Standing Back by Marcia Lee Layco

When my husband and I arrived in Papua New Guinea, where we were to work with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, an arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators, one of the things I found a bit awkward was the custom of hiring people to work for us in and around our home. We were told if we did not hire a woman to help in the house and a man to help keep the yard and garden, the people would consider us very stingy. So I complied. Davi came to do housework twice a week and Iya came to do the gardening. I grew to love and appreciate them both.
Iya was a very happy fellow, always smiling, often whistling or singing. So when he came to the house one day with a long face I knew something bad had happened. He told me his wife’s “papa,” (probably her maternal uncle), had been attacked on the trail to their village. Men from a nearby tribe had hacked his legs and back with a machete. He was in the hospital. That was indeed bad news. You don’t go to the hospital to get well in PNG, you go there to die.
Iya told me the men in his village were preparing their weapons – sharpening their machetes and making spears and arrows to retaliate against the people who had attacked the man. You see in PNG there is a system of pay-back that must be followed. Good for good, bad for bad.
I was upset at this news and wanted to call in the cavalry – send the police, send an army of missionaries to stop the violence that was going to happen. But Iya said no. 
“Yu mus tok long Bikpela, tasol,” You must pray to God, that’s all, he said. 
So I prayed. A few days later Iya came to work. He was smiling. He was whistling. And he had a story to tell. He said when his wife’s papa heard that the men in the village were preparing for war he insisted that he be taken home. He could not walk so they carried him through the jungle and when they got to the edge of the village he told them to put him down. He crawled to the centre of the village where the men were making arrows and he told them they had to stop. “Jesus does not want this,” he said. “Jesus told us to love our enemies. Put your arrows away.” 
And they did. 
I learned a very valuable lesson that day, from an illiterate man in a stone age culture. Sometimes you pray. That’s all.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I launch a new fantasy series and ponder all the marketing I am expected to do. I’ve been through this before and just the thought of doing it all again makes me tired, especially since most of what I tried last time did not work very well. So I’ve been praying about it and it seems the Lord is leading me to do just that. 
So I’ve decided to take Iya’s advice once again. I’m going to pray. That’s all. Yes, I know it’s risky. And it’s hard. I keep thinking of all the things I should be doing and I’m tempted to once again jump into the marketing maze with both feet. But then I remember what God has done in the past, how He has changed lives with my writing and spread my words further than I ever thought possible. 

So I’m going to stand back. I’m going to pray. That’s all. I’m not saying everyone should do it this way. I’m just saying this is what God wants me to do. I’ll keep you posted.

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Marcia Laycock is a prolific writer and Christian speaker living in central Alberta Canada. Her work has been published in local and national newspapers, magazines and anthologies in Canada and the U.S. Her devotional book, Spur of the Moment won her the Award of Merit at Write Canada. 

Her most recent release is A Traveler’s Advisory, available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.

Beginnings and Endings

When you start a new story, where to you begin? At the beginning, of course. But which one?

Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree. But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder how the snow plough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of words. ~Terry Pratchett

How do you know how far back to go? It can be one of the hardest choices an author has to make. It might go like this: The scene where John saves the woman’s cat from the burning building is full of hold-your-breath action, but if I don’t show the author how John lost his own cat in a fire when he was nine, they won’t understand his angst. And if I don’t show how the owner of the current cat lived next door to John all those years ago and accidentally set the fire, the reader won’t understand the potential conflict between the two. And if I don’t go further back… If you’re not careful, you’ll convince yourself that your contemporary suspense novel needs to start with a prologue showing the main character’s great-grandparents on a homestead in Oklahoma.

Generally, the best place to begin a story is with something interesting. That may seem like a ridiculously obvious statement, but it bears saying. Quite often, writers in the early stages of their careers choose to begin in places that make perfect sense to them but do nothing for the reader (or the editor they hope to impress). I’ve sat in on several editor panels and have heard this advice given over and over. Do not start your novel with:

  • Someone driving and thinking about how her life is changing
  • Two people sitting at a table drinking coffee
  • Someone waking up to start the day
  • An overly-long, overly-detailed description of scenery

Obviously, there are exceptions. My book, Vinnie’s Diner, starts with a woman driving, but by the third page, she’s in a car accident that sets up the entire plot of the book. Let’s look at the openings of a few popular novels.

There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me – not forever, but periodically.  One for the Money, Janet Evanovich

Why does it work? Immediately, we can feel the tone of the book. The main character’s voice is distinct. And, we want to know what it is about this Morelli that makes him worth the trouble, more than once.

It was raining the night he found me. Demon: A Memoir, Tosca Lee

Why does it work? There is a sense of foreboding in this line. We know the main character is in for something unexpected (because he was found) and it’s probably not going to be pleasant.

By the time you read this, I hope to be dead. 19 Minutes, Jodi Picoult

Why does it work? How can you not want to know more about the person who wrote that line? This book is not written entirely in first person POV. It changes to multiple, third-person, past tense POVs. But that first line stays with you as you read. One of the characters has a secret so big, they hope to be dead before anyone finds out. Which one?

Don’t give up hope if you’ve already started a story with one of the “don’t”s in the list. Keep writing! Don’t stop! But when you’ve finished, go back and think about the best way to invite the reader into the world you’ve created and how to hook him so he can’t stop reading. Quite often, you won’t know that for sure until you get to the end.

Speaking of the end…

There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story. ~Frank Herbert

Endings have their own unique challenges. Depending on the genre, there are rules for what needs to be there.

  • Category Romance – In a true romance, the characters need to find their happily-ever-after ending. There is one line that prefers you include an epilogue with the characters getting married.
  • Mystery – The person who committed the crime must be caught and all the loose ends happily tied up.
  • Women’s Fiction – This is a little more nebulous, but the most important thing seems to be that the main character has learned something about herself and the people she loves.

Because I don’t want to accidentally give away the ending to a book you might want to read, I’m only using one example, from an older book. Even if you’ve never read it, you probably already know how it ends.

“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Why does it work? This is one of those endings that a lot of readers dislike. It hangs there, leaving so much unanswered. But at the same time, it tells you everything you need to know. Throughout the entire book, Scarlett has faced one crisis after another, and every time she finds a way to get through it. Quite often, it’s by doing something questionable, but she survives. By going back to Tara, she’s reconnecting with the thing that grounds her and gives her strength. Rhett is a strong man, and he’s been terribly hurt, but is there really any doubt that Scarlett will win him back?

Think back to some of your favorite books. In fact, go to your bookcase (I know you have at least one) and take three or four of them off the shelves. Read the openings and endings. Why do they work? Is there anything you’d change about them? How can you apply it to your own writing?

So many ways to begin, so many ways to end. Only you will know when it feels right, and even then, someone may tell you it’s wrong. Be open to advice, but when all is said and done, you are the one who’s responsible for the story you tell. The choice is yours.

The opposite of the happy ending is not actually the sad ending – the sad ending is sometimes the happy ending. The opposite of the happy ending is actually the unsatisfying ending. ~Orson Scott Card



*****

Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and grew up above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on Pandora. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. You can visit her on Facebook, Pinterest, or her website.

Conferences—Advancing Your Writing Career

by Robin Caroll
As a
little girl, I had a dream—to be a writer. Life ensued. I went to college and
graduated with a paralegal certificate, then realized I hated the legal
industry. I wanted to experience life, so I went to work in the automobile
industry. Stayed there, in customer service, for ten years. Let me tell you,
THAT was an experience. Every now and then, I’d remember the dream and write a
poem. Enter it in a contest, got a couple published. Then I got married and had
my first daughter. I had such a busy life, how could I think of my dream? Until
the day my little girl and I were reading, and I thought to myself, “I love
reading, have always loved reading. I want to be an author, have always wanted
to be an author.” I decided to do something this time. I enrolled in a Writer’s
Digest fiction course. Completed it, and began work on a manuscript.
Life
interrupted again. We moved—twice. I had two more little girls. But the dream
didn’t die. And ten years after I completed my fiction course, I decided to do
something again. I bought craft books. Joined writing groups. And learned about
writing conferences. Before then, I hadn’t a clue that there were conferences
you could attend to take workshops and classes to learn and study. Places you
could go and be taught by nationally recognized authors. Events where you could
meet with *gasp* editors and agents,
face-to-face. Boy, was I hungry for that.
I attended some small, local conferences. Learned
what a pitch was. Realized I was nowhere ready to pitch to an agent, much less
an editor. Honed. Networking  Robin Caroll, Novel Rockettudied. Absorbed. It took me having gone to four conferences
before I attended the “big” ones—ACFW National and RWA National.
At my first conferences I:
  • Met
    my critique partners face-to-face and our relationship changed from just
    writing partners to dear friends for life.
  • Met
    my mentor in person and realized I loved her just as much as I did on
    email and telephone.
  • Met
    my agent in person for the first time.
  • Pitched
    to the editor who ended up contracting my first book—the one I’d pitched
    to her.
  • Networked
    with editors who I just like hanging out with because they’re fun
  • Been
    blessed to have taught and encouraged other writers
  • Realized
    how much I NEED conferences to feed my writing spirit 
Now that I’m published and have many, many
conferences under my belt, I still wouldn’t miss going to at least one or two a
year. Why? Because now I can:
  • Connect with my
    writing friends. There’s something special about hugging a friend and
    praying with them in person.
  • Network with others
    in the industry.
  • Visit with my agent
    and various editors I’ve worked with.
  • Get up-to-date
    information on this ever-changing industry.
  • Feed my writing
    spirit.
  • Learn new insights
    as well as brush up on my skills to hone my craft. 

Want to advance your writing career? GO TO A
CONFERENCE. Yes, it takes money to go. Plan ahead. Apply for scholarships. Sale
the kids. (Ok, I’m kidding about that.) But the expense is worthwhile—you’re
investing in your career. And for me? It’s investing in my mental stability to
be around others in this crazy industry.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Robin Caroll is a southerner through and through. Her passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others. Robin’s mother, bless her heart, is a genealogist who instilled in Robin the deep love of family and pride of heritage–two aspects Robin weaves into each of her 25 published novels. When she isn’t writing, Robin spends time with her husband of twenty-five+ years, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons–in the South, where else? She serves the writing community by serving as Executive/Conference Director for ACFW. Her books have finaled/placed in such contests as the Carol Award, Holt Medallion, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, Bookseller’s Best, and Book of the Year.
Bayou Corruption

“Don’t let them get away with it, Jacks-” 

Those were the sheriff’s last words. Left for dead in the middle of the road, Jackson Devereaux’s good buddy had slipped into a coma. Well, Jackson wouldn’t let them get away with it, once the ace newspaper reporter uncovered who they were. He’d start with the lovely Alyssa LeBlanc, the only eyewitness to the crime. Problem was, she hated Jackson-why?-as much as she hated being back in the Louisiana bayou. Unfortunately, the truth lay deep in the bayou’s belly. And whether they liked it or not, Alyssa had to lead the way.

Coins in a Fountain

Inside the three-acre play-land castle, the woman wiped away tears as three exhausted boys passed the Coins for Charity sign and approached the fountain.

The oldest boy looked to be 9 or 10, the second a year younger, and the smallest about 4 years old. She held a hand to her mouth as all three waddled closer, reached into their bulging pockets, and grabbed coins by the handful. The deep plop of coins falling in water was louder than the light spray from the statue.

No one watched. No parent stood nearby.

Yes, there was some good in this world. The sacrifice these boys made for the less fortunate surely represented a lifetime of savings.

She rounded up her daughter and left the play land.

She vowed to be a better person.

THREE HOURS EARLIER


Mom took us to Wylie Park in Aberdeen, South Dakota, a rare treat since it was an hour drive away. A center castle with nearby attraction was the most fun a kid could have. I was the oldest at 10, my brother Chris 9, and Joe was 5.

“Hey,” I told my brothers. “Check this out.” I led them to the bridge, crossed the moat, and headed past a sign I didn’t bother to read and stopped at the center fountain. Under the shimmering water lay a vast carpet of silver and copper treasure.

I let my imagination slip directly past my brain and gave it complete control of my tongue and body. In a few moments, I’d convinced my brothers to take part in the biggest get-rich-quick scheme I’d ever devised, and soon we were shuttling coins from the fountain to outside the castle and into a hole. We covered our loot with dirt and returned to playing.

When mom called us to return to return to the car, I’m not entirely sure how she missed our bulging front and back pockets, scooped shirts, and handfuls of coins. We started counting in the car’s back seat. $28, which was almost 28 times my life savings. My pounding heartbeat made me dizzy. The thrill!

“Where did you get that money?” my mom asked.

Two seconds after our explanation, we were back in the parking lot.

As we started back to castle, I think I heard my mom say “I wondered why the car felt so heavy.”

Returning money is heavier work than acquiring it, and by the time we made it to the fountain, we were played out. My imagination thought we should flick the coins in one at time, but Chris opened the pouch he’d made with the bottom of his shirt and coins poured in. I shoved in handfuls.

I didn’t even care a lady was watching. She was so mad at us, she was crying. She snatched her daughter’s hand and left.

We returned to the hole and dug up the other half of the treasure and returned the coins to the fountain. I think we got them all.

Nuances of writing mirror life. We want to see our pain reflected in characters. We want our experiences normalized in fiction. We want winners to be happy and evildoers to repent. But everyone brings different experiences with them when they read. Predicting what our readers take away from our work is impossible.

Takeaway values don’t come from manipulating the emotions of readers, but through depth of character, first in our life, then naturally appear in our work. Focus on writing about humanity. Because you never know what an onlooker will take away from the story.
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. www.peterleavell.com.