Friday, July 24, 2015

Radical or Tentative?


I woke up this morning with the word “tentative” on my mind.

Tentative is the opposite of radical. It’s safety and holding back. It’s a lifestyle that says it’s better to be careful, cautious, and wary. Who wants to be reckless? Or fanatical? We’ve been taught those extremes are definite no-nos.

A mom keeps her kids tentative by constantly reminding them of their limits and things they should never do. Not to say basic safety isn’t needed, that’s her job. But if she stops them from climbing trees or visiting the neighbor kids, if she keeps them in their own yard, drawing a mark they can’t cross, they won’t learn to explore and see the people on the other side. They learn to live cautiously.

A pastor keeps his flock tentative by slipping warnings of spiritual extremes into sermons. I wish I’d kept track of all the times I’ve heard the preacher mention “rolling on the floor” as a terrible thing. “You don’t want to be like those who . . .” or “Back in the day they’d . . .” Honestly? I’d rather see someone roll on the floor—whatever that is—than feeling stifled and knowing the Holy Spirit is quenched in a church. We’re so worried about what something might look like. Being weird. What will so and so think if I lift my hands or shout out a praise or dance? Whew, that’s too radical. So we sit tentatively. Cautious. One eye roaming the place for anyone who might be looking back.

I wonder if I was born tentative. I know I was raised that way, lived it as an adult, and most assuredly, passed it on. Maybe being this way is really about control. If I don’t go full gun, I can always turn back and no one will notice. If I put myself out there in faith, abilities, service, fulfilling dreams, following a calling, loving, being pure, worshiping, I may embarrass my kids (yes, this is true) or the person sitting next to me. But if I hold back, not really being myself or all I can be or all God called me to be, OR if it doesn’t work out, I can easily slip back into the familiar corner of complacency, unnoticed, and comfort myself that “it wasn’t meant to be.”

Baaaaaaaaa!

What would happen if all of us tentative Christians said “enough!”? What if we simply stood up and declared “I won’t be tentative one more day!”? A simple decision. Yet, perhaps, terrifying.

What horrible atrocities have been committed in our world—wars, genocide, abortion, hate crimes, racism, abuse, negligence, and stifling of faith—because of people sitting back and doing a big fat nothing? “Oh, it’s not my problem.” Ha! If we live in this world, you can bet it’s our problem. 

What would your life or mine be like today if for the last ten or twenty years we’d been running straight for God with arms open wide, loving people fanatically, giving in extreme generosity, following the dreams of our hearts, and worshiping in complete freedom?

Wow, mine would look different. Oh, sure, I’ve had my times of boldness and pressing in, raising the flag of being sold out for God and His kingdom. Then something would happen—life, hurts, disappointments, grief—and I’d find myself tentative again, even about faith. I was the girl who carried a big Bible on the stack of books in high school. I boldly became a pastor’s wife at nineteen, confident we could face anything, even though I knew absolutely nothing about ministry. We worked in a mission church, started a Christian school, lived on little, and believed God for everything, including food. I faced life and got beaten down and got back up again. I’ve known what it is to dance and shout and experience amazing places in God. And then there’s the other side I’ve known all too well, my default: being tentative.

Isn’t it something how life or fears or doubt can lure us back into our little corner?

Well, today, I’m thinking about exchanging tentative for radical. Caution for freedom. For each of us, that might look different. To some it might be about meeting your neighbors and sharing the gospel. To someone else, preaching a sermon, starting a small group in your house, going on a mission trip, helping in a food bank, adopting a child, or even writing that book that’s been on your heart for years.

This morning I woke up pondering how I didn’t want to worship tentatively anymore. I don’t want a cautious faith that holds me back. I want to go boldly after God, confident in the things promised in His Word and in my heart. What if we only had one day to live? How would you spend it? How would I? I doubt whatever it is would be passive. We’d be doing something very alive and ambitious and on purpose.

Let’s live like that all the days we have left.

How about you?

I’m in.


Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; Isaiah 54:2

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Awful Draft


As a writer, I love to work at my own pace and style. No deadlines. Just living in the story. Loving creativity. But that doesn’t work so well for making me finish what I’ve started. Or reaching a deadline.

If a group of writers compared notes over coffee, each one would have their own writing style. I bet we’d see . . .

The always-outline girl.
The freestyle-never-outline writer.
The stay-up-late-and-crash-through-the-draft guy.
The sit-down-when-inspiration-hits and type-as-many-words-as-possible lifer.
The I-can-write-anywhere-anytime-just-do-it gal.
The wish-I-can-wish-I-might procrastinator guy.
And so many more.


Within each of our styles and personalities, our writing changes and grows. Maybe in the beginning we were the optimist, hoping our first layer of words would come out perfect. (Oh, how I wish mine would!) But then we change and become determined to write more or better or faster, therefore we force ourselves into a different technique.

Delivering words can come with moments of dazzling inspiration. Or nothing emotionally charges us, and we have to push and prod and squeeze creativity out of our mind and heart. The task can be as grueling as digging a ditch or as freeing as leaping off the edge of the diving board into cool, invigorating water.

My writing style is typically circular with lots of backtracking. I write a few pages, then edit, change things, and eventually, move forward. Repeat. A day or two might pass without me writing, therefore when I start up, I have to go to the beginning again. It’s a constant circular progress, moving forward in meager portions.

It’s me. It’s what I like to do. But . . .

At that rate, it takes a looooooong time to write a three-hundred-page rough draft. Sometimes, years. Especially, considering how fond I am of waiting for inspiration. However, this year, I'm trying something different. I decided if I want to take writing seriously, and I do, I had to stop waiting for the creative bug and realize I’m a writer who can write. Therefore, I need to move forward every day.


Get the first draft done! has become my motto. Thus my title—The Awful Draft—because it is pretty terrible.

However, I’ve broken the circular pattern. I must confess to using the old technique in the first thirty pages of my WIP. But since breaking through the need to deepen the story first, I’ve made myself write forward, only reading the previous two pages each day. My goal is to throw down the first draft and finish it before a personal deadline.

And—hallelujah—it’s working.

There are days I’ve typed out twenty pages—that’s really humming for me—and days when I'm happy with three. I still come up with times of zero inspiration, when I don’t feel like writing. Nevertheless, I can always write something. And so can you! Who's going to see that first draft, anyway?

The need to start editing now is powerful. It grips me, and I almost surrender. But I refuse to yield. So far, I’ve reached two-hundred pages much faster than I ever would have writing the old way. I’m trusting that the ragged edges of my initial attempt will transform into beauty along the way. And in the end, hopefully a quicker end, I’ll finish the race and have a meaningful story to share.

Here’s to many more awful first drafts!!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Follow Your Heart


If God has put something in your heart to do, I want to encourage you to stop putting it off and just do it. Too often, I ponder the thoughts of my heart way too long without taking action. I allow self-doubt or fear or worries to rob the good thing I would have done if only I’d listened and leaped forward.

I wish I were bolder. Braver. More willing to take risks. Or to believe in myself. Or in God’s ability to help me.

But there are times when something holds me back. Do you ever feel that reluctance to give yourself the freedom to follow your heart?

When we try something new, our first attempts can be pretty sketchy. Sometimes, awful. Like rough drafts. That’s why they’re called “rough” drafts, right? Thinking about my lousy first attempts at writing could keep me from trying again. What if fear crippled me and I stopped writing altogether?

Even though I believe we should do the thing we were made to do, to follow God’s nudging, there are times when I don’t listen. I overlook, or ignore, the longings I feel.

Do you ever feel that way?

Sometimes we have to give ourselves a gentle kick. To be open to failing, if need be. If we don’t, we’ll never know what we could have accomplished with God’s grace and goodness fueling us.

“I might fall on my face.”

It’s true. We might.

Starting something new can be scary. However, one step leads us to draw the next foot forward. Writing the first sentence makes the second one easier. Speaking the first line eases the way for all the others to be said confidently. But that first step, that newborn effort, however big or small, can be the most daunting.

We have to kick fear out of the picture. Be willing to take the plunge. Dream big. Follow through. I challenge you, and me, to take that first step, and see what happens.

Panic can cripple creativity. We might feel momentarily frozen. Thus, stage fright.

But, please know, you can do it. I can do it. We can take that fumbling step forward, and the next step will be easier.

If you feel a call to do a thing, and it’s pounding a wild drumbeat in your heart, telling you over and over to try, to take that step, then squash fear and doubt. Sweep it out the door, and welcome the chance to follow a dream.

If we should falter, let’s not wallow in misery and allow one misstep to keep us from trying again.

Instead, be bold.
Take a step.
Do what’s in your heart.
Faith is all or nothing.

Start that new thing. Write a book. Paint a picture. Move to a new place. Look for a different job. Teach a Sunday school class. Start a youth group. Preach. Become a missionary.

Follow your dream. Which really means follow your heart, believing that God, who loves you so much, is leading you.

Just do it. And be glad you did. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

To Beta Readers


Dear Beta Readers,

I want to say a huge “Thank you!!”

You perform such a valuable, helpful, enlightening service to writers. You read books that are still in the rough. You open your heart to the story, fall in loveor hateheroes and heroines with their flaws, and offer advice. You discover errors both writers and editors have overlooked. You point out strengths and weaknesses. And some—thank you so much—offer praise to encourage the writer.

What would I do without you?


I know some authors do not use beta readers. The manuscript goes to the editor, and that’s it. I’ve asked a couple of writers why they don’t use beta readers, and they told me they didn’t want their voice changed. Maybe it’s because I’m a newer writer, but I value the beta reader’s part in my storytelling a lot. I need early feedback telling me the story works. That it makes sense. And if it doesn't, I want to hear suggestions on how to make it ring true. I’ve used beta readers for all three of my books, and I truly appreciate their time and commitment to the heart of my stories.

Beta readers make books better! You are an integral part of my writer's journey. Yes, my voice might get changed a little. As it does with the editor’s chopping block. But each suggestion, whether I use the alteration in its fullness or not, gets considered and makes me think differently about the section as I go through it with my own magnifying glass.


An author’s sweat and tears and heart are poured into her story. It’s hard to take harsh criticism. But it’s so much better to get it from early readers and an editor than later with the public eye and tough reviews.

Thank you, beta readers, for telling authors the truth. For being brave enough to share the good and the bad about our stories, and helping our work become so much better.

You are the stars in a book’s success.


Thank you!!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holding my Breath


When I release a new book, or play, I feel like I’m holding my breath. Waiting. Wondering. Will anyone like it? Can I, we, convey the heart of this story? Will someone “get” it?

Months, maybe a year, before Opening Night, or years if it’s a book, I've had a spark of an idea that could germinate into something bigger. It might start with a riled conversation, someone’s weakness, a character’s quirky trait, or like my latest play, a question. For me, the story develops slowly. I don’t know the ending, other than that it will be a happy one, and I don’t foresee the gritty details. But layer by layer, a tale emerges, then gets deeper and thicker with human flaws, details, interactions, and emotions.

While I typically work on a piece for a long time, I never know if the outcome will be what I'd hoped for. Is it good enough? Will the audience get the punch line? I remember one year standing behind the backdrops in my black tech clothes, holding my breath, waiting to see if the audience would laugh at a particular spot. When the laughter came, I grinned in relief at my assistant. That was a sweet moment. Another time, seven boys were doing a pretty awesome line dance. I was sure the audience would clap and cheer during the country music. I can’t see the faces in the crowd. I’m behind the set, listening, sometimes peeking through a tiny hole in the junction of two flats. On that night, throughout the entire routine, there wasn’t a sound from the audience. I couldn’t believe it. Disappointment crept through me. Then, as the song and lights faded, the room erupted with loud, wild applause. Whew. Big sigh.


With a play, I get immediate feedback in the clapping, the whistles, the laughter, the encore.

As an author, I don’t get to experience the groans, tears, or laughter as a reader absorbs the story I've lived in. After the release of a book, there’s silence. And it can be a little scary. Each day I wonder if someone, somewhere, is reading one of my books. Do they hate it? Do they like it? (grimace, sigh) I’m not sharing this to get praise or criticism for my books. Reviews do that job, and I’m not asking for that here. I’m just thinking about where I've been for the last two-and-a-half months since the release of April’s Storm. Other authors, artists, and theater directors might relate to this after-launch dilemma.


You see, I’m in wonder-land. A place of quiet contemplation. I ponder if a story that lived in my mind can be adequately felt, tasted, lived in someone else’s mind. What could I have done better? How could I improve with the next theme?

In three short weeks, I’ll get to “hear” the response for my next production A Taste of Joy, a story that started with a question—Could a person filled with joy make a difference? This Depression-Era tale is about me exploring that idea. For now, I’m filled with hope that between today and three weeks from now, my actors will step into their shoes and become their characters for a little while, to know and experience others’ pain and losses, and to find real joy in the midst of it.


And me? I’ll be backstage, behind beautifully painted flats, holding my breath a little . . . and listening.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast with Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica Dorman

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Sarah Anne's Expedient Marriage 

By Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica M. Dorman

Amazon Buy Button

About the Book:

Knowing he was about to die, Sarah Anne’s beloved father had arranged for her to marry Alexander Swyndhurst II. Alexander, a recent widower, had no intention of taking another wife; but after learning the young woman’s situation—that she had been the object of at least one man’s unwanted attentions, and that she would soon be left alone and unprotected—he had agreed to the marriage. He had one stipulation, however: He and Sarah Anne would live separately—he in Bristol, England, and she in Amesbury, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Sarah Anne had agreed wholeheartedly with this arrangement. Will Alexander have a change of heart? What of the dangerous man from her past? What will happen while her husband is away—leaving her alone with only the servants? Even though there are connections, each novel in the series may be read as a stand-alone.



cathy
Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica M. Dorman 

Inspired by interesting characters and events uncovered while doing genealogical research, mother and daughter writing team, Cathy Lynn Bryant and Jessica Marie Dorman, who live in beautiful New England, have masterfully woven the stories of real people and fictional characters from the 17th and 18th centuries to develop inspirational, romantic, works of historical fiction. The Unshakable Faith series includes the following titles: Book 1 Lost Love and Shipwrecked--Madeline Pike Finds Hope in the New Land; Book 2 Grandmother's Namesake; Book 3 Sarah Anne's Expedient Marriage.

Follow Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica M. Dorman

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Enter to Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card!


Enter below to enter a $50 Amazon gift card, sponsored by author Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica M. Dorman! a Rafflecopter giveaway This book blast is hosted by Crossreads. We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!

How to Make Fun Ads with GIMP


I've been having fun making some ads with the free software called GIMP, an image manipulation program. A friend asked me how I made these ads, so I decided to do a little blog about it to help her, and maybe someone else is curious too. If you have Photoshop, you can use that. But, for those of us who are looking for something free, I recommend GIMP. You can check it out and download at http://www.gimp.org/

A big project, like creating a book cover, takes a lot of time and effort and learning the ins and outs of the program. But to do a simple ad like the one above isn't too difficult. If you like creative things, you might enjoy designing some ads for your book.

1.) First, you'll want to download GIMP at the website noted above

2.) When you open GIMP, Click on FILE, then NEW

3.) Choose the size you want. Like 500 X 333 or 600 X 400 (or for Pinterest, something more like 600 X 900). Click OK.

4.) Now, you should see a rectangular box where your picture will be. To the left of the GIMP screen, you should also see two small menu boxes: Toolbox and Layers. (If you don't see them, look under WINDOWS)



5.) For the picture at the top of this blog, I needed to find a picture to use. So I went to a free photo site called Pixabay at http://pixabay.com/. (Sometimes I buy pictures at Fotolia: http://us.fotolia.com/.) For the ad above, I wanted a muted, stormy picture in the background, something that went along with the book. I downloaded (for free) a picture of rain. (Be sure to SAVE AS in a file you can easily find.) Then I took the picture into my Photoscape program (also free) and changed the size of the photo to match the rectangle shape I'd chosen in step #3 above. You can use any photo manipulation program to do that. So I chose 500 X 333. Now, save the newly sized picture under a new name. Sometimes I tweak something several times, so I'll name it rain1, rain2, etc.

6.) Back to the GIMP, click on FILE, then OPEN AS LAYERS. Click on PICTURES and find the file and picture you are going to use (the one you just resized.) Click the picture, then click OPEN. The picture will drop into the rectangle on the GIMP screen. Cool, huh? (If you can't see the picture you just inserted, but you see the outline where it should be, it means it's below the other picture. Do this: Right-click on the picture, then a menu pops up. Click on LAYER, then STACK, then LAYER to TOP. Now, you should see the book cover above the background. Yay.)

7.) Follow the same steps in #6 to bring in a picture of your book. You'll want to resize it first. I used 275 pixels.

8.) To grab hold of the book image, check the LAYER menu and make sure the picture file is highlighted with gray. That means it's now "active." Go to the Toolbox and click on the icon for "moving" as seen in this picture:


9.) Now, hover your cursor over the book cover shot until you only see an arrow and that "moving" icon. As long as there's an icon of a finger, it's not ready. (If you accidentally move the background picture, instead of the book cover, click EDIT, then UNDO. I've done this lots of times.) Now, you can grab hold of your book cover and move it wherever you'd like.

10.) (Optional) To get the book to be angled as my picture is above, Click on the ROTATE TOOL.


Then, grab hold of the book cover shot again and as you move the cursor, a grid will show and you can choose the angle you want. You can always UNDO in the EDIT section. Experiment with rotating and moving and find where you want the cover image to be.



11.) Now, it's time for words! Go to the Layers Menu and click on the file of the background picture to make sure it's highlighted. Next, click on the "A" in the Toolbox. Go to the background picture and click on it where you want the lettering to be. (You can always move it later.) Type your words in the little box. (You can also copy and paste from a Word doc) Then, highlight the words and click in the small menu where it says SANS. Here you can choose the type of font you want, and you can change the letter sizing. Usually, I remove the word "Sans" if I don't want that font, and if you type a letter, let's say "B," then a bunch of font options will pop up. Click on the one you want. Then, highlight the font and put in the size you want. This takes a lot of experimenting. In the example below, I've used Sans and font size 25.


Whenever you want to change the lettering, click the file with the lettering showing in the LAYER box, and click the "A" in the Toolbox, then highlight the lettering to make the changes. If you want to move the wording, click the "move tool" icon as we did above. Remember, you can undo anything. It's okay to experiment and to make mistakes.

I consider these little ads a work of art. They're fun to make and creative. Once you start getting the hang of the GIMP program, it's even relaxing. Hard to believe? I mean it. :)

12.) TO SAVE is different with this program. You'll need to go to FILE and click EXPORT. Then, click on PICTURES and locate the file where you want this photo to go. Click on the arrow near the bottom of the screen that says "ALL EXPORT IMAGES" and choose either png or jpg, whichever you want to save as and click that option. Then go up to the name of the file at the top of the screen and change that to jpg or png in the title. Click EXPORT. Another menu will open and click EXPORT again. Now, this has saved in a file that you can use on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest. You can't change anything from THIS file. But, you should also SAVE AS so you can tweak something or adjust it to make a different wording or picture in the future. It will save as an .xcf file.

Whew. Does that sound too overwhelming? I hope not. Like any new thing, there are steps to learn. If you take each point above and experiment along the way, you'll get used to how GIMP works. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Lots of authors are making these little ads, and I think they're pretty eye-catching. And way more interesting than showing the cover of the book only. 

Have fun with it! I know I am. If you have questions, I'm not a pro, but I'd be glad to help out.

Here are a few more of my experiments...




Here's two I did for a friend...




I have this one on my website:


Yay! You can do it too.


PS...Two days later, I'm adding a little more info. I'm always learning, making mistakes, and figuring things out, especially when it comes to technical stuff. So, I decided on Tuesday afternoon that I'd use the ad with the rain at the top of this page (I really like that one) and do a $5.00 post-boost on Facebook. When it didn't start up within the hour like they usually do, I figured something was wrong. I checked my fb page before I went to bed, and still nothing. The next morning (I live in the Pacific NW) most of the $5.00 had been used for promotion, and over 1300 people had supposedly seen it. Yay! (?) But then, I got a notice from Facebook stating my picture was denied boosting because it had more than 20% writing. Hmmm. I didn't know this little rule. So, in the future, less words and more picture. They said it can look like spam if it's too wordy. The strange thing is that it was sent out, but then rejected. I don't know what to think about that.

Until next time...

Write on.

Mary