Monday, June 30, 2008

Once Upon A Time...

in 1998 there was a semi-young woman. . .okay, a woman of 30. . .who had written a book. She knew other Christian writers existed, and even found some author web pages on the Internet. She had so many questions she wanted to ask them about writing. No one where she lived knew much about writing, unless they were a schoolteacher or a newspaper reporter. They couldn't help her. Sure, she had friends who liked to read as much as she did. But no novelists.

Then, she heard about a very tiny on-line e-mail list of writers. At first she wasn't sure about writing to strangers regularly, but figured it was better than no contact with writers at all. Through them, she heard of other writers. One of them was author Lynn Coleman, who hosted on-line chats. This opened up another avenue of learning.

Late in 1999, Lynn told some of the writers during one particular chat about a new group that she and a small group of other authors were forming, called American Christian Romance Writers. It was for those serious about pursuing the craft of fiction writing.

So this age 30ish writer said she would sign up, for sure! By that time, she'd written a second novel after the first one had been rejected (too similar to what was out there, she was told). But it was a positive rejection from one of the ACRW founding authors.

But it wasn't until 2005 that she received her first fiction contract. The rest of the story continues to be written.

Of course, yes, this was me. Until ACRW, now ACFW, my only contact with other writers was strictly on-line. The American Christian Fiction Writers conference has changed and morphed over the years to become THE premier fiction conference annually. For me, an old-timer, I get wistful for the old days. But what opportunities we have now! Amazing. So for that reason, I wouldn't go back to the old days.

NOTHING replaces the face-to-face contact with other writers. I can still remember walking into a Houston restaurant late in 2000 and seeing a table full of writers I'd only know from e-mails. I knew I had friends already. Since then, the only conference I've missed was 2006.

Lately I've been posting Money-Saving Monday tips. But today, I'm talking about investing.

I realize money is tighter for some. Gas costs more, food costs more, and unless you've gotten an awesome raise you've had to do some budget shifting.

I won't tell you to spend money you don't have or to go into debt to attend the conference. That would be irresponsible of me. But I can tell you this: every career requires investment. If you haven't saved money up for the conference yet, maybe it's too late for you to decide to go this year. And that's okay. I'll get to that later (see below). Back to investments.

Going to the ACFW conference showed me that I was serious about making writing a career. It's part-time, but most writers aren't the primary breadwinner in their family. I have a full-time job and consider myself doubly employed.

Going to the ACFW conference showed me I wanted to be a professional. Yes, I've had tearful moments, and times that I wish I could take back, but in spite of myself, I'm showing up with my game face on to learn and grow.

Going to the ACFW conference gives me the face-to-face time I need. I've met lifetime friends who are an IM or an e-mail away. While I do get nervous in certain social situations (I so wish I didn't!), I'd like to think I'm getting better and being less self-conscious.

Going to the ACFW conference gives me a glimpse of Heaven. We wear no denominational labels, and we sing the same song for our Creator in His Presence. You can't beat that!



Okay, so what if you know you can't go for 2008, that the money isn't there right now? Let's do our Money-Saving and crunch some numbers. Give or take a hundred bucks, totalling the conference fee, hotel, and transportation can run you about $1100. Since I have no idea how much or where the 2009 conference will be, this is an estimate.

WHERE can you find that $1100 in time for next year? Let's start now. Registration has just opened for the 2008 conference and you can sign up until August. So for 2009, you've got a year to save.

Do you go to McDonald's on the way to work in the morning to pick up breakfast, say twice a week? Put that $6 in a jar every week, and after 52 weeks you'll have $312 dollars.

Do you buy a 12-pack of soda/cola/pop every week? Put that $3 in a jar once a week instead of buying the soda, and you'll have $156 dollars after 52 weeks.

Do you bring the kids for haircuts every two months? Get a set of clippers if you're brave, and learn to trim hair yourself. For two kids at $25 (we're talking Procuts here, the cheapo kid cut) every 2 months, and that adds up to $150.

See, we're already over halfway to that $1100, just by cutting out McDonald's breakfast twice a week, one 12-pack of soda/cola/pop, and picking up a new skill by trimming your kids' hair (2 kids).

Get creative, and look at your lifestyle. What are you buying that you don't need to buy, even if it's $3 or $5 a week? What are you paying someone else to do that you can do yourself?--save that money and pay yourself to go to the conference. Remember, this is an investment. It ain't Wall Street, but you'll definitely see a payoff in time. There are no shortcuts, no matter what anyone tells you.

Lastly, why not clear your house of clutter, have a yard sale, and reward yourself by putting the money in a conference fund? -- and I'll see YOU in 2009!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still Called Today

I lost a good friend earlier this month, but I didn't find out until nearly three weeks after her death. Her mother called on Saturday night, and I knew immediately that something had happened. People who live 5000 miles away and normally don't call...ever...well, when the phone rings and it's them, you know it can't be good news.

My friend died violently, needlessly. And when she moved away nearly three years ago, I had no idea it would be the last time I'd see her on this earth.

Living in a military area, we have a double-edged sword of friendship. People move into the area from all parts of the country. The hard part is saying goodbye, especially to the ones who become like family. All the while you're friends, you try not to think ahead to the time when Uncle Sam tells them to move. Usually that's about three years, sometimes more or less.

One of the things I remember about her was her musical laugh. How she loved to laugh. I can still hear her, "Oh, Sister Lynette!" when I said something funny or off-the-wall, and she'd go off into giggles. Sometimes I'd say something crazy just to crack her up. She was Hawaiian, short and round and bubbly, and beautiful. She loved children of all ages, and her son was the pride of her heart. When we first met him at barely 4 years old, he'd already memorized more Scripture than a lot of adults. Whenever we had an event at church, she was there pitching in and giving a hand. And she loved our youth. She wrote two plays, which the kids loved performing. And our kids loved her.

Her home was creatively decorated, clean, and full of love. Not perfect. Oh, no. The last four years or so were a struggle for her on some fronts, and I know she battled her demons. I wish I'd known how deep her battle was, to let her know that I would be there for her, and pray for her. We spent some great times together, her family and mine. We saw each other at our best, and at our worst. But we always forgave.

She was one of the greatest supporters of my writing, before I even had a single acceptance letter. One Christmas, I gave her a printed out copy of my still unpublished historical novel, and you'd think I'd given her gold.

I remember one night, shortly after her husband returned from a year-long tour in Iraq, they came for dinner and stayed very late. We sat there for hours, and he just shared about what he'd seen and experienced and his frustration with the slow process of helping an institutionalized people learn to govern themselves, and keep everyone safe. Later, with tears in her eyes, she told me the night they visited with us was good for him. "He really needed that," she said. I know she did love him, and was fiercely proud of him, no matter what.

Then about six months before they were transferred away, her husband brought his mother with Alzheimer's to live with them.

And gradually, our friendship changed. I feel like they left us before they moved away. When someone pulls away, what can you do? I wasn't sure at the time. But I was worried. They had so much to deal with, and I felt like they were cutting themselves off from all of us. Thinking back now, I wish I'd made more of an effort to keep in touch.

After they moved, we had her cell phone number, and that was it. (I didn't even know what town they lived in until I read the news articles about her death.) I knew she was going through a lot with a new home, a new town, trying to find a new church, and dealing with an ailing relative in the house full-time, plus a growing boy. One time when my husband called, she was "really busy." She had no time. And then we'd leave messages on voice mail every once in a while. Finally, the number didn't work anymore.

The last time we heard from them was Christmas day 2006. We got home from church to hear a message from the three of them bellowing into the answering machine, " Melikalikimaka! Merry Christmas! We love you guys! Happy Hanukkah!' And that was it.

Why this long story? Because there are some rifts that are worth trying to mend. There are some gaps worth closing. Don't put it off. For the longest time, I'd wondered how they were since that Christmas Day phone call. I probably could have found her mother's phone number or asked another church friend if they had any numbers. We could have tracked them down. But we didn't. And I regret all that I never said. Especially when a month ago they were heavy on our hearts, and we had no idea why.

It reminds me of the Steven Curtis Chapman song, Still Called Today...

"But while it's still called today, won't somebody make it right
Before the day slips into night and the moments waste away
While it is still called today, we've got to say the words
That are longing to be heard 'cause tomorrow may be too late
Go on and say what you need to say while it is still called today."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Money-saving Monday!

Every little bit adds up. A few dollars here, a few there. Just like when we were kids and our parents tried to get us to SAVE MONEY and not spend it. For some reason, it was easier just to spend what we had.

Here's my little tips for the week.

Saving gas: Combine your trips. Try not to make trips to the store for just one thing. Keep a note pad by the fridge to have a shopping list in progress all the time. The busier I am, the more I forget we're on the LAST ROLL OF TP (cue dramatic music). And so I jump into the car to head to the store for one thing.

Learn to read labels: Just because it's bulk, doesn't mean it's less expensive. Just because it's the store brand, doesn't mean it's the better deal. Take a moment and read the unit price on the shelf. Bring your calculator if you're bad at math. I know. I can hear it now: "But I've got ten screaming kids and 100 items on my list. Do you expect me to do this for every item?" Of course not! But we creatures of habit like to buy the same things all the time. Once you start keeping track of what items usually cost, you'll notice if a price goes up and down. For example, Wesson cooking oil was less expensive than the Great Value brand, so I purchased Wesson. Then Great Value must have figured this out, and the price of Wesson went up, and Great Value went down.

Learn to consider value, not just the price: Just because the chicken is 99 cents a pound, if it's not boneless, you're paying for bones you'll throw away. I don't care how cheap the meat is, if I'm paying for something I'm throwing away, that's not a good value for me when feeding a family. If you can't afford boneless, skinless chicken breasts, try the boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They are less expensive, and not that much "fattier" than the white meat.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Op At Wal-Mart

The teenager deep within me is reeling from the injustice.
WalMart is now selling Op. Can you believe it?
I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a rinky-dink town not quite thirty minutes from the beach. I grew up in a loving family where dad provided and mom did neat things for me, like sewing some of my clothes. I even had a cute bikini wayyyyy back when I was 8 or 9 that mom made. Powder blue and white seersucker material. I loved it. The very last time I wore one.
I've digressed, of course. When I became a teenager, even in that rinky-dink town we had a fashion hierarchy. And anyone who was anyone wore Op.
I loved Op. Op T-shirts, Op shorts, Op bathing suits. And oh, how I envied the "other" kids who wore Op. But could I buy Op? Ha!
The one "boutique" store in town, Scher's, mocked me every time we drove by. The Op mecca taunted me with what I could not buy. One day, I had enough to buy an Op wallet. But who'd see a wallet of tan corduroy with brown trim? I just knew when I took it out of my purse to pay for something, everyone would know I couldn't afford the clothes.
Then finally, somehow, I saved up enough money to buy my own pair of Op shorts.
I still remember them. A cobalt blue corduroy, short-shorts (no, not too short or I'd never be let out of the house). They had front cargo pockets and the embroidered white "Op" logo on one of the pockets. And they were mine, on sale for less than twenty bucks.
I wore them until they wore out.
Fast forward over twenty-five years later, and here comes WAL MART selling Op. In my town back then, that would have been like Ames or KMart selling Op. It wouldn't have happened. So this is why WalMart selling Op is such a coup.
Sigh. Now I have the budget where I could buy myself Op. But the body I had back then is gone, or at least hidden. Sigh.
And I'm about five hours from the nearest REAL beach.
I console myself with the thought of: Corduroy at the beach being cool? What were we thinking??

Monday, June 16, 2008

Money-saving Monday!

I love tortillas!

I love how one bag of 20 fajita size tortillas can feed a crew from breakfast to snack time, too. Here's how:

Breakfast Tacos
Scramble some eggs. Add crumbled ground turkey sausage, cheese, etc. Spoon onto a tortilla and serve.

Lunch Wraps
Take your favorite lunch meat, and lay a slice or two on a tortilla. Add a sprinkle of shredded cheese, if you like. Also add lettuce and/or fresh spinach leaves or green onion. Spread a teaspoon of salad dressing on top, and roll up for a tasty lunch treat

Make quesadillas or burritos. Use cooked meat of your choice--chicken, beef, or pork. Top with cheese and/or grilled onions.

Yummy Snack
Slice a flour tortilla into quarters. Fry in a saucepan of hot oil for about a minute on each side. Remove and place on paper towel lined plate. Dust with cinnamon and sugar and a drizzle of honey.

Yield: 4 snacks/meals using 5 tortillas for each person. If you have big eaters, get two bags of tortillas. Or get the larger burrito size tortillas.

I've never tried making my own tortillas, but I love the taste of fresh ones. Our local Tex-Mex place, Jalisience (I probably butchered the spelling), makes their own. I'm not a big fan of corn tortillas (the bagged ones always taste rubbery to me), but I might try some of their fresh tortillas.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Journey Through Loss

Author Darlene Franklin is one of my friends and critique partners. This spring she lost her daughter, and afterward Darlene started a blog to journal about her grief. It's a way for us to look over her shoulder and also see her heart during this difficult journey. It's also a way for us to hear how the Lord has been with her every step of the way. Darlene has started having authors as guests to share about loss, writing, and grief. Today I'm answering questions at Darlene's blog.

Please, stop by! I hope you will be encouraged by what you read. :)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Money-saving Monday!

Gas is four bucks a gallon. What a shock, right? We also have two teenagers who are working. We don't have time or extra dough to do much this summer as a family. This means we have to get creative.

One thing we're going to do is have a family movie night. We're going to drag out all the old home videos from years past--vacations, class programs, Christmases, and ball games. We'll let the kids choose some favorite snacks and one Sunday night after church, we'll sit up and watch the videos.

I can't wait. We've got all these movies sitting on 8mm cassettes, just waiting to be watched and memories rediscovered!

Maybe our kids (or yours) will moan and groan, or proclaim it the lamest thing ever. But I have a feeling once we get past the first few minutes, they'll be hooked!

So if you're looking for something to do, give family movie night a try.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Writing, writing, writing...

...and writing, writing, writing...

I'm working on my third book in the Scents of Murder series, titled The Perils of Peaches. While it's been fun to travel with Andromeda Clark Hartley, I'm looking forward to what's ahead. I'm also compiling a treasure trove of information from mystery/suspense/thriller authors, and I've interviewed sixteen of them about writing a series. This compilation will appear in a several-part series of posts over at the blog Keep Me In Suspense.

I love picking other writers' brains. We all work so differently, but sometimes we can learn something from another author's process that can change the way we write.

The BIG thing to remember about being a writer is that, well, we WRITE. We can talk theory and technique all day, but that does nothing until we sit down and start letting the thoughts pour out from our fingertips.

That's all for now!