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Greetings from the Mines

Hello, readers. I’m sorry that I fell off the face of the blogging world for more than a year. There are several reasons, but the main reasons were I ran out of material, life was crazy, and I was distracted with other projects.

I won’t bore you with all the details of what kept me away for so long, but I will describe what has been a standing project for more than a year – editing Book Three, whose official title is ‘Till Death Do Us Part.

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I don’t like editing. I struggle with it. The details take time to correct, and I feel like I’m being mocked by my inner critic the whole time. I had started a detailed edit over a year and a half ago, consulting the notes of my beta readers. Life happened, work was crazy, and I needed some sanity, so I chose to set down what I was working on and write a new story.

That new story ended up being the start of a trilogy. And then the first story and the last ten chapters of the second story were accidentally deleted when my computer was redone. All of my documents were supposed to have been saved to the flash drive. Some of them were not. I am still sad, but it was a complete accident, and I have enough notes that I can reconstruct what was lost. But this post is not to talk about that writing project. It’s to talk about Book Three.

 

I’ll be honest – Book Three was tough from the start. It took me twice the time to pen Book Three that it normally takes me. Part of that was due to breaking a finger, having to write by hand, then being well enough to type again. And part of it was due to the fact that it was just a tough story.

When I met my Princess Jasmine, she was already a jewel, she just needed polishing. I feel like all I did was pick up something pretty on the ground, rub it a bit, then put it back where it belonged. I struggled with the darker parts of Jasmine’s story, but for the most part, it was relatively easy to write.

Book Three follows Jasmine’s daughter, Isabel. Though I was in the same kingdom, following the same family, Isabel’s story was much harder to write. Isabel was not a jewel from the start. I had to haul raw material out of the mine with her, and keep working with that same hunk of rock until something started to shine back at me. And this editing project had not been just rubbing a jewel, it has been picking at this rock with a hammer, trying to find that glimmer. It’s been hard. I’ve put it down a lot. And I’ve kept picking it back up.

Though I love Jasmine’s story, Book Three begins Isabel’s journey. And Isabel has become one of my favorite characters. There is a lot in Isabel’s story, I will warn you. One of my beta readers even expressed concern with how God’s role was treated. All I can tell you is that sometimes, it takes time before answers are revealed.

I know with certainty that not every awful thing that happens to someone is necessarily part of God’s plan – but He can use everything to work together for good, if we will let Him (Romans 8:28, for those of you saying “that sounds familiar”).

Trevor’s rock solid faith is still a staple in Book Three. But the other characters who have a leading role in this story also present a healthy amount of doubt as the story continues. But God, why is this happening? I suppose it would have been easier to put something near the end, where God answers the continual questions. But it did not happen, and that’s more true to life. Sometimes, God answers our questions. But more often than not, we just muddle through, and God eventually shines a light on our path, and we see how Problem A led to Point B, and down the road, that led to a resolution around letter J. There’s a lot of questioning along the way. Trust me, I was in a particular corridor of questions for about ten years. Pretty sure I used up the whole alphabet more than once on my journey.

While my editing of Book Three is finally complete, I will need to format the book for epublishing, and also contact my cover artist about a design. I am hopeful to release this book sometime in October, but that’s only if things move quickly.

I am hopeful that my time in the mines has produced something worthy of putting on your shelf. But I will let you be the judge of that.

Updates coming soon!

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Focus and NaNoWriMo

A happy event took place in the Conway household almost two weeks ago. Our female kitty, Shadow, was fixed. Having lived with a cat in almost constant heat for over a month, we were ready for her to have her procedure.

Once we picked her up, the vet suggested having a special collar so she wouldn’t lick her incision. We decided against it at the time, resolving to see how she did first. By the end of the week, the incision was red and didn’t look right, so we brought her back to the vet. She was fine, but the vet decided it was time for her to wear the collar. We agreed.

Poor Shadow has been slowly adjusting to the “cone of shame,” though it throws her off balance terribly when she shakes her head.

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I was watching my poor kitty yesterday, and looking at her and the collar. It forces her to only focus on what is ahead of her, and it prevents her from hurting herself (in this case, brought on by giving herself a bath). It’s annoying, but overall useful.

I realized at the same time that Shadow and her collar sort of correlates to NaNoWriMo. During the NaNo season, participating writers don their respective cones and get to work. Yes, they look slightly ridiculous. Yes, regular life is interrupted. But it’s for a purpose – to get the story done. Once we reach that mark, we can take off the collar and celebrate.

Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch. But you have to focus in order to complete NaNoWriMo, and that’s what Shadow’s collar made me think of.

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Hollywood, Jesus, and Superman

****This post contains major spoilers for Batman vs. Superman. If you have not seen the movie and wish to be surprised, DO NOT read this post!!****

My husband and I are huge super hero fans. We’ve watched pretty much every super hero movie that Hollywood has produced in the last ten years – Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, even Ant Man. You name it, and we’ve either seen it or intend to see it.

When we heard about the Batman vs. Superman movie, we made plans to attend. We were even able to watch it on opening weekend. Both of us were excited.

I knew from the previews that Batman and Superman were going to spend much of the movie fighting against each other. When I saw the first trailer, I was shocked that they didn’t like each other. My patient husband explained that they didn’t start out as friends.

Though between the two, I like Batman more, you spend most of the movie rooting for Superman, who hasn’t really done anything wrong beyond showing up and trying to save people. A lot of people want to destroy him, and a lot of buildings are destroyed while he’s trying to fight bad guys. The movie focuses on Bruce Wayne trying to save the people who were in a Wayne building that collapsed in the middle of a Superman fight against the Kryptonians.

I am a patient moviegoer. I waited through some weird dreams that Bruce had, endured an absolutely pointless bathtub scene with Lois Lane, and watched as Lex Luthor proved he was just a little cuckoo. Oh, I finally thought. They’ll come together to take down Lex.

No, Lex decides to manipulate them into fighting each other. Batman steals the Kryptonite that Lex smuggled into the country, and makes weapons out of them in order to take down Superman. Just in case he’s going to end up being a bad guy. That’s not the super-smart Batman I grew up with, that’s a guy with too many toys focused on revenge and blind to all reason. However, it fit with the Batman character, so I went with it.

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In the middle of the fight between Batman and Superman, they realize they have to work together to defeat a common enemy. Batman throws away his Kryptonite spear, and the two take off to save their cities from destruction. Enter other villain that was created to kill Superman. Even the appearance of Wonder Woman doesn’t stop the villain. The three work together to stop the creature, while Lois dives for the spear, which she threw into the water.

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I personally loved Wonder Woman in the movie.

Superman stops fighting long enough to save her from drowning, then dives back into the water to get the spear – knowing it’s poison to him – because it’s the only thing that can kill the monster.

Superman is able to use the spear to kill the villain. But it costs him his life.

The movie theater was rather silent as the characters gathered around their dead hero. It switches to an elaborate funeral for Superman, and a much simpler one for Clark Kent. Everyone is mourning the loss of Superman.

I knew enough about the comic books to know that Superman did die at least once, and he came back. I kept watching, knowing that any moment the sun would restore him. The funeral kept going. My husband (and others) kept whispering, “you can get up now.”

Finally, Lois Lane sprinkles a handful of dirt over Clark’s coffin. She walks away, and the scene cuts to the dirt on top of the coffin.

I knew, without a doubt, that Clark was coming back. But as the dirt moved of its own accord, shaken by something beneath it (very awesome ending), a rather depressing thought hit, ruining the movie ending for me. That’s why they released it Easter weekend. He doesn’t stay dead.

I enjoy movies. I love good storytelling. Hollywood, for all its faults, tells a pretty good story. They keep you coming back, wanting more. But if growing up watching movies has taught me anything, it’s that Hollywood doesn’t understand my faith. According to Hollywood, I’m either a hypocrite that hates everyone who’s different than me and doesn’t attend my type of church, or I’m a backwoods Christian who isn’t educated enough to know better than to believe what the Bible says. If I’m really lucky, they’ll show a devout Catholic, who actually attends church every week, but the devout person usually don’t apply that faith to their life outside of church. That’s it.

People who believe what the Bible says, in Hollywood’s eyes, are idiots. We either don’t know any better or are worse than they are. There are no other good representations of Christianity available on a consistent basis. That’s why I am so hard on Christian movies – while they show our faith and regular life, they lack the storytelling needed to make Hollywood notice much of anything.

Going back to the movie, I left the theater unsettled. I recalled when Man of Steel came out a few years ago. One of my friends shared that Hollywood had purposely created their Superman character to parallel Jesus. Clark goes to a church and talks to a pastor. You can see a window of Jesus praying in the background behind him. He makes a statement that he’s 33 years old. Hollywood went beyond that and reached out to churches, offering them clips of the movie to use as devotionals, gave them topics to discuss, and so on. On the surface, that’s great. But as one who doesn’t trust Hollywood to deliver a faithful message, I was a bit leery that the movie giant had decided to make connections from their movie to our faith for us. It’s fine when Christians do that, because we know the material. We understand it. More importantly, fellow Christians will give a faithful interpretation of the Bible when relating it to the silver screen. As I’ve just explained, Hollywood doesn’t understand my faith. Should I trust that what they try to give the Church is going to be a good representation of our faith?

I felt like Hollywood had spent half the movie trying to demean my faith, and I was gullible enough to pay to see it.

Let me be clear – the movie didn’t do that. It presented a good and evil battle, and you were constantly rooting for the good guys. Evil fell. Justice was administered. The plot was left open for the next chapter of movies. It was a good movie. It was a great ending.

But my husband and I left the theater disturbed. We’re unsure what Hollywood will try to do next with Superman, who they’re trying at every opportunity to compare to Jesus. While Superman is a great character, he is not Jesus, and they need to stop trying to make him seem like he is. Superman has faults and is not perfect.

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Will I see the next movie? Yes. But am I leery of what Hollywood will do next concerning their greatest super hero? Absolutely. Hollywood has yet to understand my faith, so I am left to believe they are going to do something to ruin Superman’s character – defaming Jesus in the process. And that, my friends, is exactly why I left the theater upset. The next chapter might not be pleasant for Christians. And that ruins super hero movies for me, my husband, and other Christians who enjoy them. I hope I’m wrong…but I’m pretty sure that I’m not.

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Drama is Not Cute

I am an unabashed fan of mimes, skits, plays, and human videos being done within the Church. Drama is one of my passions, and all these things being done within the walls of the Church is something I genuinely get excited about. Excited to watch it, excited to participate, excited to direct it, and excited to critique it.

I went to a talent competition this weekend, and the whole day was about drama. I took notes during the performances and tried to pick my own winners. I compare my picks with the actual winners. It helps me be a better drama coach, and it will help me prepare the kids that I will eventually work with.

I heard something yesterday that was meant to be a positive remark, but as a drama person, I took it the wrong way. I was watching the younger kids perform, and the person announcing the different people coming to the stage also tried to engage the audience. During a lull while waiting for the judges to complete their comments and calculate their scores, the announcer told us, “any pastors in the audience, this is a great way to start off the service.” I honestly can’t remember exactly what he said after that, but the gist of it was “this is cute, and you should definitely incorporate in this in your service every now and then.”

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Yes, a seven-year-old in a tutu jumping across the stage is cute. There’s no denying it. But the reason there is dance or drama on any given Sunday is NOT because it’s cute. Drama people don’t perform because it’s cute. We perform because there is a message. Because of an anointing or a call on our lives. We are there to worship. Our focus is not on the crowd, it should be on Jesus.

As one who has spent most of my life working on something relating to a church drama, the fact that people still think of it as just “cute” instead of an actual ministry or something that has significance upsets me.

A singer or minister doesn’t want you to walk away from what they have done remembering what kind of outfit they wore. They want to know if what they did resonated within you. If it ministered. If it did, they succeeded.

Yes, the seven-year-old will be cute. But why is the child on stage? Do they want to show off? Or do they want to do something for Jesus? If it’s the latter, encourage that servanthood mentality and foster it in any way you see fit. Give them an opportunity to perform and to grow within their church family. But don’t let it remain “cute” to the congregation. Remind them it is another avenue of ministry. Trust me, your own drama person will thank you for the distinction.

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Writers Conference

As a writer, writers conferences are part of the package. While it does matter where you go and what type of event you attend, there seem to be a few things that are always the same.

Writers in every stage of the journey

At a typical conference, you will meet people that vary from those trying to write those first words, still struggling to identify what type of story they will pen, and those writers who have twelve books finished, three published, and two publishers vying for their hand for the next book (I completely made those numbers up. Point is, there will be someone whose success you will be jealous of). Why is the successful author at a conference if they’re not a speaker? The same reason you’re attending – they are there to learn.

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New information

Regardless of the topics discussed in the conference, you will learn things you didn’t know before. Certain things that the speakers say will inspire you. Bring pen and paper. You will be taking notes. Lots of notes.

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Old information

At some point, someone (a new friend, vendor, speaker, etc.) will recite information that you already know. It will seem pointless for you to hear this information. But others in the crowd need to hear it.

Books for sale!

Bring spending money to the conference – everyone will be selling books and other writing essentials! You may not plan to spend a dime. But you likely will. Either a speaker will be engaging, and they offer a book with more information, or you get caught up in the story they’re sharing, and you find yourself wanting to know what happens next.

 

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Publishers!

Yes, publishers of all shapes and sizes frequent these conferences. While traditional, reputable publishers make time to talk to authors, vanity presses and self-publishing companies frequent these things, too. Don’t be afraid to research and ask questions.

With that warning in mind, though, you can walk into a writers conference knowing you will be speaking to a publisher. Have material ready to give them, but don’t be surprised if they don’t read it. They may want to hear more at a later time, and that’s okay, too.

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Business Cards

I didn’t realize until the day before my own writers conference began that I needed to have business cards ready to hand to people. I went to Office Depot and bought some printable cards. I spent about half an hour designing a basic one. If you’re in a pinch, do that.

If you have time, go to Vistaprint and spend $10 for your own card. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll look very professional

Conflicting Information

It’s easy to suffer from information overload if you attend several classes a day. And with several classes come several teachers, who all have their own opinion about writing. The only hard and fast rule of writing seems to be there are no rules. Some teachers will present their opinion in order to get you to a desired goal. Another teacher, talking about the same thing, will tell you to do the exact opposite – since that worked for them.

Again, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You will receive information you won’t always agree with. That doesn’t mean the teacher is a moron. It means that you’re a different type of writer. But also trust that the teacher knows more than you about whatever it is they’re teaching. Chances are, they’re right.

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Food!

Yes, all writers conferences seem to have food of some kind – even if it’s just snacks. Bring your appetite!

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The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

We’ve all had those weird but memorable dreams. A pizza slice may be chasing you down the street, you show up unprepared to something important, or a long, vivid dream involving the teacher you’re scared of and a giant red pen. It’s odd, but it makes sense in the moment. And then you wake up, most likely relieved that it was just a dream.

Why am I talking about dreams today? Because sometimes, dreams have some awesome story potential. The Test of True Love began as a powerful dream that wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried my best to document what I could before I forgot the amazing details (that later changed to fit the story).

When you wake up in the morning, try to see if you remember your dreams (beyond the terrifying ones, of course). Sure, they may be odd. But every now and then, you might end up with a dream that has just the right mix for you – a great source of inspiration for the writer.

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I do not keep a notebook by my bed, but I’ve heard it suggested for writers so they can jot down dreams. Supposedly, most details will fade when you leave bed. I’ve found that the cool ones stay with you, but it does help to repeat certain things. My last NaNo story began as a dream. And I just had yet another cool dream that may end up as a future NaNo project.

Pay attention to your dreams, fellow writers. They may end up being important one day.

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Something Different

Over time, writers develop instincts about what they have written. They can tell you whether or not the story is going anywhere. Sometimes, they know as they write the scene that it’s wrong, but they aren’t sure how to fix it. Sometimes, they write a scene just for fun, and will take it out later. Every now and then, a writer starts a story that they know isn’t going to be anything more than research.

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If you have reached this point and you feel the scene, the story, or the whole concept is not worth your time, just keep writing. Trust your instincts and bring whatever it is to a close. Don’t judge it now. You might be writing something just to get the creative juices flowing. You might be exploring a concept that will be dealt with in a different story. You might have a better idea about how to do that scene later on. Don’t delete it unless you know for certain that it is not needed within your story.

I was convinced as I was penning my first story that it was a future bestseller. Of course, I was 18 at the time, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. As time went on and I revisited that first book, I was appalled by how much was wrong with it – both technically and plot-wise. It’s been quite a long time since I finished the story, and I’m still working out all the kinks. I was stumped on how I was going to publish it if it still wasn’t presentable to the public.

Then I started penning Jasmine’s story. It took a few chapters for me to realize that this was my first book, not the one I’d been fixing. I knew as I wrote it that there was something different about the book. It carried the same messages as my other stories, but there was something else as well, something that I still haven’t quite put my finger on. There was a depth in this plot that wasn’t present in my previous attempts. There were possibilities with the story, and a potential for sequels – something I didn’t know when I was writing it.

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Perhaps it was God urging me in the proper direction. Maybe it was my writer’s instinct. Perhaps it was both of those things. Regardless, Jasmine’s first story became my debut novel. I’m glad I listened to that little nudge to pursue this line of stories.

Don’t be afraid to listen to your writer’s instinct. Take the story where it wants to go. Trust that you will know how to get your character out of whatever pickle they find themselves in. As writers, we have excellent instincts about our stories. Trust that feeling as you write and polish. A lot of times, you find out that you were right.

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