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Featured Field of Ashes Winter's Prey

The Freedom of Living Open-Handed

August 8, 2017

At the sound of his voice, a deer sprang from a thicket near the base of the butte. She leaped over the creek and darted across the open fields. Marc watched her go. She was a little like Jess, he thought, afraid and running for all she was worth.

“I know Jess is safest in your hands,” his prayer continued, “I’m so…I don’t know. I just want the best for her…and I know you want that even more than I do. Pa was right about letting go[…]”

He looked down at his hands. He had been a capable worker for a good many years now, but this was far more than his hands could do. He tightened them into fists, then as he opened them again he looked Heavenward.

“Father, she’s yours. I put her in your hands. I’m willing to trust you to take care of her, to protect her, to provide for her…and not only Jess but Mary and the other children too.”

It seemed a strange thing to do: to walk a mile, stand on a cliff, hold your fists out to God, and open them as if letting go of something. If anyone but God had been watching, he might have been embarrassed. But stranger things had happened than what he’d just done. Hadn’t Abraham traveled a long distance with his son, climbed a mountain, strapped his son to an altar, and raised his knife over him to kill him? God had asked this of Abraham to prove Isaac hadn’t become his idol, to prove Abraham’s faith. And, in the end, God had provided another sacrifice. That thought brought reassurance, even joy.

“I know you’ll be faithful. I know you will care for her. Help me to simply trust you as Abraham did. Help me to have the right attitudes. To know what to say and what not to say. Help me to show her your love.”

—Winter’s Prey

Time. Finances. Marital Status. Children. Career. Ministry. Our “Personal Brand.” The future.

We live in a culture that demands we get all of these on a schedule, develop them to the max, and present them to the world with Pinterest Perfection. But reality is often much different than the awesomeness found on Pinterest. What if that perfection is not the reality God wants for us? What if it is not the reality that will bring genuine fruit in our lives? What if fruit bearing reality for us looks more like this:

  • Busy, but not organized.
  • Single, married but struggling, divorced, widowed.
  • Children a mess, sick, or, perhaps, no children at all.
  • Laid off, fired, business failed, struggling career.
  • Struggling in ministry, unable to do what you’d like to do, limited opportunity abundance of obstacles.
  • What’s a Personal Brand?! I’m just trying to get myself through the day!
  • The future couldn’t look bleaker.

How do we reconcile what is around us—the pressures, the baubles, the constant temptations and enticements—with reality? How do we find contentment with what we have in comparison with all that is thrust at us, held up to us as a standard, and considered the status quo? How do we walk through loss when we live in a culture that minimizes it, ignores the realities of grief and pain, and expects us to rebound as the same person we were before? In fact, they don’t just want us to be who we were. They want us to be better—like the day after it happens! How do we balance all this with contentment?

We cling to Christ.

We must live in Him, move in Him, find our very breath in Him. But the only means of clinging to Him in this way is by letting go of everything else. This is where the difficulty often comes. We want His best. We want His will. We want more of Him. But it can be excruciatingly difficult to let go of those things we have held dear, those dreams, the hopes, the very desires of our heart, which we had so depended upon Him meeting.

When those desires go unmet, does it make Him any less true to His Word? No. Does it mean we are the problem? Does it mean the desire was wrong? Not necessarily.

I want to digress for just a moment. Not every desire of our heart comes true, and some of the ones that don’t are enormous. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Sometimes our hope is deferred, and it hurts. It makes us sad. In our culture, sadness seems to be a weakness. Sorrow is not an emotion we know how to face. We throw a trite platitude at the “problem” and assume it will go away. But sorrow of heart does not heal that way. There is, however, a way to ensure both beforehand and as we are passing through disappointment that the sorrow is lessened. The secret is found in living open-handed.

Have you ever clutched something in your hand, maybe as a child, that someone else wanted.

“Give it to me,” they say.

You, clasping your other hand over the first, mockingly retort, “Come and get it if you want it!”

Then the battle ensues. They pull at your arms, struggle around your legs, grab at your fingers and start peeling them back one at a time, trying to break your grip. You would not admit it in the moment, but the truth is—it hurts. It hurts to fight against their efforts. It pulls at the tendons and muscles in your hands. It even stretches things clear down into your wrists and forearms. Holding on hurts.

The same is true in our walk with Christ. God wants all of us.

  • He doesn’t want the part that commits to serve Him without the part that says, “whether I’m married or single.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that is willing to serve in the nursery without the part that says, “Even if I never have children of my own.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that says, “I’ll live by faith, trusting you for everything” without the part that says, “Even when I don’t feel secure.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that says, “I’ll give up my ideals for the future,” without the part that says, “I’ll trust you in the present.”

He wants all of us. When we offer Him part in one hand, but clutch something in the other hand, He’s very likely to say, “But I want what’s in the other hand.” The tighter we hold on, the more painful and more difficult the struggle to have peace in our relationship with Him.

Corrie Ten Boom said, “We must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when my Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me.” I remember thinking when I first heard this, “Why stop there? Why hold onto it at all. If He has simply to reach down and take it from my open hand, then my hand is available to take hold of Him.”

Sometimes, when God asks us to let go of something, especially in our culture of amassing things, notoriety, accomplishments, and status, it’s easy to say, “But, Lord, why do you ask this of me? Why don’t you require this of them?”

  • Why must I be single, when that person who has wasted their life has both a husband and children?
  • Why must I be childless, when there are so many ‘underserving’ who have more children than they can keep up with?
  • Why must I live in poverty, while those who are lazy in their faith live extravagantly?
  • Why must I let go of my hearts deepest desires, while they squander what they have been given?

Remember that you are not alone. Remember Abraham, who waited a hundred years for a son, and who was then asked to lay him on an altar. Remember Job upon whom God had showered blessing, and then who lost everything. Job who said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Remember Paul who had reason above any other to boast of his position, his lineage, and his education, and yet who laid it all aside, counting it but dung for the knowledge of Christ. There is a secret freedom and power in living open-handed. In doing so, two things happen:

  1. When we let go of our desires, we are better able to take hold of Christ and what He has for us.
  2. When we let go of our desires, we put them into His hands, which are far more capable of properly handling those desires than we are.

This gives us the freedom both to know Him better and to live free of worry, concern, and fretting over things we cannot control. And when we discover that a desire may not be fulfilled, half the battle (or perhaps more) is already won because it was no longer held in our grip.

Surrender is the enemy of pride. Our pride wants to hold on, to fix every problem, to reach every goal, to attain the things we long for. Pride fears poverty of some sort, not realizing the poverty we fear most is that which comes from living with our fists clenched. Surrender says, “Lord, I give it to you. I trust you to handle it wisely, to bring it to pass, or to exchange it for something better.” And it chooses to trust Him that the “something better” really is better, even when it appears to be filled with pain and sorrow and rejection. Surrender chooses to follow His leadership and to trust Him to manage our affairs.

As Paul said, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” I’ve failed in this area more times than I can count. It has taken me days to write this because I had to search my heart to make sure it was right. Perhaps, you never struggle in this area. That’s wonderful. But if I am to be honest, then I must admit, at times I’ve gotten my eyes off of Christ who is my hope, and put my hope in people or plans or projects. I have held desires in my heart, thinking they had been surrendered, only to find them dashed once more when an unexpected trial comes. But that is the beauty of our Savior. When we see something has not been fully given, or perhaps that needs to be given once more—He is there, waiting patiently, lovingly, wisely. Waiting for us to allow Him to take it from our hand, and more importantly, waiting for us to slip our open, empty hand into His.

What are you holding onto? In my experience, things sneak in without me seeing them. Hopes. Desires. Plans. Things that aren’t necessarily bad, but things I haven’t placed in His hands. What do you need to let go of in order to free your hands to grasp Him more tightly? Take a few minutes, or maybe a day or two, and ask the Lord to show you what you need to release.

 

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Featured Winter's Prey

Winter’s Prey Audiobook Update

July 31, 2017

Thank you to all of you who pledged to back the Winter’s Prey Audiobook Kickstarter. Even though we didn’t quite make the goal before time ran out, the possibility of bringing the book to audiobook is still very much alive! Within just a few hours of letting people know that the funding on Kickstarter had been unsuccessful people were asking me if they were going to have another chance to support it SOON! So, I’ve looked into the various options open to us, and have set up a new campaign on a different platform call Indiegogo. (Click here for a preview!!)

The goal is still the same, but I think we have a much better chance of meeting it this time. The rewards (or perks) for this campaign are also all the same. One perk that is listed in the campaign information, but which I could not list as an official perk is the invitation to the Book 3 Preview event. If you had someone match your pledge in the Kickstarter, and you both bring your pledge over to the Indiegogo campaign you will both go on the invitation list. If you bring your pledge over to the new campaign and then find someone to match your pledge you will also go on the invitation list! This is for anyone, not just those who are local. We’ll set up a live feed for those of you outside of Billings. (I will need to know your name, your matchers name, and the pledge amounts for each of you to verify.)

This campaign is not all or nothing! This means that anything you pledge will go to the project whether we reach the full $3000 or not. If everyone who pledged in the Kickstarter brings their pledge over to Indgiegogo, we will be close enough to our goal to start moving forward with the project!

One important thing that differs from the Kickstarter platform: Your pledges will come off of your card/account immediately. Since this is not an all or nothing campaign, they will collect the funds and hold them until the project deadline. I will receive whatever funds come in approximately 15 business days after the deadline. (Around September 30th.) If we do not reach our goal, the funds will still go toward this project, it will just take us longer to get to completion. If we surpass our goal, the additional funds will be invested in marketing the audiobook or will go toward production of book 2, Field of Ashes, depending on what comes in.

The new campaign will launch Tuesday, August 1. The easiest way for me to let you know that it has launched will be through email. If you don’t already receive my “Rachel Miller, Writer” emails (different from the Forbid Them Not emails.) Please sign up below.

I am so excited and so very grateful to each of you who has pledged to support this project! Thank you!

Let’s do this…

Featured Field of Ashes The Writing Journey

The Story of Emily’s Song

July 25, 2017

“I love the song. Where did you find that? Did you write it?” My best friend’s text popped up on the screen of my phone, and I smiled. She had reached not only a turning point in Field of Ashes but also one of my favorite moments. The moment in which one song, which so beautifully illustrates one woman’s walk with Christ, changes the life of another woman. But the song you read in the book today, is not the song that was originally there.

When I first started writing Field of Ashes, I came to this point in the story and immediately knew what hymn would best touch the situation. I built the entire scene around I Surrender All. It fit perfectly, and carried enough tension in and of itself to move the scene forward—and then I discovered a problem. Many drafts into the process, I discovered that my original research had misinformed me. I Surrender All was actually written 13 years after the story of Field of Ashes takes places.

I was crushed. I couldn’t think of another song, especially from the right era, that would fit the scene as well as that song, nor one that would convey the message of the book so perfectly. I didn’t cry, but I came close. How would I ever salvage that pivotal moment in the book?

William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” But this! This was like killing the whole book. I bemoaned my dilemma for hours. Finally, I told my dad about my disappointment. Dads always seem to look at things so matter-of-factly.

“So write your own song,” he said. Just like that. Write your own song. Really?

But then I thought, “Why not? I already have the basic idea of what the song needs to say. It wouldn’t be the first song I’ve written, and I hope very much that it won’t be the last.”

So I retreated to my bedroom with my computer, a hymnal containing I Surrender All, and a lot of prayer, and began translating the message of that song into my own words. To my surprise, it took little more than 45 minutes. It has it’s own melody, but it isn’t very good.

In the book, the song appears handwritten on a single sheet of paper and is attributed to “E.F.,” someone you will meet only by reading the rest of the story.

Emily’s Song

With open hand, give all to Jesus

With yielded heart, thine all release.

Press now thine hand into the Savior’s

In trust and love, sit at His feet.

 

Give all to Jesus,

In love surrender.

Yield up thy will and embrace the Savior.

Give all to Jesus,

Who left Heaven’s splendor

Yield up thy heart and thine all surrender.

 

Kneel at His feet in humble worship.

The pleasures of this world forsake.

“Take me, O Lord, my life I offer,

Thy will be done and not my own.”

 

“Made fully Thine through Thy salvation,

“Bought with a price of pain and woe,

“Lord, let me feel Thy glorious presence,

“And ever know that I am Thine.”

 

“I yield myself to Thee, Lord Jesus

“Fill me with power and love and grace.

“Thy blessing on my life’s long journey

“Until the day, I see Thy face.”

 

This is the first in a short series of blogs related to Emily’s Song, be watching for the next installment.

PS. AS I WRITE THIS, WE’RE DOWN TO THE LAST 35 HOURS IN THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN TO SEE WINTER’S PREY CONVERTED TO AUDIOBOOK. WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO. IF YOU HAVEN’T CHECKED IT OUT YET, YOU CAN SEE THE PROJECT AND THE REWARDS HERE.

Featured Winter's Prey

The Story Behind Winter’s Prey

June 30, 2017

[Originally posted September 22, 2016 after the release of Winter’s Prey on Barrenfieldsfruitfulgardens.com]

Yesterday, I shared a little about the background of Winter’s Prey in a post on Facebook—from a writing perspective. But I think it is important to share a little more about the background of the story.

I started writing the book when I was 14 years old. That’s right, 14. There are many reasons why it took 26 years to finish this book, but mostly I think it had a lot to do with God’s timing.

When I was a little girl, about 9, something happened that greatly upset me. It was a little something. In fact, it was so insignificant that it doesn’t even warrant mentioning. So why am I mentioning it? Because I held onto that something for a long time—and it made me miserable.

On the first morning of third grade, I got up, pranced down the stairs of our parsonage-home in Illinois, and walked into the living room where my dad was reading his Bible.

“Good morning!” he said, “and how is my big third-grader this morning?”

Those words made me feel loved. They made me feel that Dad was so proud of me!

By the next year, our family had moved. On the first morning of fourth grade, I walked out of my bedroom in our apartment on the campus of a Bible college in South Dakota and into the living room where Dad was reading his Bible.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning,” he replied, not looking up from his Bible.

I waited. He said nothing more. My heart sank, having expected to hear those same words again. Instead of being assured of how much my dad loved me and was proud of me, I was now certain that he didn’t care.

I understand now that what was going to follow was one of the greatest displays of love and self-sacrifice my parents had ever shown to my sisters and me. You see that was the day they started homeschooling us. Dad’s new position with the college meant he would be on the road a lot, and he didn’t want to leave us behind. So they dedicated themselves to the labor and expense of making sure we could be together and still get the education we would need for life. It would mean long hours, lesson plans upon lesson plan, textbook purchases, and even coaching girls’ basketball at one point! (Can you imagine teaching 2nd and 4th grades while trying to wrangle a 4-year-old all in a 1981 Chevy Citation!!!) The entire day (and the years to come) was a display of love—but I saw only my disappointment.

My dad never could have met my expectation because he did not know it existed. He was one of the most loving, caring, and kind men I have ever known. He never would have intentionally hurt me, but my 9-year-old brain didn’t really understand life for what it was.

Years passed, and even though I had a good relationship with my dad that little seed festered in my heart. It grew into, as the Bible puts it, a root of bitterness. I heaped other disappointments up on top of it. I kept score. And, while I loved my dad very much, attitudes of resentment and even rebellion began growing in my heart.

When I was twelve, we moved to Billings, MT where my dad became the pastor of a church that was about to close its doors. For the first few months, we lived in an RV behind the church. IT WAS COLD!!!!! Do you know how cold it can get in a trailer when it’s 20 below? Let me tell you, it’s C-O-L-D!

In the spring, we moved a mobile home onto a piece of property outside of town. That summer on those 80 acres, I fell in love with Montana. We didn’t get to live there long before we had to move back into town, but I memorized just about every inch of that land. And talk about treasures! Someone had used part of the land as their own little landfill—a long time ago. I found antique medicine bottles, an old purse, junk I didn’t recognize—all kinds of things to stir up the interest of an imaginative 13-year-old.

That winter we went to a special meeting where the speaker talked about forgiveness. It wasn’t until that night that I realized that I had a very unforgiving heart toward my dad. I really don’t remember anything the speaker said. I just remember the ugliness that God revealed in my heart. I confessed it to God, and found a new freedom in my relationship with Dad in the days to come. But I never told anyone about what had happened, at least not for a long time. Instead…

I started writing a story. I didn’t want others to have the hurt of bitterness in their lives. I didn’t want it to destroy their relationships like it could have destroyed mine. I don’t know if most 14-year-olds think this way or not, but I did. So, in our little space of prairie “Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens” and Marc and Jess and Jon and the whole Bennett family were born.

Obviously, the story doesn’t end there because it took me 26 years to get to this point! But I believe there were still things I needed to learn. Some of them you will see in this book, some of them don’t come out until the next book, or even the one after that. But Winter’s Prey is the beginning, and I hope it will do just what that 14-year-old girl—cuddled up on her bed with pen and notebook in hand and the relentless Montana winds beating and whirling about her mobile home—hoped it would do. I hope that it will bless. I hope that it will encourage. I hope that it will stir each of us to love when others are not lovely, to forgive when others seem unforgivable, to extend grace where judgment is more desirable, and to value our relationships with each of our family members to such an extent that we will work to make them what they ought to be.

I hope you enjoy Winter’s Prey and that it will bless many for years to come.


We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to bring the powerful story and message of Winter’s Prey to audiobook. Please check out the campaign and join us in this endeavor by clicking here!

Featured Winter's Prey

An Impossible Dream Coming True

June 27, 2017

Have you ever gone to bed praying something would change? You didn’t know what, but you knew something needed to happen to bump a situation in a different direction. I’ve had a few of those lately. The things on my heart were so heavy that I prayed most of the night, crying out for the Lord’s leadership, direction, and provision. Two weeks ago, I got very specific in a very unspecific way. “Lord, I said, “please do something in the next few days. I don’t know what the answer is, I’m leaving that part in your hands, but I ask that you do something in the next few days.”

The next morning, I got up (still praying), had my quiet time, and was about to head on with my day when I received a notification from Facebook. Over the last few months, I’ve been part of a couple of groups for writers and artists surrounding the launch of Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. These groups have been very encouraging and helpful. Often, a group member posts a question and other members of the group pitch-in with whatever information or resources are needed.

That morning was no different, I saw the request for information that came in on the notification and began pulling together a blog on how to set a featured image in a WordPress blog. This particular topic is not one I normally write about. I knew it would help others though, so I went ahead and did it, feeling that was what the Lord was wanting me to do.

As the morning progressed, a man named Jason Noxon joined the thread. In the process of trying to figure out why his blog wasn’t displaying photos when shared to Facebook, I went to his website and discovered that Jason is not only a writer but also a voice actor. At that I sighed. It’s been a desire of mine for so long to have Winter’s Prey and Field of Ashes converted into audiobooks, but it has seemed like something so very far away and impossible.

I didn’t know anyone in the industry. I didn’t know how to choose the right voice for the project. I didn’t know how to make sure I went with the right producer and got set up with the right contracts. There was just so much about the process that I didn’t know. As I looked over his page, I prayed once, “Lord, you know that’s a desire of my heart. It would be so cool to have the books in audio. If it’s your will, I’d love for that to happen someday.” And that was it.

The day wore on and somehow the blog issue was finally resolved. Jason posted his thanks to myself and Susan Pitman (who I think is really the person who fixed things) and said, “If either of you ever need voice over work done, I’d like to do it for you.” I laughed out loud when I read that, and replied, “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into with that offer.” I told him I have a really huge project, and that’s why it’s never been done. He asked me to send him more information in a private message, and the next thing I knew he had set the wheels in motion to see Winter’s Prey become an audiobook!

God answers prayer! He still gives us the desires of our heart. He wants our hearts to be ready and willing to receive it, and sometimes that means bringing us to the point of saying, “Lord, I don’t know what needs to be done, but I trust that You do and that You will do it.”

In preparation for the production of the book, we have set up a Kickstarter Campaign to crowdfund the project. Our goal is $3000 to cover the production expenses, fees, and taxes associated with the project. This is the first time I’ve ever done a Kickstarter campaign, or anything like it for that matter, but I’m not depending on Kickstarter or my experience and knowledge in this. I believe the Lord has led in this so far, and I believe He will continue to do so.

I’d like to invite you to join me on this journey, both as a backer of the audiobook and as an observer and participant in what the Lord is doing. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Back the book – A backer is someone who pledges $5 or more toward the project. (There are some pretty cool rewards for pledging, including lavender from my garden, having your name in the credits at the end of the recording, and a copy of the audiobook itself!)
  • Share the project with others! I will need help sharing the project with as many people as possible, especially people who love Christian fiction and audiobooks.
  • Invite others to join you. Maybe you don’t feel you can pledge at the level of a certain reward, but you would like to. Find others to join you and reach the goal together.

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. This means we have 30 days to reach our goal. We really only need 120 people who will pledge $25 each. I believe that goal is within reach, and I believe that the Lord will help us as we step out in faith trusting Him to establish the work of our hands upon us.

I’ve already seen and heard from readers who have been touched and encouraged by the books, and I believe that God can use the audiobooks to take the message of the books to a whole new audience. I’m excited about the potential that this project has to help and encourage others in their walk with God and to glorify God.

I believe He is already answering prayer just by bringing things to this point, and I believe He will continue to. Please, join me in the journey!

Click here to see and take part in the Kickstarter campaign (which launches tonight at midnight)!

 

PS If you’re in the Billings area, I’ll be at City Brew on 24th and King at 9:30, Tuesday, June 27th, for the official launch. Come join me! Bring your laptop or other device and we’ll share about the campaign together!

PPS. If you’re going to bed praying that something will change, keep praying. Remember, this is something I’ve been praying about for years. I’m so excited to declare His doings in this, but I know that you may be praying for something as well. Let me know how I can be praying for you. (rmiller at barrenfieldsfruitfulgardens d0t com)

Featured The Writing Journey

Writing Journey: Scrivener

June 9, 2017

May was busy with the book launch for Field of Ashes, graduations, company, starting our summer focus at Forbid Them Not Ministries, and a host of other things. So Saturday, I finally got to sit down in the shade in my front yard, watch a hawk get chased by a raven who was being chased by the starlings—and write.

A few weeks ago, I shared with you about the process I use for outlining. (You can read about that here.) This time, since I’m working on the first draft of Book 3, I thought I’d share a little about a special writing software that I use. First, I should mention that I have no affiliation with this software (they aren’t paying me to write about it.) So, here goes:

Once my outline is complete, it’s time to start writing the story. For many years, I either sat down with a pen and paper for the first draft or just opened a new document in MS Word and started writing. But a while back, I learned about a program called Scrivener. Scrivener is specifically designed for writers, and I love it, especially for the first draft!

When I create a new project in Scrivener, it gives me several project type options: fiction, non-fiction, screenplay, etc. It is already set up to help writers create the front and back matter of the book, such as the acknowledgments or foreword. Oddly enough, I usually end up doing those on my own because I like to tailor them to the book. Still, if you are new to writing, layout, and publishing, this is a very helpful feature.

I set up Book 3 in a basic novel manuscript. Once everything was in place, I began adding File Folders to what Scrivener calls the “Binder.” Each folder represents a chapter. Like this:

Inside the folders are text documents. Each text document represents a scene within the chapter.

This is probably my greatest reason for using this program for first drafts. This feature makes it possible to move a scene if I need to, even from one chapter to another. Which in the early stages of a book is a scenario that is highly possibly!

 

Scrivener has multiple views of the project as a whole. One view compiles all of the above documents and allows me to see the entire manuscript as text, which is great for reading through long passages and keeping things flowing. But my favorite view uses “index cards” to represent each chapter. Like this:

Another tool, which I haven’t used a lot in the past, but will be using more with this book is the Character Tool. These allow me to create and save character descriptions, which will be especially helpful as the Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens story grows and new characters are added. Here’s a sample:

 

Similarly, the Places Tool allows me to make notes about specific locations in which major (or minor) parts of the story take place. This is an especially important tool for making sure scenes are consistent. For instance, the Bennetts’ rocking chairs ALWAYS give me trouble because they tend to move around the house, but they “live” in the common area.

These are some of the cool tools that Scrivener has to offer, but here’s my favorite—the Name Generator. Before Scrivener, I used to scour phone books, hymnals, books of poetry, etc., for names that fit my characters. In fact, I have a character in an unpublished book whose name came from a license plate!

See if you can pick it out:

“Matt contemplated the whole process. It seemed somehow too easy. Things didn’t usually come together this way. Sure, it had thrown his entire day off, and he was still up at a quarter to two in the morning, but it just didn’t seem right. Worse yet, his heart told him it wasn’t right. It was a good, quick, viable solution to everyone’s problems, but it wouldn’t last. It gave Marsh and Line a whole new realm of influence for good. It would give their employees opportunities to get involved in the community. That had been the point at which Raska and Chalmers had been most supportive. Raska in particular had been excited. He’d even sat down at the conference table in Matt’s office and thumbed through the list of charities, commenting on how they could get various departments involved in each one. That had, in turn, excited Matt. Even so, Matt knew he was taking the easy way out.”

Now, when I’m stuck on a character’s name, I can go into Scrivener, put in my criteria, and generate up to 500 names at once. Believe it or not, sometimes I still have to go through the process three or four times. That means 1500 to 2000 potential names before finding the right one!

Scrivener also allows me to set word count goals for each day. Like this…

As you can see, I haven’t gotten far today, so I’d better get at it. Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my writing process!

Did you find the license plate name? What part of the writing process would you like me to share about next? Do you have a first draft tip for other writers? Let me know in the comments below.

Featured Life

When It’s Okay To Be A Copycat

June 7, 2017

Did you know that Michelangelo’s first commission was a swindle?

I have a lot going on these days, including writing new material for our FTN Friday Bible Study, and participating in a book launch for author Jeff Goins, whose new book Real Artists Don’t Starve comes out today. These things are very different (so bear with me). Yesterday, however, I found a common thread.

Michelangelo’s first job was to copy another artist, make the sculpture look old, and then sell it as an antique. He was caught in the con, but it worked out in his favor, for the Cardinal who had originally wanted the piece—hired Michelangelo!

Now, I would certainly never condone cheating people with cheap knockoffs. However, this story brings to light a very interesting fact about apprenticing artists during the Renaissance:

“During the Renaissance, apprentices were taught to copy their master’s work so precisely that the copies were indistinguishable from the originals. Being able to reproduce an earlier work was not something to be ashamed of—it was a point of pride. In the words of author Noah Charney, it was ‘a sign of ability, not duplicity’ to be able to copy the work of a master.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pp. 27 and 28

I have seen the benefits of a similar approach in my own writing. I started writing at a very young age. Among other things, I had finished the first draft of Winter’s Prey, Field of Ashes, and books 3-5 of the series by the time I went to Russia at 19. But if you went back and read those drafts today, well, you’d probably laugh. I was a novice. I had not honed my craft, found my voice, or learned from others. A Russian friend once looked at me compassionately and said, “Rachel, you write like Tolstoy—long sentences.”

Ten years later, I returned to the States. I found myself needing to fill the evenings while my grandparents watched classic movies, so I wrote. But then I started noticing the difference between those classic movies and many contemporary movies. The classic movies truly told stories. They had plots! Character and dialog driven plots! They didn’t have to blow things up, drown the movie in excessive music, or go where they shouldn’t go simply to get ratings—because they knew how to tell a story. So I started watching, but not watching for the sake of entertainment, watching for the sake of study.

I also started reading again, which I hadn’t had a lot of time for in Russia. As I read, I started noticing twists of phrases and how authors I adored built their sentences and paragraphs. The authors I liked best wrote with rhythm, or what I like to call lilt. The more I read their work and listened to it on audiobooks, the more I realized that was the voice I was looking for. No, it wouldn’t be an exact match. My voice would have its own tone, but whatever that tone was, it had to have lilt. So I listened and read and practiced—and it worked.

As I read Real Artists Don’t Starve, Michelangelo’s story got me to thinking about this practice of being a copycat, but it was the story of dancer Twyla Tharp that started to bring things together for me.

“When she started dancing in New York, the dancer dedicated herself to studying every great dancer who was working at the time. She patterned herself after these professionals, learning what she could from them, copying their every move. ‘I would literally stand behind them in class,’ she said, ‘in copying mode, and fall right into their footsteps. Their technique, style, and timing imprinted themselves on my muscles.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pg. 30

Anything we do often or repetitively (like typing or shifting gears) probably involves some degree of muscle memory. This is what Twyla Tharp was doing. She was copying the movements of the greats, training her own muscles to do what the masters were doing, so that it would flow naturally out of her. The brain and writing work similarly. Many writers copy out the work of great writers in order to learn from them.

This is the point where Jeff’s book and my own work intersected this week.

The material I have been writing touches on the importance of the example we set for others. Before we are required to set an example, however, we are given an example to follow. 1 Peter 2:21 says that Christ left us an example and we are to follow in His steps.

Check out the meaning of the Greek word translated example!

“A writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.” – Source, BlueLetterBible.com

In other words, if we are to be like Christ, then—just like the writer or sculptor who wants to become like the great artists who have gone before them—we need to sit down and study His work, His words, His actions, His responses, and His attitudes. We need to practice what He practiced until it becomes as much a part of us as those dance moves that flowed out of Twyla Tharp or as that sculpture that came from Michelangelo’s hands. We need to sit as a child with a copy sheet and trace the lines of His life over and over until His grace, kindness, love, righteousness, and forgiveness flow from the pen of our lives onto the paper of our circumstances and relationships, creating a genuine copy of the Master’s work.

It doesn’t stop there. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy to be an example of the believers. The word translated as example is the Greek word typos. Not typos as in mistakes in typing, but typos as in:

“The mark of a stroke or blow…print.” — Source, BlueLetterBible.com

All the copying we have done of the Master should now flow out in strokes, or be stamped out in images, which can be copied by others. And as the strokes of our example scribe their lines across our circumstances and relationships, they should always point our copiers to the Master.

This is when it’s okay to be a copycat. In fact, it’s more than okay. This is when it’s the preferred course because in being a copycat, we become the real thing.

Have you ever copied another artist’s work? What practices do you maintain in your Christian walk that allow you to copy Christ? Please share in the comments below.

Check Out Real Artists Don’t Starve
Don’t Miss My New Book Field of Ashes

 

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Featured Life

The Danger of Distraction

May 17, 2017

The grown-up in me refused to cry. Not there. Not in the middle of the store. Not where everyone could see that my heart was disappointed and confused in a moment when it was supposed to be rejoicing. But the truth was, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand how, after pouring hundreds of hours into something I believed so firmly was the direction the Lord was leading, this important moment could come to so little.

(Image courtesy Pablo.buffer. com)

There is a sense in which you could say that writing a book doesn’t cost anything. [This of course doesn’t include blood, sweat, tears, late nights, early mornings, deadline stress, continuing education, writing hours, research hours, editing hours, layout hours, publication hours, or marketing hours.]  You could say that writing a book doesn’t cost anything more than the instruments used to write it.

But writing a book also doesn’t pay anything unless you sell it. That is the stark reality of life.

I have three basic purposes for writing the books I write:

1. To honor the Lord
2. To point people toward Him
3. To help provide for my “family” (My mom and me)

I wish it were possible to write only for the first two reasons, but even writers and missionaries have to eat. We enjoy eating actually, just like everyone else. As this book launch has unfolded, and I have seen money going out and going out and going out and only a little trickling back in here and there, my heart rate has skyrocketed more than once. I’m not usually one to stress over these things, but in this case I had much invested in time, effort, and money—all of which came out of limited stores.

Watching it do so well the first day while it was free and then seeing the activity stop when it went into the paid store was crushing. And then putting enormous effort into planning an event for the book and having a wonderful time, but only seeing 9 books go out the door—I was ready to cry. If it hadn’t been for a friend who met me after the book signing and unwittingly distracted me from the truth, if it hadn’t been for the 12” dandelions in my yard waiting for my attention when I got home, if it hadn’t been for grace—I would have been a mess Saturday night.

Sunday morning, I woke up with a heart crying out to the Lord. “Father,” it said, “how do I walk into my classroom and teach my Sunday School students ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow’ when my heart is so confused on this matter this morning?”

You see, we’ve been memorizing Matthew 6:24-34 in Sunday School, and it has been awesome watching over the last few months as God has indeed shown that He will provide as we step out and let Him prove Himself. But this moment was not awesome. This moment was overwhelming.

I opened my Bible and began reading through all of the cross-references for the passage. Then I considered the phrase we were going to be starting with that morning: “Take no thought.” What did that really mean? I got out my Strong’s concordance, started digging, and had much to think about by the time I left the house.

Even as the Sunday School hour was starting, my heart was still sorting, still trying to understand, still trying to reconcile where things were. But as we sang the opening song, things started falling into place.

Before I go any farther there are three things, three words, you need to know:

1. μεριμναω (merimnao)– to be anxious about
2. μεριμνα (merimna)– solicitude through the idea of distraction
3. μεριζω (merizo) – to part

Class began with the question, “What does it mean to ‘take no thought’?” Does that mean we aren’t to think about our grocery list? Does that mean we are supposed to get a job but be concerned about doing a good job? Does that mean that we aren’t supposed to look at our children and say, “Oh, you’ve grown out of those clothes, you need new ones”? The children all agreed this wasn’t what this verse was talking about. So what was it talking about?

Well in in it’s simplest form, (merimnao) the phrase “take no thought” means don’t be anxious. This was not a concept the kids had trouble understanding. We’ve all been anxious—anxious about bills, anxious about tests, anxious about work, anxious about whether our friends will like us. And when we become anxious we soon become distracted with care (merimna) because our brains have been “parted” so to speak with all of our worries (merizo).

A dry erase marker was laying on the classroom table. I picked it up, removed the lid, and asked the kids, “What happens if I part this lid from the marker?”
They all just looked at me like, “You’re a teacher and you don’t know that?” And then they said, “It dries out!”

Exactly. It dries out and becomes useless.

At this point,  the chalkboard came into play. I’m not an artist, so in real life the following picture looked like a plum with worms:

God has given us one brain, and He wants it to be focused on Him, His Kingdom, and His Righteousness. When we start “taking thought” distraction starts taking residence in our brains, dividing our attention. “I have a problem,” it says, “I have a big problem. I will never find the answer to this problem. I wish I didn’t have this problem.”

Our heart cries out, “God can fix this problem!”

And then our brain throws in that dangerous word. “BUT…I have a problem!”

At this point, we decided that our brains sort of resemble a dog chasing its tail. This is where we see the danger of distraction. Soon the heart, like that marker missing its lid, begins to tire of having to cry out so loud over all the distractions in the brain. Its voice grows quieter. It dries out and dies away. And WE become useless.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. One SLIGHT change can make all the difference.

This is where it must rest. This is when our confidence in Him must be sure. Do we know Him? Have we seen Him work? Have we seen Him prove Himself? Then this is where we must set aside distraction and walk on in the hope of experience. If we haven’t given Himself a chance to prove Himself, then this is the perfect opportunity to begin, to learn of His promises, His faithfulness, and His supply.

Suddenly time was up, class was over, and my heart was at peace. It is still at peace—two days later. Nothing has changed in my circumstances. My focus has just been adjusted.

Where is your focus? Are you allowing cares to bring anxiety, distraction, and division to your pursuit of God, His Kingdom, and His righteousness? Or are you thinking on those things that will keep your heart fixed on God? Put the cap back on the marker. Listen to the truth the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart and rest there. God can fix the problem!

Featured The Writing Journey

How A Book Comes About

May 9, 2017

When I was a little girl, I used to pick up books and wonder about where they had come from. Who drew the pictures? Who wrote the story? What were those people like? What was the process like? My dad worked in a print shop at a Bible institute for a short time when I was about nine. I was amazed by the presses and the processes. When we moved to Montana, he worked in various print shops for several years. I joined him during high school and in-between trips to Russia, working in both pre- and post-press operations. The beauty of the process never got old.

There is something intriguing about seeing a book move from an idea to a manuscript to a printed product. But it’s not just the product that’s so special. It’s the fact that the product can bring smiles, make us laugh or make us cry, give us insight into the past as well as the present, teach us something we’ve never known before, remind us of things we’ve forgotten…and can even change our lives.

Obviously, I don’t have a printing press in my living room, but I thought since I’m starting out on a new book, this would be the perfect time to share the rest of the process with others who, like me, have ever picked up a book and wondered, “Where did this come from?” Creating a book is more than just writing a story. It is a craft, which requires as much creativity and WORK as any other craft or trade. I hope through this journey to share with you the joy and labor of writing, the process of turning a manuscript into a book, and the beauty of the finished product. I hope you’ll come along!

Where a Book Begins

Once the general idea comes and the initial thinking and mental plotting is done, where do you go from there? The answer can vary depending on what sort of book you’re writing. It also varies based on what approach the author finds most helpful. Some authors, especially those writing non-fiction, might start with a mind-map or point-by-point outline. Other authors use storyboards, outlines, sticky notes, or any one of a host of other techniques.

When I first started writing, I outlined by scene, and then wrote an expanded outline, which had a minimum of a paragraph under each scene heading. This created pages and pages and pages of outline and was cumbersome to use.

A few years ago, while tutoring, I found a new method, which I have come to love. It puts the basics of the entire book all on one line, while at the same time showing the story arc (stasis, inciting event, growing action, climax, and final stasis). Like this:

 

But, as you can see from the picture, the overall plot of the new book required three story arc lines: one for Jess, one for Marc, and one for Wesley! Something could get missed that way. I wanted something that would pull all three together, so I combined the three into a handwritten, vertical timeline:

Then I went back (for the 3rd time) and looked over the parts of the book that have already been written. (The Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens series was originally one book…it was really long!) I discovered that the book couldn’t be left in the same order that I had already plotted, and that I might need to be able to move a few things around as I write. My handwritten timeline was three pages long and not flexible enough. It was also still incomplete. So, I set up a document in Pages and recreated the timeline using moveable text boxes. Each color represents a specific character or group of characters:

But, as you can see from the picture, I realized there was a thread missing from ALL three of my attempts. I also realized that I needed to do a little Montana research. I found some old maps online and began plotting. Unfortunately, the maps I found weren’t very accurate, so I went back to my original plan based on my own knowledge of state geography. After a lot of thought and prayer, I carefully penciled in the remaining thread, and then added a new set of colored text boxes to the Pages document:

Finally, on my fourth attempt, the outline is complete!

Some people ask if an outline is necessary. In my opinion—absolutely! An outline is a road map. You can detour along the way, but you always have a way to get back on track, to make sure you make it from start to finish.

So that is where the journey begins. In the next blog, I’ll share about where the writing starts. Not the physical location, but the process. It’s pretty cool. Enjoy the journey!

 

Are you a writer? What plotting/outlining methods and tools do you use? Share in the Comments below!

 

Here’s another approach getting a story started from my best friend and fellow author, Anna Huckabee. Check it out!

Featured Field of Ashes

Introducing Field of Ashes

April 25, 2017

Field of Ashes is Finally Here!

The beauty of our brokenness is that God not only restores but He also makes all things new.

After losing her fiancé to the wild elements of the Montana Territory, Jessica Bennett is sure the key to her happiness is in leaving Twin Pines. But from the moment she steps foot in the untamed, cowtown of Grassdale, Jess discovers a whole new world of challenges: An unruly superintendent, a ramshackle school, drunken cowboys, and a letter from home that changes everything. When the hidden wounds of her heart are discovered, will one man’s secret past hold the key to her healing?

Easy has never been the path Marcus Bennett sought, but as summer unfolds he comes face to face with the one struggle he has avoided for years. When life takes an unexpected turn, he finds himself torn between his responsibilities, his love for his family, and the promptings of his heart. Would God really ask him to abandon his home and family?

This sequel to Winter’s Prey explores the beauty of God’s amazing grace and astounding love, the freedom of surrender, and the hope of experience, though faith be tried by fire.

 

Right Where We Are

The story of Marc and Jess may be set more than 130 years ago, but the lessons are just as real for us today. Each of us face the struggles of:

  • Maintaining faith in the midst of days when we simply don’t understand
  • Longing for someone to relate to our deepest, most broken places
  • Accepting situations of pain and sorrow and surrendering to God in them
  • Decision making when the decisions God has put before us don’t make sense
  • The realness of grief and the need to walk through it

But Field of Ashes doesn’t simply present the struggles. It goes on to explore:

  • The hope of experience
  • The freedom of surrender, and
  • God’s amazing love, abundant grace, forever-enduring mercies, and faithfulness to forgive.

 

What people are saying about Field of Ashes:

 “A journey from the ashes of bitterness to the light of God’s redeeming love.” — Marta – Laurel, MT

“Wow, just, wow. It’s even better than the first book!!!” — Ann – Rockford, IL

“You need to read this book. A novel that will not only grab you and hold you from page one but will also challenge and encourage you in your life! A blessing of a book that you won’t regret reading.” — Sarah – North Platte, NE

Get your copy today at Amazon!

Want to sample it first? Enter your information below, and I’ll send you the first ten pages!