Hope Unfolding: A Book Review

Title: Hope Unfolding

Author: Becky Thompson

Publisher: WaterBrook

Copyright Date: 2016

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I was introduced to this book while visiting a Mother’s cLife group at my church. As I sat around and listened to the way the women reacted to the book I decided that night I had to get my own copy. I listened as Mom’s fessed up about their own shortcomings, and I was brought to tears by the way they united together in support for the struggles that mothers often face.

Somewhere down the line our culture decided it wasn’t okay to talk about how difficult and demanding being a mother actually is. Many new moms find themselves aching to talk about the hard times, but instead they paint on a smile and act like motherhood is the easiest role they’ve ever played.

Becky Thompson calls out all those bluffs.

With chapter titles like A Fight for Joy, Is It Just Me?, Real Life Looks Lived In, and Don’t Run Her Race, Thompson brings a voice to some of the fears that society silences within moms.

As I read through this book I experienced breakthroughs in my own life. I never realized that certain things I do as a mother are indicative of living in fear. And as I began to throw off those weights I found myself joining Thompson in prayer. I want to see what parenting looks like when we join together as mothers and throw off all the fears. Fears of weakness. Fears of insignificance. Fears of comparison. Fears of not measuring up to impossible standards.

One thing that set this book apart from others is the refreshing format that Thompson uses. Each chapter seems more like a conversation than a lesson. Within the pages the author explains how she learned from her own life experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and then she provides you an opportunity to explore your own life and interact with the text.

Whether new to motherhood or years into the gig this book contains truth you need to hear!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction (Week 2)

I’m pressing forward in my work to modify my Christian Fiction manuscript. It’s a secular story with Christian themes of forgiveness, redemption, and love. My hope is that in studying this book by Jeff Gerke that I will be able to add some touches to that story that take it beyond a “feel good” tale to one that is steeped in the glory of God.

I’m not out to write a religious story. My hope is to lead my reader to God without having to hold their hand the whole way. I want to leave room for the reader to draw connections and to see for themselves how God has restored the brokeness that my characters face.

So I’m picking up this book my husband bought me for Christmas and learning lessons each week from it that will help me in these edits to my book.

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The Invisible Novelist

“You want her to love the story, not the storyteller.” (Gerke 17)

This chapter takes me back to a moment of humility. I had written (what I thought to be) the most illustrious story. My word game was strong and even I was a little impressed with myself. I submitted the piece to my online critique group expecting an immediate response of, “This is going to be a bestseller.” You can imagine my disappointment when I received my feedback in the form of red slashes all over the place.

I felt wronged. “They just don’t understand good writing.” I thought to myself. Pride knocked on my door and I invited it in.

But when I read through their comments and suggestions I felt like they had kicked me in the gut. The critiques were right. I was wrong.

In fiction writing there are two types of story telling. There is the painted paragraph form and the invisible novelist. Painted paragraphs are literary pieces full of carefully crafted prose. In painted paragraphs the author works hard to impress you with language. The problem with painted paragraphs–many readers dislike this form. Readers (generally) pick up a book to hear a story. They want to lose themselves in characters and conflict not in difficult vocabulary and vivid descriptions.

The focus on the invisible novelist approach is to get the reader to forget that they are reading a book. As an invisible novelist you let the plot and characters capture the attention of the reader. You leave your four syllable words out as the author and you draw the reader in so that they forget this story was penned by a novelist at all.

Which method is right for you? It comes down to your purpose in writing.

For me, I write to tell a story. My hope is that my readers walk away with a deeper insight about life. As a reader, I appreciate an invisible novelist and so this should be my goal as a writer as well.

Three keys for writing in this style given in this chapter are:

  1. Keep your vocabulary “normal”
  2. Avoid the bizarre turn of phrase
  3. Stick to said

Understand Your Calling as a Novelist

It is important to understand the market for Christian writing.

Christian fiction is a title generally afforded to books with explicitly Christian content. Those books are ones oftentimes written for the already-Christian. They are aimed at teaching or redirecting the Christian reader. They point to a deeper relationship with Jesus. Their intended audience is generally those already under the influence of Christ.

There is a second category of Christian fiction. This group of books doesn’t get its own shelf at the book store because the books are not advertised as Christian fiction. They don’t fit into the traditional CF box. They may not explicitly discuss scripture. Rather these books take the words and themes of Jesus and mask them behind a secular plot line, non-religious characters, and maybe even a little profanity (you can do that?)

All Christians are called to ministry inside and outside of the church. Most feel a gravitational pull toward one end of that spectrum. And that’s okay.

I can remember sitting in Bible college and learning about being a teacher. So many of the other students described their perfect job as working in a Christian school. Not me. I knew I wanted to land a job in the public school sector. I’ve always felt more drawn to minister to the non-Christian. Not that I don’t see value in the ministry for the already-Christian, but I’ve always felt gifted with the personality and skill sets that mesh well with ministry outside the walls of the church.

That calling has shown up in my writing. And I’ve come to learn that Christian fiction doesn’t have to mean quoting Jesus and including stories from the Bible. Christian fiction can be allegories. It can be creative. It can be secular stories with a hidden layer of Christian themes. It can be a happy ending. It can be an apocalypse. Christian fiction means so much more than a girl meets Jesus for the first time. You may never find my book shelved with the Christian fiction that comes to mind when you hear the genre, but I am a Christian and my kind of fiction is heavily influenced by the God who has gifted me with the ability to write.

The Ameri Brit Mom

A Man Called Ove: A Book Review

Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Copyright Date: 2014

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The first snow day of 2017 was the perfect day to wrap up my first book for the year as well. For the past several weeks I have come to know the cast of A Man Called Ove, and I took the icy road conditions as an excuse to put my professional life on hold in order to say my farewells to this lovely community of Swedes. I’ve learned so much and been reminded of even more. This was a fantastic call to love the unlovable and to show compassion to the callous.

Everyone in his neighborhood of row houses thinks they have Ove all figured out. He’s the typical curmudgeon whose life follows a routine set in stone, whose patience for anything foreign made and trendy is non-existent, and whose affinity with holding the rest of the homeowners on his street to the association rules makes no exceptions. His life is black and white. And don’t even think about selling this Swede any car other than a Saab.

He’s the bitter old man down the road. The one that everyone murmurs about.

But when his new Iranian neighbor and her husband move next door Ove finds himself struggling to maintain his solidarity. For one, her idiot husband can’t drive a U-Haul to save his life. For two, what adult woman is incapable of securing a driver’s license? For three, a shut door does nothing to limit the Iranian from barging into his house like they were something of friends.

Ove had given up. But with the help of the new neighbors, an unsettled feud, and a stray cat Ove realizes that not everyone has given up on him.

This was one of those stories that restores your hope in humanity. It reminds us that we can’t judge a book by its cover and that everyone has a story to tell. I really enjoyed this book. Much like he did in My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman heightens your sensitivity to the most villainous characters in our world.

Overseas, Backman is taking the literary world by storm. In America his books are a little slower catching on, but they are worth the read. There is also a foreign movie based on this novel that is capturing the attention of critics.

I’m on the hunt to find it!

 

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Books of 2016

Happy Christmas Eve!

Another year is coming to a close and as another reflection on where I’ve been and what I have accomplished this year I wanted to capture my 2016 Reading List. I began 2016 with the goal of reading 24 books. I wanted to vary my reading exposure so I created a Reading Challenge for the year. I was able to nearly finish the challenge, but still have a few books to go before I complete it in 2017. I am happy to say that I expanded my exposure to different genres and authors this year and I diversified my reading from online periodicals, magazines, and eBooks (as well as the classic book.)

For each of the books listed below, you can find a review or information about the book under my books category in the right-hand margin. I hope you had a lovely year reading.

Devotional Books

-Fear Fighting by Kelly Balarie

Five Minute Friday by the Five Minute Friday Link Up (with a poem by me!)

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

-Live Loved by Margaret Feinberg

 

Writing Books-These are books I focused on this year on the blog to hone my writing skills.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Writer Magazine

The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

 

Other Books (Book Challenge)

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Numbers by Rachel Ward

Whole 30/It Starts With Food by Melissa Hartwig

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

The Crown by Keira Cass

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Heir by Keira Cass

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

The One by Keira Cass

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

The Elite by Keira Cass

The Selection by Keira Cass

Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass

Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman

Schooled in Revenge by Jesse Lasky

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland

 

I’m looking for reading plan suggestions for the new year. I’ve been really impressed by a new local library and have been spending a lot of time combing through their YA and adult fiction selections. I’m kind of on a YA kick right now as my next book I’m writing is from the perspective of a teenager.

Happy ready goals in 2017!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Fear Fighting Book Launch

I have the unique opportunity to help another author whose first book is launching this January. Her name is Kelly Balarie and her book is called Fear Fighting. I received my pre-release copy of the book this weekend and I’ve struggled to put this book down.

Fear Fighting is a faith-based book about awakening courage to overcome your fears.

It is a twelve-chapter book full of scripture and practical steps to defeat fear with courage and bravery. Within the very first chapter of the book I found myself wanting to draw closer to God and refocus my spiritual life. It’s so easy to be choked by the stress and pressures of our culture, but

“God is ready to hit us with unfathomable new perspectives-ones that redefine our past, present, and problems if we will only stop, receive, and consider.” (page 21)

This book promises to help you on a journey to:

-cultivate unstoppable faith by harnessing God’s Word and promptings

-usher in lasting peace through prayer that reduces panic, blood pressure, and stress

-discover clear and immediate action plans to exchange worry for God’s greater gifts

-implement daily bravery decrees to stand armed throughout the day

-participate in a twelve-week study guide to foster new courageous habits.

I’m excited to share more with you in the future about this book as I continue to make my way through its pages. As a member of the launch team I did not receive any compensation for this post, although my pre-release copy of the book was free. If you are interested in joining other readers on a journey to fight fear pre-order your copy of Fear Fighting here.

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The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Index Cards and Calling Around

This Saturday I’m multi-tasking. My husband is away at a coach’s training for our daughter’s first basketball season and I’m working on writing while heating up a healthy breakfast and entertaining my Christmas-anxious daughter.

Saturday mornings are my favorite. I pour myself a few cups of coffee and sit at the kitchen table where the natural light from the window helps me to wake up. I’m never more productive than on a Saturday morning, and that’s why I like to start it reading a little bit about writing. Today I started the final section of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Over these last few Saturdays of 2016 I will be reading about “Help Along the Way.” Here’s a look at the two chapters I read this morning:

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Index Cards

Writers are observers. We are note takers and list makers. As we live our lives we notice things that others do not. We are also human. Our memories are only capable of retaining so much. So as we observe, we lose most of those thoughts and descriptions to our own minds. Anne Lamott describes in this chapter about how she attempts to keep the thoughts and memories that she wants to include in her writing.

She uses index cards.

Her home is full of stacks of cards. Some are lined with vivid language while others contain just a word that triggers an entire memory.

I use a small notebook and my phone. I keep the notebook in my purse along with an arsenal of pens for any occasion. As I hear dialogue or witness a scene I jot them down for future use. If I’m being honest, I haven’t been a great observer lately. I’ve been caught up in my own life and my own thoughts. This chapter was a great reminder that I should always be recording notes. When I’m stuck in traffic-write. When I’m shopping at the mall-write. When I’m in school listening to the bogus reasons my students couldn’t finish their homework-write.

Whenever we face “writer’s block” we can turn to these thoughts which are already recorded and use them for inspiration.

Calling Around

Writing is not an individual activity. Sure, you spend many hours alone stringing words together, but the process of collecting those words is not a solo venture. As an individual I have a limit to the knowledge I possess. There are things I just cannot imagine or name for that matter. That’s why it is so important to live in community. Being a part of the world of friendship gives us access to information outside of ourselves. We have friends with extensive knowledge about World War II concentration camps, friends with vocabulary rich in cooking terms and analogies, friends with experiences in losing a spouse, friends with experiences in surviving a car accident. It is in these people that many of our stories are born-not our own minds.

It’s easy to seclude ourselves as writers and think that in order to “get things done” we need to be left alone with our craft. That expectation couldn’t be further from the truth. Individually, we are no where near as effective or knowledgeable as we are within our community. Writing isn’t about relying on ourselves. It is actually about relying on those around us for almost all of our inspiration and help as writers.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Moral Point of View and Broccoli

This week has been a rewarding one in my writing career. I’ve recently joined an online critique group and have been overwhelmed with the positive and constructive feedback from authors and others aspiring to that title. I’ve met a few writing coaches who have helped me with my letters to agents and I’ve also developed friendships with other writers whose work I admire. Each morning this week I’ve awoken to feedback from people within the group from all over the world. This is something I have needed for a long time. I’ve been longing for a writing community and am so happy to have found a place that feels like home already.

As I open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott I am happy to say that the wisdom I took from this week’s reading was received right on time. I had been struggling with a story I’m working on and trying to defeat writer’s block. I needed the reminders from both chapters today which encouraged me to look within myself for the moral point of view of my story as well as to my intuition in order to hear the voice of the character I’m currently wrestling with in my mind. I hope you will find my summaries of these chapters insightful!

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The Moral Point of View

“There is no point gathering an audience and demanding its attention unless you have something to say that is important and constructive.” (Lamott 108)

Within each person lies a moral compass. An internal directive which distinguishes between good, bad, and evil. Within each reader is the desire to interact with characters and conflicts that test that moral compass and strengthen its tendency toward True North.

Writing is an expression of our moral points of view as authors. We write about problems of our world and mask those things behind fictitious characters and settings. Our stories are born of human experience and blanched in lessons of life.

Although setting out to teach a lesson is seldom our goal as writers we become teachers in our craft as we highlight what is important to us in our novels. I love the quote above by Anne Lamott which speaks to the fact that our stories should all in some way reflect this life and apply to the grander scheme of humanity. There should be something to learn or glean from your work. So what are you trying to tell the world with your story?

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One of the most important resources in a writer’s arsenal is their intuition. Many of us had our intuition suppressed long ago as children. Things that we were certain of despite their insanity were scoffed at by adults or peers in our lives. As a writer, you really have to reclaim that intuition. To write from a rational mind only is to create dull stories full of true conflicts and characters based on all of your friends (or enemies.)

When you are able to think outside of the rational, your characters begin to take on a life of their own. Your intuition surrenders to their lives and the world in which they live instead of controlling those aspects of the story.

Anne Lamott uses broccoli as a metaphor for her intuition because of an old skit with Mel Gibson when he is told to, “Listen to your broccoli, it will tell you how to eat it.” It’s the same principal with writing. If you try to dictate your characters and plot then you will end up with a drab reflection of reality. Listen to the characters in your mind. Let them have the freedom to write their own stories. Be the vessel that communicates on their behalf. Do not stifle the irrational mind.

The Ameri Brit Mom