Small beginnings

I submitted the final draft of the manuscript of Bird on Fire to the publishing house today. Now it goes to the copy editor for a final comb through, then to the publisher for styling and other lovely appearance things, and then to print!

So, of course I called my mom to tell her the news. As we talked she asked about sales of my first book, Glitter in the Sun. I said, meh… once in a while a new sale will show up…

But then she remembered and reminded me of this verse –

small beginnings

 

Every great thing, every great movement, every great artist started somewhere.

While I don’t know if I will ever be considered “great”, it is nice to be reminded that a small start is worth rejoicing in.

Bird on Fire revealed

Designed by the talented Rick Nease, the cover art for my upcoming book Bird On Fire.

Designed by the talented Rick Nease, the cover art for my upcoming book Bird On Fire.

A (job) change could do you good

Remember way back, a year an a half ago, when I proudly announced I had a Real Job?

Yeah?

Well, change happens. Again. And for very good reason.

business-card-return to senderFor the past year and a half I have crammed my head full of marketing wisdom. I have read books and blogs, attended conferences, and watched more webinars than I care to count. I have been told to do X, Y and Z. I have been told X, Y and Z is exactly what not to do. And I have found that if I wait long enough that first advice might come around again. But, above all, I have learned that no one cares about a book and its success as much as the author does.

This was a demoralizing realization for two reasons. 1) I would not ever be able to do enough in the limited time allotted in my week to promote all the Read the Spirit authors to the degree they expected and deserved. And, 2) If I’m spending all my available time marketing other people’s books, who is going to care enough to market the book I just finished writing?

Apparently I was not alone in this epiphany. My bosses decided the best thing for both for Read The Spirit and for me was to release me from the marketing department so I can focus on caring about marketing my own book and writing more new stuff. It also means they will be able to promote me as a speaker and guest writer for other organizations and congregations.

I can’t decide if I’ve been fired in such a way that it feels like a promotion, or been promoted by being removed from a job… Either way it is some of the best news I’ve been given in a while. Truly, tears of joy welled up in my eyes!

New author photos were taken last week by the amazingly talented Jaclyn Michele.

New author photos were taken last week by the amazingly talented Jaclyn Michele.

So. Changes are happening.

My upcoming book, tentatively title Bird on Fire, is a Biblical look at The Hunger Games.

Changes will be happening here, also. Glitter in the Sun, the website, may eventually be absorbed into a new blog to be called Faith Goes Pop. Faith Goes Pop will address faith and popular culture as a whole – broader than the Glitter in the Sun focus on YA lit and my daily life. We’ve got some really fun features planned for Faith Goes Pop and a great chance for you to get involved.

I’m truly excited for the changes and hope you come along for the ride!

Invite a Vampire to Church This Weekend

Vampire from Nosferatu to Dracula to Twilight and zombies in Walking DeadI checked out yet another vampire book from the library this weekend. It’s by Scott Westerfeld, one of my favorite YA authors. I haven’t started reading it yet, since I’m working on a book deadline of my own—but it’s sitting on my TBR shelf, a juicy little reward for the faithful writer.

Coincidentally (or not… ) my editor asked me to write a little about vampires for you—challenging me to challenge you to “invite a vampire to church this weekend.”

This should be fun.

Vampires seem to be waning from popular culture at the moment—too much exposure to bright light does that to them I guess—but they’ll never go away. There’s something about the undead such as vampires—and the slower moving but increasingly popular zombies—that has always drawn our imagination.

Over the past five decades supernatural creatures in popular culture have evolved from purely evil destroyers of good—defeated only by faith and holy water, to conflicted creatures trying to retain the last vestiges of humanity in a battle against whatever virus or poison that is turning them. It reflects a change in cultural thinking from one of absolutes to one of degrees, and dovetails neatly with the declining influence of the organized Christian church in Western society.

As if deep down we all know without being told that there might be something to this living forever thing.

Because, of course, there is.

The fact that our fascination with vampires and other undead creatures continues is telling for at least two reasons:

First, we are hungry for the spiritual. In the past 20 or 30 years, even as science advances in leaps and bounds, movies and books featuring the unexplained and supernatural have flourished. The History Channel, for example—a source you might think to count on for presenting the most factual of events—spends weeks at a time on ghosts, prophecies, and access to the gates of hell.

Second, a nagging suspicion that there must be more than this life. For a few years you couldn’t go to the movies without seeing a title that included witches. Then it was all about the vampires—sparkly or otherwise. Now whether cute and recovering or terrifying mindless hordes, it’s all about the zombies. Each of these genres, at its root, has one question—what happens next? And, is it better to live forever, even if it’s in a non-human form?

See, without a faith to instruct us otherwise, we risk walking around in a state of perpetual grief. Unsure if we’ll ever see our loved ones again, and unsettled with the idea that when it ends it ends forever. Theologian George Macdonald addressed grief—trying to define the line between healthy grieving and obsessive grief—more than a hundred years ago. The following quote is often misattributed to C. S. Lewis. It seems appropriate here.

“Never tell a child: ‘You have a soul’,” said George Macdonald. “Teach him: ‘You are a soul; you have a body.’ As we learn to think of things always in this order, that the body is but the temporary clothing of the soul, our views of death and the unbefittingness of customary mourning will approximate to those of Friends of earlier generations.”

When observed through this lens, most vampires appear to be afraid of death, and most zombies completely unaware of their souls. I don’t think there is any better reason to invite them to church than to show a vampire there is nothing to fear, and show a zombie that they do, indeed, have hope.

The Hunger Games Catching Fire, new trailer!

Oh, it’s the antagonist’s fault!

Way back in April of 2011 (has it been that long?) I wrote this optimistic post about finding an agent for my first novel and my goal to finish the second book of the series.

plot lightbulbYeah…

About that…

So after pitching a relatively small number of potential agents, and being rejected, I let my dream of seeing The Dictator’s Daughter in print move to the back burner. Then to the pantry. And now it’s somewhere in the attic with the Christmas ornaments.

It’s not just that form rejection letters sting (’cause they do), it’s also because I was never able to finish The Printer’s Son. See, if there’s anything aspiring writers are told, it’s that we need to keep writing. But what do you do when you hit a brick wall? I was doing all the right things, writing with the end in mind yet giving my character’s room to breathe, but each time I would get to a certain point in the story –  nothing happened. I couldn’t force they protagonists forward, I couldn’t take them back. There was just nothing.

I decided to let it simmer to see if something developed.

Nothing did.

Life marched on.

Excepting the occasional nudge from friends who read the first book,  wondering how the whole thing ever wrapped up, the story just sat on my computer gathering virtual dust.

Until today.

Today Facebook friend and YA author Hope Collier Fields (who wrote the wonderful The Willows: Haven, you should read it), shared a link to Kristen Lamb’s blog – called, simply enough, Kristen Lamb’s Blog. The post, titled “The single largest cause of writer’s block – might not be what you believe” may have just set me free.

Lamb points out that most of the time the weakness is not necessarily in plot or in your hero or heroine, it’s because you have not put enough thought into your bad guy.

*bing* (The light came on.)

I have a bad guy. In fact I have bad guys – a bunch of them. But none of them have sufficient reason to create enough havoc to drive the story forward. A story’s energy is created by the friction between protagonist and antagonist. Right now all my antagonists have are grudges – not necessarily the stuff wars are made of. And for this story to get from point B to point C, trust me, we need a war.

So, for me, the next point of action is to pick up my bad guys and reexamine them. What are their problems? Are they big enough to create enough friction with my hero and heroine to drive the story to its conclusion? If not, can I modify them? Or do I need to scrap them and find a brand new bad guy to rock their world?

Oooh, the wheels are turning already!

Marketing Christianity

I attended a marking conference last week for my Real Job. It was amazing and I cannot say enough good things about Vocus, their marketing cloud suite of services, or their fantastic line up of speakers and training. It was all good – and so was the food.

photo (2)

Just a sample of what I learned at the Demand Success 2013 Vocus marketing conference.

In most things patterns repeat. The pattern in marketing, as defined by repeated themes during this conference, boils down to three words: Authenticity, Connection and Helpfulness.

Still buzzing from the conference I ran those three words past my mom. She kind of snorted a little, more like a humph, and said, “A lot of Christians could use that marketing advice.”

Whoa.

This is not a twice-burned atheist with a secular agenda who sees Christians as the stumbling block to utopia. This is a woman whose core definition is her Christianity. Jesus is her personal savior, friend and guide in this life. My mother lives, breathes and walks out her faith every day. She is one of the few people I know who has earned the right to set other Christians straight (God knows she’s corrected my course more than once…)

I had been so caught up in the intended application of the conference – how to help your business thrive by creating Authentic, Helpful Connections with customers – that I completely missed the spiritual application.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick; and it gives light to everyone in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

~ Jesus, Matthew 5:14-16

Let’s break that last verse down into its Authentic, Helpful and Connective parts.

Authentic: Letting your light shine

Who are you? Have you ever stopped to think that light only escapes through weakness? Lamp shades are fabric or paper, glass is fragile, and candles are the riskiest of all – so easy to extinguish with a puff of air.

Authenticity means not being afraid to let people know that you function only because Christ gives you strength. And that sometimes you struggle. And that sometimes you don’t even know why, but you’re hanging on anyway because you know that even if it never does make sense God has promised He will work everything out in the end.

Christian authenticity is admitting that no-one has all the answers and sometimes the best you can do is just be, breathe, and share a shoulder.

Helpful: Doing good works

There is a crusty old maxim in Christians circles, “he’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good.” These are the people who think they are doing you a favor by saying, “I’ll pray for you,” when what you really need is just $10 for gas to get you through to payday.

Don’t be that guy.

Yes. Pray. Absolutely. But don’t use prayer as an excuse to avoid being someones answer to prayer.

Connection: God in heaven

This is the reason we’re not teleported to heaven in a rainbow of Star Trek sparkles the very moment we accept Jesus as savior. We remain in this messy, painful, screwed up world to point the next person to The Reason we are able to be authentically helpful. Because we sure couldn’t do it on our own strength.

Look. I know this is scary. The people I met last week are very influential, very smart, and very secular. They are now a part of my social media circle and it’s quite possible this post will show up in their streams. The thought of pushing the “publish” button makes me feel more than a little jittery. (It’s not the caffeine – I’ve only had one cup.)

But then I think about the people who have stepped into my life, light and strength shining through their weak spots. The help I have been freely given. The God in heaven shown to me – who has Himself stepped down to lift me up. And I know I must.

This is me, authentically afraid you won’t like my message, offering the best help I can give through a blog interface, pointing to God who gives me courage to tell the truth I have come to understand.