My First Rejection

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Today was a lovely Saturday. I went out to breakfast, went shopping with my friends, and didn’t spend a cent of money since I forgot my wallet (isn’t that nice?!). All my work in the little kindergarten classroom was done, so I hung out in my room reading about special education degrees, writing chapter summaries for another proposal, and of course, reading my book. 1st-grade-teacher Rhoda from next door invited me over for pizza, so I went over there and lamented to her about how hard a writer’s life is. (Only she’s an artist so she faces the same kind of woes.)

After dinner I went running around the block and came in through the front door to find a very strange letter addressed to me in my own handwriting. Oh yes, my Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope. “My first rejection!” I said aloud. Because I knew it would be a rejection, and I was okay with that. I had waited for this moment for so long–prepared myself, told myself it would be a cause for celebration, told myself I would enjoy it… And I did!

I went flying out the back door again, found Rhoda in the kitchen and nearly screamed. “I got a rejection! My first rejection!”

She was mystified. But she smiled at my enthusiasm, and hugged me, and said if I was happy she sure was happy for me. (The mark of a great friend, btw.) And in the next few moments, as I tried to hold back my tears of joy (or, I think they were tears of joy), I tried to explain to her what my first rejection means to me.

My first rejection means…
–I spent over a year writing, brainstorming, and researching for a book.
–I spent almost another year editing, submitting, pitching, writing queries and synopses, and organizing a professional proposal.
–I actually submitted my work.
–Someone actually read it (or, we hope so).
–I tried.
And most importantly…
–I CAN TRY AGAIN!

Have you ever received a rejection letter? If so, tell me about it! I rejoice with you, because even though deep down we would have liked acceptance (right?), a rejection letter means we are one step closer to fulfilling our dreams.

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Two Lives

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2:00 a.m. shoveling snow for a little extra cash

Every writer lives two lives—the real-world life and the fictional life. The real-world life is boring but moves fast, the fictional one thrilling but often progresses very slowly. At least for me. Up until now this blog has focused on my fictional life—the world of my characters and story. But now that I’ve started submitting to publishers and agents, I’m spending less time writing more time in my real-world life. And I’m beginning to realize how cool real life really is.

Since I started this blog, I’ve lived in three different places, been in ten different countries, hung out with refugees in detention camps, cowboys on the prairie, and gangsters’ kids in the ghetto…you name it. If I could distil all my wild adventures into a coherent set of stories I would be a master indeed. And yes, I get tired of hearing, “Wait, you’ve been to [fill in the blank]?” (add an amused or disbelieving stare)

Yes, I have, and guess why I write. I write out of my experiences–not about them, but out of them. The beauty and magic and mystery and heartbreak of life forces me to write, to somehow explore it. Maybe make sense of it, or maybe just lose myself in wonder at the mysteries I won’t understand until, as 1 Corinthians says, we “know even as we ourselves are known.”

So from now on, you might find me posting about being a clown at a family fun night, or shoveling snow all night for 12 hours straight, or a kindergarten student asking me what a gallows is. (“If they just hanged Haman from there, then how did he die?”)

I hope you won’t mind. It’s all part of my writing—real or fictional. It’s part of me.

How does your real life inspire your writing life? Is there anything you see in your writing that is a product of a real life experience you’ve had? Please comment below—I love hearing from you!

In all of life, but especially your creative endeavors, remember it’s about the journey, not the destination.

“…to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson~

Submission!

Lyrics were spinning through my head on December 8, when I turned 20 years old. You can’t catch me and make me a man... No sir, we’ll stay young forever!

Four days later I finished the 4th draft of my second novel, Marty’s Kid, and printed it for the first time. Carried it back to my kindergarten classroom (did I tell you I’m teaching kindergarten at an innercity school?), and ‘bound’ it with turquoise duck tape.

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The next day I sent it off to the freelance editor I had met at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in May. Why the next day? Did I even read through it after I finished? No, I didn’t. I’m the kind of person who could go on editing forever, so I had to force myself to close my eyes and push send.

On the last day of January I got it back from the editor. Meredith Sloan–she did an amazing job! 10 hours of editing time and she trimmed, clarified, stregthened…cut most of my miserable metaphors (magic of omission!), and encouraged me on my way. I was very pleased with her services, and moved forward with another draft based on her suggestions.

Sunday night I finished putting together my proposal for the acquisitions editor of a small Christian publishing house. For nine months I’ve been planning to send my book to this publisher (who expressed interest at the writer’s conference and asked for my proposal). The moment finally comes, with the e-mail proofread and ready to go–and my heart starts pounding and my arms feel weak. I cover my face with my hands.

Four years ago, on an island in Southern China, the 12th floor of an apartment building, in front of a giant bubble window with a view of the ocean, I picked up my pencil and a simple brown cardboard notebook. Heart pounding, I began to write.

Now, as I hover over the send button–my first submission and the beginning of the next chapter in my writing journey–I have to take a breath. Raise my hands above my laptop, and pray a prayer of surrender. It was never mine–this inspiration, this talent, this book. It’s yours God, and what I have done with it, I give back to you. In the weeks and months and decisions to come, your will be done.

And then, with the tap of a button, I let it go.

 

Happy Birthday, Connor!

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My baby is growing up too fast! Yes, really. Yesterday was Connor’s 15th birthday, and one year since I sat down at my desk to write his story. I was frightened. I knew that once those first words were on the page I would never look back.

No one will ever read this. No one will ever…
I couldn’t lie to myself. I knew people would read it. It was a story I had to share–once it was there, on paper, it would go places I never dreamed.
Come on. Start writing!

I did. And one year later, I think of it as one of the most amazing days of my life. Marty’s Kid, this simple story of a hardened 14-year-old who encounters the love of Christ, has led me on a journey more wild and wonderful than anything I could have imagined.
And the journey’s not over. As I forge ahead through the 4th draft, I am filled with hope for this book’s future–a future that might be just around the corner.

Let me glace at my document. Created August 29, 2016 at 17:43.
275 pages.
82,626 words.
Approximately 33,000 minutes of editing time.
Which is 559 hours–over 23 days of my life.
All in one year’s time.

Don’t say I’m obsessed. Say my characters captivate me.

And pray that they captivate someone else someday.

 

You keep me going, people! Wish Connor a Happy Birthday, and come again sometime!

 

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Lately I find myself trapped between my two least-favorite parts of writing a book. Detailed research, and detailed editing.

Most of the time, this is what detailed research looks like…

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I know, a lot of Google Street View. I pour over garbage cans and cracks in the sidewalk as if they were keys to the treasure chest of inspiration and accuracy. Until my eyes are so tired the buildings on the screen start melting in front of me. Like a lost stalker with a severe case of jet lag. Wait, didn’t I pass that house an hour ago? 

As much as I love learning new things, especially things related to my characters, after a couple weeks I found myself scribbling the same thing in my writing journal almost every night. “I miss writing.”

So I got back to writing. But I soon discovered that writing, in this case, is detailed editing (and I don’t mean punctuation and grammar either.) Plot and scenes are staying generally the same (though I’m fine-tuning the setting), but almost every sentence needs to be completely rewritten, with more creative structure, better word choices, “show don’t tell”, and so on. It’s the cracks in the sidewalk again–the little tiny details no one would think of, but when combined make a world of difference. It goes very slowly for me. A page an hour, working hard. Wow. I’ve always been a fast writer and I guess now I’m paying for it.

Although my summer is starting to get extremely busy, leaving little time to write at all, when I do find a moment this is how it goes: Research, editing, research, staring at a screen as I whisper the words to the song that’s playing.

Who knows…?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true

But God is teaching me, through all of this, not only perseverance and patience, but hope. Hope that’s not grounded in how accurate my story is, or who says they’re interested, or how many people look forward to reading it. When I put my hope in those kinds of things I’m always going to be disappointed. There’s only One I will hope in, will hope for. One I will keep working for, no matter what the outcome. And whatever the outcome, if I hope in Him, I won’t be let down.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42:5)

I’m Still Here!

I made it! I had a tremendous, amazing time at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference and I’m here to tell you about it. Except I’m not sure what to say–I’m still processing everything that went on, all the wonderful people I met, and the next steps to take with my novel-in-progress, Marty’s Kid.

First, thank you so much for all your prayers. Although it dumped nearly three feet of snow in the three days we were there, thankfully my family decided to get a lodge instead of RV and tent camping. I’ve never seen so much snow! After the first day, I was hiking a half mile down to the conference center because the car was completely buried.

Notice the progression from no snow to blizzard to buried! (Behind the RV is our little blue Yaris–did you spot it?)

As for the conference itself… Here was the progression of my emotions. Day 1, after a class with a bestselling author who told us things like never use “he/she said” in your writing and never ever use a semicolon or parentheses–I felt confusion. Didn’t I just read a bestseller that broke those rules? Who’s to say what’s what when it comes to writing–the next professional I ask says something completely different about the same subject! How do I know who to listen to?

Day 2, after I met with my first agent for a critique of my work, and besides pointing out a bunch of flaws and inaccuracies in my first several pages (kids don’t say ‘bummer’, kids don’t ask a girl out), he told me in so many words that there was no market for my book–I felt…despair. Is that too strong of a word? After seeing your careful work of eight months come crashing down on your head? As much as I told myself I was being sensitive and childish, I still took it hard. Thankfully not in front of the agent. I hiked up to my cabin and had a pity party for myself.

Day 3. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to pitch my book to another agent, I didn’t even want to look at my book. (Even with that awesome kid on the front, I know.) So I gave it to God. I said, God, this book is yours anyway, I wrote it for you, and if you want me to pitch it (in the trash), I guess that’s fine. And I think I’m all done being a writer, but if you say keep writing, I will. It’s all about you, Jesus.

You know what? I watched God give that book back to me. During the next 8 hours. I met with an award-winning author–he encouraged me, gave me ideas for how to get my book to the market, and told me I had wisdom (I was thinking, I don’t know what I just said, but if it was wisdom it was God talking, not me). I met with an editor for another critique, and like a polar opposite of the first guy, she pretty much only had good things to say about my work. And then, because of an error only God could have arranged, I met with an acquisitions editor for a small publishing house, who seemed interested almost before I started talking, and twenty minutes later was telling me, “Get the book to where you want it and send me your proposal.” I couldn’t believe it! Besides that, there were so many wonderful people I met, and people who encouraged me, and little things God did for me–it was like he was saying, what are you despairing about? I’m still in control here.

And he is. As I sort out numerous things I learned, advice people gave me (which usually conflicted with someone else’s advice!), and the plan for where to take the book next, I keep going back to God. Begging him for wisdom. For the next step. And in regards to both me and Marty’s Kid, I think of one of my favorite poems, by Langston Hughes.

I been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
   Snow has friz me,
   Sun has baked me,

Looks like between ’em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’–
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!

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Preparation for the Supreme Ordeal

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For someone who hates plotting, I know a lot of plot terms. In Julian Woolford’s How Musicals Work, I learned about the 12 plot stages–Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, etc. Well, I don’t think plot stages with fancy names ever helped me write a novel. But one of them does provide me with a great way to describe how I’m feeling as I get ready to head to the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in 3 days. Preparation for the Supreme Ordeal. 

The Supreme Ordeal is the Hero’s biggest challenge so far. The Supreme Ordeal may threaten the Hero’s life and will result in some kind of transformation or rebirth. And before that, we have the Preparation for the Supreme Ordeal. Also known as the Approach to the Cave. (Scary, I know. I’ve never been so nervous about going camping up at Estes Park with my family.)

Thankfully, preparation is going well. I’ve got my business cards, pitch sheets, and synopses all printed and neatly stowed in my folder. I’ve got conference info, agent info, marked-up drafts, notebooks, and folder itself strewn in a delightful mess across my desk, along with letters, writer’s magazines, and The Writer’s Guide to Weapons (which I have been finding very helpful 🙂 ).  Okay, so I guess I’m not ready to jump up and go. But with God’s blessing, by Wednesday, I will be. And with God’s blessing the Supreme Ordeal will not threaten my life, or that of any of my characters.

Please be in prayer for me as I seek to go to my very first writer’s conference (!) with a humble heart, ears ready to listen, and a mind ready to learn new things. Your prayers mean a lot to me, guys! Some specific requests would be getting good sleep before the conference, nice weather for my family so they can swim while I sit in workshops ( 😀 ), and God’s will to be done as I present Marty’s Kid to the agents and editors I’ll meet with.

Thanks for listening! Have you ever been to a writer’s conference? If so, I’d love some advice, and if not, would you enjoy going to one? Meet me up in the Rockies, guys!

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(You can see the pitch sheet (sort of like a book flyer) that I will be using at the conference, here: Pitch Sheet2)

Sneak Peak Photos

Hey Everyone!

I have to give credit to God first–it seems he’s been putting all kinds of perfect pieces in place lately! I never would have dreamed that we’d get to do a photo shoot for Marty’s Kid last night, or that it would have turned out so perfectly.  Only a month ago I was sitting in a restaurant with my siblings saying, I’d really like to do a photo shoot before the conference, but the only person I know who’d fit the part is Matthew, and I haven’t seen him for years, I don’t even know what he’s doing lately. Guess what? A week later I’m at an Easter outreach, and Matthew shows up, I talk to him and he says yes he’d love to help me with a shoot. Another couple weeks, after planning and gathering props and discussing shots with my wonderful photographer Caleb (he did most of the work!)–here we are!

Wow. I’m so excited to share a few of the 600 photos we got last night, so here we go.

Connor Cavalier, Marty’s kid–IMG_9084-small

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Oh, and Connor can smile too…

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(Especially when people behind the camera keep cracking jokes.)

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Yes, we had a lot of fun! And I’m so thankful to everyone who helped out (it was definitely a team effort), but I really can’t stop thanking God because I know it was him who really put everything together, and that’s the exciting part.

So today me and my team are working hard going through photos, cropping and color correcting, and designing business cards and book flyers for me to use at the conference. For some reason having these photos, after almost eight months of working hard at this book, is so thrilling to me. I finally see things moving, shifting–my idea is growing into something bigger than just an idea. It’s the first time this has happened to me, and it’s amazing.

Thank you so much for all your comments and prayers and e-mail encouragements! I want to try to keep you updated more regularly, especially with things happening so fast. What do you think? Which picture is your favorite? Let me know what you think–Connor and I both love hearing from you!

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News…

This news comes a little late! But I was thrilled to have a short paragraph that I wrote published in the February issue of Writer’s Digest. The article, called “Put Your Workday To Work”, included comments from many different people about how their day job influences and inspires their writing. The pictures here are pretty poor, so here’s the text of what was published–

Every morning I serve as an assistant brain therapist for my 11-year-old brother. Pre-adoption trauma plus developmental delays plus attention deficit disorder plus reactive attachment disorder plus oppositional defiant disorder equals a difficult job, but one that gives me constant inspiration, especially as my stories often center around at-risk, challenged kids. What must it be like to be a traumatized child, blinded to logic by fear, a slave to your own contradictory emotions? That begs to be explored on paper.

And speaking of stories about traumatized children… I am excited to tell you that I finished the third draft of Marty’s Kid this week, and finally feel like I can move forward with seeking publication. Lord willing, I will be attending the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in May, pitch the book to agents and editors, and see if there is any interest. I’ve been working on my synopsis and first 12 pages to send in for two paid critiques. Of course there are the ups and downs of emotions as I wonder, Is this any good? Is my writing immature? Are my hopes for this book too high? I’m hoping God gives me the grace to accept whatever may come of it, and no matter what, to keep glorifying him with my writing and everything else I do!

Here is the short description of the book:

At 14 years old, Connor has already had years of experience working with gangs–his uncle Marty is a gang underboss. But on Christmas Eve, Connor finds a scrap of paper in his lap telling him that Jesus loves him, and through it he begins a difficult journey of searching for something he has never had, something he doesn’t even understand. He wants someone to look at him, listen to him, treat him like he exists–if he can’t get that he doesn’t want to live anymore. But he’s still a gangster’s kid. And an underworld enemy stalking not only his uncle, but him, is sucking him deeper into a darkness of fear and hatred.

My very talented sister Elisabeth agreed to craft a drawing of the main character, Connor!
In the works…

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And the finished drawing! (the best the scanner can do)

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Thanks everyone for reading and encouraging me! What do you think of Marty’s Kid? And how about that artist?! When I lament over my own stick figures, I have to remind myself that I draw my people with words.

Many Drafts Produce Patience…

My long disappearance was caused mainly by the fact that I have no updates to give you. In August I found that I had made it to the national level in the National Bible Bee, and a couple weeks later I began another novel, set in an entirely different place and time. I needed it, because I was becoming very frustrated with editing Paris of London, and feeling like I’d lost my vision for the book. At the same time, I was learning so many helpful things from Stephen James’ book Story Trumps Structure, and I was eager to put them to practice, but it was difficult trying to implement new writing/plot techniques with an already-finished manuscript. So I started a new book, Marty’s Kid, with hopes of experimenting with what I was learning. Paris waited patiently, as I memorized verses and wrote, and studied the Bible and wrote, and flew to Nationals and wrote. I finished the first draft of the new novel yesterday–45,000 words in 4 months, a little neater than last time.

I thought yesterday of James 1:2-4, rendered below in the HWV (Hannah’s Writer’s Version):

“My writers, count it all joy when you slog through many drafts, knowing this, that many drafts produce patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that your book may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
(Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

I guess that’s all I have for you for now! Feel free to comment, and encouragement is always welcome too! John Hall Wheelock said, “Most writers are in a state of gloom a good deal of the time; they need perpetual reassurance.” I wouldn’t say I’m a gloomy person, but I agree with him about needing reassurance! Like those days when I think, Hmm…I’m not so sure about this novel-writing thing…