Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Pearl and the Keychain

One of my favorite of Jesus’ parables goes something like this, “There was a man who hunted garage sales looking for treasures. One day, he found one, and he sold all that he owned to get money to buy…a plastic keychain that lit up when you pressed a button on it.”

No, you’re right. That wasn’t it. It was a bobblehead doll of the last American Idol winner.

A magnet from Sea World?

An embossed stationary set?

A toothpick used by Lady Gaga?

Fine. Okay. Apparently no one is going to believe my version of the story. In the real story, the man sold all he had in order to buy a pearl of great price.

Makes sense. Sure, he went a little crazy, but at least he was blowing all his cash on a real treasure, something that mattered. No one would value a plastic trinket that highly, enough to make it worth everything they had.

Except, you know, me.

Last week, I promised a behind-the-scenes explanation of what you learn from having a book published. I decided to focus on just one thing, because it’s something that very few people talk about: the danger of putting your dream for the future and desire to please others above God.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Go Shopping, Fight Nazis

Today, I went Black Friday shopping. And guess what? No Nazis tried to threaten me to stay away from certain stores.

What, that’s not surprising to you? Maybe I’m just sensitive to the issue because I’m reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who joined a plot to assassinate Hitler. Suddenly, I’m expecting to see swastikas on every street corner, especially because of my favorite part of the book so far, a story about Bonhoeffer’s grandma.

It was early 1933. Sometimes I think that Hitler just kind of exploded on the world scene when the war started in 1939. But that’s not usually the way history works. Things change slowly, quietly, through subtle propaganda and redefined terms and committee meetings.

Most Germans didn’t really know what was happening. They knew their hero Martin Luther, at the end of his life at least, had some violently anti-Semetic things to say. And they thought they knew, based on Hitler’s various accusations, that the Jews were controlling the press overseas and spreading lies about Germany. They didn’t see the death camps coming. All they saw was a day in April when all loyal citizens of Germany were supposed to peacefully boycott Jewish stores in protest of the Jews' anti-German attitudes and actions.

And, on that day in April 1933, 90-year-old Julie Bonhoeffer went shopping. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Get Published, Part Three: The Book Contract

You know when someone asks you a question, and the only answer you can think of is, “It’s a long story….”? Well, this is one of those long stories. When people ask me how I got a book contract, I’m never sure if they really want to sit down and hear everything. So I’ll say it here instead, where hopefully only people who are interested have to suffer through it.

Things don’t always (or, actually, often) work this way. My story is not typical. Then again, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that no one’s story is typical. But you can still learn from other people’s experiences, even if your own experiences won’t look the same.

Around Thanksgiving during my senior year of high school, my twin sister Erika, a future elementary education major, was reading a lot of kids’ fantasy series. She didn’t like a lot of them because they were predictable and used random bursts of magic to solve whatever problem happened to come up. “You got poisoned by a snakebite? Don’t worry, we happen to have a venom-reducing emerald on hand.” (No, that really happened. Honest.)

So she did the only reasonable thing to do when your sister is a writer. She said, “Hey, Amy, I know what I want for my birthday. A book.”

And I said, “Well, it’s six months early, but okay. What book?”

“I don’t know. You haven’t written it yet.”

Silence. “Um…what do you mean by that?”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Defending Thanksgiving

If you want to start a heated conversation, casually ask a group, “So, what do you think about playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving?” Immediately, people will start shouting, pounding their fists on the table, and throwing various items of food and Fiestaware at those of differing opinions.

Okay, so maybe not. But I have gotten some pretty heated responses when I’ve asked this question over the past few days, everything from, “It’s a sin” to “It just makes me so happy inside that I can’t wait.”

I am one of those crotchety people who is against Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Just against, not violently opposed. I’m not going to go torch your computer if I hear strains of “The Little Drummer Boy” coming from your Spotify account. (I used to have this as "Sleigh Ride, until one of my apartment-mates reminded me that this song, along with "Jingle Bells" was once a Thanksgiving song, of all things. So, in theory, those two are acceptable, although I question the legitimacy of this logic.) Still, I think there’s something to be said about letting Thanksgiving have its time before rushing on to the next thing.

I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong. But I think most of us could agree on two things: Thanksgiving is highly underappreciated, and in a contest for ideological purity, it would beat Christmas any day. Why? Because Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, while Christmas is about giving stuff.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Making Vows to Me

Sunday School teachers love the book of Judges.

You know why? Because the judges of Israel are pretty much like The Avengers, except with God.

Samson is a cross between the smash-everything-anger-problems Hulk and the billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (maybe not the genius part, though). Gideon starts out as the mild-mannered Steve Rogers who goes from a nobody to a victorious commander of the troops. Deborah and Jael go all Black Widow on the guys (the tent peg to the temple has got to be one of the best moves in history). Ehud sneaks in and stabs a really fat king, and has plenty of time to escape because everyone else thinks the king must be taking a long time to go to the bathroom.

I’m not sure which Avenger that corresponds to. But it’s a great story anyway.

But there’s one judge who no one really likes, who no one talks about or relates to or includes in elementary school coloring books.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How To Get Published, Part Two: Random Tips

Maybe I should have organized this list in some way instead of throwing out random information. But organization is not my thing, as you would know if you've seen any of my outlines (Actual example: "Chapter Twelve: Something happens. It's important.").

So here are some random tips about getting published, mostly in magazines because that's where I have the most experience.
  • Almost all of the places where I’ve been published were in publications that I actually read several issues of. The places where I just sent in a story or article that fit the word count without seeing the magazine itself have almost all been rejected. I’m guessing there’s something significant there.
  • It’s better (for me at least) to have a long, unbroken chunk of time to work on the research part of the publication process. Take an evening and flip through a Writer’s Market Guide, going to websites, comparing guidelines, editing several pieces, and printing them out right then to send. That way it actually gets done.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Five Things You Should Love (That Everyone Else Hates)

One of the most important things I’ve learned about writing is something that, for a long time, I didn’t actually believe. It wasn’t a list of proofreading marks or the magical formula for writing a best-selling novel or a time management chart. It was a very simple truth.

Who you are is more important than what you write.

I really mean that, and not in a touchy-feely, I’m-a-Christian-so-I-have-to-say-stuff-like-this kind of way. I mean it in a raw, your-character-directly-effects-your-writing, put-the-grit-back-into-integrity kind of way.

Yes, I realize that this statement could be taken out of context and misused. Are there successful jerks? You bet. Are there nice but totally untalented people? Oh yeah.

But what I mean is that the more you develop aspects of your character, the better writer you’ll be. I’ve seen it happen over and over again, enough to convince me that, hey, maybe there’s something to this after all.