Friday, December 28, 2012

'Til Death Do Us Part

Today, I was marveling at the power of commitment.  I said to my husband recently how comforting it was to know that I was stuck with him, 'til death do us part.

I dated my husband, Jon, for almost 8 years before we got married.  For most, that is an insane amount of time to be dating, yet even despite the years together, our commitment was still conditional. I remember we would be arguing or struggling through a particular issue, and I would wonder, "Is this man the one I want to spend the rest of my life with?" I would question whether or not God wanted me to marry this man.  My commitment to our dating relationship was strong but conditional; I was prepared to leave if it were for the best for us as individuals.

Now, we're married.  I never got a word from God to break up, and He eventually led Jon to lead us to marriage.  A phrase we'd grown fond of that we added to our marriage vows was, "No Matter What."  To us, it was a phrase that symbolized our unconditional commitment to each other.  Little did I know exactly what that would mean.

It is so comforting to know that Jon will not leave me, no matter what.  It makes me feel so secure knowing that I will always have someone by my side, who cares for my well-being.  We aren't perfect, and there will be times along the way that we make mistakes, both big and small, but there is such a power in even our attempt at unconditional love for each other.

I can't even imagine the truly unconditional love that God has for us.  If my love for my husband and his love for me makes me feel this secure, how much more God's love for me should turn my world upside down.  To have the Creator of the Universe promise to you, "I love you no matter what that not even death nor life, angels nor demons can take you away from my love for you," is something that I cannot even begin to unfold.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Shower When Your Water Heater is Broken

How to Shower When Your Water Heater is Broken
aka How to Appreciate Modern Plumbing & Hot Water More
aka First World Problems

My water heater recently broke.  The hubby said the pilot light wouldn't light and all that.  Most of it went over my head.  All I knew was there wasn't hot water for my shower, and it was winter.  As for me, my skin and scalp in less than 24 hours get as greasy as a bacon pan, so I need my shower every day.

Desperate and unwilling to take a shower in the frigid waters of the Arctic, I did the following:

1) I took my largest pot and filled it with water.  I lugged it to my stove and brought it to a boil.  Took awhile.  It was a large pot of cold water, so its understandable.

2) I filled my tub with about two inches of cold water.  I dumped about a quarter of the hot water in, so it would be tolerable to sit in the tub.

3) I used a pitcher of water to pour the hot water on myself.  I would mix it with the cold water from the bottom of the tub at first because the water was so hot.  Later, it cooled enough.

3.5) My husband had the absolutely BRILLIANT idea of pulling the room heater into the bathroom.  He turned it on high, and because the bathroom is such a small room, the room heated up in a few minutes.

4) Washed my hair twice, conditioned it, washed my body, and washed my face.  Felt a little exotic, like bathing underneath a warm tropical waterfall.  Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration due to the fact that I was relishing in the hot water.  (And note: it had only been 36 hours since my last hot shower.)

5) I had a third of the pot left at the end of the day to just pour over my face and body and indulge!

So, that is how I did it, for anyone who was wondering.  And for those who are thinking this is "TMI" for you, my apologies for making you feel awkward.

Funny how taking one "simple" thing away as a hot water heater made me that much more thankful for hot water.  And funny how living for 48 hours without a water heater can cause such a disruption in my life when people across the world don't even get clean water on a daily basis, much less clean hot water to shower in.

According to the first link on a quick Google search, the average shower head is using 2.5 gallons of water per minute.  So a 10-minute shower uses 25 gallons of water.  And I just used less than probably three gallons to wash myself this way.

I'm not here to bash the wastefulness of America or harp on our society's water usage.  I'm just concentrating on thankfulness.  48-hours and a new water heater later (Yay for my hubby, my water heater hero), I can say that I have a new appreciation for my hot showers.

And just to be super appreciative of this piece of technology, here is a picture of our new water heater.  Ta da!

And if you also from FWP, check out this video to help you here!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas...We're Doing It All Wrong!

Every Christmas season, I eagerly and excitedly get ready in anticipation for my favorite time of year.  If you follow me on Instagram, you'll see that lately, ALL of my posts have some sort of Christmas theme to them.

I know you've all heard it before, but the reason for the season often gets lost of in all of the doings and the goings.  We often try to make sure that we remember why we are celebrating.  You hear in church on Sundays the pastor tell you to SLOW DOWN and concentrate on what we're really doing.  Your children in Sunday School learn all of the symbols of Christmas and why we give gifts, etc. still feels like we're missing something.

The society today will try to convince you that Christmas is the time of year to give and to get.  The time of the year that everyone feels a little bit more generous and dumps that little bit of change in the Salvation Army kettle or donates hastily before the end of the year to that charity saying your gift will be doubled.  You hear of people on the radio talk about how we are so blessed in American and how kids in third world countries don't get anything for Christmas, not even food. 

I remember as a child on Christmas morning that my sisters and I would rush downstairs to see gazillions of presents spilling out from beneath the tree. We would want to open them, but Mom would always stop us, make us sit down at eat breakfast, and then we would sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

Yes, we are celebrating Jesus' birth.  But that's not just what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.  Its not just Jesus' birth.  Because the more I learn about Christmas, the more I learn about we are celebrating WHY Jesus was born.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is by Relient K called "I Celebrate the Day".  (Listen to it here!)  Their single lyrics says it all for me:

I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray to You to save my life

If we are to truly celebrate Christmas, isn't it imperative that we celebrate that Jesus was born to die?  Not just to die, but to die a painful, unthinkable death for me.  

I don't think I have truly wrapped my mind around that. 

How do we celebrate such a gift?  Its that moment when someone gives you something you so desperately need that you could not possible get for yourself.  Do we donate to poor children?  Give to families in need?  Sing Christmas carols?  Celebrate family?  

I don't think there is one right answer, but knowing what I know of God's heart, I believe He would want us to love to the fullest extent of our abilities.  To take His gift to us and make it explode.  Because true gratitude for Jesus' death comes with the understanding that we can never repay Him back.  But we can pass on the news.  

So, may your celebrations of Jesus' birth be filled with a warmth in your heart and a peace in your soul that only comes from knowing that we celebrate the most valuable gift ever given. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why We Have Money

I'm no economist or even a math person.  (Adding in my head is a chore.)  But I am a consumer, an employee, and a tax payer.  I am actively participating in this country's (and the world's) economy.

And the longer I earn money, the longer I am convinced of its true purpose: to be given away.

The only reason we have money is for the purpose of attaching a value to something.  One hour of work is worth $8.50 to an employer of a fast food chain, but maybe $50 for a doctor's work.  Money tells us how much a store is willing to sell a loaf of bread to us for.

Money also reveals value when we give it.  When you give $1, it means less than giving $10,000.  Also, if you earn $8.50 an hour, giving $100 means a lot more to you than someone making $50 an hour.

We all know about inflation, the liquid-like way money's value changes.  It's all relative, thus the reason why money functions as system of value.

But no matter who you are, whether you are a starving orphan in Africa or the CEO of one of America's top companies, there will always be someone who has less than you.  Yes, we use money to survive.  To consume those things we need, such as shelter, food, clothing.

But money doesn't really show its brilliant golden smile until it is given away, until the reason why it dictates value in the first place comes into play.  When you give it away, use it to buy someone else dinner or to purchase someone a gift, money's true purpose is revealed: to bring value to your gift.

This may not be entirely "accurate" in an economist's eyes, but money functions in a myriad of ways in our society, and I would have to argue all of those functions exist in order to demonstrate the value of giving it away.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Persuasive Fiction

I recall a time in high school English class in which we studied "persuasive writing" or "argumentative writing."  We were given a controversial topic--often something important like whether taking sodas out of vending machines would really stop childhood obesity--and then were required to write an essay arguing for or against.

I would argue--aha, you see what I did there--that everything we write is persuasive to a certain extent.  Even descriptive writing can be persuasive.

I shall define at this moment, like a good English student, that "persuasive/argumentative writing" is not as linear as arguing for or against an idea but rather writing that tries to persuade the reader or make a point.

As a result, my statement that something like, "The light bulb in the room dimmed, then flickered, then went out," can be persuasive doesn't sound as silly. (See?  That is why it is important to define your terms.)  As a fiction writer, that statement is trying to persuade the reader that the room is spooky or what have you, depending on the context.

A story is persuasive because as an author, whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, you're trying to prove something to you reader.  This is often interpreted as the theme of the story.

Therefore, a story is a vessel in which to try and convey your ideas to readers.  Albeit a much gentler method than straight out debate, I think it is important as a write to understand the power each individual word/sentence/paragraph has.  Each element is an example of persuasive writing and is working together toward describing a bigger idea, which is ultimately a piece of the writer's heart.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

So This Is Love...

"So this is this is love."

It's a song familiar from my childhood.  My sisters and I used to watch Disney's version of Cinderella over and over and over again. (Click here to hear the song.)  Cinderella and Prince Charming dance, staring deep into each others eyes, and sing this song to each other in perfect harmony in their heads...or they are ventriloquists and can sing without moving their mouths.  (I always thought the fact that they weren't singing aloud odd as a child.)

Even though we know Cinderella is the epitome of fairy tale, movies such as these define love as moments of emotional bliss with another person.  Often times, subconsciously we are longing for these fleeting moments, and when they flee, we're desperately trying to experience that emotional high all over again.

You don't hear the strains of "So this is love..." while you're putting fresh sheets on the bed at 1:00 a.m. for your exhausted husband who has conked out on the couch after a long day.  You don't hear melodic birds twittering in the bathroom when you remind yourself you don't need to be right and apologize.  You don't feel the butterflies of first love in your stomach when you spend time with the in-laws, even though no one is speaking in English.

Too bad.  Maybe a little romantic music would make those things easier to do.

I doubt anyone would truly admit that their idea of true love is dependent upon fairy tales and Hollywood movies, but if we truly look deep down into the thoughts behind our actions, what ideal is guiding our decisions?

Even in myself, do I see myself yearning for something that seems authentic but is really just a moment of emotional bliss.  Love is really defined by the moments when you would love to do the unloving thing but you do the loving one instead.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My name is ___________.

For the first time yesterday, I called myself Cheryl Chen instead of my maiden name, Cheryl Wong.  We were talking about voting over dinner and how I thought I could simply change my voter registration information when I changed the information on my driver's license, but then I learned you had to go to the voter registration people in addition and tell them, "Hey, I moved and changed my name."

The verbal mistake was probably understandable.  I said, "So, I had to go tell the voter registration people, 'My name is Cheryl Chen and I moved and I need to change my name.'"  Then, I quickly corrected myself.  "I mean, Cheryl Wong."

My natural response to the statement, "My name is..." ended with "Cheryl Chen."

I've spent approximately 96% of my life as a Wong.  It's taken me about 3.5% of my life getting used to changing my last name.  I didn't change my name just because it was the "normal" thing for a woman to do when she gets married; I liked the symbolism of a name change.

How many times we pass over these little moments that reveal so much.  It may sound melodramatic to some, but in lives of transition (which defines most of our's), these pivotal instances make the biggest of differences.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When Family Is More Than Blood

Photography by Kenneth J. Wong Photography
 A few weeks ago, we took our first family portrait that included the newest additions to my family. It was a big deal to my family.  My family of six has always been loving but also tight-knit and exclusive, putting up a protective wall of sarcasm and an armor of cold shoulders to defend from invaders.  The family unit resisted when I first tried to invite my then boyfriend (now husband) to the sacred Christmas tree decorating tradition.  How dare I invite an outsider to something just for family members?

For my birthday, my sister-in-law gave me a necklace she purchased while in Africa on missions.  It was a small pearl heart on a delicate gold chain.  She bought one for me, herself, her sister, and my mother-in-law.  To be included in the gift meant the world to me.  I was one of the Chen women.

I am strong advocate of family, but I have to admit, though I might not have verbalized it, prior to my marriage, family was blood only.  People could get close, but family was a non-negotiable.

However, as time goes on, my concept of family is changing.  I am beginning to find that the family unit in America is too broken and fragile to only let blood-related people to pass as family.  The steadfast, unconditional loyalty and love that comes with being family needs to extend past the walls of our home. 

As one of my friends recently posted: "I will always believe that families are not born, they're made."

For those who have family, we must cling to them.  Such a thing is precious and something worthy of protection.  However, we must also allow for inclusion so that all may know of the unconditional love that a family can give. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Test for Every Writer

As a writer, I am constantly in one of these three states:

1) Insatiable: I have to write. I need to write. There is this longing that every time I sit in front of a computer or I have a pen in my hand, that I must put something creative. One word: Passion.

2) Determined: There's no burning desire or anything, but because I've committed myself to finish that wretched novel, no matter how much it drips of cliche, I'm going to finish it.  At least to be able to tell myself that I did.  There may be varying levels of joy in the process, but the determination is really what pushes me along.

3) Exhausted: There are too many other things to do.  I don't know why I'm wasting my time on this thing.  I know I should do it, I know that I need to work on my writing, but somehow I can't muster up anything (drive, courage, will-power) to get anything out.  I am so discouraged on multiple levels that I often wonder where that insatiable desire went.

Isn't that how it is with anything you love?  Whether it be a person (your husband, your sister, your best friend), any other hobbies or even your work.  Life fluctuates, as does your resolve and your emotions.  Understandable.

The trick is in the "exhausted" stage, one that I often refer to as "burn out", somehow one must find the hidden, often inexplicable energy to continue on.  Whether in writing or in marriage, it's all the same.  It is in those times, when you really don't want to have anything to do with it, that you really prove your love.  As they say, its not real unless its been tested and still stands. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Day of School

There was always something magical about the first day.  Even though it would get warm by the afternoon, fall was creeping into the morning.  It wasn't so humid; there was a crispness to the air.  It was cool enough to put on a sweater.

I would wake up at 6:30 a.m., sometimes before my alarm, a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Even though I hadn't been awake before 9:00 a.m. for the past three months, I didn't feel tired. I would pull myself to the bathroom.  It was necessary to turn on the yellow lights in the dimness; the sun wasn't quite full strength yet.  The morning would feel foreign but familiar, like visiting a place you hadn't been to since you were young. 

After dressing and rechecking my neatly organized backpack with new pencils, new binders, and neatly printed tab dividers, I would walk downstairs with my new sneakers in my hand, put them near the door, and go to the kitchen.  My mom would be cooking breakfast, something hearty like eggs and sausage or pancakes with chocolate chips in them.  I would get first dibs because my sisters were never morning people.

When everyone was ready, my mom would force us to take a first day of school picture in front of the house.  We would stand in formation, ordering our German Shepherd to sit at our feet so he could be in the picture too, and force an enthusiastic smile.  After two or three takes (Mom always had to make sure she got a good one), we would walk up the street to the bus stop and wait for the yellow vehicle that had its own set of social rules.

By the end of the year, the routine would get old and tired.  I would hit my snooze button, miss breakfast, and wear old clothes.  But every year, that first Tuesday after Labor Day, it would all start again and somehow still exude the feeling of a fresh new beginning. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

525,949 Minutes of Marriage

Photograph by Kenneth J. Wong Photography
A year ago today, my husband, Jon, and I got married.  I could say many cliche things about getting through the first year of marriage, but I thought I would cut to the nitty gritty. 

Jon summed it best in a letter he wrote to me and left on my desk one day: "I didn't realize how difficult it was going to be to love you." 

Some people might take offense to that, but I know I'm not an easy person to love.  I test people's patience, I'm bossy, I'm nosy, and I am Type A to the max.  What I loved about his statement was what was understood: there was no question that he would figure out how he would love me.  I knew I had confidence in his love and his commitment.  He loved me, no matter how difficult it would get. 

I'm slowly learning to take every minute of marriage one at a time and appreciate that I have a husband who will love me no matter what.  That sort of love is only learned from one source: Our Heavenly Father.  

So, my dear husband, happy anniversary.  I love you, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, no matter what.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Trailers

What do you think?  Video advertisements for books? 

I first saw a book trailer for Stephen Lawhead's book The Skin Map.  Check it out here.  I was confused for a moment because I thought they were making it into a cheesy movie.  Then I realized it was a trailer for the book.  And my first thought at that moment was: "Boy, I'm glad I've read the book already." 

There are lots of trailers for books out now.  Book Trailers for Readers and Book Trailers.Net are website that have arisen to showcase these new forms of advertisement.

Trailers have immense power for only being around 60 seconds.  They have the power to create a first impression and give you a mental picture for characters.  They can create a mood.  As with any art form, trailers are an interpretation of a book put into movie format.  Someone else's interpretation.

But I see the value of book trailers in this increasingly visual society.  But are trailers accepting the diminishing imagination of our society for the hope of increased sales?  Part of me wants to encourage publishers to market books how they normally are: by word of mouth.  Someone reads a book and says, "Whoa! This was good!" and passes it on.  However, I know that in the book industry, one that is struggling to stay relevant with the digital times, there exists a pressure to bring in the cash and advertising is one of the avenues.  Trailers may just encourage more people to read. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Blog Post

I was honored to have the opportunity to write a guest blog post on my buddy Tom's blog for his Wandering Wednesday post.  The prompt consisted of writing about a time in which you were literally or figuratively/spiritually wandering in your life.

Check out the post at

This blog post was very intimate for me. Even though I've told the story quite a few times to girls struggling with self-worth or dating, putting it in written form rather than oral form was a heartfelt experience for me.  The biggest reason was because I found myself making God a vital character to the story, whereas when I told the story orally, He was mainly a player but not a central element.  God's voice came to me so easily; I almost heard the gentle tone as I typed out the words.

I hope that you are touched by the story.  I know that God gave it to me in order to show His love for us and to remind us to trust Him with our insecurities.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

So that was......suspenseful

sus`pense [suh-spens]
a state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.

Hollywood is very good at the dictionary definition of suspense.  They figure all they have to do is withhold information, and by definition, they have created suspense for their audience.

But suspense is much more complicated than that.  In fact, I feel like good suspense is difficult, even though it seems like building suspense in a novel or a movie should be one of the simpler things to accomplish.

Let's take the movie Snow White and the Huntsman.  (Note, when I go to the movies, I tend to see the film in the eyes of a critic.  So, if you liked this movie, please take no offense.)  While the movie was entertaining, it failed to be suspenseful for me.  Why?

No character development.  In order for us as the audience to care about the "awaiting decision or outcome", we must care about who is going to be the recipients of such an outcome.

When Kirsten Steward is running around in the Dark Forest, we have a hard time conjuring up deep concern for her.  Yes, her mother died, her father was murdered, and she was locked in a castle for half of her life.  But that doesn't create genuine sympathy for the character.  What does?  Back story.  Understanding who she is and what drives her.  If we understand her goals, then we have something to root for.

Why should I worry about the nameless Huntsman when, not only does he not have a name, but we also don't understand why he cares about the Princess or why he's decided to ultimately fight for her in the first place.  After she takes a bite of the poison apple, he stands there emotionally yelling at the dwarfs in his grief, and the audience has nothing to understand why he cares for her.  Last emotion he expressed about her was that she was a liability to him.  Even though he spills out his heart to her before he kisses her (a little late, thank you very much), the information is not there early enough (or shown rather than told) to earn anything.

William, the duke's son, is obviously passionate enough about Snow White to disobey his father, ally with the evil queen's brother, and risk his life to kiss her after he presumes her dead.  But what do we know about their relationship?  Nothing.  All we know is that they grew up together and he playfully stole an apple from her once as a child.

Because we do not care for the characters, do we care if they live or die?  Maybe a little.  They are people, and most people don't like seeing people die.  But in the world of theatrics, a fictional death doesn't mean anything, really.  As a storyteller, whether on screen or written, one must develop character first before the suspense can mean anything.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Halfway Point

Holy guacamole!  It is June.  We're halfway through 2012 already.  How are those New Year's Resolutions going?  You're probably like, "Oh come on, Cheryl.  Those only apply to January.  Duh!"  Haha.

Time is an odd animal.  It ticks away, second by second, at the same pace every single day.  It is steady, a constant.  Patterned and split into predetermined units because of its consistency.  It never changes.  Yet at the same time time zooms by.  The day is gone in a flash.  Our kids, friends, siblings, parents are moving on to the next stage in their lives, doing things that you thought were only ever going to be in the future.  Things to come become things that are and we're wondering how time moved so fast.

Life is like a ladder.  You start off on the bottom rung and can't see anything but what's in front of you.  The older you get, the more rungs on the ladder you climb and the more you're able to see.  You look down and are able to understand the bigger picture.

As you can tell from my blog, I like to look at life and apply to writing (or vice versa).  I believe the two need to be intimately connected for writers.

As the writer, it is important to know from which rung you write your story.  It's more than just POV.  Your narrator can have a very narrow outlook, but you need to understand more and know from where your knowledge comes from.

Its never too late in life or in writing to stop, take a step back, and try to see the bigger picture.  We're all on a journey, I hope, to the same place.  The roads we choose to take may differ, but ultimately, we're all a part of a bigger plan for a greater good.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Ode to Friendship

I have a story to share if I may.  It is about my pen pal, Liz.  Okay, so we don't really "pen" our letters to each other anymore, but when we signed up to be randomly matched up with another, I don't think either of us anticipated how our relationship would change our lives.  We were close to thirteen and loved to talk about boys.  It was exciting to write this person you didn't know, to get pictures of them, and to hear stories from the other side of the country.

We grew close and promised each other to be bridesmaids in each other's weddings, but what did we know?  I think even then, as a young teenager, I was doubtful that we would keep our promise.  I knew from observation and from being told before that you don't always keep your friendships into adulthood.  I didn't know why at the time--it didn't seem that hard--but I understood that it didn't happen for whatever reason.

But then we got into our high school years.  We found that a truly unbiased observer, one who knew none of the parties involved, was more valuable than we had realized.  We began to depend on each other as a sounding board, as a venting partner, as a confidant.

High school turned into college and the bonds were even stronger.  And then my family planned a trip to the East Coast.

"I'm way too close to you not to see you," I remember telling her in an email. "I HAVE to see you."

So we arranged for me to leave my family for one day of our trip to take the train to visit her.  I was so nervous on the train ride there as I texted her, "On my way!"  There was so much at stake with our first meeting.  She could be nothing like the girl I'd talked to on the phone.  It was almost like a blind date, but the risk was greater.  If we didn't click in person, would it dissolve the entire relationship we had taken years  and postage to build?

She met me at the train station.  Her car pulled up to the curb, and I was surprised to find that I recognized her as soon as she approached.  I climbed into the front seat of her car, we hugged, and then she pulled out of the parking lot.  We started chatting, and all of the sudden, it was like we'd be friends forever...because, well, we had.

After that day, I was ruined.  Talking in person was so much more fun, so much more rewarding than talking on the phone or emailing.  I was hooked.  We didn't do much that first day we "met".  We just talked...all day, like girls do.

A few months later, I told her, "I have to see you again."  So she flew out that summer and spent a week at my house.  Spending a longer amount of time together was even better.  Those little things you learn from watching someone in the moment...I began to notice them.  It was like now I could see the whole Liz.  Before, I only got to see bits and pieces.  Now, the picture was being filled in.  I learned things that most girlfriends know about each other: likes and dislikes, oft used phrases, mannerisms, etc.

And then my then-boyfriend proposed and I was engaged.  There was no question at this point.  She was being in my wedding.

With the emphasis on romantic relationships in our society, we often forget that friendships can be as exciting and as important as a marriage.  The bond you create with your "BFF" is unique and special.  It is to be protected.  They say most people don't have many truly good friends in a lifetime.  Strong friendships are rare and should be cherished.  I guess that is why I'm writing this post.  It is not only a dedication to one of the most unique friendships in my life, but also as a reminder that all friendships, whether with someone across the country or across the town, should be nurtured and protected.

And I am happy to announce that only 8 months after I was married, Liz was also married.  I flew out for her wedding, got to meet her husband-to-be, and participate in such a sacred life event.

2012                                                                                                    2011

This journey has been most special to me, and I might sound sappy writing this entire post.  However, I feel like it should be recorded and shared.  I am thankful to God for His Providence for this sister in Christ has helped me become the person that I am.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I have been slowly picking away at the first edit of my novel. (Editing is such a daunting task.)  Today, I was working on the first chapter.  (No pressure!  First chapter!)  Setting the stage is so important for a story.  It's like the thesis of an essay.  What you say in the beginning dictates what the rest of the novel is going to be about.  Lots of times, it points to the path that your protagonist is going to have to conquer in the story.

You see, story is a lot like this diagram (very crudely drawn with Microsoft Paint) that my professor always drew in class or in crayon on the back of my manuscripts:
The black line is the trajectory of a character's life.  The yellow line is impact from an outside source.  The impact causes the trajectory of the character's life to change to some degree, however big or small.  In order to tell a story, you must first explain what the original trajectory of a character's life would have been.  Otherwise, the reader cannot understand the magnitude/importance/degree to which the character's life was shifted.  Story is explaining the "before", showing the outside source impacting the life, and showing the results/affects the consequently occur.

Thus my predicament with my first chapter.  It is so crucial to the rest of the story.  No pressure!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What's on your fridge?

I came up with this idea last night and thought it would be worth a try.  What could it hurt?  My professor in college, Ron Carlson, was lecturing on scene and talked about how the items in someone's room or car or home or purse demonstrate character.  You don't just want to put any sort of random detail in your description of a room.  You want the descriptions to reflect on the character or situation. 

One of his examples was what is on people's fridges at home.  Is your fridge clean or is it a home for a family of magnets? 

As a way to collaborate with each other, I thought it would be a fun experiment for everyone to post a list of what is on their fridge at home!  We could use the ideas for inspiration for characters in our own writing.  Free gleaning!  And it might just be interesting to see what comes out in that list.  So, either post your list as a comment on this post or post it onto your blog and post a link in the comment section!  A way to share...from one writer to another.

On My Fridge, I have...

1. a letter from an Italian restaurant with a coupon
2. a recipe for steak with garlic butter
3. a 2 year old photo of my 8-year-old cousin
4. an old Christmas card from 2010
5. a giant green Christmas stocking (the kind you get from the 99 cent store!)
6. a grocery shopping list
7. a turtle magnet that I got in Hawaii on my honeymoon
8. a whole bunch of empty clips
9. a free credit card magnet

I hope you participate, glean, and enjoy! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Journey of Writing

I had the rare occasion today to sit and read a physical book for hours while waiting for my car to be serviced. I didn't really like the book that much, but reading always makes me want to write.  Either to produce something better than what I read or to explore characters in the same way I get to explore them as I read.

So, I returned home and sat in front of my laptop to write.  I started on a story that I had been contemplating for some time, and I was immediately disappointed.  In no way was this writing process as enjoyable and easy as reading.  Where was the effortless explosion of character?  Why did I not have a firm grasp on this person's character?  I wanted so badly to enjoy that writer climax in which my fingers are flying across the keys because I know exactly what to write and because I feel so close and intimate with this person I created, like they are my new best friend.

But writing is much like life in this way.  A writer does not normally achieve that sort of euphoric state without effort.  In fact, the effort is what creates the joy.  We find joy because we put in effort.  The relationships with our characters are just like the relationships with those around us: the intimacy must be earned by spending time with them, listening, and putting their needs before your own.  Only then are you truly able to partake in that breathtaking climatic moment of intimacy.

So, even though I feel like giving up on this story because I'm not "feeling it" right away, I'm going to keep on.  Perseverance will yield much in the end.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading and Writing

As a writer, reading is paramount in importance.  Reading is as essential to the writing process as food is to eating.  At first, I resisted this notion because I didn't have a lot of time to read.  I thought, "I can still write and not read!" True, you can. 
However, I realized the writing is very much a collaboration.  Often, in the midst of competition and pride, this sense gets lost and discarded for the sake of maintaining one's sense of writer dignity.  I am blessed to be a part of two workshops in which the attendees all understand that we can be brutally honest when we constructively critique each other's work.  We understand that their input is vital, and we respect each other.

So, reading is a collaboration.  But what about published books?

I honestly miss reading a book.  I don't have nearly enough time to read.  So, I spend my daily three-hour total commute to read in the car.  Audible has become my best friend.  I'm able to read a book about every two weeks listening to it in the car, and the audio makes the drives go by in a flash.

Some people argue that listening to a book isn't as "legit" as reading it.  I think both have their pluses and minuses.  (That could be a whole blog post by itself.  We'll save it for another time.)  Nevertheless, audio books, though they will never replace the tangible book, have given me an opportunity to get consistent reading in.

The results?  I find that I'm more consistently enthusiastic to write.  Reading other people's stories gets me excited about mine.  And not even considering all of the rest of possible consequences, I'd say that's a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

At Noon

A Exploratory Profile 

In one of his five pinstripe business suits, Jacob ate his lunch in the car.  The windows were up, even though it was seventy-five degrees outside.  The stuffiness didn't bother him.  He just hoped no one could smell his lunch on him after he was done.  He didn't want anyone knowing that he ate alone every day.

Today, like every Wednesday, it was a $6 turkey deli sandwich on a rosemary bagel from Breugger's down the street from the office.  The peppered bacon here was his favorite.  And it was inexpensive.  Randy Simmons always went to lunch at the restaurant on the base floor of the office building.  A burger there was $15 plus tax and tip.

He tucked the napkin methodically into his collar above the knot of his tie and spread it out to protect the maximum surface area.  Last week, he had dropped a dab of mustard on his light gray tie.  It had cost a fortune at the dry cleaners to remove the oil stain.

When he was done, he wrapped his trash neatly into the napkin that protected his shirt, saved the extra napkins in his glove compartment for dinner, and returned to work.  His most flavorful lunch of the week was done for now.  Tomorrow was Thursday, and he was back to sack lunches in the corner of the break room until next Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Want to Be Courageous

I'm not a very brave person.  I'm not a risk-taker or even a spontaneous person.  I plan ahead, plan for hiccups, plan for worst case scenarios, plan for success.  I calculate and weigh the pros and cons so that when I go into uncharted territory, I have the best possible picture of what to expect.

That being said, I've made a "career decision" that leaves me feeling very vulnerable.  I'm second-guessing myself, wanting to be there for people that I care about but knowing that their decisions should not hold me back from putting God, my husband, and my ministry commitments first.  Still, you know how it goes, there are always questions that you cannot answer, the "what if's" that haunt you if you let them.  As the worry-wart type, I often do.  I feel more secure worrying, to be honest. 

Then this morning, I read the blog of my sister-in-law, Tiffany, who is currently in Africa on a missions trip.  (Check her blog out at She signed up to go on an 11-month missions trip to 11 different countries around the world.  She left in September 2011.  Everything she's going through makes my problems seem so insignificant.  I wish I could say that I've cast out demons in the name of God and conquered the unknown in a foreign country for my Lord. 

How much better would the world be if all of us were as brave as we were when we wrote stories?  I am cut-throat when I write.  I hesitate (but not much) when I delete pages.  I send my characters into dark corners, thinking, "Let's see what happens," knowing that no time is wasted as long as I learn more about them.  Why can't we live life like that?  We so often are scared of the "what if's" that we are paralyzed by the question marks.  We write with reckless abandon, yet we live in holes.  We were made for so much more than this.