Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross

by Mare Ball at ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK

Today is Good Friday.

As a kid, I thought this was a horrible name for the day Christ suffered and died.  As an adult, I came to the deeper understanding that it's a good day for me, as Christ's sacrifice set me free.  Free from my flawed, selfish heart that, left on its own, takes me on a path of arrogance and self-service.  A heart that would deceive me daily, seducing me to believe I am my own god.

So, today is a good day for the human race.  We can all be free, if we so choose.

The cross can be a sign of unspeakable torture.  It can also be a symbol of victory, because that crude structure of planked wood did not keep the Lord down.  It was not the final word.  The story ends with an empty tomb, wrappings left behind, Christ crushing sin and the grave.

For me, the Easter story is wrapped up in a warped little wooden cross that was carved by a friend of my daughter's.


It's designed to fit in the fingers of my hand.


It's a simple prayer tool that is lightweight and smooth.  I went to sleep holding it last night, praying about all kinds of things.  It reminds of Christ's sacrifice, His victory, His sovereignty, my freedom, my love for Him, His love for me, and every other blessing/worry in my life.

Sometimes I grip it harder than others.


It still fits. 

Scripture tells us that God holds us in the palm of His (mighty) hand.  I like thinking I'm holding my faith in all its confusion and wonder and gratitude in mine.

I love this little cross.  By itself, it looks like it's dancing, head to the side, arms flung wide.  This reminds me that someday we will dancing on streets of gold. 

My prayer for everyone this weekend is that Christ will reveal Himself to you in a new way, that your faith will be renewed, or ignited for the first time.  Easter is a day of rejoicing, because it reminds us the suffering is not the end of the story.

Do you have any tools that help you pray/grow closer to God?


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Talent Shows

-a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

The Voice (2011) Poster
Image from IMDB.com
One of my guilty pleasures is occasionally watching those singing talent shows—you know, American Idol, The Voice. There’s something appealing about this idea of being suddenly “discovered” and having the ultimate in exposure opportunities. I’m sure it’s appealing partially because, of course, that is many an author’s dream too. You work so hard, so hard, and then suddenly POW! you are discovered, mentored by the big wigs, and suddenly someone wants to publish you and sell your books in an international arena.

I’ve often thought it’s a crying shame that writing doesn’t exactly lend itself to reality talent shows. Imagine, for a moment, that you get on stage and . . . type for five hours. The audience is hushed, the tension fills the room. And then you read it out loud! Ooh, aah. Judges stand and applaud. The crowd goes wild. Um, no.

This week, my ward is hosting a talent show. We’re going to have the usual performances—singing, musical instruments, whatnot.* But we’ll also have displays of various other talents, like sewing and jewelry making and painting and . . . wait for it . . . writing! And the proverbial icing on the cake: refreshments provided by talented cooks in the ward (win!). So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and finally I can show off a talent! (Why do I feel this need to show off? I don’t particularly, but I still think it will be fun. Plus, occasionally, don’t we all like a little external validation?)

Then I started thinking about other talents that still don’t show up well, even in a talent show as nifty as this one is going to be. Take my hubby, for instance. He is an epic spreadsheet producer. Seriously, he crunches numbers like . . . like . . . PacMan?****** I don’t know, like something that crunches really well. And he turns them into pretty spreadsheets. Ah, it makes my heart flutter with adoration. He is also amazing when it comes to children. We can go to a park or to church, and kids just come to him. Because he is fun and playful and makes them feel loved and important and just plain good. That, my friends, is a talent.

I have not, however, suggested that he stand up on stage and play with children, because that would just be . . . weird.

So it turns out there are still plenty of amazing talents in the world that are simply never going to make it into a show. I feel like this is probably good to remember when we get lessons in Relief Society about magnifying our talents. It’s not just piano lessons and sewing machines, ladies. If you have the visual creativity of a 2x4, you’ve still got talents.

In the end, I suppose (even though I’m still waiting for that awesome writer reality show), what matters more than being able to show off your talents is putting them to good use.

* I wish I had gotten good at contact juggling—because, come on, who doesn’t want to see contact juggling at a ward talent show? But that would have required more practice than I ever put in (and yes, I actually did practice for a while). So, alas, I have no skill at it.**
** If you don’t know what contact juggling is, think David Bowie in Labyrinth. (Although I’ve just learned it wasn’t really David Bowie doing it; it was this other cool dude. Sigh. Childhood illusions shattered. However, now made up for by having totally geeked out watching said other cool dude on youtube.)***
*** If you haven’t seen Labyrinth, shame on you.****
**** Just kidding.*****
***** Mostly.
****** When I informed the hubby that I was comparing him to PacMan, he said: 1. “Because I am constantly eating cereal?” 2. “Because I am round and pasty?” 3. “Because I have a love/hate relationship with the undead?” Boy, he is a terrible guesser.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Remember?

by Budi Satria Kwan


By: Kristi Hartman

I have a folder in my Pinterest account called 'Great Inspiration' in which I pin any motivating quotes, pictures, or sayings. It is starting to get quite lengthy.  The other day I ran across this picture above as I was scanning through my Pins, doing a purge of things that I don't need anymore.  (Isn't it weird that now not only do I have to go through my home and purge my closets of all the un-used things and craft projects that never quite panned out, I now feel the need to do it with my Pinterest pages?)
  
Not only did this picture stand out to me because it is beautiful, but because the words ring so true to my life.  

All my life I have struggled with my self-confidence, feeling like my traits were never quite as good as the next person.  Never feeling like I had enough confidence to just be me, I often felt myself questioning the very core of who I was.  My confidence blowing whichever way the wind did- some days feeling happy with who I was, then other days I just wanted to hug my elbows, hunch over and become a totally different person.  I would think things to myself like: 
"Why can't I be more outgoing?"
"Why can't I laugh easily like this person?"
Then in my efforts to better the things I felt like I was missing in myself, I would then try hard to be what I liked in other people.  Inevitably, it would lead to more second-guessing, because it didn't feel authentic.
"Should I have laughed at that person's comment?"
"Did I say the wrong thing when I was trying to be outgoing?"

As you can guess, living my life this way was exhausting.  And draining.  And often times depressing.  I longed for the days of my little childhood when I would hide in the giant built-in cubby in my room (yea, I was a little quirky) and dream of all the things I would do someday.  It all felt possible because I felt good about myself.  I was who I was, and it was okay.  I wasn't until I got a little older that the second-guessing and self-confidence struggles settled in.

Why couldn't I just be happy with who I was?  Why did I try to be everything I felt the world liked? 
I watch my children now and am so pleased with the way they have turned out in their little lives, and am so happy they are unique and have their own personalities.  It would break my heart to find out one of my kids didn't like themselves and the traits that made them who they are, and was constantly wishing for something different.  
How is that any different than what my Heavenly Father feels when I question myself and wish I were different? He loves us for who we are, quirks, silly traits, bad habits and all.  He made each of us unique and special for a reason:  we are all given gifts and talents that are meant to be shared so we can bless the lives around us.  

If I am always trying to change who I am, I am not able to do what I am supposed to do.

Although I still struggle with this in my adulthood occasionally, time and experience have been kind in showing me that I am a good person, and I am not meant to be a copy of someone else. 



Do you struggle with being who you truly are?   How do you strive to be more authentic?





Monday, April 14, 2014

Because of Him (#BecauseofHim)- It’s Not Just a Video.


Click on the photo to see an amazing Easter video.

As you may know, one of my church callings is with the Public Affairs for our stake (a geographic area that includes several towns and several congregations of our church) as a Media Relations Director. As part of that, I have been working on utilizing social media to share the gospel and connect church members with those of other faiths in our community, and I am so excited to see how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, Mormon Church) is using social media (and the internet in general) to share the gospel.

Recently I received an e-mail about an initiative the church would be starting the week before Easter, called “Because of Him.” Yesterday I had a chance to view the video that was the starting point for the initiative, and I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome this video and this initiative is. Please take a moment to watch it (and read more about the initiative) here: "Church Launches Easter Initiative Focused on Jesus Christ”.

The goal is to spread the message that because Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died, and was resurrected, our lives have hope and meaning. This initiative invites us- and Christians everywhere- to use the hash tag #BecauseofHim to share our testimonies of what is possible and beautiful in our lives because of our Savior’s atonement this week before Easter.


There is just something about the idea of social media being flooded with testimonies of Christ all week that makes my heart feel too big for my body. So I felt inclined to share this movement with you, awesome MMWs, because as writers, we have been blessed with the unique ability to express our thoughts and feelings in words in ways that others may not. And to me, that means that I have the special responsibility to share my most precious possession- my testimony- with others. Social media is an amazing tool we have that allows us to do that.

So let me begin here.

Because of Him...

...my life has meaning, direction, and focus.
...my life has daily joy and bright hope for the future.
...I know that this life is not the end and that those I love who have passed on will be with me again someday.
...I feel love and peace when I need it most.
...I have confidence in who I am as a daughter of God and I know that even though I make mistakes I can still go Home again.

These are just a few things I wanted to share that are because of Him. I encourage you to share yours, in the comments here and on your own social media page with the hash tag #BecauseofHim.

What is possible in your life because of Him?



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dragons

Hi there!  My name is Leann. Officially, I am known as Jewel Leann Williams. That's the name that will be shouted from the rooftops when I am a well-known and well-compensated author.

But first, I have to conquer various dragons.  Dragon #1 is a small, obnoxious dragon known as strep throat. It's taken up residence in the cave of my three-year-old's throat, currently lording it over his tonsils and giving him fiery 104 degree fevers. I am informed that he has spawned and has spread to the one-year-old little princess. (This also serves as my excuse for not writing my brand new blog until 11:30 on Saturday night. Sorry Boss.)

Dragon #2 is more internal. Bigger. Meaner. Think Smaug, where #1 was more "How to Train Your Dragon" training dragons. It's the one we all (maybe?) deal with. I run around so much being everything BUT a writer, that even though I clearly write, I don't give it the priority it deserves. My "excuse" is that I am such a busy mom. Trust me, I am a very busy mom. I have six kids, including the aforementioned preschooler and infant/beautiful destructive tornado.  Today I have spent about four hours in an emergency room, and two hours driving my leg of the tri-stake-youth-dance-carpool.  I crammed in helping my sweet husband make three Pinewood Derby cars, attend said Pinewood Derby, and.....watch three hours of Stargate SG1 with my family.  That last one, totally coulda been spent on THE MYSTIC MARBLE.  Or BRIGHTHOPE. Or HUNTER. Or my poetry. Or this blog. Or the Relief Society lesson I just realized I may be supposed to be teaching tomorrow. Oh boy.

In the ANWA Annual Conference just over a month ago, Deirdra Eden said in a class she taught, that we all have the same amount of time, so we can't really "make" time to write. What we can do, is PROTECT our time that we are given, for those things we find important. This is my goal. I work on it every day. I have some things  I need to do to get my writing going for real again--mostly cleaning and organizing oriented, so it may be years and years before I decide to protect time for THAT sort of drudgery. Okay, not really--I actually AM doing it.

Dragon #3..... it's the worst one. It's the self-doubt, the jerkface demon in my head that tells me I'm not as good as (Insert author here), what was I thinking even putting pen to paper, I'm not smart enough, I don't have anything worthwhile to say, etc etc etc. It's the dragon that changes its face into all the other little issues, roadblocks, time suckers, etc., that keep me from doing what I have to do, in order to be able to get the words that are IN my head and heart, onto the page.

So.... anybody gotta sword?

(PS, I'll write up a proper introduction when I have some time to find decent photos, etc.)
(PPS I promise my contribution to the blog will be better than this, and will come on Saturday, not "practically Sunday" in the future.)

Leann

Friday, April 11, 2014

Believe in Yourself

As my children get older they like to hear stories about themselves when they were little. These stories get told so often that they become like family legends. I'm going to tell you one of my son's favorite stories about himself. When he was about 5 years old, we were all going to Wal-Mart and my husband and I gave each child a couple of quarters to use in the bubble gum ball machines. When we arrived at the store, the girls ran right to the machines, but not my son. He walks past all the bubble gum machines and stood in front of the claw machine stocked up with colorful, new stuffed animals.

"I want to play this." He says and gets his quarters out of his pocket with his chubby little fingers.
"No you don't" was my reply. "These games are too hard to win."
I tried to explain to him. I had lost enough money in these machines in my lifetime to know that it would probably end in him crying and wanting more quarters.
"Please?? I really want to play." He pleaded.
"But you probably won't win anything and I'm not giving you any more quarters. You would be better off if you bought something in the gum ball machines, look how happy your sisters are."
I pointed over at his sisters who were looking at their new prizes with big smiles on their faces.
"I don't care if I don't win, I just want to play." He looked up at me with his big gold colored eyes and I caved.
"Fine, but don't cry to me when you lose." I stepped away from the machine and watched as he eagerly inserted his coins.
He knew exactly how to work the claw and instinctively moved it to a stuffed animal lying on top of the pile. I watched with shock as he pulled the animal up, hovering precariously in the metal claw and held my breath as he moved it towards the hole that would send the new toy to my eager son's hands.
"Yes!" He shouted as he pulled the new stuffed animal out of the machine.
I stood in awe as he showed me his new toy.
"How did you do that?" I asked without thinking.
He looked up at me with his big chubby cheeks and happiness in his eyes.
"I just believed in myself." Was his profound answer.

Those words have stayed with me over the years. At first those words produced guilt. Of course he had to believe in himself because I certainly hadn't believed in him! What kind of a mom doesn't believe in their child? But recently those words have become something more. They have become an inspiration to me. The truth is that he didn't need me to believe in him. My belief in him  wouldn't have won him that prize. It wouldn't have mattered if I was the best cheerleader in the world, he wouldn't have won anything if he didn't think he could do it. And if I had actually discouraged him in his endeavor, he wouldn't have believed in himself enough to win either.

We can apply this to our lives as writers. How many times have you told people about your dreams to become a published author only to have them discourage you from your endeavor? Or to see the doubt in their eyes? In their defense, they aren't doing it to be mean, they honestly don't want you to be hurt. Maybe they have had their dreams crushed in the past and they know how it feels. Or maybe they are just over protective of you. Whatever their motivation, it doesn't matter. Neither does what they think. What matters is if you believe in yourself enough to get past their disapproval. In fact, their disapproval will cause you to search your heart and your resolve. You have to ask yourself questions like, "What if I fail? Do I care? Do I want to try anyway, no matter the consequence?" If you still find that you want to follow your dreams then you believe in yourself enough to make them happen. Having realized this about yourself, then you need to thank the person that doubted you, because they just helped you to be stronger and strengthen your resolve. Because it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks you can or cannot do. It never has. What matters is what you think you can do.

Do you believe in yourself?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dilemma and Discussion Question

by Katy White

I'm in the querying process, and I recently had an agent request a full manuscript of my YA contemporary romance.  Only a week later, I had an R&R (revise and resubmit) request from her.  She told me she loved the book, loved the idea, and thought it would be an easy sell to editors, with just one caveat:  either age it up or age it down.  Make it more mature or more juvenile.

Go raunchy or go middle grade.

I'm embarrassed to admit how much this bothered me.  It wasn't just that I was offended by how young adult literature has become progressively more age-inappropriate.  It was that I instantly thought of a dozen ways to "age it up."  To make it more mature.  Raunchier.  

The thought didn't last for more than a split second.  But in that split second, I could feel the pull of "doing whatever it takes" to get published.  I could feel how easy it would be to make the changes that I'm sure would have thrilled the agent.  I could feel myself losing my grasp on why I love young adult fiction and why I want to write YA and only YA.   And I didn't like it.

Fortunately, two split seconds later, I shook it off.  I reminded myself of the reason I write YA (irrespective of the fact that I'm not a huge middle grade fan).  I write YA because I love it and think it demands more authenticity than you find in other age groups.  More importantly, I write it because I have nieces and young women in my ward who love reading and who are finding less and less new releases that support their standards.  My concern isn't even cuss words or mature themes, because I feel those have a place in literature and an author can tell a valuable, important story by using such things responsibly.  My concern is that more and more books are making standards seem embarrassing and making values look like bigotry.  

I can't stand for that.

I don't know how long it will take me to get published (if ever).  But I know I won't stop trying.  I know I can't sell out.

So...here's my "discussion question" for all of you: where would you/do you draw the line when it comes to making your book a better sell?  When is it appropriate to make something more mature, and how would you do that, if you felt like it was important?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

So You're Going to a Writing Conference...

It's conference season. Some of you might have gone to LTUE or ANWA, or you might be heading out to some of the conferences this summer. Some of you may be gearing up for Storymakers. Some of you might even be going for the very first time.

And if you're going for the very first time, you might be wondering what to expect. 

Never fear. I have been to one whole conference and am here to help you. 


Yes. One whole conference. My wisdom is astounding. Nevertheless, these are the things I learned while preparing for and attending my first-ever writing conference. You can benefit from my experiences. Somebody might as well...

First, I learned writers have a different dress code than most people. When I first asked what I should wear, people unanimously responded "Business Casual." I worked in banking for eight years, and I learned that "business casual" meant you didn't need to wear a button-up and a jacket. One or the other was fine: either a jacket over a cami, or a button-up with no jacket. And your shoes could be open-toe. That's how I defined business casual.

Silly me.

When writers say "business casual" though, they mean jeans, little-nicer-than-a-tee-shirt shirts, maybe a cardigan. A cotton dress, maybe? Someone responded by saying she was going to bring her "dressy clogs" and I don't know what that means, but by golly it's a lot better than what I had been planning to wear on my feet.

So when you're packing for a conference, make sure you'll be comfortable, respectable, and look like you want to be taken seriously. Well-fitted jeans, a nice (not dressy) top, slacks, polo shirts. That kind of stuff.

Second, I learned you walk a lot at conferences. You stand in lines and you walk to and from classes and you peruse the bookstore and you wait for people and oh my gosh are your feet going to be sore. I opted for my cowgirl boots, and it was the best decision I ever made. Not as casual as my cross-trainers, but just as comfy. Converse sneakers are popular, as are the aforementioned dressy clogs (I learned what they are through my powers of observation).

Bottom line on shoes: Be comfortable while still maintaining an air of professionalism, while knowing that "professionals" in this field sit at home in yoga pants for most of their career. I have strong opinions about this, but I don't want to be torn apart in comments, so I will leave it at that.

Third, I learned I had no idea what my book was about. People will ask you what you're writing. If you take more than eleven seconds to answer that question or use the phrase "and then there's this...", they will stop listening to you. Create a pithy logline (even if it's a gross oversimplification) to use in quick conversations with people in the halls or while classes are gathering. Examples:

It's a dark adaptation of Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. 
It's a time travel story of a modern black woman who keeps being yanked back to the ante bellum South. 
It's about a wizard boarding school in modern-day England. 

Once you have your cute logline, come up with a quick, thirty-second description for the people who genuinely look interested. Include your genre, category, and a comp title or two, or what sets it apart from "all the other books just like it". And don't kid yourself, at least one person will suggest that there are a thousand books just like yours, no matter how creative your idea is.

After you've given your quick spiels, ask the other person about their book. I promise you, at least once, you'll think "Holy crap, that's the best book idea ever, why didn't I think of that???" and you'll be genuinely happy for the person you're talking to when that happens.

Fourth, I learned people at conferences really, genuinely want to help you. It's weird. But we all seem to really want to help our competition. Experienced writers will sit and brainstorm with you, people who are on the path to publication will share ideas and hacks and point you in the direction of the best instructors. The classes are full - FULL - of so much information your head will want to burst from all the awesome. Agents and editors will sit on panels, answering questions and giving a peek into their process, and they are doing it just because they want to see you succeed.

That's incredible.

That's wonderful.

And that's what makes this community of writers so freaking awesome.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Conference and Poetry

By Lacey Gunter

April is a wonderful month. The start of Spring and the celebration of Easter and the resurrection are a few of the reasons. But for Mormon mommy writers there are at least two other reasons to look forward to April.

April is always General Conference month for Mormons. This is a time we gather together to listen to apostles and prophets teach us the things God wants us to know in our day and age. It is inspiring, uplifting and uniting. I always end the weekend with a desire to become a better person and having gained a better understanding of how to do that.  What is more exciting, is knowing that millions of people all around the world are doing the same thing. What a powerful force for good we can become; and it all starts today!

April is also National Poetry Month. In our household, rhyming is practically a pastime. My kids think nearly anything can be made more fun by putting it to verse. So what better way to celebrate, than to combine these two April favorites. So, here is my Conference weekend  limerick.

 There once was a girl from West Valley
Who wanted her family to rally
Where virtues are taught
And spirits are wrought
For their part in the grand finale.


Have a great weekend and a most lovely April!

Friday, April 4, 2014

April's A-Z Challenge

Are you familiar with the A-Z Blogging Challenge?  It occurs every April.  Bloggers work their way through the alphabet, one letter at a time, Sundays off.  On April 1, they write a short post on something starting with A.  On April 2, it's the letter B, and so on.


This is my third year in the challenge, and I recommend it because it hones writing skills like nothing else.  It builds creativity and discipline.  It's an awesome way to connect with other like-minded bloggers.  If you want to exercise your brain, meet fellow believers, and expand your network, sign up next year (the blog list is closed for this year, as April has started.)

Just over 2,000 bloggers signed up this year.  Not only do you write a letter post a day, you visit other blogs on the link list.  They are coded as writing blogs, crafting blogs, personal blogs, lifestyle blogs, book blogs, etc., so you can view only ones that interest you.  It's a phenomenal way to reach out and meet other writers. 

Today is Day 3 of the A-Z Challenge, so the letter C is the star.  Here's my 'C' post, if you'd like to get a sample of a Challenge post:  C IS FOR CHRISTMAS.  Once there, you can scroll down my blog for B (Brownies) and A (Adventures) posts.    

It's beneficial to write posts ahead of time - I write them all year long and save them as drafts, so come April, I'm all set.  I can then spend my time blog hopping and meeting new blog buddies.  I have found editors and writers' groups this way. 

The Challenge is overseen by several managers.  Links that are dead, or bloggers who are not following the rules are eliminated.  The A-Z site is up all year round for questions and support.  Arlee Bird is the brain child of the A-Z Challenge.  You can meet him and the other managers here:  A-Z BLOGGING CHALLENGE Site.

If your writing needs a little kick in the pants, think about linking up with the A-Z Challenge next spring.  Start writing posts NOW!  (In fact, NOW is a good N word.)

Tomorrow, the letter D - Downton Abbey.  If you're an Abbey fan, stop by ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK.

I'll see ya' in two weeks, when I'm writing about the letter R.  (Religion, Ruffles, Rolaids?  Hmm...)




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