The genre, the start, the whole blooming book

Friday morning early (3)On day three of our recent Gulf Shores trip, while other beachcombers were out hunting crab or shells or buried coins, I hit on my own bonanza. A metadata bonanza. That is, some valuable thoughts about my novel.

Genre

A Stranger’s Promise isn’t formula. And it isn’t mystery, “cozy” or otherwise. I thought for a long time it was a mystery, but now I know for sure that it isn’t. Because Joan doesn’t stumble over a dead body by page 6. In fact, she doesn’t get wind of the mystery part of the plot until chapter 4 – though her “I sense something odd” needle has been jumping since chapter 2. She’s an astute gal, this Joan.

My novel is about more than the small-town missing-person case Joan decides to involve herself in. It’s about a strong, smart, independent woman, who has plenty of free time, becoming friends with another strong, smart, independent woman whose time is running out. Within a sometimes comical adventure, it’s a story of honor, sacrifice, and self-discovery. The genre is Women’s Fiction. (But men can read it, too!)

(How) does my book grab you?

Some who’ve critiqued my synopsis and early chapters are concerned I may not be getting to the “real” plot quickly enough; I may not hold readers’ interest if I don’t tell them in the first couple of pages what the obstacle is that my main character must hurdle. I’ve studied on that feedback and have used it to motivate a complete overhaul of the first scene. Besides, now that I’m not misclassifying my manuscript as a mystery, these writing professionals might give a different opinion through new “genre” eyes. (One can hope, anyway!) Therefore, I’m holding on to the two scenes before Joan rolls into Crook Mountain. And, in the additional pages before she hears about a stranger’s promise, I’m foreshadowing, introducing key characters, and – yes – unfolding the “real” plot.

My inspiration

A Stranger’s Promise is a work of Christian fiction written with one of my favorite authors, Grace Livingston Hill, in mind. Like her, I will include in my novel(s) the story of God’s sending His Son, Jesus, to redeem sinners. My sequel in progress, All Owing to Love, develops this theme after A Stranger’s Promise gets it off the ground. Read more.

There’s a reason I chose “blooming” as the clean expletive in the title of this post. That word suggests new life. Growing. Becoming. And beauty. There couldn’t be a more appropriate image! My characters are growing and developing. As a writer, I am doing the same. And, like Grace Livingston Hill, I am using a novel to tell about Jesus and to encourage all who know Him, and all who need to know Him, to find new life with Him as their Savior and Lord.

Staying true

If there is one message I heard loud and clear at BRMCWC in 2015 and at ACFW in 2016, it is this: stay true to what it is you’re being impressed to write. Then, start worrying about editors, agents, publishers, contracts, distribution, and all that other stuff. That’s where I am right now.

Please “Like” and read my Facebook page Books by Betsy Lowery where I’m chronicling my blooming start as a novelist. Comment on my posts. Ask me questions. (You can see I love to talk about what I’m doing!) Cheer me on. Pray for me. Ask God to use my efforts. Ask Him to open doors and to guide me on the road to publication. Thank you!

P.S. I’m scheduled to be at Birmingham Public Library on Saturday, August 19, from 9:00 to 3:00 for Local Author Expo. I’ll have a number of things on display including a copy of my first book – published in 2004; a little “dice game” for a giveaway every hour; a brand-new sampler booklet with 6 or 7 of the scenes from my novel that make me smile; business cards (of course); and … free candy. Look for me there.

Paul and Jane: two of my fave authors

May7_notesP1

 

My dear family! When I ask for the sermon note-taking page from their copy of the worship guide (I never get my own copy; I always share.), they know what’s up. My daughter offers me a pen. My husband thoughtfully pulls a big, heavy hymnal from the rack in case I need something to bear down on. And, I’m off. Because something I’ve just experienced has triggered a response important enough to capture.

Sunday’s page-long scribble took a bit of effort to decipher and voice record three days later over my last two Fresh Market mini cinnamon rolls and Starbucks half-caf Americano. But, with the sun streaming in on the cafe-like high table where I can stand and work, in my current favorite deserted area of my workplace during that blessed pre-8:00 hour, was it in any way unpleasant to furrow my brow until I understood it was the word security I’d written on Sunday? Of course it wasn’t. #neverunderestimatethevalueofsetting

May7_notesP2EDITED

At the name of Jesus

The sanctuary choir’s anthem at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church on May 7 was “At the Name of Jesus” (Cindy Berry) – here is one rendition on Youtube, based on Philippians 2:5-11 about Jesus humbling himself and taking on the form of a servant and being obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Please go and read those verses aloud, all the way to verse 11. Oh, my goodness – the majesty of these truths so expressed!

Process. Not product. (But Christ above it all)

As the choir, musicians and worship leader (and composer Cindy Berry, wherever in the world she was) gave of themselves for my edification, I closed my eyes and expressed to my Christian brother in heaven, the apostle Paul, “Be joyful, Paul, over what glorious music this is, using the words you penned.” As a writer of thoughts, devotions, poetry, and fiction, I understand how gratifying it is to be told that someone has found “my” words moving. Yet, it actually is not the product – a hymn stanza, even a passage of the Bible – in which we revel as producer or as partaker. Even with a timeless novel like Pride and Prejudice, it isn’t the text itself that’s most remarkable. It is the process – first, in the life of the author (in a Christian context, God’s work in a believer’s mind and in his or her response, as a vessel, in capturing and attempting to express spiritual processes or insights); and second, when someone reads or hears and is moved, entertained, encouraged, inspired to emulate a book character (or a real person described in the Bible), bolstered to survive another day or another hour, led to do something courageous.

This process in the highest spiritual sense is what happens when a person engages words of scripture. That is why the Word is “living and active”* as the Holy Spirit acts.

The process is the thing. And yet we don’t worship the process, just as we don’t worship the product. We rejoice in it, yes. We celebrate its value by perpetuating it on social media through fan accounts like “looking for Mr. Darcy” and “all things Austen.” We facilitate the process of God’s voice and presence in our corporate worship and our small-group studies and our private prayer havens because we worship Christ and want others to have the security in Christ that we have.

So, let’s keep praying for the opportunity and the willingness to listen, not just to hear; to understand, not just to read; and to act, not just to feel inspired.

*Hebrews 4:12

P.S. Here’s a fun (and weird) coincidence: My daughter showed me the script heading on the note-taking page you see pictured and whispered, “Do you know what font this is?” “Not sure. ‘Founding Fathers’?” (I thought it looked like Thomas Jefferson’s signature, a la the Declaration of Independence.) “I think it’s Jane Austen.” It is. #thetwilightzonethememusic

What the crucifiers didn’t understand

There’s a very important concept the crucifiers of Jesus didn’t understand. It never occurred to me until today while we were singing The Power of the Cross (Getty/Townend) near the end of Easter morning worship at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.

“Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten, then nailed to a cross of wood” we sang in stanza one. The associated visual for me – while acutely sad, as it always is – suddenly presented an entirely new and powerful insight.

What the crucifers didn’t understand was that they were striking, hating, whipping, punishing… sinTheir long-pent-up, senseless, uncontrolled mob and individual violence wasn’t against that man Jesus for himself, in spite of his perplexing claims about having a kingdom not of this world. Their violence spewed forth upon a scapegoat – the holy, blemishless Scapegoat that God conceived and that God required.

In this vein we can see Jesus representing greed, theft, abuse, cruelty, manipulation, wastefulness, selfishness, cowardice, bullying, abduction, murder, gossip, slander, lying, adultery – and people are so rightly incensed against those. We are perfectly justified in hating that these human actions happen, that one person wrongs another in every corner of the earth, daily, hourly, in secret and in public, causing unthinkable pain, sorrow, fear, and despair. And that others sin by not caring until some of it hits home.

The crucifiers did beat, hate, despise and kill Jesus with the same vengeance, the same quest and thirst for justice that God feels toward sin because sin has so devastatingly hurt the people God made and loves.

If this view of the hours leading up to Golgotha is not unsound, then the period of time when Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) did not begin when he was hanging on the cross and the sky went dark as God turned away. It began earlier. Is it possible our Lord’s unbearable agony in the Garden of Gethsemane was in part because God’s plan for Jesus to personify your sins and mine was already in motion, and therefore God was inaccessible to Jesus’ plea, “Let this cup pass from me?”

For God’s ear, God’s heart to be inaccessible is not bearable for us, and that is why He made a plan to change the way things were. Do we love Him, thank Him, worship Him for this accordingly?

Unthinkable sin deserves commensurate punishment. Jesus bore that unthinkable punishment. Oh, what a “debt of love”* we owe our Lamb!

*Isaac Watts, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed, 1907

Not giving up my chocolate, coffee, or knitting for Lent

I told my husband this morning while we were getting ready for work that I have decided what to give up for Lent this year. Last year I tried abstaining from chocolate (which became easier when I read in the fine print of the liturgical calendar that the Sundays of Lent don’t count in the 40 days and therefore you can sneak in your chosen item of abstinence on those days).

Let me pause and say that observing Lent and giving up something I enjoy in order to focus more on God during Lent is something I did not grow up doing in small Southern Baptist churches. It is all pretty new, but something worth investing in. And, if I have misrepresented or sounded irreverent about that “loophole” in the previous paragraph, I sincerely apologize. Trade secret: a little apparent irreverence is sometimes a device to get readers’ interest.

Back to this morning: I told Jeff, “It isn’t a food or drink, which I’m happy about.” I have to give him credit for his good guess. He named something as difficult for me to abstain from as chocolate or coffee. “Knitting?”

“Wow, that would be difficult,” I answered. “No, it’s my music, and in the car is the setting that will be most affected.” I went on to explain that 40 days without TV themes to Airwolf and The Virginian and The Brady Bunch may be long enough for those songs not to run in my head anyway, even though they aren’t playing through the speakers.

Revival: isn’t that sort of what Lent is about?*

Revival has a lot to do with clearing one’s mind. It is coming to a place of such openness (to God’s voice) and obedience that – while not losing one speck of memory or of wisdom gained from life experience – one purposes to know nothing and to expect nothing (expect nothing specific other than to grow in love and in faith, and to see God work). It’s like what happened to me on the way to work this morning: I just felt new and very uninterested in starting the day steeping myself in (or worrying about) whatever I was thinking about yesterday and last night.

Aside: I almost lumped “identity” in with memory and experience as things we can retain while determining to know nothing and to expect nothing specific. But, I reconsidered. Losing or revising our identity is something we must look at if we’re talking about seriously realigning our life and purpose with God’s total plan. There are many references in Scripture** to transforming one’s identity. Something to consider.

What do I hope to gain by losing my music fun for 40 days? Valuable silence. The ability to recognize a “burning bush” if God sets one in front of me. Losing our interest in silence as a virtue and losing our determination to achieve silence as a catalyst for thinking, meditating, praying, and opening our minds to God’s leading is a societal development that has had dire consequences. We need to get silence back.

Later today I will mark my calendar with a reminder about abstaining from my playlists. Is there something special you’re thinking of doing to honor and to proclaim the crucified, risen Christ during Lent this year? Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, March 1.

*”Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock.” Source
**For example: Romans 12:1-2, Luke 17:33, Ephesians 4:22-24, Galatians 2:20-21

That guy has a name. Let’s learn it.

vinko-bogataj

ABC’s Wide World of Sports theme song is second in my alphabetical iTunes songs (between The A-Team and The Adventures of Robin Hood). “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport,” announcer Jim McKay says over the fanfare music. “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Imagine being immortalized in modern history as the one whose name pops up when somebody searches the internet for “the agony of defeat skier”. On the surface of it, I just cringe and feel for this fellow who lost his balance and “crashed and burned” before ever leaving the ramp on March 7, 1970 at a ski flying event in Oberstdorf, West Germany. Read more about the fall, the resulting injuries, and the contributing weather conditions here.

Even pun jokes have been made from the famous phrase in Jim McKay’s voiceover: “What happens after a long day of standing on the job?” “The agony of de feet.” yuk yuk

But, that’s just the opening chapter as the world views that now-famous failed ski jump. Don’t forget that other setback chapters have been followed by huge accomplishments! Peter’s denial that he knew and followed Jesus; Joseph’s abduction by his brothers; Naaman’s bad attitude about following the instructions of the man of God; Sarai laughing at the holy proclamation that she would give birth to the child of promise – all of these failures and misfortunes could have stayed “the agony of defeat,” but they didn’t.

The Karate Kid is the first movie example that jumped into my head on this topic – one of many. Movie after movie, book after book, has championed the underdog, the weakling, the unlikely, for not giving up but pushing through to success. Not everyone wins trophies as a testimony of success. No big deal. Trophies take up shelf space and collect dust. And, after all, as John Maxwell and others have said, success happens one day at a time, along the journey, not at the end of it. Success is in our habits, not in our recognitions.

Let’s learn the name of Mr. Vinko Bogataj of Slovenia (formerly Yugoslavia) instead of forever calling him “the agony of defeat guy.” Let’s respect him not out of sympathy over his famous fall which, because of the ABC TV show, made him “an American icon of bad luck and misfortune” for a long time before he was even aware of it. Let’s respect him not just because he has a place in athletic history, but mostly because he is a fellow human being who overcame a devastating moment during the pursuit of his goals and went on to become a ski instructor, respected artist, wood carver, forklift operator, husband, and father.

We mustn’t let the agony of our failures, sins, or persecution by evil people define us to others – nor, much more important, to ourselves. Don’t give up. Persevere. Press on toward the mark. Know that even if it takes until heaven, all of the pain is going to go away.

Today is a new day, and not just because we say so as positive thinking. “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”—Psalm 118:24 (NKJV)  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”—2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Please share this post today with someone who is hurting or discouraged.

 

Starting the new year right…with a stolen calendar

img_0911

That’s right. I stole a 2017 calendar. And there I sat, not feeling guilty in the slightest, not looking worriedly over my shoulder for a security guard, but absolutely delighted with my stolen property and even laughing a little.

Joining in the merriment of my theft were all of my coworkers (which sounds really bad when I add that we’re a church staff!). I hope the one from whom I took the very nice 2017 spiral-bound date book was as merry as the rest. After all, that’s the whole idea of the game Dirty Santa.

I drew an early number and selected from the unopened packages a nice item, some kind of little Sterno-fueled heater, new in its box, and I was prepared to make use of that gismo had it come home with me. However, it was stolen by another player. Just in case that should happen, already I had been eyeing some cookies and other opened gifts. But, when the one resting on my lap went elsewhere, I suddenly decided I had to have that planner.

You can ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you: I am driven to work ahead. If I can do some of Tuesday’s tasks on Monday, and Thursday’s on Wednesday, etc., that is a good week.

It’s December 29 as I write this, and I plan to start three days early on new year’s resolutions. Aside from getting those extra holiday calories worked off, I have three personal goals I’d like to achieve before 1/1/2017:
1. Finish knitting a baby hat
2. Re-organize my closet shelf
3. Get back into writing my second novel

Making any progress on goal #3  between now and January 1 will jumpstart a very large 2017 goal, that of completing the first draft of said novel.

Enough about my personal goals. But here’s another list you may find useful. These are a few important “new year” reminders I plan to keep in front of me for the foreseeable future.  Not only keep them in front of me, but say them out loud every day. Perhaps they will help you, too, while much talk rumbles about a new year, a new you, a new presidential administration, and those greatest of faith-challenging action words, hope and fear. Here the reminders are, and you can see in the photo above that I have written them on the January page of my Dirty Santa spoils.

  • God can do anything.
  • God commands us to ask of Him.
  • No place on earth is out of God’s reach.
  • God loves His children and longs for their good and holy desires, which reflect His desires, to be realized.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Free Christmas fiction!

Stranded by a winter storm on the way to visit relatives during the holidays, the Wilkins family is forced to seek shelter in a home where grief from a recent tragedy has forever changed the meaning of Christmas.

Dear readers,

I am posting my one and only novella, which is also my one and only work of Christmas fiction thus far. It’s not published except by myself as a free gift to anyone interested in reading it. I wrote this story in 2010 and have since learned that it’s “against the rules” to narrate as the author, telling readers straight out what different characters are thinking, simultaneously. In other words, writing from “third person omniscient” point of view is OUT. (Unless you’re a Jane Austen or anyone else successful enough to make your own rules.)

But, as Hallmark Channel movies frequently suggest, “It’s Christmas! Anything can happen.” So, my “anything” Christmas miracle is to dispense with the “no head-hopping” rule long enough to offer you a work that is a story I believe in, no matter that it was written without the professional enlightenment that writers’ conferences like ACFW have since afforded me. I revised it significantly in recent weeks, except for “correcting” the point of view.

Catch several shout-outs to Grace Livingston Hill if you will. (references to her works, and, I hope, a little mimicry of her style)

For whatever entertainment and inspiration it may bring to you, here is The Carols’ Secret Message.

Merry Christmas!

 

the-carols-secret-message-20102016