Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tell the Story | Think Small

Sometimes a writer has a great story to tell. But sometimes the story is someone else’s, and the writer is the vehicle to bring the story to life.

In my blog post last week, I mentioned writing the story of Larry and Shirley Rascher, missionaries to Irian Jaya. My husband Alex and I met Larry at our church’s missions festival many years ago. He was the missionary assigned to tell stories to our fourth grade Sunday school class. Larry was a born storyteller, and brought a skull, spear and shield as props. After class, the three of us lingered and Larry told us about the drowning of his two children. He said he didn’t know why he was telling us; he never told that story unless someone asked him. The story haunted me for weeks.

A year later I ran into Larry at a conference. “Hi, Larry. I met you….”

He remembered me. “Aren’t you a writer?” he asked. Had I told him that? It was my secret identity; in real life I was a busy stay-at-home mom.

“Well, yes,” I said, flattered.

“People have been after us for years to write our story,” Larry said. “Would you consider doing it?”

My mind reeled. But I’d have to go to Irian Jaya! I thought.

At the same time he said, “Of course you’d have to go to Irian Jaya.”

I left our brief meeting in a fog. Somehow I knew that I, the stay-at-home mom, would write this story, and that I would travel to Irian Jaya. And I did. It was more than twenty years ago and remains the greatest adventure of my life.

If you have a big story to write – yours or someone else’s – don’t let the entirety of what you’re attempting overwhelm you. Writer William Zinsser suggests this:
…think small. Don’t rummage around in your past – or your family’s past – to find episodes that you think are "important" enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it’s because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life.
Here’s an example of what I think he means. When I flew to Irian Jaya by myself - because the Raschers were to meet me there – I cried the entire flight from Denver to Los Angeles. What in the world was I doing, leaving my husband and three young sons at home to do this wild thing? Yet I’ve never felt more strongly that this was the Lord’s will.

In LA I boarded a fourteen-hour Indonesian airline flight that refueled in Hawaii (in the middle of the night – ha!). As we crossed the Pacific in darkness, the Big Dipper was perfectly framed by my little square airplane window. As I gazed at it, I had the sense that the Lord was pouring out his blessings upon me. He knew where I was going. He would protect me and be with me.

Rather than giving a travel log from Irian Jaya, I believe Zinsser is saying tell about the small, telling moments like this.

Capture these stories, one after another without concern for order or form. Then spread them out on the floor and see what theme arises, see what order seems right.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing in Sorrow

Just as there is a time for every season, there is a time—and a way—to write about a heavy trial or great trauma in your life. Frequently I will hear a friend who has lost a loved one to death or suicide, or has been stricken by disease or has suffered a desertion say: “I want to write a book about this.”

This compulsion, I believe, is often fueled by the need to process a horrific experience –and writing is an excellent tool. Definitely it is a time to journal feelings and happenings while they are fresh and even raw. But in the throes of intense emotion is rarely the time to write a book—at least one aimed toward publication. Rather, it’s time to let the experience of writing work its healing potential, perhaps for your eyes, or for a few eyes, only.

Our son, Drew, was a junior, sitting in class taking a chemistry test at Columbine High School the day that two disturbed students opened fire in his school. The layers of tragic and heroic events and the spiritual warfare that followed in the community made my writer-juices bubble and boil. I would write a book on Columbine: stories of healing and hope.

Thankfully, publishers were not interested and I had the sense to drop it, as days, months, and years rolled on that were filled with hope in our community, but also dissension and sadness. Finally, ten years after the event two well-researched books have come forth, with the needed perspective on the event. It was my season to journal about Columbine, but it wasn’t the time to write a book.

In 1989, I wrote Incessant Drumbeat, the biography of Larry and Shirley Rascher who were career missionaries in Irian Jaya (West Papua, New Guinea). Their story included a shipwreck during a tsunami and the drowning of their two toddlers. They had rarely even talked about the story with their older surviving children who were not on the boat that day.

I’ll never forget the end of my first evening of interviewing the Raschers, who at the time lived close to me. “I have one thing to ask of you,” Larry said on the front porch, as I was leaving. “If we’re not going to finish, let’s not get started.”

He and Shirley would have to re-live that time. They were up to it for good purpose, but not if it would come to naught.

Be sensitive to the time, and the way to tell a difficult story. And remember that there are great blessings from journaling—from writing for oneself, or one’s family and friends. Whether or not to seek to publish a story is a different matter that may well need time and perspective.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Co-Authoring: What is Your Strong Suit?

When Mimi Wilson and I began writing together, we each had three young children. Mimi was extremely creative, and had rich experiences from having grown up in Africa. She was a gifted communicator through the spoken word, but she was dyslexic, and my role was to record and “word-smith” her ideas.

When we self-published the original edition of Once-A-Month Cooking in 1982 (titled Freeze and Save – her husband called it Thaw and Chaw), Mimi had devised this cooking method to save time in the kitchen, save money, and be prepared at all times to extend hospitality.

She called me one day in 1981, and told me that she had just prepared 30 dinner entrees one after another for her freezer. Would I like to see if the Denver Post wanted us to write an article on how to do it, she asked.

“Why don’t you call the Denver Post,” I said. Mimi has marketing savvy – and more guts than I do. She called them, and they sent a photographer and a reporter to her home within the week to do a food feature. A year later, when the Rocky Mountain News expressed interest in an article, we wrote up the cooking method in book form – Freeze and Save – to offer for sale.

This started an adventure that has taken us through the production of a demonstration video, a CD-ROM version, and numerous updated editions for Christian publishers and a secular publisher. We’ve experienced “way down” as well as “way up, ” moments, and perhaps the greatest benefit of our partnership has been the ability to share it all. No one quite understands like your writing partner.

But at one point I began to feel second-rate, unimportant. Mimi was the primary speaker, the “up front” partner, and sometimes, even in front of me, people referred to it as “Mimi’s book.”

One day I was in the bedroom ironing when the Lord spoke to me. Not audibly, but it is one of the few times in my life when I can say He did with certainty. He said, as I ironed, “If she is Moses and you are Aaron, what is that to you?”

This may sound obtuse to you, but it made perfect sense to me. We each had individual roles that coincided with our giftings from God. Why should I covet her gift – or her exposure? Was I not thankful, and did I not enjoy, the job God had given to me?

From my long-time partnership with Mimi that is precious to me, and also from the experience of managing a book brand for MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers), I have learned that although writing and speaking usually go hand-in-hand, most communicators are either a writer who also speaks or a speaker who also writes. In Mimi’s and my partnership, although we both do both, she is definitely the speaker who writes, and I the writer who speaks.

Which are you? Determining this, and giving more weight to your “strong suit” can be freeing and enable you to soar as God has intended for you. It has been a great strength of our collaboration that Mimi and I are differently gifted and don’t “step on one another’s toes.” Are you a writer who speaks, or a speaker who writes?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Does It Mean? --Kimberly Rae

A few days ago a man called me from a newspaper. He interviewed me over the phone, asking questions about my book, human trafficking, etc.

Then he mentioned that he'd heard my book, Stolen Woman, was written from a Christian perspective.

"Is that correct?" he clarified.

"Definitely," I said.

Then he paused, and after the silence said, "What . . does . . . that mean?"

I was stunned, unprepared for those four words placed into such a question. What does it mean that I wrote this book from a Christian perspective?

I tried to think of a good answer as the silence extended through the phone. It was not just the things left out that make a book Christian, as some descriptions I've read explain: no drinking, no drugs, no sex. No, it is so much more than that.

It is not just what is left out, but what is put in. For me, writing from a Christian perspective means that Jesus Christ is over all, and in all. Life is incomplete without a relationship with God, and all things in this life should carry His involvement.

Now, I didn't tell the reporter all of that. It went by quickly, but I think I told him about how a trafficked girl needs more than just her circumstances changed. That rescuing her from something bad isn't enough. For many of them, were they to return home, they would not be accepted by their family or community. Or perhaps the person who sold her the first time might sell her again. Being rescued does not always mean being given hope.

So I said that they need not just to be rescued from something bad, but to something good, and in my opinion, the best gift you can give someone is Jesus. Jesus, who will be with her no matter what happens to her in the future. Giving Jesus means giving hope.

I doubt I articulated it very well, but hopefully my point came across.

We have such potential as writers. Because I am writing about trafficking, something people care about, it has given me inroads to relationship I would never have had otherwise. I desperately wanted to be out there rescuing women and children myself. Instead, God has limited me, humbled me, and taken away what once was my identity as someone doing something important. And then, He gave it back. I am doing something important now, but I don’t see it the way I used to. It’s not about me proving my own significance or worth by doing some great thing. It’s about God. And God is graciously allowing me to be part of what He is doing (not the other way around!).

You, as a woman serving cross-culturally, have experiences that most people will never have. It gives you a voice that God can use for wonderful things.

So write. Write for God’s glory. Write from a Christian perspective. And, from my latest experience, I would recommend preparing a ready answer for when someone asks you what that means!

[Editor's note: This is Kimberly's final post. Thank you, Kimberly, for your instruction and inspiration! You keep writing too.]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ever Wanted Your Book In Print? -- Kimberly Rae

The idea of holding a book in your hands with your name on it is a dream many of us have had at one time or another. Was yours a fleeting thought you laughed away? A great idea you haven’t quite gotten around to writing? A 3-ring binder where you stashed scores of pages, but never had the nerve to send it away?

Traditionally, if you wanted your book in print, you had 2 options:

  • Get a publisher—which is much harder than it sounds, wait months for them to print your book, go on whatever book tour or other marketing events they planned for you, and get paid a small percentage of the royalties and possibly a few complimentary copies of your book for your own use.
  • Self-publish—not hard, but possibly unpleasant due to the thousands of dollars you have to spend up front, the hundreds of copies you might have to buy to get the initial print run, the lesser quality, total lack of marketing, and the not-as-good aura that comes with having to admit you published it yourself.

Fortunately, for all the dreamers out there, and especially since the economy has made getting accepted by a mainstream publisher harder than ever, there is now another option, fast becoming a major trend in the publishing world.

It’s called print-on-demand publishing.

I know about it because that’s the route I chose for my novel, Stolen Woman.

I chose print-on-demand for several reasons:

1. Timing. Human trafficking is a huge subject right now, and this gets my book in print fast.

2. I get a much larger percent of the royalties.

3. Freedom to make the cover and interior exactly how I want it, including a 2-page spread on my favorite human trafficking rescue ministry.

4. Freedom to stay at home and be a mom, marketing when I have time, so I don’t have to sacrifice my family for my work.

5. I can get the books I need, and only the books I need, so I won’t end up with 1,000 unsold copies filling up my basement (and depressing me!). I pay the same price per book whether I order 1 or 100.

6. I keep the rights to the book. That means, if a mainstream publisher does want Stolen Woman in the future, that option is still possible.

I can’t vouch for all of the options, but I can for www.Createspace.com , the Amazon subsidiary that I’m using for Stolen Woman.

So far, it’s been great. Their website explains things very clearly for techno-challenged people like me, and I even got to talk to a real-live person when I called with a question. I spent less than $50 by the time the first copy of the book was on its way to my house.

If you’ve been playing with the idea of a book, but maybe it’s a family memoir you want to give as Christmas gifts, or a book you’d like to print just for yourself, print-on-demand is a great way to go.

Here’s to being published, and holding your own book in your own hands!


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