Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas (a day late.)

Shake yourself from the dust, arise; 
Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, 
O captive daughter of Zion!  
For thus says the Lord: 
"You have sold yourselves for nothing,
 And you shall be redeemed without money."

Isaiah 52:2-3

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good!  For his mercy endures forever.  -Psalm 136:1

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I am so thankful this year for my family and friends.  That's what I'm always thankful for, but hey- they're such awesome people.  

My blog posting has been really erratic this past year.  I keep disappearing and not telling anyone, so this time I thought I should say something; I have decided to stop blogging until after New Year.  (Well, I'll probably do a Christmas post because why break tradition?)  I had hoped to get myself back on some kind of schedule, but the holidays are not the time to do it (especially not when you're trying to make some of your presents, and all of a sudden December is almost here.  Yikes!  Where did the time go?)

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thoughts on the Movie `God's Not Dead' and the Use of Subplots

In Ansen Dibell's book `Plot' he talks about the importance of patterns and echoes, how they hold a story together on a subconscious level.  By allowing a subplot or character to echo your main one, you give yourself room to explore your theme from a different angle.  Instead of presenting just one idea or outcome, you're allowing the audience to see your problem from several sides.

I just saw the movie God's Not Dead, and it is a great example of this kind of weaving.  (If you don't want to be spoiler-ed, now would be the time to stop reading.)  The main plot is that Christian law student is challenged by an atheist Philosophy professor to prove that God exists, so the story is basically a courtroom drama.

 One major theme in the movie is the importance of standing up for God despite outside pressure.  This theme could have been carried by the main plot but it would have been weakened by the fact that the hero's decision to stand up for God has no negative impact on his life.  He doesn't flunk the class and he doesn't publicly humiliate himself.  In fact, he gets publicly honored.  It's a total win.  This ending runs the risk of making the story seem trite.  

Fortunately, the main plot is echoed by several sub-plots.  We follow a girl from a very traditional Muslim family and a Chinese foreign exchange student who is also in the Philosophy class.  The girl from the traditional Muslim family turns out to secretly be a Christian.  When her father finds out, he throws her out of their home.  The Chinese student is left with a similar situation he texts his father about all the talk of God in Philosophy class and is told to go with what the teacher says, and also that the line they are using might be insecure.  He becomes a Christian in America, but will eventually be returning to a country where Freedom of Religion is not a right. 

 By creating a pattern the storyteller deepens the story and invites the viewer to truly think through their theme. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Sculpture

This past Sunday was Walk for Life, the fundraiser for CareNet, our local pregnancy crisis center.  As always, a wonderful group of people turned out to support the center.  We had a diaper sculpture competition.  My friends and I put this one together. 

Contrary to what it may look like, I did not build this alone. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


A bit ago I ran into a bit of a difficulty in the new novel I've been working on.  Thirty-odd pages in I realized I was coming up on the first action scene -and suddenly the story stopped wanting to come.  Instead of typing I was standing around the kitchen because waiting for a tea kettle to whistle was a lot more exciting than my story at the moment.

Fortunately one of the things I do when I should be typing is read other people's blog posts.  I was going through Janice Hardy's archive (because I wasn't quite desperate enough to clean bathrooms) when I came across this article on raising stakes.  Janice points out that it's difficult to make a situation suspenseful when you're too aware of how the scene needs to play out.  You can end up just going through the motions.  It was a major eureka moment for me.  My problem was that my heroes couldn't die this early in the story -and my audience would know it.  Sure, they could suspend disbelief.  They could pretend to think everyone will die by page thirty one and the next two hundred pages will be a stirring eulogy, but in the back of their minds they know -and I know that they know- that nobody was going to die this early in the story.

Janice's blog reminded me that lives don't have to be the only thing at risk in an action scene.  What if the villains don't know who the heroes are during the first encounter -and the heroes have to keep it that way?  Now the audience is afraid one of the heroes will slip up during the fight and let the secret out.  Or what if the hero is on his way to Aunt Matilda's eightieth birthday party when the villain jumps him?  If he doesn't escape in time for the party (or arrives with his clothes torn and his present stolen) his family will continue to think he's a dead-beat who doesn't care about them -especially if he's a spy and can't tell them what he's really up to.  

 When it comes to life and death stakes, story placement has a huge impact on suspense.  I'm always more worried about a character in physical danger if I'm in the last two thirds of a stand-alone novel, or if I'm on the last book in a series.  I know the author is less likely to think this character has to stay alive so I can use them later if there isn't a `later' left.  Also, I've spent enough time with the character to become attached -often because of those early action scenes where I knew all along that the hero couldn't possibly be in danger yet

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A New Sketch

I like to give myself a visual of my characters.  This guy is innocent and curious, and not human at all.  He came about, oddly enough, while I was trying to write about a teenage elf assassin.  Maybe my subconscious has something against assassins?

Thursday, August 21, 2014


I was re-reading Winnie-the-Pooh and House on Pooh Corner.  I found it interesting that the penultimate chapter in the first book is Piglet's rescue from the flood, and the two chapter before the final in the second book are both stories where Piglet does the rescuing.  It made me take a closer look at the heroism of Piglet.

 The first time Piglet comes to the rescue -climbing through Owl's letter box to get help when the house falls over- Pooh talks him into it by promising to write a song about him afterwards.  Piglet wants to be brave -that's foreshadowed in chapter three of House at Pooh Corner when Piglet highjacks Pooh's story about heroically answering back to a heffalump but gets completely flustered as soon as he thinks an actual huffalump is talking to him- and he admires Pooh's courage.  Piglet is very aware that he is vulnerable because he is `a very small animal.'  After Owl's house blows down his smallness becomes a strength instead of a weakness.  He is the only one who can escape for help.

The second rescue -sacrificing his house so Owl won't be homeless and also to save Eeyore from embarrassment- is driven at least partly by Piglet's defining traits of his loyalty as a friend and his role as a peacemaker.  In The House at Pooh Corner when Rabbit is trying to find out where Christopher Robin goes in the morning, Piglet is the one who thinks to cheer Eeyore with violets and then use them as a distraction when Eeyore takes offense at Rabbit.  In the Woozle hunt in the first book, Piglet shows his loyalty.  He may be the first to try to call off the hunt when he realizes that he and Pooh are outnumbered, but he doesn't leave until Christopher Robin appears and he knows Pooh will be protected.

Piglet does not appear heroic in most of the stories; he is mostly small, and friendly, someone who tries to avoid confrontations.  But the groundwork for his heroism is there from the start.  It just needed the right circumstances to shine. 

Monday, August 4, 2014


Last night I went to see a local stage production of Music Man.  The choreography was amazing, especially in scenes like the Fourth of July celebration which always seemed to drag a little in the video but suddenly made sense when I saw it on stage.  The one thing I did have trouble with was the romance.  Marion was perfect in her initial disgust of the professor and in her later love for him, but the change between the two seemed abrupt.  I suspect a lot of the abruptness has to do with when the play was written.

The show did get me thinking about how stories translate in different mediums -and the way art speaks different languages.  For example, my music major friends actually understand the ending of An American in Paris while I always go "yeah, but if they just skipped that big song and dance number they could show the rival guy releasing the girl from her engagement, and the whole story would make more sense."  (Then when I add that if they shortened a few other songs and skipped that one with the piano player it would solve a lot of pacing problems, I get the sad looks reserved for one who has just missed the entire point of the movie.)  My music major friends can see the correlation between the music, the dance, and the emotional turmoil.  For them the story truly does rise to a climax and resolution.  

It's a bit like Gary Chapman's Love Languages.  Maybe people have `soul languages' and that's why there are so many different types of art.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Musing on this Blog

When I started this blog, my idea was to spend a bit of time analyzing characters and themes in books and movies that I happen to either enjoy or have particularly pressing thoughts about.  I seem to have gotten away from that a bit.  (And I definitely got away from regularly posting.  Lately I've been trying to write at least once every other week.  Trying is the key word here.)

Analyzing stories is a great way to learn about people.  Even books I disagree with teach something.  They give me a new perspective on issues, make me work, arguing my own position in my head.  I'm not saying you should deliberately read books you find offensive (that would make reading a chore) but if you do come across one, it can be worth taking a few moments to remind yourself why you've taken your own position on the subject.   

 Books, movies, TV shows, they all reflect what someone believes, what they hope for, what they consider just (or unjust).  Stories have the ability to change society as well as reflect it.  Dickens' work sure did a lot for social reform of his time.  

Writers and artists put a lot of work into their creations, into building a connection with people they're most likely never going to meet.  I don't believe anyone would do that if they didn't have something they wanted to share with the world.  So... thank you to all the Lit teachers out there who take the time to teach your students Critical Thinking.  Thank you to writers of books, movies, TV shows, who want to share your thoughts and dreams with the world- and hope, whether you admit it out loud, to change the world for the better, if only for one person you might never even meet or hear from.  

To everyone who tries to make a difference, even when it seems to go unnoticed -Thanks.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Post at Last

 Well, I haven't been doing well at regular posting lately.  Now that the play is done, I've been spending a lot of time mulling over the question of `what next?'  (As in, so... what direction should my entire life take now that I suddenly have free time again?  Yeah, I know.  I don't even know what's going to happen tomorrow.  Or an hour from now.  I know what I think is going to happen (dinner) but psychic I ain't.)  

I didn't want to leave everyone believing I dropped off the face of the earth, so here I am, still alive, and coming to the realization that I don't actually have to know what's going to happen next year, or even next month.  That I leave to God, since he actually can see the future.  All I have to do (as Terry Pratchett says in `Night Watch') is the job in front of me. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taken Care Of

Well I just had an interesting adventure.  While I was driving home through Frederick today, the van stalled out on me.  It's the first time I've been in that situation.  So there I was, someone honking to show that the light was green and me trying to wave them past and wondering how in the world I'd get out of the middle of the road.  

Just then a very kind Christian lady pulled up beside me and asked if I needed help.  I said yes, absolutely, I would love help, so she zipped into the car repair shop that was beside me on the same side of the street (yeah, I'm not the most observant when I'm panicking) and got some of the guys to come push me into their parking lot.

I have no idea who the lady was who helped me (I didn't think to ask her name) but I am very grateful to her and the guys at the car repair- and most of all thankful to God.  I mean, what are the odds of breaking down beside a repair shop instead of the middle of a three lane highway? It is really nice to know He is looking out for me.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Me and my brother, Justin, backstage in costume as Septimus and Cornelia, a Roman Centurion and his wife.

The play is over.  Our final performance was last Friday.  As always, it was a journey of self-discovery.  I discovered that I'm allergic to mascara.  Since I don't generally wear makeup it wasn't that heartbreaking of a discovery.  I did spend a couple days looking like a football player -only with red rash lines under my eyes instead of black paint.

This was definitely the biggest, most intense play I've ever been involved in.  My previous acting experience was backyard plays with my brothers and a few friends.  Practices happened whenever we could get together, and performance dates were decided once we had things pretty much down.  Adjusting to a strict schedule and a cast of more than five people was a bit of a culture shock.  We were actually interviewed by the Frederick News Post.  (Okay, I wasn't personally interviewed and if you look up the article you won't find my name anywhere.  But still.  A newspaper article.  We're practically famous!)

The most amazing thing is how God brought just the right people in to help- and how we all knew that we had been called to this.  We never would have reached the performance without that because -trust me- everything that could possibly go wrong did.  We had people dealing with sickness, we had schedule conflicts and props that had to be built at the last moment.  I think our director lost about a month's worth of sleep.  Just about everyone was discouraged at one point or another by how massive the task was, and how inadequate we were.  I know God was with us, because I still can't figure out how we pulled it off.  We were completely at the end of our abilities and God just said `here, let Me handle it.' 

And now I want to sleep for a week.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Something Good

I recently picked up a book that was first recommended to me by our pastor's wife.  I don't usually read autobiographies, but this book is just lovely.  It's called `Kisses from Katie' and it's about a young lady (younger than me by ten years!)  who goes to Uganda and adopts over a dozen children.  The book is very encouraging, both in how much she loves God and how she encourages the reader to look around and see where they can be loving and helping others where they are.  She writes a blog that is very much worth checking out, and tells a lot about what she's doing to help in Uganda.  I'm posting a link here

As for my life, it has been filled recently with the best kind of busyness.  I'm still spending a lot of time at play practice, and when I'm not there, I'm working on my new novel, and they are both gifts.  

You know how sometimes after a really heavy rainstorm the sun comes out and every branch, every leaf, every stalk of grass or weed (in our yard there are lots of those) is shining with drops of water so dazzling you almost can't look?  That's what life is like right now.  Covered with shimmers.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In Character

I had a bit of a rough play practice last night.  When I got on stage I couldn't remember my character!  It wasn't like I hadn't been studying my script -I had.  It was just that as soon as I stood up to practice, I blanked out.  I wasn't a retired Centurion's wife, I was Grace Clay fumbling around.

   Acting skills and writing skills are closely related.  In both cases the characters have to stay in character, even if all they do is walk across the stage.  And in both cases, you can blank out and completely forget what the character you're trying to portray is like.  It's really frustrating, and humiliating.  If you're on stage you go `oh no!  I'm a rotten actor!  Everyone is probably looking at me in a funny way!'  And if you're writing you go `oh no!  I'm a rotten author!  Everyone will think I'm a hack who never made it through English 101!'

If I blank out on a character while writing, I find it helpful to re-read what I've written and look for establishing moments.  That can often be enough to get me thinking like the character again. 

Sometimes the problem is that I'm trying to be too many people at the same time.  In that case, layering can help- that is, writing out the basic scene between two or more characters, then layering in another character (remembering to have the previous characters react to them) and keep doing it until all the characters are in the scene.

And of course, there are always those days where I've just had a busy week and didn't get enough sleep. The nice thing about that is, as soon as I rest up, the problem goes away.

As for my acting, hopefully sleep and practice will solve the problem.  If not, I can always smack myself with the script a few times and hope something sinks in.

So how about you all?  Any favorite tricks for when a character just... isn't themselves?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Those of you who have been following my blog are aware that I have a soft spot for plays.  I'm actually involved in one now.  (As in, I have a lovely role that I should be off memorizing.)  The play is about Jesus' ministry and will be performed this spring at the Nazarene Church in Frederick.   

There, I managed to sound all announcer-y,  which wasn't my intent.  What I really wanted to talk about was ripples- the way you'll sometimes realize that the stone you tossed into the pool years ago brushed ripples against all these other lives.

Back when I was young some friends and I did a fair bit of backyard theater for our parents and whoever else we could grab and force to watch.  One of those friends is now directing this church play (which is how I heard about it, incidentally).  I like to think that back when we were hanging sheets in the garage, God was watching us work but also looking at the moment I've just now reached in linear time, and planning, way back then, how one would affect the other.  Maybe also looking to moments I haven't reached yet.  

It's not that often I get to look back on a piece of my life and see God's foreshadowing.  Life is so messy the patterns aren't always obvious while you're in the middle of them.  But when that happens, it's just an amazing thing.    

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Hi, I'm back, after some computer problems and now a nasty cold (that is fortunately not keeping me down).  I've been working on a new story.  I'm mostly mapping out conversations and emotions, ignoring descriptions and inconsistent world building in favor of get-the-idea-down-quick!  

It has been several years since I've been so excited about a project.  I'd run out of ideas so I got caught up trying to fix an old story, making everything perfect and bleeding the life out of the poor thing.   I was trying to gloss over the less pretty pieces of my life, too.  All the bits I couldn't fix.  

The thing is, you can't make good art if you're lying to yourself.  It doesn't work.  Art comes from dredging your emotions, even the ones you don't want to feel -especially the ones you don't want to feel.  Once you start hiding, all that fire just... it damps down.  You're left writing is meaningless gloss, so you polish you adjectives and hope all that gloss shines. 

I already knew that, but sometimes I forget.  So now I am writing about a loveable coward, wincing at my own cowardice, and wishing I didn't relate quite so well.  

Life is good.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Some thoughts on Endings and the Rescuers movies

The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under are both fun movies, but Down Under is a little more re-watchable.  I think this is partly because the mood is more up-beat.  Lots of bright sunshine as opposed to the swamps of The Rescuers, but the biggest thing, I think, is the endings.  

The Rescuers ending is (in my opinion) flawed.  We have this incredibly tense scene in the underground treasure trove with skeletons for atmosphere, a ticking clock provided by the rising water, and the villains showing exactly how evil they can get.  It feels like the climax -but it isn't.  The story moves into the actual end involving fireworks and fuzzy animals running every which way.  The general high-jinx feels anti-climatic.

The Rescuers Down Under is smart enough to keep the ending streamline.  Once Marahute is captured, everything narrows down to keeping Cody from getting killed now that he's no longer useful to the villain.  There is no lengthy scene after the climax at the waterfall.  In fact, the comic relief (Wilber) is stuck on baby-sitting duty and out for the count. 

Endings are, in my opinion, the toughest things to write.  Everything is supposed to come together, but often there's a few bits poking out higgly-piggly, that just don't want to be braided in.  And then there are all those minor characters, and what happened to them?  Sometimes you need an aftermath.  `Watership Down,' for example, wouldn't be nearly as awesome to read if it didn't go on to explain how the events of the story shaped the future.  But Richard Adams didn't kill his tension with it.  His climax is still the most suspenseful part of the book -and that's what the climax should be. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!  Welcome to 2014.  It's a good day to pause and reflect over the past year (or groan and try to get over the `I stayed up way too late last night' headache).  So I thought I'd post a passage from Matthew I came across recently, since it got me reflecting.

Matthew 25:31-46

New International Version (NIV)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

  I was just struck by how incredibly similar the two situations are.  I can think of a time or two when I walked right by someone outside the mall holding a Will Work for Food sign.  And I can think of a time or two when I stopped and helped someone even when I didn't feel like going out of my way.  

I suspect that both the condemnation and the praise could be said to just about any of us and be perfectly true.  The only difference is that those who accept Jesus forgiveness, well He forgives everything, even the sins of omission.  That's why the times you did the right thing stand out.  They're just there over the white background of forgiveness, instead of lost in the black and red, like a picture too messy with paint and scribbles to see clearly.