Who Would You Want Ministering To You?

Under the Weather low-resCan we stop for a shared moment of brutal honesty here?

Online friends have several times mentioned feeling ignored and disconnected, even shuffled aside by their families, their friends, and especially their churches.

The reason? Chronic or severe illness, or just being a little under the weather.

They aren’t perfectly well, so… no one sees them as valuable. No one cares that they’re hurting.

It’s always someone else’s job to spend time with them or minister to their needs–unfortunately–that someone never comes!

In several worst case scenarios I’m aware of, the perfectly healthy and able people who are doing the neglecting are angry and spiteful because the person who is ill isn’t meeting THEIR needs!

I’m sure you’re quite properly shocked… I DO hope you aren’t one of those selfish people!

I know just how my friends are feeling!

Not to complain, but as a matter of honesty: I struggle with those feelings too.

I’ve been dealing with chronic illness for a while now. It’s difficult to get to church. Sitting through a service is a real test of my health and my will.

I don’t have a church family, despite attempts to reach out and find one that will take an interest in being there for me. The worse my situation becomes, the less likely I’ll be able to interest a church in connecting with me, either!

If I couldn’t figure out how to interest a church in reaching out and caring about us when I still had something to offer, when my daughter was active and involved in volunteering for the AWANA program, why would I expect any of them to care now?

(the sad and unfortunate answer is: I don’t. Not anymore. They’ve totally disillusioned me)

I barely have any friends despite efforts to reach out and make them too.

If someone suddenly took an interest in actually visiting me, I might faint from the shock! And well… yes, the frantic dashing around to tidy up a little! (but it would be oh-so-nice to know someone cared enough to drop by! I think I’d eventually revive!)

If I didn’t have my parents and daughter to socialize with, most weeks would go by without interacting face to face with anyone who genuinely cares about me!

My one local friend is pretty much in the same boat as me: struggling with health issues and family issues that are bigger than she is. As challenging as both our situations are, at least we have had each other to commiserate with, but now she’s moving away.

I wonder how she’s going to survive where she’s moving; how I’m going to survive at this end?

Our society has gotten so disconnected! Whose fault is that?

We used to know, as Christians, that we are supposed to visit the sick and minister to them. I did my own share of this when I was younger and in better health. I won’t say I was great at it, but at least I tried.

Now, it seems like no one is all that interested in trying.

We used to know that Christ commanded us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn”. Whatever happened to that?

Do you honestly believe, those of you who are healthy and well now, that you will stay healthy and well forever?

Do you honestly believe that you are exempt from age or infirmity, or that trouble and distress will always pass you by?

Or maybe you think that it’s someone else’s job to be kind to the sick and the suffering?

Who do you think will be there for you if you can’t be bothered to be there for anyone else now, while you’re young, and healthy, and–well–too busy and self-involved to care about anyone else’s life but your own?

Whose job is it to minister to the sick?

Whose job is it to be a friend, whether those you know are suffering or not?

Who is qualified to reach out and care, as one human for another?

Isn’t that our job as Christians, to love one another as Christ loved us? Isn’t that your job, too?

Surely you don’t think Christ loves us–loves you–because you and I are all so worthy and such great specimens of humanity!

Christ loves us past our flaws and our failures, past the sickness and suffering. He sees the real you and the real me, and He values us because He MADE us.

Real people, hurting people, broken people, SICK AND SUFFERING people: we all have tremendous value in God’s eyes!

You may not live in my city. You may not live anywhere near me, but–I’m guessing that you know somebody who you’ve been ignoring: somebody who needs your loving attention and help!

Please don’t wait any longer. Please go visit them today. (And yes, I’d welcome a visit too!)

It’s what Jesus would do.

Crying Out For Barabbas

Jesus or BarabbasDo you ever wake up thinking really random things?

This morning I woke up this morning thinking, “What about Barabbas?”

This turned out not to be as random as I first thought. After all, it’s Lent. And then there’s the sad, miserable reality of the human condition that Barabbas’s sordid little life encompasses.

Barabbas comes into our awareness because of who Jesus is.

Who is Jesus?

Jesus is the blameless, perfect, HOLY Son of God. In fact, Jesus is God.

Jesus calls all men to repentance.

Before his death and even after his resurrection, He preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. He preached obedience to authority.

He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He is coming again –at a time of God the Father’s choosing– to judge the earth, to judge us.

Jesus calls us to repentance and humility, to living a holy life, to being perfect as He is perfect, to accept the Holy Spirit and live transformed, to make disciples of all nations, to look for and be ready for His return!

And then, there’s Barabbas–

According to multiple biblical accounts (he’s mentioned in every one of the Gospels), Barabbas is the accused murderer and insurrectionist who was set free at Jesus’ trial before Herod. He’s referred variously as a notorious prisoner, a thief, a robber, a murderer, and even an insurrectionist.

Barabbas’s leadership example was one of the strong bullying and targeting the weak, of coveting and violently seizing property that didn’t belong to him, of murdering and inciting mobs.

He preached the overthrow of law and order, the raising of violent hands against those unpopular people who desired and enforced the peace. This wasn’t some man whose deeds were committed out of sight somewhere in the wilderness of Judea; he was arrested for leading an insurrection in Jerusalem, right under the authorities’ noses!

In a Jewish city under Roman occupation, his message must have resonated with many people, but other more prudent folks would have viewed his efforts with alarm.

He reminds me of someone. I wonder if you know who?

According to the account in Matthew, he was seized upon by the chief priests as an acceptable person to release in place of Jesus, whom Pilate did not want to condemn. Mark 15:11 (ESV) says they “stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.”

What about Barabbas? What was so redeeming about a murderer and an insurrectionist, that people in authority preferred him to the blameless Son of God?

Nothing.

He was nothing to them! His only use to them was in closing off a legal loophole Pilate tried to exploit to wriggle out of condemning to death a man he knew to be blameless and innocent while looking like he had the approval of the people.

Pilate was a coward and a wimp! Well, he was a politician, which often amounts to the same thing…

What endearing qualities did Barabbas have that provoked a mob to call for his release?

Again, there weren’t any!

He was a menace to the peace whose freedom, if they had been thinking at all clearly, would lead them to lamentations and regret!

He was known to the people of Jerusalem, not just as a danger to them economically and physically, but as the very WORST kind of threat that brought out the hard side of Roman occupation, giving the Roman military an excuse for house to house searches, roughing up the populace, throwing suspected collaborators into prison, and willfully destroying property!

I wonder whatever became of him, this violent, evil man set free in Christ’s place so that Pilate–whom the chief priests had to know quite well by that time would never risk a riot even to save an innocent man wrongly accused–would crucify Christ for them?

We never hear any more about Barabbas.

Only God knows what became of him. His part played in the accounts of Christ’s crucifixion, Barabbas vanishes from history, leaving behind only our speculation.

And I have to wonder, if he recognized God’s hand in sparing his life and repented, and later came to Christ, wouldn’t that have made it into the Bible in Acts or maybe, even in the Epistles?

I doubt he did change, though. I suspect that the bad choices he’d made before were part of a pattern that continued until he was violently stopped in his tracks by someone else defending their life and freedom.

Why did I wake up thinking about Barabbas?

If we could go back to 33 A.D., even knowing we would not be heeded, how many of us would be trying to persuade people in that crowd that they were being played?

How many of us, though, would get caught up in the mania and mood of the crowd and find ourselves crying out for Pilate to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus?

I have this disquieting feeling that too many of us would find ourselves joining the crowd instead of trying to dissuade those we knew in it from participating.

Who today would be similarly notorious?

What choices are we making that are similar to the choice between Jesus and Barabbas that Pilate offered to his courtroom crowd?

I used to think we had learned something from our history, from the Bible; that we were smarter, wiser people for having these accounts to warn us of the dangers we as humans face.

But I’m looking around at what is happening in our world today, and I know now that people never learn.

We started out this year with a lineup of Republican candidates who had many great qualities. They weren’t all perfect, and some of them were less perfect than others, or not as good at catching the eye of the public.

But we have narrowed that field down rapidly.

Of the two front runners, we now have a choice:

The front runner is a man who:

  • admits to being greedy, worldly, and even adulterous,
  • is defiantly profane and denies he’s ever needed God’s forgiveness;
  • who owns at least one strip club and a major casino;
  • who approves women (apparently even his own daughter?) only as they appeal to his sexual lusts or openly despises and derides them if they don’t appeal to him or they reject him in some way;
  • whose words are harsh and abusive toward those who disagree with him and get in his way, and those whom he deems imperfect;
  • who has misled and cost investors huge sums of money TWICE (provoking lawsuits which he has been obliged to settle out of court);
  • who has misused the law in the U.S. (and attempted to misuse the laws in Scotland) to seize property belonging to other people in order to further his own gain;
  • who is being sued for fraud,
  • and who has even made threats toward those running against him!

And yet so many people, even those who are CONVINCED they are good Christians (even conservative!) are cheering him on and supporting his candidacy!

The best alternative to him is a man who:

  • has always stood for liberty and the rule of law,
  • has defended the Constitution successfully on multiple occasions before the Supreme Court,
  • has taken a public stand for what he believes in even when it was so unpopular that he had to stand alone,
  • has shown a willingness to be humble,
  • is a confessing Christian.
  • is everything we’ve ever said we wanted as Conservative Christians in a man we would like to see as president, although he isn’t perfect (but is anyone ever going to be?).

He has been lied about and slandered, his wife has been slandered, conspiracy theorists are running wild trashing their reputations.

Is the only reason he is not the front runner because of crowd mania?

If there is a conspiracy, is it centered around the front runner? He’s definitely a canny manipulator (most men with abusive personalities are).

Once again, the mob is running wild. Once again, the crowd is crying out for Barabbas!

And I really wonder if it’s too late to turn back; to assert a call for reason and calm instead; to present a case for standing on conservative Christian values; for embracing Christ?

Will you insist on having Barabbas instead?

The True Meaning of Love

Least of These Bird Meme copyReposted from February 14, 2014:

You may have noticed that I’m not pushing a lot of mushy-gushy romantic love on my website– There’s a reason for that! Not everyone enjoys that emphasis to Valentines Day, especially when they don’t have that someone special to share those romantic feelings with!

While I’m not into the mushy-gushy side of Valentines, I have plenty of people I do love in my life: children, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, close friends…

Near to the broken hearted copyEach of them is special to me, but there are so many of them, because I come from a large family, and have a lot of friends (especially online), that if I tried to go all-out on Valentines Day or any holiday by buying them lots of stuff, I would rapidly be in debt up to my eyebrows!

It sure wouldn’t take long at all–oh no.

So instead of pulverizing the piggy bank, I thought that maybe I would share some of my favorite memes instead that talk about hearts and love, and relationships.

What can be sweeter or gentler than a baby bird, unless it’s one cradled in the hands of a child?

Be A Friend copyAnd what is a greater demonstration of love than that we go out of our way to be kind to others and help them in Jesus’ name, as the verse on the meme calls to mind!

Broken hearts can also be a theme of Valentines Day. We’ve all seen the posts by friends who hate Valentines Day because it reminds them of everything they’ve lost or have never had, and they feel left out. God’s love for us runs larger and deeper than any loss or hurt, and He is able to comfort the brokenhearted.

And then there is forgiveness! We can’t earn forgiveness; we can only accept it. Forgiving is the ultimate act of love, because it allows us to restore our relationships after we’ve hurt each other. To be human is to stumble and fail, but to forgive is divine…

And lastly, to have a friend, you must be a friend. Friendship requires time and effort to grow. Our best friends are those we’ve laughed and cried, and maybe even quarreled with; those we’ve spent the most time with no matter what their circumstances of life. Those people we don’t just like; we love them for who they are, and feel warmed and comforted by the reciprocation of that love.

I hope you have such gifts in your life this Valentines Day: the sweetest, most innocent of love, kindness, giving, and generosity; God’s love that is so much bigger than anything another flawed human being can offer; forgiveness and relationship, and best of all, some really great friends.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cream Hearts & Red Be Mine Header

How To Schedule Posts in Hootsuite

Scheduling panel

Click Here to open Hootsuite Scheduling Tutorial with Illustrations

A Few Notes:

I have been using Hootsuite for quite some time now. After discovering that many of my friends feel intimidated by Hootsuite, even though they’d like to use it as a scheduling platform to enhance their book sales, I offered to put together a Hootsuite Tutorial.

This tutorial doesn’t try to explain how to do everything in Hootsuite; this is just for the scheduling pane.

The options covered are available as part of the free service as well as the monthly paid service.

There are some great advantages to using the paid service, which offers more options for posting across social media and better calendar access and options, and the option of saving up to one hundred posts in a file and uploading the file to Hootsuite.

However, for the purposes of this tutorial, the free service works well, because it’s less complicated.

This tutorial is a PDF file, which can be accessed, downloaded, and saved by clicking on the image at top.

Ribbon with crown and birds

If you like this tutorial, and would like me to make more of them, please support my efforts by buying my books. Thanks!

Support Your Favorite Authors – At The Library

Click through to buy on Amazon

Davis Bunn is one of my favorite Christian authors–in fact, he’s one of my favorite authors of all time! This is saying something because usually I have difficulty reading mainstream published Christian authors with any kind of enthusiasm.

I have favorite Indie authors who are Christians and write Christian novels, but–there is something so MEH about so much of what the traditional Christian publishing houses are putting out today.

(confession here) I tend to gravitate toward ABA authors who write clean fiction, especially if they’re writing sci/fi, fantasy, or mystery novels. I prefer action/adventure over literary introspection.

AND… I’m a fairly typical American reader in one big area: start preaching at me in your book, I don’t care if it’s about global warming or the Second Coming, and I am going to cringe and go find something else to read!

So, after reading David Bergland’s post about these books by Thomas Locke (pen name for Davis Bunn), I found these books up at the library today. I was thrilled!

You may wonder why I, as an author, visit the library instead of buying everyone’s books (or offering to review them in exchange for a copy)?

It’s the same problem everyone else is having: very limited income and very limited space!

HOWEVER, when libraries buy authors books–did you know how many thousands of public libraries there are–this creates great exposure for authors, and royalties from library dollars feel just as great in a bank account as any other kind of dollars! And there are THOUSANDS of public libraries, so–if every one of those public libraries buys just one copy of an authors’ book, that translates into thousands of book sales! Sometimes, oh happy day, they buy multiple copies! (oh, I wish it was my book they were doing that with, don’t you?)

So–it’s okay to check out your favorite authors’ books at the library! Besides, you’ll be doing them a favor by helping to keep their books in circulation.

Patricia McKillip: amazing stories, incredible artwork!

Last month, I encountered a librarian taking many of Patricia McKillip’s books off the shelf in the Sci/Fi and Fantasy section. I was horrified.

Patricia McKillip is one of the most original authors of fantasy I’ve encountered over a life-time of reading.

Her stories are incredible, full of rich detail and unforgettable characters. The artist who did most of her book jackets is fantastic! I love the artwork…

No one else writes like Patricia McKillip. She is unique! And–holding one of those covers in my hands makes me smile, because the artwork is so gorgeous. No one makes covers like that any more!

Every one of her books is an amazing experience.

But–since practically no one (except possibly me?) ever checks out and reads her books, they’re disappearing from our local library. How sad.

So here’s my thought for the day: if it isn’t being checked and read, a book has a very good chance of being removed from public library shelves to make way for someone else’s books.

It’s unfortunate, but true, that even libraries are limited on space.

Click through to buy on Amazon


And if people aren’t reading those books at the library and finding out about their OTHER published works, then they’re even less likely to buy them at the bookstore or anywhere else, which is even sadder.

Hey! Did you know you can recommend your favorite authors’ books for inclusion in your local public libraries? You can! Ask your librarian how to go about it.

I would love it if you recommended mine!

You Can Create A Painless Synopsis

Painless SynopsisReposted from June 28, 2014:

Many writers appear to experience great emotional pain and deep, conflicted feelings when told they have to write a synopsis. It is the chore that every writer dreads, and few feel that they are truly good at completing, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Here’s my rule of thumb for writing a (relatively) painless synopsis:

  1. Summarize each chapter in 1-3 sentences. Wherever possible, use only one sentence.
  2. Take your elevator pitch (if you have one for this story already; if not, write one), and keeping that elevator pitch handy,
  3. pare those sentences down to an accurate 1-2 page description of your story that gets rid of:
    1. all mention of secondary characters.
    2. all mention of lesser story arcs and plot points
    3. all unnecessary nouns, verbiage, adverbs, adjectives, and other descriptive phrases (with a few exceptions)

You should have left:

  1. Major character(s)
  2. went here
  3. did this
  4. experienced conflict
  5. while feeling this
  6. and found resolution
  7. with this end result
  8. written as interestingly as possible to hook your potential audience.

Not every chapter will be mentioned in the end result, but if you’ve done a good job, your synopsis will accurately reflect your book’s contents (including the ending) while not telling all.

Here’s part of my synopsis for A Shadow On The Land as an example:

Bjorn Horsa is Eiathan’s Heir, the promised king who must put his own life on the line to save the kingdom of Astarkand from the implacable, ageless foe the Kandians call Woden. King Olaf of Astarkand should abdicate in Bjorn’s favor, but Bjorn didn’t arrive in time to rescue Olaf’s half-brother from beheading by Woden’s priest. Olaf hates Bjorn for coming too late and wants revenge. He secretly builds a fleet to ravage the rich southern lands Bjorn left to reach Astarkand.

Bjorn navigates royal politics and intrigue, and waits on God’s timing.

Challenged to a duel by Weinolf, the king’s spoiled heir, Bjorn wins the fight but loses any hope of the king’s favor. Instead, the king grants ne’er-do-well Kresic a farm in exchange for a map he steals from Bjorn.

When Olaf’s navy mutinies and sails too early, the king unfairly sentences Bjorn to death. Bjorn and his men dig out from their cellar-prison and flee north. Nicar, Bjorn’s second cousin falls behind, taking refuge on Kresic’s abandoned farm.

The king discovers Bjorn’s escape. Weinolf’s life is put in danger when the tunnel collapses…

Do you see the level of detail here?

It’s also important to note that the fewer names you have to include in a synopsis, the better. Any time a new name is introduced, it’s important to explain who the new character is, and why they’re vital to the story line. If you can get away with describing a secondary character by their role in the story, i.e., the guard or the priest, then it’s better not to name them.

URGENT: Our Friends Who Want to Scam Us

Joe Scammer

Update: This is the kind of Valentine I think we’d all rather avoid…

Reposted from June 9, 2014:

I’ve hesitated to write about this issue because I haven’t wanted to tread on any toes. I’ve decided that it needs to be discussed though, although I’m going to be very careful what I say to avoid offending anyone specifically.

People who are duped by scams end up utterly embarrassed. That is a fact of life. Often, by the time the scam has run its course and they’re left financially ruined and at odds with family and friends who tried to stop them from investing themselves emotionally and financially in the scammer’s view of paradise, their life is in shambles. This is reality.

We all hate that reality! We all think we’re wise to that! We all think, surely OUR loved ones, OUR friends are wiser than to give in to that! Surely WE know better, too. But everyone is capable of getting duped at one time or another.

We give out our trust in some degree to strangers daily, even if we aren’t always aware that we’re doing it.

So, occasionally we need to discuss these realities, and discuss the evolution of certain scams, and put our loved ones and our friends wise to new developments.

‘Nigerian scammers’ don’t just live in Nigeria. That’s where this scam got started, but they can live in other countries too. They can even live or visit in the U. S. and Canada. Hey, there are unscrupulous and greedy people the world over! Why? Did you think they weren’t?

Nigerian scammers can have any color of skin, speak any language, and have any accent or even no accent at all. They can! And they don’t just pick up their victims online, although that’s where the Nigerian scam got started.

Jill ScammerYou might even have a scammer walk into your place of business one day and seem like a perfectly normal person. They strike up a conversation with you, and you get to know them, and you get to thinking of them as a friend. But then they go overseas or out of state, and stuff begins to happen, and their needs become more and more desperate as their requests for financial assistance multiply.

Or you could meet them at a party or at another event, or a mutual friend (entirely unaware of their unscrupulous intent) might introduce you. Your mutual friend might also be one of their intended victims, unknown to either one of you.

They might even come to visit you (to prove they’re really who they say they are), and return home again, and keep building this relationship that involves occasional requests from them for money from you.

They’ll offer you love or business success, or wealth and riches, even a share in their great-aunt’s inheritance; whatever it is that they have deduced makes you need to stay in relationship with them; and because they’re your friend, you want to believe them and give them whatever they need! You really do!

They might even say they’re willing to marry you, although most of them still balk at actually taking the plunge and achieving this level of commitment.

The reality is that you can be scammed by a friend far easier than by a total stranger. Scammers know this. They WANT to be your best buddy, better than your family members who love you, better than your best friend you’ve had ever since childhood, better than God and Jesus!

If you’re busy telling off your friends and loved ones while defending a relationship with someone whose identity and veracity they’re questioning, maybe it’s time for you to STOP! LOOK BOTH WAYS! and THINK HARD about what you’re doing and where this relationship is really taking you! You need to question your emotional involvement and take a step back from the relationship while you ask yourself some hard questions and come up with answers that aren’t emotion-based.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself if you’re getting feedback or vibes that a person you like might be trying to scam you (preferably before you give them any money or a piece of your heart):

  • Does my family (and my friend/s) love me enough to tell me hard truths I don’t want to hear? [your answer here]
  • Should I really be shutting them out of my life just because they disagree with my decisions regarding this relationship? [your answer here]
  • Is there someone in my life of a long-standing relationship that I trust, that I can discuss this relatively newer/more recent relationship with, and rely on their advice? [your answer here]
  • Is there a person in authority (maybe a police detective), that I can run the facts of this relationship by, and ask if it sounds suspicious to them? [call your local police department, and ask]
  • Why is this person asking me for money?
  • Do I have independent* knowledge of what services are available in the country they say they are in?
  • Can I obtain independent* knowledge of the services available in said country?
  • Do I have or can I obtain independent* contacts in that country who I can ask for verification of local conditions, and who might be willing to assess this person’s need and help them as needed?
  • Is there no one else this person might appeal to for help who lives closer and would be better placed to help them?
  • Have they mentioned anyone else that they are also appealing to for help?
    How much money am I willing to lose forever if it turns out that this ‘friend’ I’m trying to help out is a scammer?

*An independent contact is someone you have found on your own without any help whatsoever from the friend in question.

Good independent contacts in many countries might be a local Catholic priest (found by networking via a local Catholic parish in your hometown), or a local missionary from one of any number of mission agencies (Google ‘mission agencies working in [fill in the city and country name]). If you have a company you do have a good working relationship with in that country, you might also contact them, and ask one of your business colleagues in that business for their advice.

A good independent contact can give you advice on whether or not a certain address is in a safe part of town for them to visit, and may be able to tell you if they’re aware of scammers working out of their city or country, and whether or not you’re being taken for a ride.

Here are some boundaries you and I should agree on for ourselves before embarking on any friendship:

1. Let’s agree NOT to send or give money to anyone overseas or anywhere else in our home country or a neighboring country without first:

  • putting in due diligence and having independent verification of a need,
  • setting a specified budget for handling the need,
  • creating a time-table for resolving the need, and
  • including an escape clause that recognizes that our own needs and our family’s needs take priority in our budget.

Even Congress and the President of the United States would benefit from abiding by this boundary!

2. Let’s agree NOT to be so desperate for love or financial gain or anything else, that we’ll offer money or a share in the sale of our house, or access to our bank accounts, or anything else financially stupid in exchange for it!

I think if we can agree to these two boundaries, and stay wise in our friendships and be careful whom we trust, that we will all be much less likely to be scammed.

One last word: If you are aware that a loved one or a friend is being scammed, and you can’t get through to them, and you’re worried about their emotional or mental state, please contact your local police department and tell them of your concerns. Ask them to investigate.

Writing Contests: How Do You Decipher Judges’ Feedback?

Writing Contests Deciphering Judges Notes low-resReposted from May 25, 2014:

The subject of writing contests came up in a writers’ group that I belong to.

One of the writers in the group was bemused because she was given feedback by the judges that doesn’t square with the feedback she’s gotten everywhere else, even from professional editors.

How can this happen?

The explanation is simple: unless you have judges that are experienced with your genre, they will give you feedback according to what they know is expected in their writing genres and from their target audience as opposed to what is expected and accepted in your genre and from your target audience.

It is also possible to receive a range of feedback from judges (on the same writing), from “I hated it. Your book belongs on the compost heap (not that you’re likely to have a judge be this rude or unreasonable),” to “I loved it! You need to publish this tomorrow!” Some of the criteria involved in judging submissions of writing can be very subjective.

An author’s voice can be instinctively loved or hated even when their writing is technically perfect.

Maybe the judge is a stickler for grammatically correct dialogue or hates contractions, or thinks that every sentence should end with a period, exclamation point, or a period. None of those em dashes or ellipses, please!

Or–here’s a common biggie: they seriously dislike first person point of view, and can’t get into your story because you used it.

Maybe they hate head-hopping, or they only want to read deep POV, but your style is more literary.

Whatever their reason for not liking your writing, if your passion for writing clearly comes through your story, and your characters and their dialog are authentic, if your setting is true to your story, then it’s probable that even though a judge didn’t like your writing, your story still has worth.

Why I don’t submit to writing contests is also simple: I have deep reservations about paying for this kind of feedback. I’ve done it only once, and then I decided never again, because I didn’t like that resulting feeling of extreme perplexity. I’d rather pay a professional editor 4 times as much or more, not that I have that kind of money right now, or swap edits with other published authors than pay to enter a writing contest.

But that’s just who I am.

What about you? Do you enter writing contests? Why or why not?

How do you decipher judges’ feedback, and decide whether or not the judge gave you excellent advice that you need to take to heart and make changes based upon?

Introverts And The Art of Friendship

Be A Friend copyReposted from September 16, 2013:

A little background: The post was inspired by one of Matt Walsh’s blog posts: I’m An Introvert and I Don’t Need To Come Out of My Shell.

Matt raised a lot of good points. The readers who commented on his blog raised even more. I started to respond, but the response grew to where I realized I should really post it on my blog instead of his! So…this:

How does an introvert make friends?

How does anyone, for that matter, make friends?

Do introverts do it differently from extroverts?

Do introverts really need friends?

Few of us are 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. We consist, in varying proportions, of a mix of traits that are considered to be one or the other.

I consider myself an introvert, but some days I really need to see people. Not large, noisy groups of people, but a few very good, one-on-one interactions.

I can be (some days) that stranger who says hi and attempts small chitchat with other people. I’m not looking to irritate you–I’m looking for a way to connect. I see so few people now because of my physical limitations due to chemical sensitivities. I can’t go where there are crowds or do hardly anything that involves a crowd, and rarely am I sufficiently well enough to even risk attending church.

I’m perfectly happy to listen if you want to take the conversation down a deep philosophical road and discuss the nature of …ants or trees, or snow! I might even have something worthwhile to say.

I’m not usually lonely, but–there are those days when I just need a little face-time, and if I can’t see those people I consider my friends, I’m perfectly happy to try to make a new one.

Some days, I’ve been exposed to chemicals in my environment that rob me of significant higher brain function, and all I can come up with are the dumbest things to say–and I know they’re dumb, but I need to connect, so I say them anyway in the hope that the other person on the receiving end will be understanding of the good intent behind them, and will find a way to conduct a conversation with me anyway. Some days are horribly humiliating that way!

But I’ve met and known plenty of people who make small talk, too, who couldn’t be bothered to listen to anything the other person (including me) had to say. They make it clear that what I say say totally bores them, and they can’t wait to interrupt me or be distracted by anything or anyone else.

This is not a personality trait associated with either introversion or extroversion: this is bad manners and rudeness. And that is a person who has never had their nearest and dearest sit them down and pointedly explain (in love, of course) that a conversation requires give and take; that to properly hold a conversation, it is not only necessary to talk, it is also necessary to give the other person time to talk as well, and to really listen to what they are and are not saying. It’s a shame really, and not a reflection on who I am as a person–or who you are–when we run into them, and they treat us with disrespect. It’s a reflection on them and their lousy upbringing.

I have had nationals from other countries complain to me at length that this is a common American failing: that we are so convinced that we’re the only ones with anything worthwhile to say that we can’t be bothered to hear what anyone else might have to tell us, even if it means the difference between life and death. They chalk it up to arrogance, or being in too much of a hurry, or not having a good upbringing. Sometimes they’re right on all counts!

There is an art to getting to know strangers: it usually (but not always) begins with inconsequential chitchat, with looking for safe common ground on subjects where they’re unlikely to have feelings invested before moving on to more iffy subjects. Talking about the weather might lead to talking about that person’s garden or lawn, or upcoming game of golf or some other sport they participate in. I could care less about sports, but I do care about the people who enjoy them, so I’ll listen to sports-talk and (try to) ask intelligent questions. Sports-talk, if you both have children playing the sport, might lead to a discussion of family, and to discovering other areas of commonality–maybe even a discussion of spiritual matters as church attendance (or lack thereof) is brought up.

It might even lead to a philosophical discussion on ants or cracks in the sidewalk, or any other number of matters that might be of mutual interest to a pair of introverts.

If a conversation goes well, you’ve made an acquaintance that you might encounter again with mutually agreeable results. If multiple conversations down the road, you find yourself seeking out this person on a regular basis and vice versa, then you’ve made a friend.

If you’re talking to someone from Africa or the Middle East, you can skip the talk about the weather and sports, and go straight to asking about family. It is even considered bad manners not to ask about family first.

If you’re talking to someone from America, discussing movies or books is an alternative to sports, depending on who you’re talking to.

If you’re Greek, and you meet another Greek (I’m not, but I have observed this), it is expected that you will spend at least fifteen minutes trying to establish which city or province the other person’s family came from, and if you have relatives in common, who you know in common here, etc. I’ve known people who can keep this kind of fact-sharing going for hours. This also holds true for other countries in Europe, and can even be applied to Mennonites (a lot of them in my family).

But most people can’t and don’t go from zero knowledge of the other person to a friendship that allows discussion of deep matters, and the kind of non-judgmental listening that allows a person to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of rejection. Most people try to test out the waters first with small talk.

Did you know that you can make a friend, though, without ever being able to speak their language? I did this repeatedly when I was a child, when I lived among people who spoke languages that were all different from mine. It’s amazing how far you can go with a friendly gesture and a smile. Before very long, at least one party to the transaction is learning the other party’s language–if they’re motivated enough, and I was–

But we grow up and become self-conscious and afraid to connect, and we tend to lose that willingness to reach out and be vulnerable…

What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you make friends?