Friday, August 29, 2014

How's Your Writing Going?

I don't have a full post for you today because I've been working on a guest post for Laura Mizvaria's blog Sir Writesalot. And I've had some really busy days for the past week. So, instead of a post from me, I thought I'd get an update from ya'll. How's your writing going? What's your main project right now, and how's it going? What are you most excited about with it? My current project is my Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I'm quite off track with it. I'm supposed to have the first draft finished, but I'm only about halfway through it. *sigh* So, my goal for the next few days is to do some serious writing for it. What about you?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dressing for Church–What Do You Wear and Why Do You Wear It?

In our culture, clothes are important. We use them to express our styles, to make a statement, to fit in or to stand out. We choose what we’ll wear based on what we’re going to do and who we’re going to see. Traditionally, clothing for attending church has always been more “dressy” than other clothing. In times past, people’s “Sunday clothes” were their best clothes. I see a shift in that mentality these days. At church, I see more people in jeans than slacks or skirts. I see t-shirts and hoodies and distressed denim. And sometimes I wonder exactly why that is. I’m not saying it’s wrong or right; I simply find it an interesting trend.

I’m one of those people who dresses nicely nearly all the time. Now I promise I’m not saying people who don’t are bad. Everyone has their own comfort level and style. Some people are always grungy, some are sporty, etc. My own style reflects my desire to always look nice.  Anyway, for church, I tend to dress up. I always have and that’s what I’m comfortable with. That doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else; it’s just something that is. Still, I think there’s something to this whole idea of what we wear to church and why we wear it.

An incident a few weeks ago really got me thinking about this: I had no idea what to wear the next day for church, and a friend was looking in my closet for ideas. She pulled out my fanciest dress and said, “What about this?” And this a very nice dress, black and elegant; I wear it to weddings. But my reaction scared me. I said, “That’s too fancy for church.” Wait a minute! What? Too fancy for church? Or too fancy for God? What exactly was I saying?

When considering how to dress for church, there are some things to consider:

  • Precedent – What is the established pattern of dress at your church? Does everyone dress casually? Or do they all wear dresses and skirts? If you wear something completely opposite from the rest of your church, you can stand out like a sore thumb. And that’s not always a good thing. I don’t want to be distracting other people because I’m wearing something way different than all of them. At my church, there’s a mix of both casual and fancier styles, so I don’t have as much trouble with this. But, though it’s not the most important factor, precedent is definitely something to consider.
  • Other People - Dressing for church requires that you be aware of other people; church is not for showing off, as I’m prone to do. I love dressing up and showing off what I have and how I look. But that bumps into pride way too often. And pride has no place in a house of worship. Church is about God’s people coming together to worship Him and to support each other. If people think you’re judging them because of how you’re dressing, I promise they won’t see you supporting them. So remember other people when you’re choosing what to wear.
  • God – Ultimately, church is about God. And the question is: does God deserve our best? Is He the Creator and Lord of this universe, or isn’t He? Are you honoring Him with what you’re wearing? And remember this: God made you special; He’s steering you toward excellence. Let your outfit reflect that.

You can say that we should dress casually so we don’t offend other people who have only casual things to wear. This a valid point. Be aware that everyone may not have the same wardrobe you do and that’s okay. You may not have a wide variety of clothing choices. That’s fine.  But are you giving Him your best with what you do have? Remember the story of the widow’s might? She had nothing and she gave it anyway. Your best isn’t defined by others; it’s defined by you and God. As in all things, our heart attitude is the important part here. No, I don’t have to wear my fanciest dress to church every week. But I never want to have the mentality that something is “too fancy” for church. Yes, be aware of your brothers and sisters in Christ; don’t offend or distract them deliberately. But remember Who you’re shining for, and never be afraid to give Him the best you can offer in every area of your life.

What do you like to wear to church and why? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why Do You Write?

Words are beautiful. On their own, they’re simple. But put together, they are dynamic and meaningful. Writers all have their own reasons for why they write. Today, I thought I’d share with you my purpose in writing stories, and then I’d love to hear yours.

  • To create – When God created the world, he spoke. The Lord of the Universe could have simply thought of what He wanted and it would  have happened. But He chose to use words. I consider this one of the single most important reasons to never think writing is unimportant. Just as God created, we are creating with our words. And, as J.R.R. Tolkien said:

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

  • To share meaning – What is at the heart of our stories? Why do we put this effort into telling a story? To share something with people, correct? Stories remind people that good can defeat evil, that hope is real, and that we don’t have to be alone. When I write, I want to touch someone. I want to remind them that there is something meaningful in this life. I want them to know that life can be so much better than we expect. And to show that, I write stories.
  • To worship – We are beings made to worship God. That’s our highest purpose. Worship can often take many different forms for different people. Some people sing, some paint, some dance. I write. God has given you and I a gift of words; He wants us to use it. And, if you don’t put effort into developing that gift, I truly believe you’re squashing one of your areas of worship. God gives me words to use; I put them down on paper. I want my stories to reflect His goodness and His Light. I want them to be living, breathing worship.

What about you? Why do you write?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review of Liz Curtis Higgs’ Retelling of Ruth

The story of Ruth, as told in the Bible, is one of the most beautiful stories ever told, in my opinion. The miracle of how a pagan came to love the One True God and supported her mother-in-law to the point of moving to a strange new land, exemplifying faithfulness, is a wonderful story in itself. But then the fact that God brought love to this girl again and made her an ancestor of King David and, eventually, Jesus Christ, illustrates how God grafted Gentiles into the tree of Israel. It also reminds us that God’s sovereignty is never-ending.

In two books, Here Burns My Candle and Mine is the Night, author Liz Curtis Higgs tells the story of Ruth anew, setting it in 1740’s Scotland amidst the campaign of bonny Prince Charlie.

Plot: I wouldn’t have even realized it was a retelling of Ruth if I hadn’t read the glowing reviews at the front of the book. Higgs creatively weaves together the classic story with new characters and situations appropriate to a different setting. Putting either of these two books down was a struggle; I read way too late with both of them! The first book, in particular, kept me guessing. The climax of the second book was a bit predictable (hard to avoid when you’re retelling a story), but Higgs still slipped in some unexpected drama to change things up. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the plot.

Characters: The daughter of a Highland weaver, Lady Elisabeth Kerr, more comfortably known as “Bess,” loves her husband, Lord Donald, but she doesn’t feel welcomed by her mother-in-law, Lady Marjory Kerr or Janet, the wife of Donald’s younger brother, Andrew. In addition, Bess is hiding a secret: she worships the moon, as her mother and grandmother have before her. Though the story’s synopsis makes a big deal of the antagonism toward Bess from Marjory and Janet, I didn’t feel like it was developed as well as it could have been. I didn’t sense a lot of tension between the women, though Bess is certainly an outsider. Bess is a kind, loving woman and a likeable, empathetic heroine who is searching for true acceptance. Her husband, meanwhile, holds secrets of his own. Donald is his mother’s pride and joy. But, while he truly does adore his wife, he is repeatedly unfaithful to her. I found myself remarkably sympathetic to Donald throughout the story, though I wanted to slap him every time he gave in to his weaker impulses. Lady Marjory is, at first, quite selfish and distrustful of Bess. But the cause of bonny Prince Charlie, who is from Elisabeth’s native Highlands, and then grief bind her to her daughter-in-law, and she develops into a surprisingly capable, selfless woman. Janet, on the other hand, remains selfish and involved in her own world. Andrew is such a sweetheart, and I loved their servants, as well.  In the second book, we meet new characters in the persons of Anne Kerr, the cousin of Marjory’s late husband, along with a hardworking tailor and the mysterious but gracious admiral newly moved to the area. Though the characters are mostly well-developed, I felt that, occasionally, they jumped to an unrealistic level of affection rather quickly.

Setting: Higgs did a magnificent job developing 18th century Scotland, and every time I came away from reading the story, I wanted to speak with a Scottish accent. The city of Edinburgh and the small village of Selkirk came alive on the pages; I could imagine walking through their streets. The flavor of the stories is distinctly Scottish, which I found refreshing and authentic.

Content: The books do deal with some heavy topics, including war, adultery, death, and unwanted affection. I believe Liz Curtis Higgs handled them very well, though, showing the effects more than the actions themselves. The heaviest part, content-wise, comes in the second book, when Bess is nearly raped. Again, though, very little detail is given. I think they’re definitely adult books, but they’d be fine for older teens, as well.

Theme: As in the original biblical story, the themes of new beginnings and faithfulness are important in these two books. The Providence of God is also a distinct thread. I remember reading the book of Ruth at a point in my life when I struggled to believe in the sovereignty of God. Reading that story, you can’t help but be reminded that God’s got everything under control. And I got the same feeling throughout Higgs’ retelling, though I felt there was the tiniest bit of overkill in that message.

Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed Here Burns My Candle and Mine is the Night. Liz Curtis Higgs keeps the story moving along without rushing it, and thus I found myself reading at all hours. She’s created a story that is at once sweet, sad, dramatic, and uplifting. I highly recommend this series and look forward to reading her other books!

Have you read anything from this author? Let me know in the comments if you have! What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Star Wars: A Discussion

In light of the approaching Star Wars VII, which will be released in theaters December 18, 2015, I thought the epic saga would be a good topic for our monthly discussion. Last month’s post didn’t get much input, but I’m inclined to attribute that to Camp NaNo. How did those of you who participated in the writing challenge make out?

So… Star Wars. The saga that defined many people’s childhoods and forever affected film and sci-fi. I didn’t see the films until I was about thirteen, and, in many ways, I’m glad I didn’t grow up with them. I think I was able to grasp them much better seeing them at an older age, while still retaining the childlike wonder at how awesome they are. We watched all six movies in a weekend, barricading ourselves in the family room and enjoying one of the best cinema experiences of my life. It was so fun! In some ways, I think we rarely think deeply about Star Wars anymore because it’s so familiar. But I want to look at it a little more this month. Care to join me?

  1.  Which films have you seen? Which one is your favorite? I’ve seen all six of the “canon” movies, though I’ve wanted to see the animated Clone Wars movie for a while. As for which is my favorite, I think I’m going to go with Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. I can think of reasons for listing any of the other ones as my favorite, but Episode III has an incredibly emotional, dramatic storyline that appeals to me. Now, it always makes me sad, too, but there’s something fulfilling about the emotional circle. I watched the original trilogy first, followed by the prequels. So seeing Revenge of the Sith, I grasped the full saga of all six of them, knowing that Anakin goes on to be redeemed in the end. I look at the original trilogy as being much more action-oriented and the prequel trilogy as being much more emotional. Thus, I love them both for different reasons. Feel free to disagree with me, but that’s where I stand.
  2. Have you read any of the Star Wars books? What’s your favorite series/author/book? I haven’t explored the Extended Universe very much. I’ve read or listened to the book adaptions of the movies. And I’ve read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. LOVE that series! I’m rather sad that the upcoming trilogy won’t be based on it, but that would be impossible, since Zahn’s trilogy is set five years after Return of the Jedi.
  3. What do you think is the biggest theme in the saga? I’m inclined to go with either CHOICE or PROVIDENCE. Even though “providence” is the Force in the Star Wars universe, there is still a definite thread of being directed and chosen by a higher power. There’s this idea that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, and I think that’s an important application to our own lives here on Earth.

So, what about you? What are your thoughts on Star Wars? As always, feel free to jump in with any thoughts both related and unrelated to my questions. I look forward to discussing this with you!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Do You Have Any Fans Yet?

A couple of quick notes: first, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I recently changed my Blogger username to Rachelle O’Neil. I love the name Bluebelle, but I chose to change to my penname before my audience gets any larger. This way, my Internet presence will be consistent across the board. And, speaking of Internet presence, I’m now on Twitter! I haven’t decided if it’s a good fit for me yet, but I’m checking it out! You can find me here.

Now, on to today’s post. Have you ever thought about who will buyTilting tower of books with attribution 2 your books when they’re published? Your grandparents? Your best friend? While both are technically sales, they’re usually obligatory sales. They don’t necessarily reflect the quality of your writing or the marketability of your story. In fact, most people won’t buy a book right off the bat without knowing much about it. New authors can be in a quandary. They don’t have the literary presence of established authors, so they often don’t have a fan base. But books don’t sell unless an author has fans. So, you can’t expect sales for your first or second book unless you’ve put in the work to cultivate a fan base.

How do we do that? Well, think about what makes you buy a book. Among the reasons are:

  1. Knowing the author. Especially as a writer myself, I want to see other authors succeed, especially if I know them. The lessons? Make yourself known as an author, and don’t be afraid to tell your friends about about your stories. I’m not saying be annoying and always talk about yourself. But, at least for me, it’s sometimes hard to even say I’m writing a book. Your friends might not be interested. But you could be surprised, too: they may become your lifelong fans. Make connections, face-to-face and on the Internet. Let people know who you are.
  2. Recommendation from a friend. If you are friends with an author, promote their books for them. It’s an invaluable service to them, and they’ll probably be willing to return the service. Word-of-mouth is one of the biggest ways to generate interest.
  3. Internet hype. I’m far more likely to take a chance on a new author when I’ve heard good things about them everywhere. When you hear something about this book on every other blog you visit and it’s trending across social media sites, you know it must have some merit. The process of creating hype begins long before a book is released. But to utilize that process, you must have connections. Which brings me back to my first point. Make yourself known.
Now, I don’t believe you should go about all of your interactions as if they were just an indifferent business proposition. No, be genuine. People love honesty and realness. And that will endear you to them much more than always shoving your book news down their throats. Help other authors up without ulterior motives. Don’t make everything about you. But remember to take advantage of your opportunities. Fans don’t usually crop up overnight. They take effort to find and to keep. Learn to use social media in a way that benefits you and others. And make sure your quality is top-notch. Then you’ll be on your way to success.

Have you thought about cultivating a fan base? How do you do it?