Tag Archives: fiction

Why All It Takes Is 5 Minutes

It may come as a shock, but I’m easily distractible.

It’s not something I’m proud of. Especially knowing how much my work depends on writers showing up and keeping up despite the battering hurricane of demands and requests that fly in through every open window.

It can grow dark quickly underneath the pile of debris atop the little flame of a writer’s voice.

To be seen and heard is always a fight.

Yet maybe being seen and heard doesn’t have to be the goal. Maybe sharing what’s been given you that day in the 5 minutes you have to share it, the flame will shine a little more, and the light will reach out into the dark it’s intended to reach.

Burn, little guy. Burn.
Burn, little guy. Burn.

I know from painful experience how selfish and pointless it can seem to spend much time in a private place that brings you and only you such joy. Especially if so many people depend on you. The responsibility and duty of “real life” can sap the love and light right from you and leave you dark and cold.

But if God’s love for us burns white hot, wouldn’t he want us to forget all else but the true “real life?”

That’s the premise of the novel I’ve been writing over 10 years about a young man who sells his soul for a chance to change his past. It’s been growing in me and growing with me for ages, waiting as I figured out what to do with it and how to write it. It’s grown and shaped me unlike any book ever has, and it’s still not done. But I’m going ahead and opening up about my process now because I can’t wait to share some of the jaw-dropping lessons it’s taught me as I’ve strived to show up between school, raising 2 kids and full-time editing books for publishers.

Jaw-dropping, I tell you!
Jaw-dropping, I tell you!

Some days it’s felt so pointless. But 5 minutes a day adds up. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to write a book this way. And maybe it isn’t–no one said it was good–but for years now, I’ve gotten up and for 5 minutes (which sometimes turned to 10 and 15), I’ve forgotten everything else and reveled in my dream world. It’s changed me, and it’s continuing to as I pull the disparate pieces together and learn to slowly fight back against the crush of too-great demands and urgent life, giving it the best I have, which often isn’t enough, but it doesn’t matter.

God is in it.

Unlike anything else, my book has shown God’s love to me. And I know it’s true because it’s been simple even when it could have and should have been mind-numbingly complex. In the end, I’ve believed the premise, that he wants me to forget everything else but that knowledge of his love. And in 5 minutes a day, I’ve found writing a book can teach you plenty about that.

Every day, I’m hopeful for what it’ll reveal next. If you know what I mean, give me a witness….

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

What a Frog Knows

This morning, I headed down to the pond and caught a frog.

I'd never have seen her if she hadn't leaped from the wooden bridge. But when she landed amongst the rocks and ferns, I trapped her with the girls' butterfly net. She was big and made no sound, so I assumed her female, an orangey-brown wood frog with a white underbelly. I couldn't wait to tell the girls, so I wedged the stick with the net between the boards of the bridge so she couldn't escape and I hurried back up to the house. 

ImgresThe girls were just waking up and I told them I had a surprise for them. We ate quickly and headed down.

When we got there the net was empty. My captive had escaped. 

It had jumped like mad when I first caught her. I assumed once the initial fear passed, she'd calm down–aren't frogs content staying even in slowly warming water? Well, a net isn't water. And seeing water just below, she must have finally seen it and discovered where freedom was.

"Ah, I'm sorry, girls" I said. "That's disappointing."  

"It's okay," Ellie said. She's wanted to catch a big frog for months. Always my gracious Elianna. 

"Maybe it got through the boards," Charlotte said, showing me how the stick could fit between them. 

"I think you're right," I sighed. "We'll just have to wait and try again."

The past few days I taught at the Oregon Christian Writers conference coaching novelists in revision. I wanted to inspire them to write over the long term, so I tried to share how stilling and seeking the water is all we need to get free. But I always question whether I should have spent more time on practical tips and trends.

It's true: desperation usually makes a bad cologne and writers conferences can stink. But turned in the right direction by staff and speakers–masterfully done by Jim Rubart and Cec Murphey this year–the aroma's greatly improved.

I've met so many writers and as a rule, we tend to strain against the stories holding us captive. I talk a lot about how revision is letting our stories still us so we can reach the end and experience the transformation.

I imagine that frog catching a glint of morning light on the water below, and finally understanding she could simply squeeze through the boards to head down. 

Desperate for freedom, the water's call turned her in the right direction.

Life offers continual opportunities for revision.

"I kneel down to toss in the laundry. I set the dial to extra dirty. I stay on my knees and watch the water run into the washer, watch it splash against the circular glass of the washing machine’s front door, hear its gurgling fall. Down it flows. Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and spiritual water must flow like this…always seeking always the lowest places—and the washtub begins to rock. I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water, and I must kneel low in thanks.

 The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.”

-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

 

I've forgotten this insight many times. But today a frog has helped.

Writing well requires the revision to turn our desperation in the right direction and go lower. We all forget, so we need reminders to still and seek the water. 

We searched the pond but couldn't find her and we turned to pursue our daily business–me to my computer and the girls to enjoying the lazy last weeks of summer. But even up at the house, I'm down at the pond today, turning this lesson of the frog over in my mind, the freedom she figured out. When desperation for freedom turns to straining, stop. Seek the water and simply go down. 

To all my new writer friends, you whose books need this too, think of the frog and her freedom won in stilling. I pray you find your way down to the water…

Interview with author/editor Brandy Bruce

LooksLikeLove I've been excited for a while to have the chance to interview a friend of mine, Brandy Bruce. Her experience as an up-and-coming YA author is unique (of course) but her decision to self-publish after shopping her novel to publishers makes me extra eager to tell you about her journey. First, the bio.

Brandy Bruce holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Liberty University. She currently works as a developmental book editor for Focus on the Family. When she's not chasing after her two-year-old daughter, she spends much of her time reading, editing, working with authors, and trying to keep up with deadlines. She's the author of the newly released contemporary novel Looks Like Love. Brandy makes her home with her husband and daughter in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Me: Brandy, thanks for being brave and pioneering. I figure, despite my initial reservations with self-publishing (as a long-time publishing establishment guy), your decision is a great example for others who are debating this choice. Tell me about (1) your journey from writer to published.

BRB: I've been writing stories since the sixth grade. Reading and writing have always been my outlets for creative thought. I knew from about the time I was in high school that I really wanted to somehow work with books as my profession. I became a developmental book editor and I still love it. But writing has always remained part of that creative outlet for me.

My journey to publishing isn't exactly traditional. A few years ago I started working on a story about a girl starting over after a bad break-up. I showed my book proposal to an agent (Chip MacGregor–Google him.) who liked it and decided to sign me as one of his authors. Then came the hard part–selling it. We received some positive feedback and came close with a couple of houses, but in the end, we just didn't get a contract. That was disappointing, of course. I'd put so much work into my novel that I didn't want to give up. I started thinking about self-publishing. I talked this over with Chip, and he was really supportive. A turning point for me came when my husband reminded me that in today's world publishing is an attainable dream for anyone. I know that publishing is evolving. I know that anyone can have his or her book in an e-format in minutes. I decided to explore my options for doing it myself, and finally, I decided to self-publish with WestBow Press.

Me: So what kind of marketing are you doing?

BRB: When it comes to marketing self-published books, authors have to be even more pro-active. I talked to other authors who had self-published for creative marketing tips. I created bookmarks to send to friends and family when the book released. WestBow sent out a press release, but I also created a press release to send to bookstores and influencers. I had a friend create a book trailer for me and put it on YouTube. I promoted my book on my blog, twitter account, and facebook and recruited friends and family to also post the link to my book on Amazon.com. And I set up a blog book tour the month after my book released. I arranged some blog interviews and encouraged people to write reviews for my book on amazon.com. People don't realize how beneficial good reviews on Amazon.com are!

Me: So true. One idea I've seen an author use recently is offering signed "book plates" for those who write a review for you. Contests are another good idea–offer a chance at a gift bag for people who post a review. What are you hoping for from this publishing venture? What’s something surprising you’ve learned?

BRB: Before I ever self-published I really examined the why behind moving forward with it. For me, having a book of my own was something I'd wanted for a long time. I never felt the deep desire to be a famous author or the need to sell scores of books. I will say that now that my book is out, every time I receive good feedback, I'm just so thrilled to hear that someone read my story and loved it. That's enough for me. Publishing my book was a goal in my life that I wanted to fulfill. I'm proud of every book I edit and I find a lot of fulfillment in helping others create books that made a difference. I know people self-publish for lots of different reasons. But for myself, I just had a story that I loved and wanted to see in print. I've been lucky with how supportive people have been. I had authors I greatly respect come alongside me and offer endorsements. I had fellow editors help polish my novel before I sent it to press. And I've had my wonderful family and friends help get the word out about Looks Like Love. 

Me: So one last question: What played into your decision most? Did feedback from publishers play a role? Did your insider publishing knowledge convince you you could do it better than your average writer just starting out? If you could, help people differentiate the real pros and cons about this really complex decision.  

BRB: Publishers' feedback did play a role in my decision to self-publish this one. I was in touch with other editor friends so I knew when places like Bethany and Kregel and Cook took the book to pub board. I had editors give me positive feedback (Tyndale for example, I met with the editor who reviewed my proposal while we were at a conference). Chip sent me a response from another editor who said the book wouldn't work for them but she loved my voice and would like to see something else. If I'd been hearing mostly negative responses from editors I respect, I doubt I would have felt it was worth it to publish it. I assume Chip probably shielded me from negative feedback anyway, but I told him I wanted to hear what editors had to say about it. And like I said, most was pretty encouraging. And I took what I heard seriously. When an editor made recommendations, I definitely listened and made changes.

And of course, my being an editor helped me feel a little more confident as I moved forward. Also the fact that I'm a consistent reader. I read so much Christian fiction that I felt I knew my genre well. I'm comfortable checking proofs; I know what to look for. Writing back cover copy is something I do all the time. I knew that getting endorsements could really help me. Anyone can self-publish, of course. There are people there to guide you every step of the way. But my personal experience made me more comfortable throughout the process.  

Also, I'm not planning for this to be a series. I am hoping to shop the YA fantasy series once it's ready. I'd love for that to get picked up since it's meant to be a 4-book series.

Me: Is that what you're working on next? What's keeping you busy (besides marketing and publicity on this)?

BRB: Well, I've got a toddler running around, and I'm editing two books so that keeps me pretty busy. I haven't stopped writing though. My sister and I are working together on a fantasy YA series that I'm super excited about.

 

The Book: Looks Like Love by Brandy Bruce

The awesome book trailer.

The author.

Adventure of Writing

"It’s important to remember we’re all
explorers–as humans we are risk-takers, whizzing down a hill on a
bike. But we get settled in a pattern. There is so much more inside us."

–Benedict Allen, British explorer, “Disconnecting Is Key to Exploring,”
 Brigid Delaney, CNN.com

We age and something gets in the way of the adventure. Maybe an idol we seek. Something more important. 

Other opinions get in. How easily we forget. Finally, exploring becomes a waste of time. Unproductive. 

Very few have the courage and determination to
go back into the wild, like Allen, or Chris McCandless, the wandering adventurer
of Jon Krakauer’s bio. But there’s something ineluctable about it for
writers, this need to disconnect from the machinations of
influence-seeking. Like McCandless and Allen and countless others
before them (Cobain, anyone?).

We all seek to escape.

And yet, we also desire to be of influence,
to be connectors. The world esteems and rewards natural connectors, conveying power
and respect for their contagious personalities. Their messages compel
us because they’re explorers too, charging blindly into the wilderness
that exists between people, inviting us to come along. They have
something to share about this exploration of connecting.

I’ve known influential connectors
and the surprising truth is that most have tapped the
skill of disconnecting and reconnecting with the outside world. For
many writers, I believe this is a hidden key. Mastering this art
requires jumping into your particular adventure by investing your
personality, experiences, and abilities anonymously before reconnecting.

To connect, they’ve first disconnected
from the world. And to disconnect, they’ve connected with themselves and the
God-given tools for the adventure. The journey is universal, but the
results are always unique. No one is an automaton, but as free agents
in a glorious open experiment, we follow the prime exemplar, denying
ourselves, our selfish concerns, and seeking a better world where
“mattering” no longer matters.

We each have a life to live, but it will only be great if we live it.

We want to leave behind more than
landmarks. We hope to pass on an ability to see. From your own
dangerous adventure, you will teach people how to see their world,
others, themselves, and God, how to see the deeper reality, awakening
both the desire to search it out, and the sight with which to
understand. Flannery O’Connor said that a novelist uses the skills of a
prophet, being able to see the “near things with their extensions of
meaning,” and thus, to see “far things close up.”

As a writer, you carry that—you make the
connections between the visible “near things” and the reality they
represent. You’re the very definition of a connector. If that is in you, there’s no need to question it or ask why. Invest in that
desire. Show that however it may appear, there’s little
distance between things in this world. Strive to show that the
greatest chasms of contrast also create the most compelling complements.

It’s either an esoteric philosophy, or
an intriguing invitation, depending on the context you create in which to explore it. The extent to which you can sense that truth is directly
linked to how much you’ve disconnected from the outside world to
connect to your inner adventurer.

There’s a deep significance in how
you spend your waking moments. What are you pursuing in the quiet
times? It will feel foolish sitting behind a computer and hacking away
at the hidden form behind the screen. But disconnecting from the
distancing influences, you’ll sense this broader perspective and
discover deeper truths tied in webs of meaning you never before
imagined.

This is the adventure, the brave exploration of an immortal soul, disconnecting to embark on a humbling, overwhelming journey most will never even begin. But this is why you’re needed, to connect it up for them, even as you work and strive yourself to continue, straining to fathom the infinite mysteries.