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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Mind on What?

I love to read stories and blogs that inspire me to become a better person, to love my husband more, to follow Jesus at a deeper level, to learn truths that change something inside of me, to be a better friend, mom, human. Don't you?

This morning, while reading in Colossians, two sentences stuck out to me: "set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" and "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." It appears, we need to "set" (take action) our minds and hearts on things above, on things about God, on things that are good and right and holy. All around us, on tv, in books and magazines, and online, things of the earth shout for our attention, devotion, and, I'm sorry to say, lust. Inviting smiles, curvy bodies, and glistening bronzed skin lure us to the things of this earth. Sometimes, by accident. We glance at a billboard or magazine cover and, ugh, we see something we didn't intend to view. We read a few lines from a book or blog and, ouch, we wish we hadn't put those words in our thoughts. We overhear a conversation someone is having on their phone and, if you're like me, you sure wish you hadn't heard that.  

To me, setting my mind on things above means it's time to clean house and change focus. I've got to clear out the clutter of things I've seen and heard and wipe my lenses so I can see things above more clearly. To read or work on the computer, I need reading glasses, and they get smudged so easily. Daily, I have to breathe on them and wipe them down so I can see the words in front of me. In the same way, mentally and spiritually, I must remove debris from my thoughts so I can better focus on the things of the Lord. Oh, I want to see Him better! I want to think more about the ways of heaven; less on the things of the earth. And yet, this is where I live, so while I'm here, I need to figure out how to set my mind and heart on things that will strengthen me and build others up.

Jesus was a storyteller. Every story or analogy he told pointed to deeper truths the listeners could ponder and chew on. Think of some of Jesus' stories and examples:

The Beatitudes. Salt and Light. Treasures. A Speck of Sawdust. Narrow Gate. Wise and Foolish Builders. The Harvest. Sparrows. A Kingdom Divided. Trees and Fruit. Parable of the Sower. Weeds. Mustard Seed. Yeast.  Pearl. Net. Children. Lost Sheep. Workers. Fig Tree. Vineyard. Wedding. Marriage. Taxes. Signs. Talents. Virgins. Sheep and Goats.

Jesus loved to tell stories, and I think I know why. A story is something everyone can relate to. In the midst of the story, our minds pull us into the heart of the telling, and once there, we're open to becoming the hero or one of the characters who challenge us to do something. It's in the story, we experience the pain and love and stirring of that character's victories and losses. It's where we find a call to action.

Telling stories and experiences that touch hearts, encourage spiritual growth, and make us better people matters. It can even be life-changing. If we start by "setting" our eyes and hearts on things above, then we can write and share stories with our friends and family and neighbors that will make a difference.

Have you read something recently that inspired you? I so appreciate authors and writers who have a heart to bring about change and turn our hearts toward Jesus through their writing. That inspires me!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Did I Change?

My life is extremely peaceful. I live in the country. No kids in the house. We eat simply. Housecleaning and laundry are minor ordeals. In general, I'm pretty relaxed most of the time.

Life has taken on a different view from my window. Serene might be a good word for it. I'm a calmer me.

Not too many years ago, the clock dominated my life. Tick, tick, get breakfast ready. Tick, tick, make lunches and sign homework slips so the kids can race off to school. Have dinner ready by a certain time. Get that laundry done. A new basketball or volleyball season meant schedules revolved around the game list on the refrigerator. There were always things to do with four active young people in the house.

Now, the refrigerator's surface is pretty bare. The house is quiet. The stress level is low. Things that drove me to high energy and sometimes pull-your-hair-out emotions are gone. But it wasn't always like that.

Through most of my kids' growing up years, I worked—eighteen years in Christian education, several years in preschool and daycare, and a couple of years in retail. Working and keeping up with housework and cooking and, of course, the delightful hours with the family fueled my existence. At age forty, as if I wasn't busy enough, with my second son starting college, I joined him to finish up a degree. Now, that was a stressful time in my life! But I accomplished what I set out to do, despite the hectic lifestyle. Also, in between living and working, I directed full-stage theatrical productions with a bevy of period costumes, many that I sewed, and too many staging challenges to list.

Life was busy and full—and in some really weird way, extremely satisfying.

As much as I love being a writer and getting to savor country living, there's so many things I miss. Not all at once. But in the quiet, I miss the noise my kids used to make as they chattered non-stop with each other. I miss the tv running late at night and me slipping out of bed to watch an old West Wing episode with my son. I miss a sink-full of dirty dishes after a homemade pizza and movie night. In the mountainous beauty around me, I miss living in the city and taking a long drive in the country and oohing and aahing over the perfectness of the settings, wondering how people in the country live. Silly, huh?

Today, the house is quiet, except for when the phone rings with a telemarketer trying to sell me something or when the dogs bark excitedly at a passing delivery truck--the thrill of their day.

The quiet tempo of my silence makes me yearn for the sounds of yesterday, because it's absent of that which once defined me. But it's a changing time. Still. Just when I think I've adjusted, it's there again to remind me. In my peacefulness, something is missing.

It's time for me to find a new challenge. A new place of being needed or useful. Because we all need that. The peacefulness of my spirit is a blessing. But it's time to be revived and inspired again.

Did I change? Yes. Did life change around me? Oh, yes. And I must change with it. But sometimes my ability to change needs a little time to catch up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Write What's in You

They say we should write what we know. But I know about a lot of things I don't care about. We all know stuff. The world and the internet is full of facts and stuff.

But when it comes to writing something that will bring about change or hope or revive a lost dream, we need to write what's inside of us, not just what we know. Like drawing water from a deep well, we must pull up those thunder-clapping, heart-stopping emotions, and make the memories and feelings live on paper. What heats up a subject in your spirit? What makes you laugh or cry or feel love or sorrow deep within you? What makes you want to jump out of your skin with excitement? Whatever that is, grab hold of it and never let go. Find a way to live in that delight as you write and weave its message throughout a story or essay or blog. When we draw from the deep desires of our heart to the point we're able to make it live through fictional characters and words, that's when our stories and writing will effect change, touch lives, brighten someone's day, perhaps, even save a life.

Wow! That's where I want to live and write. As a reader, that's how I want to be inspired. Please, touch my spirit. Make me want to change, to be a better person, a better wife, mom, and friend. To follow God in a deeper level because of how you inspired me in your writing.

If I get bogged down on what that central part of my writing should be, I can search my heart. What do I care about? What moves me? What's the last thing that made me cry? What would I give up everything for?

If the heart behind my story moves me first, it will surely touch someone else.

Write what is in you. Even if it isn't popular. Even if it doesn't make money. Write from the place where your spirit cries out to be heard. That's a story I want to read. And write.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Journey of a Book Cover

They say "Don't judge a book by it's cover." Yet, we do. The story would be exactly the same with a plain cover versus an eye-dazzling cover, but there's something dynamic that happens when the picture on the front of a book grabs us.

When my book Winter's Past was finished and professionally edited, there was a giant step yet to be taken in designing a cover that not only would be pretty, but would tell something about the story. In my debut novel, the leading lady is coming to terms with a lost love who shows back up in her life. In that process, she discovers that she may very well still be in love with the rogue, even though she doesn't want to be.

I wanted a cover that would relate to Winter looking back. I found this picture at istock:  

Winter has long red hair like the woman in the photo, she loves the Word of God, and it appears this lady is looking away, possibly into the past. She was my girl!

Because I'd spent a bundle on professional editing and valued the interior more than the exterior, I decided since I'm artistic (cough, cough) I could make the cover myself. I know, I know, but that's what I thought. I assured myself I could do it. After all, I love DIY projects!! So, I learned how to use the OpenOffice Draw program, which is free, by the way, and I came up with what I thought would be my final cover for Winter's Past:

When I held it in my hands for the first time, I was thrilled!

I still did some tweaking and ordered several proofs. But, eventually, I got it the way I wanted it to be--given my experience. In those first months, Winter's Past was available online, in a local bookstore, and sold from a clear bag I carried around with me, and I was very pleased. After all, I'd done the cover myself, and to me, it was a work of art. But as time passed, I began to doubt and judge and compare. I kept reading how people do judge a book by its cover, and how this is an area writers should not scrimp on--and I cringed. I wondered what I should do. Should I try to make another cover? Is relaunching a new cover a good idea after a year has passed? Will people be confused?

Also, with book two in the series on its way this year, I wanted something on the covers to be similar. So I began a quest to find a graphic artist. I went to several different websites hunting for that special "look". Then, I heard of a graphic artist through someone on Facebook, and I went to her site, not once or twice, but many times to look in awe at her cover designs. Suzanne Williams is very creative, and she makes fabulous book covers. Here's her website if you want to take a peek:

As I compared her designs with my cover for Winter's Past, I felt mine had some major flaws. With the lady's face turned away and the background slightly blurry, it wasn't engaging. On the paperback, the colors were dark and murky. Something needed to change. I wanted a delightful cover like the ones on Suzanne's website. I wanted it to say, "Read me! This is a heart-touching story."

So, I contacted Suzanne and explained my heart for this book. She was so great to work with. She hunted for pictures that would match my characters, and so did I. She offered ideas, and she was very open to me making suggestions and asking her to tweak things. I was looking for an engaging couple, with the woman having a bit of an unsettled look, a bright color overall, and a banner that would remain the same throughout the series.I was happy to find this couple on Fotolia, her with her red hair, green eyes, and a sweet, slightly unsure expression, and him gently pursuing her:

A friend looked at the cover and asked, "Is that what you imagined Ty looking like?" Now, this is a friend who really liked my first cover. "No," I answered. "But, her? Definitely." And, I'd have to say, he's pretty close.

The lacy pink banner turned out great, it representing a bit of wedding lace. In each of the stories in the 2nd Chance Series, this lace will be present in different colors.

Suzanne and I both hunted for a secondary picture for the lower half. I wanted it to say something about marriage, since this series is about the hope of reconciliation. When I found the picture below, I loved the burgundy color and the Bible open to I Corinthians 13, a section of verses Ty thinks about during a tense scene with Winter's antagonistic personal assistant. The engagement ring fits so well with the story too.

Suzanne put it all together in such a delightful fashion, and I'm very pleased with the final product. Changing a cover mid-stream may be confusing to readers. Sorry about that. But in the end, when there are several books in the series, it will be nice to have the continuity of the covers--and the beautiful, eye-catching design. To all those who own the first cover version, just think of it as the first run. (If someone wants to update a Kindle version, go to "Manage your content & devices" on Amazon and upgrade for free.)

Thank you, Suzanne Williams, for sharing your artistic gifts and talents with authors. I'm thrilled with the new cover for Winter's Past. I'm so blessed to be walking this journey of writing books. My dreams are coming true! 

Winter's Past (2nd Chance Series #1) is available on Kindle for 99 cents! (limited time) HERE

Monday, May 12, 2014

Stage Wars Goodreads Giveaway

I'm giving away 5 paperback books of Stage Wars! Sign up at Goodreads!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Stage Wars by Mary E. Hanks

Stage Wars

by Mary E. Hanks

Giveaway ends June 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

During an onstage sword fight, rivals, Shem Michaels and TJ Fortine, crash through the trap door, straight into Professor Plunkmeyer's whirling time machine. Thrown into medieval battles, they must either find a way to help each other or die. Can they survive? Perhaps, even become friends? (Ages 10+)

"I loved it! I would recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure." Peyton J.
"I wanted the book to keep going on forever!" Claire M.

Join Shem's adventures in Youth Theater, time travel, friendship, and faith.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Oh, my big mouth!

It's so easy to open the mouth and stick that big old foot right inside. I didn't mean to be harsh or hurtful or insensitive. But at some uninspiring moment, out pops words I later regret. Sound familiar?

The Bible likens our tongue to a fire. How quickly a fire can devour with a small flame.

Perhaps I'm tense or tired, or at the other spectrum, extremely happy or giddy and not taking a conversation seriously, and I misspeak or jump to conclusions or try to be funny. That's exactly what happened to me in church the other day. I said something in humor to a man, who I found out, takes such conversations very seriously. He expounded to me the Biblical reasons for not doing the thing I'd mentioned in fun. I had to backpedal out of that conversation real fast. Even though I hadn't meant to say anything out of place, I felt I had stuck my foot in my big mouth.

Recently, I saw a quote that went something like this: Sometimes my biggest accomplishment is keeping my mouth shut. Boy, did I snicker when I saw that.

My mind is buzzing with comebacks and funny twists, and often, the humorous response isn't edifying or necessary. Keeping that mouth shut when I want to speak out is truly a challenge.

With a little word, we can start a fire. As unintentional as it might have been, a fire is a fire, and it must be stopped before it causes damage. And so it is with the words we say.

Thinking how quickly I can say something wrong does make me consider others around me. I need to remember to give everyone else a second chance when they misspeak or say something out of turn. I don't know what kind of day or week that person has had, and I need to be quick to forgive and understand, because tomorrow I will surely need their forgiveness and understanding when my tongue rushes to start a fire.

It's a good thing love really does cover a multitude of sins.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Baron's Daughter & Youth Theater Fun

So ends another show! With some feelings of sadness, I say goodbye to another fabulous Youth Theater show--my 25th! I am so blessed to get to work with kids and watch their talents and confidence grow year after year. Wow. These kids, 7th-12th graders, were so much fun to watch and listen to. The lead characters have been in quite a few of my productions, and this was truly their shining year. And what better way to shout "howdy" to my 25th show than to celebrate with a good ole western?

We had good guys and bad guys. We had a super bad guy--the Baron. And the town hero--Jeb Donovan. And the show couldn't go on without our leading lady--Cassandra Von Zandenberg. Add to that some silly characters, a boys' line dance, a western brawl, and lots of lively fun and dancing, and it was a night (or 3) to remember!

People ask me if I'm glad it's over. My answer is always . . . no. I'm never happy it's over. I want the spotlights to keep shining and the laughter and clapping to continue. But all good things must eventually come to an end. So I say goodbye to this year's actors who have become very dear to me, I wash the costumes one last time and pack them away in 18-gallon buckets, I dust off the cowboy boots and hope for another chance to use them, and dream of an audience leaping to their feet, clapping wildly, and cheering "Encore!"