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Posts Tagged ‘writing novels’

IMG_1279Since 2012, I have visited various Koorong bookstores in different parts of Australia to promote my novels and non-fiction. This Saturday, 27th July, will be my next, at Koorong West Ryde in Sydney from 10.00am-3.00pm, in conjunction with my author friend, Steph Penny, who has written an excellent book entitled Surviving Singledom. We would both love to meet with any of you who can make it there on the day!

When I started these book signings, I soon discovered some people can be shy about walking up to authors at a book table and chatting. Perhaps they believe, as I used to when I was young, that authors could not be real people but instead, some other alien race—because, after all, how could anyone possibly write a whole book? For me, that was too wonderful to imagine—yet, in the end, that’s exactly what God enabled me to do!

I soon discovered too that some people just want to go about their own business and not be held up talking to some strange author! These customers know exactly what they came to the store for and are very careful to avoid eye contact, as they scuttle past. They have a large neon sign flashing that says to me, ‘Don’t try to sell me anything—I’m not interested in your books and I’m in a hurry!’ I understand how they feel too—I’m sure I’ve done the same to other promoters on occasions.

But thankfully, there are also those who are brave enough to come and ask questions and seem genuinely interested in our books—and that there actually are Australian Christian authors around! Usually then we describe what our books are about, which may well lead into some heartfelt discussion, in my case, on the topics of becoming who God created us to be or on having a soul friend or on the love of God—or, in the case of my friend Steph Penny, on the challenges of being single. Sometimes too, we hear, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!’ or even ‘I’ve written a book but don’t know where to go from here.’ Then we have the joy of sharing our knowledge with them, including telling them about Christian writers’ groups and conferences where they can learn so much more.

Then there are the ones and twos whom God seems to draw to our table—those ‘God encounters’ when something wonderful happens as we chat and some small and precious ‘kingdom moment’ occurs. On those occasions, I thank God, not only for giving me the right words to say but also for my little prayer team of eight women who specifically pray for these God encounters wherever I go to speak or promote my books.

Whoever we are and whatever our situation is in life, let’s seize the moment and embrace these God-given opportunities we all experience with joy and trust in God, who is able to do far more with our few words than we could ever imagine!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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We all know how powerful stories are. Many of us spend hours glued to TV screens as we watch plots unfold, mysteries solved, the ‘baddies’ brought to justice, the ‘goodies’ almost mess things up but then win through in the end. But there is nothing like hearing a real life story told from the heart. And when God is involved, there is even more power in those words we hear or read.

This past Sunday at our church, the usual sermon took the form of interviews with four different people. Three of these interviews had been filmed previously and interwoven at different points as the stories unfolded, while a fourth happened live in the service. All illustrated a journey through a very difficult situation in the lives of those involved and God’s eventual deliverance. One story involved business difficulties and financial loss; another, the struggle to conceive a child. A third dealt with loss of a partner’s faith in the context of ministry, while the fourth grappled with holding onto God in the midst of enormous physical pain and suffering. I had never been in any of these situations, but my heart was touched and my faith in God strengthened as I saw the pain of those who shared but also their faith in a loving God remain firm, even in the most desperate of situations when there seemed to be no miracles or easy answers.

Afterwards, our minister reminded us of Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians 1 about the hardships he and Timothy suffered as they journeyed through Asia:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)

Paul shares his story honestly with us, here and elsewhere in Scripture, so that his words still encourage and inspire us today.

But Jesus himself clearly believed in the power of story too. Many times in the Gospels we see how he used parables to get his message across in simple, powerful ways. In the middle of Luke’s Gospel, for example, we have parable after parable recorded that Jesus told—the Good Samaritan (10), the rich fool (12), the great banquet (14), the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (15), the shrewd manager (16), the persistent widow; the Pharisee and the tax collector (18), to name a few. Yes, Jesus’ culture was different from ours today, but the power of story does not change. Surely in endeavouring to share the good news about Jesus today, we would be foolish to ignore the power of story?

Which brings me to the second reason I was so encouraged by hearing these stories of difficulty and deliverance. I write stories. That’s what I do. Even the work of non-fiction I have just completed is a story of my own experience of a beautiful, spiritual mentoring relationship. So how encouraging it was to be reminded of the power of story to minister to others and to convict!

But what about you? Do you have a story to tell of God’s grace in your life? It may not seem earth-shattering to you, but God can use it, whether written or spoken. So keep looking for those opportunities to share it. And keep telling it truthfully and with love.

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I wonder if you have ever played that game in an airport arrivals area of deciding who is waiting for whom and what the reason is for the traveller’s visit? It’s fun to try to work out such things, isn’t it, from what people look like and how they are reacting?

Or perhaps, like me, you enjoy letting your imagination run riot as you concoct an entire scenario about something you know nothing about. Recently, while my husband and I were out driving, we saw two people scurrying across a main road, laden down with luggage. When my husband wondered aloud where they might be heading, I immediately came up with a long, animated, involved explanation.

‘I get the picture. This could go on forever—no wonder you write novels!’ he eventually yelled.

And it would be hard to forget the eccentric looking, older Asian gentleman we saw standing with his little dog on a small traffic island at a busy intersection on Christmas Day and waving a big sign. On one side of this sign was a wish for peace for all at Christmas—but on the other an angry message maligning some people in authority. You can imagine the fun I had, making up a veritable trilogy about this particular character!

Now I have been taught it is usually unwise to include lots of back story at the beginning of a novel. Readers don’t have to know everything at once. Much better to provide little glimpses of past history or events naturally as the story unfolds—and then only what is needed. In my earlier novels, I couldn’t resist immediately sharing all there was to know about my main characters. After all, I was trained as a teacher to take students from the known to the unknown and to make sure they understood things well, before moving on. These days, I try to let those juicy bits of back story pop out only where necessary. But it’s still a battle. You see, I love my characters and want to make sure my readers understand why they act in a certain way. My characters become like family to me—‘real’ people I have created and hopefully brought to life in my book. And I feel responsible for them.

Often as I reflect on this, however, my mind turns to my own Creator. There is no doubt God knows all about me, including my entire ‘back story’. Psalm 139:1 states simply:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

We see in the Gospels this is also true of Jesus. In calling his first disciples, he didn’t need Philip to tell him anything about Nathaniel (John 2:43-49).  He already knew him and could see what was in his heart. Jesus knew everything about the Samaritan woman he met at the well without her saying a word (John 4). He was also quite aware Judas was the one who would betray him (John 13:21-28). And Jesus knows everything about me too—back story, thoughts, plans, the lot. Yet, just as he did with Peter after the disciple’s drastic denial of his Lord, Jesus forgives me, loves me, accepts me, ‘reinstates’ me and promises to be with me forever.

Jesus understands perfectly this business of back story. And I’m so thankful for that.

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This past week, I received an email from an old friend in which she described beginning a new year as being like looking at a huge, blank canvas and not having a clue what kind of picture will emerge on it. Do you relate to that image as you look ahead to 2012?

I certainly do—as do many of my author friends in particular, I expect. We may have spent the past year writing our novels or works of non-fiction, but what will happen to them in 2012? Will they end up being published? Or will they still be sitting there in a year’s time—along with a pile of rejection letters? Perhaps we had a book published this past year, but will it continue to sell well? Are we even with the right publisher? And what speaking engagements and promotional opportunities lie ahead for us?

In the eight years I have been writing, if nothing else, I have learnt that no one year is the same as another. I have had five novels published in that time, some of which have sold more than others. And at the beginning of each year, I have tried my best to line up as many speaking engagements as possible. Some years I have been almost overwhelmed with speaking opportunities, whereas in other years, for no apparent reason, I have suffered a dearth of them.

So as I stand on the brink of yet another year of writing and speaking, what can I do? Well, I can hope my sixth novel will be accepted for publication. And I can also hope my very first work of non-fiction will be too. I hope both these things fill part of that blank canvas for me in the coming year—but I can’t bank on it. I hope too that many speaking engagements will be scattered along the way, but I can’t be sure of these yet either. Some people are to get back to me in the new year, while others have yet to respond to my emails. And of course, I plan to keep writing—perhaps another work of non-fiction or one of those other novels I have outlined on my computer. But I’m not sure any of them will ‘work’—I’ll simply have to begin writing and see.

All this uncertainty can be very off-putting. But this past week, I was reminded clearly from Isaiah 2 that there is only one way for us to travel such an uncertain road. In verse 5, God says to the children of Israel through Isaiah, but surely to us too:

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Then in verse 22 at the end of that same chapter, I read the following:

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?

My dear friend finished her email I mentioned above with the thought that God knows already what that finished picture on the blank canvas before us for 2012 will look like. I don’t know about you, but I find that hugely reassuring. How privileged we are to know we can trust the Lord and walk in his light rather than bank on mere human beings in the year ahead! God knows. God sees. And God will undertake for me and for you.

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I have a friend who is very good at losing things. I had thought of basing my next novel on my friend’s exciting exploits but figure people would probably not believe the half of it!

It all started when my friend was seven. She was given a gold signet ring as a special Christmas gift—something she had long set her heart on. However, it was a little too big and one day not long after, while she was playing at the beach, it slipped off and was lost in the sand. She and others searched in vain, praying they would find it, but it was impossible. The next morning, my friend went back to the beach, no doubt a little disconsolately. She began building a sandcastle, letting the dry sand run through her fingers over the top of the castle, when lo and behold, the ring appeared! It had lain in the sand there for a whole day, even when the tide flowed in and out over it.

Years later, my friend lost a beautiful, little butterfly brooch she cherished, given to her by an older relative. More years passed, until one day when she visited a second-hand shop with a friend, she happened to see a brooch exactly the same as the one she lost. Needless to say, she bought it then and there, redeeming ‘her’ brooch for some relatively small amount. Was it perhaps the very one she lost? We will never know.

Then more recently, while my friend was moving into a new home that is situated at the top of a long, steep driveway, a ring she was wearing came off and rolled down … and down … and down … quickly disappearing from sight. Certain she would never see it again but desperate to find it, my friend slowly walked down her driveway late that night with a torch to look one more time. And then she saw it, lying right at the bottom between two rubbish bins on the footpath, gleaming in the light of her small torch! It could have disappeared in the grass anywhere along the way, rolled into two large drains nearby or bounced right across the road. Instead, it apparently rolled in a perfectly straight line as it went on its merry way down to the road below.

And then there were the gold earrings my friend’s daughter gave her. She had no idea where she could have lost them, so eventually her daughter gave her another pair. Then one day when my friend was tidying some linen in a cupboard, she found a folded over placemat. Wondering why it was folded the way it was, she investigated—and yes, there were the earrings, neatly lying just where she must have left them.

My friend well knows the meaning of rejoicing when something she has lost is found and relates very easily to the woman Jesus tells us about in Luke 15 who loses a coin. But I am sure she understands God’s heart well too for his lost children and shares in the wonderful rejoicing in heaven when one of them turns back to the Father.

… I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

This Christmas, let’s rejoice in our ‘found’ state as we remember our Saviour’s birth. And for those of you who still feel lost, may you too find peace and joy this Christmas as you welcome the Christ Child into your heart.

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Recently, I discovered that my fourth novel Jenna has been shortlisted in a competition for Christian authors. Now I’m very happy about that, of course. Even if I don’t make the finals list, at least I’ve succeeded in getting this far. Yet as I read the names of the other authors whose novels are on the shortlist, I began to have second thoughts about the whole idea. You see, I discovered I know some of the other authors personally – and that raises some issues for me. I expect each of them entered this competition in the hope they would at least be shortlisted. And I also expect that they, like me, are now waiting rather nervously to see if they have made that finals list. But if my novel makes it and theirs doesn’t, how will I feel then? I’m not sure I want to be involved in bringing such disappointment and perhaps even discouragement to a fellow author.

On the other hand, however, no one forced me to be part of the competition in the first place. Rightly or wrongly, I was the one who filled out that form and sent my books off. Perhaps I should have put more thought into it then and emulated a good friend of mine who does not even like to play board games because of their competitive nature. She became quite distressed on the one occasion I suggested we play a game of Scrabble together and simply could not find it within herself to try to trounce me – something I suspect she could easily have done. Perhaps her strong dislike of such competition is rooted in the heated arguments she and her siblings had over such games in the past, but whatever the cause, she finds it very hard to think of gaining any satisfaction from winning over someone else.

There were several reasons I decided to enter this competition. I believe in my novels – I feel they contain good stories, interesting characters many people can relate to and also clear messages about God and faith and related matters. I would not spend a large part of my time writing them if I did not feel they were worthwhile. Secondly, there is the publicity aspect to be considered, as mentioned. And last but not least, like any Christian author I know, I would be very grateful for any monetary prize this competition offers!

So what’s to be done? Perhaps the best way forward in it all is to trust God with the results, whoever makes that finals list and ultimately wins, and leave it at that. But also, I suspect this might be a good opportunity for me to take on board a little more of that humility Jesus showed in making himself nothing, coming to this earth for our sake and giving his very life for us that Paul writes about in Philippians 2. Come to think of it, Paul’s earlier instructions wouldn’t go astray either:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

So however competitive or non-competitive we might be in life, let’s make sure we have the heart attitude God would want us to have. Let’s be glad when others succeed and gracious in defeat. And above all, win or lose, let’s learn to be completely humble, just as Jesus was.

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It helps to have a sense of humour, I’ve discovered, when you’re an author. Being able to laugh at ourselves and the dilemmas we find ourselves in at times somehow helps to connect us to the ‘real world’ – at least for a moment. And it also helps us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Authors can have a unique, rather strange way of thinking. And an example of such thinking from my own life led to my first ‘author joke’ that I often tell others. One day quite early in my writing journey, my husband thought I needed a break from the computer and suggested we go out for coffee. I reluctantly agreed – after all, I had just reached an interesting part of the plot in my current work in progress. We duly had our coffee, but on our way home, I felt my husband was driving a little too slowly, for once.

‘Hurry up!’ I told him. ‘I want to get home and find out what my characters have been up to while I’ve been out!’

Needless to say, my husband shot me a slightly strange look. Was I really joking – or had I finally lost it altogether?

On another occasion, I was talking with a group of friends, when one of them shared something they had done recently. I opened my mouth to respond by saying ‘Oh, Jenna just did that too!’ but thankfully caught myself in time. You see, Jenna was – and is – a character in one of my novels! She’s not a real person at all – or is she?

My third ‘author’ joke is on a slightly different tack. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend how I need to mention a few books by other authors in the non-fiction book I am currently writing. I would like to quote some of their exact words, but understand I would need to get permission from the copyright owner.

“It’s a lot easier when I can quote things I’ve written myself,” I told my friend. “I’ve just included some thoughts of mine from a journal I kept years ago. … Maybe I should charge for the privilege!”

“Yes,” my friend replied. “You could write to yourself to ask permission and then send yourself the bill! Perhaps you could even write something about how to make money out of writing by paying yourself to quote yourself! At least that way you might make some money out of writing!”

We were talking nonsense, I agree. But later, our conversation set me thinking along much more sober lines. I would never pay to use something I myself had created – that is, if I still owned the copyright for it. I would never buy something I already own. But that’s what God did for us. God created us in the first place in his image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. He certainly owns the copyright for us all. But we chose to walk away from God and run our own lives. Yet God loved us enough to do something about it – God bought us back.

It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. (1 Peter 1:18-20 – The Message)

We were God’s children once, created in our Father’s image. Now through faith in Jesus we can be God’s children again, part of God’s family – forever. Now that’s the greatest story ever told!

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