Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You write? They blog!--->Tips A Click Away

Ain't the web a hoot? All those people typing away, all that knowledge floating about, the truth, the lies, the insanity.

I love it!

And so, I offer some sites I visit with regularity to find emotional support and intellectual stimulation, but most of all, to ingest the insights of other writers so that I can improve my own work:

Charis Connection is a group blog whose contributors are well-known, well-loved names in Christian fiction. The latest post includes "what I would do differently if I was starting out as a writer TODAY" tips by Lori Copeland. Check it out.

Dave Long is an editor for Bethany House, and his blog, Faith in Fiction, touches on various aspects of writing fiction and the publishing industry. He has terrific insight and wants to promote better fiction in the CBA. You can't stroll around his blog without learning SOMETHING that will be of use. The discussion forum is frequented by some very sharp folks who can answer your questions intelligently, or at least wittily.

Without question, Brandilyn Collins' blog, Forensics and Faith, is one of the best writing blogs, period. She delves into story-craft, offers tips and techniques, and really cares about helping other people write better. If you write suspense--especially Christian suspense--you need to visit this blog. Plus she's had a miraculous healing--recently featured on the 700 Club--and it doesn't get much cooler than that!

Got an itch to write Christian Chick Lit? Then visit the Faith Chicks. This is a group blog whose members are writers in that very genre and all-around classy chicks.

The Master's Artist is a truly terrific blog that regularly includes posts by the highly esteemed (by moi) J. Mark Bertrand the Grand and Mike Snyder the Sweet, two bright story-writing gents, and the smart-n-sassy Mary DeMuth, who dwells in a faraway land called...France. Heard of it? You'll find a bunch of other swell guys and gals and a host of helpful links. GO THERE ASAP!

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Chris Well's blog, Learning Curve, is tres nifty. He covers a lot of ground--television, films, novels, comic books with commentary, reviews, interviews or just links to news items. Chris is one of those folks you'd love to sit at your lunch or dinner table at a conference or retreat. Since that's not an option, I'm glad I--and you--can drop by his blog and find out what is new and fresh and happening in the world of entertainment.

Church of the Masses offers an insider's view of the entertainment industry, only this insider loves Jesus and the church A LOT and wants truth and faith and spiritual issues to be more genuinely and artfully depicted in films and on television. (Visit my previous post on ACT ONE if you want to know about the organization she directs.) If you're a screenwriter-in-the-making, drop by.

Camy of Camy's Loft is one of my fave online sweetie-weeties, and she regularly reviews and gives away books. I would think that alone would have you heading her way. She is also the Story Sensei. If you have a synopsis you want evaluated for story structure, she's the go-to gal for that. She also likes to pray for her blog readers on Sunday (if you drop a comment of a prayer need). Yep, Camy's a keeper!

Mike Duran has a cleverly (if in a way ickily) titled blog: DECOMPOSE. If you're a scribe, you get it, though, right? He's a gifted storyteller and his site is definitely different looking. (Check out the declicious quotes.) His posts are worth perusing.

Novel Journey belongs to Gina Holmes , who maintains a fun and active site that's chock full of interviews and reviews. She's also really cute. Go check out her pic if you doubt me.

The blogs I read regularly will be found on my sidebar, and they are not all writing-related. But I hope this list will help all you newbie and struggling writers out there find insight, tips, and encouragement on this often difficult and lonely venture of creating stories.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

DRAGONS, KNIGHTS, & ANGELS: Joining the Team

It's been a busy week in Mirtown. Costly home repairs. Tooth extraction. Eldest nephew rushed to the E.R. and now hospitalized while they do tests to find out if it's the heart, the lungs, what? (Please pray for him. Kiko's the name. Healing.)

But it wasn't all tough going.

I was also asked to join the editorial team over at DRAGONS, KNIGHTS, & ANGELS.

Those of you who know me are probably going, "Oh, yeah, that child sure likes to critique writing." That's true. I can't deny it. I'm judicious about whose work I critique, generally, but I like wielding that big, blue pen.

DKA is a web magazine that's had some tough times, but it's a fighter. As someone who is writing Christian SFF, I can't help but have a soft spot for any enterprise that wants to open venues and opportunities for folks like me who read SFF, write SFF, and love Jesus.

If that's you--love reading or writing SFF and your heart bulges adoringly for the Lord of All--then do visit DRAGONS, KNIGHTS, & ANGELS.

~If you write Christian SFF, submit a story or poem.
~If you read Christian SFF, go and wander through the contents.
~If you've never written or read C-SFF, hurry over and try some. You might like it!

The current issue offers a tiny jewel of a poem by RV Saunders that will take you mere seconds to read, but will cast a small spell on you that will linger a while. It's called "After the Flood."

You'll also want to drop by THE SWORD REVIEW for more C-SFF. And, hey, read my story if you haven't already. My sidebar has links to both webzines.

NOTE: To all the lovely people who've sent kind comments on my story: thank you. Thank you.


(And local is just a modem away these days, huh?)

So says the Mir, spanking new assistant editor at DKA, "The Magazine of Christian Fantasy and Science Fiction" :)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Christian Writers in LaLaLand: ACT ONE

Let's face it. When most evangelicals (and other "orthodox" Christians) think of Hollywood, we probably think "Modern Day Babylon" or "Contemporary Sodom" or "What a moral wasteland" or "They are anti-Christian freakasoids!" or just plain "Stay away!"

Well, considering how important film and television is to our culture--and don't think minds and souls aren't captured and changed by what's on the wee or not-so-wee screen in your home and those DVDs you buy and those films you let your family go watch--that is one place true believers need to be.

What's more, it's a career area where many believers want to be, perhaps are even divinely CALLED to be.

If that's you, if you're a believer driven by a desire to labor over stories, scripts, teleplays, or to produce or direct Hollywood flicks or tv shows, then you need to be aware of ACT ONE.

Don't believe me? Well, then let this fella's recommendation sway you. He's the guy who brought you X-Men (oooohieeee!) and Fantastic Four (less oooohie, but okay):

"Every great production starts with the writer. Writers who are interested in the craft of writing should start with Act One!"
-- Ralph Winter, Executive Producer

See? He's got CRED!

"Act One, Inc., is a Los Angeles-based training program for writers and other film industry professionals," say Barbara Nicolosi, the Executive Director of the program.

Their purpose:

"A small group of Christian writers and producers in Hollywood formed Act One in 1999. They shared the vision that change must come from within. Protests, letter campaigns and finger-pointing were ineffective. They sought to transform the industry by being ambassadors and artists. They would devote themselves to truth and beauty, while being examples of Christ's love and truth."
Michael Dalton, of the Phantom Tollbooth website

So here I am, a Christian gal who loves film, who is, like many Americans, pretty much addicted to television, whose frame of visual references are culled from the cinema and the boob tube, whose childhood pals included Jeannie and Samantha, who suffered sleepless nights because of Rod Serling, and who had a mad crush on Mr. Spock. I like to write, too. And, well, the idea of working on a film script has its appeal.

And that's why I was up bright and early (an aberration for me) Friday the 13th (ack) and Saturday the 14th to attend the ACT ONE SCREENWRITING WEEKEND in Fort Lauderdale's Calvary Chapel--which is so misnamed it's not funny. Think "Calvary University-like Campus Complete With Restaurant." I'm guessing they're doing a-okay, God bless 'em.

Here's the orientation quote about why they exist: "To prepare and mentor Christians to be salt and light in the entertainment industry."

The cheerful and smart industry veterans who taught the workshops are serious about that "Hollywood as a mission field" mentality. They're just as serious about wanting us to change our Hollywood Bashing mindset to one that seeks to "love them into the kingdom." They're not kidding about being examples of Jesus' love and mercy, and they're really up-front about the need to stop mixing sermons with art.

The ACT ONE folks want us to do QUALITY WORK, work so darn good that someone will pay millions to produce it. Work that includes truth without thumping Bibles, grace without Christianese, mercy without a Sunday School lesson.

If you attend one of their weekend workshops, expect an orientation session Friday evening, and try to rest that night, 'cause Saturday goes fast and makes demands on your brain. Even the noon meal is a "working lunch," where you have to work tv-writing-team style on producing a "pitch." (I had to leave most of my lunch untouched, cause I was the presenter.)

You walk in, you get a binder with handouts and the day's schedule and some blank pages for note-taking. I recommend you take your fave pen, cause you'll be using it! And take your fave Moleskine notebook, as I did, cause you may need more writing space.

This is what you'll learn, in overview, in this day of crash learning: Some basics about imagery and dialogue, about formatting, about the types of film genres (thriller, sci-fi, drama, family, romantic comedy, etc), about "redemptive storytelling", about developing your own credo. You'll watch film clips to illustrate points. You'll learn what constitutes a hero and what story structure looks like in a movie. You'll learn about loglines, outlines, and beat sheets. You'll be given assignments.

And you can ask questions. These are very nice folks who want to fire you up.

The handy binder includes a list of recommended films for viewing, books for further self-instruction, and organizations that help you on this journey.

At the particular event I attended, two books were for sale. (I provide links below.) The main presenters either wrote or contributed to these works. If you want a taste of one of the books, BEHIND THE SCREEN, you can go here to read Dr. Thom Parham's essay. (He was one of my instructors--a funny, energetic, "trekker" guy.)

If any of this is reaching out to you, if you've got "the call" to work in this industry, please check out ACT ONE. These folks have a heart for God AND a love for this industry and its creative work, and they want to be a good example in Hollywood of what "true believers" are.

I am planning to join in the prayers for Hollywood. I've got my calendar marked up every Friday, 3pm Eastern, to coincide with the regular noon prayer walks that take place on a Hollywood studio lot(s). If you aren't interested in writing, acting, directing or producing, or any other entertainment industry work, but you DO care what comes out of Hollywood, then join with me, pray along with them. Find out what local time in your area matches Los Angeles noon, and pray that God protects believers in this industry, opens doors for them, inspires them to create, and sparks and awakening of Biblical proportions in Hollywood, so that the films and programs we watch will reflect His truth.

You do believe God can be glorified even in Tinsel Town, right? :)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Yep, You May Now Read My Christian SF Contest Winner: "Voices from the Void"

YAY! My contest winning story is up at THE SWORD REVIEW! It's free and ready to be read by all of you who wish to get a look at what comes out of The Mir's head when I'm in fiction mode. The contest's theme was "self-realization," and if I succeed at nothing else--and I certainly hope you think I did a decent job--I do stick to that topic.

Just hop on over here to read it in pdf or html mode. I couldn't get the pdf to load for me (I may need an update), but the html came up just fine.

Here's how it starts, in case appetites need whetting:

"Time's a prancing ninny, the practical joker of the universe," says the marriage merchant, the Matcher, to none of us in particular. He hasn't shut up once since we left Earth bound for Phlida. "Space, on the other hand, has no sense of humor whatsoever. It just broods out there like a lonely, tongue-tied bachelor. Well, see for yourself."

We take the cue, all six of us who are stuck for the duration in the saferoom with the loquacious Matcher and his ceaseless attempts to spark conversation. We all look toward the single viewport overhead that serves up a slice of darkness pierced by pinpoints of light. The starview is meant to keep claustrophobia at bay during the journey. The conversation is meant to keep us sane.

Really, what choice do we have but to look up? What else can any of us do, bound as we are by our seats, bound together by the stabilizers that keep us in a single timestream, bound by the yearnings that have driven us from the home planet? Tell us to look, we look. Tell us to sleep, we sleep. Tell us to press that spot in our earlobes to quell the space sickness, and we press. Tell us to sip nutrients, we sip. Tell us to forget who we are and we just may forget, if we knew to begin with.

But don't make me talk, Matcher.

I'm a novice to space travel, but I have read and heard the stories of what can happen once the gravity of the homeworld ceases to bind you. Everything loosens. Things fly free. Secrets escape. And the only ones unaffected, so I've read, are the Loners, those genetically gifted few who live in the belly of spaceships, navigating, maintaining, recording. They fly without risk, immune to the strange effects of these outer wilds—yes, utterly free of any susceptibility to space madness—and they are themselves synchronized to the normal time flow by the complex mechanism implanted in their bodies. The operation, they say, is irrevocable.

I find it easy to believe such tales of space and spacemen.

Feel free to post any feedback you'd like--critical, back-patting, yawning, or chummy--in the comments section. And while you're at TSR, look around. It's a cool place to hang. I even have a newer, smaller blog there called Miranatha.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mir's Round-up and Resolutions Recap

I haven't posted in a few days, so bear with me.

~~Pammer is alive and almost-well and posting again on her blog. Please drop by and read her post for Monday, January 16. She could use some prayer. Do it for moi.

~~My review of MADE OF HONOR is over at amazon.com. Hey, I like it. Check it out and see if you do, too.

~~INFUZE magazine has compiled their voter-selected 10 best short stories and 10 best poems (and some other good stuff) for you to buy, read and enjoy. The adorable Mike Snyder, the delightful Mike Duran, and the crime-fictionado Chris Well, he of the nifty blog, all have stories in there. That alone makes it worth reading, says The Mir.

(Note: Chris has a post over there now on BEHIND THE SCREEN, a book I recommend for any Christian interested in going into the film industry. Check it out.)

~~I've finally caught up on sleep after accruing a deficit during the conference weekend. I will post later on the ACT ONE SCREENWRITING WEEKEND for those interested in the film industry. I can say this right now: If it comes to your area, go. Just do it. Mucho fun. Mucho good info.

~~Praising loud here. I learned that my online pal, Camy, won't have to redo surgery on her knee. She had fallen, but she got up. :) Actually, she was afraid she'd retorn it post-surgically, but the doc says nay. I say, "Hooray!"

God, He's rocking good.


~~"How are those resolutions of yours going, there, Mir?" you ask.
Ah, your concern warms the Cuban barrel tiles of my heart.

Here's the lowdown:

1. Diet and exercise: Super, thanks for asking. Lost 3 pounds last week. Have been eating at a caloric level I wouldn't have dreamed I could sustain one day, much less a week and a half, and my treadmill has been shocked out of a couple-year coma brought on by disuse. It's recovering nicely.

That New You Challenge at eDiets rocks. I guess I'm someone who needs external accountability AND competition. Whoddathunkit? You might want to consider joining in the next one in March if you've got some habits to change in the food/exercise dept. (Put down those chips right now! Go eat a peach...)

2. Bible Challenge: Oops. I'm behind in that 90-Day Challenge. Way behind. But I'll catch up to Camy, Marilynn, et al. My optimism is unbounded. I'm past where Sodom & Gomorrah go boom and closing in on Jacob's reconciliation with Esau.

3. Writing: Er...I'm gonna do some today. I promise. Check with me next week and see if I'm not kicking manuscript butt.

(Feel free, kind blog-reader, to pray for any of these resolutions. I may not be a food-hog this month, but I'm still a prayer hog.)

Sneak Preview of Upcoming Mir Posts:
Bible Stuff on SELF-CONTROL to help us keep our resolutions

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Confused About Story Structure or Plot? Have I got a book for you!

Over at her curiously named blog--Kittens Come From Eggs--Dineen Miller has posted a two-part "chat" with Victoria Lynn Schmidt, the author of a couple of helpful books for writers.

You might even own one of them already.


Well, you may want to hurry to pick up STORY STRUCTURE ARCHITECT. (The little writing on the cover explains it as, "a writer's guide to building dramatic situations and compelling characters." We all wanna do that, right?)

I like this book. The design is aesthetically pleasing to me (nice blues and grays), and it's got artistic flourishes that give it a "blueprint-ey" look. The lay-out is just delicious. I like when books are more than just some plain font on white, don't you?

But the best part for those of us who get stumped sometimes during plotting sessions or get confused figuring out what the heck writing folks mean by "story structure." This book simplifies the matter and gently instructs. Any doofus could get the drift.

And, well, if you read my blog, you are NOT a doofus.

Ms. Schmidt covers many types of plots. You'll be familiar with them if you've read Polti on the 36 plots (dramatic situations). She, however, expands on Polti's work. There are a lot of choices for you to use in assembling your story:

5 dramatic throughlines
6 conflicts
21 genres
11 master structures
55 dramatic situations

She uses graphs that show how action rises and falls for each structure, even. Is that cool or what?

If you like the hero's journey, she covers that as well as a feminine hero's journey, which is a bit different.

The best part is that after you've figured out where your novel falls, you don't have to reference the whole book, searching for pages. You just mark the few spots that apply to your particular work (conflict, genre,structure,situations). I use paper clips, colored ones. (Although, I shamelessly dog-eared the page on the hero's journey.)

I actually read this book AFTER I did most of the broad plotting of a fantasy novel, and my plotting coincided very well with one of her structures (a heroic journey). But the breakdown she includes, the steps of each major plot category, showed me something I needed to add and emphasize. That alone, I think, was worth the book.

Still, it's an adorable, eye-friendly reference. And fun to read. AND USEFUL. She really does help you become the architect of your own novel.

*Recommended for your writing reference shelf (or, in my case, bookcase).

You may want to hurry to get a copy, and, hey, I'm even happy to give you a link:

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Losing Weight 101: Seven Sort of Simple Steps To Success

Just about every woman I know KNOWS how to lose weight. She's done it. I've done it. It comes back (for most of us). We do it again. It comes back again.

We buy magazines whose cover teasers promise LOSE TEN POUNDS IN TWO WEEKS! or insist that YOU CAN BE BUFF BY BIKINI SEASON! or demand that you TRY OUT DIET AND LOSE IT FOR GOOD!

Admit it. They call to you.

But deep down, we know that, barring weird glandular disorders or a shot-to-heck thyroid (and yes, mine is a lump of scar tissue that barely functions and I would go into a deadly coma without my medication), losing weight is really simple:

~You eat less than you need to maintain your current weight
~You burn off calories and increase lean mass by exercise

That's it. The age-old secret to weight loss.

But it's hard. If it weren't, we wouldn't be a nation where 2/3 of our population is overweight, and an increasing number are joining the officially obese (not to mention officially morbidly obese, like moi).

It's tough cause food surrounds us. In ads on tv and magazines. Every block seems to have a bakery or pizza place or burger joint or Mexican eatery or Italian ristorante or Chinese buffet. Supermarket shelves blare out with tempting stuff, good and bad. We have huge fridges, large pantries, and they beg to be filled. Workers bring donuts and cookies at every possible occasion (and sometimes, for no reason). We eat out more as Americans, and restaurants all serve humongous, enough-for-two-three-and-sometimes-four portions. (If you don't think this is true, think I exaggerate, look at what is considered a serving of rice or pasta in a nutrition book, and then compare to what you get at your favorite eatery.) And to top that off, we like processed, convenience foods that are high in salt, usually laden with high fructose corn syrup (shown to be BAD BAD BAD for us, and maybe part of the whole diabetes epidemic), and probably chock full of stuff you wouldn't normally put in your recipes.

I'm old enough to remember when REGULAR ORDER burgers, the small ones with two ounces of meat, was the norm. When fries came in small packets. When soda was eight ounces, no more. When coke bottles were slendersized. And so...me and you and he and she are accustomed to supersized portions of everything and lots of sugar and salt and little produce and fiber.

Add to all that the fact that we sit a lot. We don't need to walk to work, we drive. We don't need to work as hard doing laundry or dishes as we used to. We sit in front of tvs, video games, computers, and...vegetate.

I do, says the Couch Potato Queen.

So, there is no easy answer. (And even gastric bypass surgery people can regain weight if they aren't watchful. Seen Carnie Wilson of late?) We have to fight the culture. Our society encourages us to become lardbutt couch-sitters. Our towns--especially mine, I can tell you--aren't planned to encourage walks, rides, neighborhood outdoor play, or walking to do groceries. We're all about speed and cars and being inside with the a/c and the latest hit movie on DVD. Our kids are bulging and developing "older folk" diseases. Heart disease is the number one killer.

We're eating and sitting ourselves to death. Me, included. Me, especially included.

We need to pray for our nation's health, and our own, individually.

And let's try to do some simple things to start:

~1. Eat five and more fruits and vegetables a day, fresh or frozen. (Canned is not very nutritive, folks). Aim for 9-11. Those colors are good for you.

~2. Move 30 minutes a day. To music. In your garden. Up and down stairs. At a gym. To a video. Walk the dog. Skate. Bike. Swim. March in place while reading a good book. Clean vigorously. Lift your hands and praise God with holy dance for a half hour. Just move.

~3. Whatever amount you're used to eating, consciously cut down. If you're pudgy or chubby or bigger-than-an-SVU, cut it by half. Or a third. Cut it by some measure. Be willing not to be stuffed; be willing to just NOT be genuinely hungry. (I am used to eating large meals. I don't satisfy easily. I have to eat volume. If you do, too, check out Volumetrics.) Get a good healthy lifestyle book that will show you what you should weigh and what portions really look like. If you have Syndrome X or diabetes or high blood pressure, there are great eating plans for every one of these conditions. (I have Syndrome X/metabolic syndrome.)

~4. Commit to write down, for the next four weeks, everything you eat, including it's caloric value or WW points value. EVERYTHING. Down to that Hershey's kiss (25 calories) or that lil spoonful of peanut butter you swiped from the fridge, or that piece of appetizer cheese or that half-danish you noshed at that office meeting, or the "taste" of your spouse's lasagna at Luigi's Love Shackery. Educate yourself about calories (or points), good fat vs. bad fat, adequate protein intake, healthy high-fiber carbohydrates vs. unhealthy processed ones. (The web is full of advice. Weed through it.)

Writing down what you eat is the only way you'll really know how much you're used to consuming, and why it's not balanced or excessive. (Most people guesstimate calories WRONG, and forget the things they nosh on on-the-go. That's why you carry a little journal and write it down!) You may learn when your danger times are, like late night or 4 pm.

~5. Drink a lot of water. Drink it warm, cold, in batches, or sips. But drink 6-8 glasses a day. Staying hydrated helps.

~6. Take a well-rounded multivitamin. Cover your bases. :) (If you have sugar issues, ask your doc about cinnamon and Alpha Lipoic Acid supplements, maybe even chromium picolinate. These helped me lower my blood glucose to normal after it went wonky, even without losing weight.)

~7. Pray. Praying, besides being good for your mind and soul and being COMMANDED by the Good Lord, actually helps you physically. It relaxes you, like meditating. It lowers blood pressure. And God does hear the prayers of His children. He wants us to be self-controlled (one of the fruits of the Spirit). So pray. Just do it!

There are other things you can do depending on what you personally need: a support group or another type of accountability structure, a weight loss pal, an exercise machine or a gym membership, a dietician to give one-on-one guidance, an endocrinologist to check out your system (many women have undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction), a personal trainer to teach you how to work out properly. Always, always, always, talk to your doc, especially people like me who take many medication and suffer from chronic conditions. Your doc will try to help you, if he or she is worth their M.D. degree.

Good luck, and I pray for you all happy hydrating, serene smaller-portioning, mirthful moving, sanctified supplementing, joyful journaling, pleasant produce-ingesting, powerful praying, and God's amazing grace.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

Monday, January 09, 2006

Resolutions: Big Mama Mir's Big Three

Making resolutions makes a gal feel so virtuous and ready for adventure.

Keeping them? Well, let's say my track record stinks.

But I persist. I live in hope. I am a dreamer of dreams and setter of goals.

I am also vast. I may not contain multitudes, like that Gadarene guy, but I very nearly qualify as a crowd all by myself. The Mir is...not petite. The Mir is...okay, FAT. Huge. Venus of Willendorfian. Great Danes fear I might trip and fall on them. I terrify chairs.

Fortunately, my hubby of twenty-two and a half years still finds me babe-a-licious and wants to grab me, frequently and fervently. God bless the deluded darling and his fine, manly legs. (Big Mama Mir is most blessed among women.)

Okay, enough about my adiposity and my hunkyboo. On to my big three resolutions. Maybe they're your big three resolutions, too. It's not like mine are so dang unique.

Here we go...

~~1. The Big One: Spiritual Growth.

It is remarkably easy to keep putting off things such as serious Bible study, holy meditation, prayer, and the exercise of Spirit-given gifts. I go through soul-feastings and fastings. Last year had both. This year, I'm aiming to feed the spirit and love God more.

It always goes back to discipline (and my lack of it). All my goals are related to discipline in one way or another. The spiritual disciplines (prayer, Scriptural immersion, holy meditation, fasting, exercise of virtues, etc) are necessary for growth in the knowledge and love of God, not to mention the control of vices.

I've been lax for months.

I signed up to start, this week, the 90 Day Bible Challenge. The whole Bible in 90 days. You can sign up too, if you want. Go here.

~~2.The Big-In-Another-Way One: Weight Loss

You already knew this was coming cause, well, you did read the first part of this post right? Thought so.

I've summoned up that Word of the Year and signed up for the NEW YOU CHALLENGE over at eDiets. (I didn't find out about the challenge until today, so I'm hoping I squeaked in on time, as it starts..um...TODAY.)

I gotta tell you, just posting that I wanted in on the challenge scared me. The idea of having to be accountable, of having to post on my progress in calorie restriction and exercising (ACK!), of knowing that my behavior would either cause my team to gain or lose points...well, it required courage from me. (If you missed my post on this, see January 2 below.)

I'm also signed up to the online version of Weight Watchers.

Weekly weigh-ins. Ouch.

~~3. The Big-in-a-Word-Count-Way One: Finishing A Novel

I've started novels. I've NOT finished one. This irks me no end. I want to really berate myself in a nasty, British sort of way, and then kick myself in the behind.

Instead, I'll just do it publicly, so I'm accountable. Hence, Once Upon a Novel. It's been dormant for about two weeks, but it's time to rev up. I set my goal: a finished manuscript, revised and ready to go to an editor or agent by December 2006. (I secretly hope I finish much sooner, but I'm not that courageous yet.)

Feel free to pray for my inspiration and consistent effort. Consider it part of fulfilling your spiritual growth resolution.

If you think writing a novel is easy, then I assume you never did it. Or if you found it easy, you're 1. a literary genius or 2. a blithering dolt who produced dreck and doesn't know it. This is my multi-part theory on writing fiction:

*Great fiction: a gift from God, and probably either astonishly difficult or naturally outpouring as if inspired.
*Quite Good fiction: ridiculously hard and only the truly driven and naturally adept (in some degree) get there.
*Average fiction: less hard, but still not easy, cause, man it's hundreds of pages of STUFF that you have to make up and arrange into something that makes sense.
*Kinda Bad fiction: anyone can do it who has several weeks to kill, if they have paper and something that marks said paper.
*Really interesting and heinously horrible fiction: hilarious, actually, and so has entertainment value; also probably not that hard, unless a talented writer attempts it for sport.

I've been told I'm somewhat talented. I just need to be way, way more driven.

(When you pray for my writing, can you add a forty-day fast to that? Might help. Thanks oodles.)

Note: I plan to post updates on my resolutions, as well as links to helpful sites and resources for those of you on a similar journey to grow spiritually, shrink physically, and produce creative material.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Good Girl's Guide to Armageddon

I couldn't resist using that cool title for my header, even if it's incomplete. The whole truth is that J.Mark Bertrand wrote a story called, "The Good Girl's Guide to Armageddon, Book 1: The Ivy League Bible Club Goes to War." The editors of The Wittenburg Door chopped off the first part of his title and kept the second part. Me, I dig it in its cool, tongue-in-cheeky entirety.

Don't you agree?

Anyway, I don't know about y'all, but with that crazy title, that's a story I gotta read. ASAP.

(I ordered my copy with my handy-dandy amazon.com Visa mere seconds after leaving J. Mark's blog.Now, I wait...)

If you, too, must get your girlie, manicured hands on this story--or your manly, hair ones--hie yourself over to Wittenburg Door's website and order it up. Trust me. J. Mark can write up storm. I have no doubts this will be a goody.

Note: If those WD folks have any business sense, they'll start marketing adorable, scoop-neck shirts splashed across the bosom with the artwork they created for this story. The cottony yummies will sell like LEFT BEHIND hot cross buns! (I'd recommend a pale seafoam green, a soft salmony pink, and a pale periwinkle for shirt colors.) I can see it now: Endtime Chicks totes, Bible covers, rubber wristbands in pastels with personalized last days plague symbols...

Come on. What teen gal in youth group wouldn't dig that Armageddon Angels look with some stylishly mangled bootcut jeans?

And who knows? Maybe J. Mark will become the Christian Chick Lit equivalent of LaHaye/Jenkins with the vast masses of ladies-who-laugh-lunch-read-and-pray.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What Would You Say To The Man Who Kills You?

I can tell you right off that, barring the gushing grace of God, I'm going to howl or growl or gasp or hiss something very, very, very rude and, obviously, unprintable in this blog...right before I throw a quickie confession skyward for all my icky thoughts and for that last spew of blue.

I mean, ya know, just me.

Fortunately for fiction, Mr. Chris Well, he of the nifty blog and comic-strip artist wife, had a different idea, one that forms the premise of a terrific Christian novel, FORGIVING SOLOMON LONG. The cool premise: What happens to a hit man when his preacher-victim forgives him with his dying breath?

That makes for a heckuva story, folks!

Chris is clearly a well-and-widely-read fellow. He pays homage to The Bard, The Big Sleep, and to comic books, filling his story with a killer with Lady MacBeth syndrome, a literate mobster, and comics-loving cop, all wrapped up with plot points outta King Lear and a style that reminds you of hardboiled fiction you've probably read at some point--Chandler, Leonard. It's a delight to find the literary allusions, the pop-culture references.

The pace moves at a good clip, so you won't be bored as you follow cops and baddies and Solomon Long as they chase each other around, shoot things up, battle interior demons and experience grace. Well cleverly shows us how the hand of God can intervene, just so, overtly or discreetly.

FORGIVING SOLOMON long was chosen as one of Booklist's Top Ten Christian Novels of the past year. I don't really think you'll be disappointed, especially if you like genre fiction and a spiritual element in your stories.

Chris has a new novel coming out in March: DELIVER US FROM EVELYN. Not really a title I can resist. Once you read FORGIVING SOLOMON LONG, I think you'll be joining me in hunting down a copy of his next work as soon as it hits the shelves.

(A link to Chris' nifty blog is in the sidebar. You may also want to visit http://firstnoveljourney.blogspot.com/ for a recent two-part interview with Chris that you're sure to enjoy if you have any desire to write or are a writer.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year's Day: Twenty-Four Hours of Mixed Feelings, One Minute of Revelation

I had a hard time with New Year's Day.

As we were watching the last seconds of 2005 tick away with the revelers in Time Square (on the tv), I turned to hubby, ready to smooch up the first seconds of 2006, and, to my own surprise, said, "I'm sad."

We kissed. I pulled back, "Yeah, I'm feeling sad."

He said something optimistic and encouraging, as he always does, my sweet babboo, my rock, my honeybunny, my schmoopiewumps.

But the mixed feelngs--expectation at what a new year brings, fear of the same, a sense of getting old, a dream of being able to restore a youthful vision, a sense of being able to create something beautiful and new and better this year with writing and with my spiritual life, a fear of terrible failure at both, a sense of melancholic nostalgia for New Year's past, when Mami and Papi and Tia and other loved ones were around to hug and eat grapes* with, a happiness at remembering that I have been loved and that I am loved.

I am a person riddled with fear and anxiety. I pray over it a lot, and sing "God is In Control," but there it is. Too much is not in my control, and that is often terrifying. The future that a times feels full of promise is also one that at times seems full of threatening events-to-come. (Think: worsening health, loss of more loved ones, hurricane seasons as bad or worse as the past one, perils of all sorts that plague large cities and aging bodies, the pitfalls that loom for families when conflicts arise.)

Hubby wants me to focus on gains, on the promise of the what-is-to-be.

I fear what may be taken away, the loss of what is.

So, I think of what my online pal Camy Tang did, from an idea which she nicked from my online pal Marilynn Griffith: Pray for leading. Get a word for 2006. (Visit their blogs for their words, if you're curious.)

And I waited for my word.

It came. Rather shockingly, too, out of the blue of heaven.

Mine is courage. The flip-side word of which is trust.

I really, really thought my word was going to be "renewal." It's a word that's been rolling around in my head. I was going to write a post about "renewal," with chapters and verses, but when I came to sit down, I got a whole different word. Instead of coming out of my head, it came out of my spirit. And I sure know it didn't come from ME, cause it's pretty near the bottom of the list of words The Mir would choose.

How 'bout that? God, He likes to surprise us, doesn't He?

I am not courageous. I remember a time when I was so much more so. But when my health fell totally apart in 1989-90, and stayed broken for years, badly broken, rendering me unable to work and depressed, I went into "reduce risk" and "security" mode. I still have several chronic conditions that affect my daily levels of energy, my mental focus, my breathing, my skin, my eyes, my ears, my endocrine system, my mood...well, I'm a mess. So, I've been afraid to take risks. Having a body that doesn't work right, feeling ill a lot, that saps the courage of many. It makes us self-protective, cautious, wary... isolated, even.

I do not want my word to be courage. Really, renewal sounds so much safer. Even love sounds cuddlier and gentler and not prone to give me an asthma attack.

Courage makes me think of pain, blood, endurance, stamina, tribulation. It brings to mind images of prophets standing against the multitudes, of fighters facing the enemy, of martyrs standing in dusty colliseums, waiting to be devoured. It makes me picture missionaries plunging into jungles, doctors facing contagion, widows raising little ones alone, orphans fending for themselves. Courage seems tied to... DANGER!

But God has told me this: "Be strong."

And this: "Be courageous."

So, here am I, Mir the Wuss, Mir the Risk-Avoiding Weenie, asking for prayers that I might be more like Joshua than Jonah, because this is my verse for the year, to go with my word for the year:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:9

Courage. Imagine that.

Heaven is laughing up a storm at the idea.

* Eating 12 grapes at midnight is a Cuban tradition--one grape for each month of the newly rung in year.