Embracing the Thorns

thorns - susy floryMy son was on his honeymoon in Costa Rica a couple of years ago. The newly married couple decided to do an adventure excursion involving zip lines through the jungle, a hike, and a swim under a tropical waterfall. As the group started out on the hike, the guide, a local man, warned them about the trees with thorns. “Don’t touch the trees!” he warned. It wasn’t just the pain; infection is a real danger in the tropical climate.

But the warning came too late. At the exact same time the guide was giving the warning, the first guy in the line of hikers reached out and grabbed a tree trunk to steady himself on the uneven trail. He yelped in pain and drew back a palm-full of dozens of tiny, razor sharp thorns. The rest of the hike, he and his wife worked to extract each thorn. But it was impossible; he had to hike with a hand full of thorns and get help at a medical facility much later.

Do you ever feel like that guy, like you’re walking through life with a painful thorn in your palm? Maybe even a handful?

A few weeks after my son’s wedding, I came down with a fever and body aches. Oh no. Not another virus. I had just recovered form a two-week bout with the flu over the holidays, right after my son’s wedding. I was finally feeling pretty good and had just about caught up on work. Now this.

But it wasn’t the flu. Later in the day, rolling around in bed trying to get comfortable, I looked at my right arm and noticed an ugly red rash. My arm was painful, swollen, and I could barely straighten it out. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on so I visited my doctor and we put the pieces together and figured it out.

A few years ago I had several surgeries related to breast cancer. I’m now cancer free, but the surgeries, chemo, and radiation took a toll on my body, and the lymph nodes in my arm had been damaged by the treatment. They were no longer functioning and lymphatic fluid, which functions as part of the immune system, was backing up in my arm and causing problems. Apparently I do need my lymph nodes. Who knew?

 “Sorry I’m such a loser,” I told my husband the next day. And that’s truly how I felt. I’ve always prided myself on being strong, athletic, outdoorsy, and physically tough. I’ve always felt strong. Until then.

“It’s like my arm is disabled, and I have to be careful with it,” I told my daughter. But when I heard myself say those words, I had a moment of clarity and I suddenly realized – I’m in denial. First of all, my arm is part of me. If my arm is disabled, then I am. A disability is defined as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. I needed to own it.

Second, almost everyone has some sort of disability, whether visible or not. The older you get, the more likely something goes wrong with your body or mind. I’m not alone.

Third, disability can be a gift, if you embrace it. Intellectually, I knew that. I just was not living in that knowledge.

I had a really hard time with the whole idea of being disabled. I was feeling angry. Whiny. That’s it was unfair and unjust. That I was still strong, and being disabled was not part of my plan.

It’s funny – my recent books have been about people with major, life-changing disabilities. Michael Hingson, a man who escaped from the World Trade Center on September 11 with his guide dog, Roselle, was blind from birth. Ryan Corbin was a young man who suffered massive brain damage from a near-fatal four-story fall. And Austin LeRette, a boy born with brittle bone disease and autism who lived with unexplainable joy.

Each of them has major disabilities, has risen above them, and has extraordinary influence on the people around them. Their weaknesses have become their strengths. But even though I’ve written about these heroes of the faith and know them intimately, I’m a little late to the party. I’m still trying to figure out how to rely on God’s strength in my own weakness. I’m still trying to learn how to hike with a palm full of thorns.

I’m still learning how to use those thorns, and that pain and suffering, to inform my daily life and my work. I’m learning to be honest, and that great insights can come from great pain. I can open up and share them with those around me who might not be as far along on this journey.

I know to expect wounds. You can’t wait for your life, or your relationships or your work, to be perfect. The Bible is full of stories about wounded people and their struggles.

Most people in pain develop a protective shell and might even appear as if they have it all together. Most of us don’t. Our thorns might be invisible, but they are there. When I write, I’m writing for that inner, hurting person. When I read, my own protective shell is pierced and words go straight through to my heart.

After the thorns were removed and he was treated with antibiotics, that guy in Costa Rica turned out to be okay. But he has scars, and in a way they’re a reminder of a painful, but beautiful journey through a rainforest.

 

***

Susy Flory Bio PictureA note from Susy: “Hey, writers! I’ll be teaching this Saturday, August 27, at a writer’s workshop for Inspire Christian Writers. I’ll be talking about ways to make your writing come alive, the power of metaphor (like palms full of thorns!), overcoming the writer’s struggles, how to define success as a writer, and what’s new in publishing at this half day workshop! Plus, I plan to throw in a few short stories about an astronaut climbing Everest to find true love (from my current work-in-progress)! Go to inspirewriters.com and click on the “workshops” tab at the top for more info.

Susy Flory is the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of eleven books. She directs the West Coast Christian Writers Conference, an Inspire conference coming up in February, 2017. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and loves Robert, her adult kids, dogs, horses, and owls.

What’s In A Name?

Creating the right name for every character

‘A rose by any other name, may smell as sweet,’ but what about our characters? Are all names the same? Can they be interchanged and still carry the same meaning and impact? Does a Fred give the reader the same impression as an Alfred? What kind of person do you picture with the name Marci, how about Mariamne, or Mary, or Meraera, or Malith?

Names have power in our stories. But how do we create the right name for every character?

When I first started writing, I bought a baby name book. When I created a new character I’d pick a letter I wanted the name to start with and then go through the pages looking at meanings and spelling variations until I found something to suit my character.

As time passed and I roamed the web more, I discovered a plethora of sites to find names. Most baby or new mom sites have a dedicated page for names. But I took my naming to the next level by choosing a name based on its meaning. Sites like the following are a small list of possibilities for search by the meaning.

name generatorIf you don’t want to waste hours on the net and have Scrivener, there is a name generator built in. You can to pick a name based on gender and nationality. (Edit > Writing Tools > Name Generator > )

 

 

 

 

 

I have also found some apps I enjoy: (these are free for Android, but they might be found for Apple as well—or something similar)

  • Name Generator
  • Fake Name Generator is fun. It will give you a name: First and last, along with an address, occupation, fake SSN, and a long list of other stats.

fake name generator

Since I write most of my books with a medieval feel, I have several sites bookmarked for Old English names. Here are some of my favorites.

I have also looked for names popular in the old west. More recently I Googled ‘most popular names in 19—’. When you know the age of your character you can get a feel for the names many parents were giving their children the same year as your character was born.

Here is another free app for fantasy names

  • Fantasy Name Generator. This one has an extensive list of possible fantasy characters to choose from, including: hobbits, elves, angels, dragon, dwarves, and a host of others.

By far, one of my favorite new finds as a fantasy writer is Donjon. You can create an entire world with this site. Each of the names below is link within site that leads to worlds of possibilities. You can name your characters, your world, and the locations in your world. There are occupations, population stats, maps, and diagrams. A person could spend days on this site—and never get a word written.

http://donjon.bin.sh/

  • Fantasy Name Generator
  • Random Generator
  • Fantasy Calendar Generator
  • Fantasy World Generator
  • Medieval Demographics Calculator
  • Random Adventure Generator
  • Random Dungeon Generator
  • Random Inn Generator

Do you have any tried and true ways of naming characters? Share your insights and happy naming.

Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.

The Ministry of Magazine Writing (Part 2)

Start Submitting Today

Christian Writers Market GuideDuring my interview with literary agent Steve Laube, he offered these final words of encouragement regarding the ministry of magazine writing:

“Try not to fall into the trap in thinking that magazines are the ‘minor leagues’ when it comes to writing. You can slave for years to write and publish a book and sell 5,000 copies. Or you can write one magazine article and reach 10,000 or more!”

As I mentioned in that interview, Steve spoke similar words to me in 2011. I took his advice and have had my work published in The Upper Room, Encounter and Devozine. The Lord used this hands-on-training to prepare me for an invitation to interview for a position as a contracted devotion writer, something I had never considered before my initial conversation with Steve.

By God’s grace, I now have the privilege of serving as a contributing writer through the ministry of Our Daily Bread. Starting in 2017, the Lord is going to be encouraging international readers through my small offerings of loving worship.

I’ve been blessed with a writing partner who also appreciates the ministry opportunities available for magazine writers. She’s had her stories featured in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Junior. Talk about an amazing reach!

Steve’s wise advice has been proven true through our personal experiences. So, though we’re both working on book projects, we’re committed to scheduling time to work on projects for magazines.

If you’re not already submitting to magazines, I encourage you to prayerfully consider beginning your journey today.

Every writer’s voice is uniquely designed by God, and purposed to make a difference for God. But, He can’t use the words He gives us to write if we don’t place our offerings into His hands.

When you’re ready to reach readers through the ministry of magazine writing, you can start by investing some time researching the following reputable Christian publications. Each one pays and is open to unsolicited submissions.

 

The Upper Room serves millions in their international and interdenominational audience. Their daily meditations are printed in over 79 editions, translated into more than 38 languages and distributed in over 100 countries.

The Quiet Hour, a daily devotional published by David C. Cook, ministers to over 100,000 readers annually.

Today’s Christian Woman, a digital magazine with a powerful online presence, invites writers to share biblical perspectives with women regarding relationships, faith, and ministry.

SEEK, published through Standard Publishing, encourages adults in their walk with Christ and corresponds with topics in their adult Bible curriculum.

Devozine, which is published through The Upper Room, accepts submissions from teen writers, as well as writers who minister to youth.

 

Writers can minister to children ages 8-12 through Clubhouse Magazine, a Focus on the Family publication, and Pockets, distributed through The Upper Room. God’s love and truth can even be shared with children ages 3-7 through Clubhouse Jr., another magazine published through Focus on the Family.

These are just a few wonderful ministry opportunities for writers. The Christian Writer’s Market Guide (2015-2016), available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, is compiled by Jerry Jenkins and offers updated information on submission opportunities for magazines and more.

I’m looking forward to hearing what God does as you continue to hone your craft and prayerfully invite Him to expand your reach for His glory, through the ministry of magazine writing.

And in my next interview, Heidi Killion Gaul will share tips that led to her stories being published in eight Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

—–

The links shared in this post were confirmed at the time this article was posted. Inspire Christian Writers is not responsible for changed links, publishers updating their writer’s guidelines, or the content posted the publisher websites.

—–


Author Photo 2016 - INSPIRE ThumbnailXochitl (soh-cheel) E. Dixon encourages women and teens to embrace God’s grace and deepen their personal relationships with God and others. Her devotions will be featured in Our Daily Bread, starting Spring 2017. She’s been published in The Upper Room, ENCOUNTER, and Devo ‘Zine magazines, in Inspire’s Victory, Promise, and Forgiveness, and at  www.xedixon.com.

An Unusual Path to Publication

Kim is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend

As a Marriage and Family Therapist of 30 years, I’ve watched my clients grow as they learned to be kind and compassionate with themselves, while working through difficult issues. I hadn’t found anything written in this area integrated with our faith. I wasn’t interested in writing on the subject.

Kim Fredrickson_450pxBut God had other ideas.

In March of 2013, I felt God prodding me to attend the Mt Hermon’s Writers Conference.  I finally gave in. Unwillingly. I was happy as a therapist and didn’t want or need anything else to do.

To my surprise, one editor was interested in my work, and asked me to send her a lengthy book proposal. I did, and crossed it off my list.  Now I could go back to being a therapist and professor.

Four months later my life changed. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and went through treatment over the next nine months. Seven months into treatment I received an email from the publisher offering me a book contract. I was stunned and delighted…and got on the phone that night to find an agent. I was through the worst of the treatment at this point and thought I could work on the book.

One might think this is where the story ends…but no.  Four days after I finished treatment, I couldn’t take a deep breath. I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis from the chemotherapy and radiation (a rare side-effect). PF as we call it, is a progressive lung disease that has a 3-5 years life expectancy. In July 2014 I went on supplemental oxygen and closed my counseling practice. I finished the edits, and Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend was released July 7, 2015.

 

Give Yourself a Break BookCover600pxThroughout this process I experienced God in powerful ways:

~ He set up a writing career for me before I developed huge health problems. I received a contract easily…not because of anything unique about me, but because He knew I needed to be on the fast track to publication.  I am grateful to Him for giving me a new purpose, and a way to contribute to others in a meaningful way. This has made all the losses easier to handle.

~ Having a terminal illness with no cure is rough. Despite such devastating news and the way my life has changed, I’ve been blessed by God’s support and the love and encouragement of family and friends. There’s still much to be grateful for.

Self-compassion (S-C) has helped me get through this season. When I was diagnosed with cancer, and then PF, I decided to be a good friend to myself. S-C helps me be kind and caring in the ways I talk to myself, take care of myself, encourage myself, and accept the volumes of prayer and support from my friends and family. I am committed to not turn on myself or abandon myself during these difficult times.

I know God has a purpose for PF in my life, and in the lives of others. I don’t need to know what those plans are. I trust Him.

I still do radio interviews and limited speaking (via Skype/facetime), blogging, writing and encouraging others. My life has changed and shrunk because of this illness. I focus on what I am still able to do…which is a lot. My lungs are disabled, but I’m not. I’m still the same person with Christ by my side…just with an oxygen tube.

Kim is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. Her blog, “Self-Compassion for Real Life” integrates the transforming power of self-compassion and faith www.KimFredrickson.com/blog.

The Author’s Elevator Pitch

'Quirky, elderly Mrs. Odboddy.....

‘Quirky, elderly Mrs. Odboddy lives in a small CA town during WWII. Though committed to ‘fighting the war from the home front’ by volunteering and freely giving her time, she imagines Nazi spies and black market conspiracies under every cabbage bush. When Mrs. Roosevelt comes to town, Mrs. Odboddy must prove she is, indeed, a hometown patriot.’

Trying to consolidate a 278 page humorous WWII novel into 57 words or less fails to explain the intricacies, humor, romance, intrigue, historical events, or plot in my cozy mystery adventure novel, Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot.

Elaine Faber, Mrs Odboddy Hometown PatriotEvery day, I sit at my computer and words fall onto the written page. I spend hours researching, taking notes, plotting out the mystery, thinking up red herrings, bringing bad guys to heel, writing and rewriting scenes, creating my characters by day and dreaming about them at night. Writing is my life’s dream and I love it.

However, when I wrote my first little ditties in high school, no one told me that ‘being an author’ would demand more than writing stories. Now, I find that I must master the skills of publicist, bookkeeper, full time blogger, cover artist, and skilled orator, keeping my eyes peeled and ears tuned for panel or speaking opportunities.

One more thing. As authors, we are expected to memorize an ‘elevator pitch’ about our books in the event at a conference or convention, we have an opportunity to impress a literary agent or publisher.

We must command his undivided attention with an opening hook, define our plot’s originality, create a desire to read our scintillating novel, convince him that our novel will become a New York Best Seller, and justify why everyone from a cowboy in Texas to a stock broker in New York will buy our book with their last dollar. All this in sixty seconds or less.

I get it. In these days of limited promotion from traditional publishing houses, or self-publishing, an author must be master at jack of all trades. It requires expertise in many skills or a staff of six to handle all the details. Though not necessarily a ‘master’ at any, I’ve become somewhat competent in most.

But never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d have to excel in a 60-second spiel about my book on the off chance I might find myself ‘riding in an elevator’ to the 38th floor of the New York Stock Exchange with a Zondervan publisher.

In my case, I imagine it might go something like this. “Uh, you’re that Zondervan guy, aren’t you? Here. Let me push this button and stop this thing. I wrote a book, see…called Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot. It’s about this quirky, old lady who sees Nazi spies…”

Elaine Faber leads an Inspire Christian Writers Critique group. She has published four cozy mysteries. Elaine’s humorous novels bring joy and laughter to her readers. Elaine believes that in this troubled world, laughter makes our days better.