Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.---Is 9:6

Friday, December 7, 2012

Writing the True Story

I trust you and your family are making many precious memories this holiday season. Preserve them. Keep a journal. This will be a valuable legacy for your children and grandchildren. If you desire to share your experiences with a wider audience, maybe you’ll consider writing an article for a magazine.

Articles differ from short stories in that they are true and answer the questions: who, what, when, where, why, how, and what’s the significance. However, in the last couple decades many publishers have preferred stories that contain more than just fact. They want pieces that incorporate techniques used in fiction. That is, they prefer submissions that employ story, as Jesus did when he used parables to reach the heart as well as the mind.

In what is called true story, there is a sympathetic character who changes, usually for the better. In the beginning, he faces some basic problem (the beginning complication) that is significant to him. He responds by taking action. However, obstacles (the development or the middle) impede him and increase tension. Then he has a flash of insight on how to resolve the problem. The resolution (or end) involves a significant effort on his part that relieves tension and changes his character.

The first paragraph of a newspaper or magazine article written in the journalistic mode might sound like this:

Last night (when) at his London townhouse (where), Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge (who), the reclusive millionaire, received visits from three ghosts (what) that came to impart (why) the spirit of Christmas to him by showing him (how) his past, present, and future. It is alleged that he now keeps Christmas in his heart (the significance).

Matter-of-fact paragraphs would follow, ending with a summation paragraph. The article would convey all the pertinent information by telling, but showing, which was explained in my blog of 11/16/12, would make a dry series of events come alive.

In the beginning, Dickens did not say Scrooge was a curmudgeon. He demonstrated it with his “Bah, humbug!” and his impatience with people displaying Christmas cheer. His shivering, underpaid clerk and his refusal to help orphans showed his miserliness. The plot develops as spirits show him scenes from his life where his choices changed him from a lonely boy to a man who substituted gold for love, resulting in a grave where he lies friendless and un-mourned. We feel the sadness of Scrooge’s situation when he locks everyone out of his rooms and sits in the gloom eating only gruel. Dickens contrasted that with the young people’s happiness, joy, and sharing, seen in their laughter, dancing, and toasts at sumptuous feasts. After Scrooge has his transformation, we have our hearts melted by Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one.”

As a homeschool mom, you have a plethora of treasured stories. If you care to share one, develop it as a true story, employing techniques used in fiction. Many magazines include Christmas stories in their holiday editions. You may find a market that fits by using Sally E. Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide or the Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market. Both can be found at Amazon.com. Another way to reach a publisher is by finding a magazine that interests you and looking for its submission guidelines at the beginning or the end of the publication, usually in the fine print.—Quinn

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Harbinger

My purpose for this blog is to encourage moms who, after years of intense involvement, are faced with empty nests. Suddenly their homes, which were teeming with activity, are quiet and orderly. Depressing? Not for a writer. And many home school “graduates” should consider becoming a writer. They have advice and many rich experiences to share, if not with the world then definitely with their children and grandchildren. Craft techniques learned here and from recommended books and websites can improve their skills and increase the likelihood of seeing their words in print.

I’ll try to stay on topic. However, from time to time I’ll divert to something I find important. A book on the N.Y. Times best seller list is one such thing. The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn tells of an ancient warning for Israel recorded in Isaiah 9:10 that hair-raisingly parallels all that has happened to America since 911. It is available on DVD, so it can be shown in churches and Sunday Schools.--Quinn

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Remember to Whom We Give Thanks

In the midst of preparations let us, like our forefathers, remember the One to whom thanks are due not only on Thanksgiving but each day and every hour. The following is Washington’s proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving to our Maker.

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Friday, November 16, 2012

Make Your Story Seem Real

We have covered some of the basics of character development, so let’s look at writing your story. The cardinal rule is Show Don’t Tell. It is easiest to explain with an example. The following scene is from a work in progress, the sequel to my novel Kokoweef. Physics assistant professor Dr. Nightingale Nox, a Savant, was mugged. The main character, Skip Jackson, scared off the attacker and took Night to the hospital. The following is the scene as it would appear if it was told.

After Skip gave a report to the policeman, he left Bethany and Sarah in the waiting room, and intercepted the ER doctor. The doctor told Skip that Night was in no danger, his wound had been stitched, and he would be released as soon as his guardian arrived. Night, however, was convinced he was dying, and Skip could not convince him otherwise.

Now I will show the scene.

Skip finished reciting his account of the assault to a policeman, left Bethany and Sarah sitting on the waiting room chairs, and hurried to intercept the ER doctor. “How’s Night doing, doctor?”
The man consulted his clipboard. “Are you Mr. Nox’s guardian?”
“No, I’m Skip Jackson. I rescued Night from the attacker. I called his guardian, and he should be here shortly.”
“Mr. Nox is in no danger. I stitched his wound. He appears a bit . . . disoriented. But that should pass quickly. I’ll release him to his guardian as soon as he gets here.”
Tension melted from Skip’s jaw muscles. He smiled. “Night’s always disoriented. He’s a high-functioning autistic Savant. He can tell you more than you’d like to know about string theory, Tesla, and space aliens, but everyday stuff.” He cleared his throat.
“I see. You can go in.” The doctor scribbled something on the chart and moved on to another cubical.
Skip ducked around the curtain surrounding Night’s gurney. “Hey, bro. How you feeling?’
“My head hurts. I’m going to die.”
“Not going to happen. Ask the doctor for something to stop the pain.”
“There was blood. Lot’s and lot’s of blood. You saw the blood. I’m going to die.”
Skip sighed. When the guy got an idea in his head, it was hard to shake it. “No, you’re not going to die. When your guardian gets here, you’re going home.”
“People don’t tell people when they’re going to die. I think they should tell people when they’re going to die. Don’t you think people should tell people when they’re going to die? Gramma said if I was good, I’d go to heaven. But, I’ve been so bad. I won’t go to heaven.” His face puckered. “I don’t want to die.”
Why can’t people stop scaring their kids with fairy tales about angels and devils, heaven and hell? “Night, stop it. You are not going to die. You’re going home.”
“When Gramma was dying, she said she was going home. But she never came, and I never saw her again.”
“If there is a heaven, I’m sure you’re going there. But, not for a long, long, long time.”
“But you would say that if the doctor told you I was dying.”
“He didn’t tell me you were dying. He said he was going to release you soon.”
Night’s face blanched. “Grampa said he was going to release old Smokey. Then he shot him.”
“You are not a horse.”
The professor began moaning soulful moans. “He took him behind the barn and shot him.”
“Night, you’re giving me a headache.”

There are instances in which telling is appropriate. Mainly it is used for summary or scene setting. But too much showing slows the action and takes the reader out of the story. As seen above, though showing the story takes more words it is richer and allows the reader to feel he is an inside observer.—Quinn

Monday, November 12, 2012

Giving Your Character a Personality

On October 10 and October 29, we talked about building your character’s background and giving him a unique voice. Now he needs a psychological make-up.

Knowledge of the character’s composite personality indicates how he will behave in different situations within the story. The writer should know the environments in which the character will feel comfortable and what circumstances are easy or a struggle for him. With this in mind, it is the writer’s job to reveal the character’s depth of personality as the story unfolds. By contrasting his inner life and his public life and giving him traits that contrast and collide with one another, an interesting, multi-faceted person emerges.

Jung identified two primary personality types, the Extrovert (E) and the Introvert (I). These designations have to do with the world in which one lives. The extrovert’s life is directed outward. He is out-going, assertive, energetic. His interests are in, and he receives gratification from, the outer world. He gets bored when alone. The introvert is reserved, quiet, shy. His interests lie in reflection and the inner self. He enjoys time alone and likes solitary activities.

There are also subcategories. Sensing (S) and Intuitive (N) describe how one gathers information. One who is sensing relies on the concrete and the practical. The intuitive person thinks of abstract possibilities, trusting intuition without facts. Thinking (T) and Feeling (F) have to do with decision making. The thinker is rational, logical, impartial, and fair in accordance with predefined rules. The feeler decides things case by case and is subjective based on his value system. Judging (J) and Perceiving (P) have to do with how we live. The judging person is neat, orderly, settled. The perceiving person is flexible, open-ended, and spontaneous.

Each individual personality consists of one of sixteen possible combinations of the secondary traits coupled with either introversion or extroversion. In various circumstances, one of the traits will be dominant, more proficient, and more conscious. It is supported by a second function then to a lesser degree a third. The fourth one is opposite to the dominant resulting in repression and unconscious behavior. Though uncomfortable with the fourth function, an individual can develop that trait.

In my novel Echoes, there is a character called Misty McKenna. When informed that her grandparents and her sister are ill, she immediately takes a leave of absence from her teaching position in another state and returns home to help her widowed mother cope. She takes over the household duties, the nurturing of her youngest brother, and is a fierce defender of the family. Analysis reveals that her personality type matches with the ISFJ combination, the Nurturer. People in this category are kind, quiet, conscientious, dependable, stable, practical, observant of others, perceptive of other’s feelings. They value security and tradition and are interested in serving others. They’re exactly like Misty.

I decided to analyze myself. I thought I matched best with the INTJ combination. People with this personality are independent, original, analytical, determined, turn theories into plans of action, value knowledge, competence, and structure. They are long-range thinkers and have high standards of performance for themselves and others (ask my long-suffering family.) They are natural leaders but will follow trusted people. This combination is called the Scientist. Interesting. My background is in chemistry.—Quinn

Monday, October 29, 2012

Your Character's Voice

Well, let’s get back to character development. What’s most fun for me is playing with voices. Each character should have a unique way of expressing himself. Train yourself to listen to people as they speak. Drawls and dialects tell you where they are from. Things like slanginess, crudeness, or formal English hint at social or educational level. Pet words, habitual expressions, and occupational jargon tell about background. Coldness, flippancy, cynicism are a few tones that betray thought patterns, attitudes, and personality. Your character will also use different voices with different people. He may be authoritative with employees or students, while at home he may speak lovingly to his wife and use baby talk with their toddler.

The following are excerpts from Black Sunday. You can access the whole story by clicking the Black Sunday tab up top. From Mrs. Pettigrew’s voice I don’t have to tell the reader she is elderly, from the Midwest, and not well-educated.—Quinn

. . . Town of Guthrie growed-up over night right near us. Got my schooling there. Learned to read and cipher. Ma looked so proud rocking by the fire, mending in her lap, while I read the Good Book to her. Learned all about how folks come to this land for freedom, too. Learned how all folks are important. So, even common folks like us, providing they work hard, can get to be president. Imagine that!
Life was good there in the old days, but Pa said he was feeling cramped. He sold out to Uncle Jed and bought two sections near Boise City. Put in wheat, sorghum, maize, and broom corn. Run a few head of cattle too. . . .
. . . Guess I was too big for my britches. I looked over the boys real good. Thought they was all pretty poor quality. But, all that changed one night.
First I seed of Franklin Pierce Pettigrew was at a box social at Preacher Pettigrew’s. He’d breezed in from Texas on horseback. And my! From his Stetson to his boots, he looked mighty fine. Had a sassy smile that shivered my heart. But, oh was he a wild one. Next day he come a calling without asking! Pa like to run him off the place. Didn’t see him again ‘til three months later at the church ice cream social. . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Great Conference!

Last weekend I had a great time at a Christian writers conference. Several hundred authors from novice to the multi-published attended. Among them were home educators. It seems to me homeschoolers and home school graduates are disproportionally represented at the Christian conferences. Perhaps for them (me), after teaching their students literature and writing skills, becoming a writer is a natural progression.

The first evening opened with an awards ceremony for the best published books of the year in various categories. A keynote speaker followed. Afterward, an authors panel and an editor/agent panel discussed the industry and fielded questions from the audience. The next day was filled with speakers, workshops, and opportunities to pitch a manuscript or an idea.

This year I elected to explore the various methods of publication. Traditionally, an author submitted a manuscript to an agent who took it around to publishers. If a publisher could use it, he’d offer a contract. His job was to take care of editing, printing, and distribution. A newer way to publish is with e-books through Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Google. The author is responsible for formatting and graphic design. He must do all the marketing, which seems daunting. However, the traditional publishers are now requiring the authors to market as well. Why would some be interested in e-books? The royalty on a printed book is typically $1.12 and 15% of that goes to the agent. E-books yield about $2.50, and there is no agent involved.

While at the conference, I had the opportunity to pitch both ECHOES and KOKOWEEF to an agent, an acquisitions editor, and a publisher. How that works is the author makes a fifteen minute appointment. During that time, he briefly tells what the book is about, leaving time for discussion and marketing strategies. If the person the author pitches to is interested, a full manuscript is requested.

You might consider attending a conference for enrichment or just to see if writing is something you’d like to do. If there aren’t any conveniently located, you might try MuseOnLine Writers Conference. It’s too late to enroll this year, but there is another chance next October. As with regular conferences, there are general sessions, workshops, and pitch sessions. And the price is right—free.—Quinn

Monday, October 8, 2012

Now's as Good a Time as Any

I have completed my third novel, Kokoweef, and continue to polish it. In a couple weeks, it will be ready for pitching to an editor. I haven’t decided what my next project will be. So, to get some ideas, I shall play the ‘what if’ game.

In the ‘what if’ game, writers make lists of possible characters for a story. They decide on one. Then they write down a list of conflicts the character might face. They select one. Then they ask what if he encounters this particular problem? They write down the probable consequence. Then they ask what happens if there is a second complication? Then a third. A fourth. In a while, they have a pretty good feel for what their novels will be about.

In my posting on September 9, Do You Have an Article in Mind, I gave a brief description of story structure. A lot of writers prefer to start with the skeleton of a story then flesh it out. Others, called seat of the pantsers, find this method too restrictive. They just start writing and keep going until they are done. They arrive at the same structure as the planners, but it may take a lot of false starts and wrong turns to get there.

For a concise lesson on design, I recommend Randy Ingermanson’s article How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method. In it, he likens the process of story writing to the building of a snowflake. One begins with a sentence, builds a paragraph, and expands to a page then to a scene. When there are enough scenes, the writer has a story.

I have never attempted to “NaNo”, but I thought I’d try it this year. NaNo, or NaMoWriMo, stands for National Novel Writing Month. In this world wide program, writers of all levels are challenged to write 50,000 words in one month. There is help to plan and execute your project, and you can receive encouragement from staff, published authors, and writers from your area of the United States or of the world.

So fellow empty-nesters, if you are interested in finally writing that story that’s been buzzing around in your head for several years, now’s as good a time as any. Join me on my journey.—Quinn

Monday, October 1, 2012

Building Your Fascinating Characters

 Last time we looked at plot. This time we’ll begin the process of character building.

First, start with a fragment of personality. Add to it until you can visualize a person. Give him a background. Add his attitude. Then pretend you are that character. Imagine how you would react emotionally under various conditions. Draw from your background, from impressions of other people, and from observations of people in similar circumstances.

After you know a bit about the character, give him a name that is unique to him in the story. It can indicate ethnicity as with O’Malley; or age as with Ida, Linda, or Sierra; class as with Reginald Smith vs. Smitty Smith; or maybe an occupation as with Slugger Jones or the Weasel.

To deepen character, write out a bio sheet for him. This may contain brief descriptions of family background, age, appearance, mannerisms, religious persuasion, relationships, education, career, hobbies, and his goals. After that, interview him. Let him have his head and say whatever he wants. You’ll be surprised how he takes over the conversation and reveals things about himself you didn’t know existed.

The following is a character interview for my book Echoes. The subject is a minor character, the popular, handsome, charismatic, 36-year old politician Emilio Cardenas. His grandfather emigrated from a fictional South American country that exports arms and revolution throughout the Americas. And, my goodness. What I learned about him.

Who are you Emilio?
A champion for justice. I work for the little man. The oppressed worker. The so-called immigrant.

How did you get involved in politics?
I was bred to it. My grandfather witnessed the exploitation of the masses in his country, Tierra Dulce. He fought with the communist revolutionaries until the movement was crushed by the regime, and he fled to the United States. Here he worked the fields and witnessed the same oppression as in his homeland. So he demonstrated, boycotted, and marched for justice. He married my grandmother, a descendent of the original land grant holders. This land was ours until the Europeans stole it from us. We will right this wrong. My extended family has mayors, assemblymen, union officials. We are in the media, academia, and Hollywood. I was an assemblyman then state controller. Now I am running for governor.

 Some allege you have some shady characters funding you.
Shady? I assure you, everything I do is perfectly legal. And, I would not accept funding from any illegal source.

Investigative reporter Troy Wasserman alleges you are accepting foreign funding, which is filtered through several organizations, from the president of Tierra Dulce. 
Troy. Well, I can expect that. I have to confess an indiscretion with his wife. I’m not proud of it. I’ve apologized profusely. But I’m afraid Troy is out for revenge. He’ll do anything, say anything to destroy me.

Troy says you are acquainted with the president of Tierra Dulce.  
Yes. While in the Assembly, I engaged in a cultural exchange between our countries. Troy accompanied me on one of my missions.

Are you El Presidente’s agent to promote revolution in the United States?  
This interview is over.

For me, creating believable story characters is the most entertaining part of fiction writing. We’ll continue next time.—Quinn                                           

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is Plot?

I’ve finished my 90,000-word novel Kokoweef. So, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a book proposal. The hard part of writing begins soon. Pitching to agents and editors.

Now that your nest is empty, you too may have dusted off that old dream of becoming a world-class novelist. But, you ask, where do I begin? With a plot and characters. These basic elements create the narrative, which consists of a beginning intent, a middle that contains a series of actions and reversals, and an end that is the logical outcome.

Let’s look at plot today. Plot isn’t the same as story. The story consists of a chronology of events. For example: She got up, grabbed some coffee, and caught the bus to work. This is all action, so it is story. Plot is the story, plus it answers the question why by using a pattern of actions and reactions. Example: Exhausted from cleaning offices all night, she overslept. She grabbed some coffee so the children could have the last of the cereal then rushed past her broken-down car to catch the bus to work. The story tells us about a woman that is late for work. Plot is revealed as we see a single mom struggling to provide for her family.

Basically, there are only two types of plots, either ones that address the physical or ones that address the mind. Physical plots are action driven and usually don’t answer any great moral or intellectual questions. They include adventure, mystery, thriller, western, sci fi. Those that address the mind are character driven. They explain ideas, human nature, relationships, beliefs, attitudes, and the search for meaning.

What fuels plot is tension. Tension in turn is created by opposition. As opposition grows, the tension grows until the narrative reaches a climax where there is some change to the main character.

Deciding on your plot is the first step in writing your novel. We’ll explore character next time.—Quinn

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

 Remembering those who died and those who were left behind.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Do You Have an Article in Mind?

After I graduated to the empty-nest phase of my life, I decided to write fiction. You, however, might prefer non- fiction. Articles are a good place to start, and you have a vast store of experience to draw from. People contemplating home education might benefit from a how-to article. Moms in the April doldrums might be uplifted with a humorous story or encouraged by how you handled similar circumstances.

As with story, articles have structure. A beginning, middle, and an end. In addition, they often include sidebars that contain tidbits that don’t fit into the story but add to interest, provide further information, or answer frequently asked questions.

The beginning is the opening paragraph or paragraphs, often called the hook. It is supposed to grab the readers’ attention and pique their curiosity. To avoid sounding preachy or like an encyclopedia, use a conversational voice and incorporate dialogue, description, or a bit of action.

The middle is the main part of your article. If the story is about something that happened, write chronologically. If it informational, supply details for the topic mentioned in the opening. You can show cause and effect, comparison and contrast. Embellish with quotes, anecdotes, and opposing points of view.

The ending can be a logical conclusion such as the finished product in a how-to article or the end of a journey in a travel article. You can also end with practical suggestions, an invitation to further exploration, or with a request for a new conclusion. As I am about to do, you may also return to your beginning paragraph with a slightly different focus.

If you are a serious writer there is one thing that might steer you toward non-fiction. It pays better. Much better. First, you’ll want to find a market that features your type of article. Many public libraries have directories of periodicals in their reference section. Look up a magazine that fits your story and follow their submission guidelines. A very popular guide is Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest. Sally E. Stuart produces the Christian Writers Market Guide that lists periodicals covering everything from apologetics to youth issues. Both are available on Amazon.—Quinn

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Get Sarted

In my last posting, I mentioned how I began writing my first novel by jumping into the project with wild enthusiasm. Don’t do it. First do some research and arm yourself with the proper tools. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.

You can start before your nest is empty by teaching your students the basics of story writing: structure, plot development, character development, dialogue, point of view. There are myriads of books that concentrate on specific aspects of story telling. To get started, you only need a few.

First on the list are a couple dictionaries. I was amazed to find several words that appear in my mom’s dictionary are missing in newer editions. Likewise, new words like google and tweet don’t appear in the older editions. Get both to broaden your vocabulary. I also have Spanish and German dictionaries for foreign words I may wish to sprinkle into my manuscripts, when appropriate.

A thesaurus is a must. I use Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. It assists with word choice and explains differences in meaning between similar words.

A couple classics are Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Elements teaches one to write with simplicity and orderliness. Self-Editing introduces editing techniques used by professionals.

The best comprehensive book I’ve come across is Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. It demonstrates how to group words into scenes and scenes into stories.

My favorite newer book is The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. It gives a battle plan for writing a novel, covering tactics and strategies for developing, finishing, and publishing a story,

I found all these books at my local bookstore. They are also available through Amazon.—Quinn

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do You Have a Story?

Today, I shall complete the final scene for my third adventure/suspense/speculative fiction novel. It took me about a year and a half to write Kokoweef. But the main character, Skip Jackson, had been flitting around my mind for several years before I had a plot.

How about you? Do you have a story you are longing to tell? It could be factual or fiction. It might be just for fun, and you’d never dream of sharing it with anyone except your family. Or maybe, like me, you’d want it published.

Now because of the way I am, I started by jumping in with wild enthusiasm. After I had completed a 122,000 word novel, I thought I’d read a how-to book on writing, just to confirm what a fabulous author I was. My ego deflated in about a half chapter. By the time I finished reading, I realized I had broken almost every rule there was, and I had an incoherent mess. Humbled, I spent the next couple years revising, devouring books on technique, and taking writing courses.

I found there are many classes available through colleges and universities. What fit my lifestyle were online courses where I could work at my own pace. Writers Digest offers several. A big one that is Christian is Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. I chose the Long Ridge Writers Group. It is secular, but there are many Christians in it and I didn’t find anything offensive.

In many areas across the country, guilds and writers conferences offer critique groups, workshops, and mentoring clinics for all levels of writing, novice through professional. Many specialize in non-fiction or particular genres like mystery or romance. A couple of the biggest Christian conferences are the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and the Mount Hermon Christian Fiction Writers Conference. In addition to teaching, editors, authors, and teachers are on hand to give participants advice on their works in progress.

When a manuscript is ready for publication, it is time to write a proposal and find an agent or editor. The competition is stiff, so it is best to meet them face-to-face. So this fall, I am off to a conference to “pitch” Kokoweef. Wish me luck.---Quinn

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.---Proverbs 3:4-6

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Did Your Family Tree Grow?

Now that you have time for hobbies, you might consider finding your family’s roots. I started while still home schooling, intending to spark interest in history. It began when an elderly relative bequeathed some antique hymnals to us. One had a name written in a child’s hand. We did some detective work and found that the little girl was a 4-great aunt who was born in Canada in the mid 1800s and died young.

With that discovery, we dug deeper. Our family’s story paralleled America’s story. Missionaries came from Leiden to Plymouth. Advertisements written by William Penn drew persecuted Quakers and war-weary Germans who cleared the land and established farms, towns, churches, and schools. Familiar names like Alden, Standish, Adams, Crockett, and Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, kept cropping up. Family members served in each of our nation’s conflicts, starting with King Philip’s War. Uncles and cousins fought and died on both sides of the civil war. As the nation grew, our people followed the Westward Expansion. Perhaps the most interesting discovery I had was my husband and I are 12th cousins, both descended from William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the Mayflower.

My fascination with genealogy continued after my nest was empty. Family anecdotes of the Dust Bowl and the English civil war inspired published short stories. Someday I hope to organize my material into a history of the United States.

If the genealogy bug bites you, you can get started by gleaning as much information as you can from family members. With your parents’ names and places of birth, you can find their birth, marriage, and/or death certificates. On these will be data about your grandparents. With that information, you can find great-grandparents and so on through many generations. My tree goes back to the 1580s. My husband’s goes back to 1066.

A good place to begin research is at your public library or the historical society in your hometown. Also, there are free online sites such as Family Search which has a huge data base. The USGenWeb Project covers every state and many counties. It includes census, land and cemetery records, history, bios, and picture galleries. Ancestry.com is excellent and has a free fourteen-day trial offer.

In many areas, like-minded people have formed genealogy societies where they share methodology and trade data. But a disclaimer. While this hobby is exciting and rewarding, it is also highly addictive.---Quinn

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is It Time for Your Memoirs?

Recently, my mother-in-law was watching a rerun of an old Lawrence Welk show. To me this was a bit nostalgic, but since it was part of my childhood, not at all unusual. However, as I watched my nephew and his wife, I was amazed. They had never seen a variety show. For the whole hour, they sat fascinated by the music, the costumes, and the hairstyles. Periodically, they exclaimed things like “wow” and “is this how it was?”

Afterwards, I got my mother-in-law to reminisce. Ordinary things from her girlhood like her father’s horse-drawn delivery truck, petticoats, and Marcel hairstyles provided precious glimpses into a past totally foreign to her children and grandchildren. The world is changing so quickly. Who knows? Maybe our children will visit grandchildren on the space platform or Moon City and regale them with stories of the olden times and the old folks who were earthbound.

Now that you are a home school graduate, you have leisure for hobbies and new pursuits. Maybe, while stories are still fresh in your mind, it is the ideal time to write your memoirs.

But you say, with all the material I have, I wouldn’t know where to begin. First you must remember a memoir is not a biography. Nor is it told chronologically. Instead, it is built upon a theme. Spend several months writing about fun experiences and little disasters that you now laugh about. Use story form. That is, each account must have a beginning, middle, and an end. When you have collected quite a few anecdotes, you should see patterns emerge. Put them together and that will be your theme. Examples might be: How My Home Schooled Children Grew in Character, How I Juggled Being a Home School Mom, a Soccer Mom, and a Theater Mom, or How We Home Schooled Our Way Across America.

Be consistent with the theme. Think small. You don’t need all the details. Focus on the main things and build around them. Write the narration in the first person using the voice you would use in a personal letter. If you speak with idioms, use them. Let future generations hear your personality, your character, your emotions, and your humor. What you feel is important to recall will be important to your readers as well.

The most memorable memoirs are filled with love. The strongest ones combine time and place with some turning point in one’s life. The decision to homeschool produced major changes in my life. Does anyone care to share a story?---Quinn

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.---Proverbs 3:5-6