contacting them and communicating your pleasure or displeasure in their work was through their publisher.

Enter Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And Instagram. And Google+. And a million other social media groups, chats, forums, websites, etc. Suddenly, that fourth wall is broken, and people can communicate directly with the authors.

Today, on my Facebook newsfeed, I read an article about Indie book publishers, and how they can better market their books. The first comment on the article was from one Stephen King. I clicked on it, and it took me to his professional page; it was the real Stephen King.

Aside from being a little star-struck (since I am of the opinion that Stephen King is one of the better writers ever to grace this earth, even though I'm not necessarily a fan of his most common genre), I was amazed. With the touch of a button, Stephen King suddenly became "accessible" to the hundreds of people who would have accessed that article in their newsfeed.

Suddenly, he became a real person instead of a name on a magazine cover or the binding of a book. He connected, however lightly, with the outside world, and in return, people connect more with him as well.

This has been an ongoing discussion with my editor: how much do I connect with my readers? Do I throw my books out there on the market, then seclude myself while the critics have a hay-day? Or do I reach out to my readers and gain their insights and perspectives on my work, perhaps gaining from my interaction with them?

The weight of our conversation by far has fallen on the side of connecting with readers. Hence, the blog. Hence, the replies to certain reviews on my Amazon pages. Hence, every opportunity I have to break the fourth wall. 

It may be too early yet to tell if it's doing any good or not. But, with that fourth wall shattered, I'll probably let you know. :)