It Is Well

I’ve received a few messages from readers looking forward to my next book. Thank you for your encouragement. It’s been a little harder than I believed it would be to write, but I’m pushing through life, the lack of motivation and time constraints. Even if I only type 50 new words, it’s progress, and each day it’s getting easier. Yesterday, I even spent an hour writing.

One thing that helps me write is listening to music. It sort of drowns out all other noises and the tyranny of the urgent calls from household chores.

I’m currently working on Dr. Benjamin Northrop and Ellie Sims’ story, supporting characters from The Negotiated Marriage. They’re both a hot mess, and it’s been a bit of a challenge to figure out the right balance. They’ve both experienced the joys of young love, but they’ve suffered pain, rejection, and loss. They’ve been disappointed by life. They not only fear, but also expect even greater disappointment. I want to torment them until they reach their happily-ever-after, but I don’t want them depressing, if you know what I mean.

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Joshua 1:5 (NIV)

I playing different scenarios around in my head, trying to figure it out when the song, It Is Well came on. I recalled the story behind the original hymn written by Horatio Spafford and the earthly tragedy that plagued his life. This song  sums up my season, it has helped me remember that no matter my circumstances, God’s goodness and grace abounds, and that when I fully trust in God I find rest and perfect shalom, the peace the surpasses all understanding, a place of nothing missing and nothing broken. I’ve been resting in and seeking to maintain this peace. But when the song began to play, it flipped on a light bulb where my story is concerned. It’s the victory and happily-ever-after I want to give Ellie and Ben. By the end of the story, I want my characters to be able to stand in the middle of a torrential life-storm, lift their face to the heavens and sing. I want them to know with assurance that no matter what they face, it is well with their soul. I want them to know God has them in all their circumstances, that He covers them and He will never leave them or forsake them.

For Horatio Spafford’s story, go here.

A Prayer from A Reader

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Ephesians 5:2

I received a lovely surprise in the mail today; a card from a reader who has yet to read my book. What’s so special about this card? The prayer inside.

sarahbakercardLord, thank you for the gift You’ve blessed Christina with; the ability to take ordinary words and tell a story in a way that catches a person’s attention and grips their heart.

Please continue to guide her as she writes, give her the stories you have for her to tell and the words with which to express them.

In all things we give You praise.

Amen.

sarahbakerprayerThe writing journey can seem lonely. Only other writers understand the voices running in your head and the frustration that occurs when the story just isn’t working out like it should. Family and friends don’t always get the countless hours of work to create a story, and the countless more that goes into revisions and marketing. The don’t always understand the inability to stop and watch a movie or needing to order take-out.  Funny, as a writer, it’s not always easy to take ordinary words and tell a story that catches a person’s attention and grips their heart, especially when the stresses of life press in and demand attention, leaving little time to create gripping stories.

Standing on the outside, I understand that when I ask for prayers from my family and friend, they don’t always know how to pray. The above prayer is a great example.

Sarah, thank you for blessing me today. This prayer will be a constant to carry me through my stories. I accept the prayer and the blessings through it, may it be so. And may God bless you tenfold in your endeavors.

So You Want to Be A Writer (Part II)

Are you reading?

It doesn’t matter what you’re reading, just read. It can be the newspaper, blogs, books, lots and lots of books. I read mostly historical romance books, but I do step outside of my box every now and then to read other things like Sherlock Holmes and autobiographies. I also like to read true crime stories and romantic suspense books.

But let’s not forget about reading books on the craft of writing. I have some favorite go to books whenever I need to refresh my memory or just learn something new. One of my favorite books right now is Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s Riveting Your Reader with Deep Point of View.  And I just purchased two books, Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan and The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson.

So, read, read, read!

So You Want to Be A Writer (Part I)

I’m asked all the time how to get started writing. Most recently I sent an email out to a special young girl who is aspiring to be a writer this last week and I thought I’d share parts of it here with you.

Writing isn’t an easy career and it’s not one to do if you wish to become a millionaire. Unless you’re JK Rowlings or Stephanie Meyers that just won’t happen. I’ll also tell you writing isn’t for the faint at heart. JK was rejected about twelve times, Stephanie Meyers more and Rick Riordan even more before their stories were accepted, and now look at them. The stories birthed in their minds became big screen movies and they inspire young people to write. Sometimes your stories will be seen by nobody but you, other stories will be loved by everyone who reads them. I love writing. I love creating worlds and characters and making them come to life.

The first, most important thing to do in order to become a good writer, is to read. A lot. The second, is to write. Third, is to finish your stories. The more you write, the more you learn about your process as a writer and the better you become. Enter contests and look for places to submit short stories, if you have any available. Talk to your local librarian and your school librarian and tell them of your interest in writing. Ask them if they know of contests. They can also point you to books to help you learn about the craft.

Not everyone will agree with me on what’s most important. I also know many will roll their eyes when I say ‘finish the book’, but to be honest finishing your book ranks at the top. Even if you think you’ll never show it to anyone, I think it’s important. When I was in High School, I wrote a weird story about four old men sitting on a bench outside a gated cemetery. I don’t remember all the aspects of the story, but I don know I finished it and I can tell you that the end revealed the four old men had actually passed away. I know, it sounds a little morbid, but I was in High School.

The first story I started since I began pursuing this publishing career in 2006 was called A Champion for Charlotte. It was set in 1815 in Dorset, England. It’s about a young woman who sets out to rescue her beloved uncle and teams up with a spy. And of course ends up saving England. It’s a very dark story and the whole of it will probably never see the light of day, but I’ll give you a little peek at how awful my first attempt was.

Cold damp stone walls closed in around her. Fingers of frigid air tore at her lungs making it that much harder for her to breathe. She stood on the precipice. A tiny step forward and she would fall to the watery grave below. Moving back against the wall, left the prick of spikes upon her skin. She reached a shaking hand out and grasped a hold of the rusty chains that hung from the steel grate above her. The darkness was the worse of all; the way it closed in on the soul, the way the noises about her let her imagination run wild with fear. She wished for the power to summon a sliver of light, anything to banish the blackness to the corners where it belonged. Leaning her head in the crook of her outstretched arm, she willed herself to gain control of her erratic breathing. She knew it would do no good if she fell to her death in a faint.

As awful as it was, I finished the story. Even though I had no idea where I was going with the story, I finished it. Even though I had no idea what goal, motivation and conflict was, I finished it. Head hopping, comma infractions, adverbs and too many prepositional phrases, I finished it. And then all the writers around me celebrated, because I guess it’s a major achievement.

That was 2006. In 2007 I began another story, which one day I hope will find it’s way to being published. It’s a Scottish historical, and although it didn’t do well in the first two or three contests I entered, after revisions it started finaling (in 2008-2009) and gaining attention from both agents and editors. I eventually put it down, sometimes part of being a writer is knowing when to move on, but I finished that story too. And I grew by leaps and bounds.

I’m still learning. I learn with each manuscript. With each manuscript I finish.

 

 

Delight Yourself in the Lord

For the last year I’ve been struggling with my writing. Between life getting in the way and the loss of  my awesome critique partners due to their lives getting in the way of their writing, I’ve been floundering. Finding a new critique group has taken a few adjustments and getting used to. Their styles vary and are quite different from my former group. And when I attended the Called to Write conference back in March, one of the speakers dared ask if we were really called to write. Well, duh, I wouldn’t be doing it if I weren’t. I knew without a doubt that I had been called to write. But then he had to go and say that sometimes callings change. Ouch!

I’m sure I’ve written about all of this before. His words threw me for a loop. Had God changed my calling? Is that why I felt like a fish out of water in my search for a new critique group? Had God been telling me to put down my pen? The uncertainty put me in a funk. My conversations with God seemed one-sided. Me talking, me not hearing.

And then one night I decided to remove myself from the cluttering noise, put on my walking shoes and hit the pavement. It didn’t take long before I resigned myself to giving up my dream of writing. And no sooner I did, I began hearing.

Me: All right, God. If this is what you ask of me, I’ll give up my dream, even if it hurts.

God: Delight yourself in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart.

Me: But–

God: Delight yourself in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart.

Me: Okay

That conversation changed my focus from just writing to writing to glorify God. Actually, it changed my existence. My prayers have been that I will glorify God in all things (I know this isn’t always the case as I’m human, but I’m trying). I buckled down and covered each word and paragraph of my manuscript in prayer while I polished it to the best of my ability. I sent it off to a few critique partners, and wouldn’t you know it, life got in the way. Not just a little in the way but a non-stop in the way. One cp had even read my manuscript three times, critiqued it twice and each time something kept her from sending it back (like computer crash).

Anyway, a few weeks ago while I was holding a very minor pity party at not being able to attend this year’s American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference, I volunteered to be a part of their Forty Days of prayer. If I couldn’t go to the conference, I’d pray for those in attendance. The verse I was given, Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. I did not choose the verse, I was given the verse.

It was a soothing balm, especially while I waited patiently for perfect timing to get my critiques back. Finally, after weeks of God’s constant trust me chanting in my head, I called one of my cps, spoke with her about a few things, printed off my manuscript, packaged it up. The package sat on my table for a few days, waiting. During those few days one of my devotional times ended up with me once again reading Psalm 37:4. This time I saw something much different.

If I delight myself in the Lord, He will become my desire. Not all these other things like publishing books. Would I still like to see my book in print? Yeah. And if I receive a rejection I’m sure it will hurt for a little while. But it’s a learning experience and more importantly it has and will continue to deepen my relationship with the Lord. And just because He has been a constant voice and telling me He’ll give me the desires of my heart doesn’t mean that this particular manuscript will become published. I don’t know the plans He has for me, but I do know He knows the plans He has for me. Plans to prosper me and not to harm me. Plans to give me a hope and future (Jeremiah 29:11). That doesn’t mean that that hope and future are wrapped up in my writing success. No, that hope and future is wrapped up in my Savior.

The Little Things

We spend hours filling out character sheets and plotting our story. We know each character has a job to do in order propel the story forward to the dramatic end. We plot carefully to make sure every chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, and word does its job. But what about the little things?

 A few months ago, I had watched a show on NatGeo where an ancient Greek ship, believed to be 5 B. C.,  was found in the Black Sea. Over 20 amphorae jars were discovered on the deck. Amazingly, they were very well preserved. If you click on this link, you’ll find a few pictures, including fish bones that were discovered in one of the jars, giving you an idea what was being transported.

Containers such as those found at the bottom of the Black Sea, whether made of bronze, onxy, or earthenware, were used for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. You can even see one referenced in Genesis 24:14 when Abraham’s servent went in search of a wife for Isaac.

Genesis 23:11-14 He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward eveining the time the women go out to draw water.

Then he prayed, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ –let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

I quite imagine that the jar Rebekah carried upon her head had more of a flat bottom. There are a few illustrations of the different types of jars in Illustrated Dictionary of Bible Manners & Customs edited by A. Van Deursen. Some have pointed, rounded bottoms and some are flat.  

So, we know the jars were used in commerce and for carrying water. They were also used in households for storing things like olive oil. By keeping the oil in a cool dark place it kept it from being rancid.  The jars specific for olive oil usually had longer, thinner necks, which helped to keep the light from spoiling it. Other jars  probably stored grains, and possibly used to hold goat’s milk, as well as dyes for weaving and medicines.

Earthenware is just one of the many small things I’ve added into my story to give it a sense of rich authenticity. This one item can’t do it alone, but put together with a myraid of other items and it can sweep you away to another time and place.