When the writing stops – a RE-introduction

When the writing stops . . . I didn’t plan to write a book.  Fifteen years ago – no TEN years ago – I would have laughed at the prospect. I mean, maybe a little devotional or a sweet little encouraging gift book?

In The Beginning . . .

. . . I found fanfiction – I started reading stories and found some incredibly well-written pieces, and some not-so-well-written. After reading some of the not-so-good, and running out of the excellent, I decided that if I wanted to read good stories, then maybe I should think about writing some. So I did. I found somewhat of a following, and the instant gratification was AMAZING.

That’s when I met author Lorna Seilstad. She and a few other writers on the site were trying to make the transition from fanfiction to published original fiction. I joined their group, and I started writing in earnest.

Serious Writer? Me?

I joined ACFW, and started networking on email loops and blogs, started writing on Inkspirational Messages, and before my first ACFW conference, I already had friends “in the biz.” The first author who reached out to me outside of our beloved Inkspers was Kaye Dacus. I interacted on her blog, and when we met, she said, “you’ve got to meet Kathy Cretsinger.”

Sometime after that, I did, and joined the Ken-Ten (Kentucky/Tennessee) Writers’ Group. I was in the group a little over a year when I really started looking for someone to publish my book. Since it’s Christian Fiction of the “romantical” sort, I thought maybe Love Inspired. They asked for a full manuscript, but when all was said and done, they didn’t want it. I entered contests. Got the same scores no matter WHAT I did to it.

So I gave up. Kinda.

After the last rejection, I took a break from writing, my writing group, and this blessed blog. But it wouldn’t go away. I tried starting other books. I kept going back to Carolina Dream, the book of my heart. I don’t know what it was about that story.

So, after a year of upheaval, minor health issues, and a busy life in general, I felt the urge to go back to my writing group, and writing. In corresponding with Kathy, who is the unofficial leader of our group, she indicated that she was interested in my book. She had read it, she liked it, and, by the way, she had a publishing company, Mantle Rock Publishing.

I wasn’t sure. I mean, was I ready? Had I missed my opportunity? It’s kind of like the guy who drowned in a flood. He got to the Pearly Gates and asked God why He didn’t rescue him? God said, “Man, I sent you a raft, a boat, and a helicopter!”

I felt like this opportunity, and Kathy, was my helicopter. I still do.

Publishing Contract Signing with Mantle Rock Publishing, Kathy Cretsinger
Publishing Contract Signing with Mantle Rock Publishing, Kathy Cretsinger

What Next?

Currently, my book, still titled Carolina Dream, is in the hands of an editor who is doing wonderful things with it. A graphic artist is working on a cover. One of these days I’ll reveal that both here and on my author website.

In April, after I get up from keeling over at the sight of my new book, I’ll invite all of YOU to the launch party.

God didn’t want me to quit writing indefinitely, but he had things to show me in the interim. Things like watching two girls grow up into young women, go to college, suffer heartbreak, move away, etc. Things like helping a husband get ready for retirement somewhere down the road. Things like accepting some things as they are, and changing things that need to be changed. Just little things like that.

It all came down to this – when I decided to get back in the writing game, I re-read the story of my heart. Guess what? I still liked it. I still LIKE it.

God doesn’t give you a story that’s a dud. EVER.

 

Thanks for reading, and for having me back!

Regina

Regina Merrick

The research behind the writing

Have you ever read a story that is so immersive in the time, place, and setting, that you could swear the author must have lived through what they were writing about?

First off, that’s the sign of a good writer. And secondly, that means the writer did such a fantastic job of researching their subject and setting that nothing ever jarred you out of the story because it felt out of place. In fact, it felt natural.

Honestly, as an unpublished writer, research is something I both love and hate.

I love it because, hey, I love to read! I love to learn new things! I will happily spend an hour diving down a rabbit hole about Henry VIII’s wives, and emerge on the other side knowing far more than I ever needed to about cleaning practices in the 16th century.

But I also hate it because it takes time away from the actual writing of a story, making that dream of publication seem even further out of my grasp.

However, if I want that dream to become reality, I have to make sure my story won’t be picked apart by a well-meaning editor just doing their job.

A lot of people think that historical writers are the only ones who need to research. And while, yes, historical fiction writers bear the brunt of research, since the setting of their stories is critical before they even put one word on the page, almost any kind of writer benefits from a helpful librarian, a good search engine, and free time to browse Wikipedia.

mistletow-webFor example, I’m working on a Christmas romance novella that takes place in the Mt. Hood area of Oregon. I wanted a specific landmark to be covered in mistletoe, but then I had to stop and think: Does mistletoe grow in Oregon? (Yes, it will grow pretty much anywhere.)  There is a snowstorm brewing that strands a few characters in my fictional town for several days. I had to do a quick search of typical winter weather in that area, because the last thing I need is for the whole thing that sets the story in motion to not be possible because Oregon only gets an average of two feet of snow a year (it doesn’t, by the way). Even the livelihood of one of the characters has to be researched: I want the hero to be an Iditarod competitor who trains dogs and takes tourists on dog sled excursions during the off-season. But wait– is that even a thing outside of Alaska? Thanks to Google, I now know that it does, and that I need to convince my husband that we need to take another trip to Oregon in winter so we can take a dog sled ride (all in the name of research, of course!).

violin-webAnd don’t get me started on my symphony murder mystery! A lot of the research in that story has taken the last four years, because it’s literally the job I do of a living every day. I’ve learned so much about my field, and I can channel that into my story. However, the only things I know about murder are what I’ve read in other murder mysteries and seen on TV, so that part of the story definitely requires some research. (You all will vouch for me if the FBI confiscates my computer for disturbing web searches, right?)

So, the next time you fall down a rabbit hole in the name of research, just tell yourself: it will make your story better in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for all of our bloggers and readers here at Inspirational Messages!

 

 

Summer Update

Doesn’t it feel like summer is flying by? Here it is, mid-July, and school will be starting before you know it!

Not that a school calendar means that much to me, since I am not a teacher, and I don’t have kids yet. But in my world of working for a symphony orchestra, our schedule is just as cyclical as the school calendar: our symphony season starts in mid-September, and runs through early June. That doesn’t mean I get summers off, but our office is much more relaxed during June, July and August. One of the perks of my job is getting eight Fridays off in those summer months while our musicians and conductors are away playing in different music festivals, vacationing, or maybe just relaxing at home.

So, what I have I been doing with myself during this summer?

Swim trialsOlympic Swim Trials! My husband and I attended the opening session of the Olympic swim trials a few weeks ago, which were held in my hometown, Omaha, Neb. It was a dream come true to see these world-class athletes competing in my city for the third straight Olympic trials. #WeDontCoastOmaha

Seeing friends and family! For my first official Friday off, I took my grandma to lunch. I treated her to Mexican food, and she returned the favor by treating me to ice cream. We chatted about my various cousins, aunts, and uncles, and then some about her long marriage to my grandpa, who passed away six years ago. If it were a movie or a book, my grandmother would have passed on sage wisdom or advice, or told me a secret about my family that would have changed everything. But instead, I made a pleasant memory of just spending time with someone I care about. I’ve also gotten to spend time with cousins and other family members at a recent bridal shower and family reunion.

WritingReading! That’s a given, right?

Writing! I usually try to write during my lunch hour at work, and since I have a lot less meetings in the summer time, I can get nearly a solid hour of writing time in, seated in my office’s window seat.

Gardening! I’ve trimmed bushes, pulled weeds, and planted a small flower garden in the backyard that I hope to expand next summer.

Singing! I joined my church’s praise team this spring, and have had the pleasure of helping lead others in worship. For a special July 4 service, we sang patriotic songs, including all of the military anthems (the Air Force theme went over especially well here in Bellevue, home of Offutt Air Force Base!) and it was a special time to recognize our veterans and reflect on our freedoms.

EmmetMeeting new people! I had the pleasure of attending a concert by Irish tenor Emmet Cahill last week, and he was phenomenal! Emmet’s team is hoping he can come sing with the Omaha Symphony someday, and brought him to my attention. After hearing him perform, I am definitely recommending him for future seasons. In addition to his beautiful voice, he had a charming persona both onstage and off, and his dimples are adorable!

Relaxing with the TV! Yes, I’m a Netflix junkie, because I love finding new shows. The last few months, I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a show about a lady detective in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Phryne Fisher is a modern woman who loves sparring with detective inspector Jack Robinson. With only three seasons, I’ve been parceling the episodes out for months, but I’m going to miss Phyrne when I’m done. Any other show suggestions?

Snuggle bugsSnuggling babies! Well, really just one. Last Friday, I was able to visit one of my best friends, and her nine-day old newborn, Ivy. I got to snuggle that little muffin to my heart’s content while I visited with her mama and daddy all day. Bazinga was incredibly jealous that I spent my day away from her (she usually “helps” me when I write or garden, or cuddles next to me when we watch Miss Fisher), so she had to get some snuggle time in too!

I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer! What are you doing to while away the heat?

 

 

Headline news

Extra, extra, read all about it!

Yeah, my life isn’t that exciting that I need a newsboy crying out my current front page headlines. The daily minutiae of my life is barely even worthy of a headline. But, it’s my blog, so I can make even small news seem big.

So, here’s the scoop from the Ludwig Tribune:

Symphony season nearly over!

 

The Omaha Symphony's recent performance of John Adams' Harmonielehre,
The Omaha Symphony’s recent performance of John Adams’ Harmonielehre,

One of the things I love about my job is that it is extremely cyclical. Like a school year, the symphony season runs from September through June, with a three and half month period that we call the off-season. Since it’s now the end of April, we only have a little more than a month of concerts left until we are DONE with the 2015/2016 symphony season! And it’s going to be a busy six weeks, with eight more concerts to go, and some big ones at that: The Oak Ridge Boys, our annual Gala featuring Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, a concert featuring music from superhero movies, two outdoor concerts, and the season closer, Scheherazade. That’s a lot of public relations work I still need to do!

But the best part is that when our season officially winds down, the symphony has eight designated Fridays that we close up the office and take a break. Yes, that’s right, I get summer Fridays off! They are still two months away, but I’m already planning everything I want to do on those blissful summer Fridays.

Word count increases, murder mystery might finally be solved (or at least finished)

Sitting in my office window seat, writing away.
Sitting in my office window seat, writing away.

This past spring, I’ve really been trying to make myself accountable to my writing by setting aside time to work, dig deeper into my story, and set goals for myself. I try to work over my lunch break about three to four days a week, sitting in my office’s deep window seat for a change of scenery. Sometimes I’m editing, other times I’m doing actual writing, but the point is that I’m working!

I also began meeting regularly with three other writing friends in the area about once a month for “brainstorming” sessions. We meet at a coffee shop and discuss story ideas, plot holes that need fixing, character arcs that need help, career advice, etc. It’s been extremely beneficial to help keep me accountable (after all, it’s not fun to come if nothing has changed in my story since we last met!), and I love being part of a give and take with fellow writers. They’ve really helped me in a short time, so special thanks to Jennifer, Mikal, and Sara!

I’ve set a goal that I’d like a polished first draft of my murder mystery finished by August 1. (Oh great, now it’s in print for the world to see!) Hopefully I can spend some of those hot summer Fridays inside in the cool AC with my laptop and imaginary friends!

Notes and Happenings:

  • I joined Twitter! Follow me at @ssqueenludwig
  • I’ll be at the Wordsower’s Writing Conference this weekend, so please say hello if you are there!
  • I joined my church’s choir and praise team this spring! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed reading music and helping to lead worship, rather than just participating.
  • I’m working on a flower garden in the back yard! One of my summer Friday projects is to transform an area of dead grass into a flower bed (hopefully no rocks lurk below the soil!).
  • I witnessed my best friend’s husband become a U.S. citizen last week! Julio now has dual citizenship with the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, where he lives with my college roommate Ruth, and their daughter Liliana.

 

 

Summer Fridays

One of the coolest things about my job is that I get Fridays off in the summertime. That’s right, you heard me: Summer. Fridays. Off.

The reason being because at my job with the Omaha Symphony, we work a lot of nights and weekends doing concert duty. So, since our season runs from September through June, our summers are fairly light. We do a lot of planning for the upcoming season, but there’s nothing pressing that needs to get done right away (at least, not in my position). Somewhere down the line, the powers-that-be decided that the administrative staff deserved some time off in the off-season. So for eight blessed weeks, I get eight three-day weekends in a row. I can’t complain.

Purple shamrocksSo what do I do on my summer Fridays off?

Nothing.

OK, there are a lot of things I do: sleep in a bit, catch up on my reading, and do errands that I otherwise would have done on the weekend. Really, I do nothing major with my day off, which is kind of the point- to relax.

One thing I try to do on my Fridays off is have lunch with someone special, like my mom, grandma, or friends that I don’t normally get to have lunch with during the work week. It’s a great time to catch up.

Since this is the first summer we’ve had a house, I’ve done a lot of yard work on my days off. I’ve trimmed the bushes on the side of the house. I’ve planted bulbs and flowers in the former rock garden (see my previous post here, and check out what it looks like now in the picture below!) and nurtured them to grow. I’ve tended my pots on the deck and seen my purple shamrocks flourish.

Flower gardenOne Friday, I spent almost the entire day reading and cross stitching. I think I read three cozy murder mysteries in a weekend once. I’ve watched movies that I know my husband has no desire to see.

Every summer, I tell myself I’m going to get more writing done on my Fridays off, and every summer, I do a lot less than I think I’m going to do. This summer, I ran into a snag in my story and just couldn’t motivate myself to move past it. Thankfully, I decided to read Cheryl St. John’s Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict, which not only has many amazing insights and tips about writing, it helped me to recognize the problem and write through it. Now I’m back on track and writing away again!

My summer hasn’t been all about relaxing. My husband and I will be taking a major vacation later this summer, something we haven’t done since 2010. We’re very excited, and I promise to share more when I get back!

3P’s of Writing

3P's of Writing

Writing. It’s so easy yet so hard. My writing process is a bit of a mix. I call it the 3P’s of Writing. Praying, Pantsing, and Plotting.

Prayer is an essential part of the writing process for me. I’m a left brain thinker. Which means I’m organized, structured, keep good notes, don’t over commit and don’t under commit. This is a great way to live life, but as a writer it stunts the artistic side. I easily get caught up in editing, structure and social media more than the writing.

So before I write I pray.

I’m so left brained, God has to activate the right side when He needs me to use it 😉

When the good Lord puts a book on my heart He gives me the basic concept of the book, ie: Transformation, Loving Like Jesus, Prayer, etc. Each day I read in whatever spiritual growth book I’m currently reading, I check out the daily Jesus Calling devotion and I journal my prayer. As I meditate, listen to podcasts and pray throughout my days, the Lord puts the book on my heart. One chapter at a time. Most often He gives me a new chapter heading and the rest stems from that one title. This is the pantsing part of my process.

Just today I felt stuck. I needed an example of someone is scripture to visually provide the concept I was trying to get across. A real life example of what the concept looks like. I’ve been struggling with this particular part of my book for a while now. I woke up this morning and went through my routine. Then the Lord gave me exactly the example I needed. While I’ve yet to write it out, I make my notes and keep trekking along, one chapter at a time.

Since I’ve lately been writing non-fiction this works for me.

I just let God lead.

While I don’t know how or when the book will be finished, God does and His story I’m telling anyway, right? So while there are times this particular process is frustrating it works and it’s all to His glory.

The plotting comes at the end. As I generate my table of contents based on my chapter headings, I look at all of the them and determine the order in which they should go. Looking for a beginning, middle and end to bring about a full life cycle concept of the book I’m writing. Then I go back through the finished product and rearrange it to fit my table of contents and proposal outlines.

It sounds a bit backwards, but it works for me and that’s all that counts. If you are stuck in your writing journey try using the 3P’s of writing and see how it works for you!

 

Question: Can you relate to the 3P’s of writing or does it bring about more confusion?

Oh, Those Characters!

Without a doubt, characters are the heart of my stories. I often have a large ensemble in mind for any given storyline. Because of this I work hard to keep my characters fresh and convincing.

When I begin a story, I first plan out who my main characters are going to be. Young or old, blond or brunette, strong or funny. I’m a very visual person, so after I figure out my main characters, I do a search online for pictures of the type of characters I’m looking for.

When I find the photo that comes close, I copy it into a character file and then list not only the physical characteristics, but also the personality types I want them to be. Chubby girl gone skinny, insecure in her worth? Check. Beefy, athletic guy who is too competitive for his own good? Check. How about an elderly neighbor who tries to meddle with the two main characters? Geriatric blue hair, dentures, and a powdered nose big enough to stick into other’s business? Sure.

When that’s all decided and mapped out I begin plotting out the story. What type of setting do I want? Small town or urban setting? An alien world or 1850’s England? Although we can place our stories anywhere, the story of my black sheep who returned home to her estranged mother’s funeral would not have been the same had I not placed the setting in a small Midwestern town. The setting itself became it’s own character.

blank signBy the time I have all of this figured out, I have to figure out the GMC: goal, motivation, and conflict. My protagonist’s goal in this manuscript was to use her inheritance to put her culinary degree to work and run a cafe, thus turning her luck around. Her motivation was to bring her late father’s business, the cafe, back to life, and prove she wasn’t the deserting loser her family thought she was. The biggest conflict came with the love interest and his employer who wanted the same piece of property to expand their business.

Add in some crazy red-neck relatives, a stormy summer, and a violent secret that keeps the protagonist from trusting the opposite sex, and you’ve got a recipe for a great start to a story.

How does your story begin?

An Interview with Award-Winning Author Amy Houts

 

Every writer needs a friend like Amy Houts. She has not only encouraged me with my writing projects over the years but is a proficient author with more than 60 books in print. Amy lives in Maryville, Missouri and has an eclectic assortment of titles. I talked with her earlier this week and asked her three questions about her career as a full-time writer. Here they are along with her answers:

What are the genres you have written for and which is your favorite? I have written cookbooks, Christian curriculum, poetry for children, articles for adults, and picture books—both fiction and nonfiction—a few whose characters were licensed properties from the TV shows Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street. My educational titles for children include biographies, and subjects related to science and math. My favorite genre though is picture books.

You have published many books. How do acquire the assignments that keep you so busy? I network with other writers I’ve met and become friends with at writer’s conferences. When I was an instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) I met other professionals while training, and we keep in touch online, sharing publishing news. I subscribe to a blog “Writing for the Education Market” which gives details about publishers looking for writers willing to work on assignment. I’ve also written directly to publishers that offer assignments and send along a resume and writing samples.

CookingCalendarWhat has been your most exciting moment as a writer? One of the most exciting moments was the publication of my first book “An ABC Christmas.” It was like my baby and was published by Standard Publishing in 1993. Another exciting moment was when I won the Walter Williams Major Work award from the Missouri Writers’ Guild for “Cooking Around the Calendar with Kids” published by Images Unlimited.

Amy is a gifted writer and I’m honored to call her my friend. Her latest picture book, “What Do Moms Do?” is adorable for young readers and can be found at http://www.amazon.com/What-Do-Moms-Amy-Houts/dp/0985508426/. Amy Houts

Her publisher for “Cooking around the Calendar with Kids” can be found at http://imagesunlimitedpublishing.com/cooking-around-the-calendar-with-kids-holiday-and-seasonal-food-and-fun/.

To find out more about Amy, visit her website at http://www.amyhouts.com.

If you have any questions for her, please ask them in the comment section below.

 

Five Years and Counting

 

Five years. Wow. 2010 seems like a lifetime ago. I had just gained control of my chronic illness and sent my baby to Kindergarten. Looking back, a change of season took me down a road I never anticipated. At that time, God whispered across my heart an enormous task I thought impossible to accomplish. Write a book. What? Me? Write? You’ve got the wrong person.

But I entertained the idea and dreamed. What if I did write a book? What kind of book would I write? Definitely a romance, definitely a page turner. But how in the world does one write a book? I prayed and began to write. Four months later I finished my first novel.

It. Was. Awful. I often apologize to the people who faithfully read that first draft as I’m surprised it didn’t kill them.

I encountered a reversal of destiny. Growing up I hated to read, let alone write. But God called me to do something I never dreamed capable. That’s how I knew He worked through me. I could not do this on my own.

I soon realized I needed training. I took continuing education courses and found a local writing group. As I learned more about the craft, I edited that first manuscript and entered it into contests. It received an honorable mention at its first contest (that’s how I met our dear Shannon Vannatter).

After finding ACFW and entering it in The Genesis, the feedback received told me it had potential, but wasn’t ready for publication. I worked on two sequels and soon realized I had been in the same story world for three years. Unsure of putting that project down, I prayed and decided to start anew.

Back to the drawing board I went. God kept pushing upon me the idea of non-fiction. Really Lord? But I LOVE fiction! I ignored Him and pressed on to my next fiction project. I gained insight and understanding of the concepts needed in the fiction world, but I soon lost interest as the need to help people consumed me. I finally waved my white flag to God and said, “Yes, I’ll write non-fiction.”

He gave me concepts of spiritual transformation from my own journey and how to show the love of Christ in actuality. What loving like Christ looks like in real life, not just in theory. So as I journey through this process of letting God lead, I’m confident I’ll be published within the next five years. I’m not sure how or when, but I know God has a plan and a purpose. I’m just following His lead.

I have many random facts unique to me that others would not know.

  1. I’m a military brat, so I’m pretty well rounded and cultured as I’ve been part of many different places and congregations across and outside of the United States.
  2. I was born in the Philippines. My husband often tells people he married a Philippino.
  3. I almost died at birth and as a result have no belly button.
  4. I received Jesus in my heart and was baptized into Christ at the age of ten. In July, spiritually speaking, I will be 28 years old.
  5. Believe it or not, I am a half cup empty kind of gal. I struggle to find that silver lining each and every day. But if I can do it, so can you!

 

Question: How has God used your weaknesses to do great things?

Leave a comment today and the rest of the week and you’ll be entered in a drawing for an Inkspirational Messages mug and a surprise collection of books. The winning name will be drawn by Random.org. The deadline to leave a comment is Friday, March 13.

What I Wished I’d Known Then

Over the years I’ve learned many things about the writing game. The thing is, many of those little nuggets of wisdom that help navigate the writing world also pertain to jumping life’s hurdles too. What works in one area often works in the other. It took me awhile to pick up on some of them though.

One of the main things I’ve learned about writing is to lower my expectations. Oh, this doesn’t mean to submit below standard work, it just means that I must accept the fact that not everyone will appreciate my story or understand my determination to achieve my dreams. Creative people need to create, it’s the way God made us. It’s important for writers to use their God-given talents, the same as others should use their gifts, even if it seems to go unnoticed. God notices though and that’s what counts.

Don’t take things so personally. When I first began writing and submitting, I analyzed a rejection letter to the point of nearly driving myself nutty. No matter what an editor said in a rejection letter, even an encouraging one, I tried and tried to understand what it “really” meant. I had trouble accepting the fact that my wonderful manuscript didn’t meet the publisher’s needs (and probably wasn’t as wonderful as I thought.) I eventually learned that not everyone will like my work, even if it is well-written. The same goes for life in general. Not everyone will approve of my choices, but God gave us our own free wills. We all have the right to choose what we like or don’t like. That’s what makes us unique.

Rejection is a part of life. This one really stings. Nobody likes to be rejected, whether from an editor or agent, or a friend or family member who shoots down our great idea. All writers want readers to like their work and say “Ooh, I love this,” but, of course, not everyone will, and instead of feeling hurt I need to accept the fact that most times, rejection isn’t dealt out because of meanness, it’s simply others making a choice the same way I do.

And there you have it, three of the biggies I struggle with the most, things I’m still working on dealing with every day.