Only Child and I’m Passing It On

Only child checking in. I know the birth order traits aren’t set in stone and that no one will have all the traits. But I kind of took a birth order test when Lorna talked about it on Seekerville and it was fun. So, here goes.

*Create imaginary companions

I did have imaginary companions. But mine weren’t the typical imaginary friend. And they never came to life until my tween years. I created stories to act out in my head. Since I watched a lot of detective shows, I was always the damsel in distress and my imaginary companion was my hero. I also included whoever my best friend was at the time and her hero as side characters in my stories.

One story stayed with me for a while. It got longer and more complicated. For years, I’d tweak it and add twists. I thought it was a movie, but I didn’t want to go to Hollywood. When I finally met my real-life hero, I put the story away and lived my own.

When I was in my thirties, I finally realized that long ago story could be a book. It was the first book I wrote, got fifty-two rejections, but eventually became my 8th published book.

*Struggle with frustration

Nope. I’m pretty optimistic and generally happy. If I have something to worry about or that frustrates me, I usually forget to worry or be frustrated.

*Want freedom

Nope. I wish I was independent. But I’m so not. I’m totally happy right where I am.

*Spiritually want to settle issues of right and wrong

Yes. Oh yes. There is no gray with me. It’s black or white. If the Bible says it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Period.

*Strengths—demonstrative, organized, clarity of purpose, stable, academically successful, self-confident

I’m physically demonstrative to the point that my son often begs me to stop kissing him when I tuck him in at night. Don’t tell anybody I still do that. He’d be so embarrassed. And I beg him to sit in my lap. Even though he’s twelve and smashes the life out of me when he occasionally gives in.

My husband and I hug a lot. There’s just nothing like a good hug. Stress reliever, love, and comfort rolled up in one gesture. Love it.

I’m so unorganized, it’s not even funny. In my opinion, it takes too long to organize stuff. I just dig through ‘til I find what I need and do it.

I’m stable. If I say I’ll do something, I do it. Period. Even if I don’t want to.

I have clarity of purpose. Once I set a goal, I never give up. I’m like a snapping turtle. I. Don’t. Let. Go. That helped a lot during the nine and a half years, I tried to get published.

I always had good grades. Even though every subject in school bored me to tears. Bad grades embarrassed me. And even though my parents didn’t stress good grades, I didn’t want to face them with bad ones.

Self-confident? Sometimes. Depends on if I feel like I’m in my zone. Writing and church – yes. In a room full of strangers not based around either topic – no.

I was painfully shy all through school and years later I learned others thought I was stuck up because I never talked. Cosmetology school snapped me out of my shyness. I realized it was more uncomfortable to spend 30 minutes cutting someone’s hair and not talking than to make conversation during a haircut. But I still crawl inside myself if I’m around people I don’t know.

Booksignings are a wonderful kind of torture for me. I love talking to readers, but I have to force myself to crawl out of my shell and talk to people I don’t know.

*Weaknesses—sullen, reluctant to share, not street smart

I’m not sullen. I’d much rather talk it out if something’s bothering me.

I’m not reluctant to share. My feelings, my opinion, or my stuff. My mom was so determined I wouldn’t be selfish, she really worked at teaching me to share. To the point that I gave my toys away.

I’m so not street smart. I’d never make it in a big city. I don’t even drive in big cities. I’m way too trusting. I look for good in people and I’m very naive. God knew what He was doing when He paved the way for my parents to move from a suburb of Atlanta, GA back to their hometown in rural Arkansas when I was twelve.

*Gets mad when being intruded on

I don’t get mad when intruded on. But I don’t mind being alone. I can totally entertain myself and sometimes, I just need some down time. If we’ve had a busy week of go, go, go—I need a night or two to just be home. If hubby and son want to keep going, I’m fine with that. I let them go and stay home alone.

*Qualities—prefer to work alone, extremely responsible or very helpless, stubborn, comfortable being the center of attention, stays on the beaten path

I do prefer to work alone. When I worked in an office setting, I loved my little cubicle. I wished everyone would stay out of it, so I could just do my job. Later, I graduated to an office. I really loved that.

I love brainstorming sessions with other writers, but I can’t imagine co-authoring with someone else. I think that would drive me nuts. A novella collection with other authors would work. But I want to write my own story. By. Myself.

I’m extremely responsible. If I say I’ll do it, I will. And if I mess up, I’ll take responsibility for my mess up. I’m not helpless. Dependent, but not helpless.

I’m stubborn. I really, really want my way. And I don’t understand why everybody else can’t see that I’m right and just let me have my way. Being stubborn helped in my pursuit of publication helped too. I. Don’t. Give. Up.

I’m so uncomfortable being the center of attention. It makes me want to melt through the floor.

I do stay on the beaten path. I’m definitely a follower, not a leader.

I went a little more in depth here and it was fun. On a final note, I liked being an only child. My parents didn’t go overboard or spoil me, but if anybody got anything, it was me. I had my own room and plenty of privacy. As an adult, sometimes I think a sibling would be nice. Like when I planned and paid for my parent’s fiftieth anniversary by myself. As my parents age, a sibling would probably come in handy. They’re still in great health, but someday, it’ll just be me taking care of them.

When I was a hairdresser, I noticed a few things about families with several children. Either the older ones took care of the younger ones and had to grow up. Or the baby got all the attention and the older children were neglected. Not in every family, but these observations helped me to decide that I I’d pass the only child thing on to my child.

So, I’m raising an only child. He got to be the baby as long as he wanted to be and he’s the center of attention. We don’t go overboard or spoil him. But my parent’s work hard at compensating for us since he’s the only grandchild ever.

Chime in only children. Did you like it? Or were you lonely? Did you long for a sibling? Or were you glad to go it alone?

While Love Stirs PromotionLeave a comment for a chance to win the prize package. It includes a copy While Love Stirs, a Fannie Farmer cookbook (Charlotte goes to Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery), and a Recipe for an Amazing Woman cutting board. 

Giveaway ends at midnight  on Friday, May 23, and is open to those in the continental U.S. only. Winner will be chosen by Random.org. The more comments you leave in the next two weeks, the more chances you’ll have to win.

Failed Labors

Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. (Luke 10:2)

PeachesI’ve never been much of a laborer or harvester. I grew up in suburbs of large cities – Chicago and Atlanta. When I was twelve, I moved back to the small town where my parents grew up. Where there are more cows than there are people. This was my first brush with gardens, crops, and farm animals. Though the peacefulness of small town life and wide open spaces grew on me, farming did not.

In the labor department, I’ve caught chickens. In the harvest department, I’ve picked strawberries, okra, and peaches and dug potatoes. Ugghhh to all of it, especially the chickens. Okra and peaches itch the harvester to high heaven. And none of the harvesting is easy on the knees or back even during the teen years.

Since my grandfather had a peach orchard, before the harvest, I used to take a paring knife and walk through the orchard—picking, peeling, and eating peaches—with juice running down my elbows until I couldn’t eat another bite. The orchard is long gone, but I’ve still never tasted a peach that good. Not even fresh from an orchard.

As an adult, my laboring and harvesting ended. I’ve never even planted a garden. Since several of my family members have gardens, they keep me in fresh veggies. And trust me, those things you buy in grocery stores are nothing like the fresh, homegrown variety.

I know, Jesus wasn’t talking about vegetables or fruit. He was talking about souls. But laboring and harvesting veggies is a lot like laboring and harvesting souls. It’s not fun. Or easy. It’s hard to witness to someone you know couldn’t care less. It’s hard when you’ve done it before and they’ve shut you down. It’s hard to witness to strangers. It can prickle your nerves like a fuzzy peach or okra. Prayer can be hard on the knees. It’s not necessarily hard on the back, but it can hurt your heart. The burden of not witnessing—when you know you should—can be hard on the heart. Trust me. I know.

It’s been at least three years ago. I was in Walmart in Little Rock in the makeup aisle. There was another woman there—probably in her late twenties or early thirties. We scanned the makeup, acknowledged each other with kind smiles, and tried not to get in each others way.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk by. A few seconds later, he came down the aisle and struck up a conversation with the woman. They were around the same age. She knew him, but I don’t think they were in a relationship. Yet, the talk soon turned casually raunchy about plans for the weekend including a party, drinking, and worse. It made me mad that they thought nothing of talking nasty with me right there listening. I left and went several aisles away so I couldn’t tell what they were saying.

After what seemed like eons of me stewing, the talking stopped and I saw the man pass the aisle I was in. Finally, safe to go back and get my makeup. On the way, I realized this girl needed help. My anger toward her disintegrated as the Holy Spirit convicted me, she needed to know there’s more to life than parties, drinking, and worse. And I needed to tell her. I hurried back to the aisle. She was gone. I searched several aisles and women oriented departments. But I never saw her again. My heart still hurts from that burden.           

I’ve thought about her often since then and wondered if she’s still on that self-destructive path. I’ve prayed she ran into a better laborer than me. And that maybe she’s been harvested by now. I’ve even prayed for the man. I also determined that I would never let another opportunity like that pass. And I haven’t.

My Go To Gal

Agent. A word that once made me shudder for reasons I won’t go into here. For a long time, I went it alone. I signed contracts for six books without an agent. And put off getting one for as long as I could. But after the Heartsong Presents line changed hands and my editor didn’t make the transition, I decided it was time. Kicking and screaming and shuddering, I decided I’d have to start agent shopping. But they still scared me.

At the 2011 ACFW conference, I asked an author I’d met there who her agent was. She promptly took me to meet Karen Solem of Spencerhill Associates. Karen wasn’t scary either as she gave me her business card. When I got home from the conference, I decided to bite the bullet. I picked four agencies, including Karen’s, who’d been around awhile and had good reputations to query.

While I waited on answers, I talked to another very nice agent I’d met at ACFW and talked to her on the phone several times. She didn’t scare me, but her client list was already pretty full. Two other agents were interested, but weren’t in love with the proposal I sent them. I wanted an agent who loved romance like I do.

Then I heard back from Karen. She loved my proposal, loved my writing, but her client list was also full. She asked if she could forward my work to her newest agent, Nalini Akolekar. I said, sure.

The very next day, I received an e-mail from Nalini offering a contract. I shuddered all day, made a list of questions to ask her, and set up a time for her to call me the next day. When she called, her voice was so soothing. The first question I asked her was how to say her name: A cola car. Then she asked me how to say mine: Van Adder.

I learned that though Nalini was new as an agent, she’d been in the industry working in other positions for a number of years. She encouraged me to contact her clients. After we talked, I did and they sang Nalini’s praises. I talked to Nalini two more times and tried to explain why I was so hesitant to sign with her. I ended up spilling my guts about every bad thing that had happened to me during my hard knocks journey to publication. Okay, not everything, I didn’t want her to think I was a whiny bag.

She calmly listened and instead of thinking I was delusional or whiny, she was sympathetic and told me she understood. That I should take my time, but she hoped I’d sign with her. I took my time and prayed about it. A few weeks later, I signed the contract. And I’ve never regretted the decision.

Nalini checks with me regularly to see how my deadlines are coming and if I have any problems. She congratulates me on Facebook when my books release. And when I have difficulties or hair-pulling issues, she does a lot of hand holding on the phone with her soothing voice.

Several months ago, another past hard knock came up while writing one of my contracted books that could have messed up everything. I had to tell Nalini the rest of my story. She didn’t chastise me for not telling her up front, held my hand, and handled the situation smoothly. When it was over, she told me in her soothing voice that I’d seen enough of the ugly side of the industry and she wanted to help turn things around for me

As I near completion of my current contract, she e-mailed me a few months ago and said she wanted to set up a time to call me and talk about my next project. I knew she wouldn’t like what I had to say. I have this French guy who’s been bugging me for years. But his book is a longer length and I only have three chapters written. Since I’ve only had category length books published, the trade length publishers want a completed manuscript.

In the wake of one of the longer length publishers cutting their fiction line, I knew Nalini would want me to stick with shorter books for now. And wait for the industry to get better, then worry about my French guy. But it’s not just the French guy. I’m long-winded which makes it a challenge for me to write short books.

She called and I told her I want to spend Sept. – Dec. finishing my French guy’s story. In her soothing voice, she said, “Okay, just don’t wait too long before getting another proposal out.” Before we ended the call, I heeded her wisdom and decided to put together another proposal for a short book and send it out, then concentrate on my French guy. That way, I don’t fade away while I get this French guy out of my head. And if the industry improves, I’ll have a completed longer book.

And she’s right. Since then, another trade length publisher bit the dust. For now, I need to stick to where my bread is buttered–in the shorter length realm.

Not only does Nalini know the industry, I’ve never failed to feel better after I talk to her.

Cats and Squirrels and Rats, Oh My

Animal stories always make me laugh, so here’s mine. Once upon a time, my son had a tiny nursery. He quickly outgrew it, so we moved him into a bigger bedroom and I got the tiny nursery as my office. 10’ by 10’ all mine. 100 square feet closed off from the rest of the house with a working door.

I painted my office my favorite thistle shade—a retired Crayola color—a mix of pink and lavender. I put up seashell wallpaper border, made curtains and cushion covers for my white wicker furniture using pastel seashell fabric, and displayed all the seashells I’ve collected over the years. It was perfect.

Until I decided that since it was my office, my two outdoor charcoal gray cats should be able to come in. It was my 100 square feet and I could share it if I wanted to. Right? Hubby even agreed and installed a cat door. Since they’d always been outdoor cats, they were used to going outside to do their business. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing did for a while. They understood that the vast outdoors was their bathroom. They spent their days with me while I wrote and prowled or slept at night.

Smokey—my scaredy cat—was no problem. She huddled thankfully under the wicker couch and I never saw her go out. But everything smelled okay, so I knew she did. Charcoal prowled all night, came inside in the morning, ate and slept the day away.

Until one morning after everyone left and I heard something in my office.

I opened the door and something flew by my head about eye level. I searched the shelves and saw a flying squirrel. I didn’t even know we had those in Arkansas. Charcoal was in stalk mode and the poor squirrel flew all over my office. I learned they not only live in Arkansas, but they’re very fast.

I stuffed Charcoal out the cat door and locked it, found thick gloves, and pursued the squirrel. They’re really fast. That squirrel perched on all eight shelves and every time I’d reach for him, he’d fly in my face and land on another shelf, my desk, the wicker, or the curtains.

After about forty-five minutes or so, I wore him down. He started running instead of flying and I learned that flying squirrels run even faster than they fly. He finally ran in the end of a 3 ring binder notebook. I clamped a gloved hand on each end, but I couldn’t open to the door with no hands.

So, I quickly stood the notebook on the floor closing off one hole, then shook the poor squirrel up. He came running up right into my hand and I had him. He bit my thick glove and squealed all the way out the back door—where the cat wasn’t—and to the woods behind our house.

Charcoal treated me to three more flying squirrel capers and I learned there are at least four where I live, they are all very fast, but you can catch them with thick gloves once you tire them out. I guess my great gray hunter got bored with squirrels, so he brought me a rat instead. I didn’t know we had rats that big in Arkansas. I propped the cat door open, screamed and hopped around on the wicker furniture, and poked at the beast with a yard stick until it scurried out the door.

That was it. The cat door got sealed off. Charcoal and Smokey got their gray butts kicked out. Even though poor Smokey was innocent, she now huddles under the house and Charcoal lives in the shed.

But during the day, when nobody’s home, I make sure Charcoal doesn’t have any guests and let them in. Shhh!!!

Angry Birds and Writer’s Block

I once thought writer’s block was a myth. Until it held me in it’s cold grip. Desperate, I asked for advice from other writers. And got lots of advice. Eventually, I came up with my own cures.

  • Go for a walk by myself.

Most of the time, I walk with my son or my mom. But walking by myself clears my brain. Alone with my thoughts, the ideas start to flow.

  • Take a shower.

Just me and the warm water and my undistracted brain. Bubble baths are good too, but the shower blots out the noise of my family, the TV, the neighbors.

  • Work on a different book.

This is my surefire cure. As soon as I try to concentrate on another book and other characters, I get all kinds of creativity going for the book that was blocked until I can’t wait to get back to it.

  • Go on a research trip.

I love research trips. There’s nothing like walking in your characters’ shoes. Trips are expensive, but they are tax deductible.

  • Playing Angry Birds.

I saved the best for last. I’ve never been much of a gamer. Electronic games usually frustrate me. But when my son introduced me to Angry Birds, I fell in love. For some reason, knocking all those boxes, piles of snow, glass, and wood piles down–freeing those caged birds, popping those oinking piggies, and knocking those laughing monkeys off their tail ends relieves my stress. And stress can be the biggest block a writer must hurdle.

So my new way of relaxing at the end of the day is Angry Birds. The black bomb birds are my favorite. They cause so much destruction and get all my inner aggression out. My husband and son even got me an Angry Bird necklace for Christmas. I wear it proudly.

In Too Deep

A little over a year ago my husband surprised me with roundtrip airline tickets to Maui. On arrival in our tropical paradise, we perused the scads of flyers in the resort lobby trying to decide which activities and excursions we wanted to try. After much discussion, we decided on several, one of which included a boat trip to a nearby island, Molokini, to snorkel along the coral reef.

This may sound wonderful, but there was a problem. I don’t like water. Or more accurately—deep water terrifies me because I never learned to swim. I must have been determined that day because I convinced my husband I could do it. After all, I had snorkeled once, years ago, but in much shallower water.

The day of our excursion arrived and our boat, crammed with tourists, left the dock. The captain began explaining the details of our trip, casually mentioning that snorkelers should rent wet suits for their buoyancy because there were no life jackets on board. Gulp. You say what? No life jackets? Surely I didn’t hear him right. Unfortunately I did, though.

While he instructed the divers on proper snorkeling procedures, I began to worry if I could handle this. Everyone else seemed so sure of themselves, eager to get in the water and begin the dive. Me? Backing out was looking better and better all the time.

After he finished his demonstration, I pulled the captain aside and asked him if he was sure the wet suit would hold me up since I didn’t know how to swim. Apparently, not many non-swimmers go snorkeling, because he looked at me like I was nuts. He assured it would keep me afloat but glanced at my husband and asked, “Are you going to stay with her?”

“Yep,” my husband nodded.

After anchoring alongside Molokini, I let everyone else get off before me, delaying the inevitable as long as possible. Finally my turn was up. I climbed down the ladder at the back of the boat and sat on the bottom rung as I slipped my feet into the fins. I put on my goggles, took the paddle board the tour diver handed me (for baby snorkelers like me) and prayed like crazy. “Oh dear God, help me. Please.”

I glanced nervously at my husband waiting patiently for me in the water. I clutched the paddle board in both hands, pushing one end toward him, begging him not to let go. He promised, grabbed it with one hand, and then I slipped off the rung into the chilly waters of the ocean. He tugged me away from the boat, and suddenly an overwhelming fear enveloped me. “I don’t like this,” I cried out.

Mike calmly assured me I’d be fine and suggested I put on my snorkel and put my face in the water. All I could think about was the deep, deep water surrounding me. Putting my face in the water was something I didn’t want to consider right now. But I did, praying all the while, asking God to help me. I breathed through the snorkel like the instructor had taught us. A peace washed over me, and I felt my fears floating away. My husband continued to tug me via the paddle board round and round. The sights beneath me in the crystal clear sea were simply breathtaking. Swimming among the sea turtles and tropical fish was one of the highlights of the trip—something I’ll never forget.

I couldn’t have done it if my husband hadn’t been at my side, but a greater power took away my fear. God knew my weaknesses and helped me through a time when I needed it most.

Now, if someone asked if I’d snorkel again, I’d answer “yes” without hesitation. I can do anything through Christ which strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.

When Fear Strikes

When I wrote this blog the morning after the election, disappointment and fear for our country’s future dominated my thoughts. Never before have I shed a tear over election results, but I confess—this was my first. It wasn’t because I was mad or stubborn because “my guy” didn’t win. I was truly scared for the days and years that lay ahead.

As I reread the book I’d selected for this post, the message knocked a little sense into me. I realized the importance of its words, especially in today’s troubled world. Its simple story line is vitally important but often overlooked in stressful situations. The book assured me that all will be right with the world. God is with us. “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5.

The book I’m talking about is a story picture book—not your typical talking bunny type story for young children—but a story for older kids and even adults. These types of books are harder to find than the traditional picture books for very young readers but are well worth the effort in tracking them down. Many books in this genre have stunning illustrations as well. The following is no exception.

The Sleeping Rose by Angela Elwell Hunt tells the story of Baldrik, a farmer known throughout the kingdom for devoting his time to tending a rosebush that produces only one flower each year. The bloom, known throughout the land for its stunning beauty, opens to its finest on the first day of May.

When the King and Queen hear of this amazing rose, they invite Baldrik to bring it with him to their May Day celebration. As the day of the party draws near, Baldrik becomes uneasy and fearful as his rosebud shows no signs of opening. His frustration mounts—so much that he turns away the one person who can help.

The Sleeping Rose is a story of compassion and trust, reminding us that Christ is always there for us, unless we turn Him away. The twist at the end provides an inspirational moment for kids and adults alike. (And no, I won’t tell you that part. You’ll have to read the book.)

No matter what disappointments I’m dealing with, I know God has a plan, and I am not to worry. I may not understand it, but that’s okay. That’s not my job. My job is to simply trust Him, knowing He will take care of everything else.

Jairus' Daughter

21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh
unto the sea.

22 And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,

23 And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.

24 And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him.

I can’t focus on this scripture without mentioning what happened before this. There was no rest for Jesus that day. He’d already calmed a storm and cast out demons, then journeyed across the sea. Again. Why? Because the people asked him to leave. Only the demoniac Jesus had returned to his right mind was grateful.

As soon as he got to the other shore, a crowd awaited him. Jairus fell at his feet, begging Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus immediately went with him only to be thronged by the crowd.

I’ve wished so many times that I could have lived back when Jesus walked the earth. Me—put aside my love for electricity, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing? Yes.

I like to think I’d have been one of the ones who fell at Jesus’ feet. Who would have sold everything to follow him. Who would have railed and mourned when they killed him. Who would have been waiting for his resurrection because he’d said it was so.

But would I have? Or would I have been frightened by the Gadarene’s healing? Would I have been one of the people praying Jesus to depart from my coasts? Would I have been in the press thronging him, getting in his way, and distracting him from Jairus’ daughter. Not because I knew who he was, but because I’d heard of his miracles and needed one.

The people living then didn’t know who Jesus was. They were looking for the Messiah, but they expected a king not a carpenter. Some didn’t recognize him. Even the disciples didn’t understand the big picture.

Would I have recognized him? Or would I have fallen asleep in the garden instead of watching? Would I have denied him like Peter? Would I have been one in the crowd crying for the release of Barabbas? Would I have doubted him like Thomas?

Knowing my short-comings and how I often fall at Jesus’ feet only after I’ve tried everything else, I think I’m glad I didn’t live back then.

Training Wheels, Driver's Licenses, & Pianos

What do they have in common? My mother. Mama never learned to ride a bicycle. When she was a kid, her sister took her to the top of a hill, put her on a bike and pushed. Mama rolled all the way down the hill–not on the bike. At the bottom of the hill, she landed with one handlebar lodged in her chin. She still has the scar. She didn’t try again.

Until she was twenty-seven. I was five and had graduated from my training wheels when Daddy decided he and Mama could  excercise by bike riding. He bought them each a bike, but Mama didn’t know how to ride. So Daddy took my old training wheels and put them on Mama’s new wheels.

Every evening, we rode through the neighborhood–Daddy in front, me in the middle, and Mama bringing up the rear with my old training wheels. Neighbors gathered on a large porch at the house at the end of the road. They waved and called greetings, but never laughed or mentioned Mama’s wheels. After a few months, Mama found her balance and Daddy took the extra wheels off. The first time we rode by the gathering on the porch without Mama’s training wheels, our neighbors gave her a standing ovation.

Not to rest on her laurels by conquering one set of wheels, Mama learned to drive that year too and got her driver’s license.

Twenty years later, at forty-seven, Mama’s church needed a piano player. Since she’d always wanted to play, she got my teenage cousin’s old piano lesson books and taught herself. Within a few years, she could play anything, even if she’d never heard the song before.

Mama’s determination taught me that you never get too old to tackle something new. So at thirty, when I finally realized what I wanted to be when I grew up–a writer, I knew it wasn’t too late. Even though it took me three more years to get a computer and nine and a half more years to get published. I also knew that at thirty-five, when we finally could afford for me not to work, it wasn’t too late to be a mom.

“The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children. . .” Titus 2:3&4.

Mama definitely taught me good things.

Profound Advice Times Two

When I started writing, I just did it. I wrote 6 books without ever attending a writer’s meeting or conference. I’d hear about such things, but think why spend time learning to write when I can just do it? 

But it doesn’t work that way. Writers have to learn to write. They have to learn to put what they see or hear in their heads on the paper where the reader can see and hear it too. After I’d been writing for a year or so, I met a fellow writer in the office where I worked, Peggy Stirling. The first thing she asked was if I’d joined a writer’s group. 

Peggy wasn’t published, but had won some writing awards, and was related to Catherine Palmer. How cool is that? Peggy even sent my first chapter of my first badly written book to Catherine to see what she thought of it. That makes me shiver now. I really hope Catherine didn’t read it. She sent me a nice letter saying that she’d long ago had to set up a policy of not critiquing other writers simply because she didn’t have time. Last month, I signed with Spencerhill Associates, the same literary agency that represents Catherine Palmer. How cool is that?

Anyway, it took another year or so for me to actually follow Peggy’s advice. By then, I’d had a very badly written book Print on Demand published. My sales were dismal since the book was overpriced and not in stores. I finally took Peggy’s advice. In fact, she went with me to my first writer’s meeting and conference. 

I’ve lost touch with Peggy and I have no idea if she knows I got published or not. I did name my hero in my first contracted book (White Roses) after her, Grayson Sterling–a perfect name for a pastor. If not for Peggy, I might still be cranking out badly written, very telling stories—instead of taking my reader along for the ride and showing how the story plays out. 

My second profound piece of advice took place years later. I’ve talked about Kaye Dacus and writing my second contracted book (White Doves) before. Once my editor asked if White Roses could be a series, I threw together two one page synopses using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. With a few changes and tweaks, I had a verbal promise of a three book series. But then I had to expand the synopses into chapter by chapters before the other two contracts could be signed. 

I’m a pantser. When I begin a new book, I know the main characters, the beginning, a couple of big issues or problems, the black moment (but not necessarily how to resolve it) and the end. That’s all. I have no idea what will happen in chapter two, eight, or thirteen. 

Writing that first chapter by chapter for White Doves was TORTURE. I used the Snowflake Method and eked out every possible thing that could happen with these characters. I expanded a word at a time, a paragraph at a time until finally I had three pages of exactly what would happen in the book I hadn’t written yet. 

It was enough and I signed the contract for book two of my series. I then had eight months to write the book. But I already knew what was going to happen in every chapter, what had to happen in every chapter. With no room for creativity or pantsing. And I had a deadline to get it finished.

I couldn’t do it. For the first time, I realized writer’s block was real—not a myth. I tried going for walks, taking bubblebaths, mowing the yard—all things that free my mind and usually get my creativity and ideas flowing. But I couldn’t be creative with the book. I’d already told my editor exactly what would happen. 

I attended my monthly writer’s meeting excited when I heard we’d managed to land Kaye Dacus in Little Rock. I think Kaye taught on editing. We’re talking 2009 and I’ve slept a few times since then. What I do remember—I knew Kaye wrote for Barbour which meant she had to write chapter by chapters pre-book. 

After her workshop, I asked if she was a pantser or plotter. She said she used to be a pantser, but since she’d learned to write chapter by chapters, she’s part pantser and part plotter. I told her my dilemma. She said she writes her chapter by chapter, then puts it away and writes something else, or reads a book, anything but think about the book she has to write. Once it’s totally off her mind, she writes the book. Then if she gets stuck, she looks at the chapter by chapter to jog her memory. 

I followed Kaye’s advice and it worked. Before long, the words were flowing from my fingertips. Since then, I’ve made a point to write my chapter by chapters several months in advance of when I need to turn them in. By the time, the contract is signed, the chapter by chapter is out of my head and I just start writing.

Six chapter by chapters later, my words are still flowing for the most part. Some books have been harder to write than others, but I’ve met all of my deadlines so far. So, if not for Kaye, I might still be stuck with the motherlode of writer’s block and only have one book published.

BTW: The picture is actually the cover of a book. Years ago, when all I had to prove I was a writer was over two-hundred rejection letters, my husband believed in me enough to buy me this nifty little book. The book is in the shape of a cube and is chock full of pictures and prompts to inspire writers.

We’ve discussed this before, but we probably have new readers since then, so here goes: Writers–are  you a pantser or plotter?