Repost: Soaring Eagle

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National Wildlife Federation Christmas card: Sacred Heights by Daniel Smith

 

I was thinking about soaring eagles and prairie chickens the other day and recalled this card we received last Christmas. I dug it out of my pile of papers and was struck by how relevant it suddenly seemed to me. The fact that the eagle is ALONE is a big one. As is the fact that when he is soaring, he’s not really doing anything, just resting on the wind currents. His perspective is high and far. And even though there are storm clouds all around, there is light bursting through them. Beautiful picture of our life with God.

He soars above it all, and below him, far, far out of sight are the prairie chickens — flocking and squawking and chattering. Fluttering, clucking, scratching in the dirt, huddling together, going after bugs and seeds. They find safety in numbers (you only have to fly faster than one other prairie chicken to escape the predator!). Where one goes they all go, often without thought. It’s a horizontal existence and a horizontal perspective.

But the eagle lives in the heights. He lives with the higher, bigger, broader perspective. And he is at peace. Ironically, the title of the card is “Peace on earth” and after reading that, it hit me that the only way one can have true peace while on earth is to be a soaring eagle.

Is 40:31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary.

Originally posted on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 www.karenhancock.blogspot.com

 

A Good Excuse to Read

For the last two weeks I’ve had the flu!  What fun.

Actually, it was kinda. Last year when we got the flu after our Christmas trip, I read a Vince Flynn book that I’d had on my shelf for ages: Transfer of Power. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Tranfer of Power

I’d read his first novel, Term Limits, years ago and thought it was really lame and juvenile, so I never tried another. But he went on to become a very popular, best-selling author, so I decided, in the hopes that he had improved his skills over time, I would try his second book, mentioned above. Surprise!  I liked it.

Of course I did have the flu, and it was a welcome diversion from the wretchedness of being ill, but really, I thought it was pretty good. Transfer of Power is the first one where his series hero, Mitch Rapp is the main character, and it is about terrorists taking control of the White House, killing dozens and taking hundreds hostage. Rapp, the CIA’s “top counterterrorism operative” is sent in to take care of the problem.

With this most recent bout of the flu, I turned to Flynn again, seeing as I had found at the used bookstore the next two of his novels in the series: The Third Option and Separation of Power.

Third Option

I read both, back to back, all the while going through boxes of Kleenex almost as if I were some sort of Kleenex soiling machine. (I couldn’t believe how fast I went through them, nor how much “stuff” I had to soil them with!)

The verdict? I enjoyed both books, though I struggled at bit with The Third Option at the beginning because I kept getting lost. Finally about a quarter of the way through, when I realized I had no idea what was going on, I wondered if I was no longer capable of reading books as complex as these with my aging brain… Or was the problem really Flynn simply not being clear? After all, the characters in The Third Option had been presented as if I should know who they were, but I couldn’t remember any of them and there were no reminders for those who might be in my position.

Finally I went back and dug up my old reviews of Term Limits, his first book, and made my first discovery — the characters I was puzzling over In Transfer of Power were indeed the main characters in Term Limits. A book I’d read 11 years ago!  No wonder I couldn’t remember them nor the operations they’d taken part in!

I also went back to the beginning of The Third Option and started going through the writing itself, just to see if it really wasn’t very clear.  (This is the kind of thing a writer does. Normal people probably don’t. If you are an aspiring writer, however, I recommend you do this… It can be very enlightening and help you avoid similar mistakes)

And what was the result of my investigation of technique? The writing was, indeed, unclear.

For one thing, Flynn writes from the omniscient point of view, which means he jumps into any characters’ viewpoint whenever he wishes all within the same scene. The problem with this type of point of view (pov) is that if you’re not careful you can lose your reader along the way, and that’s exactly what happened. You have to be very clear you’re making a pov jump and to whose point of view you are jumping, which Flynn didn’t always do.

For example, the first chapter starts in Rapp’s point of view where he’s walking alone through the woods in Germany, reconnoitering the estate he is about to “invade,” then returns to a cabin where his two teammates have set up.  He enters. There’s some description of the man and woman already there,  the interior, and some equipment. Then it says

“Rapp had never met the man and woman before. He knew them only as Tom and Jane Hoffman. They were in their mid-forties, and as far as Rapp could tell, they were married. The Hoffmans had stopped in two countries before arriving in Frankfurt. Their tickets had been purchased under assumed names with matching credit cards and passports provided by their contact. They were also given their standard fee of ten thousand dollars for a week’s work, paid up-front in cash. They were told someone would be joining them and, as always not to ask any questions.”

All of that is consistent with Rapp’s point of view, which we were clearly in. In the next paragraph, there’s no reason to think it’s not Rapp’s as well, recalling things the Hoffman’s have told him about their journey to this point (or perhaps that he knew from other sources since he’s running this operation):

“All of their equipment was waiting for them at the cottage when they arrived. They started right in on surveillance of the estate and its owner. Several days later they were paid a visit by a man known only to them as the professor. They were given an additional twenty-five thousand dollars and were told they would receive another twenty-five thousand dollars when they completed the mission. He had given them a quick briefing on the man who would be joining them…”

The problem is that this second paragraph is all from the Hoffman’s pov and includes information Rapp does not have. But there’s nothing in the text to give you even a hint of that. In fact, in paragraph one they’re told by their contact that someone will be joining them and in paragraph two that this “professor” has joined them… so… it seemed logical to put those two together, all of it stuff that Rapp knows about.

Except that he doesn’t, as I said, the viewpoint having shifted out of Rapp’s specific awareness at the end of paragraph one and into a general omniscient.  And since that’s not remotely clear, the result is confusion on the reader’s part. At least on this reader’s part.

You could say this was the fault of the reader not reading carefully enough, but I disagree. As an author, you want the reader to rip through your story, especially if it’s a thriller. They aren’t going to be reading carefully, they’re reading to find out what happens and “How is he going to get out of this?!”

 No, it’s up to the author to make it all clear and smooth so the reader always knows through whose eyes he’s experiencing the story.  C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing) “Readers are like sheep going down a path. If there’s any way for them to go besides the way you want them to, that’s where they’ll go. Hence, you have to make sure that every gate is closed to them except the ones you want them to go through.”

I don’t think Flynn did such a great job of that in The Third Option, at least not in the beginning. Once I had figured it all out, though, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. And it was especially  good to know I wasn’t all washed up as a reader of complicated political/military thrillers, which I love! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Why Not Try This?

Last week, having discovered the nine-year-old post I “reposted” yesterday, I decided to put the “discoveries” I’d made therein into practice. I would take all those pesky cards with all their suggestions and ideas that I’d found so confusing, and assemble them into a list.

Except, when I went to do that, I discovered that the cards had disappeared. After a few moments cogitation, spiced with alarm at the notion I might somehow have thrown them all away,  I recalled that I’d already made a list of them, and furthermore, that it had been more or less incorporated into a very wordy and long-winded “outline.”  (I use the word advisedly. It isn’t so much an outline as a… conglomeration. Maybe a step up from the non-ordered list mentioned in the last post, but nowhere near any kind of cohesive outline.)

That I forgot having already made my list, is yet one more result of the fractured nature of my life these days. I seem to get in a couple of good days of work and then… Things Happen that I must deal with, or that distract me despite my intention not to be distracted, and when I finally get back to work, I can’t remember where I left off. That’s because I never envision the latest weird distraction that may come up to consume my time the next day and keep me away from the office, so often I don’t make detailed notes of what I must do next. (And that assumes I even know what I must do next.)

If I do make notes, when I come back to the work after the interruptions, I often can’t figure out what they mean nor recall what I had in mind when I wrote them. So once again I’m left sitting there with a feeling of confusion, my head full of whirling thoughts and ideas and ‘maybe’s,’ but nothing concrete. So there I sit, staring at the computer screen, or the papers on my desk… getting nowhere, wanting to run away, and finally recalling that I should to take my problem to the Lord, which I did.

And He delivered the following, which I happened to find amidst my papers — which is to say, I can’t recall how I found it, only that suddenly it was lying there on my desk and I picked it up. And read it:

Cobble notes card

[Transcription if you can’t decipher this:  “Here’s something I’ve been doing (22 Feb 2005): Just putting my narrative notes right into the chapter, or cobbling snatches of dialog together in order to get something going — instead of sitting down and writing the sequence out whole cloth.”]

And by “writing the sequence out whole cloth,”  I meant “start with the fully realized scene and just write it out as it might appear in the finished copy” (yes, I was delusional, but often delusional people don’t realize they are being delusional). To do that, of course, I needed to figure out all the details in advance which was where I was getting hung up.

But hey, this note from the me of the past suggested I forget about trying to make it all orderly and cause and effect and logical… instead of all that, just get the stuff down. You can always change it later.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. If Sevorius is going to walk into the room Varko is in… do I have a description of that room somewhere? Grab it and put it in. What about Varko? Do I have a description of him? Oh yes. In fact I have pages and pages of notes on him, including all manner of details. So I copied and pasted the description, and worked in some of those others notes, and  so on.

As I saw again how sometimes that was all that was needed to get a scene moving. And if not, I’d just stop, type in a

**

and move on, inserting or laying down whatever other idea/dialogue snatch I had for that character in that general section of the story. It’s what I did yesterday and I ended up with 15 pages of chapter 14 which I’m calling it done for now.

More than that, several things happened along the way that I hadn’t anticipated. For one, Sevorius is suddenly having panic attacks and he has no idea why.  For another, Varko wants him to look into my hero’s past, and suddenly a whole line of conflict I hadn’t thought of has presented itself. Yay!

Next up is chapter 15 and I’m going to continue mining my outline and voluminous notes for material to “stuff” into the chapter. That is, see if there aren’t some new interruptions – distractions – crucial errands/tasks that must be run/carried out/endured Right Now This Very Instant!!!  that I can put into my next scene.

Repost: The Outline

(Originally posted Wednesday, February 22, 2006)

I know I’ve said in different places that I tend not to make outlines, but that’s only partially true. There comes a point in the process of writing the story that I suddenly realize I have to at least tentatively plot the rest of the book.

Saturday I finished a very rough, very sketchy draft of Chapter 13, and with that reached the end of Part 1. After that I realized I had to plot the rest of the book. Until this point I’ve had stacks of index cards sitting around my desk. Stacks of things that might happen, or could happen, or will happen to Abramm. Stacks of things for Maddie. And Trap. And Carissa. Smaller stacks for others. Periodically I go through them and try to sort, but it’s usually very difficult, because they aren’t all even events. Sometimes the note is just of someone’s general mindset. Or it’s a note on the background situation. Or even a description. It might be a line of dialog that could really go anywhere. I probably have about six inches worth of stacks. Maybe more.

This sort of thing is very hard to order, and often I end up laying a batch of cards out on the desk in no particular order. I arrange a few of them together, shake my head over the rest, then give up and go back to whatever early chapter I was working on.

But eventually I have to know more clearly where I’m going and that happened last weekend. So for the last two and half days I’ve been taking the cards and putting them into a list. If I try too hard to put them into an ordered list, I will freak myself out. So I just require that I put them on the list, and assure myself I will deal with the ordering later. I got this idea from a book called Overcoming Writing Blocks, out of print now, unfortunately. It’s the one that suggested I make the index cards of Whatever Occurs to Me in the first place. And at this stage in the process it informs me that “a frequent cause of blocking is the confusion that ensues when you try to hold the entire pattern in your head at one time.” Amen, to that!

So you just sit down and you start listing your notes. “Once you’ve made the transfer from cards to list,” says the book, “you will automatically begin to engage that powerful ranking faculty everyone possesses: certain entries will begin to stand out from the page… others will naturally fall into secondary positions, to cluster around more important concepts that they support…” And how about this? It works.

I now have about 10 pages of plotline. Which is a good thing. The bad thing is that I’ve got waaay too much. So much, it makes me want to hyperventilate. So much, I have to back off, and put it all in the Lord’s hands. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but somehow He will bring order to all this. And it’s a good thing, because from where I sit at the moment, it looks downright impossible!

Repost: Unmerited Grace

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A couple of weeks ago, in the course of a really bad day when it came to making any progress on my WIP, and as I was lamenting yet again the fact that I had pitched the writing journals I’d kept during the creation of Return of the Guardian King, it occurred to me that maybe I had posted some entries regarding it when I first started blogging back in 2006 on Blogger. It would have been about the right time. And it like this blog was subtitled “The Writing Diary of Novelist Karen Hancock,” so it seemed reasonable to think that I might have actually posted something from my journals. Or barring that, at least something about my journey in writing that book.

Why did I pitch those journals? Well, “they’re all the same” I’d told myself. “I’ve been writing for over — ahem — forty years and kept diaries for most of those years. Why would I need to keep more?”

Well, because Return of the Guardian King was the first book I’d done in a long time that started basically from scratch. The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within and Shadow Over Kiriath had all been completely or partially drafted before I had to work on them within the Bethany House deadline structure. RotGK was the only one for which I had little more than the most general of ideas where I was going when I began. Since that’s a lot of what I’m experiencing now with The Other Side of the Sky, it would have been really helpful for me now, had I kept those particular diaries.

So I went looking and happily, I found some entries. Since they reflect or at least speak to a lot of what I’m going through currently, I thought I’d repost a few of them now and then.

Today’s entry, originally posted to Blogger on February 18, 2006, is one such post: it not only described what I’ve been going through lately but offered helpful counsel:

Recently I came across this thought from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life,

“At best the sensation of writing is that of unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.”

This struck me very strongly, because we’ve just been reviewing in Bible class how it is to search for God. He only reveals Himself to us if we search for Him diligently, as if we were hunting for treasure. Treasure hunters do not sit back and wait for the treasure to come to them. They go out and search for a likely spot and then they dig, and lug dirt and dig and lug. It’s not easy. When they get tired, they keep digging. When nothing turns up for all their digging, they do not quit, they go on. They try a new place. And finally, maybe three years later, they find that for which they’ve been searching. It is, in a way, handed to them.

So it is with the search for the story, for the perfect, right arrangement that will resonate, for the answers to the questions of who these people are, and what they will become, what is it I really care about, and what am I really trying to say? How can any of that be easy to find? If God Himself is not easy and simple, how can writing about what I know of Him and my life in Him be easy and simple? Spiritually now I’m beginning to grasp things I can’t even articulate. I cannot explain them with words. How can writing about them be easy?

It can’t. It won’t be. Some days I’ll find the silver and the gold. Other days it will feel like endless digging and lugging of dirt. The key is to keep going. To keep on learning about who God is through His word. To keep on writing. To trust that He is guiding me and that in the end I will not be ashamed. That in time it will all come together. If my motivation is correct, and the power system in which I operate is correct, it will be rewarded.

“If you seek her (wisdom) as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God…I, wisdom, love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me. ” Proverbs 2:4,5; 8:17

Where Did January Go?

Actually, I’m now starting to wonder where the first three weeks of February have gone. I used to think weeks lasted a long time. Now they seem to pass in a breath.

In December we traveled to California to visit my stepmother and our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids for Christmas. This year we saw my stepmother first, so we wouldn’t have to worry about being sick and having to leave before we planned so as not to infect her. Which was what happened last year.

At 94, her age was severely restricting her social activities: she was no longer able to negotiate stairs, was increasingly subject to falls, and spent most of her day sitting in a chair looking out the window on the quiet street where she lived. That or watching television. Midday was her one active, alert time, so that’s when we scheduled our meeting. We shared lunch, a photo album featuring her great-grand-daughter, then played dominoes. She beat us both. We had a wonderful time. The next day we headed down to San Diego to be with the kids over Christmas, and returned home a couple days after.

On New Year’s Day, she suffered a stroke that left her unable to talk and paralyzed on one side. Two weeks after that, she went home to be with the Lord. When my cousin called to tell me, I was… not surprised, and really not even sad. In fact, my first reaction was elation. She’d been set free and I felt it in a very real way. No longer shackled to the body that had been steadily breaking down, allowing her less and less memory, comfort, mobility, use…

She has a new body now and she is with my Dad, her own parents, all the brothers, sister, in-laws and friends that had preceded her in death, and she’s in a place of no more sorrow, no more pain, no more tears, face to face with her precious Lord. How can I feel anything but joy that she has been finally and wholly set free?

About a week after she passed, I got another call. My aunt, the younger sister of my dad and center of his large family (there were seven of them) had unexpectedly died of pneumonia. Because a large number of my cousins were already planning to come to my step mom’s funeral they arranged things so that both services were held the same day in the same cemetery. My aunt’s graveside service was held at 10am and my stepmother’s at 1pm on a Saturday, the last day of January.

I mention this because my cousin who was arranging my stepmother’s funeral pressed very hard to get that day, which was only two weeks after her death. Why? Because every important date in the history of my dad and my stepmom’s relationship is in January. They were both born in January, they were married in January and both of them died in January. So it seemed right the funeral should be in January…

We drove to California on the Friday before (with Quigley!) and came home on Sunday.  Our son came up from San Diego with our granddaughter, and it was great to have the chance to see them, and also to reconnect with cousins I hadn’t seen for years. I felt a little nervous about it all beforehand, but it turned out to be a wonderful, beautiful day.

And the minister who officiated at my stepmother’s funeral got the Gospel in loud and clear, both at the chapel and even more clearly and directly at the graveside service. I was quite pleased by that and I know my stepmother would have been as well.

 

 

 

 

Back to the Writing Diary

 

writing journal

Back in February of 2006, when I began my first blog  (Writing from the Edge over on Blogger), I started out by saying that since I’d been keeping a writing diary for almost as long as I had been writing, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to start one online.

Thus the tagline for that blog became “The Writing Diary of Novelist Karen Hancock” and that was the fallback formula for the posts that I aimed to publish there. If nothing else, I could always put up a writing diary entry.

So, in view of my lengthy/erratic absence from the world of blogging, I’ve decided that maybe… just maybe… I can resurrect the spark by simply going back to that earlier format. For one thing, even though I haven’t been blogging, I have been keeping a writing diary.

Today’s entry began this morning at 10:19am…

I could’ve come in (to the office) at 9:30am, but my (retired) hubby came home and discovered the hawk has gotten another pigeon — my favorite pink/red one. 🙁  I believe it was female. It got her inside the broken down pigeon coop. And there’s an egg on the nest.  So that’s disturbing.  😥

Then I called our computer fix-it guy right after that about my computer issue (last week IE-11 refused to open in the desktop and was repaired; this week it refuses to open in the live tiles, but works fine in the desktop, which is really okay, because I can do everything I need to do through the desktop and furthermore I am declaring a moratorium on reading blog and news sites, but still… it bugs me that the program is not working properly). Alas, the computer guy had never even heard of that issue. I spent last week doing all manner of things trying to resolve the issue, including running the Apps troubleshooter, which gave me some error messages, which the computer guy asked me to email to him, so I did.

Anyway, then I hung out the laundry, and now I’m in here. Just read Sarah Selecky’s letter for today, What I’ve learned so far about how to write a novel.”  Amusing and familiar and comforting. Also comforting is the fact that I’ve written 6 novels and am working on number 7 and I actually know more about it all than she does! (Seeing as she has yet to complete her first one)

It’s hard. It’s messy and confusing — in fact, she talks about confusing herself with all her notes written in little notebooks, and says next time she’ll use index cards. Ha! I confuse myself with my notes all the time and cards don’t help. (But it’s comforting to know other people get confused by their notes, too!)  I use business-sized cards to keep notes on…

notecards

…notes about possible plot events, incidents, character bits, world bits, questions… The advantage (or disadvantage) is that you can spread out MORE of the little cards than you can the index cards, which ends up being even MORE confusing! Especially when I suggest on one card that Talmas should do “A” and on the other “Opposite-A.” Which I do. A Lot…

Sarah says she “can’t work with an outline and can’t work without one.” Yes, indeed. That is SO true. At least in the beginning anyway. You can only use a general outline then… because, as another writer put it,

“How can I know what I want to write until I see what I’ve written?”

For me everything kind of goes together — plot, character, backstory, events, incidents, the climax, the spiritual analogy — and so it must emerge together. Whenever I try to get hard-nosed about any of it, I end up running into walls.

Anyway, yesterday I worked on chapter 13, which at the start was 25 pages of confusing mishmash. I’m going slowly through it this week, editing, trying to find and fix what A/Not-A conflicts I could. In fact, discovering that I had portrayed one character as being of two different opinions in the same scene because I couldn’t decide which I wanted and just put them both in, very broadly, I decided today to just write it one way very clearly. That immediately showed me I didn’t want it that way, but the other way, so I went back and wrote it that way.

I’d forgotten that trick to deciding between two options when you can’t seem to do so: just pick one and “decide” to do it that way. Somehow going through the deciding and writing shows me just how committed I am to that option.  Coin flips work, too. Should this secondary character’s hair be blond or black? Can’t decide? Flip the coin and it comes up in favor of blond. Okay, he’ll be blond then. So off you go to write it thus and immediately you realize that no, he’s not blond at all, he has black hair…

Yes, I know. Writers are weird.

Anyway, I worked through about 7 pages today, adding two additional pages of material as I did so, leaving the rough chapter at 27 pages. So far.

Keep a Quiet Heart

Keep a Quiet Heart is the name of one of my favorite Elisabeth Elliot books. The title comes from a piece written by a woman named Annie Keary who lived during the 19th century, a piece which is also used as the frontispiece for Elliot’s book. It is something I have kept coming back to repeatedly for the last almost twenty or so years. And lately it’s been more helpful than ever.  So I thought I’d share it here:Do Not Rush 001

 “I think I find most help in trying to look on all the interruptions and hindrances to work that one has planned out for oneself as discipline, trials sent by God to help one against getting selfish over one’s work. Then one can feel that perhaps one’s true work — one’s work for God — consists in doing some trifling, haphazard thing that has been thrown into one’s day. It is not a waste of time, as one is tempted to think, it is the most important part of the work of the day — the part one can best offer to God. After such a hindrance, do not rush after the planned work; trust that the time to finish it will be given sometime, and keep a quiet heart about it.”   

Annie Keary 1825-1879

And Now the Regularly Scheduled Blog Returns

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Maybe.

As you may have noticed, I have not been posting much in the way of words. Perhaps because I have not been writing much in the way of words — at least words that are in any way coherent.  It’s not just with the blog, but also Sky and answering emails and even my regular journal is getting ignored… not entirely, but almost and waaay more than in the past.

I have no explanation for why this is happening, though I have tried to come up with one repeatedly. If only I could figure out what is going on, then maybe I could fix it.

Well, my most recurring conclusion in this matter, is that I can’t figure it out. And even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to fix it. God is the one who has it all figured out and so far He hasn’t included me in His figuring. He is also the One who is going to “fix” it, if indeed, it requires fixing.

In fact, the messages I’ve been most consistently receiving from all sorts of sources is… back off, relax, WAIT and Trust Me to come through in MY time, not yours.

In addition to the “wait for MY timing” messages, I’ve also been having occasional epiphanies about other things. Such as, “My job of taking care of our home (cleaning, meals, shopping, dishes, laundry, the dog) is every bit as much a part of my calling as writing is. So why should I get all upset when attending to those things requires some of my time, time I could (presumably) devote to writing if I didn’t have to do the daily chores?

Because I DO have to do them. God has assigned me that task as well as the one of writing Sky. Neither is more important than the other. He will enable me to do both of them in some measure according to His timetable, not mine. So instead of getting all agitated because I have to sweep the floor again and thinking it’s taking time away from writing, I’m thinking, “No, this is also part of God’s plan for my day and I simply have to trust Him to see that I get everything done that is on His agenda and forget my own.