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The Writing Journey

Featured Field of Ashes Life The Writing Journey Winter's Prey

Writing Journey: Book Research or Unforgettable Adventure

October 17, 2017

Most of the time, writing means sitting down to the computer and cranking out word after word, but sometimes it takes you places. Most of my writing can be researched online or through books, but recently it required a little real life investigation, which turned out to be an unforgettable adventure.

A while back, I was working on a story that is way down the line in the Barren Fields Fruitful Gardens Series, and, in the process of researching, I had an idea. What if I set parts of the stories in real life ghost towns to honor those who lived there? Even though the towns, for whatever reason, didn’t survive, they still are a part of our history. In fact, sometimes they are a huge part of our history. So over Labor Day weekend, two friends and I headed out to explore the first ghost town to find a potential place in the BFFG series: Maiden, MT.

My two friends prefer not to have an online presence, so they will go unnamed, but I should say that this sort of adventure is our favorite way to spend a Saturday. This Saturday, however, may have been one of the most exciting.

Maiden, MT, a mining town established in 1881, has been on my radar as a possible setting for a story for long time. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done online research and found information in an extremely old book of Montana history. But the more I read, the more I felt it might be better to see it. There was just one problem. I kept reading that the location of the town was now on private property and could only be viewed at a distance from the road.

I figured even that would be better than not seeing it at all. Even so, on Friday night before the trip, I decided to try one last time to find out who owned the property. To my surprise, I found a video telling a little bit of the history of Maiden, including the fact that Maiden still has one year-round resident. (You can watch the video here.)

I sent a quick email to the producer of the video, but by morning I hadn’t heard anything. I did a little more investigating and found a phone number. The number worked! I left a voicemail, hoping to hear back from Maiden’s sole resident.

Meanwhile, we loaded up and headed out of town. It was a beautiful day. Hot and clear as most of the summer had been. We hadn’t gone far, when my phone rang. The next thing I knew, we were setting up an appointment to tour Maiden right after we visited the Central Montana Historical Museum in Lewistown. But those plans were about to change.

Lavina, MT had barely disappeared from our rear-view mirror when a little column of smoke appeared on the horizon. This year’s fire season in Montana was incredibly bad. Over one million acres burned. You’ve heard the song, It Only Takes a Spark, well, that pretty much summed up our summer. The further we went the larger the column of smoke grew. A few more corners and, just as we started up a rise, we all realized the fire was near the highway just ahead of us. Even with that realization, however, we didn’t expect to see flames along the road as we crested the hill.

As I snapped this picture from the passengers seat (the only pic we got), my friend said, “Do they need help?”

I took a quick survey. The fire had already burned down one hillside and was about to climb the next one. Four men with shovels were along one edge. That was it. There were no emergency vehicles on scene.

“Yes,” I said. “They need help.”

We pulled over and started looking for a way to help. The only shovel we had was a plastic snow shovel, which was pretty useless. We found a rug and started beating the flames back as best we could. We took turns, swinging the heavy rug over our head and down through the flames to extinguish them in the dirt. While one of us beat the flames, the others stamped out whatever we could with our feet. Between our rug-beating and the men with the shovels, we kept the fire’s progress to a slow crawl. The Ryegate fire department arrived just in time. The wind was beginning to kick up and would have pushed the fire wildly once it topped the hill. Within just a few minutes, they had the east edge extinguished and were working on the north edge.

Forty minutes after jumping out to help, we loaded back into the car and drove away, along with the others who had stopped to help. We were all strangers. We’ll probably never meet again. But for that moment, we were neighbors.

Our journey took us on to Harlowton where we stopped to clean the soot off of our arms and faces (we were quite the singed, smelly bunch most of the day). We had just gotten back on the road when we came across a pair of bear cubs. This isn’t something you see along the highway every day. We stopped and took pictures from the car, all the time trying to spot the cubs’ mama, but she was nowhere in sight. We later found out that the cubs had to be captured because they could not be reunited with their mother.

We had one more unexpected delay when we saw a man at work—doing a job I would never want. Can you imagine having the job of repairing the massive windmills on a wind farm? My hands start sweating just thinking about it.

By the time we reached Lewistown, we were way behind schedule. So, once again, we shifted our plan. Rather than touring the museum, we simply stopped by to pick up some brochures that we were supposed to take with us to Maiden and then headed out of town.

We found the road into the Warm Spring Creek Canyon and made our way to Maiden, where our host gave us a personal tour of the property that now belongs to his family. He showed us the sweet little porch where he was about to host a party; gave us a tour of the refurbished saloon, which he remembers as his grandfather’s assay office; and then sent us off to wander as we pleased.

 

After much exploring, we said our goodbyes and piled back into the car to head through Maiden Canyon, past the Spotted Horse Mine, and over to the ghost town of Gilt Edge, MT.

We may have gone the wrong way from Gilt Edge and come to a dead end. But that’s okay because in the process we saw these guys.

 

We finally made our way back to Lewistown, had supper, and then headed home with happy hearts and an adventure under our belts that we will never forget. Whoever said writing is a boring profession never did book research Montana style.

 

 

Never read the Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens series? Check them out here!

Featured Field of Ashes Life The Writing Journey Winter's Prey

Fruitful Living: Why I Started this Blog

September 26, 2017

When I first started this blog (originally at barrenfieldsfruitfulgardens.com), it was because authors do that. I thought it was necessary. I saw it as a way to minister to and encourage others, but mostly, I just thought I was supposed to do it because, well, I’m a writer and writers write. As time passed, however, I began to see a prominent thread. While I’d never stated, “This is why I blog” even my original site’s name gave away the real reason behind my blogging. It’s the same purpose behind writing my books: Discovering the foundations of Fruitful Living vs. Barren Living.

I write because I believe God wants every Christian to live fruitfully, and so that as we learn together we can be fruitful together.

The series Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens got its name as I realized that no matter how many privileges or opportunities we have, if we don’t cultivate our lives in a way that will bring fruit for God, then regardless of the expanse of our reach—we are barren. A man or woman who might not have the opportunity, education, or privilege that another has may be abundantly fruitful though their plot of land seems small.

I’ve done enough gardening in my life to know that if you never take action, there will never be fruit. That’s the whole thing about that great big field with so much potential, when left to itself—overridden with weeds, hard from not being plowed up, or depleted from being overused—it will never produce fruit unless we take action. I want my garden to flourish.

 

What is Fruitful Living?

One could answer that question in many different ways, but for the purposes of this post, I’m just going to list a few things that jump out at me from Scripture as I look over the New Testament for verses on fruitfulness. Fruitful living is:

Selfless Living

Good Ground Living

Abiding Living

Distinguished Living

Spirit-Filled Living

Gospel Living

Submitted Living

Worshipful Living

Peaceful Living

Wise Living

 

The Purpose of Fruitful Living

Often, I fear we get this wrong. The purpose of fruitful living is not so that we can be good enough to please (appease) God. How often have we sat in church and heard that we need to live a life that “pleases God”? There is nothing inherently wrong in this statement. I want my life to please God. The wrong falls in our application of the principle to our lives. We easily fall into a thought process that goes something like this,

 

“I need to_________________ so that God will be happy with me and bless me and my family. If I________________ then surely He will hear my prayers regarding___________.”

 

We may not consciously think these things, but one day we wake up and find that our life is engrossed in doing this or that, following this rule or that guideline, this standard or that standard so that He will be “happy” with me. This easily transfers into pride about what others are or are not doing, and in the process our lives look good on the outside, but have become regimented, lifeless, empty, shallow, and fruitless on the inside.

This barrenness comes, in part, from violating that very first characteristic of fruitful living listed above—selfless living. When we seek to please God in order to keep His eye of favor on us, or to secure the fellowship of our relationship, or to see Him work in a certain way in our lives—we are pleasing Him in order to meet our own need or perhaps reassure ourselves of His love.

Before I go any further, I want to stand up, raise my hand, and say, “I am guilty.” We fall easily into this trap. Satan buries the lie right in truth, we step into it, and are caught, sometimes for years, before we even realize it.

There’s a better way.

 

Aiming Higher.

Many years ago, I returned to the States between school years in Russia. I got a job at Taco Bell for the few months that I would be home. While working there, the manager announced that we would be having an inspection from the corporate offices the following week during the shifts that I normally worked.

Panic ensued.

I had never seen anything like it. Ever. I didn’t understand why my fellow shift-mates were so terrified and stressed out. It was all anyone could talk about for days. Finally, I realized what was going on, and the Lord taught me a huge lesson.

My shift-mates were primarily working to please the managers. The managers were primarily working to please their regional managers. Only the store manager and the regional manager really sought to carry out the goals and purposes of those who were at the highest level by meeting their expectations and standards.

When those at the lower levels realized they were going to have to be accountable for the way they either had or hadn’t met the expectations of those who set the standards, they panicked. Even though their job was to build up the company name by serving its customers and fulfilling its wishes, they had merely been working for the paycheck by meeting the requirements they thought would keep them in good graces with the company. They needed to aim higher.

Living fruitfully requires a similar change in the altitude of our focus. We need to aim higher. If our goal is to “please” Him, we’re probably still focusing at the very least on His acceptance of us. HE’S ALREADY BOUGHT US, ADOPTED US, AND REDEEMED US!!!!  We are accepted in Christ! So our focus is off target.

What if we aim not to merely “please” Him but rather to magnify Him? When showing the world around us who He is becomes our goal, the fruits that please Him become a natural byproduct.

The purpose of fruitful living is to know and magnify God and to point others to Him.

It has nothing to do with us, but the result in our lives will be amazing:

Peace.

Love.

Joy.

Satisfaction.

Fulfillment.

And a host of other things, all of which come only from Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about the prospect of living a fruitful life. So, I’m inviting you to join me on a journey to learn more about fruitful living. Let’s share our victories and even our failures. Let’s help one another through the lessons God teaches us about living so the “plot of land” He has given us is fruitful for Him.

Here are some ways you can come along with me: Start  and join conversations either here or on my Facebook page, subscribe to the blog, sign up for email updates, and invite others to join us as we strive together for fruitful living! What an adventure it will be!

“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 1:8

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.

The Writing Journey Wordpress

Adding a Featured Image to WordPress Posts

June 13, 2017

Adding a featured image to a WordPress post is really quite simple, and makes your posts to Facebook and other social media much more attractive and eye-catching.

A blog post WITHOUT a featured image will appear like this in your Facebook feed:

 

 

A blog post WITH a featured image will appear like this in your Facebook feed:

So how do you take your posts from scroll-over status to stop-the-feed-I-need-to-see-this status? It’s easy. When composing a new blog post most of the important settings for your blog such as who can see them, what category the post will be in, and which tags you will be using are in a column to the right of your composition area. At the very bottom of that column, under “Tags,” you will see “Featured Image”:

Clicking on the link will take you to your media library where you can either choose an existing photo or add a new one. Once you have chosen your photo, it will appear in the column, and will post with your blog when you post it to Facebook.

The above illustrations were done in a WordPress.org site, but it works the same way in WordPress.com, even though it looks slightly different. Like this:

Click Featured Image, followed by Set Featured Image:

Choose your image, and it will appear in the column, like this:

One thing to keep in mind, some themes and settings work so that the featured image is automatically placed at the top of the page when you go to the blog itself or when you view it in your blog feed. This can be a little annoying if you have the image in the body of the blog because you see the picture twice as you’re scrolling through your feed. It seems a little redundant. I was able to prevent this by going to Appearance (left hand column)>Customize,>Posts and Pages, and then clicking on “Hide featured image from top of posts.”

Also, from time-to-time I have experienced issues with the featured image NOT posting to Facebook if I added it to the blog post AFTER publishing. I’m not sure what causes this, so I always make adding that image part of my pre-publishing “regime,” just like adding the category and tags.

Hope that helps! It’s quick, easy, and makes your Facebook blog posts more visible.

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 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!