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I’ve visited a couple of local cemeteries recently, because my siblings and I need to choose a memorial marker for our mother. Some people stay as far from graveyards as possible, but I find them restful, at least in broad daylight. The dates and names give wings to my imagination.

Just as the people buried in the churchyard are more than granite engravings, our fictional characters need to be more than life-size cardboard cutouts. The years that lie between birth and death dates are mysteries, untold stories of real people.

One stone marks the life of a wife/mother who died at the age of 22. Why? An accident or illness? What happened to the child? I feel the grief and lay my hand on the stone as I pass.

A large, flat engraving includes details of birthplace, emigration, moves, farm locations, spouse, children. Few are this informative, but it tells the story of an eventful life, well-lived. These details considered important enough to be carved in stone.

Several small graves lie in the shade of the poplars, babies that died at birth or in their early childhood. Stories of unexpected loss and grief.

Ideas come from everywhere, and a cemetery is a tremendous resource. It can also remind us of the fragility of life, the brevity of the time we have to make our mark between two dates.

If you’re looking for writing ideas, inspiration, or perhaps a quiet and meditative walk, visit a cemetery, and remember that:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” Psalm 116:15 NIV.

 

 

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JAN: Today, I have the pleasure of introducing a writer from Australia, Narelle Atkins, who I met (virtually) through International Christian Fiction Writers. Thank you, Narelle, for taking time to share about your writing life with me and my readers.

How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

NARELLE: I’ve always been an avid reader and dreamed about writing and publishing a book. Twenty years ago, I started writing romance fiction. After a long writing apprenticeship, my debut book was published by Harlequin Heartsong Presents in 2014 as part of a six-book contract.

JAN: I suppose that could be exciting and frightening at the same time, to be offered such a deal, but you’ve obviously followed through and done well. What is your preferred genre?

NARELLE: Contemporary Christian Romance.

JAN: Why do you write?

NARELLE: Because I can’t not write, lol. I have characters in my head who won’t go away or shut up until their stories are written!

JAN: An active imagination is a great motivator. How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

NARELLE: I can write a first draft anywhere. I wrote a large portion of Solo Tu, my latest release, using the Notes app on my phone. For the editing stage, I prefer to work at home where I can be left alone to focus on the story. I’m a plotter and I typically start my stories with a robust outline in place. The outline is fluid and I make minor adjustments as I write and learn more about the characters and the story.

JAN: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

NARELLE: Life inspires me. I feed my creativity by being out and about and meeting people.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

NARELLE: An author newsletter has become an essential way to connect with readers. I also enjoy blogging on my group blogs and connecting with readers there and in the Facebook reader groups.

JAN: What are your favorite / most effective social media?

NARELLE: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the social media platforms where I spend the most time.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

NARELLE: It’s not easy. I have work-a-holic tendencies, and I find it’s always a struggle to balance family, day job, and writing responsibilities.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

NARELLE: The faith element is an organic part of my stories. I like exploring the spiritual journey of my characters. This may be subtle or a bit more overt. I personally don’t like reading preachy Christian fiction books, but I do appreciate reading stories with a strong and compelling faith element.

JAN: Yes, it’s a fine line. What is your ultimate writing goal?

NARELLE: To keep learning and growing as a writer.

JAN: Good advice for any of us. What advice would you give a beginning writer?

NARELLE: Take the time to learn your craft and resist the temptation to publish too soon. Don’t give up. Enjoy the journey!

Narelle Atkins

A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, NARELLE ATKINS was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle’s contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia.

How to get in touch with Narelle:

 

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Many years ago, about 1994, in fact, I read Linda Hall’s first novel, The Josiah Files. I loved it, but although I’ve forgotten the story by now, I will never forget the strange and unlikely—so I thought then—technology of characters carrying small handheld devices on which they could communicate and read. I wished with all my heart that I could have a device that carried books and could be accessed anywhere, anytime.

Well, what do you know? Last night I was unable to sleep, so I grabbed my iPhone, and with a few clicks, accessed a novel I couldn’t wait to finish. How the world, even my little world, has changed over the past twenty-four years.

 

 

There are varied responses to these innovations in our world:

  1. Some people conceive the ideas that become new technology
  2. Some people embrace these changes
  3. Some people struggle to keep up with the latest tools/programs
  4. Some people choose to ignore the changes
  5. And some refuse to accept or be involved in using technology

I’m definitely not the first type, nor the second. Nor the fifth. You’ll catch me on #4 and then grudgingly moving up to #3 most of the time. Because I really don’t want to be left behind.

In my writing life, I’ve had to accept some changes. One publisher I worked for expected his authors to learn and use social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Scribble, Scrabble, Bing Bong, etc. (Please don’t look up those last three.) Whatever was available, we were expected to go with it. I did my best, eventually settling on Facebook and Twitter, with LinkedIn as a more silent partner. I have to say it was good for me. Stretching is a good thing, and although I have always disliked the phrase “getting out of my comfort zone,” it was a necessary and beneficial exercise.

A couple of years ago, I decided to embrace the independent publishing scenario. It took a lot of research, observation, questioning and faith, but I jumped in and still have my head above water. I think. Just this week, I heard more about a company I’d been interested in but didn’t understand: Ingram Spark. After emailing with friends, I decided to give it a whirl for the sake of one of my oft-neglected goals: book distribution. I now have an account and we’ll see where that leads.

There will always be technological obstacles in our lives, personal and professional, and it’s our choice how we respond. But maybe, just maybe, we will be able to benefit from some new technologies or programs. My personal line: “If technology is a car, I’m hanging onto the back bumper by my fingernails. I can’t let go, because I’ll never catch up again.”

Whatever the next obstacle, I’ll deal with it…or ask for help to understand. Because times will continue to change. I hope you will also keep on learning and experimenting.

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As you already know if you follow my blog, I had a different year in 2017. My mom lived with us for seven months before she passed, and after that I couldn’t seem to engage in my writing. I’ve kept up with my blogs, but my novel plans have languished. I needed to grieve and to heal.

Then two things happened:

  1. My husband and I read a devotional writing this morning (mid-March) that revolved around Ecclesiastes chapter three:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to mourn and a time to dance…” (verses 1 and 4b, NIV).

My mind went to seasons and times, and I realized that I had spent enough time in this season of mourning. Yes, it’s important to mourn, and I will never forget my dear mom, but I think it is time to move ahead.

  1. That same morning, I received a phone call from a dear friend. “My neighbor called me,” she said, “and told me she can’t find your third book in this latest series.”

    from pixabay.com

Hmm. That’s because it’s still in my head and on my heart. It has not yet fully migrated to paper and certainly hasn’t come near publication. I confessed this to my friend and she said, “I thought so. You had told me about your mom, and I told my neighbor. We understand.”

But her words were the kick-in-the-pants I needed to confirm the nudge from Ecclesiastes.

This missive is to inform you, my faithful blog-followers, that I have re-engaged in my novel activities. I have been writing, with paper and pen at the moment, a manuscript that will become the third book in my In Search of Freedom series. I plan to use a somewhat different format, so it’s a challenge, and that’s another reason I’ve been procrastinating. It’s scary to try something new.

If you are a praying person, I could use your prayers. I’ll let you know how it’s going, and please feel free to contact me and ask, or to offer another gentle kick-in-the-pants to keep me motivated.

Thanks for listening, and I wish you a day that matters.

 

 

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JAN: Today I am sharing an interview with Alison Lohans. Besides being an accomplished author of more than 26 books, Alison is a lovely person I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of times. Alison, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

ALISON: I’ve been making up stories since early childhood. The first time, I recall, was at age 5, telling myself stories to entertain myself while lying in bed. I remember my first case of writer’s block at age 6 when I didn’t know how to spell “squirrel” for a story I was writing at school, and was too shy to ask the teacher.

My mother definitely was a strong encouraging person as she had hopes of writing for children herself, and found ways to open my way throughout, including a trip to the library when I was 10 to check out a copy of Writer’s Market, suggesting that I try submitting my short stories to children’s magazines. She also encouraged me to attend a community college creative writing class with her (I was 14 at the time, and had already published two short stories).

JAN: Wow, what an amazing mom to encourage you in such practical ways. What’s your preferred genre?

ALISON: For decades I’ve written for young people—a variety of works ranging from picture books, early reader chapter books, middle-grade novels, and books for younger and older teens. The age/genre within the spectrum of work for young people hinges upon the nature of the question that triggers a story—and since we are all complex beings, with multi-layered interests, thoughts and concerns, my work gravitates toward a specific age niche accordingly.

One genre I’ve always found a lot of fun to write is the chapter book for early readers, with its concrete, often humorous, stance—but the market is very limited these days. The picture book is the most challenging to write, as a complete story, with all its ingredients, needs to be fit into a package of under a thousand words, executed in tight, beautiful language. The YA novel provides an ideal avenue for digging into deep, complex issues. Since the 1980s I’ve also been interested in writing romance novels and, at last, have a novel in that genre approaching completion.

Picturing Alyssa by Alison Lohans

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

ALISON: The “how” is kind of tricky to answer as I’ve slowed down considerably during the past few years, in part due to confusing changes in the marketplace. One publisher (of seven of my books) closed up shop; my agent was laid off because the agency was closed; and another publisher changed hands and orphaned all of their YA fantasy titles (that included two of my books, which had literally taken 30 years to develop, from riveting idea to published book). In many ways it’s like having to start all over again, with fewer open doors and very different submissions practices.

All of this said, I migrate between two laptops in different rooms (partly for postural reasons). These days I “get into it” most quickly during pre-arranged joint writing times—i.e., sitting down at the same table with other writer friends, our common objective being to work. I also enjoy writing retreats very much. While there’s a cost involved, I love the collegiality of being immersed in silent writing times, with others, away from home…and find these retreats enormously productive.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser. I “live” my books through my protagonists, both in the pre-writing stages and during the writing. I get stuck when I don’t know my characters well enough.

JAN: You’ve experienced a number of setbacks due mostly to marketplace changes, and I thank you for sharing them with us. It helps to know these things happen to others too. What do you like most / least about writing?

ALISON: Most: To “live” and puzzle out interesting life questions through my protagonist, and in the process, to hone my craft to create evocative, precise, efficient and beautiful language that invites the reader in with vivid, living images.

Least: It took a few decades to reach this point, but there’s that aspect of slamming oneself against the wall repeatedly, with works I utterly believe in that might receive one glowing rejection after another—OR—which fall in a black hole after they’re published. And the monetary aspect? It simply doesn’t do to think about that in terms of the massive amount of work and soul that go into a book—sometimes decades for various stages of the completion process. We need to have a really thick skin, and sometimes that gets incredibly disheartening.

JAN: Very true. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

ALISON: Facebook has always worked better for me than any other social medium. It’s great for getting word out about new releases, and sometimes has garnered a few sales in places where readers would have almost no access to my work. I use both my regular profile page, and my author page, to highlight my work. I have a website, but really am not sure how effective it is, other than for occasional queries from readers far away (primarily New Zealand) who are studying my New Zealand-published books for class assignments.   https://alisonlohans.wordpress.com/

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

ALISON: I used to write all the time, and gems from my personal time slipped into my creative time. These days my life is primarily personal time, with my writing always there on the side, to dip into. Having less intrinsic motivation than I once did, I find that social time with other writers always gives me a welcome “kick” back into my writing.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

ALISON: I’m reading Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy, which I happened upon thanks to a review in the paper. Its quirky premise and unpredictable humour quickly drew me in.

In terms of preferred reading mode, print always wins. I don’t read digital unless I have to.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things?

ALISON: My favourite non-writing activities include my love of music, which has always been a twin passion throughout my life. At the moment I play cello, cornet and recorder in quite a few local amateur groups, and also sing in choirs. These music activities plunge me into the midst of creating something beautiful with other great people who share the same love of music. That rewarding social realm nurtures me in ways that solitary writing cannot. On occasion, I’m able to work music into my fiction and I love the synergy when that happens.

Another favourite activity is international travel, which is an incredible privilege that’s opened up during the past 15+ years. I really love seeing other parts of the world, catching glimpses of how people live there, with their different mind-sets. More and more, travel has been nurturing my fiction. Some books and short stories couldn’t have even been conceived, if not for the travel. My nearly-completed novel, an experiment in the romance genre, is set on a tour of Egypt much like the one I took five years ago. And my first visit to Scotland yielded a riveting idea that still needs to find its right shape and approach.

JAN: Ooh, sounds intriguing. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

ALISON: Aspects of my faith sometimes work themselves into my YA novels, through characters’ inherent beliefs. Additionally, in my two orphaned YA novels being re-released this coming December as a single novel, Timefall, the spirituality of the primitive society a thousand years in our future reflects some of my deeply-held beliefs.

JAN: Do you have some advice for beginning writers?

ALISON: I used to have lots of handy advice for beginners, but with so many changes in the commercial marketplace, advice is harder to come by. However, five things still jump out:

(1) READ exhaustivelyin the genres that pique your interest! Read not only for enjoyment, but also to study how these writers have handled their craft.

(2) Give yourself permission to write that sloppy copy, rather than trying to get it right the first time around. By staying loose we are more open to additional nuances that might not have immediately occurred to us. Likewise, by expecting perfection the first time, we also cramp ourselves into a space where the story may not be able to breathe.

(3) REVISE! It’s through coming back again and again that we find the rhythms and images that work best together. Try reading your work aloud—the way words fall off the tongue can be a better editor than simply using our eyes.

(4) Write about things you truly feel passionate about. That energy will creep into your work and make it come alive in ways that can’t happen if you give yourself an assignment to write about something that you think would fit well in the marketplace.

(5) Keep the flame alive by finding  joy in what you’re doing—that sense of discovery that can happen not only when characters confront a dilemma, but also the self-discovery that can happen when you’re writing. It’s all about growth, and sometimes when working through characters’ challenges in this craft, we end up slightly changed as people, through having written a book.

JAN: Excellent thoughts, Alison. Thanks again for sharing with us today; you’ve informed and inspired me. I wish you joy as you travel, make and share music, and write.

For more information about Alison, check out her website, her Facebook page and the Amazon book list page. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn and Goodreads. Alison is also a member of CANSCAIP: The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.

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This book caught me off-guard. I was expecting a historical tale about a family that lived on the Mississippi River. What I discovered was the devastating story of Georgia Tann’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the baby/child trafficking that was so long hidden from the public.

The part about Georgia Tann and her baby business is true. The story itself is a riveting revelation of the terror and helplessness these children could have gone through as they were betrayed into Georgia Tann’s clutches.

The story of the family at the center of the book moves from freedom and happiness to fear, horror and separation. It’s a page-turner in a dark world, and to me, the realization that similar horrors happened to hundreds of children, made it even darker.

I followed up this audio book with an internet search of Georgia Tann and her infamous life, and was stunned by the facts. Some evils take a long time to be uncovered and stopped.

Kudos to Lisa Wingate for finding this story, digging up the facts, and passing them along to fiction readers. A chilling but fascinating read.

Lisa Wingate

 

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ARE WRITERS INTROVERTS?

Not necessarily. But, I would guess that a large percentage of writers are introverts. At conferences I’ve attended, the emcee will often comment about the buzz of talk among all the introverts, but that is, of course, because of our common interests, and the fact that we are respectful of one another’s reserved nature.

When I was young, I read a Peanuts® cartoon that stuck with me. Charlie Brown said to Linus, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” I concurred, not knowing anything about the basic differences between people who love to foster new relationships, and those reluctant to do so.

However, there have been times—I call them magic moments—when I’ve met another introvert and we’ve become instant and lasting friends.

MOVING PAST INTROVERSION

I attended my first Write! Canada conference in Guelph, Ontario at the invitation of the planners, to facilitate a fiction workshop. (I felt anything but qualified, but that’s another story.) One of the responsibilities that accompanied the gig was that I agreed to be available at mealtimes to speak with people. I wanted to crawl inside my shell, to put my back to the wall and observe. But I couldn’t. I had to step out of my area of familiarity and pretend I was comfortable speaking with strangers.

At one meal, two women approached me, one being the spokesperson, because the other was too shy to come forward on her own. Barbara (not her real name) and I sat down together and found instant camaraderie that amazed both of us, as well as Barbara’s friend, who shook her head in wonder. The two of us chatted away about writing and life and stories until lunchtime was over, and we hadn’t thought to eat. That’s also rare for me. Although I’ve lost touch with Barbara, our instant relationship will always remain in my memory as a true heart-connection.

REWARDS FOR STEPPING OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONE

Recently, we visited our daughter and family in Alberta. Since their son’s teacher knows I write, she asked if I’d come read to them and speak a bit about writing on Read Aloud Day. I was thrilled…until a few days before the event, when I had second thoughts. Silly fears jumped into my mind, questions like, why on earth did I agree to this? But I followed through and the event was lovely. The students were enthralled by the reading (excerpts from the beginning chapters of The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton), they participated in the discussion session, and they helped create a simple “Story Quilt.” The pièce de résistance was the gift of a story written just for me— Goldie Goes to the Vet—by Daniel, one of the grade three students.

As much as I love my quiet times alone, these magic moments are rare gems to store away in my memory, to remind me that I can do things that are uncomfortable, that introversion should not be allowed to control my life, and that opening up to people can be rewarding, no matter what my life work is.

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