Thursday, June 30, 2005

A life in pages . . .

You know, I think I've been destined to live my life in pages. As a kid, I loved to read--not to write, but to read books that carried me away. No one ever told me what NOT to read, so I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on.

Growing up, I always enjoyed English because of the reading thing, and I do vaguely recall trying to write a mystery novel in the seventh grade--I think I still have the few pages somewhere. But it was highly derivative of Nancy Drew, though the main character's name was Jade. Funny how those things stick in your mind. (Maybe I should use a "Jade" soon for old times' sake.)

Anyway, in high school I did enjoy English and I took advanced classes, but I was definitely not the head of the class. Never thought of writing as a career, and in my "Career English" class, we learned more about how to correctly fill out a job application than how to write for a living. Ditto for college--when I changed my major from Vocal Performance to English, I was studying literature, and high-brow lit at that: Shakespeare and Chaucer and 1 7th Century British poets (love John Donne!).

And then one day I decided to become a writer . . . and had to learn the ends and outs from scratch. Ran to books for the instruction. Didn't go to a writers' conference for years, never had a critique group--and maybe those were good things. :-) By the time I went to my first conference as a student I'd written (i.e. published) eleven books.

I learned all I need to know from books--the format, the guidelines, the standards of proper behavior. How to submit, how to write a query letter, how many pages should be in a picture book. That's why I'm a little baffled today when people think I can tell them how to get started in two minutes or less--it's all in the books.

Whenever I had a question, I ran to the library for the answer and found it in books. You can, too.

And now, whenever I grapple with a problem, it ends up in the books. There's a certain symmetry to that.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

On the home stretch . . .

Only two more sessions to go in the Maass intensive seminar--that translates into another day and a half. I came to this thinking I'd take what I'd learned, add it to my editor's revision notes, and have a completed manuscript by the end of the week--it's not happening. :-) Mainly because I decided to change the book from present to past tense, so that's been more time consuming than you would believe.

Plus, I think I work better at home, surrounded by all my "stuff." Also, some of these techniques need a little time to simmer.

Have I learned new things? I think I've learned new ways of looking at old things. After writing so many novels (my WIP is my sixty-fifth), I think I have the basics down, but Maass has given me new ways of looking at things, and ways to go deeper. Which, after all, is what every novelist aims to do--to create deeper, more memorable characters.

If you're reading this and you're not able to take a full week out of your life and go to a seminar, the same material is in his book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. It has space for all the same exercises we did in class. The advantage of the class is that someone is standing over you waiting for you to do this exercise, plus if you have a question, you can get instant feedback.

LOL. This week I also attended my first ever critique group, and it was so much fun that I went twice more. I've never really felt the need for critique groups, though I've used a wonderful test reader for years, and have also used test readers from our Heavenly Daze reader list. I appreciate their help so much, but there's something different when other experienced writers look at your work with a helpful eye (notice I didn't use the word 'critical.') Helpful is a far better way to look at these things.

Well, time to get ready for class. Off to work!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

With my learner's cap on

I'm in Salt Lake City, attending an intensive novel writing seminar taught by Donald Maass of Writing the Breakout Novel fame. I think most of the thirty-something folks in this group are working to publish their first novel, but at least five of us are multi-published. We are, of course, hoping to learn some new things, and I have a manuscript in hand that needs polishing. My editors worked hard to get their revision notes to me in time for this conference (thanks, Dave and Ami!), so I hope to put Maass' techniques and tips to good use.

Who among us can't use a fresh look at the craft? So here we go, off to school again. If I pick up any truly remarkable things, I'll make a note and share them here.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

More Flannery

From Mystery and Manners:

"But there's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it's well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene. For him, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima affects life on the Oconee River, and there's not anything he can do about it.

"People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won't survive the ordeal."

I love that! I've survived the writing of more than sixty-something novels, and you know what? It gets harder with each one. It is such a growing experience . . . but more on that later.

Thank you, Flannery, for saying the above so well!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Serving as a Midwife . . . Rejoicing at a Birth

I've been privileged and honored the last couple of days to be with a group of Christian librarians who have banded together for mutual support, encouragement, and help. Meeting in Nashville, the group formed the NCLA (National Christian Librarians' Association), under the sponsorship of the Thomas Nelson School Enrichment Program. Lindsey Truex served as originator, Sonny Crews as coach, and I was happy to sit on the sidelines and help occasionally as midwife.

The real cheers, though, belong to the thirty-something ladies who met and pooled their energy and resources to help each other. They have a lot in common with writers--they often work in their own rooms, without the time or ability to communicate with others who are doing the same thing. So, thanks to technology and the miracle of the Internet, we've helped put them in touch with one another. Now I can't wait to see what they do and how they grow.

It's always fun to be with people who love books. If any of those ladies are reading this, my prayers and thoughts go with you on this journey!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Another great quote

Leaders are readers. Readers are leaders.

--Mike Hyatt, president of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Monday, June 13, 2005

On the road and in Nashville

I have just posted a photo in my profile section -- not the photo I intended to publish, but I'm on my laptop and working with limited options. So what you're looking at (provided anyone is looking) is a photo of my son and my late dog--he of LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY fame. I now have a replacement puppy, Charlie Gansky, who is quite a different temperament than my dear Justus. I love Charlie, but there'll never be another Jussy. And goodness, I think I've mentioned him in at least two books . . . and told the complete story of his passing in one of my juvenile books, NOAH. I miss him still.

But--I'm in Nashville to brainstorm with a wonderful group of Christian school librarians. And while they'll be doing most of the work, I want this to be a time of affirmation for them . . . because I hope they realize that by offering books to young people (especially in an age of 200+ channels, video games, skateboards, and all the other things that distract young people in their free time), they are offering tools with the power to change lives.

I remember when I first received the phone call that told me one of my books would be published. It was a lark, really. I won a contest (really!) Never dreamed of publishing a book, never had it on my to-do-before-I-die list. But I entered this contest, the manuscript won first place, and suddenly I was about to be an Author.

Until then I'd been writing, of course, but I was writing what I considered "transient" stuff--catalog copy, brochures, magazine articles--things people read and pitch. But books stay around forever. Books have the power to change lives.

I always tell people I learned how to flirt by reading GONE WITH THE WIND. In a sense that is true, but the sentiment goes much deeper. I have learned about the world through books--worlds much different than the one I grew up in.

When I was in kindergarten or first grade we lived in a house where a previous tenant had left behind a box of books. There was some transient fiction in that box, but there were other books with real staying power--The Nun's Story, Jane Eyre, GTWT, a biography of Albert Schweitzer, and others. I read those books over and over again, and learned what it's like to live in a convent, what it means to truly obey God without question, what it's like to be a missionary in Africa, the horrors of living through war . . . and how to walk so that a hoop skirt will "sway enticingly." :-)

I'm glad my parents didn't object to my reading and nothing was ever forbidden--then again, I don't think I was ever exposed to anything truly harmful. I certainly was exposed to worldviews that are contrary to my own, but I recognized them as exactly that.

So that's what I'd like to do in the next three days in Nashville. I want to be a servant, first and foremost. My role here is a little nebulous, but I know my sovereign God has a plan and I'm here for a purpose. And if even a part of that is assuring these ladies and gentlemen that their work is important, then let me do that to the best of my ability.

Divine appointments. I believe life is filled with them.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Saturday musings

A friend and I are having an email discussion about Myers-Briggs and how some of us are wired or bent to feel more comfortable writing in certain genres and touching certain topics . . . And I read an article about Brett Lott, and I finished his book that’s a retelling of Ruth/Naomi last month – (it was lovely). I’ve also been thinking a lot about this insistent trend to tell stories that simply have a Christian worldview . . .

And it reminds me of a story I once heard Karen Kingsbury tell about her children. Seems Kelsey and Tyler were in the car as the family was coming home from church after just hearing a rip-snorting fire and brimstone sermon. Kelsey was giving it to young Tyler in the back seat. “Where do you want to do?” she asked him. “Heaven or hell, Tyler, where do you want to go?” At which point Tyler pulled out his pacifier and said, “Disneyland.”

I can’t dispute that we are all wired differently . . . and I’m grateful for those differences. But rather than wed ourselves to a genre or to a certain kind of book, I think the story dictates whether we take the reader to heaven, hell, or Disneyland.

I’ve just handed in a story that’s as hellfire-and-brimstone as anything I’ve ever written. I have a proposal out that definitely focuses on heaven. And who knows but that I’ll want to write a Disneyland book in the coming year.

But earthly time is too short to squander on stories that do not illuminate or edify or instruct in some way. I know that the Spirit of God can use anything, but I also know that he chooses to use us and we are responsible to be witnesses to the truth.

How should I interpret that responsibility? If I knew I could only write ONE more book, what would I like it to say?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Lunch of Like Minds . . .

I enjoyed a special treat today--one of my dearest writer friends was in town, so we met at this little tea shoppe for brunch . . . and sat and talked for nearly four hours. We talked about our books, of course, but also about our families, our goals, and our dreams.

We've been involved in the business and ministry of writing for about the same number of years and we're the same age, so we have a lot in common. We feel like veterans in a sense, but yet we are also both facing the future with the same need for faith that any writer feels. We must trust the Lord for opportunities to write, the finances to help support our families, and for the stories that will spark our passion and ignite something in our readers. We've both decided that since we're officially past halfway-to-ninety, every book has to count for eternity.

She has some very special stories that only she can share. I listen to her and my heart fills with wonder at God's provision and his grace. Some of her stories moved me to tears more than once.

Days like this are all too few because writing is a solitary occupation. We do have a network of like-minded friends, but we meet in person far too rarely. So it's a blessing to be able to hug a friend and see her eyes spark with tears as she tells me about what God is teaching her.

And so tomorrow I'll settle into work feeling refreshed . . . and grateful. And my dear friend, know that I love you and pray for you often. God's plan is good . . . because He is good.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A first. A blog. Maybe it's time.

I've been thinking about blogging for some time, but I've tended to think that anything I might write in a daily blog would be . . . well, boring.

I was once on a panel at a writer's conference where we were all asked about our writing schedules. I said I pretty much spend the entire day at my desk, so later in the session one college girl raised her hand. "I'd like to know how so-and-so and so-and-so integrate their lives with their writing," she said. "It's obvious Ms. Hunt has no life."

I laughed. No life? Mine feels full enough, thank you very much. Sometimes I think it's too full--it frequently spills into the pages of my books. Lately I've been mining the very marrow of my soul for stories because certain struggles were all I could think about, so how could I not write about them? I keep thinking God has led me through some shadowy valleys for this purpose--so I could write about these time, and in the reading, someone else will know they are not alone, that there is a purpose. A reason behind it all.

And so I write.

I'm not sure how often I'll be posting here. I do plan to post a daily listing when I begin my next novel, but at this moment I am contract-less and in between projects. An odd place to be, but I'm enjoying it all the same. Good time for new ideas to spring up.

And so I leave you . . . and I'll be back, Lord willing. Until then, go in the Father's peace.