Sunday, December 4, 2016

Back Up, Start Over

When I last wrote about my novel writing venture in November, things were going splendidly. I had completed Part One of the current novel and had entered into the waters of Part Two. I had met the Nanowrimo goal of 50,000 words for the one month time period. Everything was swimming along.

Then came Thanksgiving. I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons why a holiday can throw your writing mojo into the gutter. I wasn't even responsible for the meal, thanks to my hubby's willingness to do the cooking. I feel like I have no excuse, yet the writing started to creep along at a horrifying pace. First, I stopped meeting my 2000 word-a-day goal. Then, during the height of the holiday, I had four different zero word days (groan). Over the last two weeks, I've only squeaked out 14,576 words.

Even more concerning, it just felt like the second portion of the novel wasn't clear in my mind. The characters felt wrong. The agent for resolution was too complicated (led into territory where I couldn't really research the answers to questions on-line but would need more specialized knowledge). It makes sense that the first half was the easier section to write. It is far more challenging to write healing than it is to bleed pain onto the page. Still, I was growing quite disillusioned. I spent inordinate amounts of time researching location and setting details and while those are important, they were getting in the way of real writing.

Then, yesterday morning, as I was mulling over the difficulties again, I had a revelation of sorts. I had always envisioned the key secondary character in Part Two as a young girl named Dakota. When she appeared at all (and I wasn't seeing her very clearly), she had a widowed father in her life and the parent was getting in the way. As I thought about it more, I realized that perhaps she is not a young girl, but is rather a teenage runaway, named Savannah, that the main character believes to be a neighbor. This scenario provides its own challenges and again, I may be in over my head. But, even though I'm still a bit hazy on the details, I'm pretty sure that I need to back up and start over. I plan to scrap almost all of the work done in the past two weeks and begin again on Monday (when I can focus clearly on the writing without boys underfoot), rewriting Part Two.

If there is any consolation in all of this, it is that I am very pleased with the first half of the novel. It has set the stage for the second half quite well and established character, dilemma, conflict, and an even story arc. Sadly, the days are growing colder and my morning walks have become more difficult to accomplish. I work best when I have that time to ponder the characters and their individual needs. Plus, I use that time to pray and offer up my minimal talents to be used as the Lord sees fit (praying that He would multiply my loaves and fishes). So, as I plow into December and a new start to the second half of my novel, I'm hoping for two solid weeks of intense focus and productivity while the boys finish up their last full weeks of school before the winter break arrives. Goodbye Dakota. Hello Savannah.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Review: The Woman in Cabin 10

Even though I wasn't a huge fan of Ruth Ware's thriller, In a Dark, Dark Wood, I decided to give the author another shot when I read the premise behind this novel, The Woman in Cabin 10. The book is about a travel magazine journalist who is invited aboard a press junket voyage of an exclusive cruise ship. While on board, she believes she witnesses a woman being thrown overboard. She is frustrated when the security officer fails to believe her report and even more flummoxed when all the passengers are accounted for.

The book begins with the journalist, Laura Blacklock, experiencing a break-in in her London flat. Has that break-in caused her to be overly anxious or to feel undue fear while she is on board the ship? Did she really hear the splash and see the mark of blood on the neighboring veranda window or was it merely her imagination and nerves at play? Can she be trusted as a reliable narrator when she is on antidepressant medication for anxiety or when she drinks more than she should?

All of these questions stir within the reader as the story unfolds. I was gripped and entertained by the process of listening to the audio version of this book. I did enjoy this book, with its multiple twists and turns, far more than Ware's last offering. However, my chief complaint was with a formatting issue from the audio version. The tracks were unbearably long. One track went on for over 32 minutes. This would be all fine and dandy if I were listening on a device that would stop and restart wherever I had last been in the story. Sadly, the player I use by my treadmill only allows me to stop the track and restart from the beginning of each track. Thus, I would finish my workout and be six minutes into a track, never knowing whether I would require another two minutes or another thirty minutes to finish the track. Groan! Why, oh why, couldn't they have provided three to five minute tracking?

My only other complaint was that you end up absolutely hating Blacklock. She is a whiny, drunken, neurotic narrator and you know from the start to be suspicious of her version of things. Still, if you can get past the annoyance with her character, she does live through a riveting story.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: Found Faithful

Found Faithful was another book I selected after searching for books on the redemption of pain and suffering. Elizabeth Skoglund has gathered together stories for miniature biographies of eighteen famous Christian figures. Ten are treated with small vignettes and eight of the more prominent Christians are highlighted in whole chapters (people like Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, C.S. Lewis and Ruth Bell Graham).

If ever there was evidence that faith can flicker on despite trials and discouragement, the lives of these individuals provide some of the best. Again and again, despite great difficulties, these Christian giants chose to cling to God in spite of circumstances that could break anyone. I jotted down a few noteworthy quotes to chew on while writing my current novel.

Amy Carmichael wrote, "Trials are not 'chastisement.' No earthly father goes on chastising a loving child. That is a common thought about suffering, but I am quite sure that it is a wrong thought.... They are battle wounds. They are signs of high confidence - honors."

In the chapter on Spurgeon, the author quoted him as saying, "It is not the trouble, but the hiding of our Father's face, which cuts us to the quick.... It is only felt affliction which can become blest affliction. If we are carried in the arms of God over every stream, where would be the trial and where the experience which trouble is meant to teach us?"

C.S. Lewis himself doubted that he would recover from the pain of losing his wife, Joy. He wrote:

"Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another.... If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has 'got over it.' But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and ... he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed.... At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again."

The author reminds the reader of Christ's following God's will, saying "It cost him blood." Thus, the cloud of witnesses revealed in Skoglund's book remind a Christian of a very important fact - we are evidence to on-lookers when we react to the trials that life places in our paths. They see our faith tested and watch carefully to see how we respond. It might cost us dearly, but if God is our "reference point" (as He was in the life of Ruth Bell Graham) then we can and will weather whatever storm comes our way. Ours is the opportunity to join this group of faithful saints.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Puzzle

I'm so thrilled that my younger boys are old enough now to get into doing puzzles with me. We have a tradition of doing a puzzle over the Thanksgiving weekend. This year, we selected a 550 piece puzzle that was fairly easy, so we were able to put it together in the space of a day. I love that this one has so much action and that it focuses on a music theme:

The puzzle was by Tooniverse and called "Rhapsody in Zoo." I enjoyed all the funny details like the baby in the orchestra, sucking a pacifier, a penguin playing a drum, and even a couple of monkeys (my favorite animal). The puzzle can be purchased at the Serious Puzzles website.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: Our Ultimate Refuge

As I passionately pursue the creation of another manuscript - this one a tale of good intent gone wrong, ending in redemption - I have purposely plunged myself into books about problems of suffering and how God works to redeem the broken pieces of our lives. Thus, I sought out Oswald Chambers' book on Job and the problem of suffering, called Our Ultimate Refuge. Although I was able to glean some vision and insight from its pages, I have to admit it was somewhat difficult to follow and understand what the author was attempting to communicate. It simply lacked accessibility for the reader and that's too bad.

This little book was at least a quick read, at only 138 pages. Oswald Chambers gave a series of talks in 1917 and these words were gleaned from notes taken during the lectures. He addressed a male audience and, of course, minds were clearly focused on suffering caused by a world at war. The focus is on that perplexing question: "Why do the righteous suffer?"

The publisher's forward outlines clearly what the book is attempting to express: "Chambers presents God as not only the ultimate refuge, but our only refuge. With characteristic insight, he discusses our myths of self-sufficiency and eternal optimism, revealing their inadequacy when faced with the destruction of all that human-kind values. Only with a sense of ultimate and utter loss do we come to admit that all we have is God."

Here's some of what I did take away from the treatise. Chambers writes: "The majority of us start out with the belief that God is good and kind, and that He prospers those who trust in Him. Job believed this, but he has a conscious resurgence against that belief now, and it is Job's goodness, not his badness, which makes him reconsider things. There are things in the experience of us all which call for a revision of our credal findings about God."

He argues toward the end of the book, that "Job never knew that Satan and Jehovah had made a battleground of his soul." When faced with undeserved suffering, we must remember that our souls are a constant battleground and we must say with Job that though He slay us, yet we will trust Him. In another section Chambers speaks of the "rehabilitation" of faith in God (from Job 42:1-2) What is needed is a restoration to the former state of trust and belief. He writes, "I have to believe that God is good in spite of all that contradicts it in my experience. It is not easy to say that God is love (1 John 4:8) when everything that happens actually gives the lie to it. Everyone's soul represents some kind of battlefield. The point for each one is whether we will hang on, as Job did, and say 'Though things look black, I will trust in God.'"

The problem is outlined further when he writes: "Many of us have no faith in God at all, but only faith in what He has done for us, and when these things are not apparent we lose our faith.... The danger of experience is that our faith is made to rest in it, instead of seeing that our experience is simply a doorway to God Himself."

There will always be the problem of suffering. Why does a good God allow it in the world? Why do innocents pay the price of someone else's sin? Surely, we think, a loving, benevolent Creator would want to repay trust and belief with the prosperity we crave, and yet we are often plunged into "the dark night of the soul," and cannot see our way clear to Him or his provision. Chambers rightly directs the reader's focus back on God, the right place to hang our hopes and dreams.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Blessed by Another Writing Retreat

This week, I was privileged with the opportunity to get away for my third writing retreat. For the second year in a row, my husband has encouraged me to slip away for several days to an idyllic retreat center in Northern Indiana (my first one had been to a small cabin in Southern Indiana and it was so small and isolated that I had no Internet connection there - sometimes Internet comes in handy to research something that comes up in the writing).

What a blessing those days turned out to be!

The retreat center is basically a stunning house on Lake Bruce. Last year, I spent more time writing in a location where I could physically look out on the serene scene of the water (for photos of the suite and the desk where I wrote looking out on the water, see last year's retreat post):

This year, I holed up in the Francis Schaeffer Suite and wrote furiously without viewing the water. The first day, I managed to get in 4,610 words, even though I didn't arrive until late afternoon. The second day, I woke at 5:30 and was basically a whirling dervish of words for twelve hours, spilling out another 8,488 words. When I woke on the third day there, I hit a blockage, not knowing where to send the story from that point. So, I did what I always do when I'm stuck ... I took a walk, which included a brief visit to a small prayer chapel on the property:

I thought the words above the prayer chapel and inside were perfect for the piece on spiritual redemption that I am working on: The front of the chapel says "Be still and know that I am God," while the inside bears a verse from Psalm 62:8 - "Trust in him at all times, you people, pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge."

On the wall, I found this telling plaque with more words to spur on my writing about brokenness and redemption:

It reads: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners." - Isaiah 61:1

How appropriate, since my character is deeply broken and in need of a healing, restorative touch.

I was shocked when on the last day, a new character pushed her way into the scene ... someone I had not anticipated playing a part in the story. That day, I managed 3689 words, which brought me to over 21 thousand words for my retreat and pushed me into the winner's circle for the Nanowrimo effort by making my word count 50,539. Yippee!

To celebrate my productivity, I watched a movie in the spacious movie room in the basement on the last night. The screen covers almost the whole wall ... it was like having my own private theater.

My youngest, Sean, had quite a tough time in my absence and called me every afternoon/evening, begging me to come home early. I am a short way into Part Two of the novel and am guessing that I still have another 30 or 40 thousand words to write, but am thrilled to have made such good progress while I was gone.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: Another Place at the Table

I wasn't really sure what kind of research I should do for the novel I am presently working on. My hope is that it becomes a moving story of redemption. Those are my favorite type of novels to read. When I searched for books under the key word redemption, this book, Another Place at the Table, came up on our library's website. The subtitle is accurate: A Story of Shattered Childhoods Redeemed by Love. This truly was a redemptive tale and the truth in this author's writing clearly helped me to hone my characters and plot progression.

Kathy Harrison writes with intense humility about her revolving door policy. As foster parents, she and her husband take in numerous children who need temporary love and acceptance and a safe place to call home. The stories of these fragile young lives were shocking and often heartbreaking. I appreciated the author's willingness to paint herself as an ordinary woman doing her best in very demanding circumstances. I would not have known how to deal with many of the situations she confronted.

The abuse these children endured is horrific. The reader cannot help but weep on their behalf. Yet, through it all, Kathy and her husband extended hands of love and acceptance. They met the challenges and obstacles with grace and understanding. They rooted for their kids whether they were in their home for a week or several years. Love certainly can redeem lives that have been marred by the evil in this world. While not every child ended up with a happy ending, the story provided hope and inspiration.