Monday, January 30, 2012

A2Z Take 2: Choose to Dance

From stock.xchng by Tracy Toh
A few years ago I happened upon the blog of a woman who had just been diagnosed with cancer—only a few days before her wedding. She wrote something that has stuck with me all these years. She said, “Tomorrow I will have cancer. Today I will have cake.”

At the time I was writing a novelette about a girl in Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II. As a child I was fascinated with that time period and with concentration camps in particular. Yet something baffled me. What gave Christians, people who knew without a doubt they would spend eternity in heaven, the strength to keep fighting? To live through such horrible suffering? I don’t mean suicide; I mean why didn’t they just give up and let their bodies stop trying, stop fighting for each breath?
Little did I know that years later I would be in my own kind of prison, trapped within my body, suffering pain and exhaustion every day of my life. Years later, the answer to that childhood question would be vital to my own well-being.

As a teen I sought God in my questions, and He gave me an answer. Two answers, actually, as to why His people kept fighting for this life which can be so despicable at times.

First of all, we live for others. There are so many people on this earth who do not yet have that assurance of an eternity of joy. Many of them rub shoulders with us every day. We live, we endure suffering for one more minute because in that minute we just might have the chance to point someone to salvation.

Corrie ten Boom
Look at Corrie and Betsie ten Boom. When those sisters were in concentration camps, they spent every moment of their time seeking ways to understand God more clearly, to love Him more deeply, and to pass on that understanding to the prisoners around them. Many people accepted the saving grace of God because the Ten Booms were there suffering beside them, because those women chose to live another day for as long as their bodies could muster up the strength.

The second reason God showed me those people were able to keep living brings me back to my opening paragraph. They chose to eat cake. They chose to find joy in God and in life, no matter what horrible things they were going through physically and emotionally.

I named my novelette “I Will Dance” because my character found that joy. She knew that God was still good, that there were still things in life worth praising. Even as she stood with painful toothpick-thin legs on that filthy prison floor, she would choose to dance.

She also knew that the day ultimately would come when she would dance before Jesus on those golden streets of heaven. This suffering is only temporary. “I will dance today. And I will dance forever.”

In this world my own dancing has to be done internally, emotionally. The joy is expressed in my heart, but my body does not allow for much dancing with my legs. (I can, however, still eat cake!)

When I die I hope no one says I will “rest in peace.” No, I did all the resting I need here on this earth. I hope you all will say, “Dance in peace, girl, dance!”

sxc by galofgray

Check out more "D" posts at and if you're a blogger, feel free to join the meme!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A2Z Take 2: Craft Pretties

I had a more elaborate idea for my "C" post but didn't end up having time since I'm still focusing on my novel revisions, so I decided to just post some pictures of some of the crafts I've done. I used to do a lot more crafting, but now I'm spending more of my time writing and my increased pain makes some things hard. But I did a lot of embroidery this fall.

Here are a couple greeting cards I designed and made:

I used to be constantly crocheting, mostly baby blankets.

This one was really fuzzy and extra-soft!

close-up of the white squares

And here are some drink coasters I made for holiday gifts this last year. I did the embroidery and then sewed felt on the backs.

Check out more "C" posts at Patternings and click the Take 2 picture below to find out how to join us to write your own blog post for the next letter!

a2z: Take 2. Patty Wysong Helping bloggers blog.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A2Z Take 2: A Chat with Brandilyn Collins

As a special treat to celebrate B in our A2Z meme, I'm excited to have Brandilyn Collins with us today. She is the Christian author of the popular Seatbelt Suspense® books and is one of my favorite writers.

Brandilyn, thanks so much for joining us.

BC: Amy, nice to be with you and your readers. I’ll do my best to behave (but make no promises).

Haha, thanks! As I mentioned, I love your books and have gained a lot of inspiration from them, especially now as I'm writing a suspense book myself. Your first books, The Bradleyville Series, are contemporary Christian fiction with smaller elements of adventure. What prompted the switch to focus on the suspense genre?

BC: I didn’t really switch genres so much as focus. At the beginning of my career I was writing in both the contemporary and suspense genres. For marketing and branding purposes I needed to choose one genre. Suspense seemed the best choice at the time, due to its sales. I really did mourn losing contemporary for awhile. But choosing a genre was the right thing to do. To this day, I find that having written contemporaries really helps me in my characterization in suspense. (And when I wrote contemporaries, you can see my pull toward suspense in each of them.)

By the way, for those of you out there who don’t like suspense, try reading my Color the Sidewalk for Me. This is the second book in my Bradleyville series, and I think it’s the best in the series. In fact I think it’s one of the best books I’ve written.  

The title of that particular book is what first drew me to read your work, actually. It's such a lovely word picture and I enjoyed the story, as well.

I know several other of my blog readers also write suspense. Do you have any advice for those of us writing in that genre?

BC: Well, it’s very hard. I find it way harder than writing contemporary fiction. Suspense has some strong conventions: tighter and tighter trouble for the protagonist, chapter hooks, twists, etc. A good surprising twist is difficult to pull off. I always write on two levels—the surface level of what I want the reader to believe, and the underlying, real level where the truth resides. Often individual sentences must be able to sound correct for both levels. I lead the readers to assume A or B or C (regarding who the bad guy is and the outcome), when the truth is really D or E. Or A and E. Or F and Z. You get the picture. The reader will read a sentence with the assumption in mind. But when the truth is revealed, that reader should be able to go back and relook at the sentence and say—“Ah. That’s how she fooled me.” Calls for some very careful, precise writing.

If you’re going to write suspense, find some good suspense writers you enjoy and read them. Notice how they handle story structure, characterization, twists, chapter hooks, etc. I found when I was learning how to write fiction that my growth came 50% from reading and 50% from writing. Also—don’t forget that no matter how brilliant your premise is, readers will stop reading if they don’t care about your characters. It’s absolutely essential to make your readers empathize with your main character immediately. But without loading up the beginning with a bunch of backstory, which only slows the plot. And is boring. So there’s a balance. And that’s hard to find.

Sigh. Methinks in my next life I’ll be a rocket scientist. It’s easier.

I've got my work cut out for me! Glad I know some good suspense writers to study from. ;-)

When did you know you were called to be a writer?

BC: I can’t give you a specific date. I come from a family of writers, and I’ve always had the love of drama. In fact, drama was my first major in college, before journalism. I went from creating characters on the stage to creating them on the page. Once I began writing fiction I used what I’d learned through acting to create my characters. I wrote a book that takes seven techniques from the art of method acting and tweaks them for the novelist. It’s called Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors. It’s helped a lot of people, which makes me very happy.

I'm one of those people who have been aided by that bookthank you!

You've had bouts with Chronic Lyme Disease yourself. I suffer from Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS and/or Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Several of my blog followers also have debilitating chronic illnesses. I find it very difficult to find enough creative energy to write when my fatigue is acting up, which is often. Do you have any advice for writing in the midst of the fatigue, pain, and brain fog that comes with these types of conditions?
Brandilyn's novel about Lyme

BC: You can only do what you can do. I’d say push through it as much as possible, but writing is not as important as your health. During my difficult time with Lyme in 2002-2003, I fought to write when I had such terrible brain fog.  Amazingly I managed to write about 2/3 of a book. But then I became so sick that I simply had to stop. Had to call my editor and say, “I can’t do this. I have no idea when this book will be done, but I must stop.” And it was the right decision. I simply couldn’t push myself any more. I felt such relief to stop trying.

Do you have any general advice for those of us working on manuscripts or pitching completed ones to agents and publishers?

BC: Keep at it. That’s all I can tell you. Writing is a very, very hard business. Being rejected is very hard. (I know—I worked for 10 years to be published in fiction.) Along the way, if you want to quit—quit. Kick a cabinet or two and walk away. If you’re meant to be a writer, you’ll come back. If not, you’ll find what you are meant to do. I quit, oh, two to three times during that decade I was trying to land my first contract. Did me a world of good. Cleared my head, and by the time I came back I was ready to fight again. Besides—and hear me good now. (Perfect grammar or not.) Once you start being contracted, you can’t walk away. You can’t quit. You have to create, no matter if you’ve got a fever, or your kid is giving you fits, or your creativity is completely gone, or your parent dies, etc. If you’re not yet published, enjoy the ability to write only when you want to. I understand the push to be published. But I do wish I’d better enjoyed the time when I wasn’t. I could have been a lot easier on myself. The process is hard enough, and we writers tend to beat up on ourselves. We’re all a flaky lot, generally. Especially novelists.  

I can especially appreciate that advice now as I'm starting to feel the extra stress of having a publisher waiting to read my Reaching Sky manuscript. Speaking of current projects, can you tell us a little about the books you are working on right now?

BC: Right now I’m just starting my 25th book, called Sidetracked. Another suspense. Last May my novel based on Lyme disease was released—Over the Edge.

On March 1 of this year my next novel is released—Gone to Ground. This is a great story, if I do say so myself. Three women in small-town Mississippi all realize to their horror that they’ve learned the identity of the serial killer who’s murdered six women in their town. And that person is someone very close to them. Each woman must make the difficult choice to bring the man down. But each woman suspects a different man. The book is told in first person from each of the three women—Cherrie Mae, black, 62; Dina, white, 36, and Tully, white, 19. Two races and three generations. Makes for an interesting mix. You can view the character-rich trailer here. I went to Mississippi to audition people for the voices so they’d sound right. And the Cherrie Mae on the video is the real-life Cherrie Mae I interviewed before writing the book (to get the African American dialect right). I ended up using her name for my character with her permission—then her actual voice on the book trailer.

In mid-October my next book will release. Double Blind is about a brain chip implant—gone terribly wrong.

Ah, nothing like making characters suffer.

Those sound exciting! And the trailer must have been fun to make. I'm looking forward to reading them.

Now just for fun, tell us something about you that isn't writing related.

BC: 1. I’m horrible at mechanical things. So bad it’s not funny.
2. I can’t kneel or squat, thanks to the damage Lyme left in my knees. Even after my miraculous healing from Lyme (if you haven’t read that story, please do!), this has continued. Amazingly I can still run my daily miles. So it doesn’t affect me too much.

Thanks, Brandilyn, for being here today!

BC: Thanks for inviting me. By the way, all you readers out there, if we’re not connected on FaceBook, just why not? You’re missing out on Today’s Word. Think how much smarter you could be. You can find me here.

a2z: Take 2. Patty Wysong Helping bloggers blog.

Hop over to FaceBook to join Brandilyn's page and then check out my friends' B blog posts through the Mr. Linky on the bottom of Patty Wysong's blog. See you all next Tuesday.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A2Z Take 2: Antidote for a Neglected Blog

a2z: Take 2. Patty Wysong Helping bloggers blog.
I took a break from blogging during November and if I'm not careful I could fall back into the very long apart, random blog posting that does not happen more often than it does. But what is the sure antidote for a neglected blog? A meme, of course! My friend Patty Wysong talked us into doing the A 2 Z 4 U & Me meme last year and I managed to post for all 26 letters. It worked so well we decided to do it again this year.

I've got some exciting posts planned, starting next week with an interview with one of my favorite authors, Brandilyn Collins. She kindly answered some questions about writing which I think we'll all benefit from. I think I'll play around with vlogging a little this year, too, and even do some fun story performances and the like.

Drawn by Amanda Morris
For this first post, I'll just give a quick update of the exciting things that have happened since I posted last. I was able to accomplish NaNoWriMo with just barely over 50,000 words. I fought a lot of fatigue that month, so I wasn't completely happy with my shambles of a disorderly manuscript, but I'm hopeful I have some good scenes to work with. A local lady in my area, Amanda Morris, is an artist and participates in NaNo by drawing character sketches for writers. This is one she did of my neglected child character, Renee. Isn't it great?

But for now Voices of the Dark is set aside to finish polishing up last year's novel. Which brings me to the exciting news that a publisher has requested the full manuscript of Reaching Sky! I'm excited to have that confirmation that someone else thinks my story and at least the chapters they saw have potential. I still have some work to do before I'm ready for them to see the whole thing, and the publisher generously gave me some feedback on something specific I can improve before I send it back. Now just to pray for energy to get it done, especially since I started back to work on Monday (even if it is only a couple hours a day).

Another exciting thing that recently happened is that one of my good friends, Jess Capps, finally got an answer to prayer and received a heart transplant. However, things got a little scary as the heart apparently went into shock and took ten days to recover. It was really hard being on the other side of the U.S. and not knowing much about what was going on. I'm praising God now that the heart did start working last week! I'm looking forward to chatting with Jess soon. I've missed her. [Added update as of the morning of Tues the 10th.] Looks like Jess's body is still having a lot of physical hurdles and is struggling. Please keep praying for her!

On New Year's weekend I got to teach my church congregation a song in sign language for our Worship topic. It was so awesome to see the whole church worshiping in ASL together. Many people told me they were amazingly blessed to be able to praise God with their whole body that way.

It's been a great start to 2012. Here's to many more blessings!

Check out more A posts at

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Trying out a vlog

My friend Patty somehow talked a bunch of us into trying a video blog, or vlog. Glutton for punishment that I am, I decided not only to do a vlog but to do two--one in each of my languages. I thought I was going to be all clever and hold up some of the books I've been published in, but when I tried that in a test run, the titles were all backwards. :-\ So yeah, didn't do that. The content in the two videos isn't identical, but they are similar. The lighting isn't great, but hey, you can see me. ;-)



Check out my friends' vlogs in the Linky at the bottom of Patty's post: