The Benefits of Discomfort

It’s uncanny how going stag to a conference can revert me into an insecure high school student.

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I fretted over whom I would talk to, whom I would sit with, and whom I would have lunch with. My mind hustled to remedy a plan. The morning of the conference, I prepared to text a friend when I felt a soft nudge in my spirit telling me, no. “No, Catie you don’t need a safety net. Go and meet new people. Be open and see what happens.”

Though it made me anxious, I listened to that subtle voice inside. Entering the building for the Breathe Writer’s Conference, I determined to make it memorable. At times, I felt uncomfortable and shy, but I pushed past those feelings, introduced myself, and met many great and inspiring people. If not for the discomfort of being alone, I wouldn’t have been forced to make friends.

If I had arranged to hang out with people I already knew in attendance, I wouldn’t have met such a wide array of amazing, vibrant, and creative individuals. I wouldn’t have met Pearl, a writer of inspiring blogs called “LookUpSometimes.” I wouldn’t have met Alyssa whose posts bring awareness to mission work in South Africa. I wouldn’t have met the adorable illustrator, Cathryn. I wouldn’t have met writers: George, Donald, Christina, Marianna, Kelli or sci-fi Sam.

I walked away not only enriched by the conference sessions, but by the extraordinary people I met while I was there. The initial discomfort produced the benefits of lasting memories, encouragement, and inspiration.

This principle applies to more than just conferences. We need to be okay with getting uncomfortable. We need to push ourselves out of our normal social spheres, beyond our same cultures, past our same skin colors, even outside of our beliefs and meet people different than ourselves.  Because when we do, amazing things can happen, and I believe we become better versions of ourselves.

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Pearl and I at Breathe

Interview with Author Susie Finkbeiner

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Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing multi-published author, Susie Finkbeiner. She is a wife and mother of three children, living in West Michigan. She grew up in an art-friendly home where art was not only encouraged; it was part every day life.

Not only is Susie a talented writer, but also, she is just a cool person. Let me introduce you to her now through our Question and Answers conversation:

 

When did you decide to become a writer?
I always wrote stories. Told them a lot, too (although some might call it “lying”…whoops). When I was in 7th grade my English teacher encouraged me to write more. At the time, I wrote terrible poetry about boys. Still, it seemed I had a knack for putting words together. Becoming a published author seemed an unlikely goal, though. I kept on writing little pieces of this and that, playing with genre and language and ideas. I read everything I could, forming my literary taste. As an adult, I wrote a bunch of plays (one was even published). I realized I should give it a go and started to work on my novel Paint Chips. I realized that as I wrote, I felt more of my full self than when I didn’t. I was hooked. I felt I’d found the “thing” God had for me to do.

Why do you write?
I have a few reasons. One is that I am a grumpy mom and wife when I don’t have a story rumbling and tossing from my mind to paper. Another is that I love, love, love it. Story is how I process life, it teaches me about myself and the world around me. The last is because it’s an intimate form of worship for me. I feel this deep connection with God as I wrestle with a story. As the late Anne Schmidt, co-author of Acceptable Words, said, “When I write, I feel God’s pleasure.”

What have you written?
I’ve written seven plays, which were produced at a church in Kentwood, Michigan. One, Merry Chrismucka, was published in 2006. Between that and novel writing, I wrote hundreds of short stories for my blog. Writing those super short stories was like a crash course in fiction for me. As far as novels, I’ve got Paint Chips, My Mother’s Chamomile, and my soon to release, A Cup of Dust. I’m currently working on another novel and a super secret potential project, which I’m not ready to reveal just yet.

Where can we buy or see them?
Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile are both available online or at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids. A Cup of Dust will have a wider distribution. Still, it would be coolest if readers purchased their copies from their local, independent bookstore.

Give us a brief synopsis of “A Cup of Dust.”
Ten-year-old Pearl Spence is a daydreamer, playing make-believe to escape life in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1935. The Spences have their share of misfortune, but as the sheriff’s family, they’ve got more than most in this dry, desolate place. They’re who the town turns to when there’s a crisis or a need–and during these desperate times, there are plenty of both, even if half the town stands empty as people have packed up and moved on.

Pearl is proud of her loving, strong family, though she often wearies of tracking down her mentally impaired older sister or wrestling with her grandmother’s unshakable belief in a God who Pearl just isn’t sure she likes.

Then a mysterious man bent on revenge tramps into her town of Red River. Eddie is dangerous and he seems fixated on Pearl. When he reveals why he’s really there and shares a shocking secret involving the whole town, dust won’t be the only thing darkening Pearl’s world.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Pearl is ten-years-old. Writing from her perspective was a joy. She’s spunky and funny and curious. Throughout the novel, she’s learning what it means to live a life of compassion, putting others before self. It truly is a coming of age story, seeing Pearl through the difficulty of growing up in the Dust Bowl. Even more so, she is refined as she learns what makes up a person’s character and worth.

What genre are your books and what draws you to this genre?
My first novels are in contemporary settings. However, I’m currently working on Historical stories. There’s something about history and the eras of my grandparents, which calls out to me. There is much to learn from their generation, and as I research, I discover that, although much has changed, much remains the same. Also, I love the research. It’s fascinating.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
The hardest thing about writing A Cup of Dust was exercising restraint. I think the story would have easily spiraled out of control. The time period is so intriguing and the story so emotional. I had to cut some really great scenes because they zoomed out from Pearl’s story too much. The struggle, though, made the story and characters more endearing to me.

How much research did you do?
I’ve been researching the Dust Bowl for 20 years. No lie. That was the first time I read The Grapes of Wrath. The photography of Dorthea Lange inspires me greatly, her ability to capture the humanity of the people throughout the Depression makes me want to be a better writer. Ken Burns’s documentary The Dust Bowl is beyond fantastic and touching. I watched it no less than four times as I prepared to write A Cup of Dust. Also, Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Time was a remarkable resource. It’s a history book written like a novel. I loved every single minute of my research.

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Oh, mercy. That’s a toughie. As an author, I think I’d love to meet Stephen King. That man has so much wisdom about the writing world, and he can tell a story like none other. Here’s the thing, though, I act like a blubbering fool when meeting someone I greatly admire.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

  1. READ! READ! READ! Good books of all genres will fill your brain with ideas, inspiration, and will develop your literary palate. If you don’t have time to read, sorry, you don’t have time to write. Reading is the single best way to learn how to be a writer.
  2. Write every day. It’s fine to take weekends off, but you have to keep developing those writing muscles. Writing includes these activities: reading, research, jotting ideas, plotting, and writing poopy first drafts.
  3. Don’t expect your first effort to be good. Revision and editing are best friends with the writing. You will have to keep on working on it. The writing will grow and so will you.
  4. Rejection isn’t the end of the world. It’s a chance to try again.

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See more from Author Susie Finkbeiner at http://www.susiefinkbeiner.com

Band-Aid the Broken

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In life, we all experience being wounded and broken.

I’ve gone through seasons of deep sorrow. I lost my first baby girl, Shiloh, in December of 2011, and my heart felt like it was ripped open. And ten months later, I lost another baby, Selah. I felt my heart’s wound widen and the pain grow deeper.

In those times, I could hardly muster creativity or the desire to write. But my counselor advised me, “Catie keep writing. Journal through your thoughts and emotions. Writing is your outlet, and it will bring you healing.” (For those of you who are also writers, I want to say that out of the heart, our writing springs and when our hearts are wounded and broken, sometimes it leaks more than it flows. But that is okay.)

In my pain I journaled:

Surviving a Broken Heart
The news comes so unexpectedly
At first all is well, then ends in tragedy
To lose a life so small it seems
Unfair with all the sorrow it brings
How can a heart survive the blow
That grief drives in so deep, so low
It filters through the body and more
The spirit, the soul, they all feel sore
Lord mend the wound that bleeds inside
Send peace and grace into my mind
I can’t walk this journey alone
I need your help to make me strong

 

Not only did I journal, but I would pray, which wasn’t easy when the last thing I felt like doing was praying. But God showed me something very special as I brought him my pain. He showed me a picture of my heart with a jagged wound down the middle, but sealing the tear shut was a big pink “Hello Kitty” Band-Aid.

A memory flashed through my mind of me as a child repeatedly falling off my bike and scraping my knees. I would come into the house crying. My knees would be torn up and bleeding. Dad or Mom would rub my back and tell me it’s going to be okay. They would wash away the blood, put on triple-antibiotic ointment, apply a Band-Aid, and place a kiss on the boo-boo and say, “All Better.”

This is what Father God did for me.

I came to Him with my torn heart. He looked at the wound and said, “It’s going to be okay.” He wiped away my tears and rubbed my back. Then He washed the wound clean with His love. He applied an antibiotic salve of peace and covered the wound with a Band-Aid. Placing a kiss on the boo-boo, He said, “It will heal.”

This is the truth I have found. The Lord desires to Band-Aid our broken hearts. We can take our pain to him.

If you are struggling in a season of brokenness, I want you to know that God desires to bring you healing. Sometimes it is hard to understand how a loving God can allow the hardships of sickness, impairments, grief, loss, and death. And though it is a paradox to me, I know that it’s still better to press into God, than pull away from him. It’s in his arms that I find hope.

Replenish Your Mind

-It's important to haveotherI love my chickens. I never tire of watching them scratch for bugs or wander the pasture. They greet me when I open the gate to check their food and water. My hens each have a name and a special personality. They are my girls. My egg-laying hens are a big part of my hobby farm. My small farm isn’t only a hobby, its one of my creative outlets. It’s important to have other interests as writers that will unblock a bogged mind and bring peace to a busy heart.

My husband and I chose to sell our home in the city to buy land in the country. Country life suits me well. I tend to be wired, and my brain struggles to turn off. But when I work in my garden, take walks down the dirt road or through our woods, or sit in the pasture and hold my chickens, my heart calms and my mind settles.

In spring, we buy new egg-laying hens as baby chicks. My kids love this! I enjoy hearing the little chicksReplenish chirp. We also raise our own meat chickens twice a year and do the processing ourselves. It’s not for those with a weak stomach, but its great to know exactly what my children are eating. If our barn were built, I’d have goats, sheep, maybe a dairy cow, definitely some bunnies and basically anything my husband would let me have. I’m a sucker for animals. And it’s good because in nature I find inspiration and renewed creativity.

Writers need outlets to replenish their minds. We should have more than just our writing. Perhaps try painting, reading, sewing, community outreach, biking, running, whatever will energize you.

Sometimes, its helpful to simply change up the routine and write something different. I like to dabble in songwriting with my husband and script writing for my church. Recently, I wrote a script featuring Lucy and Ricky Ricardo for our church Christmas production called “Celebrate Christmas.” Not only did I write the I Love Lucy scenes, I also performed the role of Lucy and my husband played the role of Ricky. We had a blast doing it together.

These are some examples of my personal activities that keep me fresh and inspire my flow of creativity. If you don’t have any outlets, I encourage you to incorporate some new hobbies in your life. What sounds fun to you? Do that! It doesn’t have to be anything huge. My kids and I have dance parties in our living room almost every day. It’s a riot and makes me laugh! Enrique Iglesias’s song “Bailando” never gets old, and neither does my need to refuel.

So what about you? What’s replenishing your mind?

****Today, this article was also featured on the Breathe Writer’s Conference site: http://breatheconference.com/home/category/featured-articles

Real and Rollicking

Today my post is featured on Breathe Writer’s Conference Blog. http://www.breatheconference.com. I hope it encourages you…

 

I knew it from age nine, the same age when I decided I should have been born an Indian-American. It was probably this instinctual habit of imagination that made my cousins think I was weird and forced my mother to explain by saying, “She’s just analytical.”

They were all right. I am weird. And analytical. And a bit neurotic. But mainly, I’m bent toward creative. My imagination Catie Stories pouredfound its outlet through drawing, poetry, reading and writing stories. Each summer, I loaded up on 18 to 20 books from the library, living vicariously through plots of witty western Belles, rogue cowboys, and shipwrecked sailors.

I wrote as often as I read, but I wasn’t sure if I had much talent.

In sixth grade, I decided to test the tea by entering my short story, By My Turpleplum Tree, into the Young Authors, a book contest comprised of four elementary schools. Among all the contestants, my story took First Place. I was astounded and revved up like my dad’s blue Cutlass.

Stories poured from my mind filling the pages of stapled booklets. After oodles of sketched plots, I settled upon a story that I entitled, JYIA. It was a story of a Navajo chieftain’s daughter. It was also my first time writing historical fiction, another excuse to go to the library and boil over books. From ages fourteen to eighteen, I worked on this novel. I consulted with my English teacher, Mrs. Smith, for three of those years. I gave her my chapters and received her critiques every month.

Upon the completion of the 270-page manuscript, we looked though the 2001 Literary Guide to Agents and selected a few. She helped me compose my first query letter, and we sent them out with hopes flung high. Months later, my hopes tiptoed home holding rejection.

In my senior year, I gave the story to my new English teacher, Mr. Moreau, and he gave me the truth. “Be proud that you accomplished this huge task. It’s a good first draft, but needs work. Also, you might want to reconsider the ending. Girls aren’t going to like that you kill your heroine.”

I took his words to heart and revised until 2008, when I stopped, frustrated and tired. On my living room floor, I pleaded. “Lord what do I do now? I want to write about Indians!”

The Lord calmly replied, “Right now it’s time for something new. Look into the 1920’s.” I obeyed.

I realize now that God not only intended my Roaring Twenties series to stir an audience, but to transform things inside of me. Writing has a way of doing that. The best part is our characters get to suffer the lessons of our personal stupidity.

Today, I stand a writer, not because it was something I had a talent for, but because I had the gumption to keep doing it. It’s not a faint-hearted hobby; it’s my dream and ministry. It’s because I was persistent that I now have an amazing agent who is shopping my trilogy to several publishing houses. It’s because I wasn’t afraid to be real with myself and others that I’m writing the rollicking tales of the 1920’s.

faint hearted hobby Catie

Don’t ever give up. Keep writing. Keep dreaming. Use the talent God has put inside of you.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.

– See more at: http://breatheconference.com

Some Irish Humor

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In Ramble and Roar, the first book of my Roaring Twenties Series, I explore the Irish mob. I spent months researching the mob, Irish culture, and Irish vocabulary. And I found the Irish humor to be delightful!

Today, I am sharing a few Irish jokes with you:

Mrs. Feeney shouted from the kitchen, “Is that you I hear spittin’ in the vase on the mantle piece?”
“No,” said Mr. Feeney, “but I’m gettin’ closer all the time.”

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Reilly went to trial for armed robbery.
The jury foreman came out and announced, “Not guilty.”
“That’s grand!” shouted Reilly. “Does that mean I can keep the money?”

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Irish lass customer: “Could I be trying on that dress in the window?”
Shopkeeper: “I’d prefer that you use the dressing room.”

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Murphy told Quinn that his wife was driving him to drink.
Quinn thinks he’s very lucky because his own wife makes him walk.

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“O’Ryan,” asked the druggist, “did that mudpack I gave you improve your wife’s appearance?”
“It did surely,” replied O’Ryan, “but it keeps fallin’ off!”

Reference: http://www.abitoblarney.com/irishjokes.htm

THE ROOSTER JOKE

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In my books, humor plays a vital role. I love to laugh, and I think most readers do too.

One of the funniest people I know is my mother-in-law. She tells the best jokes! There is one in particular that brings me to tears each time she tells it.

This is THE ROOSTER JOKE:

There was a man who loved his rooster. It was his best friend and did everything with him.

One day, he went to the movie theater with his rooster.

The ticket clerk told him that the rooster wasn’t allowed into the theater. So the man left and came back minutes later with the rooster hidden in his pants. He paid for his ticket and went into the movie. Seated beside him were two elderly sisters.

The lights darkened, but the sister next to the man saw him unzip the front of his pants. She turned to her sister. “This man beside me just unzipped his pants.”

The other sister waved her hand and said, “Don’t worry. It’s nothing new. At this age, we’ve seen all shapes and sizes. Just ignore it.”

The first sister frowned. “Yes, but this one is eating my popcorn.”

O To Be A 1920’s Farmer

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Mitchell Home School Farm 1920s
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Let’s take a moment and thank God for technology.

I have been busy researching for Book Two: Marvel and Mayhem: The Roaring Twenties Series. In this book, my main character, a New York City flapper ends up working on a farm in Harrisburg, PA. Best part is she doesn’t see it coming until the manure reaches her nose!

Farm life is hard work now, but in the 1920’s, it was even harder.

Farmers put in long days for little money. Work and play revolved around the seasons. Everyone in the family had chores — milking cows, feeding the animals, harnessing horses, gathering eggs, cleaning the outhouse, washing clothes, and more. Children usually walked to school, rain or shine, and spent summers helping in the fields. Farm families looked forward to the fun of school programs, trips to town, church gatherings, and other social events. With help from neighbors, 1920s farm families brought in the harvest, battled fires, coped with accidents and illness, and weathered natural disasters.

(Reference: http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe20s/life_01.htm)

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Morning Chores: Milk the Cow
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Kansas Farm Crop with Mr. McMurry on the Binder and Aunt Myrtle Driving the Tractor, 1920’s.
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Vincent Davlin, his wife Edna and 2 children, Charlie E. and Marian http://www.villageoftowerlakes.com/history/Pioneer%20Families/pioneer_families.htm

No! Not Resolutions!

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Resolutions. The word alone can trigger a gag reflex.

Let’s try a different word.

Goals. That word triggers my curiosity.

What can be accomplished? What can be obtained? The answer is: MORE THAN YOU KNOW…if you some move into your groove.

I have many dreams and the only way I can pursue them is to make a plan and develop REAL goals.

Here is my GOAL LIST for YEAR 2014, perhaps my list can trigger thoughts for your own:

1. MENTAL – Read a book a month

2. PHYSICAL – Eat 2 servings of veggies a day, Eat 2 servings of fruits a day, do at least 10-15 minutes of exercise 3X a week (If this seems silly, you don’t know my dread for exercise)

3. SPIRITUAL – Memorize a Bible verse a month (Put in 4 x 6 frame on writing desk), do short devotion daily, and create teaching moments with Bella and Gabe about God.

4. CAREER – Write at least 3 chapters a month.

My 6 Strategies for Successful Writing

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With a preschooler and four-month old baby, I have plenty to occupy my day. So when those blessed moments of writing time arrive, I need to make the most of them.

Here are six strategies that help me and hopefully might help you as well:

#6. Coffee- For me, coffee and writing go hand in hand. Try brewing a cup, maybe two. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

#5. Personal Music Playlist- I like to listen to music that inspires me while I write, which usually boils down to well-written music. Among my iTunes line-up are: Counting Crows, Coldplay, Alison Krauss, Phil Collins, Mumford & Sons and a dash of awesome 80’s hits for kicks!

#4. Character Storyboard- With each novel, I print pictures of people that mirror the characters I envision inside my mind. Then I pin the characters with their name tags on a cork-board beside my computer. It is a constant visual.

#3. Recheck My Chapter Timeline- Before I even begin writing a book, a detailed outline is formed. I design concise chapter by chapter timelines that layout my novels from beginning to end. There is always room for creative tangents and turns, but I prefer to have direction instead of writing blind. Therefore, when I sit down to write, my time is used more efficiently. I know where I left off and where to pick up simply by reviewing the timeline.

#2. Free-write- Get it out, then clean it up. I hate getting hung up on a scene and then forgetting the great idea I had for another. Get your thoughts down first. You can always go back.

#1. Prayer- I’m not so creative that I can do it on my own. My best ideas come from the Lord, every time. He is my faithful writing consultant, editor, inventor, teacher, and motivator.

Happy Writing!

I think I’ll go brew a cup of Meijer Organics Breakfast Blend. It’s sensational.