Fearless Writing: Critiques and Workshopping

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The theme of this book I am studying is that writing is personal and your work will never please anyone (so stop trying.) As I dive further into the pages of this work I am feeling myself gain confidence as a writer. I’m worrying far less about what people think and I am embracing writing for my own pleasure.

There are obvious benefits for allowing others to critique your writing.

They can help a piece to be accurate in conveying our intended emotions and tension. Each story first created in our minds is never the one another reads. Everyone carries their lives when they read. Sometimes it is a struggle to step out of our own mind in order to convey a story the way we intend to.

Giving someone permission to comment on the accuracy of your work is helpful. It is a healthy exchange so long as you keep the perspective that you are not your story.  Advice may critique our work, but it does not critique the writer.

So write what you are curious about–write what you love. Then let another in on the experience.

Practice: Get into a workshop

I’ve workshopped a few of my pieces in online critique groups and in live groups at my local SCBWI. It is helpful to do so with the right mindset. This year I want to jump back into more critique groups and workshops and not allow my ego to respond to negative or positive feedback.

In the past I have gained immense wisdom from published authors that I continue to carry with me every time I write.

Put your work out there too!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Fearless Writing: Accuracy

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The worst motivation for writing is to please other people. In fact, people are never really pleased to the level of your expectations when your goal is their acceptance.

As human beings our preferences are unique to each of us. Some people will pick up a book and absolutely love it while others read the same text and loathe it completely. We all read with our own experiences to draw from and because of our differences we come away from the same piece with original opinions.

You cannot please everyone. It is an impossible goal. Much like last week’s discussion on Writing What You Love you need to give yourself the freedom to write things other people might hate. You rob yourself of creativity when you care about the reader as you write. Your job as the author is to transcribe for a reader not to make them love every word you use.

In this chapter, William Kenower offers some replacements to “Is my writing good?” Instead he suggests asking these two questions after each session, “What did I want to say?” and “Have I said it?”

The answer to those two questions is objective. It is not based on someone else’s viewpoint therefore setting you up for rejection. As authors we must, “set aside the notion that you will ever write something so good that everyone in the world will like it and no one will criticize it.” (Kenower 59)

Practice: Start Documenting your preferences.

Since we are all unique it is important to figure out what works and doesn’t work for you. Find a way to document writing that you love and writing that you cannot stand. Then, evaluate what it is about that piece that you like or dislike so strongly. Knowing your own preferences can help you to develop a genuine voice as an author. That’s the goal…not pleasing others.

For me, in my new 2019 Writing Journal I am keep track of what I loved from books I am reading.

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The Ameri Brit Mom

Fearless Writing: Write What You Love

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“Now here we are, this attractive idea and me, going somewhere together, and it doesn’t matter at all that I don’t know the destination, because I’m already someplace I want to be.” (Kenower 49)

The most successful writers are those who love the stories they write. They don’t write to someone else’s standards or for any expectations. They don’t measure their success by followers, royalties, or sales. No, they are content with the production of something they love.

When we use other people to create the standard for our writing we forfeit our happiness. Choosing to focus on craft over passion turns a hobby into a job and quickly puts out the fire that brings us back to the page.

Each story we commit to is like a marriage. There are days full of elation and all the things of fairy tales, but more often there are challenges and struggles. None of us would face life with just anyone and stick it out unless we truly loved our partner. It’s the same way with a story. If we are choosing to write something for anyone else and not because we love it then we will quickly find ourselves signing divorce papers with the story and going our separate ways.

So if you love to read stories about Kung-Fu pirates write about them.

If you love to create southern recipes write them.

If you love graphic novels about garbage men, then go for it.

Write about what your mind keeps returning to. Each time you sit down to write make it something that you are excited about. Let curiosity guide your tales. Don’t get caught up in the promise of money or fame. Get caught up in writing your passion.

(Side note- I follow a very famous children’s author on Facebook who is asking for donations this Christmas to pay her bills. So if you are waiting on a story to pay your bills–they won’t. This particular author has many, many best sellers.)

Practice: If I could tell only one story what would it be?

I love to read stories that restore my faith in humanity. I read a lot of YA fiction as an English teacher…there’s so much to love and learn from teen protagonists.

Most recently I’ve loved The Hate U Give, All American Boys, When We Collided, and Words in Deep Blue.

When I am reading a book that reminds me that this world is a good place full of amazing people I am drawn in. I hate to leave those characters on the final page. They become friends because they’ve spoken to my soul.

So if I could only tell one story it would be similar to this.

It would be one where the teen protagonist overcomes hate or prejudice. Where love wins and society is changed. It would be a tale that brings readers together with a common experience of love and where the last page isn’t the end of a story, but the beginning of a journey for the person who just finished it.

One day you may get to see some of my manuscripts turned into a novel.

But if not, if nothing ever comes of them I will have the pleasure of meeting my characters myself. Writing cannot be about agents, publishers, or readers. I will never be happy if that is the case. I cannot control those things. All I have control over is my own heart and diligence. And if I do not love my own stories then the world never will either.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Fearless Writing: A Writer’s Worst Fear

A couple of years ago I did a chapter-by-chapter review of several different books on writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is still one of my very favorite writing books. It’s been a while, but nine months after giving birth I am starting to feel like myself and ready to get back in the habit of writing on a regular basis. I ran to my bookshelf to Fearless Writing, a book I received last Christmas but haven’t had a chance to read yet.

Fearless Writing was written by William Kenower, Editor in Chief of Author magazine, he is most known for his teaching on the craft of writing. This book focuses less on craft and more on the thought-process necessary to develop in order to be a successful storyteller.

I look forward to re-establishing a weekly routine of cracking open a good book, sharing some thoughts, and practicing new skills. I will approach each week with some thoughts I had while reading the chapter and then I will also post my 5 minute practice that follows the prompt at the end of the chapter. I hope that these posts inspire you as a writer. Feel free to follow along with the prompts and if you should post in response on your own page I’d love for you to send me a link in the comments.

Welcome to Chapter 1.

A Writer’s Worst Fear

Most writers fight a battle before they ever touch pen to paper or open a new document on their computer. For some, the battle is in finding the time and space conducive for writing. But more often than not the battle is one waged within the mind of the writer. Its weapon of choice is doubt and it attacks every creative thought or ambition before it lands on the page.

The biggest fear affecting writers is What will other people think of my work?

It feels great to receive positive feedback. But when readers aren’t singing your praises after a heartfelt post, story, or chapter it can damage the confidence of the mind behind its creation.

Rejection is part of the process. If your writing is intended for anyone else to see there will be rejection–there is no question about it.

Writing fearlessly is all about approaching fears in a new way. Instead of allowing fear stifle your creativity use it to propel your writing into bold confidence. Start your writing with accepting the fact that someone will dislike what you have to say, but don’t let that become an excuse for censuring your creativity.

Writing is a highly personal venture.

Every writer picks up the pen with a different purpose. Every reader approaches a piece with their own experience and lens as well.

Getting beyond fear already puts you at a 1-0 record. And when you start your writing session with the mentality of a champion then fear is pushed down to its healthy dwelling place and your imagination has the license to embrace every idea.

5 Minute Practice- Create two characters. One is a confident, experienced writer while the other is struggling. Through their conversation offer advice to the struggling character. Then heed that advice yourself.

“Stacey, it’s so good to see you!” Mel reached around her friend’s back balancing the paper cup in her hand. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Stacey’s face emitted a small smile contrasting with that of her friend. Through layers of clothes and a large coat Stacey allowed the warmth of her friend’s embrace to throw off a little of the weight she was bearing that morning on the ride over to the coffee shop.

“Go ahead and order. I’ll find us a table.” Mel spoke as she left Stacey at the counter in search of an empty corner of the shop for the two to sit down and work.

What am I doing here? Stacey thought to herself. It’s been months since I’ve thought about writing. Why did I agree to meet Mel?

She allowed her eyes to browse the menu and settled on an order of hashbrowns, since she skipped breakfast, and a hot mocha to sip on as she worked. After placing her order Stacey joined Mel at a small table in the corner of the shop.

“Oh, it’s been so long. Tell me what is going on. How are the kids?” Mel jumped right in as Stacey peeled off her dark coat and pulled her laptop from her secondhand bag.

“The kids are great. Bill has them this morning so let’s hope they survive.” Stacey pretended that had been a joke and not the reality of her thoughts on the ride over. This was the first time she left Bill alone with both girls since Becca had been born nine weeks earlier.

“I’m sure all is well, Mama.” Mel chuckled. “I’m just so happy you could escape for a little girl time.” Mel pushed her paper cup to her lips as the waitress approached with Stacey’s order.

“I hope you don’t mind I ordered some food. I’m starving.” Stacey said apprehensively.

“Not at all. I get it.” Mel smiled. “So tell me about your work. Any new chapters since we’ve spoken?”

“Well, there isn’t much to tell.” Stacey began as she picked up her fork and weaved it through the shredded hash browns. “I haven’t powered-up my laptop in three months. Let’s hope I still have the magic today.” She placed a hand on the closed computer in front of her. The companionship she once shared with the device had been replaced by a layer of dust that she only removed that morning before packing up for the date.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Stacey. And I’m sure as soon as you are ready all of your magic will return. I love your work and I cannot wait to read something new.” Mel encouraged.

Stacey smiled back doubt and shoved her mouth with a forkful of potatoes.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. We all go through seasons and even the best authors need some time away. Having a baby is a perfect excuse for taking a breather. It’s not like you’ve been sitting at home doing nothing. You’ve had a baby to feed and care for. I think you will find that the confidence will return and you’ll be back into it very shortly. How about coming with me this week to Writing Group? I’m sure seeing everyone again will help.”

The Ameri Brit Mom

Short Story: Allegations

This short story was submitted to a contest through The Short Fiction Break. It is written according to contest guidelines and following a prompt provided by judges. It is a YA piece.

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Allegations

by: Lauren Sisley

Everyone else in the room decided I was guilty. I wondered if trying to persuade them otherwise was even worth the effort. Mom sat in the corner picking at her nail polish while Dad nodded along as the principal explained the situation. Neither of my parents looked me in the eyes.

“Mr. and Mrs. Konkel, this is a very serious allegation that has been made against your son. If charges are pressed we will have to turn this case over to the local police.”

The sound of my mother’s gasp distracted me from the dialogue. Dad asked questions like a detective. Mom continued in silence letting her heavy breaths do her talking.

“All I can say at this time, Mr. Konkel, is that it matches up. I can’t say for sure that Jordan is at fault, but he is our only suspect.” Principal Wallis placed his hands on his desk and looked my direction. He was the only brave soul in the room.

“And if charges aren’t pressed?” Dad questioned.

“Then, suspension is not off the table. This is still very serious and the school has a zero tolerance policy for this kind of thing.”

I found it ironic that no one asked me if I did it. They just assumed because I was Wilson’s little brother that I had to be guilty. While I was a captive to Principal Wallis’ office I tried to put the pieces together in my mind.

Seventh period I was in English. Miss Thorne was going over poetic devices and I was nodding along like I had any clue who William Shakespeare was. The bell rang and somewhere between my seat in English and the bathroom floor I lost all recollection.

I awoke to the smell of urine. A hand tapped my backside as I realized my face was soaking up the wet floor. My head felt as though it had taken the brunt of the fall. I could feel a bruise already forming under the skin, but other than that I felt fine.

“Better get yourself to the nurse, Kid.” The janitor spoke to me while returning to his mopping. It’s weird how you can go to the same school for three years and never once speak to the janitor. I wondered if he knew my name. Standing to my feet I walked right past the man without a word and made my way out of the bathroom.

When I turned to the hallway I heard the cries.

A girl from my history class was talking to Principal Wallis and pointing toward the bathroom. My vision was blurry, but I could see her busted lip and ripped clothes from where I stood. Fear masked her face almost as well as her smeared makeup.

Principal Wallis turned just as I crossed the hall. “Young man, I think you ought to turn around and head toward my office. You have some explaining to do.”

Then the questions started.

“What were you doing in the bathroom in the middle of eighth period? Do you know Amira Paulson? Why are you covered in urine? Did you flood the bathroom? Why is your head bleeding? Please answer me!” Principal Wallis was getting frustrated.

As hard as I tried I couldn’t come up with a response. There was seventh period and there was the bathroom floor. I couldn’t be sure of anything else.

Watching my parents as they each dealt with the conflict knotted my stomach. I could tell that they were struggling with how they could have raised another monster. They never thought I’d turn out like Wilson. Dad was pacing and finally worked up the courage to address me.

“Well, Son, do you have anything to say for yourself? After all we’ve been through as a family these past few months do they mean anything to you? Did you learn anything from your brother’s mistakes?” It was my first opportunity to speak since they arrived, but the death of my brother was still too raw to touch.

I wanted to be able to give them an answer that would satisfy them. I wanted to remember what happened so I could get myself out of this. I wanted to tell them I’m not like he was, but I couldn’t bring that up. Not now.  I just shrugged my shoulders and continued to avoid eye contact like the other three people in the room.

“Jordan, I suggest that if you are innocent you say so.”

“I need my bag.” My words were involuntary.

“Excuse me?” Dad’s voice jumped several decibels.

“I need my book bag. I think I left it in the bathroom.”

“No, it’s been confiscated.” Principal Wallis pointed to a bag behind his desk that I couldn’t have possibly seen from my chair.

“Well, I need it back.”

“Listen here, Jordan. You will get your bag when you cooperate. You’ve gotten yourself into a whole heap of trouble. You don’t get to make requests. Right now your only concern is the truth. Tell us what happened.” I could see a vein popping out of Dad’s neck as he spoke.

“The bag first.” I tried to barter information for the safe return of my belongings.

“What’s so important in this bag anyway?”

In a quick motion Dad bent down and grabbed the bag off the floor. I felt my stomach wrench as he unzipped the front compartment and shook the bag upside down. I couldn’t watch, but I heard the sound of many objects as they hit the desk.

I knew they had found it the moment Mom began to wail.

I could hear him pick the bag up off of his desk. “Is this why you did it?” I balled my fists as I waited for a lecture. It didn’t come. Instead I was punished by the return of silence to the room.

“You’re just like him, Jordan! And I can’t go through this again.” Mom broke the silence as she stood up and left.

All of this was too much for her. I wasn’t the first of her children to carry around a bag of crank. I always promised that I wouldn’t get caught up in this stuff like Wilson did.

“Mr. Konkel, I have no choice but to involve the authorities now.” I heard Principal Wallis pick up the phone and dial.

“How could you do this to your mother?” Dad barked before he joined my mother in the hallway.

I was done for. Not only had they found my stash, but there was a girl in the next room crying rape. Both my parents were furious. The authorities were on their way. I wasn’t sure how I would ever get myself out of this one.

I continued to answer all of Principal Wallis’ questions with silence until there was a knock on the door.

The janitor entered the room. He was a large man, and his face was lined with wrinkles. He wasn’t someone to be crossed.

“Mr. Wallis,” He muttered. He had a student by the collar as he shoved him into the office. “Caught this one in the hall talking about that little girl who was in here crying.” He let go of the student and looked over at me. “Oh, hey, how’s that head doing? You took quite the fall on the floor. I was coming in to mop it all up when I seen you laid out. Stupid seniors always making my job tough. Clogging toilets and all.”

It was a relief to know I hadn’t done it.

I have a week’s suspension from school to figure out how to tell Mom and Dad that I carry Wilson’s bag to remind me who I don’t want to be. It’s all he left me in this world.

I would never hurt them the way that he did, which is why I was so terrified that I had.

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent.

Two Bottles and a Revelation

This year for my father’s birthday I decided to write a story for him. This is a flash fiction glimpse into the life of a beer drinking priest. I was inspired by my father who loves both beer and God. I hope you enjoy.

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Two Bottles and a Revelation

By Lauren Sisley

-To my dad who taught me to follow God’s calling

Father Roberts loosened his collar after a long day’s wear. He shut the door to his study and took a seat behind the desk. There were no easy days leading his congregation. Each day was packed with meetings to attend, hospitals to visit, and house calls to make.

With tired hands he opened his Bible. It was time to focus on his own spirit. In his line of work it was easy to pour himself out. It was more difficult to fill himself back up. As he began to pray for direction in his work his stomach rumbled. Hours of running about herding the sheep caused him to forget about lunch.

The prayer ended quickly. He resolved to move his work into the parsonage where he was free to shed the collar and to fix himself a plate of spaghetti. Behind the desk was an old creaky door which adjoined his parsonage to the abbey. Minutes later, as he stood over the stove stirring the pot of minced onion and tomatoes his heart was heavy with an encounter from that day.

 

“Father, I’m not sure that I am living in God’s favor.” Sampson, a young man from the congregation admitted while sitting on the other side of the desk.

“What makes you unsure?” Father Roberts questioned.

“Lately things have gone from bad to worse in my life. Like, no matter how hard I pray or how righteous I try to be life just sucks.” Sampson’s shoulders sank and his eyes dropped to the floor where his toes tapped against the carpet.

“What is it about this life that sucks?”

“I’m drowning at work. I try to do everything right, but it’s just never enough. There was a promotion I was really hoping for. It would help my family so much. Now, I have to go home and tell my wife the bad news.” His hands were beginning to fidget.

“Have you prayed for God’s will?” Father Roberts opened most sessions with this question. Many of the people he had spoken with throughout the years wanted more, but rarely did they seek the counsel of the Lord.

“Well, not really.” The young man admitted. “I just sort of assumed that if I worked hard I’d get it. God knows it would help with the kids.”

“Ah, yes. But sometimes our will and God’s are not the same.” Father Roberts began to run his fingers over the stubble growing on his chin. When he looked into Sampson’s eyes he was taken back to his twenties. The man was so familiar.

“But I’ve been doing everything right.”

“It isn’t about our acts, Sampson. It’s about our faith.”

 

Father Roberts opened the refrigerator and pulled out a cold beer. As the noodles boiled he stirred his homemade sauce while also taking long drinks from the refreshing bottle. He felt the weight of the day lift with each gulp.

Moments later his phone rang. He put down the bottle and turned down the stove top to allow for a simmer. He reached for his phone and realized that the call coming through was Sampson.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Father Roberts. It’s Sampson again. Would it be okay if I stopped by the parsonage tonight?”

“Well, of course it would be fine. I’m working on dinner. Would you like to join me?”

Sampson agreed to be there shortly and to bring his appetite. It had been a while since Father Roberts welcomed someone into his own home. It was his place of retreat from the beckoning of the church, but he sensed Sampson’s distress and happily offered a meal.

 

The two men sat across from one another for the second time that day. Father Roberts was on one side of the table finishing his bottle of beer and watching his guest. Sampson twirled the pasta on his fork for longer than any hungry human ever would. Something was on his mind and once Father Roberts fed himself he was sure they would get to it.

“So, please, tell me what has brought you here.”

“I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. About God’s will.” Sampson said. He began to wriggle nervously in his chair. “I left your office and went home to pray.”

“That’s a start.” Father Roberts acknowledged.

“As I prayed there was something that I could not get out of my head.” Father Roberts desperately wanted to return to the kitchen for another beer, but decided against it in the midst of Sampson’s discourse. “While I sat in my car praying about God’s will for me all I could think about was your collar, Father.”

The cleric was intrigued and searching for an explanation.

“What do you think it could mean?” Sampson’s fork stopped circling the plate of noodles. His eyes moved from his dinner to the priest along with his question.

“I can’t say I know.” Father Roberts admitted.

 

They finished their meals and Sampson left with the promise that Father Roberts would pray about the situation as well.

While he cleaned up their meal and did the dishes Father Roberts opened a second bottle. He let the aromatic brew warm his stomach. The bubbles fizzed and the stress of his day started to dissolve once again.

Sampson was a younger version of himself. Father Roberts remembered when he had first heard the call to priesthood. It wasn’t at a seminar or in the sanctity of a church. He was a student who enjoyed his beer like any other. He was up late studying for an Economics final with two beers already in his system. His heart became heavy with questions about his purpose. And in those moments as he pondered the direction his life was taking he heard the still, quiet voice of God. It was a call to lay it all down. In his dorm room he committed to the call and became a priest years later.

He was glad to serve a God that called him, but also allowed him to drink his beer. God accepted him twenty years ago for who he was. And now as his fingers wrinkled from the dish soap he recognized the calling of another. With the towel beside him he dried his hands off and called Sampson.

“Hello?”

“Sampson, it’s Father Roberts. I’ve had a revelation…”

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent.

 

The Smoke We Shared

This winter I took part in a writing contest through my online critique group. The prompt for the story was “Two Worlds” and the word limit was 1500 words. This is the story I entered in that contest.

The Smoke We Shared

By Lauren Sisley

The day we buried Archie was gray.

I had only known him for a few months, but I would never forget him.

“Almost there, Connor.” Bridget turned to me as she drove. She tried hard to be motherly during this time. After my own mother was caught with heroin twelve years ago Bridget became the woman assigned by the state to keep watch over me. “It was a lovely ceremony.” She tried to soothe my anxiety as we entered the grounds lined with tombstones.

I had no words with which to draw up a reply. Bridget gave up and continued the short drive to Archie’s plot without a word.

I watched as the hearse parked beside a red tent. I couldn’t take my eyes off of its cab. Something about the fact that Archie’s body was in the back of that car kept my attention.

Out of the row of chairs under the tent only two were occupied. Bridget sat beside me and grasped my hand as the men dressed in tailored suits brought the casket and set it above a six foot hole. The priest took his spot in front of the casket.

“Please join me in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.” He opened. My eyes did not divert from the oak casket as Bridget joined the priest in repeating a prayer. The words were foreign to me.

“Our Father who art in heaven…”

My mind went back to the first day I met Archie.

It was cold and I had just flunked my Algebra exam. I knew that bringing home the test score would mean undergoing house arrest with Bridget again. I was walking home along my usual route trembling from the frigid temperatures. I reached into the pocket of my coat and felt a small paper tube. I took it out of my pocket and lit it.

Three kids from school approached me from behind. I tried to keep my eyes down as they called after me.

“There’s that freak from school!”

“Yeah, that weird kid that doesn’t talk to anyone.”

There wasn’t enough time to run away. Before I knew it they had caught up.

I didn’t put up much of a fight when one of them punched me across the face. My vision went blurry as I was knocked around a bit more.

“What are you kids doing? Get lost!” I heard a voice from the house behind me shouting. “I’m calling the cops. Get off my property!” I took a few more hits to the face and the boys ran. They made off with my coat and cigarettes.

I laid on the pavement for a few more minutes aching from the beating.

“You alright, kid?” The man asked me. He didn’t touch me or try to help me off the ground. I took a closer look at him and saw that he was in rough shape himself. His face was leathery and scarred. His eyes were sad. Several teeth had fallen out.

“Who are you?” I questioned this stranger.

“Nevermind that. Let’s get you inside. We can call your parents in there.” The weak old man attempted to help me off the sidewalk, but in the end I had to muster the strength myself. We used each other’s bodies as crutches as we made our way up the path into his small home.

Entering his home was like stepping back into the 1940s. It smelled of molasses and his living room had wood paneled walls that were barren except for a crooked wedding photo.

“The telephone is in the bedroom. I’ll fetch it. Take a seat on the sofa.” I lowered myself gently onto his old fashioned sofa. The room was dark and there was no television. Instead, an old radio was standing in the corner of the room. From his bedroom down the hall I could hear him coughing loudly. It sounded painful. At the time I didn’t know that it was caused by the cells metastasizing on his lungs.

A few seconds after his cough I saw his silhouette emerge from the bedroom carrying something that resembled a house phone.

“What’s your house number? I’ll dial for you.”

“Bridget won’t be home. You will have to call her at work.” I answered still a little weak.

He returned ten seconds later brandishing a large book with yellow pages.

“Where she work?” He asked adjusting his bifocals on his nose.

“She cleans offices at Barrel and Dumm’s.” I replied noticing that my lip was bleeding.

The man thumbed through the book struggling to read the small print. Just as he located the number he turned and released another loud bark from his throat.

“You okay?” I questioned.

“I’m fine.” He said as though my question was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

“Who am I to ask for?”

“Bridget Morris.”

“Yes, may I please speak to a Ms. Morris?” I let myself relax a little into the sofa as I imagined Bridget’s reaction to these recent events. I listened as he assessed my state to Bridget and imagined she was quite frantic on the other end. The man provided Bridget his address and then hung up. “She’ll be here within the hour.” He assured me as he walked the telephone back to his room.

He returned with a pack of cigarettes and turned on the radio as he took a seat in the recliner beside me.

“Want a light?” He offered, but I turned him down. I wasn’t about to smoke if Bridget was on her way. That would add another month to the grounding. We waited for her arrival without speaking. He read the newspaper and I stretched out on the sofa.

I felt at home in the silence.

The doorbell rang thirty minutes after their call. I know this because I watched the arm of the clock on the wall make half a revolution around the dial as I listened to the grossly outdated music on the radio. The man removed his glasses and folded up his paper before opening the door.

“Can I help you?” He asked roughly.

“Yes, I’m Bridget, I believe you have my foster son.” I could hear the fear in her voice.

“Come in. He’s on the sofa. Not much of a talker that one.” He opened the door and pointed toward me.

“Connor!” She gasped as she saw my face.

“Thank you so much, Sir.” She turned toward the man. “Where’s your coat?” She questioned me.

“They got it.”

“Let’s get you home. You’re freezing.” Before we could leave the man went to a closet in the hallway. He brought out an old coat and offered it to me. I tried to decline, but Bridget thanked him and wrapped it around me as we made our way home.

A week later I was wearing a new coat from the thrift shop and decided I would return the old man’s coat on my way home from school. I rang the doorbell and could hear coughing and cursing from within his house.

“Can I help you?” He acted as though he had never met me before.

“Yes, Sir. You let me borrow your coat last week. I just wanted to return it and say thank you.” I stood freezing as we spoke in the doorway.

“Come in.” He ordered. I entered and was met with the familiar smell of molasses. “You don’t look like that same sorry sod was here last week.” He coughed.

“I’m doing much better.” I smiled. He coughed again as he reached into his pocket and brought out a pack of cigarettes.

“Want a light?” He offered the pack to me. This time, I accepted. I reached in and took a paper tube and pulled my own lighter from my pocket. I inhaled and felt myself relax. I took a seat on the sofa where I had laid last week.

“Was that your wife?” I asked motioning my cigarette toward the wedding photo on the wall.

“Ah, yes. Beautiful right until the end.” He took a long puff and let his mind wander back to her. Another loud bark interrupted his memories.

“Are you okay?” I asked again.

He shook his head this time opening up to me about the cancer.

I would stop there six more times over the next two months. Some days he would tell me about his wife or about the war. Other days we would sit in the smoke of silence that we shared.

A few days ago I stood on his porch with my lighter ready. I knocked. No one answered.

“Ambulance left a couple hours ago. Took Archie with ‘em.” An old lady called from across the street. I knew in that moment that he was gone. I turned to walk home and smoked a cigarette in his memory.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

I watched as they lowered Archie into the ground.

 

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent.

 

The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction (Week 4)

It was tough to wake up today. My bed was warm and my house was cold.

It was one of those days when the moment I sat up I started planning when I was going to catch a nap. This isn’t my typical Saturday morning. Usually I wake up excited about my writing routine and about making some progress toward my goals. I normally wake and make a pot of Highlander Grogg and get right to work. Monday through Friday I’m on someone else’s schedule, but Saturday mornings are mine.

Today was not that day.

I stayed in bed a little longer than usual. I had just enough time to jump in the shower before my daughter’s basketball game. As I teetered on the edge of an illness I found myself losing interest in writing today. I made a promise to myself that I would take some meds, eat some food, and then write. So here I am.

Armed with my drink, a long to-do list, and some home remedies I am reading through two new chapters in The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke.

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Change the Metaphor You Use For Yourself As a Novelist

As a novelist I tell stories. I write and I edit and I put in long hours to create a story that will hopefully resonate with readers. It’s easy to call myself a storyteller, but the issue with comparing myself to someone sitting around a campfire entertaining friends with tall tales is that I don’t tell my stories with the spoken word.

Stories that are told are different. There’s a lot of summarizing and telling vs. showing. You can dwell on certain details that don’t fit well into fiction writing. Telling a ten minute story should look vastly different than a novel. Novelists need to arrange scenes, build suspense, and forge connections between readers and characters. In that sense we are more like movie directors. We set the stage, cast the characters, and decide where the camera is focused. A true novelist creates a movie in the mind of their reader. Writers are not storytellers. We are movie directors.

Should You Write What You Want or What the Market Wants?

This week I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting. The question which headlines this chapter of Gerke’s book came up in my small critique group.

If your ultimate goal is to get published shouldn’t you look for what is selling in the market?

The answer is simple, yes; however, yes is only the answer if your ultimate goal is to get published.

That means that the question you should really be asking is: Why do I write novels?

For me, I write because it is a gift that God has given me. I write because there are stories in my heart that God wants me to share. I write because it’s who I am. To be a published author of multiple books is a goal of mine, but I would never want to achieve that at the cost of my why.

I have to believe that the stories God has given me are from Him. I have to believe that if it is His will that I pen these stories that someone will want to publish them. I have to view my writing as a ministry before a business. If it takes years to find someone who publishes my stories so be it. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the writing market it is that the author has very little control over who buys or represents their work. I would drive myself mad writing only to get published. If I’m going to be a writer for the long run I have to do it for me and my ministry. I can’t let my eyes get so focused on publication that the heart behind my work is lost.

This may not fit everyone’s writing journey, but for me this is why I write and why I will not let the writing market dictate my stories.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction (Week 3)

I’m really enjoying this book about the art of writing Christian Fiction. This is the second book by Jeff Gerke that I have read, and I think the man is a genius.

I am a writer for many reasons. I choose to spend my time articulating stories because I enjoy it. It’s a hobby that I continue to learn from.  So many books out there are to help me become a “flawless” writer. Gerke takes me to a humble, teachable place to show me that there really is no “arrival” as an author.

Writing is a journey much like the one of faith that I’m walking. It’s a lifetime of learning and practicing. It’s a road filled with obstacles and trials. It’s a rewarding hobby. And it’s important to keep an open mind and heart throughout the whole journey.

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Be Teachable

After years of crafting stories and (maybe after publication) it is easy for a writer to feel like they hold all the keys to the craft of writing. Their work is complete. Editing is not necessary. And if you bring up a mistake you might as well be talking to a wall. This is a description of a prideful writer. This is someone who believes that they have arrived at perfection and there is no room for critique or remarks at that destination. These people are hard to work with, and unless they are already successful they rarely attain the goal of publication.

Humility is the key.

Learn to accept advice. Roll with the punches. Don’t deny the fact you are human.

It can be uncomfortable to pour your heart and soul into a project only to be told it is not good enough, but you have a choice. You can choose to heed the advice of someone who has read your work or you can ignore their words and assert that there is nothing wrong with what you have written.

At the end of the road the humble author always wins. Not only do they find themselves achieving big goals, but they also better their craft in the process.

I was at this crossroads a few weeks ago. The book I’ve written was sent to a favorite author of mine. She did some critiquing of my work, and like the student who failed his English essay she sent it back with all of her markings coloring my manuscript red. For a millisecond I contemplated throwing the whole thing away and finding a new hobby. After reading the comments I realized that she was right about many of my mistakes, but none of them were detrimental to the story itself. I had made my fair share of grammatical errors, but I chose to work through them and learn from the process instead of taking a prideful stance against her wisdom.

As a result my story is so much stronger now. What once was a word and story dump is now a refined piece that I am proud of.

Stop Being Teachable

“You cannot please everyone and be a good writer.” (Gerke 30)

After much learning about fiction writing we eventually get to a place where we have to start producing. For some, it can be crippling when they look at the long list of dos and don’ts. Many rules are contradictory to one another and the fear of messing up can keep you from ever finishing a project.

At some point you need to examine the information you have gathered and decide for yourself what your writing voice will look like. You have to swallow the fear of imperfection and press forward, confident that your informed writing style will appease some group of writers. It’s impossible to adhere to everyone’s advice. Once you reach the point where you are ready to turn out the product you get to make the decision about which critiques you will take into consideration and which you will chose not to include in your edits.

When it comes to forming your own voice consider the books and types of writing you prefer to read. Examine that writer’s style in-depth, and then make some decisions for yourself. Ultimately, a heart of humility is what helps us to develop our style and craft as a writer, but a little confidence can go a long way in uncovering your unique voice.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Today at the Amusement Park

*My husband bought me the book Write the Story. It’s a writing practice book which provides a topic and ten words to use in a creative story. I have been trying to complete a story each day as part of my goal of writing 300 words per day. This is definitely unfinished, but I wanted to share an example with you. Also, please forgive me for any wildly out-there words. I did my best with the toolbox I was given. It’s part of the practice–adding specific words to the tale.

Prompt- Today at the Amusement Park

Words- Ferris wheel, Dinosaur, disk, exceedingly, narrow, Snickerdoodle, joined, don

 

We have been in line for the Ferris wheel for over an hour. If my little brother hadn’t insisted that we ride around the revolving disk I would never had waited this long. We only visit Dinosaur Land once every summer. It seems like such a waste to spend the day in line for the Ferris wheel of all rides.

But then again this trip isn’t about me. It’s about Wyatt.

When I was younger I never understood why Mom and Dad dropped us off every summer at the amusement park. Don’t worry we weren’t alone. Tons of counselors met us at the doors wearing identical tshirts and insisting that we don them as well. Now I understand that this trip is part of their respite package. It gives Mom and Dad a chance to get away for one day. So even if I am fifteen I’ll wait in line with my little brother. I can handle one day for Mom and Dad.

Wyatt was diagnosed with autism when he was five. Throughout the year Mom and Dad spend an exceedingly large amount of time joined in an effort to appease Wyatt’s narrow particulars.

He loves cars, dogs, and Ferris wheels.

Only red cars. Only our dog, Snickerdoodle. Only this Ferris wheel at Dinosaur Land.

And that is why we are waiting in this long line. And once we finally get to ride it we will go to the end of the line and wait again. We will experience exactly one ride on this trip just like every other year.

But this trip isn’t about me. It’s about Wyatt.

The Ameri Brit Mom

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent. Always give credit where credit is due.

**If you are looking for some writing practice give it a try. Spend a few minutes crafting a story or character using the prompt and words above. Feel free to post it in the comments or on your own blog. It’s silly, but I can tell I’m getting more and more creative with each prompt.