Spring and New Beginnings

It’s the season of so much more than yellow daffodils, sugarcoated Peeps (a favorite of my dad’s), hollow chocolate bunnies, cascades of jellybeans, and pastels.

It’s the time when we celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection. We greet one another with, “He is risen, indeed!” Not He has risen, but He is – because Christ lives today.

After listening to Neil Gaiman’s audiobook “American Gods” with David, I was reminded of those who like to point out that Easter was originally a pagan holiday before the life of Christ. Indeed, that’s where much of the baby chick, eggs, and bunny imagery comes from, since Easter was a fertility festival.

You might be surprised to know this doesn’t bother me in the least. To me, Easter represents new beginnings. Christ’s death represents the opportunity for new life for us – a real life that goes beyond what this world can offer. It’s like we’ve upcycled a holiday to make it mean more. (Interesting article here on whether Jesus would celebrate Easter today.)

new beginnings

David and I have both made new starts: enjoying the sunshine more by running together outside and making bold culinary attempts to eat healthier (shout out to mock mashed potatoes made with cauliflower – still amazed at how good this tastes).

new book reviews

Thank you each for helping me to become a book reviewer. I am still gobbling up books and posting about them on Amazon, Goodreads, and here in the book review section of my blog, “Recent Reads.” (Check it out if you are looking for a good book to read!)

I’ve completed 28 book reviews since this time last year! It’s been a dream come true, and that’s no exaggeration. Each book introduces me to new styles of writing and creative stories that fuel my writing as well as my life in general. (Book reviews to come: Finished reading Duncan’s “Moon Women,” Picoult’s “Lone Wolf,” Abrams and Dorst’s “Ship of Theseus,” Ingermanson’s “Transgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel,” and Gabaldon’s “Voyager.” Aaaah, so many great stories!)

new plans

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been accepted into a doctoral program in Digital Teaching and Learning, and so in the fall I’ll be taking classes in instructional design and the cognitive psychology surrounding learning. Still stunned by this opportunity!

What does this mean for my writing? Well, for one thing, it means I need to finalize the edits to Wedding 3000, the book I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in 2013 and had edited by my terrific writers’ group here in Greensboro. I’m currently drafting a query letter and synopsis to send to agents. I’m told I should expect plenty of rejections, so perseverance is a must! Please pray that this story finds the right agent and publisher so that it can encourage couples who are planning their wedding day to focus on what’s actually important (hint: It isn’t the color of the font on the invitations or the flowers).

In closing, I wish you each a joyful Easter that means more than the candy lollapalooza and egg hunts; join me in making some new beginnings.

Best to each of you,

Susie

Cattle Rancher

Sure, it’s been a while since my last post. A few of you may be like, what happened to Susie? Has she given up? Too busy for writing?

Yup, yup, and yup. I am too busy for writing, but I’ve learned that every writer is. So take that excuse out, kick it around, toss it in the garbage and let’s move on!

In short, I’ve become a cattle rancher.

rancher on a horse in a large field

A beautiful image from a beautiful blog, VeederRanch.com.

Let’s envision these posts as actual fenceposts for a second. Picture a hardy cattle rancher, clad in well-worn blue jeans and stiff leather boots, an embroidered Western style shirt and a big-brimmed ten-gallon hat. Bueno. That’s me, and let me tell you, I look awesome in that outfit. Ok, ok, sidebar aside, that’s me in the sense that these online posts are the fenceposts. I’m slowly going around the fields of activity, marking new moments and milestones as I attempt to define what’s going on. Sometimes I’m just not going to be building the fence; the important activities are what’s going on inside the fence.

Here are a few of the horses I’m breaking and cattle I’m taming and crops I’m raising:

  • Breaking that wild mustang, Book Reviewing – she’s a particularly fun horse to break. Currently I’m reading “Strong is the New Skinny” by Jennifer Cohen and “Gifts of Sight” by Bruce Shields, and I hope to have these reviews up on this blog in a few days.
  • Planting seeds for a new crop of NaNoWriMo – Yes, today marks the second day of National Novel Writing Month! I’ve decided to undertake this exciting goal for the second year in a row. This year’s novel plot was co-brainstormed with my husband David, and it’s a new adventure to have someone to bounce ideas off of as I write. The goal is 1,667 words per day until you hit 50,000 by November 30!
    • Last year’s efforts successfully grew “Wedding 3000,” which is just 50 pages away from being fully edited by my talented Writers’ Group. I hope to publish it! For real! It’s happening!
  • Branding a graduate-level instructional design course through NC State – trying to leave my mark on this material and absorb it into my daily work. This course has proven heavy with academic readings, new perspectives on instructional design, and a great sally forth into the possibility of becoming a graduate student. I’m wrapping up my application now, which is due in February, which means if I were to be accepted I’d start the PhD program in August 2015. Still on the fence about whether this program will take away from my writing…prayers on this big decision are appreciated!
  • Helping the community – Volunteering with The Junior League of Greensboro as Editor to produce our magazine, The EverGreene, which comes out in March.
  • Preparing for winter – the many joyful tasks of creating Christmas gifts for friends and family, mainly through crocheting and shopping.
  • Taking care of my fellow rancher – keeping my husband fed & happy; nearly 8 months into marriage, and we are enjoying being together more than ever!
  • Giving glory to the Creator – God has blessed us through a gorgeous summer, flourishing fall and now the excitement of winter. Recently our Bible study challenged us to ensure that we are being as vocal about our amazing Lord online as we do in person.

Happy Trails to you until we meet again,

Susie (tips my hat and rides off into the sunset)

 

Two New Book Reviews and What the GRE Doesn’t Measure

All, thank you for your support recently that enabled me to become a book reviewer! I’ve definitely “caught the fire,” so-to-speak, and I’ve reviewed two books and am expecting three more in genres I don’t usually read!

You can read the book reviews here (Prelude for a Lord and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn); I am thrilled to say they were both excellent selections I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys high quality Christian love stories set in past times and beautiful places. Essentially I submit the link to the review on my blog and on Goodreads.com, then I’m able to request a new book! Living life from book to book seems grand to me.

It was a welcome challenge to read these two in the midst of grueling preparations to take the GRE in anticipation of graduate school. For me, reading is an escape and respite from the rigors of the chores at work and home. Even better than a mere vacation or break, these stories let me apply what I’ve read, imagined and experienced so that I can write better.

Reading did help me to prepare for the GRE; even the GRE study book I used stated that the best way to build a strong vocabulary is through reading, not endless repetition of flashcards. However, these stories brought to light the fact that the GRE tests on such narrow principles that it cannot be a good predictor for success in life or even in college. These heroines didn’t survive by dint of their ability to calculate a mysterious angle in a parallelogram nor filling in the blank of a sentence lacking an overly pretentious adjective. They survived through resourcefulness, bravery, musical skills, quickness, willingness to learn new tasks, and the ability to stay calm in fearful situations. I don’t know any standardized tests that can measure those qualities. The GRE, with its rigid set of quantitative, essay-writing, vocabulary and reading comprehension, leaves an astounding amount of other life skills completely untested. It’s important to see this test for what it is, and not any more than that.

What other skills do you think ought to be tested? How could we do it?

You’re probably asking, well, did you take the GRE yet? What’d you get? With great happiness and relief comparable to Sisyphus learning he need not roll the stone up the hill anymore, I can say that I took it yesterday and scored well enough to not take it again! Thank the Lord, whew!

At any rate, what probably seems like a rambling blog post is, in fact, my attempt to keep you up to date with the fact that I am extraordinarily happy still learning about this world of book reviewing, writing and life here in NC. Thanks and God bless you each!

WE DID IT!!!!

Thank you to each of you for subscribing! I am now officially a book reviewer, thanks to each of you!

And guess what makes it even better – I was able to join TWO different book review groups! It’s like finding two pots of gold at the end of a rainbow!

BookSneeze, aka BookLookBloggers – you already heard about these guys, but they are a division of HarperCollins Christian publishing. They contacted me on July 25, with this understated email below:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 4.25.03 PM

I went right ahead and requested an eBook version of a Christian fiction book called “Prelude for a Lord” by Camille Elliott and published by Zondervan. I’ve already started reading!

 

BloggingforBooks – They are a branch of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House.  As soon as I joined, I was presented with a list of delicious books I could request to review. I chose one work of Christian fiction – The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton, and I received the email below:

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.13.10 AM

You can see that they thoughtfully provide the links to the book cover image for insertion into a blog post. Normally I go to Amazon.com and nab a screenshot of a book cover. This is so handy! (It’s the little things.)

 

I cannot thank you enough!

Becoming a book reviewer is a particular joy for me, as I’ve always thought it would be a dream hobby or job, akin to a travel writer or video game tester. I’m glad that others out there share this interest and have formed these large platforms enabling small-town bloggers to spread the word about good books. I really believe that recommending books to friends is one of the most powerful ways to get the news out about a great story. People trust their loved ones to know them and suggest the best books. Word-of-mouth isn’t something that millions of marketing dollars can manufacture; it has to be genuinely grassroots in origin.

Each of you helped me get to this point!

 

Reformatting this blog

Over the next few days, I’ll reorganize the book review section of my blog to make it easier to find reviews. Perhaps a gallery of links rather than individual pages or a looooooong scrolling page. I’m observing other book reviewers’ sites, such as http://marielamba.wordpress.com/, to see how they are structured.

 

On that note, I’ll be checking my mail every day for my new glossy books to read, and you can see the reviews on this blog!

God bless you each.

Waiting for boooooooooks! SOURCE: http://marielamba.wordpress.com/ – a web site for book reviewer, agent and writer Marie Lamba

 

New Devotional!

For me, writing devotionals doesn’t come as easily as writing fiction. I don’t want to force writing something that is divinely inspired and meant to encourage others spiritually. Creating a devotional is a precious opportunity to praise the Lord, comfort others, connect Scripture to our daily lives, and more. Unlike fiction, which for me really is about entertainment and at times, education, devotionals have a higher purpose.

So I was thrilled this past week when I awoke one morning, and through the groggy haze of waking up, yawning, and getting ready for the day, I realized a story worthy of a devotional had come to me.

I wrote it down, while it was still fresh, and am editing it now. I can’t publish it here, because most devotionals require the material not to be published anywhere else, but I can give you the rewritten synopsis below:

 

Recently, my husband David and I bought a tiny tomato plant. We’ve tended it like parents, watering it daily, admiring its growth, rushing out during rainstorms to shelter its fragile leaves. We even named it: Benito Tomito!

(Ok, so we’re kooky. And it’s just a simple garden plant. But inspiration can come from the most mundane places.)

We noticed the tomato plant suffering one day. Gaping holes appeared in its leaves, lower branches lost their healthy green color and turned a pale yellow, and the leaves began curling upwards. Worrying, we watered it extra, checking on it daily. Did it need new soil? Was it getting enough sunlight? Was Benito lonely?

One cool morning I notice the issue. A fat caterpillar lay comfortably on the stalk, chewing hungrily on a green leaf. Poor Benito was helpless, defenseless against those gnawing mandibles. The caterpillar’s chubby segments were the exact green as Benito’s stalk, one of Nature’s camouflage tricks, and so we’d overlooked it day after day.

It struck me this week that sin can attack us just as the caterpillar was ravaging Benito. It stays close by, in disguise, draining us of energy that could be used to serve others. We are distracted from our purpose on Earth by the many sinful, attractive activities that are out there.

Even once we’ve quit the distraction, it takes time to recover. Often there are consequences of our sin that continue pulling us away from serving others. Even after we plucked the caterpillar off and flung it away, Benito’s energies and nutrients were devoted to regrowing damaged leaves rather than growing the red tomatoes we hoped to see.

All we can do is pray for God to reveal our sin to us, that we can be on our guard against it. Similar to how we needed to protect Benito with bug spray, we can guard against sin’s infiltration by surrounding ourselves with Christian encouragers and friends who can keep us accountable and see what we can’t see, reading God’s word, and, most important of all, praying constantly.

 

I hope this encourages yall!Thank you for reading and following my blog!  I am deeply thankful for each of you.

 

 

 

Honored

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 8.35.29 AMI am so honored to share with you the July 18 devotional for The Upper Room, which is a submission I sent based on a broken friendship which is now reconciled.

You can read the devotional online here, at devotional.upperroom.org. I woke up this morning praying that it would encourage others who have lost the closeness of a friend, sibling, parent or someone else and who despair of ever reconnecting with them. The Lord truly does work in mysterious ways, and I believe He’s changing our hearts all the time when we listen to Him and pray. Have patience and courage!

It also happens that today, July 18, is my new mother-in-law’s birthday! Happy Birthday to Mrs. Susan. It feels like this devotional’s publication date, which I had no control over, was meant to be. It shows me that the Lord is opening the way for new friendships for me even as He also restores old ones.

Have a wonderful Friday, everyone!

Goooooooooal

Setting a New Goal

US goalkeeper Tim Howard Blocks a Shot

In light of the ongoing World Cup, I’m setting a new GOAL!

(Ok, yes, that can’t even be called a pun. “The lowest form of comedy,” my husband says, quoting “Last Man Standing”.)

 

What’s the goal? One short story per week.

 

That’s it. Seems simple, right? Sure. Just as simple as when they tell you to eat right and exercise. Hah!

 

My brother Ralph, an exercise enthusiast and exercise physiologist, recently mentioned to me that the words “should” and “shouldn’t” shouldn’t be used in the context of goals. Why? The reasoning is that there’s no commitment to action behind “I should lift weights” or “I really shouldn’t eat that giant slice of chocolate cake.” There’s only an implied action, or a slightly shamed admission that one isn’t doing the right thing. Compare those statements with “I will lift weights twice a week” or “I will not eat desserts except on Friday nights.” Much more concrete. Plus, the timeline adds structure.

So for this short story goal, instead of saying “I really should write more,” I’m going to say, “I will write one short story per week until the first week of October.” That would equal 13 short stories.

I won’t be posting them here to this blog (I know! I want to share them, you want to read them. But many of the short story contests I’ve been looking at require that submissions not have been published anywhere, even to a blog.), but I’ll let you know when they’re complete!

 

Why do you need a goal, and why short stories rather than a novel?

Settling into married life and increasing responsibilities at work have squeezed my writing time lately. It’s time to make a renewed commitment so I can keep making progress and sharing the constant stream of stories and ideas floating around in my noggin.

I have created two novel manuscripts, which I’m proud of and yet realize suffer from the typical new novelist’s traps of bulky “middles”, character inconsistencies and more. Many of the great writers started out writing short stories. Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, one of my favorite blogs, shared this article containing 35 beautiful and insightful quotes about short stories from famous authors.

Here are a few gems:

  • “In a rough way the short story writer is to the novelist as a cabinetmaker is to a house carpenter.” – Annie Proulx
  • I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.” – George R.R. Martin
  • “A short story I have written long ago would barge into my house in the middle of the night, shake me awake and shout, ‘Hey, this is no time for sleeping! You can’t forget me, there’s still more to write!’ Impelled by that voice, I would find myself writing a novel. In this sense, too, my short stories and novels connect inside me in a very natural, organic way.” – Haruki Murakami
  • “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium.” – Truman Capote
  • “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” – Ray Bradbury

 

That last one really appealed to me, hence the short story a week goal! I realized that these writers practiced their craft, the story arc and the whittling of words, within short stories. Who am I to do differently?

To me, the short story is a 5K race as a novel is to a marathon. If I can practice my form through 5Ks, I’ll be ready to tackle a novel with greater skill later.

Me writing a novel right now:

 

Let’s get to this level:

SOURCE: Michigan Runner Girl

 

Write on!

Travel the World in Stories – Maptia

Maptia

An online society of people who love to write about beautiful places in the world? Of course I’m interested in joining Maptia! This blog is a compendium of far-flung stories and posts across the globe, zooming in on those micro moments which flavor the air of other nations. People share adventure stories hiking summits or the open road, celebrating new and old customs, dining on exotic culinary creations and more. They even have a globe you can explore by clicking on the location then reading stories related to that location.

It’s a young group – only started in September of 2012 or 2013 in Switzerland – so they are developing their platform to support more travelers/writers. A few writers already have stories available – like “The Penguin Runner” set in Namibia and “A City of Bright Colours” set in Morocco. There’s a whole world out there!

manifesto

Maptia.com Manifesto

maptia manifesto

Maptia.com’s Personalized Manifesto for Me

It’s a global crowdsourcing effort, where people toss their stories together like pennies to a well. In order to make sure those pennies gleam like newly burnished copper instead of going green and gross, Maptia provides 13 tips for telling stories about places:

        1. Pick a place that means something to you.
        2. Keep it personal.
        3. Be original.
        4. Write vividly.
        5. Focus on the details.
        6. Choose photographs that tell a story.
        7. Use different vantage points.
        8. Write a colourful description to introduce your story.
        9. Show, not tell.
        10. Go the extra mile.
        11. Be selective.
        12. Read other people’s stories.
        13. Enjoy the process.

 

Whether writing about places or fiction, these 13 rules hold true, I’m thinking.

I may hearken back to earlier travels, the days when friends and I traveled through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos…so many stories there that I’ve kept inside.

Or, this weekend, a few friends and I are going to explore the mountains of Western North Carolina, and I may attempt to write a short story guided by those 13 rules. Let’s see how it goes!

Either way, writing and exploration go hand-in-hand, whether the exploration is of the soul or of the planet.

vietnam_2007

Robertsons in front of a house we were building in “Coconut Country,” Ben Tre, Vietnam, summer 2007

 

Favorite Books and Quiz

HOW have I NOT written a post on my favorite books yet? Astounding. In light of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend (aka READING TIME), I decided to reflect on some favorite books.

Telling someone about a favorite book is like reminiscing on a pleasant childhood memory. You feel the characters are old friends, even if you knew them and they didn’t know you. You get excited to tell other people about the plot, and if they happen to have read the same book, you are shocked and thrilled.

I realized this as I was browsing a Reddit thread one day. The topic was practically a game. The goal was to describe the plot and why you love this book, but NOT to mention the author name or title! Thousands of people jumped in, eager to share their love of their favorite story and guess at what books others were describing.

 

Guess the Book!

In the same fashion, can you guess my favorite books below? (You’ll have to go to the actual site, not just the email summary of this post, to participate in the game! Click on the title of the blog post to go directly there!)

[mlw_quizmaster quiz=1]

 

Top Guessers

How did you do compared to others? See the leader board below!

[mlw_quizmaster_leaderboard mlw_quiz=1]