Friday, December 16, 2011

The Weary World Rejoices

The other day, my boss at work gave me my first Christmas present of the year – a jar of honey that he made (you don’t really make honey… you extract it? Whip it up? Coagulate it? I have no idea).  I got into my car to leave that day and put my lovely present on the seat next to me, drank some warm coffee and turned on the radio to Christmas music. The spirit of Christmas filled me to my toes and I couldn’t help but smile.

There’s something electrifying about Christmas. Lights go up in shops, snow reflects the moon at night making the night world glow with eerie joy. People are nicer to each other (except on Black Friday), people feel compelled to wish each other joy. People give gifts with curly ribbons, spending more than they have but giving with a full heart (Gift of the Magi, anyone?)

Is it ironic or not so ironic that Christmas is filled with joy when it represents one of the greatest days (only equalled to the Resurrection) mankind has ever seen? The explosive joy felt over two thousand years ago when Planet Earth received its Savior continues to spill over into the present. The magnitude of the significance, thousands of years later cannot help but touch us still. Whether we know it or not – that is the reason why joy is felt. Earth received her King. If the earth had feelings like a human, what sort of nuclear reaction went off when it woke up to find God had come back to its mortal soil? That the perfection it had experienced during the Eden years made a re-appearance on a moonlit night? Joy to the world!

With our twinkle lights, and our tree skirts, we feel the warmth of a season of joy. But WHY? Because Jesus Christ came back for us, refused to abandon us to our hopelessness. He came to die, and then to defeat death, to do great things...all for us. THERE IS NO GREATER REASON FOR JOY. And with the joy in remembrance of what He's done comes the hope of the promise that He will come back for us again if we don't leave this earth to join Him first.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.  Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2011 Reading List

It's that time of year. The end of it. I used to post this list on facebook, but it looks a little more nifty on here. You'll notice a lot more YA fiction than the last list, due to the fact that it was readily available at the Library - and I'm a sucker for it. Let me know if you've read any of these and your opinions!

Here we go.

1. Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff
2. The last five books of the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
3. The Return of the King by Tolkien
4. 1984 by George Orwell
5. A Christmas Carol by Dickens
6. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - very, very good.
7. Shades of Blue - Karen Kingsbury... eek. why?
8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney - loved it :)
9. The Professor's Daughter by Sfar and Guibert...a graphic novel about a woman falling in love with a mummy. Really good :)
10. Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys - Kate Brian - courtesy of Carolyn Myer :)
11. Fast Forward to Normal by Jane Vogel - also courtesy of Carolyn
12. How to be Popular by Meg Cabot - I have no recollection...
13. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
14. Let it Snow - 3 stories by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle - excellent
15. Girl Overboard by Maureen Johnson
16. Suite Scarlett by Mauren Johnson
17. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde - the long awaited.
18. Tales from the Perilous Realm by Tolkien (AMAZING)
19. Cannery Row by Steinbeck
20. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
21. the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson (worst. series. ever. gag.)
22. Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton - excellent.
23. The Winter of our Discontent by Steinbeck. Excellent.
24. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
25. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. YES!!!
26. Quitter by Jon Acuff - read my review for Relevant here: Quitter
27. Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
28. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
29. The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson
30. Let Me be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot - excellent
31. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
32. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by Rowling - reading back through these :)
33. Life Itself by Roger Ebert

So...that's that! I promise more meaty blogs to come soon, as a lot of my writing/reading projects are over. :) What have you read this year?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Long time no see...

I publically apologize to the planet for falling off its edge. NaNoWriMo is over, and after a month of late late late nights and word sprints and caffeine, it's over. So for the first Blog Post Friday back, I wanted to share with you a polished edition of a segment of my NaNoWriMo novel, Untopia. :) Enjoy.

Chapter 4

I started to understand six months ago, last year in school. My Life Learning teacher had a special presenter come in and speak to us about an exciting advancement from the government. I guess because the sickness had been hitting mainly my generation, the government found it necessary to encourage us. Before I came to understand, I shuffled through life with Scott, with homework, with reading because it was the only life I’d ever known. But this presenter talked about how the government was constantly working, not only to sustain life but to improve it. We’d heard it a million times before but never really knew what it meant. The man brought with him a small metal spoon. It was like an ice cream scoop, with a metal canister at the end of it. He made us all come outside and stand around him in a circle. Through his air filter tube, he told us he was about to do something amazing.

He reached down and scooped some hard ash from beside the pavement into the bowl of the spoon and tipped it into the canister. We went back inside and he put a powder into the canister and pressed a button, which made the whole thing buzz and mix I guess. Then he dumped the ash and powder into a glass cup that was half filled with water. The water bubbled and orange foam filled the top of the glass cup. When all the bubbles popped, the man dumped the whole mess onto a tray and soaked up the rest of the water with a towel. It had become dirt, brownish orange, mushy dirt. Nobody spoke. We stared at it and at the man who seemed very happy with himself.

We left the dirt in the room for a few weeks on the tray, letting it “stabilize” as the man had told us to do. Then we were going to try to find some seeds online and plant something in it. But a couple weeks after it had finished drying the whole class got started to show signs of illness. Kids who sat in that corner started coughing up blood; everyone got the flu and a strange orange tint in our skin.

Jason, the boy who sat closest to the dirt, didn’t recover. He’s still alive but he suffered massive brain damage and is kept alive by machine. It turned out the guy who came to speak to our class wasn’t authorized by the government to show his experiment to the public, but he wanted to give hope to our generation. When it went sour he killed himself and the soil experiment was scrapped.

Jason made me realize the truth more than anything I’d seen before. I realized we were all kept alive by machine, by chemical, by things that weren’t real. Kids my age didn’t even know what was real because we had never experienced it. I became very angry at anyone who had experienced life before the fall. They bragged and reminisced about the days when things were beautiful and they had summer nights and bonfires and lightning bugs and real food. I hated them. I hated them because they wouldn’t shut up about it. They talked and they did nothing to change it. They are the ones that destroyed the world but they would do nothing to fix it, but punish my generation by spreading their malcontent.

I couldn’t focus well in class anymore and my heart was bitter. I stopped hanging out with Scott as much after school. I suppose nothing major really changed. It was the ceasing of change that made it obvious to me. Healthy development involves change, I have been told, and healthy development is what ceased.

And here I am. I thought about all of this as I lay on my bed. I used to think one day I would bring hope to my generation; I would find a way. There had to be a way to undo what we had done. But I had come to understand finally. There is no way, and that is what’s understood by those who leave. I shut my eyes and crossed my hands over my chest, letting out a deep sigh. Tired emotion in water form streaked lazily down my cheek and dreamless darkness swallowed my head.

Chapter 5

When I woke I was warm. I knew I was awake because I could feel it, though my eyes weren’t open and my hands were still on my chest. A new smell poured into my room. At first I thought it was my mother’s cooking, but it couldn’t be. It wasn’t the smell of something packaged and revived. It moved and changed.

I bolted upright, opening my eyes. I was definitely not in my room.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Oh, on a wing and a prayer

Today is Blog Post Friday.
And I don't have much to write about.
This may be the case throughout the month of November as I'm currenly participating in the event that's sweeping my twitter feed, NaNoWriMo. (See previous post)

October 31st at 9:30pm I sat at my desk, trying to figure out what in the world I was going to do for two and a half hours before I could finally begin writing. And sadly, every half hour that went by I became more and more tired...but I held out! And was victorious.

The first day I made it to 2535 words.
The second: 5022.
The third: 7212.
The fourth: I don't know yet, I haven't started writing yet...but soon enough I shall.

I'm finding I really enjoy this fast paced writing, but just like a good diet, that happy feeling will probably fade next week. I'm finding I'm extremely tired already and I'm only three days in. But the exercise in finishing something for once is very needed in my case and I'm glad.

I should probably figure out some sort of celebration for when November is over. A nap?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cream and Crops

The last few blogs I have posted have been on the serious side.
Though I'm travel weary and exhausted from the week... I will deliver the blog I promised. And it is lighthearted. Shout for joy, O' merry makers! Raise high your tankards (of milk!) :)

I just wanted to take a minute to tell you my three favorite movies.  And why. Real hard-hitting stuff, eh?

Shawshank Redemption
This is the greatest movie ever. Based on a Stephen King novel. Phenomenal acting, riveting plot, unexpected ending, absolutely satisfying conclusion. Though the dialogue and content is rough - the language and the eeky parts are probably quite true to life in a maximum security facility in the 40s. Andy Dufresne's character leaves you guessing to the last minute. Did he kill his wife? What the heck is the rock hammer for? Morgan Freeman's voice as narrator helps to sell it. I personally love the crow, Jake. Shawshank is the greatest. Watch it. Pardon the language. Watch it.

Lawrence of Arabia
Uh...second greatest movie ever. Hence the number. Not only is T.E. Lawrence one of the most fascinating figures in history, his obscure birth and the way he's treated as a noneity in the British Army and manages to lead the Arab people to victory, but Peter O' Toole plays him. Peter O' Toole: face burned with sand, hair streaked white blonde in the sun, speaking the epic words of the Lawrence of Arabia in booming British while trains explode and camels pound across the blinding sand. IT'S....great. It's just great. Watch it.

Empire of the Sun
Another great movie. I watched this when I was a kid, and then I rediscovered it again when I was in ninth grade and I wept like a child. Based on the true story of J. G. Ballard, a spoiled English boy in the British controlled sector of China in World War I, Jim Graham is separated from his parents during an invasion of the Japanese. He learns how to survive in a POW camp for British and American citizens at the price of his sanity. One of Christian Bale's first roles at the age of around 12-13. Incredible!

Now, there are others that are on my cream of the crop list, like Forrest Gump, Titanic, La Vie en Rose, etc., but these are the undisputed tops.

So - watch these movies! And tell me what you think! And tell me your top three.

Friday, October 21, 2011

You gotta put your behind in the past...

I'd rather waltz than just walk through the forest.

I was driving to work today and listening to Owl City (as if I ever listen to anything else...). I was desperately trying to think about something to write about on Blog Post Friday. The song: "Plant Life" came on and I decided what to write about. This isn't a funny blog.

The past is a beautiful thing. I've got so many beautiful memories. I've collected them over the years and my trunk is full, full of memories I pull out to look at lovingly when times are bad. But I've been looking at them lately when times aren't bad. I just want to look at them and remember what I've had. I've looked at them so much I'm chained to that trunk. The past has become a pair of beautiful shackles.

There's been a lot of change in my life over the past two and a half years. College ended...I studied fastly and furiously for my finals and then I walked across a stage and it was over. Four years with friends who I lived with and loved dearly and then we moved across the country and nothing will ever be the same. Even when I see them, there are new stories and ours are faded. Though it was a long time ago, it was such an abrupt shock. So I settled here and plugged into life. And then a family that I loved dearly, that was central to my life here was forced to leave abruptly. And all of the things that we did became memories added to my stock and no more can be added. I look at their house and it's a ghost's house, full of pain and memory. All of the pain and memory and change has weighed down my shoulders to the ground.

My friend Joe Walls once wrote: "It is very sad - after all, a part of your life is over and you can't live it over again. But isn't there a little pleasure in the pain of losing chapters of your life? It is tragic, strange, and beautiful all at once. Memory evokes a sense of longing - a longing that is more powerful than the thing or the time or the place we desire. That strong feeling, I think, secretly belongs to a more powerful realm. True, it is partially plain old loss in a world that continually forces change - nobody can reasonably deny the poignancy of it - but that feeling is also a hope and a foretaste of something else."

We cannot live in the past. We can remember it, because it was beautiful. But we cannot live for it. Living in the past, we miss out on the present. And when the present is over it becomes another memory and we never truly live. I am blessed to have life and have it from God and I must live it for Him in the present and I will. He will bring more beautiful things again and He will allow them to pass away again. The greatest treasure is that one day I will see His face in heaven. That joy can never be taken away. In that hope I can live in the present, remembering with fondness the past, and hoping for the future.

"Tonight I'm busting out of this old haunted house, 'cause I'm sick of waiting for all those spiderwebs to grow all around me, 'cause I don't feel dead anymore. I'm not afraid anymore." --Plant Life, Owl City

Philippians 3:13
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

Friday, October 14, 2011

Be Sensible

If you've read my blog with even nominal regularity, you may have picked up a theme. In March of 2009, I posted about my acceptance of the fact that my nostrils are larger than your average Jill's. Ever since then, my posts have almost always had something to do with things I smell, have smelled, would like to smell, whatever. My good friend Ben even pointed out to me that in my review for Relevant, I reference the sense of smell in "sniffing bags of green tea." Apparently it's become second nature.

Therefore I was thinking it would really be unfortunate to lose the sense of smell. There are so many good parts of life that I would miss out on without it. Well, I guess there are certain circumstances where I could do without smell, like after it rains and people mash worms on the sidewalk. Not pleasant. But there are other situations, say, Thanksgiving morning when the first thing that greets you in your bed is the smell of baking turkey wafting up the stairs, or the smell of balsam and sedum in a pottery store in Maine. Smell evokes memory for me. Just like hearing a song that you used to love in the 90s and you haven't heard it in a while - when you hear it again it transports you back to riding the bus (the smell of leather seats, sneakers and diesel fuel, anyone?) or riding with your mom to piano lessons (her perfume, Subaru seats, saltine crackers).

I don't think I could pick a sense that would be easiest to live without, but I think I could safely say that smell is the one I would be most devastated to lose. What about you?

I was thinking about all of this on the way into the post Office last week when a strong wind picked up neon orange and yellow leaves and scuttled them around my car. It was cool enough to catch the scent of fall - of dying leaves and crushed acorns and a world on the brink of freezing. The bells from the Presbyterian Church around the corner were ringing in the hour, muffled by distance and cold breezes. The sky was gray, not as ideal as the previous days where it was blue, but what was left of the technicolor leaves punctuated the dull atmosphere. Now I didn't taste anything, but all of the other senses were represented. If I were drinking a pumpkin spice latte, it would have been a package deal.

But there in the moment I realized how specially we're created. One of the major combatants against evolutionary theory for me is the intricacies that are linked with emotion. We are created to experience beauty but not just through sight but through smell, taste, touch, and sound. God cared enough to let His creation experience the pleasures of life in five distinct ways. If He didn't care, our existence wouldn't be nearly so intricate. I'm sure He could've provided us with gray landscape that we see but don't feel, food that we eat to survive but never taste.

Our five senses can also be used to experience pain in five significant arenas, which I imagine is a destruction of God's first intention of them but that is a consequence of living in a world that's gone wrong, a world vying for redemption. In the day of redemption, our senses will be redeemed as well. I can't imagine what beauty they'll take in and take in for an eternity.

Psalm 139:14 "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

Friday, October 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

Two random things, then the point:
1. So, apparently somehow I joined my own blog? A little narcisstic it may appear, but it was totally by accident, people.
2. Today I had to run in to the dollar store and mid "running in" I heard a loud "POW!" Of course the first thing I did was check myself for gunshot wounds, but after realizing my organs were still intact I looked around and apparently a soda bottle exploded. Crazy! Just sitting there with a bunch of other soda bottles and exploded right there in the middle of the day with no one touching it.

Point:Next month I'm writing a novel. That's right. Not finishing a novel, not starting a novel, not outlining a novel but writing one. Start to finish. "Once upon a time" to "they lived happily ever after." Am I crazy? Is the idea crazy? Or crazy awesome? (hint - the latter) If you've never heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, check out the webpage here. As stated on their webpage, " The goal [of NaNoWriMo] is to write a 50,000 word novel by 11:59:59 November 30th." You sign up, create a profile and add your word count every day to keep track and keep accountable with other writers in your area.

It seems a little masochistic, but I'm really excited. I can't tell you how many times I've started a major writing project and have not finished it! Currently, I'm over half-way through a rough draft of a book that I've been working on for about two years. And that one I really do hope and pray to finish because it's important (both the book and the ability to finish). Finishing is the absolute hardest part for me and one of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to tell people that you're writing a novel in November so people will bug you about it and keep you accountable. Hence the purpose of this blog.

Bug me about it.

Want to write a novel next month too? It'll be fun! Go to the webpage and look me up. My username is: emholbert.

Currently I am outlining and brainstorming and purchasing coffee.


Friday, September 30, 2011

We be livin' in a dreamworld.... (?)

It's really early. I like to rap in the wee hours.
This blog doesn't have much to do with anything. But rarely do my blogs ever have much to do with ...well...anything.

For some reason I was given the gift (I consider it a gift) of dreaming. You know how some people tell you: "I never dream. I don't know why. I  mean, if I dream I don't remember it when I wake up." I am not one of those people. When I dream, there are explosions and car chases and star crossed lovers and mutants and daring rescues. I dream in movie format. Ebert and that other guy tweet their level of thumb approval to me after I wake up. And I love it! I don't know if I eat weird food at weird times or if it's all that crack cocaine (just a joke...). I used to write my dreams down and use them for book ideas. Maybe I'll blog some of them sometime. Yeah that's a good idea, Liz! (pats self on back)

Anyway, the point of this blog (the small and awkward point) is...have you ever had dreams about places that exist around you? I, for years have had reocurring dreams about an old fashioned gas station near my house. It was preserved for historical purposes but no one goes in it or anything. And for as far back as I can remember I've had dreams that someone turns it into a restaurant or a working gas station and I go eat there everyday. Now that may not sound magical to you...not yet. But imagine a place in your waking hours that's routine and everyday and there's nothing special about it. And suddenly in your dreams it becomes alive and new and exciting! Everything's more exciting in dreams. But whenever I drive past the gas station I remember that dream...

The counters were repainted light blue and the meals we're served Steinbeck-ian style - right there on the counter. It was opening day and a friend of mine and I walked down the road to check it out. The place was empty - but the guy tending the counter let us try a sample of his fresh baked cheesecake...just to entice us to come back. The cheesecake was...very good. But who really knows in a dream.

Anyway. Dreams are fun. It's hard to pull my thoughts together this early in the morning.

Good day, sports fans.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Do you ever have those weeks where you think of a word and then you hear it all week over and over again? Last week the word was: "pariah." A neat word. A sad meaning. But after I heard it once and noticed its neat/sadness...I heard it everywhere. Today I was thinking of Jason and the Argonauts, because when Owl City sings "There are beautiful things seen by the astronauts," I replace astronauts with "Argonauts." Why? Don't ask questions. But then I watched Psych and Shawn called someone a "flaxen-haired Argonaut." Why does this happen?

That doesn't have anything to do with this blog, I just thought it was weird. Last week I read Jon Acuff's Quitter and reviewed it for Relevant Magazine (go here to read). One of my favorite elements of the book was when he wrote about "hinge moments" or moments that resonate deeply with you in relation to doing something you love - that make you realize you could spend your whole life doing this. One of his qualifiers was that - if you would do something without having to be paid to do might be a hint that you've discovered your dream.

That chapter of the book made me really analyze why I want to write. What were the hinge moments that made writing stand out for me as something that I felt called to do above say, fly fishing, or oil drilling, or doily crocheting? 

This morning I was thinking about all the times I've read something I've written to whoever would apartment mates, when I'd make them stay up really late at night listening to the latest chapter of a book I'd been working on.  The time when I read my short story to my writing group and they liked it. People who would read my books and respond positively (even with books that were inevitably abandoned) were significant in their ushering me closer to what I love to do. This may sound haughty, but I write because I feel like I have something to say. Like I've been given something to say, and I need to say it. One of my favorite things about writing and reading is how the written word puts feelings into words, where most people can't express or can't find the words to express. When you read it you think: "Hey, I've always thought that too! I thought I was the only one!" That's fun.

The most important thing: I write because I believe in the truth. And by truth I mean Jesus Christ. I don't like Christian fiction. I don't feel that a fiction writer has to have christian characters to write about truth.  I am passionate about the human experience - and what the human experience says about humanity's need for Jesus Christ.

I read a verse this morning that floored me: because it describes exactly what makes me want to write:

"The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly."
 Ecclesiastes 12:10

Boom. That is all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I've recently discovered that I'm a big fan of post-apocalyptic lit.

A couple weeks ago, our town (yes our entire town) lost internet access due to someone introducing their car to a pole on a major highway. Hi car. Hi pole. Nice to meet you. BAM no internet. No one was injured...hence the jocularity. People roamed the streets like wild dogs, tearing their clothes, foraging in trash bins for a wifi connection. People sat on curbs, stared at the clouds, mindless, listless...wondering what life would be like without the internet. As amusing as it may seem, it was a little jarring, coming to the realization the utter dependence we have on the world wide web.

Fast a little forward. Hurricane Irene. No power. Hauling water from the pool, from the stream, from whatever just to be able to flush the toilet. People wandering around in PJs, fighting over jugs of water in the store. Roasting park franks over a fire in the rain. Again, it was a little jarring.

These things made me realize again my appreciation for that genre of literature. I guess what I like so much about it is that it forces you to see your life in a new perspective. If you were one of the last left, cut off from civilization, how would you be resourceful with what's around you? I used to work as a cook at a conference center and whenever I'd walk past rows and rows of canned peaches, pudding and four bean salad and into a massive walk-in cooler, I couldn't help but wonder if the world caved in, and we were suddenly I-am-legended, how long could I last on all the food that was in those coolers/pantries/freezers. Would it be a well kept secret or would people from all over town discover it and run me out of there? Would I fight? Would I flee to save my life and live off of berries and tree bark?

Now, I'm a believer in Christ, and a believer in His word...and I trust Him to take care of me, even in the most frightful of circumstances, so I'm really not too concerned about prepping for a post-apocalyptic living arrangement. I just enjoy reading about it and thinking about it sometimes.

Some good post-apocalyptia:
By the Waters of Babylon by Stephen Vincent Benet
Zombicorns by John Green (this novella was never meant to be a legit, formal novella, per the author but was a prize for a fundraising event. Listen to John Green read the first bit here.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Reading this right now. And loving it.

I'm sure there are probably more that I've read and forgotten.If you can point me in the direction of any other exemplary pieces of post-apocalyptia, I'd gladly accept.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another one about bathrooms...

The last time I went on vacation I detailed to you the most epic bathroom I've ever been in. This year on vacation, I decided I'd forego the written explanation. Therefore here you have it: A collage of the bathrooms on this trip in descending order from acceptable to horrific.

Okay, so the first one we have here was the restaurant on the way home. It recieved the best grade. Clean, orderly, well stocked, with a charming floral arrangement, sans dust.

Coming in at a close second was the hotel bathroom. Again, clean, neat, marble-esque floors.

Another shot of the hotel bathroom, taken in poor lighting, but just so you get the feel of it, I've included a shot of the lovely wall sconce nestled between the mirrors. A solid second place.

Coming up third and only for  team spirit was the bathroom at PNC park, which boasted team logos on the TP dispenser.

A rough number four. Starting to get ugly. Subway on the road...things are beginning to run amuck here. This bathroom is hanging onto a semblence of orderliniess by a thread.

The moment you've all been waiting for: Number 5. Characteristic epic bathroom. Broken Towel dispenser, orphan TP, Sams club version of hand soap. At least there was hand soap.

Another shot of number five. Is that plant faded? Nope, that's years of compounded dust on that attempt at elegance.

And the thing that really sent this pitstop into the last place:

Yes, it is Sharpie.

Until next time

Friday, August 12, 2011

How to like, write good and stuff...

Did that hurt? Reading the title I mean? If so, good. It should hurt.

Ok, so on facebook I wrote that I would be writing a post about: "the responsibility of Christians to write well - and tips from great authors on how to do just that."

Sounds good right? Well, I guess I should define great authors. If you know me at all you know that my two favorite authors are Steinbeck and Salinger. So...dead guys. Therefore, it's not like I went up to them, or sent them a tweet: "Hey guys, do you have any tips for aspiring writers?" Even if they were alive, I'm pretty sure they would swear at me or tell me to go away if I asked them that question. But I'm a firm believer that to be a good writer you have to be a good reader. Most of what I've learned about writing has come from reading great books and trying to figure out why I love them so much. What is it about these books that makes me walk away stunned? And, okay, you can't pick up anything I've written at Barnes and Noble. Heck, you can't pick up anything I've written on So...maybe I'm not really qualified to be telling you this. But humor me.

Okay, (crack knuckles, take deep breath, continue) Tips about writing. Things you should do, things you definitely shouldn't we go.

Numero UnoDon't tell your audience everything that your main character is thinking/feeling.
I've read books before that are about 10% action and 90% mental narration. "Joey sat on the couch (there's your 10% action) and thought about what he had just seen. Pete seemed like a good friend, and Joey could always trust him before but now he couldn't be sure. "Joey felt betrayed (SERIOUSLY?! You don't think I could've figured this out on my own?) by the way Pete had acted around Mary. Surely Pete knew that Joey had feelings for Mary, but if he did know, he was trying to sabotage Joey's plan of making Mary fall for him."

It looks funny, but, I literally have read books just like this. Books that, if you were to cut out the inner narration, you'd have about ten pages in your hand (get it? 10% ha - I made a funny). Authors who write like this labor under the assumption that their audience may not be able to figure out what's really going on. They don't want their readers to miss anything, so they tell them....EVERYTHING. As a reader, you should be offended when you read this. Really? You think I'm that mentally impeded...that I can't add up Susie's apples to deduce that Joey's miffed at Petey?! All you had to say was "Joey looked out the window just in time to see his best friend Pete plant a big one on Mary." That's all I needed to figure out there was some hardcore tension there.

Nombre Deux: (is this a polyglot?) Do create real characters.
Think about the way you react to situations in real life. Patsy asks you if you want to get ice cream at 3:00. You've just had a hard day, and though you're a fiend for ice cream, you just want to get home. And you know that Patsy's going to call you in five minutes and say "Actually, can we meet at 3:15? I'm running late." So you tell Patsy..."HECK NO!" But the next tuesday, Patsy says: "Hey I know last week didn't work out, do you want to get ice cream today?" And you, you beautiful dreamer you, have just had the best. day. of. your. life. Someone ghost-delivered your favorite color of post-it notes, the power went out in your office and you got paid to sharpen pencils for a three hours...let's just say it's been a good one. So when Patsy asks you to get ice cream you're like: "For sure, girl."

The things you feel strongly about one day are not always the things you feel strongly about the next. I used to think that one thing we love so much about written people is that they get to be just one person all the time, where you and I, if we're honest, seem like several different people all at once. But the more complex you make your written people, the more they seem like real poeple. People are complex (I wanna shout duh, having even written that. Okay I just did shout it. Good thing no one else is around). Don't make your characters so flat that they're predictable. I had a professor in college who told us that if you write your characters so they're real, sometimes they do things that surprise you.

Which leads me to another sub-point...
Don't let your characters contradict themselves either. They shouldn't be 2D, but they shouldn't be a crazy conglomeration of things either. I recently read a book where the main character claimed (in every other chapter - it got more than a little annoying) that her friends never saw her cry. And guess what! In every other chapter, she was crying. I mean, was that supposed to be written into her character? That she's a pathological liar who clearly doesn't understand herself but wishes she wasn't a crier when she actually is? See the nightmarish vortex you send your readers spiraling into when you don't define your characters rightly?!

Le Point Trois: Cliches. Don't do it. Just don't.
What does it even mean to fall into someone's eye pools? I definitely just read that in a book recently and I thought the whole eye pool thing was a joke. You've seen it, haven't you? "Laurie looked deeply into the calming celestial pools that were Spanky's eyes. If she were to lean a little closer, she would fall in." Spanky must be literally monstrous if his eyes are equivalent to the size of pools. I mean, I want to see someone actually attempt to fall into someone's eyes. Or at least poke a toe in, or a finger. The next time you see someone attractive, poke them in the eye and tell them you were trying to bathe in their eye pools. I'm sure you'll get a phone number or a date out of that.

Four: Don't promise something you can't deliver.
Do you remember that book I was telling you about where the character said she didn't cry and yet she was actually a human geyser? I mean she probably had to keep up a constant water supply to emit so much moisture. In the same book, the author set up this crazy plot in the beginning, where you didn't know what had happened to the characters, how they got the way they were, what had led them to the point they were now. Usually, these things get ironed out by the end of the book. But I got to the end of the fifth or sixth book in the series, only to discover the author had no intention of clearing up the mess he had gotten me into. Remember when your mom asked you to clean your room and you said you would? And you didn't and then you got in really big trouble because you'd said you'd clean it up and then you didn't? Be responsible. If you're not going to clear it up, don't write it.

Last. a.k.a. Five: Do say something. But don't make it easy.
When you write, you're writing to say something. Otherwise, you're just giving us a play by play of stuff that happens. Every author is trying to mean something publicly with their work. But one of the most profound and powerful concepts in great literature is subtlety. Don't end the book by having Joey say: "And that was the summer that I learned that people can let you down, but that doesn't mean you should stop loving people." I love the way Catcher in the Rye ends. He says something about how you shouldn't talk about things because you start missing everyone. It's so abrupt, and it doesn't make any sense and you, the reader, end up with the responsibility of figuring out what that means, if it even means anything. That's what's so great about great literature. You have to work, to think, to figure it out. That's when you're allowed to be a part of what you're reading, and what you've read will always be a part of you now that you've actually invested yourself in it. It's a beautiful thing.

Which leads me to my final point. Again, if you know me at all, you know that I cannot stand mass produced Christian romance, be it Amish or be it city folk. I've never read a Christian romance novel where I've been required to think. A scan of my brain would not show movement or bright coloration of any kind. Gray matter would stay gray.

 If we are possessors of the message of profound truth, and creativity given to us by our God, we should not be producing things that are lacking excellence.

And that is all.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lightning bugs or fireflies?

This blog post probably won't be funny. I'll tell you that right now. So, maybe I'll tell you a joke first and then I'll get into the blog so you won't feel utterly cheated.
Why does a giraffe have a long neck? .... To reach its head.
Okay. Done.

I don't know how theologically sound this is...but I feel a lot of times God communicates with me through His creation. There have been several instances where I've felt "spoken to" through very subtle "small, still voice" experiences.

A particular one I'd like to share with you now, because it means a lot to me and because I want to. Several individuals (cough)Jen(cough) I know I've told this story to already a ka-zillion times probably want to quit now.

The summer after my sophomore year of college I was really depressed. Mainly because I was on a medicine...that made me wicked depressed. When I went back to school, it gave me anxiety and almost made me drop out of college, but that's a different story altogether. Back to the summer. For some reason that summer I only worked 3 hours a day, 3 days a week. So I had no money and I basically sat home the whole summer and at this point I can't even really remember it that well. I was horribly depressed and horribly lonely and lost about my whole "calling" in life...what the heck was I going to do with it?

One night, lying on my bed, not being able to sleep...I reached the pinnacle of what I could stand. Being a very reasonable and wise, mature believer in Christ I cried out: "What the heck is wrong with you, God?!" I poetic. I told Him I had no idea what He was doing, or what I was doing...why I felt this way, or how in the world I could continue. I had given up on finding answers to my questions and all I wanted was to know I wasn't alone. So I begged for Him to show me I wasn't alone and that help would come.

As soon as I finished praying - and I know it wasn't there before, but in the middle of the pitch darkness right after I opened my eyes a lightning bug lit up the room right in front of me.  It blinked around my room for a couple minutes and then I fell asleep and I knew I wasn't alone. I never had been and I never would be.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eggs, sausages, nice crispy bacon...we saved some for you, Mister Frodo.

I’m sure it’s not that big of a secret by now that, given the choice of any culture to belong to in Tolkien’s created world, I would without a doubt, with no reservations totally be a Shire folk. I know they’re squatty, unimportant and boring, without any ties to the elven realm over the sea and glowing heroics (except for the two) but they are my favorite by a landslide. And besides, I feel it was one of Tolkien’s greatest soapboxes with his works…that the smallest and least important of creatures can still rattle the course of history.  Kind of how Christ chooses the weak and the ordinary to reach the masses. 1 Corinthians 1:27: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Well, it’s one thing to tell you where I’d like to reside in middle earth, but it would be a shame to forego telling you all of the reasons I have for wanting to dwell there. Oh and there are a lot. Buckle your little seatbelts, bucco. ( Please don’t think I’m being disrespectful for calling you bucco. I got swept up in the moment)

Number 1:  Living arrangements. Hobbits live practically underground, in “Hobbit Holes.” Therefore underground = much cooler in the summer. Less need for deafening air conditioners and buzzing fans. Peace and quiet coolness underground.  Also… staples of  Hobbit Holes are their circular and brightly colored doors, complete with doorknobs in the center! I mean, hardcore innovation right there! Who says our doorknobs have to be on the right? BOooorring!

Number 2:  (teehee, number 2. Okay, I’m five) A genuine enthusiasm for growing things and growing them everywhere! Hobbits get excited about growing the biggest pumpkin, about mushroom collecting, stealing vegetables, growing flowers… there are no fast food nightmares to contend with, they may be plump but they’re plump on goodness, my friends! Which leads me to…

Number 3:  It is culturally acceptable to eat a lot of food. There are no skinny hobbits, except for when they’ve finished a trek to good ol’ Mt. Doom. I bet Rosie Cotton’s classmates never mocked her for being pudgy. I bet she never looked in the mirror at home and thought…Sam must think I’m a cow. NO! Plump is sexy for Shire folk! Cooking and eating is an art form! Remember the box of seasoning salt that Sam carried with him HALFWAY across the atlas? It was pretty important. AS it should be, I declare!

Number 4: YOU DON’T HAVE TO WEAR SHOES! One summer I tried to develop Hobbit-like callouses on my feet by walking around our gravel driveway until I cried. Okay, I never cried, but I clearly heard my feet cry.  Guess what, no callouses. If I were a hobbit, I could’ve done a jig on that driveway! Plus, another statement for the character of hobbits, they have hairy feet. I mean, like ew. But no one cares! No one’s like, man Sam, shave that forest down. You’re getting’ pipe weed stuck in that mess.

Number 5: Have calloused feet, will travel. Hobbits get to walk everywhere too. No contending with freaks on the highways. No frustrations at a four-way stop. That is unless it’s riddled with Nazgul.

Number 6: Plus, the great thing about Hobbit mindset is that you’re not expected to go anywhere! If you haven’t visited a foreign country, you’re not deemed ignorant…you’re completely respected!  It’s absolutely fine to like where you are and not have to face down the notion that you’re pathetic for wanting to stay there! Man, when you’ve got the Shire, what else do you need?!

Number 7: Well, you don’t need extensive entertainment that’s what. A good story, a corny song that Bilbo taught you…utter enthrallment. Kids don’t need their new-fangled gadgets, a couple long yarns from a short geezer and you’re set to jet. And lastly, but not leastly my favorite…

Number 8: The sense of community. There’s a party tree. Everyone knows each other, whether they’re particularly fond of each other or not (I mean, if you were related to the Sackville-Bagginses you’d probably have some minor frustrations with some aspects of community as well).

Well, I guess that’s it. Just felt like I needed to get that off my chest. No Rivendell for me, Peace out, Lothlorien.  It’s pipe-weed and hairy feet for me.

Which would you choose?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Snape. Snape. Severus Snape.

Wow. Last night the clocks very anti-climactically (is that a word?) landed on 12:00am. It was the fifteenth: the day many nerds had prepared for, ironing their graduation gowns/"magical robes," whittling twigs down to resemble a perfect ash with phoenix core, using their black brown eyeliner to draw lightning bolts on their foreheads, only to regret it later when the acne sets in.

I was not among them. Sadly, but kind of gladly. Sometimes people scare me. But I do intend to go and go soon. Isn't is sad though? Harry Potter is over. No more movies, no more books. Never again will I get to experience a first time read through those books.

I remember when they first came out and I was eleven. We were at Sam's Club, and "The Sorcerer's Stone" was (obviously) dramatically reduced in price. I figured I'd give it a try and I started reading it in the car. I read it all the way home, and somehow managed to make it in the house without taking my eyes off the pages. I remember every time a new one came out and I thought: MAN how am I ever going to finish it? It's thicker than my leg! And yet two days later I was wishing the next one was out.

Now they're over (except that I have yet to see 7.2) and I'm sad. Despite what many christians feel, that the series is blasphemy and deviant filth... Harry Potter is a great story about good vs. evil and sacrificing your life for those you love (sound familiar?) I could go on for miles with an argument FOR Harry Potter, about how its core is congruent with a Christian worldview...but I'm not going to. The horse is dead and doesn't appreciate being beaten. If you really need to talk about it, let me know.

I'm a little afraid to see it though. I get a little emotional about stories and movies...and when I finished the seventh book I fist-pumped and shouted "YAY NEVILLE!" amidst lots of tears. I think it's going to be rough. But it must be done!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Practical Wisdom

Ahh, those are great words. For some reason those two words resonate deeply with most readers of devotional books. What is it about those two words that do the trick? Well, practical means you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars or move to Zimbabwe. It also means you don’t have to merely dream about what life would be like if you could follow the instructions laid out in the book. And wisdom? I think you know what that means. But the two words together mean that you, yes you, have the ability to follow these instructions that will aid you in walking closer to God, and in this book’s case, each other.

Love at Last Sight by Kerry & Chris Shook embodies the phrase “practical wisdom” when it comes to relationships. But there is both good news and bad news about this book. I’ll give you the bad news. Ready? Ok. Neither of them should try stand-up comedy anytime soon. Their attempts at humorous insights are a little…well, cheesy. But it’s not like they were trying to write a comedy book. And that’s the only bad news I have. On to the good.

The book is practical. It’s encouraging knowing that it IS absolutely possible to follow their daily goals to improving your relationships. And the wisdom that it offers IS Christ-centered. No psychological blot-tests or question therapy. The principles of the book come right out of the Great Book.

When I first picked it up I was thinking: “Great, a book about how to love my spouse. I don’t have a spouse.” But I was wrong! Everyone, whether married, dating, or the big bad “s” word has relationships in their lives that could use a little something. Estrangement, hurt, misunderstandings…everyone deals with this. But not everyone actually deals with it. This book helps you learn how! Besides, there is nothing wrong with learning about the inner workings of romantic relationships before you’re in a romantic relationship.

Love at Last Sight really holds onto a truth that I have long believed that love is not a feeling, or a state of mind, but an action verb. The book shows you how to love.

In summation, I can confidently recommend this book to anyone. You can’t read it and not get at least something out of it. The book is full of practical suggestions on how to love. And it also boasts some great illustrations and notable quotes. Thumbs up!

I received a free copy of Love at Last Sight from WaterBrook Multonomah publishing for this review.