Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Blessed Week in My Writing World

It's been a blessed week in my writing world. Of course it all began a week ago today when I found out that the compilation book, His Forever, which includes my story "Like Son, Like Father," was out. I blogged about that in my last post. I immediately ordered copies. Then began the wait to finally hold the book in my hand. That finally happened on Thursday.

The cover is even more beautiful in person than it is in the picture! What a thrill to see something I wrote in a book. And having this particular story published this way is even more thrilling. Who else can get the glory other than God! Here's a picture of me holding the book. I took it with my web cam so it's not as clear as it could be.

On about the same day that I received copies of the book, the editor of His Forever emailed me asking if I would contribute a devotional piece to a new Cup of Comfort book on prayer he's editing. He assigned me a specific prayer that has already been written. It's my job to write about a personal experience that fits into the theme of the prayer. Of course I said yes. Since I have to submit this devotional by next Friday, I began working on it right away. I've written about the biggest lesson I've learned over my past year of setbacks is that everything happens in God's due time--the setbacks and trials, as well as the blessings. I've titled it "In God's Due Time." I don't know if I'm definitely to be included in the book provided my submission is good, or if I'm competing with others like in the last one. We'll see. Either way I'm so blessed to have been asked.

A couple days ago an author friend read the first chapter of Murder for Breakfast and said she liked it. I feel like that old Life cereal commercial saying, "She likes it, she likes it!" Her input was very encouraging to me because she has written several published books, and she can recognize good writing or bad. She also mentored me on setting up writing goals. I have two projects going. The MFB tweaking so I can get the full sent off to HP-Mystery, and the proposal on Shiloh Legacy. Since SLrequires major rewrites, I need time to get that in order before I can do the proposal for an editor at Tyndale who has asked for.

So it's finish MFB by Christmas, spend January researching for my SL rewrite, and start the SL rewrite in February. Then once I have it plotted and the first three chapters complete, send the proposal and keep working on the rewrite. Whew! I'm gonna be busy, but it's a good kind of busy.

Last night ACFW members in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs met at a local Panera Bread. It was great to see those I'd enjoyed being with in Dallas last month and to catch up with others who weren't able to make the conference. We're in the process of officially becoming an ACFW chapter. Something we're very excited about. I'm excited because the number of ACFW members in my area is growing. In spite of being in a major metropolitan area like Chicago, surprisingly there haven't been a large number of ACFW people to connect with here. Here are the eight of us who attended last night: Front row is Maureen Lang and me. Second row is Greg Williamson, Corky Richardson, Julie Dearyon, Allie Pleiter, Kris Brown, and Sally Bradley.

It's been a blessed week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

One Story's Journey & A Writer's Take Away

It's out! His Forever: Stories of Real People Finding Jesus is on the shelves and it contains my piece "Like Son, Like Father." Well, at least it's on the virtual shelves of Amazon,, and the like. I haven't yet found it in a bricks and mortar store. But then it's only been out a few days.

I am so humbled, so amazed at how God has used me to get my friend Frank's story out there for everyone to read and know about. Years ago, I heard Frank tell how he prayed for God to open his dad's mind when Alzheimer's had caused the elderly man to be able to do nothing more than breathe and sit chin to chest for hours on end. The family hadn't had a lucid conversation with him in months. For a few moments Frank's prayer was answered, and Frank was able to lead his father to Christ!

From the day I heard about this God Miracle, I knew it had to be written. I wrote the story, thinking in my ignorance it would be snapped up without question. I envisioned it on the pages of Guideposts, or maybe The Beacon, my church denomination's magazine. All the editors would have to do was read it and they'd be begging me to print it. Boy was I wrong! I received so many rejections I'm sure their weight alone threatened to give my mailman a hernia.

One of the magazines I queried was Decision, the Billy Graham Association's magazine. Like all the others, they sent one of those form rejections. You know the drill:
"Thank you for submitting to our magazine. We're sorry we cannot use your story at this time. We either have already purchased a similar story or, perhaps in your case, the writing is lousy and the topic stinks. Please don't ever write to us again!"

Ha! Not exactly, but isn't that what so many of us writers tend to see when we get a form letter instead of a personal note explaining exactly why the piece is being rejected.

A few months after the Decision rejection letter was papered to my wall along with all the others, I attended the Write to Publish conference. I was excited to see that Decision's editor , the very man whose name was on that rejection letter I received a few months earlier, was on the faculty. What was even more amazing was that he had appointment slots open since I arrived at the conference two days after it had begun. A God thing?? Seemed that way to me. Since I was commuting, I was able to print out the story that evening and bring it to the conference the next day for my appointment.

That editor appointment was an eye-opener for me. I handed him a copy of my story, gulped, and asked him why it had been rejected. He read the first paragraph and said, "I remember this. A wonderful miracle of God." Of course, the second question out of my mouth was, "If that's so, why did you turn it down?" His answer? "There's no take away."

Take away? Huh? For years I'd been leading Bible studies, always making sure everyone learned to make application in their lives for what we'd just discussed. I never realized that in article writing we had to do the same thing. Telling the story wasn't enough. The closing should draw the reader to making application in his own life. It doesn't have to be in-your-face, but it has to be there. Well, duh! Since then I've heard that little "jargon" phrase many times. Everything we write needs a take away. In articles, it can be the summary paragraph restating the lessons already expressed in the story. In fiction it's the story goal. What do I want my story to achieve?; what will my characters learn in the story?; how will my character's growth help the reader at the same time he or she is being entertained by a page-turning story they can't put down? (A girl can dream!)

Long story short, I'd queried so many magazines for Frank's story already, I let it languish in my computer files for, um, five years maybe? During those years I focused on fiction--learning the craft, practicing the craft, and seeking publication. To this day I've not yet sold a fiction story, but I have learned a lot about writing.

Last November I heard about the His Forever Project and Frank's story came to mind. I pulled it out of the file and dusted it off. One read through showed me more reasons why it probably didn't sell other than the needed take away. I went to work, applying the fiction writing techniques I'd been learning over the years. Not changing the story, but enhancing it. And...of course, I made sure to add a "take away."

The rest is history as the saying goes. In a few days I'll be holding the book in my hand. I don't know if the byline will say "by Frank Coppaletta as told to Pam Meyers," or just "By Frank Coppaletta," or maybe there's no byline at all. It doesn't matter. It's God's story, not Frank's and not mine.

What has been my take away in this experience? Last month when I presented the ACFW Mentor of the Year Award to Lena Nelson Dooley, one of the quotes attributed to her says, "God is never early or never late. He's always on time." This was God's time for Frank's story to be told and for me to have the honor of seeing something I wrote in a book. God wasn't going to let it be printed until I'd learned my craft enough to write it well. That is my take away from this experience. That is what keeps me going to writers conferences, attending writing workshops, reading books about how to write well, and reading well-written books to learn how published authors write. God can use all of that. There's a song I learned way back when I first became a Christian that says, "He makes all things beautiful in His time." I can't ask for anything better than that!

By the way, as you can see, I've been messing with the design of my blog. It's not finished yet. Chances are by the time you check back again, it will have been tweaked a bit more. Change is always good. Today I have a new look and a new book, along with a new attitude about being useful to God through the words I write.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Did You Ever Wish On Dandelions?

I'm thinking a lot about wishing this morning. We've all heard the saying, "If wishing could make it so..." And then there's "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight." Of course, who can forget about making a wish before blowing out the candles on your birthday cake?

Kids do a lot of wishing, but then so do adults, although we may have a somewhat more reasonable view of it. We can wish, but we know it doesn't always come to pass. But, what if you wished on a fuzzy dandelion that Jesus would make Himself known to you before blowing it to smithereens ?

That's what Maranatha Winningham does in Mary DeMuth's novel, "Wishing on Dandelions." I recently spent several days on Maranatha's journey to the arms of Jesus after making her wish. It is a fantastic read and I encourage you to pick a copy up at your local bookstore or toddle on over to Amazon and order one! "Dandelions" is the second in a two-book series that chronicles the life of a young girl from childhood to young womanhood. In the first book, "Watching the Tree Limbs," we meet ten-year-old Mara (which means bitter), a child searching for belonging, living with an aunt who views her as more of an inconvenience than a blessing. Mara has her already troubled life twisted even more when she is sexually abused by an older boy. "Dandelions" picks up the story when Mara, now known by her full name of Maranatha (which means "come Lord Jesus) is seventeen years old. She is still haunted by memories of what happened to her, but is now living with her Uncle Zane. Her life has changed for the better in many ways, but yet she struggles to believe that God really cares for her.

Mary DeMuth has a way with words that makes me say I want to write like Mary when I grow up (and I'm years older than Mary!). She treats the abuse scenes with care, never graphically describing them, yet you know exactly what is happening. Her beautiful word pictures takes the reader deep into Marantha's heart and causes you to think. I found myself being ministered to in many positive ways through reading this story. Although "Dandelions" can be read as a stand alone book, I highly recommend you read "Tree Limbs" first. Both stories are full of quirky secondary characters that keep you chuckling as well as thinking when so many spiritual truths and words of wisdom come from their mouths. Who can forget Camilla with her penchant to rhyme, or Zady, Uncle Zane's housekeeper with her wise counsel? I could go on and on, but it would only spoil your enjoyment. You really need to meet these people for yourself!

I'm certain kids still wish on stars and before blowing out the candles. Quite possibly they still wish on dandelions. But, I'm certain of one thing. When we ask Jesus to make Himself known, to Him that wish becomes a prayer. A prayer He always responds to. We just need to keep our hearts open to realize His presence. Maranatha did, and she wasn't disappointed. Go get this book!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The View from My Back

Proverbs 16:9 says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." This past week I was reminded of this truth in a huge way.

My course for the past week was planned, but none of it turned out as I expected. I should have known something was up when the Monday night Bible study prayer night was cut short by severe thunderstorms hitting the area. Then, Tuesday morning my ESL tutoring volunteer work was cancelled for the day because the building where it’s held had no power. Seizing the "extra" time, I hurried home to finally get busy on my WIP so I could send in the requested full manuscript. By that afternoon I was flat on my back. The culprit? The common cold.

Five days later my manuscript notes are still sitting where I left them when I finally succumbed Tuesday afternoon with not one new word written or one revision made. My "to-do list" for ACFW is there too. My plans were cut short, but God taught me lessons I never could have learned otherwise.

A friend will soon be going through a surgical procedure which will keep him flat on his back for a length of time. Although I've been sympathetic, I never until this week considered how difficult that is going to be for him. By the end of day two I was bored of TV and bored of not being able to do anything but lay there. My friend will have many more days than the few I spent, unable to do a lot less. I'm seeing his ordeal through new eyes.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a friend I hadn't spoken with in a while. I was shocked to hear that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer. At that moment she was driving herself to a radiation treatment. She'd had other plans for her life over the past year which have already be altared by unexpected turns. This newest wrinkle only added another layer.

I just began reading 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. This is a true-life account of a pastor who was declared dead for an hour and a half after a horrific car accident. In the book he shares his after-life experience of actually going to heaven and seeing loved ones who had passed on before him, only to be pulled back to his mangled earthly body after another pastor started praying for him. That alone is amazing to read. But that wasn't the rest of the story. He spent years recuperating while living in deep pain, and enduring difficult physical therapy to be able to live a normal life again. Day after day and night after night all he could do was lay there and do nothing. A young, energetic pastor and dad whose life had taken a huge detour. One minute he was thinking about next Sunday's sermon, and then the next he was facing the most trying and painful experience of his life. Yet God has used him in a powerful way that wouldn't have been possible had the accident never happened.

My short-lived cold was only a small nuisance, but God has used it for more than that. The Westminister Catechism says that the chief end of man is to know God and glorify Him forever. We can plan our days, our weeks, our months, and even our years as much as we want, but it all boils down to God's determination. That includes writing for those of us called to that task.

God has to work in us first before we can do our best work for Him.

Sometimes he does His best work when we're flat on our backs.