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Happy Valentine’s Day to Me – Baggage Claim is Here!

Roses for Valentine's Day and for Baggage Claim

My wonderful, supportive husband brought me TWO dozen roses today: one for Valentine’s Day and one to congratulate me on the release of Baggage Claim. Isn’t he amazing? I sure do love him. In addition to working hard so I can stay home and write, he’s been so patient as I worked on preparing Baggage Claim for publication!

Baggage Claim

It’s a little like having a baby, but instead of nine months, Baggage Claim took me nearly nine years to produce. I started it in 2009 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), All of my sons had finally graduated from high school, and after all those years of homeschooling, I had some free time to do “me” things! Then I got a real job and didn’t have time for writing anymore. I looked at it every so often, made a few edits, changed a few plot points… and then put it away again. After a few years, I forced myself to finish it, and then I set it aside again. I started an outline for a sequel. (Oh – I  was also working on a few other books, all of which followed that pattern. I have a very short attention span.)

Squirrel!

Then I got serious (lost the day job) and decided to write a Christmas novella for a collection with my good friend, Chautona Havig, and two other authors. It didn’t take me long to realize that the novella – Snow Angels – was meant to be connected to Baggage Claim and its sequel. Having a commitment to other people forced me to finish that book and get it edited and polished up for publication. Once the novella was published, I had to get Baggage Claim cleaned up and ready to go.
Baggage Claim by Cathe SwansonIt was then that I realized how truly BAD Baggage Claim was.  It didn’t need to be cleaned up; it needed to be torn apart and rewritten. So I did it. The book needed humor, so I gave the children more distinct personalities and put my heroine into unexpected predicaments. I wanted more suspense, so I made the villain a little more villainous.

I had to update everyone’s ages, so the entire calendar was adjusted. The technology was probably out-of-date when I wrote it the first time!

 

I couldn’t have done it without them…

As I prepared Baggage Claim for publication, I had one advantage that most new authors lack: an amazing team of pre-readers. If Baggage Claim is fit to read, it’s because of their help and input. It was a team effort – and it kept me humble! I love those ladies. And in the end, I love Baggage Claim, and I’m itching to start Real Religion, the second book in the Great Lakes series.

Announcing the winners

Valentine's Day Giveaway

Thanks to all of you who entered the giveaway contest! I will be sending paperback copies of Snow Angels to three winners: Olivia R, Debbie M, and TerriSue B!  If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you will enjoy it! I think it’s a fun story!

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Preparing for NaNoWriMo – 6 Important Tasks to Complete Before Nov. 1

NaNoWriMo - 6 Important Tasks to Complete Before Nov. 1

National Novel Writing Month

If you have ever participated in the NaNoWriMo annual 30-day writing marathon, you already know what it’s like. You cross everything else off your schedule, hunker down and write. On second thought, it’s not really a marathon. It’s a sprint, hurdling over writer’s blocks and kick-starting your creativity because it’s all about the first draft. It’s freeing! No one expects you to turn out a polished manuscript. You just keep writing and writing and writing.

The NaNo organization has built a terrific interactive website with incentives, forums, encouraging blog articles, writing buddy networks, local groups, achievement badges and accountability charts that will inspire you to frantic efforts or despair. Or, if you are doing well, they might make you feel a little smug. (Watch out for that.) You even get a gold halo for your profile picture if you make a donation.

My Favorite NaNoWriMo Resources from Helping Writers Become Authors:

One of my favorite  writing craft teachers, K.M. Weiland, is doing a series of articles on How to Outline for NaNoWriMo. I have her two books, Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, in digital form, and I buy fresh copies of the corresponding workbooks each time I start a new book. This current blog series is like a super-charged refresher course, and it’s not exclusive to NaNoWriMo.  It’s a comprehensive “how to outline and write a novel” overview, and it’s very good. Everything she writes is worth reading and applying. Everything.

Last year, she had a helpful article called 6 Tasks You’ll Love Yourself for Checking Off Your NaNo Pre-Writing List, and there are are several NaNoWriMo episodes in her Helping Writers Become Authors podcast archives.

As I read last year’s article – and others written on the topic – I came up with my own list. It’s a practical, commonsense list of things that need to be done before November 1 if you plan to write 50,000 words and “win” National Novel Writing Month.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo – 6 Important Tasks to Complete Before Nov. 1

  1. Stock up on groceries. Be sure to buy coffee, soda, frozen pizza, peanut butter and jelly, canned soup, frozen meals that can be microwaved in five minutes or less, cereal and milk, more coffee, granola bars and toilet paper. (You can also eat the  Halloween candy you didn’t give out.)
  2. Take care of the winter chores. Put the snow tires on the car. Install the storm windows. Hire a lawn service (or kids, if you have any) to mow grass, rake leaves and shovel sidewalks as necessary for the month of November.
  3. Announce to your family that you will not be hosting Thanksgiving this year, but if you can’t get out of it, remember that Pizza Hut and Dominos both deliver. If the family insists on something more formal, your local grocery store or restaurant probably has a packaged “turkey dinner for twenty” that you can buy already prepared. Or – if you are on track with your writing quota – you could take a break and go out to eat. Make reservations, so you don’t waste time waiting for a table to open up.
  4. Plan ahead! Clear your calendar as much as possible. If there are important birthdays, anniversaries, parent-teacher conferences or other events in November, reschedule them. It’s best to go ahead and take care of them in October, so you don’t forget later. Call your mother and anyone else who might start worrying if you disappear for a month.
  5. Finish your Christmas shopping and mail your Christmas cards by October 31.
  6. On October 31 – Halloween – turn off your porch light at 8pm and lock the doors so you can get to bed early. The neighborhood kids don’t need any more candy. (If your own kids are still out trick-or-treating, make sure they have a house key.)
Think outside of the box

You can also use a dedicated computer that is NOT connected to the internet, hire a housekeeper, retreat to a quiet cabin or noisy coffee shop according to your temperament, hide your cell phone… It can be a challenge to write 1667 words every single day or catch up if you fall behind. If you have a day job or family – and hope to still have them on December 1 – it will be even more challenging! Double kudos!!

I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, because I have some looming rewriting and editing deadlines for Baggage Claim. I hate to miss it, but I can’t start anything new right now. I wrote Baggage Claim for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and it’s finally (nearly!) ready for publication. Look for it in February!

Happy NaNo

Cathe

Disclosure:   I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. 

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What is Christian Fiction?

What is Christian Fiction ? - Cathe SwansonWhat qualifies a book as Christian Fiction?

We all know that our first responsibility in this world is to glorify God. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do – including writing! – we should do it all to the glory of God.  Therefore, all “Christian fiction” in every genre should glorify God.  That is true and simple, right? No, it’s true and it’s complex.

Ever since the Christian market grew beyond Amish romances and sweet prairie mail order brides, there is an ever-cycling argument about what kinds of language and situations are permissible in Christian fiction.

Although I occasionally enjoy an Amish romance, I am mostly interested in police mysteries/political thrillers and romantic suspense, and those genres are more likely to be set “in the world.”  I live in that world, but I am still a Christian reader. Personal convictions vary, and personally, I lean toward prudery – I do not want to be shown the nakedness or sexual activities, conversation and thoughts of other people. A skilled writer can write (ahem) physically-charged scenes without gloating over the details or making me a voyeur. I don’t want to read blasphemous or vulgar dialog. A good writer can show a powerful conversation between unsaved and/or angry characters without having to tell me which bad words were used.

Hollywood Ratings

Maybe fiction that is specifically marketed to a Christian audience should come with the kind of rating labels we see on TV shows, movies and video games: G, PG, PG13, R, M with the separate content factors of violence, drug use, profanity, degrees of sexual content/nudity, etc. , so readers could make informed decisions about their own reading preferences and the Christian fiction industry wouldn’t have to worry about uniform guidelines and lists of forbidden words.

“Christian fiction” can be about people with sinful pasts or in challenging situations. It can address difficult marriages, poverty, crime and sin, fame and success, business, social justice issues and other tough subjects.  It doesn’t have to have a warm and fuzzy pink bunny ending. Some of the characters might even have tattoos or piercings or – gasp! – ride Harleys.  But if you are a Christian and a writer, your work must glorify God according to His Word.

Write in the World

If a Christian writer really wants to push past the limiting industry parameters, in an effort to represent the secular world in all its dirt, why not bring a few characters with a Christian worldview into mainstream fiction? Write a story without an evangelical message but with ordinary, genuine believers living in the real world and still committed to glorifying God and living according to His Word.  Write about sincere Christians who are imperfect and sin but are not willing to wallow in their sins, either. There are millions of us out here.

Who Gets to Define Christianity?

Almost all portrayals of Christian characters in mainstream fiction are extremes. In general, they turn out to be deceitful and particularly slimy villains. The depicted churches are not real churches but rather hateful cults or ineffective associations of people. In other words, non-Christian authors are the ones defining Christianity for their readers: “This is how Christians are and this is what the Church looks like.” Christian authors are afraid to speak into that stereotype, worried they will be accused of lying, preaching or creating a Pollyanna world.

How often do you see a sincere Christian man – one who loves the Lord before all else – as a fictional character? A Christian homeschooling family that raises productive, intelligent children? Missionaries who do practical good works as well as their spiritual work? A Christian woman who is kind and honors her husband without making her a victim and him a bully? Priests who aren’t pedophiles?  A pastor who isn’t a cult leader?  When did you last read about honest Christians who sin, repent and try to do better the next time? All of these characters are very common in this world and almost unheard of in mainstream fiction.  Do you want to write realistic books? Then include realistic Christians, because there are a lot of us out here!

A skilled Christian author could write these mainstream fiction books. That would indeed glorify God.

In the meantime, maybe we should look into using those Hollywood ratings.

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Do what you love – as long as you love doing it

noquilting

I recently published an article – Quitting Quilting – on my GloryQuilts blog, explaining why I was restructuring my business. It explained the quitting part, but it didn’t really address the “art as career” aspect of the change. Through this experience, I am persuaded that if I am ever forced to support myself financially, I must not do it by making a career from the things I love doing. It sounds good, but it can end up sucking the joy from the creative heart and leaving only resentment.

For more than 20 years, I have been teaching quiltmaking as well as sewing and quilting professionally as GloryQuilts.  At first, I sold class samples and pattern prototypes as well as some things I made just for fun. I did some juried art shows, and then some that were less selective. I had to make quantities of items for the shows, on a strict deadline, and be ready to set up displays and manage sales. I started selling things on eBay and then Etsy.  Instead of selling unique and creative quilts, I began creating quilts specifically to sell, in trendy fabrics and styles. As my reputation grew, I was offered and accepted a number of commissions and special order projects.

But I had never intended to become a quilt factory.  What had once been a delight to me became stressful drudgery. I loathed the sight of my sewing machine and drove around the block to avoid seeing the fabric store. I didn’t even want to make baby quilts for my grandchildren!

Turning a passion into a paying career is something to be approached with caution. If it’s going to remain a creative pleasure, it must remain creative. If it’s going to be profitable, it must be practical. It will probably involve deadlines. It will involve  sales and marketing, business law, accounting, taxes, various expenses that eat into the fruit of your labors… Labors. Are you still feeling the joy of creativity?

It’s a wonderful thing to have work that makes you happy. We all need money, and it’s nice if we can get that money in a pleasant environment. Do what you love and love what you do, right?  The problem is the second part – to keep loving what you are doing once it’s a job. What happens when you give up the life-sucking day job to make a living from your art and then the art becomes the life-sucking day job?

Be realistic in the shift from hobby to career.  Before you start, assess the possibilities and requirements.  In most cases, this kind of self-employment is sales and independent contracting. Can you set aside the creative part of your skill set to practice on the weekends or does the business consume your enthusiasm and energy? Are you a painter willing to work as a commercial artist? An art photographer willing to do senior portraits?  A poet who will write product descriptions for catalogs? A creative chef will be happier in his own restaurant, with creative freedom, than he would be at McDonald’s, at any wage.

It’s easy to be creative on our own terms, without other people telling us what our art should look like and when it should be completed and how much money it’s worth. There is a niche market for art and original work. A few people and companies will appreciate its value, but it’s still a different scenario than just creating for our own pleasure and being willing to sell our art for a good price. Renaissance artists had patrons, and even that could be difficult.

After yet another stressful autumn and early winter, for those reasons and others, I made the firm decision to stop taking commissions and doing special orders. No more craft sales or any other sales event unless I happen to have stacks of finished items available at the time. (unlikely!)

I don’t like to say “God spoke to me and said…”, but I know that this is the will of God. I learned it through prayer, Scripture, wise counsel, observation and examination of the real situation, the preferences of my husband, the changing desires of my own heart. It all led to the unwavering conviction that I needed to stop that cycle and move into a new stage of my life.

In truth, I knew it a long time ago, as God opened portals in my life. I side-stepped them, closed them, looked through them and decided I wasn’t meant to go through them. I wasn’t good enough, they weren’t familiar to me, I needed money (and there didn’t appear to be any on the other sides of those doors.) I can call it fear, feelings of inadequacy, and the disbelief that my desires could really coincide with God’s will for me, but it all boiled down to disobedience and unbelief.

I was slow to make the changes, but I am committed now. I am writing. I am a writer. I believe it is my vocation, at least for now. I will still quilt. I enjoy teaching – especially the workshops that combine Christian ministry and quilting together. I like designing new patterns and making special items. I will still sell things:  class samples, pattern prototypes, and things I make just for fun, but I am not sewing to sell, like a quilt factory. God has called me to do a new thing. I am free to write without feeling guilty – as if I am wasting time in unprofitable activity.

Since I made that firm decision and announced it, I have made several good sales from the current stock in my Etsy shop and increased my internet following by a significant number. I am receiving this as affirmation of my changes. My husband is happy to see me writing and very supportive. Another affirmation.

It shouldn’t surprise us when God gives us the desires of our hearts and frees us from bondage of various kinds, when He makes everything work together for good, but it does surprise us and makes us wary. Sometimes we wonder if we are just seeing our own wishes and calling it God’s will. But we need to remember that He loves us here-and-now as well as for all eternity. He is indeed gracious and blesses us daily, beyond our comprehension.

Those blessings bring a responsibility, though. It’s the tagline for GloryQuilts:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

My (as yet unpublished!) books are not specifically evangelical. They are for the pleasure and encouragement of my fellow believers and a testimony of grace to whoever might read them. I am very grateful to God for this opportunity, and my goal is to glorify Him in all I do. He is good.

And I will love quiltmaking again, and I will make quilts for my grandchildren.

 

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NaNoWriMo – 6 Things to Do Before November 1st

NaNoWriMo Planner

National Novel Writing Month

If you have ever participated in the NaNoWriMo annual 30-day writing marathon, you already know what it’s like. You understand its magnitude, and you’ve probably made the decision to do it again. It’s an addictive event. It hurdles the writer’s block and kick-starts your creativity because it’s all about the first draft.  No one expects you to turn out a polished manuscript. You just keep writing. and writing. and writing.

The NaNo organization has built a terrific website with incentives, forums, encouraging blog articles, writing buddy networks, local groups, achievement badges and accountability charts that will inspire you to frantic efforts or despair. Or, if you are doing well, they might make you feel a little smug.  (Watch out for that.) You even get a gold halo for your profile picture if you make a donation.

I just read an article by KM Weiland: 6 Tasks You’ll Love Yourself for Checking Off Your NaNo Pre-Writing List.     KM Weiland is a gifted teacher. Everything she writes  is worth reading and applying.  Everything.  I have scanned the article and pinned it to study again when I have time to prepare for NaNoWriMo. It looks amazing.
Conquering Writer's BlockSide Note: I like outlines, timelines, and elaborate MS Office Excel spreadsheets, so my favorite KM Weiland books are Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, each with their accompanying workbook.  For NaNoWriMo, though, I re-read Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration: Learn to Nurture a Lifestyle of Creativity. The Kindle version costs $2.99 and is worth at least fifty dollars. That’s about how much money I spend on coffee in November, and the book is more energizing than the coffee. Not kidding.

 

As I read that article and others, I came up with my own list. It’s a practical, commonsense list of things that need to be done before November 1 if you plan to write 50,000 words and “win” National Novel Writing Month.

6 Tasks You Really Need to Accomplish Before starting NaNoWriMo

  1. On October 31 – Halloween – turn off your porch light at 8pm and lock the doors so you can get to bed early.  The neighborhood kids don’t need any more candy anyhow. (If your own kids are still out trick-or-treating, make sure they have a house key.)
  2. Make a big grocery shopping trip. Be sure to buy coffee, soda, frozen pizza, peanut butter and jelly, canned soup, frozen meals that can be microwaved in five minutes or less, cereal and milk, granola bars and toilet paper. (You can also eat the Halloween candy you didn’t give out.)
  3. Take care of the winter chores. Put the snow tires on the car. Put in the storm windows. Hire a lawn service (or your kids, if you have any) to mow the grass, rake the leaves and shovel the sidewalks as necessary for the month of November.
  4. Announce to your family that you will not be hosting Thanksgiving this year. If you can’t get out of it, remember that Pizza Hut and Dominos both deliver. If the family insists on something more formal, your local grocery store or restaurant probably has a packaged “turkey dinner for twenty” that you can buy already prepared. Or – if you are on track with your writing quota – you could take a break and go out to eat. Make reservations, so you don’t waste time waiting for a table to open up.
  5. Check your calendar and plan ahead. Clear your calendar as much as possible. If there are important birthdays, anniversaries, parent-teacher conferences or other events in November, reschedule them. It’s best to go ahead and take care of them in October, so you don’t forget later. Call your mother and anyone else who might start worrying about you if you disappear for a month.
  6. Finish your Christmas shopping and mail your Christmas cards by October 31.

Go Dark

You can also use a dedicated computer that is NOT connected to the internet, hire a housekeeper, retreat to a quiet cabin or noisy coffee shop according to your temperament, hide your cell phone…  It can be a challenge to write 1667 words every single day or catch up if you fall  behind.  If you have a day job or family – and hope to still have them on December 1 – it will be even more challenging! Double kudos!!

The anticipation is growing. I’ve warned my husband, and I’ve cleared my calendar. I have an idea and will be mapping out the plot and character details as soon as I finish my (online) Christmas shopping.

Happy NaNo!

Cathe

Disclosure:   I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. 

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Resolutions Everywhere

new-years-resolution-list-300x279

On every blog, every website, and every facebook page, there are articles about resolutions and goals. Some people want to sell you their latest organizational book or tool, and some people want to sell you fitness advice or diet pills. Webinars, videos, podcasts all over the place, free and fee. Some people just want to talk about setting goals – their own or in general.

Okay, so it’s not “everywhere”, but it’s a large percentage. Some people are more retrospective, writing about the past year instead of goals.

I have one statement that wraps it all up for me:

Last year, I lost my job.

That changed everything. No more income of my own, but I have a husband who is encouraging me to follow my own dreams. I would like to keep contributing financially, so I will do some sewing, but what I really want to do is write. I can make pin money by doing some copy writing, but I really want to spend the time writing fiction.

Resolution – to figure that out and do it all, without procrastination or distraction.

Goal – next year, at this time, I want to be ready for publication of at least one of the novels I have written or am still writing.

Method – write, build platform, write, make connections, write, learn about writing, write. Do some sewing or find another way to make money. Write.

Losing my job was a bad thing, financially, but it was a release from a stressful, life-sucking situation. It was a gift from God and my husband, and I must seize the opportunity. That loss was a blessing.

So my blog post ended up as another article about resolutions and goals, too. The new year is a good time to think about those things. Have a blessed new year. Love others, be kind, follow God. The rest follows.

(Oh, and I need to lose fifteen pounds, too.)