Confessions of a Change Hater

confessionsHi, my name is Amy, and my confession is that I hate change. 

So, I started this post about six times before actually committing to this particular topic. Does that qualify for irony? For someone as indecisive as I can be, change is really not a comfort zone for me. At all.

I grew up in the same house, in the same town, with the same friends until my mid-twenties. It took 20 minutes to drive to my favorite place in the mountains. I had two favorite coffee shops, and a close-knit circle of amazing friends. I loved to travel, but mostly I loved coming home to my room, my things, my friends, my corner of the world.

So when I married a military guy, it was jarring to say the least when I made that first move away from my home. Honestly, life became pretty difficult for me. I felt lost without my support system, without the familiar landmarks I loved.  I didn’t know how to live on my own without them. Even the seasons felt “wrong.” Each time we relocated, there was new territory to learn, new friends to make, new hangouts to discover. I now got to learn how to call unknown places, “home.” And I despised it.

The only things I could take with me were my hobbies (reading, writing, and knitting), my little family, and my faith. And while my hobbies and my family didn’t change too drastically, my attitude was a major challenge to my faith. Externally, I made friends, learned about my new space, but my heart was crying out for a comfortable place, and my inner toddler was stomping her foot and hollering, “I don’t want to do this again!”

Have you ever made a decision, covered all your bases, done all the research, and then committed to it — and afterwards found out on the flip side that, well, this wasn’t exactly what you expected? Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s even something small. No matter, when this happens, sometimes well-meaning people will tell you that, “You have no excuse to complain, since you knew what you were getting into on the front end.” I think they mean it as a tough-love kind of way to remind you that, once, you believed that this was the right decision for your life. And you need to see it through. 

Though they may be correct, I haven’t ever found it to be that helpful of a statement. Words like that made me more unsure about making decisions — what if a decision that looks good on the outside actually turns sour? How can I be sure it won’t?

As you might guess (or maybe you’ve also learned), this is an exhausting way to live. So I had to figure out a way to get out of this paralyzing mentality. 

For some reason, the simplest answer is sometimes the most overlooked, like prayer. And that’s probably because I used to pray and tell God I wasn’t happy with where He’d put me, and that I’d (respectfully) like Him to make it possible for me to move to my comfort zone. Yeah. I’ll let you smirk at me on that one. I was always disappointed because He didn’t give me what I asked Him for.

I was recently challenged to approach God with the attitude of Mary (Jesus’ earthly mother) at the wedding in Cana. Present Him with the problem, and then step back and let Him take care of it in the way He will. It’s that stepping back part that gets me every time. Not telling Him how to handle my predicament. But when I started presenting my concerns about change to Him in this way, I noticed that I was granted peace and calm, more than a reversal of my situation. Because of that stillness, I was able to grow in my new place, rather than stay paralyzed in fear and frustration.

Music has always been a refuge for me. Finding lyrics, or even instrumental pieces that speak to me during times of change, has always helped me deal. It becomes kind of exciting to find the new soundtrack for this upcoming challenge, similar to when I’m choosing music to inspire a writing project. One of my hands-down favorite bands is Switchfoot. We got to go to one of their concerts recently and I about died of happiness, but that’s another story.

Anyway, their song, The Shadow Proves the Sunshine, is one that I’ve listened to on repeat when faced with transition. It’s a reminder that our difficult times actually accent the beauty in life, and God knows I need to remember that often.

One of the things moving has given me is an array of new friends each place I’ve lived. And I know that I’d regret never meeting the people who I miss the most. He’s given me cognizance of the difference of skies across the U.S. He’s given me the opportunity to be present in critical times for dear friends. I’ve witnessed both amazing and heartbreaking moments that I never would have, if I had stayed in my comfortable Hobbit Hole. And I’ve been given an appreciation for the depth that distance can give a relationship. 

Change isn’t something I can avoid. I will probably never truly like being pushed from my comfy place, which always seems to happen when I’ve finally become content. But it’s as if God says, “You’ve grown long enough, here. It’s time to grow another part of your soul. Let’s go.”

 

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine:

 

 

blog-author-photoAuthor Bio:

Amy Davis is a writer, mother, lover of hot drinks and nerdy things. She’s also a co-founder and Acquisitions Manager at Crosshair Press (crosshairpress.com) where she blogs monthly. She occasionally tweets on Twitter (@afielddavis) and posts on her personal blog at writingandrhythm.com.

Confession of Two Arrogant Thoughts

by James L. Rubart

 

eugeneArrogant Thought # 1

It was the mid 90s when I finished a novel in the wee hours of the morning and said to myself, “Really? C’mon. That’s supposed to be a good story? I could write a story way better than this.”

It wasn’t the first time that thought had skittered through my mind.

Arrogant? Yeah. But I didn’t do anything other than think that thought. Why? I’ll explain. (You might even relate.)

I’d dreamed of being a novelist since I was eleven. But I’d been taken out at the end of 8th grade by a lie that I believed till I was in my early 40s. The lie? That I had no writing ability.

In 8th grade—given my dream of writing—I took a journalism class. I loved it. I imagined being on the school paper the next year. Then, at the end of 8th grade, the journalism teacher chose the staff for the newspaper the coming year.

You already know where this is going. You’re right. My name wasn’t on the list. And I believed deep down in my core: “You can’t write, Jim.”

How ‘bout you? Might not have been writing for you. Might have been sports, or speaking, or painting, or singing, or cooking, or running for student body president, or a million other things, but I’m guessing you had a dream, a desire, something that stirred that deep place of joy inside you, but it crashed. It burned. Or it never got off the ground.

Arrogant Thought # 2

Fast forward a few years. Thanks to my life-changing wife, I finally jumped off the novel writing cliff and built my wings on the way down. (Thanks to Ray Bradbury for that awesome metaphor.) I got published. I hit a bestseller list. I won an award for that first novel.

You know what my reaction was?

I thought, “It’s not that I’m any good, it’s just that everyone else is so bad.”

That’s what I thought. Truly. Arrogant and self-deprecating and judgmental—all at the same time.

The Truth

In the years since I’ve discovered a few things. Or better said, my perspective has changed in a few ways.

  • First, both of the arrogant thoughts above come from deep insecurity. Am I worth anything? Do I matter? Can I do anything in my life that’s worthy of being remembered?
  • Second, the only way to be set free from that insecurity is to know, to KNOW I am loved by a Father with an unquenchable love. A Daddy that loves all my attempts—and sees all of them as triumphant, that celebrates not what I do, or accomplish, or create, but celebrates me simply because I am His son.
  • Third, the answer to the first question (can I do anything worth remembering?) is it’s really, truly okay … wherever the path of your life leads you, it’s okay. You are worthy. You do matter. You are utterly loved by a good, good, Father. And that’s enough. God’s definition of success is different than ours. Our is money, or fame, or recognition or … fill in the blank. But God’s is simple. Did you try? With whatever ability, be it great, or small, did you try? And the very fact that you care that you’re trying means you’re trying.

 

So as my friend Mark says, “Go crazy!”

Try it.

Dream it.

Believe it.

Do it.

 

tljtjp-cover

 


The Long Journey to Jake Palmer

Publishers Weekly starred review

Library Journal starred review

RT Book Reviews- 4 1/2 stars and  TOP PICK!

Available wherever books are sold.

 

 


james-l-rubart-hs-v4-7-26-16Author Bio:

James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man’s body. He thinks he’s still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories. He’s the best-selling, Christy, INSPY, and RT Book Reviews award winning author of eight novels as well as a professional speaker. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington.

More at www.jameslrubart.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Crazy Parrot Owner

confessionsof-accrazyparrotownerWhen I was 15, I went with my folks to get fish for my brother’s fish tank. Fish are interesting, but I’m not a terrific fan. You can’t do much more than sit and watch them and clean up after them. That amused Belle, my parents’ mostly cocker spaniel, who’d sit and watch the tank for hours. Literally. Even when it was fish-free. Not much fun for me.

While we were at the pet store, my folks and brother went look at the fish while I stopped to chat it up with a couple cockatiels. They were cute little critters. One, the typical gray color, was chattier than the other, a yellow and gray splotchy one.

The pet store had them on consignment from someone who needed to rehome them, so the owner was game to give my folks a good deal on the cockies and the cage they were in. When we left, I had my first two parrots. I named the gray one Sijon after a character in a story I was writing and the yellow-and-gray one Lockheed because she could fly incredibly well.

Since then, I’ve had a third cockatiel, a pearl named Spot; two pionuses, a white cap named Johnny and a dusky named Tiercel; and my current goofball, a Timneh African grey named Masika.

Parrots are all at once a terrific amount of fun and a bit of a drag to keep.

They’re chatty. Each of my parrots, to varying degrees, liked to whistle, chirp, imitate sounds, or even talk to me. One, Johnny, even showed signs of understanding exactly what he was saying. When he saw me doing something new, he’d ask, “Whatcha doin’?” He’d keep asking until I answered him, and then he’d never ask again if I were doing that activity. Another, Sijon, tried to teach me stuff. He was a wolf-whistler. If he started wolf-whistling and I answered with anything but another wolf-whistle, he’d stare at me, then whistle very slowly until I “got it right.” Then he’d resume normal speed.

Parrots are also amazingly clever. Masika can undo quicklinks, bolts, screws, latches, and dog-clip closures. Not even a problem. She is Houdini with feathers. I have to padlock her cage to keep her from taking some of it apart. Once, she even moved one of her toy from the top of the cage to a perch halfway down. Johnny figured out how to get my attention when he was scared by something. He had a particular screech that he used only when spooked. Spot figured out that if she bounced against the door of the cage enough times, the door would flop open and she and the other cockies could escape.

Unfortunately, keeping parrots can be a bit of a drag.

They have no concept of “sleep in.” Sijon and Freebie were up with the sun. Johnny was quiet until he heard me moving around even if I got up in the middle of the night. Masika has no concept of “night time.” That, I assume, comes from living some indeterminate time in a dark warehouse. Two in the morning is not inappropriate for bell-ringing, in her humble opinion. This was problematic when she and I shared a room.

Finding bird sitters is tough if I need to leave town for a while. Most people aren’t too keen on getting close to even a small bird beak, and boarding at a vet is often not an available option.

Birds are also a terrific mess. Every bird I’ve had could mess up an area in a 10-foot radius from the cage. Cleaning up after them is like taking care of a tantrum-prone toddler.

Surprisingly, I have learned a lot about writing from my parrots.

I’ve built some alien characters around my birds’ personalities, particularly when it comes to humans trying to communicate with the aliens. Birds communicate with posturing, vocalizations, and micro-expressions. Although there have been some similarities, each bird had a unique “accent” to the way they communicated with me. Whether it was Johnny’s call for help, Sijon’s world-class hiss, or Masika fluffing up, I learned how to read each particular parrot and birds in general.

The couple times I’ve tried to use speech-to-text software have been a bust because Masika or Johnny started making ruckus at inopportune moments. (I did come up with some fun non-human names that way, though. Dragon attempted to translate a squawk into letters.)

Owning parrots also showed me that all members of the same group do not necessarily act the same. No two birds were alike, even within the same species. Each parrot had a unique personality. Sijon was the straight man in the comedy troupe. If he had a sense of humor, he never showed it. Lockheed was very motherly. She was the gentlest bird I have ever had. Even when she was upset or defending a “nest,” she never did any damage. Spot was the adventurer. If there had been an avian version of X Games, she would have taken top marks every time. Spot did crazy things like spelunking in my purse (and emptying it out in the process) and purposely walking off the edge of the cage. She didn’t start flapping her wings until she was halfway to the ground.

Johnny was a protector. We worked together in a pet store for a while. If someone was picking on one of the birds, Johnny would do his special “help!” screech until one of the workers arrived to stop the gooberhead. He also tried to protect me from my abusive ex by flying off his cage or off my arm and attacking my ex.

Tiercel was a grouch until after I rehomed him. I’m not a fan of rehoming pets, but in his case, that was the best thing. He was clearly unhappy with me. His new owner has assured me that he’s doing much better now. He’s much calmer and happier. His new owner loves him easily as much as I did, so I’m happy for them both.

Masika is very wary. There is cause. She is a rescue bird, whose history we can track back 30 years. No idea how much older she is than that, but she was rescued from a warehouse where she’d been left after the pet store she’d been in was shut down. Getting her to trust me even a little has taken most of a decade, and there are still more days than not when she isn’t very friendly.

Using my birds as examples showed me that you can have huge variation even within a close group.

Owning a parrot isn’t for everyone. There are some real challenges about owning birds, even down to silly things like what kind of cookware, cleaners, and air fresheners you use. For me, though, owning parrots has been the best. I’d have a flock, but they deserve individual attention and my current one, Masika, is territorial. Just me and she until one of us passes away.

There you have it. Confessions of a crazy parrot owner. I’ll let you decide if that’s “crazy parrot” owner or crazy “parrot owner.”

 

headshot-for-avatars-doesnt-seem-to-pixellateAuthor Bio:

After hatching years ago in a land very far away, Cindy tried to hide under a secret identity, but she finally gave that up and started openly telling people she was an alien capable of adopting many forms. To her surprise, with the exception of one class of elementary students, no one believed her. They assumed she was joking, thereby giving her the perfect cover story.

She spent 14 years mutating the minds of four-footers – that’s height, not leg count – but gave that up to study the methodology needed to mutate the minds of adult humans. In her off time, she writes about her adventures under the guise of telling science fiction and fantasy stories, records her blog articles, and reads wonderful books in exchange for editing help.

Confessions of a Fear Fighter

confessionsof-a-fear-fighterToday, I’m so excited to welcome a new friend of mine, Chaka Heinze, to the Confessions blog series. She has quite the interesting take on fear. Read on, my friends!

 

I have a confession to make. It is not something I like to acknowledge in myself, let alone admit to the vast landscape of the internet where roving, multi-eyed creatures with barbed fangs lurk in shadow, looking to devour misstepping mortals. Did I mention the creatures leer at me with the stark white faces and bright red lips of painted clowns? (Thank you Stephen King.)

I digress.

I have a confession to make. Fear has been my unwelcome companion for as long as I can remember. It taunts me with sibilant whispers when I’m faced with the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable … or asked to drive and meet anyone anywhere in the wild places of the unknown. (The streets of Omaha, Nebraska can be terrifying for those who are used to orienting themselves using the rugged peaks of the Rockies. West. Always West.)

Fear slithers up to coil heavily on my chest in the night as I consider the conversations of the day, the well-being of my children, the lunacy of the upcoming election, or the depravity and violence that is becoming a daily occurrence both in America and around the world.

Fear strikes at me with unbridled venom whenever my son has a heart event and we end up in the hospital again.

If you think about it, there are countless manifestations of fear to contemplate from the moment you get up in the morning until you fall “safely” into bed again at night. I won’t name them all here, because focusing on fear has a way of empowering the beasties and turning garden snakes into leviathans.

As a child, I had one major weapon against the fear—I could control the narrative. If I had free time, I read. If it was time to go to bed, I told myself stories. Books and my stories were a safe place to test boundaries, have adventures, and explore the environment around me. During those days, I sometimes existed in the realms of dragons and elves or in the mind of another child tiptoeing through the minefield of puberty. And during the night, I imagined myself the main character in some fantastical drama in which I saved the world and got the boy. Well, sometimes … I just got the boy.

Fear drove me into the inner workings of my own imagination. And in there I learned to make magic.

As a grownup (a title that can only be loosely applied), I still wrestle with that great snake. Fear. But let me be clear—the beastie is no longer my master. This heart is under new management. Though fear still lurks about the edges striking at my heels whenever it senses a vulnerability, it no longer controls, stifles, or prevails (for long).

But I’m grateful. Instead of tearing me apart or killing my dreams, dealing with the fear helped me to find my voice. Both my spiritual and mental muscles have been strengthened in my battle against the simpering nuisance.

So I have a confession to make. I struggle with fear, and that’s okay. Because I know how this story ends.

 

How do you deal with fear?

 

13072671_10209815349089231_8479661413584245022_oAuthor Bio:

Chaka Heinze lives in Nebraska with her husband, four children, and two havanese pups. She is a keynote speaker with the ministry Wholly Loved and enjoys talking to groups of women about the faithfulness of God through difficult times. Chaka has always admired C.S. Lewis and desires to emulate his ability to glorify God without slapping people in the face with religion. Her debut novel, Under A Withering Sun, is in the process of being re-released (stay tuned for more details). She is a member of ACFW and NWG.

Find out more on her website: chakaheinze.com.

Confessions of a Subpar Creative Writer

confessions-of-a-subpar-creativewriterI’m an aspiring fiction author, and I am lousy at what people traditionally think of as “creative writing.”

There, I said it.

I’ve always enjoyed coming up with stories. As a child, I cast my Barbies, ponies, trolls, and other toys as players in many a dramatic quest or romance. I even wrote a few little books, complete with dreadful illustrations (if you think I’m bad at creative writing, you should see me attempt to draw!).

But when grade school hit and we were given creative writing assignments, suddenly my stream of fictional narratives hit an impasse. Sometimes I came up with a storyline that was way too complex to complete within the given time frame, leaving me disappointed when I had to close with an abrupt, unsatisfying ending. Worse, I often heard the writing prompt or looked at the picture meant to give inspiration and came up with nothing. I completed the assignments, of course, but they never felt like my best work. Based on the scores I received, my teachers agreed.

So I wrote myself off as bad at creative writing and moved on to pursue other interests. The stories still came to me, but I kept them confined to my head, never even considering writing any of them down. Since my love of reading had never wavered, I majored in English in college. And when it came time to figure out what I was going to do with my life, I solved the “What do you do with an English major?” dilemma by going to law school.

At this point, you’re probably asking, “How did a lawyer who’s lousy at creative writing end up as an aspiring author?” Life can be funny that way.

After practicing as an attorney for several years, my first son was born and I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. As much as I loved the time with my son, I soon found I would go crazy without a project. A soul-searching autumn walk produced the thought, “What if I were to write a book?” I quickly shut it down. “You tried the creative writing thing and stunk at it. You could never write an entire book.” But another, quieter voice popped up, too. “Yeah, but this time I’d get to write one of my stories.” (Yes, I conduct many conversations in my head. Don’t judge.)

Eventually I convinced myself to give it a try, assuming I would lose interest in a week or two. Instead, I fell in love. This was nothing like the painful stretching of my imagination in which I struggled to come up with something, anything, to fulfill a certain assignment. The words flowed freely; at times I could hardly type fast enough to keep up with my ideas. This felt like what I was supposed to be doing, like my very best work. Work that needed plenty of editing and revision, of course, but something that came from my very heart and soul, not from a desire to impress a teacher or a desperate attempt to fit a certain mold.

Now, I do realize that many writers enjoy and benefit from creative writing classes, writing exercises and prompts, etc. I’m just not one of them. Even though my grade school experiences were a long time ago, I doubt I will ever sign myself up for a writing workshop. At writing conferences, I will probably always shy away from courses that are advertised as “hands on.” When I get caught in a writing exercise I haven’t managed to escape, I will not be the one who eagerly raises my hand to share what I’ve written with the class.

And I will be okay with that. I will embrace my identity as a fiction writer who doesn’t do creative writing. Because for me, that’s exactly what keeps my creative juices flowing, and I’m determined to never let them get stifled again.

How do you feel about creative writing exercises? Do you fit the mold for your career path, or have you needed to find ways to make it work for you?

 

author-pictureAuthor Bio:

An avid reader since birth (her parents claim she often kept them up until nearly midnight begging to hear just one more story), Laurie Lucking discovered her passion for writing after leaving her career as a lawyer to become a stay-at-home mom. She is an aspiring author of young adult romantic fantasy and co-founder of www.landsuncharted.com, a blog for fans of clean YA speculative fiction. A Midwestern girl through and through, she currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and two young sons. Find out more about Laurie and her writing by visiting www.laurielucking.com.

Confessions of a Literary Mutation

04-21-19All my adult life I’ve struggled to merge my serious, Bible study, church-lady, self with my inner geek. You see, since childhood, I’ve loved to read, study, and know God through His Word. I’m passionate about everything from Noah to Nehemiah, John the Baptist to the Revelation of Jesus. I can talk and write about the Bible until, well, forever, actually. I’m certain that around the campfires of eternity, I’ll still be happy hearing the stories it contains.

However, God wired me with some nerd circuits, too. I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek (all the series from classic to whatever’s coming up next), and I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, Marvel Comics, The Lord of the Rings series, Once Upon a Time, King Arthur, Matrix, DC Comics, as well as select disaster movies, epic fantasy novels, science fiction books, and … well, you get the picture.

My mind swims with these characters and stories so, when I’m processing biblical truth, I often find the perfect illustration in a zombie war or a Klingon ritual. That’s just how I roll. I suppose it’s not hard to figure that I would mutate this way if you consider that I received most of my early discipleship through two magazines. In college, I faithfully read Discipleship Journal and the Wittenberg Door, one, serious biblical scholarship, and the other, evangelical satire. Yes, I’m the love child of these two, now defunct, periodicals.

cat-518306_640I’ve struggled with this–at one time attempting to hide one side from the other for obvious reasons. Only revealing one side to certain people, the other side to others. You understand. But frankly, that’s an exhausting way to live, and I respect God too much to deny His design. I mean, you wouldn’t encourage a hedgehog to keep acting like a house cat, would you? There’s a reason He created both.

It wasn’t until I started my blog and worked up the nerve to write the way I think that I discovered I’m not alone. Of course, God designed enough of us to crew a Starship, deliver a ring to Mordor, or alert the planet of impending disaster. As I found others like me, I grew to accept myself as a literary mutation–a person who merges the biblical with the fantastical in the service of furthering the kingdom of God. (It was only recently, at a Realm Makers conference, listening to a pitch from Splickety Publishing Group, that I discovered the concept of literary mutation and embraced it as my author identity.)

In my first book, Running from a Crazy Man (and other adventures traveling with Jesus), a quirky, unconventional devotional, my inner geek makes peek-a-boo appearances in chapters titled “Klingon Christians,” “Where’s My Cool Iron Suit,” and “The Faith of the Redshirts.”

My newest release, Jesus and the Beanstalk (Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life) is a full-scale merger combining serious bible teaching about characteristics necessary for spiritual growth described in 2 Peter 1:1-10 and illustrations rife with fairy tale characters, Star Trek figures, and, yes, even zombies. (If you’re a fan of a certain TV show, you won’t want to miss the chapter titled “Thou Shalt Pray like Sheldon Cooper.”)

I’m really excited about this book and even more excited that the more I find my identity in Christ, the freer I am to not only be who He made me but also to write what He created me to write. I’ve found that many of us write with the hopes that we aren’t alone in this world. My favorite part of writing is hearing from readers who also felt alone until they discovered my words that expressed what they didn’t have words to say. The faster we find the courage to write from the deepest part of who we are, the faster we’ll find the readers we are intended to reach.

How amazing is God’s imagination that He could design the likes of all of us and put into place a plan of redemption that includes even literary mutations like me?

 

Have you ever faced the issues of being a mutation of any kind?

 

roeleveld-headshot-2015About the Author:

Lori Roeleveld is a disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. Passionate about the church, she speaks and writes with humor, transparency, and authority about the long journey from the ground to glory. She writes an unsettling blog and authored three books, her latest Jesus and the Beanstalk (Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life). A retired homeschool mom with a day job and a husband, she’s also a part-time giant-killer/dragon slayer. Not available for children’s parties. She’s prone to reveal too much about herself at www.loriroeleveld.com

 

high-res-beanstalk-cover-2Link for Jesus and the Beanstalk: https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Beanstalk-Overcoming-Giants-Fruitful/dp/1501820044/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471726558&sr=1-1&keywords=jesus+and+the+beanstalk

Link for Running from a Crazy Man: https://www.amazon.com/Running-Crazy-Other-Adventures-Traveling/dp/1941103782/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471726591&sr=1-1&keywords=running+from+a+crazy+man

Confessions of a Book Gypsy

confessionsof-abook-gypsyThere’s something gloriously fascinating about touching down in a new place, tripping along the cobblestones of an unfamiliar street, and eyeing buttery croissants in the display case of a cute café. And always—no matter where you go—there’s a wrinkled old woman gossiping on the corner. How do I know?

Because I’m a book gypsy, of course.

I’ve visited over 30 countries (some multiple times) in the last 10 years. I lived in northern England for two and a half years, while traveling to nearly every continent in my communications role with a global non-profit. I’ve interviewed an ex-Buddhist monk in Myanmar, ridden a camel on the sands of Arabia and photographed a wrinkled babushka (grandmother) in Siberia. My first published novel was co-authored completely via Skype and Google Docs, and I’ve edited more manuscripts at several thousand feet, on the floors of random airports, or in foreign countries, than I have at home.

My friends call me their gypsy, and I’ve enough of a Boho streak to concede their point. I’m also a bit of a collector in my travels. Of souvenir bits and bobs and smatterings of dialect, sure, but also of sights and smells and memories of places and people most will never see or know exist.

Istanbul? Colorful carpets and warm, fragrant bread. Northern England? Misty mornings and stone fences, a thick brogue and steaming steak and ale pie. United Arab Emirates? The call to prayer ringing out over the sunrise, crushed mint lemonade, and white robes flapping in a hot breeze. Bangkok? The sharp fragrance of incense and the insistent clanging of tuktuks. Africa? Pink, hazy sunsets and a baby rhino snuffling at a water hole, rough curls under my fingers and the most epic senior citizen dance moves you’ve ever seen.

ts00286rvOne of my greatest joys as I travel is to soak up the lives of very different people in very different places, to walk a mile in their recycled-tire shoes and experience their normal. Sometimes I capture a snapshot in a photograph or well-turned phrase, or sometimes I simply exchange a smile and make a memory.

My gypsy ways have given me abundant opportunities to observe a variety of people, places, and cultures and to employ the most important rule of traveling—first, always, seek to understand. Observe. Listen. Taste. Experience. Then, bit by bit, understanding will come.

I’ve found this experiential way of learning to be very helpful as I develop my fictional cultures and characters, layer by layer. I ask myself, as I do when visiting any new place, “What do they believe?” “What is valued in their culture?” “Who has power and influence?” “Is the individual—or the community—most important?” “What roles do people play in society? Family? Religion?”

Often, other people’s “strange” behavior (or even bizarre road construction!) makes perfect sense when viewed from their belief and value system, which may be completely opposite to mine. Once these “building blocks” are in place, I can then create the outer layers of fictional cultures and characters through sensory details, mannerisms, dialect, and more.

img_2280rvThat’s where characters really come to life. That’s when readers can take a walk through your streets, sit down and gossip with your old women, feel the desert wind sandblast their cheeks, and smell the spices stacked in pyramids at the markets.

If you’ll forgive me my worn, battered soap box (it’s seen a few miles), one of my greatest frustrations and disappointments when both reading and editing books is stories that lack realistic cultural depth, and characters that exist outside of their cultures.

Technology that doesn’t correlate, people behaving in ways that are inconsistent with cultural roles without repercussions, character housing and dress that is completely at odds with their culture, religion, or environment. The list is lengthy and egregious, but I’m sure you can think of your own examples, so I won’t belabor the point.

People say to write what you know, and for very good reason. How would I know that a Qatari souk (indoor/outdoor market) smells like saffron and sounds like a mildly-chaotic petting zoo if I hadn’t walked those crowded corridors?

Authors know their worlds better than anyone. Their fantastical cultures, people and places are their second home. But I’ve found they often don’t know their fictional home cultures as well as they might think. And that’s truly a shame, because truly rich and wondrous worlds can exist in the minds of writers—and their readers—if only they first would seek to understand.

That’s what I love about being a book gypsy, after all. There are always brave new worlds to discover, strange people to meet, fascinating cultures to experience, and a comfy armchair and a warm cup of tea to come home to after a long journey.

But, I must be off. Book gypsies don’t stick around long, you know. After all, the road goes ever on and on, and I must follow, if I can.

 

katiem2About the Author

 

Website: www.storyforhisglory.com

Instagram: Create.Explore.Illuminate

Facebook: Create. Explore.Illuminate

Pinterest: @CPKarisWaters

Twitter: @CPKarisWaters

Book: www.crosshairpress.com/books/kenan/

Confessions of an Artist Hiding From her own Heart

love-castle-1042979_1920I am an artist, but I’ve only recently accepted it. Growing up in an uber-practical Midwestern family, as a rule, artistry was something to be respected and grateful for, but it wasn’t highly valuable as a skill. So instead I focused on achieving practical things. Being organized. Being reliable and responsible. Changing tires, balancing check books, making lists. Life skills and algebra (*shudder*).

But I was only ever truly happy running around outside in the fresh green grass of the back pasture at our family farm. Sticks became energy weapons. Towering sunflowers became leering villains who needed a beating. I climbed apricot trees and pretended I could glimpse my imaginary world through the blossoms. I blasted soundtracks in my bedroom and paced in circles, letting the vigorous strains of Anastasia and The Phantom Menace choreograph action sequences that could keep Weta busy for decades. But I didn’t really write it down, and I certainly didn’t take it seriously. I was just playing, and the real world mattered more.

new-name_final_smallFast forward 20+ years. I tell stories for a living now. The first novel I ever wrote hit the shelves in March of this year, and in December of this year, the third book in my Destiny Trilogy will be available too. You can pre-order it right now, actually (http://crosshairpress.com/books/destiny-trilogy-3/).

Conquering the fear of sharing my words with the world began with understanding that God gave me a gift. Not everyone can write, and I had a choice to use my writing for myself or for God. My choice? God gave me this gift of words, so why wouldn’t I want to give it back to Him? And that’s where my real confession begins.

I am an artist, but I’m a practical one. I’m convinced that my practical upbringing helped me get to where I am now. I’m an artist who can run a business, who can understand accounting, finance, taxes, and insurance. I’m an artist who can pinch pennies, make deadlines, plan ahead, and manage people. I’m an artist who has finished 40 novels, averaging 55,000 words each. I’m an artist who lives and dies by the clock and the calendar.

That’s great, right? Because everybody can count on me. Everybody can look to me for answers. Everybody can come to me, and I’ll solve their problems. So it is great for an artist to be practical, especially if you have a caretaker streak in your personality. But if you’re an artist, you can’t always be practical.

I thought I could be practical all the time and still harness the heart of an artist whenever I felt like it, but I’ve learned it really doesn’t work that way. If you don’t have an artist’s heart, you may not understand. A practical heart can be refreshed and renewed with productivity and accomplishment and a good night’s sleep. An artist’s heart needs more than that. An artist needs to create. Without boundaries. Without rules. Without judgment or criticism. Artists need freedom to dream as big as they can imagine, whether it’s possible or not.

What the practical would call a waste of time is the artist’s lifeblood.

I’ve straddled the line too long, too afraid to accept my own artistic heart. I think I feared some Kafka-esque metamorphosis that would change me from a reliable person to a flake who couldn’t be trusted. And I can’t think of any greater horror than disappointing people who love me. At the same time, an artist confined to practicality is like growing a flower in water. It’ll grow, but it needs more if it’s going to thrive.

I am an artist, and avoiding that fact isn’t helping me. God wove my soul together. God made my brain this way. He knew exactly how weird I was going to turn out, and He still said it was good. So maybe I should too.

If God gave me this heart, if He gave me this gift, why am I afraid to embrace it? God doesn’t work through fear. He never has. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fear Him. I mean, heck, think about who He is. I fear Him, believe me. But I know He loves me. I know He’s good. And I know His plans for me are better than I can imagine.

I can be a practical artist. So can you. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Actually, both practical folks and artistic folks could benefit in learning from each other. One isn’t better than the other. One isn’t wrong and the other’s right. Usually, they’re both wrong, and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I’ve been hiding from my own heart for years, and I’m done with it. This crazy, quirky, random heart God gave me belongs to Him anyway, so I shouldn’t be afraid of it. As long as it’s focused on Him, I’ve got nothing to worry about.

So blow up the box. Set fire to the rule book. Wipe the slate clean. God made me an artist, and I’ve got a job to do.

 

Are you hiding from who God made you to truly be? Or just scared to be that person?

 

me2015Author Bio:

Amy Williams is a novelist, freelance writer, founding member of Crosshair Press LLC, and professional nerd. You can find most of her work under the name A.C. Williams, but she also writes young adult fantasy (The Legend of the Lightkeepers) under the pen name Kimberly McNeil. Amy is single and lives in her family’s 100-year-old farmhouse on five acres in the middle of the Kansas prairie. She loves cats and drinks far too much coffee. Follow her random adventures on Facebook (AmytheStoryteller), Twitter (@acwilliams05), Instagram (@acwilliams05), and online at amycwilliams.com.

Confessions of a Male Introvert Thinker Author

Ceramic coffee mug and newspaper on wood table.

Ceramic coffee mug and newspaper on wood table.

When I decided to plunge into the work of novel writing, one of the first things I did was take stock of how those already in the business did things. I scoured websites, stalked social media sites, lurked inside launch parties, and otherwise gathered as much information as I could. I knew that writing a book was one thing, but connecting with readers and generating a following was something entirely different.

As I was writing specifically in the realm of Christian speculative fiction, I focused on those authors … and as time went on, I became aware of a general trend. The majority of the writers were women, as were their readers, and there was often a strong human connection between the two groups. In fact, in some cases their reader base was so devoted that there were entire Facebook groups devoted just to reading the author’s book and then talking about it with the author.

All of these things are absolutely fantastic. These authors have done a sensational job of bonding with their readers, cultivating community, and building on that to create cheerleaders for their (very good) books. It’s an awesome snowball effect to behold, and I’m excited for what they’ve been able to do, in some cases in a relatively short period of time.

It also creates unique challenges for this male, introvert, thinking author.

(I’m an INTJ, for those of your Myers-Briggs people keeping score at home.)

It’s not just a stereotype to say that women are a major force in the world of fiction; in a recent story, Christianity Today confirmed statistically what most of us have observed anecdotally. Women read more than men, gather to talk about reading more than men (i.e. book clubs), and hone in on Christian fiction more than men. Of course, there are men who are successful in both the broader category of fiction and the more specific realm of Christian speculative fiction (including a few men with my own publisher, Enclave), so I know can be done.

Figuring out, for me, how to get there has been a process. Part of that process has determining where I fit in. How do I connect with readership? How do I, as a science fiction writer, build bridges with both male and female readers? How do I push the door open so that those readers will take a chance on my writing? Most importantly, how do I accomplish all of this while still staying authentic to who I am – as a thinking introvert in a business that seems to revolve around human connections?

The good news for me is that, slowly but surely, I’ve been working through the answers. I’ve been blessed with a core of great people who have helped me through the process, from beta readers to launch team. Many of them (including my wife and my editor) have helped stretch my writing in ways that helps balance my thinking, plot-oriented nature with the nuances of personal relationships and character development.

As a result, I’ve had wonderful people – men and women – from all walks of life who have taken a risk on my writing and given me humbling comments. Some of them are sci-fi fans from outside Christian fiction altogether; others are readers of some of the same dazzling authors I talked about earlier. And as I continue to write more short stories and novels in my debut series, I’m ever hopeful that I’ll continue to find new doors to sail through.

Relationships, torpedoes, and all.

 

Joshua Johnston - Headshot - LowAuthor Bio:

Joshua was raised on science fiction television and film before being introduced, in his teenage years, to the wider universe of science fiction literature. In addition to his daily work teaching American history and American government, he is an occasional writer on a variety of topics, including video games and parenting.

His debut novel, Edge of Oblivion, released with Enclave Publishing (now Gilead Publishing) in April 2016. Joshua lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife, Rachael, their two daughters, and a highly xenophobic cat.

He can be found online at www.joshuaajohnston.com.

EdgeOblivionJAJ - Web

Confessions of the Sufferings of a Fear-Deficient Man

Confessions of the Sufferings of a Fear-Deficient ManI originally titled this post, “Confessions of the Sufferings of a Fearless Man” with the intent the title would do what all good titles do well—grab your attention. It’s not, however, exactly true that I’m “fearless.” No, I do have fears, but when I look back at my life I would have to say I didn’t have nearly enough of it for my own good at times. It happens to be the case that a lot of the fears I have come from bad things that have happened to me as a result of risk taking—fears I’ve acquired over time.

In fact, you may have never really considered it, but the function of fear is to keep a person from doing stupid things that get you hurt. I mean, in stories it’s normal to admire the person who shows courage, but there’s a reason we all see that as a rare trait. Because showing courage is an awfully good way to get hurt. Not always, but often enough. In other words, if courage were common or easy—well, they’d be a lot more people in the Emergency Room.

So childhood thoughts I had like, “I wonder if I can climb that pine tree all the way up to the tiny little branches?” (You can, but they will break and you’ll fall.) Or “I wonder if I can swim in a river engorged and flowing fast with snow melt?” (You can, but it will be a near-miracle if you make it back to shore alive.) Or “I wonder what it would be like to breathe hard, then squeeze my carotid arteries?” (You’ll pass out, which can be fun if you’re weird, but is not recommended for your brain health.)

All these things produce negative results for the person who feels no fear to try such things. Of course a normal, sensible person isn’t going to do crazy stuff like that; ordinary fears will shield you and steer you back to safer actions. (Well, that’s assuming you’d even think the off-the-wall, random thoughts I’ve had at times in the first place. Perhaps you are not “blessed” with that sort of an imagination. Ahem …)

Now, I did actually have some instinctive fears as a child. I was, for example, afraid of the dark. Which, other than tripping over a random object a time or two, has never actually hurt me at all. Unlike most of the things I felt no fear of until I got hurt. Like falling. Sigh.

So again, I never was really “fearless.” I just didn’t have enough fear. Fear-deficient.

Leading me as a young driver to take huge risk as I was hauling down a Montana highway at 55 miles an hour, under conditions rather resembling an ice skating rink. I saw three or four cars had slid off the side of the road, and I thought for a brief moment, “I wonder if I should slow down?” Nah! I kept on going, full steam ahead! Until I came to a turn in the highway in front of a hill that had been cut away. I tried to turn to follow the road, but guess what, the car just kept going straight ahead, Sir Isaac Newton’s inertia in command. Slamming the car into the rock face. (I did actually feel some fear just before impact—I prayed, “Dear God, I’m dead.” Well, it turns out that due to His mercy, I wasn’t dead—but I was a tiny bit wiser.)

I wish I could say that one major crash taught me to be super-careful on icy roads. Um, NOT. It took several more minor crashes for me to wholly get the message. And you can imagine how I learned to be cautious about hydroplaning—yep, it didn’t matter that I’d already slid off the road under icy conditions. I had to learn the lesson AGAIN by going off a wet road into a security fence. How did I learn not to drive too fast under good road conditions? Well, actually I still do drive too fast, but I’ve had some crashes and stiff fines that told me, “Hey, moron, SLOW DOWN.”

There are dozens of examples of this sort of thing with me: Learning you DON’T randomly walk behind a horse unless you’re comfortable with getting kicked. No, you CAN’T win a fight with a school bully who has an adult body build when you’re still a kid, based on pluck alone. No, you CAN’T randomly say any thought that passes through your head—people will judge you for it. No, it ISN’T a good idea to drink tap water in a third world country. Etc.

As a writer, one of the things I do is portray different types of people. I’m aware of people who are cautious and careful and insightful on a daily basis. As much as I’ve learned to act more and more like that the older I get, it’s not my basic personality type. Which is to take huge risks—and at times, to suffer hugely from them. But over time, I have come to resemble someone who is naturally cautious. About most things. At least some of the time.

To my fellow authors in the world, I ask you to remember how risk-taking can be a personality type when you write characters. Please also remember that things don’t always turn out for the best for risk-takers. Fear exists for a reason—while there are benefits to showing courage, it can also turn out badly. And the best brave characters feel fear but press forward anyway—but bear in mind there exist a certain group of people who don’t feel very much fear at all.

If you happen to be someone who lives with a person who keeps doing dumb things that you think any sensible person would know not to do—say it’s a male teenager or young adult in his 20s—please be encouraged that it’s at least possible sometimes for that person to learn to develop some healthy fear over time.

But he will unfortunately have to suffer some pain during that learning process. That’s what it took for me.

6 APR 2016 selfieDAuthor Bio:

Travis Perry was born in Montana in 1968 and raised in that state. The Crystal Portal, published in 2011, was his first novel. He also contributed to the short story collections Stories From a Soldiers Heart, Aquasynthesis, Aquasynthesis Again, Avenir Eclectia Volume 1, Colony Zero, No Revolution Too Big, Medieval Mars, and Avatars of Web Surfer. An Army Reserve officer who deployed for the Gulf War and later to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa, his writing reflects his lifelong interest in science fiction and fantasy, his strong Christian beliefs, and his knowledge of modern warfare.

 

LINKS:   Amazon author page — https://www.amazon.com/Travis-Perry/e/B005EREN66

Blog — http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/