Our Need for Community

write-2930023_1920As writers, we often find ourselves working in a solitary place. For some of us, that is the only way we can unleash the thoughts in our head in a coherent fashion. It is time that many of us have to work hard to obtain – perhaps by shutting ourselves away from our busy and boisterous families by sneaking into the back bedroom for thirty minutes. For others it might look like a trip to the local library or Starbucks with our laptop in tow, hoping we don’t bump into someone we know, so we can use the precious minutes we have carved out of our busy schedules to actually write. Our understandable predisposition to gain solitary time in order to respond to our calling may become an obsession if we aren’t careful. It can become quite easy to duck out of social activities when our work-in-progress is tugging at our hearts. But many famous writers were notable as recluses, so what’s the harm?

lonestarActually, it can be harmful. I think it is important to recognize that God created us to be in community. Not only is it good as a writer to enter the social sphere, it is good for our souls. Writers are observers of life, and our writings reflect the truths we have found through our observations and experiences. You can’t observe or experience if you keep yourself segregated from the rest of humanity. Being in community also satisfies the yearning we all have to be part of something greater than ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. That is why I am so excited about the upcoming writing conference I am attending: Lonestar.Ink in Dallas this February. I have been a writer for many years, yet I have never made the time to attend one. I am not sure what to expect, but I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, I expect to leat-grandmaearn some good stuff from some successful authors and editors who are willing to communicate their knowledge with others. I am also anticipating that this will be an opportunity to network. But I also see it as something else – as an opportunity to break out of my solitude and connect with other people that have similar dreams and goals. People who will get my grammar puns and appreciate them without rolling their eyes (well, maybe…) and of course enjoy the conversations and debates that arise as writers compare notes on both technique and content.

Another strong reason to get out into the community (and attend a writers conference) is explained by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. She reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness, but could also be key to health and long life in an intriguing TED Talk where she explains that social interaction is the number one predictor for longevity. She explains that this isTED not limited to close acquaintances, but includes everyone that we interact with as we move through our day. Further, “Face to face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like vaccines, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” As a matter of fact, her entire speech made me really glad I signed up for the conference. Her research shows that brain activity becomes much more engaged with a live partner. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies thought the candidates were smarter if they heard their voices, compared to when they read their pitches from a text, email or letter. So theoretically, pitching an agent or publisher at a writing conference makes me smarter then sending a query letter…quaking knees and all.

Pinker says, “It’s a biological imperative to know we belong.” She points out the benefits of social contact, “Building inter-person interhyperboleaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters the immune system, sends feel good hormones surging through the blood stream and brain, and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.” So now I can extrapolate from this information that attending the Lonestar.ink writing conference is a matter of life and death. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating, but hey, it’s still a great idea and what’s a little hyperbole among friends?

 

Love Thy Neighbor

2017birthdayThis is one of my favorite pictures of all time. It was taken in 2017, and the occasion was my birthday. I am a little older now and hopefully a little wiser. The people in this picture portray a tremendous blessing in my life – I am honored to call them friends. So many countries are represented: Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Iran, Peru, Mexico, Rwanda, Germany, and of course, the United States. It is so much fun to have the opportunity to learn about other cultures, and I have found that we are more alike than we are different. I have also found that if given the chance, people will come together, regardless of race or country of origin, when given the opportunity. Many of the people in this photo recently donated money to buy a Car for Cyprien. He is pictured in the center, the man on crutches. The only time they have met Cyprien was at this party, yet when asked, they contributed so that he could have transportation.

flood-965092_1920It’s been almost five months since Hurricane Harvey. When an event like that occurs, it catches us completely off guard. We live in such a blessed country of plenty that the devastation wrought by Harvey is hard to fathom for those of us who are on the outside looking in. But even as far away as Dallas, we saw the effects. Evacuees made their way into our communities. Most everyone I know was shocked at the gas pump – stations were temporarily running out and prices reflected supply and demand. For me personally, I watched my son-in-law Aaron receive a phone call as we were about to eat Sunday lunch. He didn’t stop to eat and was gone within ten minutes, after bringing in school books and our grandchildren’s car seats into the house from his truck, because he needed to go directly to pick up two other members of the Army Reserve so they could deploy to Houston with their unit. Our daughter Melissa had the responsibility of our three grandchildren by herself, at the beginning of a new school year. They were ready to sacrifice for our neighbors.

cloudsheart3Local community organizations and churches stepped up to stand in the gap and serve those who had been devastated by Harvey. Individuals answered the call for volunteers and city and government officials worked side by side with citizen volunteers to rescue Harvey victims. Jesus prayed for unity – and in this time of tragedy it was beautiful to see that prayer being answered over and over. Instead of looking at each other through the petty lens smeared by our broken humanity full of grievances and complaints, we were looking at each other through the same lens Jesus does. All of the divisive issues that have been blasting through the media didn’t seem important anymore. We were faced with our common humanity, and how beautiful it was to see our response, the same response that Jesus calls us to – love thy neighbor.

martin-luther-king-jr-393870_1920We have been given a great capacity for love and love can overcome our differences. Scripture tells us in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” As we celebrate the holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, let’s remember his words and weave them into the fabric of our own communities: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. King also said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Let us love our neighbor, regardless of how different they may be from us. Let us rejoice in our differences, knowing that in the depths of our hearts, we are the same.

Images from Pixabay – free for commercial use

 

 

 

Guest Post: Books as a Catalyst to a Love of Learning and Reading!

I read this on Facebook and asked my friend Abigail Harper Christie if I could share it, because it really spoke to me about the value of reading and having access to books. As a writer, it validates my own endeavors as a way to contribute to humanity. Abigail’s story tells of the life-changing impact that books made on her:

harrypotterbookAs my trip to London and our Harry Potter Pilgrimage draws to a close, I have been thinking about the impact that Harry Potter has had on my life. I understand that it is just a book series, but for me it is a tiny bit more. Pre-HP, I had absolutely no interest in reading and was reading pretty significantly below grade level. I just didn’t care. My mom would try to force me to read to her at night and I would put up a fight every time. Then someone gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in third grade. I couldn’t put it down. Within weeks I had read the first three books. Before I was done with third grade I had read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit while waiting for the fourth one to come out. By the next time they did reading evaluations I was then reading/comprehending significantly above grade level. I remember taking my books with me everywhere and talking about them a bit too much.

Harry Potter is more than just a series of books for me, it was the catalyst to a love of learning and reading. So I know we are all busy these days with relationships, school, work, adulting, etc., but try to take the time to stop and read a book. It might just lead you to places you never imagined possible.

NancyDrewThanks, Abigail – I spent many a night in elementary school hiding under the covers with a flashlight and Nancy Drew mystery book (I am a bit older than you, okay, maybe more than a bit…and Harry Potter was still a long way off, but Nancy Drew had the same effect) so I can really identify with your experience and I wish that for everyone. Reading transports us to another world and allows us to see possibilities that we wouldn’t know existed otherwise. It empowers us with knowledge and reassures us with familiarity. It helps us cope by providing a means to take a break from our troubles. I think one of the best gifts you can give a child is to facilitate a love of reading. Thanks for sharing about the impact that books have had on you – as an author the best thing we can possibly hear is that we have made a difference in someone’s life!

A New Perspective for the New Year

mailThis year I want to have more gratitude for things we take for granted. I was talking to my neighbor, Charlie, and we got on the topic of mail. I was telling her how difficult it is to receive mail in some countries. I had mailed my friend’s parents a letter and some pictures last year. They live in Rwanda and while I can mail something to Rwanda and feel fairly confident it arrives there, getting it to the intended recipient is another matter entirely. The mail must somehow travel to some location (such as a local church) and from there, the recipient must be informed that they have a letter being held for them. Sadly, my letter never arrived. 

For those of us living in the United States, this is hard to imagine. We are blessed to have our mail arrive at our home – daily! We don’t even think about it. Charlie commented on how we need to be grateful for the things we take for granted. I think she is right. Whenever you find yourself getting frustrated at some minor inconvenience today, like waiting to be served at a restaurant, pause and reflect how blessed we really are and that the minor inconvenience you are upset about wouldn’t even be possible if you didn’t have the blessing of food and water readily available. Some people have to walk miles daily just to get water for their families (a daily occurrence in some parts of Rwanda). Be grateful for what you have and recognize the blessings you take for granted – rather than complaining about inconveniences. Thanks, Charlie – that’s a great lesson for all of us!

Angry Robot Open Door Submission

I am very excited to announce that I have submitted Alien Neighbors to Angry Robot. Who are they and why is that exciting you might ask…

From their webpage (www.angryrobotbooks.com): Angry Robot is a global imprint dedicated to the best in modern adult science fiction, fantasy and everything inbetween. Our book line launched in July 2009, with physical books across a wide variety of formats, e-books as standard, and with all frontlist titles as audiobooks from October 2011.

Since I write science fiction and fantasy, Angry Robot would be a publisher that might find interest in my work. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book writingLanjo#1/publishing process, let me say in brief that it can be a very long and arduous journey. One typically queries agents first, and if one is successful and an agent offers to work with you (a process that can take months, if ever), the agent represents your work and tries to find it a home with a publisher. Rarely do publishing houses accept what is referred to as “unsolicited manuscripts,” they typically only accept manuscripts to review that have come to them by agents.

Angry Robot, however, has provided authors such as myself that do not yet have a literary agent, an opportunity to submit their unpublished manuscript for consideration. This has been HUGE for me for multiple reasons:

  1. These guys have promised to read every manuscript submitted. The chance to have a reputable publishing house consider my work is breathtaking.
  2. The timing was phenomenal. I was finishing up my second round of self-edits in October when I read the announcement. The door opened November 1st and closes December 31st. I submitted my manuscript yesterday, December 27th.
  3. The timeline motivated me to complete my self-edits and bring in a copy-editor to check for grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation issues. I managed to do one more round of revision when going through the copy-editor’s recommendations and I am now thrilled to have completed a submission-ready manuscript.
  4. Angry Robot requested the “dreaded” synopsis as part of their submission requirements. My least favorite part of the writing process (I had to condensed a 95,000 word novel into 2 pages), but it forced me to do it. This is a valuable exercise albeit a painful one, that takes several iterations to do properly. A synopsis not only tells the story (and shows you actually finished it) it can point out any flaws in the plot and is a quick way to evaluate if a story is of interest or not. In short, I needed to write a synopsis whether or not Angry Robot accepts my manuscript and their Open Door Submission motivated me (kicking and screaming) to do it. Now, I’m so glad I did!
  5. Writing is very subjective, and writing for a particular audience isn’t easy. Within that audience is an entire spectrum of what people want to read. I wrote the kind of science fiction novel that I would want to read. I hope to find a publishing house that shares my vision for it. Maybe its Angry Robot (I hope so!) but if not, they gave me a valuable gift already. Their Open Door Submission pushed me to do my best and get it done. For that, I am grateful.

Thanks, Angry Robot!

Wow, That is REALLY Heavy

Last night Phil and I went to the Walgreens down the street from our house. We were standing in line behind a young man who was in the process of paying for a pack of cigarettes. I looked at him and said, “My sister died two days ago from smoking cigarettes. I really hope you are thinking about quitting some day soon.”

Phil stood frozen as we watched the young man whom I had never met before process what I had just said to him. Phil’s first thought was that the young man was going to punch him. The young man looked at us and said, “Wow, that is REALLY heavy.” He looked rather freaked out and said it again, adding “I won’t be able to sleep tonight.” Phil, in an effort to soften my blunt statement adds, “Don’t worry, you’re still young. You have time.” The young man shook his head. “No, you are right. I am twenty-eight years old and I have been smoking for fifteen years. I need to think about quitting, but it’s hard.”

I told him, “I know it’s hard – I used to smoke too until I was a couple of years older than you are now. You can do it, you just have to get yourself in the right place mentally.” He smiled and said, “Yeah,” than shook his head again. “Man, that was really heavy.” I replied, “I know, but it was said with love. I really hope you will start working towards quitting. God bless you.” “Thanks,” he replied as he turned to walk towards the door, obviously still freaked out.

Phil looked at me and shook his head. Only you would do something like that. “Hey, I know Fran (my sister) is laughing and cheering me on from heaven,” I replied. You see – her last years on earth suffering from COPD were very difficult to watch. The last time I held her hands while she was on hospice she told me she wanted me to share her story because by her sharing it, she might save someone else’s life. Maybe in a random encounter in Walgreens, she just did…franandriley

Finding Joy in the Moment…

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It’s been quite awhile since my last post and a lot has happened along the way. At Chapter 24, my science fiction novel is almost 2/3rds complete and is a blast to work on. Life has been busy as my husband and I have let go of some responsibilities and taken on new ones. But what I have really felt impressed upon me lately is finding joy in the moment.

If you are like me, your days are filled with tasks to be completed. As soon as I get caught up in one area, more things to be done appear on the horizon. It is so easy to get caught up rushing to the next task that we don’t pause to enjoy the moment that we are in. I often have to stop and ask myself, “Is there a neighbor I need to check on? Is there a friend I have not talked to in awhile? Is there someone I have meant to get in touch with that I haven’t made time for? When is the last time I went with our teenage son for a walk in the park, to the library or a breakfast outing?” I am so grateful for so many things, and especially for my husband Phil. His birthday was this past Tuesday and I knew he always wanted to drive a bulldozer, so I surprised him by taking him on an adventure that he truly enjoyed. We set aside all of our thoughts about our responsibilities and just immersed ourselves in the day. I am grateful we had that opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. Who knew pushing huge mounds of dirt could bring so much joy!

While life continues (along with the pressures and stresses of life) I am learning to keep my focus more on God and loving people and less on the stuff that I can’t change anyway. When you really do make an effort to see the glass as half full, and further, to be grateful that you have that glass in the first place, it changes your outlook and joy becomes resident where disappointment or anxiety used to reside. While there is a degree of necessity in doing many tasks, it is the perspective we choose and how we prioritize our day that allows us to make room for the special experiences of life that are truly meaningful…and reminds us to take joy in the moment we are in.