Thursday, June 26, 2008

published: Living the Past

"Living the Past," the first of three articles I'm writing on the role of Christians in the arts, has been published on

I'd love to hear from you on this subject!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

time to relax

Today things are rapidly coming together. In the course of this work day, Seasons should see its final tweaking finished. A ministry newsletter I've been collecting material for should be written, edited, and laid out. My Web site should be ready to launch. And my summer road trip should be fully planned.

Most days are a tangle of work, putting in hours on this project and that one, emailing people, writing hundreds and thousands of words. Every now and then the work culminates. Those moments are beautiful and rewarding.

In this case, I've been working my head off because my cousin, co-author, and co-dance tour coordinator, Carolyn Currey, arrives at the train station tomorrow at noon. We do of course have a lot of work to do once she gets here, but we also have a lot of relaxing to do. Just relaxing. Just being.

Solomon said "There is a time for every purpose under heaven," and he was right. There is a time for work and a time to lay work down--to live Sabbath. The balance is so important. Just as all work and no play sucks the luster out of Jack's life, so all play and no work makes him useless, weak, and unfulfilled.

I'm glad and grateful for the balance in my life--work that won't be ignored, projects worth being passionate about, and rest worth taking wholeheartedly.


Monday, June 23, 2008


Last week's to-do lists had several major projects marked for finishing. For finishing, that is, that week. With a performing arts tour coming up in July and various Soli Deo Gloria Ballet matters to focus on, I really wanted to get the biggest writing, editing, publishing, and formatting projects wrapped up and safely tucked away where I no longer need to think about them.

Well. Life is not generally so tidy.

I didn't actually finish any of the major projects I had listed. But that doesn't mean my lists failed! On the contrary, I got so much work done on all of these things that they are now all teetering on the brink of finished. I didn't meet my self-imposed deadlines, but I'm very, very close.

In a funny way this reminds me of the Peculiar post I wrote about the virtuous woman last week. My good friend Alexis read it, and we discussed it a bit one day. We've both heard Christian women who openly resented the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31, sometimes even mocking her. That, I think, is sad. It's true that this woman's industry and faithfulness make most of us look bad--they certainly convict me. But if we didn't have ideals--crazy, far-off goals to shoot for--we'd never get anywhere.

If nothing else, at least we will have lived in the light that ideals give. If we shoot for the moon, we may never reach it--but at least we shot for the moon! How much better than to live always in darkness, hiding away from the light?

Ideals are worth holding, and trying to reach, and writing about.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making To-Do Lists

I'm not sure how I ever functioned without to-do lists.

On days when I don't make them, I get very little done. On days when I DO, life--and especially writing--moves forward at a healthy pace.

Today's to-do list includes answering email, editing articles for clients, formatting Seasons of an Irish Hermitage, blogging, writing newsletters, researching literary agents, designing a new Web site, planning a road trip, and revising Burning Light. It is broken into bite-sized time chunks: I can easily accomplish all this in a day, provided that I stay focused.

Furthermore, each item on the list is a bite-sized chunk from a bigger list: the list of projects and commitments I need to finish this summer. Each morning, I refer to that list and make sure that every project is moving ahead at the pace needed to finish on time. Of course, a few things will end up cut from the list entirely--I'm not superhuman. But having everything written down helps me prioritize.

A to-do list provides me with direction for the day, a record of what I've accomplished, and peace of mind--I know when I can take a break and when I can't, because I know exactly what needs doing and what can rest for now. As a self-employed writer/editor/writing coach, I know I couldn't function without one.

Lists are one of the major tools in my writer's arsenal. How about you? What tools and techniques keep you on track?

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

rowing out to the darkness

It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem. In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God "set bars and doors" and said, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further." But have we even come that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we all playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?

- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Monday, June 16, 2008

it doesn't get better than this!

Breezy, sunny, 78 degrees, and I've spent my entire day working on the front porch with trees waving overhead and the river cresting in whitecaps at the end of the street. I sip a cup of tea and think, God saw that it was good.

I love being self-employed!

On an entirely other note, I'm making notes for (yet another) redesign of my Web site. I've already revamped the book page format (you can see the only currently-live example for Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe), and I want to add a new page for free stuff--ebooks, the occasional short story, things like that. I'm planning to transform the side bar links, widen the whole site, and maybe do away with the Catalog page (because it's redundant).

The trouble is that I'm such an amateur when it comes to Web site design, a wide-eyed explorer with no real experience, like a kid who figures he's qualified to go on safari because he can catch a lizard in his backyard. So I always redo my Web site with fear, trembling, and probably way too much wasted time.

Ah well. Anybody out there who's a more qualified explorer than I am--care to offer suggestions?


Saturday, June 14, 2008

available for pre-orders: Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled!

The book is out! I sent out the official announcement this morning, as you can read below :).

* * *

Dear friends,

Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled is now available for pre-order! You can purchase your copy of Tales at Pre-orders close June 30. As a special thank-you to those who order before June 30, we are offering a free Ebook Edition of Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe, the novel Rachel wrote when she was 13!

Pre-orders help us cover the costs of publishing--and they get the book into your hands early! Your books will be ordered and sent to you in the first week of July, when the book is just becoming available to the world at large.

When we started writing Tales as a series of emails to each other, we didn't really imagine how much you'd share with us! We thank you for your friendship, encouragement, and support as we've worked to bring Tales to print. It's been a marvelous journey!

Rachel and Carolyn

authors, Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled

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Writing Tips: The Amazing Invisible Word

"Listen up!" I say, shout, reply, recommend, plead, mutter, adjure, announce, articulate, and vent. "I have some advice for you."

Writers, like everyone else on earth, can get bored doing the same old thing over and over again. Hence the temptation to stop writing the letters s-a-i-d on every page and use other, more colourful words instead. Sometimes abandoning "said" in favour of other dialogue tags is a good thing. Often, though, it is not. When dialogue is dogged by them, descriptive tags quickly become distracting, annoying, or just plain silly.

Don't believe me? Perhaps I'll let a conversation speak for itself:

"Stick to the word 'said' in dialogue tags," the professor crooned.

"Why should we?" the students shouted.

"Because it's invisible," the professor muttered.

"I don't know about that," Tom doubted.

"I also disagree," his girlfriend hissed.

Any minute now, that classroom is going to break into a fistfight over word choice, led by the girl who sounds like a snake--or your readers are going to fall over laughing. But while they're duking it out, we should note that the professor was right. "Said" is invisible. Readers will hardly even notice it as they read. "Asked" will also fail to blip on their radar--and that's good.

In any piece of fiction or narrative writing, your goal is to immerse readers in the scene. You want them to hear the words spoken, to feel the underlying emotion, to be doused in the atmosphere of your setting. "Said" will help you do that because it's so low-key. Readers won't notice it, so their attention stays where it should--on the story itself. Obtrusive dialogue tags, on the other hand, will yank them out. Fancy writing for its own sake is rarely effective.

Make use of the Amazing Invisible Word, I say, and let your story spring to life.


Friday, June 13, 2008

can't see the forest for the apostrophes

Today (being the day I am writing this post, and not necessarily the day I am posting it) I spent well over an hour formatting Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe, my very first novel, so that I may release it today (being the day I am posting this, June 13) as an ebook on my Web site.

I had less formatting to do than I thought, because I apparently worked on it sometime in the past that I have forgotten all about, but one task demanded most of my attention: I had to go through the manuscript and turn every single straight apostrophe into a curly apostrophe.

I have discovered that continually hitting "Find," then hitting the actual text window, then hitting the apostrophe key, over and over again, is probably the best and fastest way to develop carpal tunnel. Also that I don't care for curly apostrophes in Georgian font.

And yet, I am geeky enough to have found the job somewhat glamourous and exciting purely because it involved a book.

By the way--Theodore Pharris is available on my Web site! You can read more about it or order it here.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

thoughts on "Being the Body"

I just finished reading Being the Body by Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn. A friend lent it to me months ago, but during the school year I don't get much chance to read.

Anyway, the book's central theme is the Church in its worldwide ("the church universal") and local ("the church particular") incarnations. Colson presents a small host of principles, purpose statements, and stories, all focused on what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world and how we can live that out.

He has some good things to say, but to me, the best part of the book was the stories. I couldn't actually tell you what most of his overall points were, but I can relate most of the stories in detail. They'll stay with me for a long time--the stories of Rusty Woomer, the murderer who became a Christian on death row and shone the light of Jesus till the minute he died, the Christians in Eastern Europe who helped bring down the Soviet empire from within, the priest who volunteered to starve to death in Auschwitz so another could live, the Russian girl who found God in novels, snow, and logic.

These stories are inspiring and powerful and will stay with me. It occurs to me that storytelling is so powerful because it takes us past principle and purpose and says, "Look, here's what love looks like. Now go out there and love." And the stories themselves go so deep into us that we can't not hear them and be changed.

As a writer, I was also challenged (and encouraged) by these words in chapter 26, "Being Salt":

"Being salt demands an understanding of our cultural environment and the use of innovative strategies for infiltration and influence. Writers have been doing this for centuries, with the result that much of the classic literature of the past three hundred years contains Christian truth. The great Russian works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin, for example,with the Christian message salted in their pages in such a way that the Communists forgot to ban them, were the books that led Irina Ratushinskaya toward Christ.

"In many ways, literature has the most lasting power to shape ideas. Great books are read, reread, passed around, discussed, debated, and then passed on to succeeding generations.

"Today, many writers reveal in their work the incoherence, shattered logic, and relativistic chaos that mark a culture that has lost its understanding of order and truth. So when a writer who is a Christian crafts words and stories that spring from a world-view informed by truth, he or she is salting modern culture."

And that, in large part, is why I write.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Last week was crazy.

I'm not even sure why it was so bad ... I had a lot to do, yes, but I've had that much to do every day for a long time! The weekend came, the weekend went, Monday was even worse than the previous week. My stress levels were through the roof.

So yesterday I did something unusual: nothing.

I slept in for a very long time. I prayed, I read my Bible, I took a long walk in the sunshine and felt the glorious breeze. I talked to a friend. I prayed some more. I sang hymns while washing the dishes. I sat on the couch and read a book (Being the Body by Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, if you're curious.)

I did all of that nothing on purpose, because I felt very strongly that I couldn't take another week like last week. I really needed to refocus, rest, and seek God. Today I am up bright and early, with a to-do list a mile long and my perspective and energy fully restored.

Last Sunday at my wonderful church, Pastor Aaron talked about God's idea of Sabbath, which simply means ceasing to work. Yesterday I knew God wanted me to take one, even if Tuesday isn't exactly the day of traditional observance. He takes good care of me, and I'm grateful :).


Friday, June 06, 2008

Writing Tips: Spice It Up!

Have you ever read a story that was full of dialogue, but left you feeling like you were floating in white space? Or a book that was so full of description you couldn't remember what was going on? Have you ever wished the action would slow down long enough to let you get to know the characters?

Stories are best when their many ingredients--dialogue, description, action, etc--are held in a delicate balance. You don't want a story that's too airy, too heavy, or too bland. The goal is just the right touch of spice.

For example, let's look at a conversation from my fantasy novel Worlds Unseen. The main character, Maggie, has just discovered that her traveling companion has the unusual ability to hear things no one else can.


"What else do you hear?" Maggie asked. "Besides dangerous voices in the dark."

"I hear the grass grow," Nicolas said, "and I hear the stars singing."

"They sing?" Maggie asked.

"Yes," Nicolas said. "I hear other things, too ... sometimes I can hear what Bear is saying."

"Bear talks."

"Well, not exactly talks," Nicolas said. "He feels things, and thinks things, and sometimes I hear what he means."

"Does he speak the language of the Empire?" Maggie asked.

"No, of course not. He just feels things, and sometimes I understand them. That doesn’t make much sense to you, does it?"

"Have you always been able to understand him?" Maggie asked.

"No," he told her. "When I was a child I would listen to rabbits and squirrels and birds, and it was hard to understand them, too. But I kept listening, and trying to understand, and one day I did. I still don’t understand everything."

"What else can you hear?" she asked.

"When babies cry," Nicolas said, "I know what they want before their own mothers do. Sometimes I can hear a baby talking while it's still in its mother’s womb."

"What do they say?" Maggie asked.

"It’s hard to understand them," Nicolas said. "But not so hard as with the animals. Mostly they dream about the world out here. And they wonder why so many of the voices they hear are angry and worried. They dream, and they wonder, and then they go back to sleep. And when they wake up they wonder all the same things over again."


That's not bad, but it's sparse. We don't get any sense of where these characters are, or of what they're feeling. By adding a few spices to the dialogue, I can bring the scene more fully to life. In this scene, I chose to use facial expressions and thoughts to help my readers understand what these characters were feeling. I added a bit of background history, a campfire and some interesting shadows, and a tiny bit of body language to bring the scene to life. Here's the result:


Nicolas appeared in the firelight and collapsed into a cross-legged heap. The firelight glinted on the gold in his ear and traced strange shadows on his face.

Maggie rolled over and lifted herself onto her elbows so she could look across the fire at her half-wild friend.

"What else do you hear?" Maggie asked. "Besides dangerous voices in the dark."

"I hear the grass grow," Nicolas said slowly, "and I hear the stars singing."

"They sing?" Maggie asked.

Nicolas nodded. "Yes," he said. "I hear other things, too ... sometimes I can hear what Bear is saying."

Maggie looked up at the hulking form just beyond the glow of the campfire. "Bear talks," she said flatly.

"Well, not exactly talks," Nicolas said. "He feels things, and thinks things, and sometimes I hear what he means."

"Does he speak the language of the Empire?" Maggie asked, feeling ridiculous but unable to stop herself from asking.

"No, of course not," Nicolas said. "He just feels things, and sometimes I understand them." Nicolas laughed a little nervously. "That doesn’t make much sense to you, does it?"

Maggie ignored the question and asked another of her own. "Have you always been able to understand him?"

"No," he told her. "When I was a child I would listen to rabbits and squirrels and birds, and it was hard to understand them, too. But I kept listening, and trying to understand, and one day I did. I still don’t understand everything."

Maggie felt herself drawn to the strange young man across from her. It was fascinating, what he was saying, perhaps absurd. Yet she believed him.

"What else can you hear?" she asked, leaning forward with her chin resting in her hand.

Nicolas’s eyes met hers. How many people had he ever spoken to like this? Who, in all his life, would ever have believed him? Even the Gypsies thought he was mad when he spoke of hearing, although they were not so quick to dismiss it the way others did. They wondered sometimes, if madness was not a gift.

"When babies cry," Nicolas said, "I know what they want before their own mothers do. Sometimes I can hear a baby talking while it's still in its mother’s womb."

"What do they say?" Maggie asked, a smile of wonder beginning to tug at her own face.

"It's hard to understand them," Nicolas said. "But not so hard as with the animals. Mostly they dream about the world out here. And they wonder why so many of the voices they hear are angry and worried. They dream, and they wonder, and then they go back to sleep. And when they wake up they wonder all the same things over again."


As you can see, a good mix of elements can bring characters, a conversation, or an entire scene to life. I hope you've enjoyed this writing tip! If you'd like to read more of Worlds Unseen, be sure to check out the free Ebook Edition at .

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

people pleasing

I just wrote a post over on Peculiar about the need, as a Christian, to live life for the purpose of pleasing God only--of being so focused on loving Him that it doesn't matter if people get what you do or totally misconstrue it. I remember being absolutely shaken a few years' back when I read the Gospel of Luke and saw how clearly Jesus set Himself up to be misunderstood--He had to, because He had to follow God even though He knew everyone would see Him as some crazy blasphemer for doing it.

But He was right, after all.

It shook me so badly because I'm a natural people-pleaser. Of all things in life, I hate being misunderstood. Conflict makes me sick, even friendly conflict. And I realized, as I read, that as a follower of Jesus I couldn't just go on living my life to make people like me.

God has spent the last few years toughening me up in this respect. Oh, I still hate it when people misunderstand me! But by His grace, I am learning to focus more on pleasing my Saviour than on making sure His people approve of me. As a writer who has more of a platform now than I did when I first quaked in my boots at those accounts in Luke, I'm realizing the wisdom of God in putting me through some of these situations. I will write, doing my best to write things that are true, pure, and lovely--and some people won't get it. Some people will not like what I have to say or how I say it.

And I can't write for those people.

As a Christian, as someone who has been saved by grace and captured by the love of God, I must write to please Him and Him only. If I do that, He will use my words somewhere, to help someone, to encourage His people in some way. But that can't be the primary goal, or any effectiveness I might have had will drown in a sea of people-pleasing.

That's my lesson for today. Thanks for listening :).

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Monday, June 02, 2008

stuff I did today

Wake up at 5:30. Hit snooze. Hit snooze again. Hit snooze three more times. Sit up, read from Daily Light for the Daily Path, greet God and say thank-You for the day.

Go back to sleep.

Wake up again at 7:00. Get online. My computer finally connected from my bedroom--hurrah! It's been insisting that I carry it all the way downstairs and sit uncomfortably in an armchair that early in the morning, but today it was kind. Talk to Carolyn on GoogleTalk. Answer a bunch of email, including a few business things.

Eat breakfast, study the Bible. Make a list of things to do today.

Stare, bleary-eyed and headachey, at the laptop screen. Do pretty much nothing for an hour while I'm supposedly revising Burning Light. Finally manage to get an hour of actual revision/editing done. Still trying to figure out Nicolas's part of the story--I wrote myself into some funny situations in the original draft, and now I want them all to make sense. Easier said than accomplished.

Write some promotional emails for Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled. Decide that I can't do any more until Carolyn (my co-author) gets back online.

The next part of my day is a mental blank. I was breathing, so presumably I did something.

Carolyn eventually did get back online, at which time she was too sick to think very well and I still had a headache. I messed around with autoresponders, Web pages, and incomprehensible templates until I finally figured out a way to get a free ebook preview of Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled to readers in exchange for an email address--yay! (You can make the Great Exchange here, if you're so inclined. Email addresses will not be used for anything sinister.)

After more than an hour of wishing I was more tech-savvy, I finally gave Carolyn the go-ahead to get to work. She started sending out our promo emails, with near-instant results--rather encouraging. The first result was an email asking us to be featured at a convention in British Columbia this weekend. Heavens! If they'll pay our expenses, we'll be there. Waiting to hear back on that.

Answered more business email.

Wrote a quick draft of an article for the Matthew House newsletter, Windsor branch. I'm serving as editor-in-chief starting this month.

Went over the manuscript of Seasons (I think this title will change), the latest release by the same Nun of Grace who wrote Tales From an Irish Hermitage. I already knew I was happy to be working with her again (I'm doing the formatting, some editing, and a lot of printer-guidance), but now that I've read some of the book I'm even happier.

Took a break. Walked by the river. It's gorgeous outside.

Came home and edited two articles for Boundless. They are driving me crazy (the articles, not Boundless), as articles often do, but I will overcome. Speaking of Boundless, one of the business emails I handled today asked for permission to reprint "20-Something Reasons to Live At Home." This article continues to garner the biggest response I've ever gotten to date, which is exciting for me.

Blogged. As you can see.

And that, my friends, is a wrap.