The Hike of Your Life

Clear blue skies overhead, the sun shining bright, the air a crisp 65 degrees, and the scent of sun-warmed pine all around. It was the perfect day for a hike.

Our destination was Ramona Falls, a nine-mile round trip hike up Oregon’s Mt. Hood. My husband and I had been planning this trip for a while, choosing which trail to take, what gear to pack, how much water and food we’d need, and most importantly, how to not get lost in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

It was a spectacular trail for two native Nebraskans who are more used to fields of soybeans and corn than towering trees and mountains. The trail took us past boulders and creeks, meadows of soft green moss, and steep, rocky cliffs that had been sheared away by Mother Nature.

Steep inclineI enjoyed the first several miles of our hike, snapping pictures of the glorious beauty surrounding us. My husband walked ahead, alerting me of roots or rocks that we could trip on. He cautioned me when we reached a particularly narrow part of the trail that beheld a gorgeous view of the river below, separated from us by a few hundred feet of a near-ninety degree drop off littered with  fallen trees.

At one point, we reached a river crossing, criss-crossed with logs but no visible bridge. A native hiker we had met when we started out told us the bridge had been taken down earlier in the season due to flooding, but that we could shimmy across the logs to continue our trek up to the falls. It was exhilarating (and a bit scary!) to creep across that fallen log, see the swirling cold water of the Sandy River below, and make it safely to the other side, like a modern day Indiana Jones!

Of course, as we trekked ever higher up the mountain, fatigue began to set in. We stopped to rest more and more frequently, and I had to unlace my boots at one point because of a blister forming on my heel. We ate some energy bars and kept going.

Rocky riverBut after three hours of hiking, I’ll admit, I was feeling defeated. I had prepared my body all summer for the rigors of hiking, but the trail was taking it’s toll. I felt drained, my heel hurt, I could feel blood in my sock, and I didn’t know if I could make it another step. We had no idea how close we were to the falls, but we knew by the distance we had covered that they had to be close.

I sat down on a rock next to trail, and put my head between my knees.

My husband sat down next to me, and just said, “we’re really close, I know it. I’ll turn around now, if you want to, because going downhill will be easier, but I know you can do it.”

I was tired and in pain, but he was right: I could do it!  I got up and continued hiking and you know what? After about two more minutes of walking, we heard a sound through the trees: rushing water. The temperature suddenly felt 10 degrees cooler. And then just around the bend: Ramona Falls!

Ramona FallsThe sight of it took my breath away.

As I was writing this, I was thinking of 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  I don’t know about you, but I think a hike is more appropriate (and not just because I hate running).

Get a map: The Word of God is the best tool we have for navigating the trail of life.

Be prepared: Make sure your gear includes your map, plenty of prayer, and hopefully a good hiking partner (or two or three) to help you along the way.

Enjoy the scenery: The old Victorian term that “life is just a veil of tears” is not true! God has blessed you in so many ways, maybe some that are easy to see, like the majesty of his creation, or others that might be hidden, like stepping closer to see the differing shades of green moss next to a brook.

Watch your step along the narrow paths: Like the narrow parts of the trail, there may be times when you have to walk a narrow road, whether that means guarding your heart against something that is socially acceptable, or making unpopular decisions. It’s difficult to not fall off the edge!

IMG_4807Precarious crossings: Sometimes, God asks us to do things that make us uncomfortable, or that could be dangerous. But he always provides a bridge to help us cross, and He’s always got us in the palm of his hands.

Reaching your destination: The hike of life might be short or long. Even if you have a map, sometimes the end of the trail could sneak up on you. You never quite know when the  journey will end, but you need to keep going until you reach your Heavenly destination. The sight of it will take your breath away.

Giant tree

 

 

Worth Dying For

I’m a big fan of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Yes, I know it’s kind of corny, somewhat anachronistic, and Kevin Costner’s hair and lack of an English accent are distracting, but I have to admit, I still love it. The movie came out in 1991, and I probably saw it about a dozen times when I was a kid and teenager. When I found the DVD in the $5 bin at Walmart, I scooped it up.

I’m not sure what draws me to it: Robin’s journey from angry rich boy to weary crusader to lovable outlaw, the adventures of his Merry Men, the righting of wrongs done to the downtrodden, Alan Rickman’s absolute crazy, over-the-top portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham, or Maid Marian’s amazingly curly hair (oh, how I coveted that hair as a child!). Not to mention a killer theme song, (“Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams.

SilhouetteA different aspect in Prince of Thieves is the addition of Morgan Freeman’s character Azeem, a Moor that Robin helps escape from a Turkish prison. Azeem tells Robin that he owes him a life debt, and follows him home to England in order to repay his debt. Throughout the course of the movie, Robin finds out that Azeem was in prison for loving a woman. He doesn’t understand why Azeem would be willing to die for any one, especially not a woman, and laughs at his friend. But as the film progresses, Robin falls deeply in love with the Maid Marian, admiring her courage to defy the Sheriff and help the poor. At the climax of the movie, Marian has been captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Robin rushes to her rescue. Held behind a high castle wall, Robin risks a daring maneuver to scale it, frantic to save his lady love from the evil Sheriff. Azeem then asks Robin, “Is she worth it?”

His reply? “Worth dying for.”

For some reason, that line really struck me on a recent viewing of the film. Isn’t it romantic to think that Robin loved Marian enough to possibly die for her? Is there someone out there who loves me enough to find me worth dying for?

CrossOf course, there is one person who loves me enough to die for me (and I’m not talking about my husband here, although I hope he would be up for it, too). Jesus Christ didn’t just say he would die for me. He didn’t just fight the bad guys and win. Jesus actually fought the bad guys and died. But he rose again three days later, and in doing so, he defeated Satan and death and everything else that was keeping me from living by his side. He died for me and for everyone else on earth because he knew we were worth it.

I’ve done nothing to deserve that kind of love. And I’ll be honest, there are a lot of days that I don’t feel worth the love of my own friends and family, let alone worthy enough for Jesus to die for. That’s the beauty of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us: on our own, we aren’t worth it, but His blood changes all of that. It makes us worthy just to be in His presence.

And that means I should strive everyday to be worthy of such love and sacrifice. Are you?

My Top Ten Must Reads (Part 2) + Giveaway!

Here is Part Two of my Top Ten Must Reads that I’ve read between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016. If you missed the first five books in Part 1, you can read them here. Don’t forget to come on back and find out the rest of my picks for the year! You can find out more about each book by clicking on the title.

 

 

Lake House

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Sixteen year-old Alice Edevane’s baby brother Theo disappears on the night of her parents’ glittering Midsummer Party at their lake house in 1933, changing the family forever. Seventy years later, a police constable stumbles across the ruins of the Edevane lake house, and seeks the answers to secrets buried long ago. 

Kate Morton is one of the most gifted writers and storytellers I’ve ever read, and her latest, The Lake House, is no exception. I actually got this book in early December, and waited (very impatiently!) to read it until the end of the month when I had a week’s vacation, because a Kate Morton book is meant to be savored. Her beautiful prose and surrounding sense of mystery create an all-encompassing world that make it a tragedy to leave when the book ends.

Paper Hearts

Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh

To save her bookstore from a new landlord, Abigail strings paper hearts with love notes from a mysterious couple that quickly catch the town’s attention. But when the hearts hint at tragedy, can Abigail find out what happened to the couple and save her store and her own heart in the process?

This book took me a while to get into, but I really enjoyed it once I did. The Valentine Volunteers, a group of old ladies in the town, were humorous and their attempts at matchmaking Abigail were fun. Abigail’s journey felt genuine, and the paper hearts are a unique idea I’d love to try with my husband someday (see the book trailer here!). *Note- Courtney Walsh has a “sequel” to this story, Change of Heart, also set in Love’s Park, Colo., and featuring the Valentine Volunteers, that came out last year.

charlotte_big

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Plain governess Jane Eyre falls in love with her mysterious and brooding employer, Mr. Rochester, with tragic results. 

Yes, I know it’s a classic, but I finally read Jane Eyre for the first time this spring. It was literally one of those moments when I thought “how did I never read this until now?” The first few chapters of Jane’s cold childhood are hard to get through, but her romance with Mr. Rochester, and eventual finding of herself are masterfully done. Bronte’s Jane is a heroine for the ages. This one is a classic for a reason.

Buried in a Book

Buried in a Book by Lucy Arlington

First in the Novel Idea Mysteries, Lila Wilkins accepts an internship at a thriving literary agency, but when a penniless aspiring author drops dead in the agency’s waiting room-and Lila discovers a series of threatening letters-she’s determined to find out who wrote him off.

Who doesn’t like learning more about the ins and outs of a literary agency? I really enjoyed the cast of quirky characters in this book, and any cozy that keeps me guessing whodunnit until the very end means they wrote a very good mystery indeed. Also, I feel many cozy mysteries tend to hit their stride in later subsequent books, but this one hit it out of the park as an establishing story.

Blue Castle

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

At 29, living with an overbearing mother and aunt, quiet Valancy Stirling decides to throw caution to the winds and live life on her own terms. Soon she discovers a surprising new world, full of love and adventures beyond her secret dreams. 

This is a re-read (that I’ve already re-read several times!), but it’s one of my favorite Montgomery novels, second only to the Anne series. While Montgomery excelled at stories about children, Valancy is decidedly not a child, and her journey from a repressed “old maid” to a woman in love and taking her life into her own hands is wonderful. Montgomery’s trademark purple prose is more evident in this story than many others, as it contains numerous beautiful expositions on nature that make me itch to explore the Canadian maritimes.  Also, only Montgomery could make the reader fall in love with a hero named Barney Snaith!

***BONUS GIVEAWAY!***

I’ve told you my top ten reads of the year, so what are some of yours? I started my reading list over on July 1, so I’d love to hear what your favorite books are! Leave a comment on either Part 1 or Part 2 (or both!) to win a copy of any of the 10 books on my list (reader’s choice). I’ll pull one winner on Friday, July 8.

 

My Top Ten Must Reads (Part 1)

You know those people in your life that recommend a book to you because they absolutely loved it, and you tell them politely that you’ll think about reading their pick, while secretly thinking, “there is no way on earth I’m going to read that book?”

Hopefully I’m not one of those people!

In the past, us Inkspers have written blogs on books we’re looking forward to reading in the coming months, but this time, I’m going to change it up. I want to tell you about my Top Ten Must Read books that I’ve encountered over the past 12 months. I actually keep a list of every book I read between July 1 and June 30 of each year, so these are books I’ve read since then that I highly recommend. Since I read a lot of cozy mystery series, I am only going to recommend the series that I began reading this year, instead of perhaps book 6 in an established series, to keep it simple. Also, I don’t often read brand new books, so some of these might be several years old already.

I selected a variety of genres, since I try to read widely, and I’m only listing the first five this week (in no particular order), so come back in two weeks to find out my next five! (Click on the titles for more info about each book.)

Top Ten (Five) Must Reads

Progeny

The Progeny by Tosca Lee. She’s the descendent of a serial killer. Now she’s the hunted.

I just finished this book last week, and this is one of the few books I can say truthfully that I couldn’t put down! I literally had to leave it at home one day because I knew if I took it to work to read over my lunch break, my lunch break would end up being three hours. A heart-racing thriller full of twists and turns, an intriguing mystery, and a cliff-hanger ending that left me eagerly anticipating the sequel next February.

To Whisper Her Name

To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander. A love story of hope and healing between a Confederate widow and a southerner who fought for the North set at Tennessee’s Belle Meade Plantation. 

I read To Whisper Her Name on vacation last year, and though I was sitting in a log cabin in Oregon, every time I opened the pages I was transported to Belle Meade Plantation. Alexander perfectly captured the Reconstruction era, and her love story evolved so naturally over the course of the story that I’m in awe of her skill. I admit, I fell a little bit in love with her hero, Ridley Adam Cooper! I’ve loved all of her books I’ve read, but this one in particular stood out.

Technologists

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl. A series of mysterious attacks in Boston, 1868, send four brave students at the newly established Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a race against the clock to save their city, and their fledgling school. 

I picked this one up on a whim from Portland’s Powell’s City of Books (an amazing bookstore I highly recommend!) while on the same vacation I mentioned above. The twisty plot kept me turning the pages, and I really enjoyed learning about the early history of MIT, and people’s distrust of scientific principals that we take for granted today that Pearl’s fictional “terrorist” used to his advantage. Pearl likes to take real historical incidents and write his fictional stories around them.

State of Onion

State of the Onion by Julie Hazy. First in the White House Chef Mysteries, Ollie Paras is gunning for the Executive Chef position when she unwittingly stops a would-be assassin with her frying pan, but soon finds herself in the cross-hairs of a killer. 

I read a lot of cozy mystery series, and this one stood out to me for it’s exceptional writing, tight plot, great characters, interesting setting, and a mystery that kept me guessing. I just finished the second book, and will definitely keep reading this well-done series.

THere You'll Find Me

There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones. Finley Sinclair heads to Ireland to make peace with her brother’s death, and winds up meeting Beckett Rush, teen heartthrob and Hollywood bad boy. As her grief begins to wear her down, she wonders when God is going to show up for her in this Emerald paradise. 

This one was a re-read this year. I love Jones’ writing style, her humor, and her great characters. The book was funny, and yet dealt with real problems of grief, forgiveness, and healing. One of only three books I read this year that I literally broke down in tears while reading because I was so moved. I loved how the story didn’t end with everything wrapped up in a neat bow, but on a hopeful note.

Come back next Tuesday, July 5 for the rest of my list!

 

***BONUS GIVEAWAY!***

I’ve told you my top ten reads of the year, so what are some of yours? I start my reading list over on July 1, so I’d love to hear what your favorite books are! Leave a comment on either Part 1 or Part 2 (or both!) to win a copy of any of the 10 books on my list. I’ll pull one winner on Friday, July 8.

Grilling up Summertime Flavor

I don’t know about you, but my grocery list and mealtime plan drastically changes when the weather turns warm and the sun stays out late.

Yeah, that’s right: when summer rolls around, my husband and I practically make every meal on our grill. It’s easy, fast, and delicious. Plus, it’s a great way to give cooking duties over to my husband!

It wasn’t always this way. My relatives graciously gave us a large gas grill as a wedding present nine years ago, and the spring, summer, and autumn of our first year of marriage was filled with barbecued ribs, charred chicken, and grilled burgers, brats, and hot dogs. And then a subsequent move and a crackdown on apartment grills made us put our grill into storage for six years.
But then when we moved into our own home a year ago, dinnertime was suddenly fun once again!

One of our favorite summertime favorites is grill packets. I clipped this recipe out of a magazine years ago, and we’ve modified it some over the years, but it’s delicious. Plus, it’s a great way to get your summer veggies!

Ingredients

Ludwig Grill Packets

  • 1 pound smoked sausage (Italian sausage can also be used), cut into 1/2 inch piece
  • red potatoes (as many as you like), cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, sliced 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 T. dried oregano
  • 1 T. parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1 tsp paprika

PacketsLayer vegetables into aluminum foil packets, with potatoes and meat toward the bottom, as they take longer to cook through. Mix olive oil, oregano, parsley, garlic salt, and paprika, and drizzle over packets. Close pouches and grill until meat and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes on medium-high heat.

Enjoy!

He Will Rejoice Over You with Singing

A few weeks ago, I had an afternoon of indulgence: as it poured rain outside, I sat comfy-cozy on my couch, with a cross stitch project in my lap, a fleece blanket covering my legs, my dog comfortably settled between my knees (under the blanket, of course), and one of my favorite old movies playing on the TV, The Slipper and the Rose.

The Slipper and the Rose is a Cinderella story produced in the 1970s, featuring music by the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins), with Richard Chamberlain as Cinderella’s dreamy prince. While some of the production values are a bit cheesy (yes, Kav, the wigs are pretty bad!), the music is beautiful and characters are fun. What sets The Slipper and the Rose apart for me, though, is Richard Chamberlain’s Prince Edward. See, while many Cinderella adaptations, or even fairy tales in general, seem to gloss over the prince’s character (it seems enough that he is a prince), Prince Edward actually has a personality. In fact, the movie probably focuses more on him than on Cinderella herself.

Look of lovePrince Edward’s parents want him to marry for political gain. Edward, however, is opposed to this idea, wanting to marry for love. He hates the ball the monarchy forces on him to help him find a bride. But, of course, it is at the ball that he meets Cinderella, and falls in love. After waltzing to a beautiful melody in the ballroom, Edward and Cinderella retire to the garden.

And then comes my swoon moment: Edward starts singing to Cinderella, a love song that claims her heart.

How many times has someone sung over you? Or even to you? Probably not many. But that’s why I love musicals. People burst into spontaneous songs, whether it be to express their happiness and joy, sorrow and misery, or maybe just to say a funny word (like “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious”). I love how Maria expresses her joy by singing how “the hills are alive” in The Sound of Music. My heart aches when Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables. I laugh at the puns and rhythmic intensity of “Ya Got Trouble” in The Music Man.

It brings to mind one of my favorite Biblical passages:

“The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.”

-Zephaniah 3:17

Gene_Kelly_lamppostI absolutely adore the image of my Lord God singing His love over me. He loves me that much that He bursts into spontaneous song when He thinks about me. He doesn’t care who knows it. Like Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain, He’ll splash through puddles to proclaim his love for us. He’ll belt it from the rooftops, like when Tony sings “Maria” in West Side Story. He’ll spin us around in circles with wonder that we love Him back, like Motel sings “Wonder of Wonders” in Fiddler on the Roof. He’ll seduce us with his “Music of the Night.”

I don’t know about you, but the idea of a God who rejoices over me with singing causes my knees to go weak, and my heart to beat a little bit faster. I know I’m a romantic, but so is my Heavenly Bridegroom.

I can’t wait to hear His voice singing over me.

Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference

A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of attending the Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference, held right here in Bellevue, Neb. In fact, the conference was held at my church, LifeSpring Church, a mere four minute drive from my house! (They kept asking who came the farthest to get to the conference, but no one thought to ask who came the shortest!)

Unlike some writers conferences, like the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference that attracts writers from all over the country, this was more of a weekend retreat. The Wordsowers are a fine local group of writers, and they put on a wonderful, cost-efficient conference that has grown a lot in the four years they’ve been putting it on.

Cheryl St John
Active, Vivid Writing with Cheryl St. John.

The conference consisted of an opening session on Friday night, followed by a night cap to meet fellow conference attendees, authors, and speakers. On Saturday, an opening session featured speaker Troy Griepentrog of Focus on the Family, and then workshops throughout the day that ranged from The Ten Commandments of Humor and Digging Deep Into Your Characters, to Song Painting and Using Sales Funnels to Fins New Readers. There really was something for every type of writer (well, maybe not technical manuals…)

One thing I was impressed with was the sheer amount of talent in this region! Writers from all over came (including a few from Illinois and Texas), to teach, to learn, to share their writing experiences. While this wasn’t the type of conference where fledging writers come to meet with agents and publishers in hopes of getting “the call,” it is a great place to meet others journeying along this path to publication. To meet people who “get” what it means when you talk in acronyms like POV and MC. Who understand when you talk about the struggle to translate the rapturous visions in your head to the black and white computer screen. Who don’t ask why you need to know a good way to kill someone with a musical instrument; they just ask if you’re thinking of using one from the brass or woodwind family (oh, wait, that’s just me!).

Brainstormers
My brainstorming group: Mikal Hermans, Sara Bernier, me, and Jennifer Slattery.

I love hanging out with other writers because they “get” me. Other than learning new ways to make my writing sing, Wordsowers was a lot of fun because I got to hang out with my kindred spirits, old and new. Whoever thinks writing is a solitary business obviously isn’t doing it right.

For anyone interested, Wordsowers 2017 is already in the works, with New York Times best-selling author (and a Lincoln, Neb. transplant!) Tosca Lee headlining as the keynote speaker. Mark your calendars and come join us!

Tosca Lee

Writing Time

This past month has been filled with writing events and time spent with fellow authors.  April 8th I spent time with memoir writer Gail Kittleson in Boone, Iowa for our first ever ACFW Iowa writer’s meeting. It was a small group, but it was powerful in topics and discussion. Gail even put together a wonderful activity that spurred each of us on in our creativity for our stories.

 

Gail has a new story out titled In Times Like These (see the above photo). I’m reading it now and loving it! Get your copy from Amazon here.

Dawn and Mary at Pitchapalooza
Dawn and Mary at Pitchapalooza

On April 15th I went to the Nebraska Writer’s Guild Pitchapalooza conference in Omaha, Nebraska. There I learned how to more effectively pitch to editors and agents. Chip MacGregor, from MacGregor Literary Agency came to speak to the attendees. He and Linda Camancho from Prospect Agency took appointments to listen to and critique the pitches from the conference-goers. If you get a chance to go to a Pitchapalooza, I highly recommend it to polish up your content and presentation.

 

Earlier last week I had a chance to spend time with fellow authors Mary Connealy, Erica Vetsch, Lorna Seilstad, and Bonnie Lacy at a writing retreat. With no internet, I was able to get the majority of one of my manuscripts revised for a different ending than first envisioned. Not too bad for a couple day retreat.

 

Dawn and Stephanie Ludwig at WordsowersAt the end of last week I attended the Wordsowers Conference in Bellevue, Nebraska at our own Stephanie Ludwig’s church. Wordsowers did an amazing job of getting qualified presenters for several different topics to help the Christian authors in their writing craft. I laughed along with Sherri Shackelford in adding humor to your writing, learned how to make my writing more active with Cheryl St. John, and had Jennifer Slattery bring fullness to my story arc. All in all it was a terrific conference! The best part, however, was spending time with all of my author friends, including our former Inksper Rose Zediker.

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Rose at Wordsowers

Now, all I have to do is apply what I’ve taken in the past month to ensure a novel you won’t want to put down.

 

Splickety LogoShamelss plug: for those of you who want to break into writing, or love to read/write flash fiction, there is still four days to enter Splickety Publishing Group’s Havok contest, Heroes vs. Villains. See the information on that contest here. Splickety editors do a great job of editing your work and letting you know how to improve your story, whether or not you get published in the magazine. It’s well worth the ten dollars you spend for the contest, plus you get a year’s subscription to Havok magazine when you enter! That is an amazing deal, and I’m not just saying that because I work with Splickety.

 

Happy writing!!

My neighbor’s daffodils

Is there anything that says spring as much as a cheerful bouquet of daffodils?

I’ve always loved this happy, sunshine-y little flower that promises warmer weather and new life after a cold winter. This year, I was determined to have a whole host of yellow daffodils right outside my front door. I cultivated my little flower bed, planted my bulbs, and waited.

And waited.

I wondered if my bulbs were old, or somehow defective. Maybe they didn’t like the soil, or I didn’t water them enough. Maybe there weren’t getting enough sunshine.

Neighbor's daffodils
My neighbor’s blooming daffodils, as seen from my driveway.

As I waited for my daffodils to bloom, I noticed green shoots start to appear in my neighbor’s yard. Pretty soon, those shoots grew into tall green stems, and a few days later, buds blossomed into dozens of yellow and white daffodils. They could be seen from across the street, from down the block, from the backyard. They were beautiful.

Meanwhile, my daffodils had only sprouted into teeny, tiny little shoots that could only be seen from a few feet away.

I tried watering them more, putting extra soil around them. Nothing enticed them to grow any faster than they already were. To make matters worse, my neighbors are not people who do any sort of gardening. The daffodil bulbs were inherited with the home when they bought it, and the only yard work they ever do is mowing the lawn. They haven’t done anything to encourage the growth of their daffodils at all.

Tiny daffodil
My first (and so far only!) mini daffodil bloom in my front flower garden.

Do you ever feel your dreams are like those daffodil bulbs? That you’re just waiting for them to bloom? I do. I feel like I’m waiting for my writing career to take off, I’m waiting to be a mother, I’m waiting for all those things I dreamed of happening someday to actually happen today. Try as I might, the seeds of dreams that I’m cultivating in my heart just don’t seem to be blooming.

And just like I covet my neighbor’s daffodils, I covet the dreams of others who seemingly haven’t done anything to make those things happen. I’m jealous of people who seem to have it all without putting in the hard work. I’m envious of friends who have babies to cuddle and kiss. I hate knowing that life isn’t ever going to be fair and some people seem to live charmed lives.

But you know what? Everything happens in His time, and for a purpose. Some dreams (and daffodils) just take longer to mature. Some seeds need more nurturing, more cultivation, more attention. Or maybe they just need to be transplanted somewhere else.

Just yesterday, the very first daffodil opened up in my little flower garden. It’s tiny, and a fraction of the size of my neighbor’s blooms, but you know what? It’s mine, and I cherish it that much more because of the work I put into coaxing it into life.

And God is watering and nurturing the seeds of my dreams, and when they finally bloom, I’ll cherish them even more because of the time and effort put into making them come true.

 

The Backstory Dump

Did anyone else read The Baby-Sitters Club books? They were a series of books that were popular among preteen girls in the late 1980s/early 1990s that centered around seven junior high-age girls who loved to babysit and started a club so their clients could get a hold of them. Each book followed a certain babysitter, chronicling their adventures in babysitting and beyond.

The books were extremely predictable (but when you’re 10-years old, you don’t really care). The first chapter would introduce the main action of the story, while the second would always take place at a Baby-Sitters Club meeting, where the first-person narrator/babysitter would explain who the members of the club were, their personalities, and how the club came to be. It was as formulaic as H20, with the exceptions being what the club members were wearing at the time.

I mention all of this to illustrate a common writing mistake: the backstory/information dump.

Writing Mistake No. 2: The Backstory Dump

Tangled backstoryThink about the main character in a book you’re reading. When you started the first page, do you know everything about them? Of course not. Just like when meeting a real person for the first time, you usually only know a few things about them, primarily their name, and their general appearance.

Too many beginning authors (and I include myself in that bunch) want to let the reader know everything about the main character right off the bat: who they are, what they do for a living, what makes them angry, why they don’t like to eat broccoli (well, who does?), etc. So, those writers will commonly have what we call the “backstory” or “information dump.” They try to tell the reader everything about their character in the first few pages, rather than get on to the business at hand: telling the story.

I get it. You’ve been living with this fictional character, fleshing them out, and you want the world to know everything about them, because you want the reader to love them as much as you do. But just like when you meet a person for the first time, you don’t know their life story; you slowly get to know them, peeling back the layers of their personality and history.

In the murder mystery I’m writing, my main character, Mira, is a former cellist who, due to an accident, can no longer perform. This is an essential element to who my character is, and it’s not a secret to either the reader or the other fictional characters in her world. However, I didn’t want to dwell on the accident in the first couple of paragraphs of the story, so while I mentioned it, I didn’t go into great detail:

My left hand involuntarily curled into a half-fist. Grimacing at the tight tendons that prevented it from closing further, my fingertips brushed the thin white scar across my palm: the only physical remains of the accident three years ago. I felt the familiar mixture of sadness and anger flare up, but I tamped it down. No use dwelling on something that would never be.

jane-eyre-book-cover WEBAs my story unfolds, the reader will learn more about the details that led to Mira’s accident, and how it affected her life. But I don’t need to write about it in the first couple of pages. I’d rather the reader wonder what happened to her, why such a small scar could change her life, and how she is moving on from it.

I recently read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the first time. From Jane’s first person perspective, we meet Mr. Rochester, the moody, brooding master of Thornfield Hall. As Jane and Rochester’s relationship deepens, he tells her he made mistakes in his youth, and has been desperately seeking redemption. Not all of his faults are revealed at once, but through long conversations with Jane as she (and the readers!) fall in love with him.

Reading a nearly 170-year old classic for the first time is interesting, because I knew Rochester’s big secret long before I ever read the story (thanks, pop culture!). Knowing what was going to happen slightly dampened my enjoyment of the big “Ah ha!” moment, but for an audience reading the story for the first time, it would have been shocking and unexpected.

Jaen Eyre 2006 WEBJust think if Charlotte Bronte had made a rookie writer mistake and revealed that *spoiler!* Mr. Rochester already had a wife (albeit a crazy one) when he tried to marry Jane? We would think him a cad, and Jane foolish for falling in love with a married man. As it is written, readers have fallen in love with Mr. Rochester long before his past is revealed, making it too late to hate him for his actions. This approach made us sympathize with his plight, while we are also grieving with Jane. It also makes for one heck of a great story!

In short: don’t dump your character’s backstory all up front. Let your readers get to know them gradually, and they’ll enjoy the character that much more.

* As a note to this post, I fully understand that books that are part of a series tend to have some sort of information or backstory dump for new readers, which is common and acceptable. I intend to have Mira’s life-changing accident be mentioned up front in other subsequent novels (Lord willing!), but it won’t be the focus.