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Monday, December 13, 2010

Character Stew

How do you create memorable characters?

What characters from movies or books stand out to you? Which ones do you still remember after many years? Which ones do you like to write?

I enjoy quirky, humorous, or outlandish characters, like...

Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice
Brian Blessed as Long John Silver in Return to Treasure Island
Niles Crane in Frasier
Anne in Anne of Green Gables
The old guys in IQ
Granny from the old Beverly Hillbillies
Bill Cosby in anything!

These are the types of characters I like writing into my plays.

We all have our favorite characters that touch our hearts—whether with tears or a shared memory or a good old belly laugh. But which ones will we remember for years to come? These are the ones I call “the greats.”

I've toyed with the idea of writing a play with all of the best characters I have ever written. As I ponder the characters I've created for the stage, I would have to include the gaseous, belching Uncle Floyd from Aunt Polly's Demise, the old guy, Sonny, who always wants to go on a vacation in Tales of a Time Machine, Meg Tanner, the girl who rescues orphans, from Secret of the Forest, and King Kristof, the peaceable king who rises up to defeat the enemy, from The Island of Shalamar. Uncle Floyd and Sonny would cruise in as the humor, King Kristof would be at the heart of the story, and Meg Tanner would shine as the hero. These and a few more would become my “Character Stew.”

How would I cross time and place, medieval to modern? I don't have that figured out. Maybe that's where a good old-fashioned time machine would come in handy!

As I work on my current writing project—At the Malt Shoppe, a 50's musical comedyI strive to have amazingly memorable characters who will live the story. I want to tap into emotion and humor and heart. I want the audience to remember it next year, and the year after.

Any story, whether in a book, a movie, or a play, must have a cast of memorable characters for people to recall it years later. A story without strong characters will be forgotten. It will be weak and boring. We've all watched movies or read books where this was the case. Even excellent writing, without good characters, will fall painfully short of touching hearts. And none of us want that to happen.

Who would you put in your “Character Stew”?

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Heart for Missions

Earlier this year, when I heard Ellie and James Swearingen's presentation about their mission's trip to Papua New Guinea, and the need to raise $10,000.00, I felt God nudge my heart to help. I had a play all written. A cast of ten actors stepped up to the call, and together we spent many Sunday afternoons throughout the summer practicing. In August we put on our play, and half of the proceeds went to this mission's trip. Since then, James and Ellie have given presentations at more churches, but with only three weeks left until their funds must be raised, they are short of their goal.

Today, I still feel God encouraging me to do what I can to help. My purse is small, but I thought that if I shared their story, that maybe together we could see this dream fulfilled.

For over two years, Ellie has been working toward an Aviation Maintenance Technology degree with Moody Bible Institute. One of the requirements for the completion of her degree is a six-week cross-cultural internship. This will take place with New Tribes Mission in Papua New Guinea. For Ellie and James, this will be a time of learning and exploring what God has planned for them in missions for the future.

 Here are some questions I asked Ellie:

  1. Ellie, when did you first have a desire to become a missionary?
The first time the seed was planted in my heart was when I was about 10 years old. I was at Awana Club at church waiting for council time to start when I turned to my friend and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said "I want to be a missionary." From that moment, God used many different people to water and cultivate that seed. As I went to summer camps and sat in church listening to missionaries talk about the work that they were doing for God, it made me eager for the mission field.

  1. How did your desire to go on this mission's trip together with James come about?
I had been attending Moody for two semesters before James and I started dating. I knew that at some point in my future I would need to go on a mission's trip for school. As our dating became serious, we discussed our future goals in life and what course we would take if we got married. Although James had never considered missions before in his life, he was willing to see where God would direct. After we were married, we sat down with the internship adviser at Moody to discuss the options and time frame available. He strongly encouraged us as a newly married couple to go together in order to grow closer to God and each other. One of our goals for this trip is to get our heart for missions on the same page so that we can serve and move as a team.

  1. Why aviation? What draws you to that field?
In the past, I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. CAP provided many opportunities to get up close and personal with planes, gliders, and helicopters that many are not privileged to have. The two peak experiences that sealed the deal for aviation was the multiple rides I had in Blackhawk helicopters, and in the time I got to spend in Osh Kosh, WI, taking flight lessons. There I logged 10hrs of flight time and soloed. The freedom and joy of flying is something I will never be able to get out of my system.

  1. Please tell us what you will be doing in Papua New Guinea and how that furthers your heart toward missions.
This trip will be a chance to see what life on the mission field is really like. I really believe that God has a special plan and purpose for our lives. He has placed in me a strong desire to serve people with the love of Jesus. When I hear about things that God is doing, I want to be on the front lines doing the actual work. Although I love to be able to give financially and pray for those who are doing the work, it is not enough for me. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), we will be learning from the missionaries who live and work there. They will teach us how to speak the language and communicate effectively with the local people. Also, each day we will be going into the local villages and interacting with the people using the newly learned cultural and language skills. We will be learning the joys and challenges of tribal church planting. The last two weeks of the six weeks we will be in PNG, I will be working alongside and shadowing full-time missionary pilots and mechanics. I will see first hand how aviation plays an important role in tribal church planting.
  1. A question for James,: What is your heart for this mission's trip?
I am still working out what God has in store for me, and He is working in my life as Ellie and I continue to grow in our relationship. This is a stepping stone for what God has in store.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea is on the eastern half of the island New Guinea which is above Australia. It has over 850 indigenous languages and 7 million people. Only 18% of the population lives in urban centers. A third of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. The main export of PNG is coffee. The trade language is Neo-Melanesian Pidgen, also called Tok Pisin. Because it is so close to the equator, PNG only has two seasons, the rainy season and dry season. While we are there, the rainy season will have just begun in the eastern highlands where we will be. We are told the temperature ranges from 90 degrees during the day to 40 degrees at night.

  1. What would you like to say to the people who have donated to your journey so far?
We are so thankful for all those who have partnered with us to make this dream a reality for us! Just thinking about the eternal impact that you have made is amazing! You have affected our lives. Because you have helped us, you have also impacted those we will affect. And you yourself have been impacted, by obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for investing in the Kingdom!

  1. You have $2,300 left to raise in 3 weeks. What would you like to tell people who are considering donating money toward your trip?
For those of you who have always wanted to go on a mission trip but never have, here is your chance to be a part of what God is doing. The question is will you?God will continue with his work whether you join Him or not. But wouldn't you rather take part in the blessing he has in store for those who serve him?
On December 28th, just twenty-one days away, Ellie and James are scheduled to board a plane to Papua New Guinea. Would you join me in helping them? A donation of five or ten dollars would be such a blessing.
A Christmastime gift of love...

To see Ellie and James's Giving Page:
To read more:
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth,he will certainly not lose his reward. Matthew 10:42

Thank you, my friend!
Merry Christmas! And God bless...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I Take for Granted

The snow mounds were perfect.
Not a shoe print in sight.

With white snow glistening everywhere—from the trees on the hill behind my house to the creek far below—an excitement to accomplish an outdoor task pulsed through me.

I took shovel in hand and began breaking a trail from the house to the car. The snow was light and easy to plow. It was like a child driving a matchbox car through sand. There I was, driving my shovel. Push. Lift. Throw. The path turned into an open area where I would need to park my car later. So I tackled it. The snow was light and the job wasn't difficult. I plowed across the expanse of fluffy white snow, heaving, throwing, twisting to the music of swish, scrape, whoosh. After 45 minutes or so had passed, I took a break. Happy to be working in the crisp winter day, leaning on my shovel, I stared all around me at the gorgeous white-washed beauty. Perfection like a Christmas card all glittered and new.

The break should have made everything right. I was rested, renewed. I was all set to continue plowing with my shovel.

The next section to work on was directly around my husband's parked car. Here the snow was dense. Not thinking much about it, as before, I bent over and scooped. Pow. Pain arched across my lower back. I shoveled into the mound again. Yikes. That really did hurt! I paused, then turned around and glimpsed the driveway and all the snow left to be shoveled, and I decided right then and there that I was going to finish the task I'd started. Sheer stupidity or gritty determination? Either way, onward I went.

Now I couldn't scoop the snow like I had been doing. I couldn't bend in the same way. Stubborn girl that I am, I found I could stand very straight and plow the snow, running the shovel into the bank. Then I could lower myself a little and do a funny little toss and the snow would sort of glide off my shovel. It worked, and I kept going for another half hour. However, when I reached the last six feet of the driveway where the road grader had thrown snow, and it was much more condensed, my aching back compelled me to stop. Realizing that it was too much, I had to quit.

It's funny, but even then, I wanted to finish.

Here I'm tempted to describe the pain, but I'm not going to. However, on the humorous, but humbling, side, when we were getting ready for church on Sunday, I could not put my socks on. I couldn't bend over and I couldn't pull my feet up. So like I was a child, my husband bent down and tugged my socks on my feet and tied my shoes. What a nice man, huh? Oh, I laughed. I couldn't help myself. The situation was just so bizarre—and new.

The thing that really gets me is that many people live with pain all the time. My heart goes out to those who are hurting today.

I tend to take a healthy body for granted. I felt that ping in my back and I continued working regardless. I ignored it. I didn't take into account that I can't push myself like that anymore or I will suffer the consequences.

Last week I made a list of twelve things I'm thankful for as a reminder to be thankful all year and not just on Thanksgiving Day. When I first wrote the list I had ten items, then I thought of two more things. One of those last-listed items was good health. Yes, now I'm rethinking its importance. Maybe I will rewrite my list and put the blessing of good health closer to the top.

For anyone who lives with back pain—or some other activity-hindering ache—may God touch you and heal you today. I feel for you. I ache for what you live with each moment.

Today, as I think of things I take for granted, I ponder being able to put on my own socks. Such a little thing, really, but oh so important in this cold weather. Maybe tomorrow I will feel good enough to put on the Christmas socks I love to wear in December—the cute ones a student gave me for a gift.

Well, maybe...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Doing What I Hate

I must confess. I hate cleaning the toilet! Give me a sink full of dirty dishes or a load of wood to chop, and I will gladly do either. In reality, the task of toilet cleaning is not difficult, I just don't like doing it.

What task do you dislike?

When I face a disagreeable task and dwell on how much I hate it, the doing of it seems way more difficult. Remember that homework assignment you sat in front of for a really long time? It didn't go away, and the more you thought about it, the worse it became? That's how it is for me and toilet cleaning.

If only I could do the things I love, everything would be so much better. But someone has to clean the toilet, right? Someone has to clear snow from the driveway--and at our house, that means with an old-fashioned shovel and a lot of muscle work. Someone has to clean up the yard after the dog--another yucky job. (I'm always thankful when my husband does this task.)

In every occupation, in every household, in every form of service, there's going to be those things we don't enjoy. Recently, my pastor has been preaching on service--in the church and in the community--and he's listed things people can do to serve God and others, including cleaning the bathrooms. Now, does anyone actually like cleaning bathrooms? Probably not too many of us, and certainly not me. But if someone asks, "Who likes a clean bathroom? I would shout out loud and clear, "ME!" There are certain businesses where I actually avoid using the bathrooms because...well, let's just say, I appreciate the clean ones. So, to all who willingly and voluntarily clean bathrooms in churches everywhere, "Thank you!" You truly have a servant's heart.

A couple of verses to consider...

  • And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17.
  • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Col. 3:23
  • Be joyful always. I Thes. 5:16
Through these verses, I'm reminded that I can do everything in the name of the Lord, and it becomes service to Jesus, and hopefully, others too. I can serve my family through cleaning, doing the laundry, and cooking. On a job, I can work faithfully, and by doing so, I am serving Jesus and my employer. In church, I can clean a bathroom, pass out bulletins, or shovel snow with a great attitude and heart for service. In my everyday life, I can write, direct, smile, live, and everything I do can be as "working for the Lord, not for men."

Sometimes, even in the things I love to do, there are parts I dislike. I love writing, but editing can be an arduous taskmaster, and I'm the slave. I love gardening, but the constant upkeep is difficult. I like a neat house, but I don't enjoy housework. (Ironic, isn't it?) In the areas that I don't care for so much, I need better focus on doing these things with a good attitude and a heart of service. My heart must align itself to joy--just like the verses above suggest. 

It's so much easier to have a positive attitude when I'm doing a task I love, but doing something I dislike--as unto the Lord--with sincere joy in my heart is even better. It changes my day, my life, my world. A heart for serving and a grumpy attitude just don't mix. It's like oil and water. I have to chose one way or the other. For me, I chose to serve--even if it means cleaning the toilet--with a happy heart.

When I change my internal attitude, the job I hated so much doesn't seem quite so bad after all.

How do you tackle disagreeable tasks?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just Start Writing!

Write now—fix it later!

With an assignment due the next day, my son would ponder the opening sentence for a long time. Sometimes, two hours would pass before I'd check on his progress only to find him sitting in front of a blank screen.

When he said he didn't know what to write, I would say, “Just start writing.” He would look at me with a glazed look, like I had lost my mind. He didn't agree with my write now—fix it later philosophy.

If I asked my son to tell me about his subject, especially if it was about history, he could talk for an hour. He's a history buff, and he can go on and on about the Civil War. But that first sentence stumped him when it came to writing out his ideas.

I've had young people ask me what to do about writer's block, and my answer is always Just start writing!

For me, sometimes I feel a special inspiration for a project and the writing comes easily. But if I don't feel that unction, I write anyway. It's kind of like cooking. Sometimes nothing sounds good. I open the fridge, see the package of chicken, drag out a recipe, and cook. It's yummy and everybody eats, but it wasn't particularly fun to make.

Writing can be like that sometimes.

Think about the college research paper we all struggled to word oh so perfectly. It was due on a certain day, a specific time, and we had to do everything in our power to make sure it was ready. Were we inspired? Probably not. But we wrote it anyway.

I picture my writing at its very best when I have a heart for the story. But if I sit around waiting for that special spark to strike, I won't write very much.

A few years ago, following a tragedy in our family, I thought that perhaps I would not be able to write again for a long while. For several years previous to this, I had been writing and directing two-act plays. Spring was coming and with actors and parents expecting a production, I had zero ideas. One day someone asked if I was going to do a play. Well...I hedged, then I told her about my lack of inspiration. My thoughts were leaning toward definitely not doing a play—unless God gave me an idea.

Not long after saying those words, a story tumbled through me so fast I was amazed. In two weekends, I wrote the entire play of The Island of Shalamar, a medieval allegory about a king and his son and how evil was sneaking into the land. I didn't have a lot of time for revisions, but the play turned out to be a blessing, a tender story that I looked back on for quite a few years as my best writing ever.

However, since The Island of Shalamar, I have written plays that I would consider much better writing. I spent more time editing and improving word choices. I created stronger characters with unforgettable traits and flaws. I wrote and rewrote.

Through this journey, I've learned that writing with inspiration and God's anointing is a wondrous experience, but even if I don't feel that driving force, I still need to write.

And who knows? That spark of inspiration might be just around the corner.

How about you? Do you write whether you are inspired or not? What do you do when you don't “feel” like writing?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

At the Potter's House Again

Do you ever feel like you've been in the very same spot before? That you've already visited this situation or trial? Will the outcome be identical?

Jeremiah went down to the potter's house to watch the potter at his wheel. I can imagine what he saw—the potter bent over his work, sweat glistening on his muscular arms, intensity lining his face, his brow furrowed as he worked to form the clay in his hands into a perfect creation.

I've never sculptured clay—other than tinkering with playdough—but I have created some interesting paper mache objects. One summer, I labored over a four-feet-tall George Washington for an American Revolution theme. Another time, I made a life-sized Seaman, the dog who traveled on Lewis and Clark's journey across America. Each project involved shaping a figure with my hands, working in a gooey mixture, smoothing out the surface over and over, and letting it dry in the sun. Having done this quite a few times, I can relate to the potter. How difficult it would have been for me to look at George and suddenly think—oh man, I really need to start over!

On this particular day in Jeremiah's life, he was sent to the potter to receive a message from the Lord. He was about to learn a lesson he would never forget.

At the potter's house, Jeremiah watched the artist at work. He saw the clay maneuvered between the potter's fingers, watched as a wet mass was shaped into a definable object. Then something happened. A frown puckered the potter's face. Something was wrong. What? Was the piece cracked? A weakness, perhaps?

Suddenly, the potter took the clay in his big hands and squished it firmly between his fingers. Jeremiah must have gasped. The beautiful pot that had looked so perfect was now completely ruined. What had gone wrong? Was the clay too dry? Was there a pebble? A flaw?

Then, before Jeremiah's eyes, the potter began all over again. With the utmost care and concentration, the clay was squished once more beneath his strong fingers. A new shape emerged. Stronger. Better. A vessel for use.

Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand... Jer. 18:6

What did Jeremiah see? Surely, he saw a picture of hope. For him. For Israel. For believers everywhere. A hope that God could change simple clay into a vessel that could be used. Honorable. Perfect.

Sometimes I am that lump of clay. Not quite ready for the kiln. Not quite ready for use. I need to be reshaped. Molded into something different, something better.

As clay in a potter's hands, so we need to be formed in the Master's hands. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it's not an easy process. The rough places must be smoothed out. Worked. Softened. And sometimes we find ourselves back on the potter's wheel again. Will the outcome be different this time? Will I be different? Yes, if we allow the potter to work. Breaking. Remolding. Changing us.

How much better to be on the potter's wheel than to be a broken vessel, hard and unusable, sitting on a shelf somewhere.

 Oh, to be clay in the potter's hands.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Dream to Write

This is my very first blog with!!

Hello, world!!

For those of you who have been following my writing journey, you know that I've had my Web site going for about two years now. You've probably checked it out and have seen the changes I've made. (I've actually redone my site four times!) I've been talking about Winter's Past, my debut novel, and I recently posted my book trailer on Youtube--and my Web site. Some of you may receive my newsletter Notes from the North Woods and you have been hearing about and praying for my writing projects. Thank you, sweet friends. Thank you for being there for me and for the kind of words of encouragement along the way.

If you are brand new to my writing world, "Hello! And welcome."

Each of us has a dream to do something special. A mission. A challenge. A hope that springs up within us every time we think of doing what is in our heart to do. In Love and War, John Eldredge says, "Our hearts are made to live a life that matters, a life of epic significance." What is in your heart, calling you out, wooing you to do that special, unchartered mission that only you can do in just the way you would do it? I believe that "something" is God's call on your life.

When I was 13, I got my first typewriter, and immediately, I started writing a story for a book. As long as I can remember, I have loved imagining, and writing gave me a perfect outlet for creating stories with inspiration and heart. Later, I started writing plays, and I loved getting to see my words acted out on stage. This is still one of the great joys in my life!

Today, many years later, I yet carry a dream in my heart to see my stories published. I can see my book Winter's Past on my bookshelf, along with many more.

For a while, I gave up on having anything published. Yes, it's true. I just gave up. I decided that maybe it wasn't God's will for me to walk in that path, and I pursued other avenues. I wrote plays for schools and saw them produced and lives blessed. I raised my family and worked. But in the back of my mind, I carried stories that I hoped to one day see in real books.

Two years ago, I stopped working a full-time job and ever since, I've worked on some aspect of pursuing publication: editing, getting a Web site going, making a book trailer, and learning the ropes of marketing--this I am learning day by day. To be a successful writer, whether you go through a traditional publishing house or self-publishing, you must learn to market your own work. Times have changed, and writers must be advertisers, sellers, promoters, and speech givers. Wow. But it's true.

A year ago, the economy was at a real low, and most of what I read online was negative talk about the publishing industry. Many doors were closed to new writers--a discouraging fact for me. In recent days, a few agents are creaking their doors open to us newbies, and that is such a blessing. A sweet hope. Some fellow-writers I know are turning to houses where authors must pay a portion of the publishing costs to see their work in print--or self-publishing--and I must decide which avenue I will take.

Whichever way I go, I've set my mind like a flint to pursue this desire of my heart to have my story ideas published. Here, on this brand new blog, I'm going to share my journey.

What is your dream? Have you had something inside of you that you've wanted to do for a long time? Has God put a special desire in your heart? If so, don't become discouraged. You may have to wait a while. Things may need to change--whether you need to educate yourself, read more books on the subject, listen to the words of those who have gone before you. Whatever you have to do, do it, and don't give up.

For many reasons, some of us have shelved our dream. Work. Family responsibilities. Lack of funds. Busyness. If you have set aside something that yet churns in your heart to accomplish, keep pursuing it. Keep praying about it. Let God open a door for you to see your dream fulfilled. You will be so blessed. 

I'm still believing for my dream. If it's God's will, it will happen. And I am so ready to do my part.