Sunday, June 17, 2012

Re-engaging, Reinforcement, & Words that Change Us

I was thinking of skipping my post this week. I came up with several reasons: this is the first Father’s Day since my dad passed away, so the day feels especially heavy. I’ve spent the day cooking and baking a special dinner and dessert for my husband. I had a tiring week, adding cat sitting responsibilities that had me up extra early and out extra late. I could go on and on. It’s easy to make excuses. But then I thought of a line from the book I’m reading right now. In the YA book, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, the main character, Felton, doesn’t have many friends, considers himself an outcast and tends to isolate himself. His mother is constantly prodding him: “Felton needs to re-engage.”

Did I know I was making excuses this morning? Yes. Would I have sat down sooner to write this post if someone had told me to? Yes, again. It’s funny how reading (or hearing) something can reinforce what we already know. So with Felton’s fictional mother’s voice in my head, I’ve decided to re-engage. And write my blog post.

I think we all need reinforcement sometimes. When I send a story off to my critique partner and she comes back with advice, I’ll say to myself, I knew that line was unnecessary or  I knew that statement was didactic. But sometimes we need to hear it from someone else before we act. Reinforcement is good.

I'm re-reading a wonderful booklet by Jim Wilson called How to be Free From Bitterness. Years ago, this book changed my life. It made me a better person. The words shared are powerful. I knew at the time that I would need to read them again and again. And I wanted to share them with others. I ordered booklets for friends and family. This was probably twenty years ago. I've read it many times since. 

I had my copy out the other day when my sister stopped over. “Oh, you’re reading your bitterness book,” she said. Then she told me she still has hers as well. I wasn't surprised. Here is the blurb from Amazon:

Bitterness often grows out of a small offense: perhaps a passing word, an accidental shove, or a pair of dirty socks left in the middle of the living room floor. Yet when bitterness takes root in our hearts, its effects are anything but small.
In this collection of short articles, Jim Wilson and others discuss what it means to live as "imitators of God." As the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians, we have been called to leave the bitterness and anger of the world and instead embrace the love and compassion of our God. The authors remind us that we are to forgive others just as we have been forgiven, pointing to Scriptural admonitions and examples as they offer sound teaching on the trials and temptations of everyday life.

 It’s available here as a free PDF or here as a Kindle download for 1.99.  With sections like Forgiving Others, Taking Offense, Bridling the Tongue, and Saturation Love (to name a few) it could be the best 23 pages you ever read.

Have you ever read a book that helped you become a better person?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Great Books

Are you ever amazed at how many great books there are out there? I read two wonderful books this week. The first was Mirka Breen'sThe Voice of Thunder. I was lucky enough to get a free Kindle copy during the publisher’s special promotion so I didn’t have to wait for the September 4th release date.

I don’t read enough middle grade fiction. That's how reading this book made me feel. I read it in one sitting last weekend because once I got started, I couldn’t put it down. Mirka has taken these big issues: war, prejudice, intolerance, and filters them through the eyes of two ten- year-old  Jewish girls living in Israel in 1967. Mira and Gili are richly drawn characters: neighbors in the same apartment complex and best friends. They have crushes, secrets, dreams, and they are both amused and frightened by their eccentric old neighbor. They could be any one of our younger selves. But at a time when they’re discovering their own voices in the world and through their own diary entries, they also discover a frightening new voice broadcast over the radio.The Voice of Thunder from Cairo threatens the annihilation of all Israeli Jews. As uncles, fathers, and friends go off to fight, Mira and Gili are left to make sense of how their world is changing and what it means for their families and themselves. This is a beautifully written, compelling story you won't want to miss.

The second  book I read and loved was I’ll Be There, a YA novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I originally added this to my TBR list because of the cover. I discovered it while reading about illustrator, Neil Swabb's process here. The cover turned out to be just one of many things I will remember about this book. Among them strong, memorable characters revealed through multiple third person narrative, a gripping emotional journey, and a sweet, sweet romance (the very best kind, in my opinion.)

One of the reasons I've experienced so many wonderful books lately is because of the reviews and recommendations on your blogs. So thank you! Do you have a book you're dying to give a shout out today? I'd love to add it to my list.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Sometimes distance is good. When I've spent all day cooking and my husband stops off on the way home for fast food, a little distance is more beneficial than argument. But when, as writers, we allow distance between our characters and our reader, that’s not good.

Last week during my blog travels, I found this wonderful post by Cynthia Chapman Willis about filter words. Filter words are words that filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view. They tell instead of letting the reader experience. The timing of finding that post was perfect. You see, one of the critiques that I received on my current WIP pointed out an embarrassing number of uses of the word “feel.” The thing about filter words is that I know about them, or some of them, anyway. See, hear, and look tend to jump out at me. After reading Cynthia’s post I discovered that there are many more. And they've found their way into my writing.

I made a list of these culprits on a Post-It note and stuck it to the side of my computer monitor. Then I went through my manuscript, and using the find and highlight features in MS Word,  I used different colors to mark every use of the words see, hear, feel, think, realize, watch, look, seem, know, and sound. (I just discovered that touch, wonder, can, decide, notice, and experience are part of the group as well. I guess I know what I’ll be doing this week.) 

When I was done, my manuscript looked more like a child's board game than a YA story. Of course, not every use of these words is taboo; at times a little distance is needed, and sometimes the particular word choice may be right for the voice of the story. As I go through and rework things, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my story is being made stronger, I’m tightening the gap between my characters and future readers. My pages are starting to look less like an art lesson and more like interesting reading. And hopefully, my heightened awareness for filter words will make me a better writer.

Is there one (or more) of these words that you struggle to weed from your own writing?